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Gov’t decares two more Iranian diplomats as ‘personae non gratae’

Gov’t decares two more Iranian diplomats as ‘personae non gratae’

TIRANA, Jan. 16 – Albanian authorities announced on Wednesday that they have ordered the expulsion from Albania of two Iranian diplomats who have been declared personae non gratae (unwanted persons). The decision was announced by Acting Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj

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Another Turkish citizen caught fleeing Albania faces court

Another Turkish citizen caught fleeing Albania faces court

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – Another Turkish national arrested by Albanian authorities after attempting to travel to Canada on a fake visa, began facing court proceedings on Tuesday.  He was arrested on the same day as his compatriot Harun Celik, who

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Court drops charges against opposition leader for lack of evidence

Court drops charges against opposition leader for lack of evidence

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – The court of Tirana dismissed on Monday for lack of evidence the case of document falsification against the leader of the opposition Democratic Party Lulzim Basha and two other former officials near him. The charge of

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OSCE supports President in protecting media freedom

OSCE supports President in protecting media freedom

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative for the Press Harlem Desir said on Monday that he is ready to work with Albanian authorities to improve the media law, especially the provisions related to

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Kosovo-Albania future: the many ‘but-s’ that follow the idea of unification

Kosovo-Albania future: the many ‘but-s’ that follow the idea of unification

By Sidonja Manushi TIRANA, Jan. 13 – As political relations between Albania and Kosovo, tied historically by a common language, culture and national identity, are becoming more and more complex, the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society and the Open Society

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AIIS and HSS public opinion on foreign policy: Albania’s relations with Serbia, Kosovo and N. Macedonia.

AIIS and HSS public opinion on foreign policy: Albania’s relations with Serbia, Kosovo and N. Macedonia.

This year the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) with the support of Hans Seidel Stiftung (HSS) carried out a national survey to measure and analyze the perceptions of Albanian citizens about the relation with key countries in the region:

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Albania officially takes over OSCE chairmanship

Albania officially takes over OSCE chairmanship

TIRANA, Jan. 9 – Albania officially took over the OSCE Presidency on Thursday – a post to run throughout the entire 2020.  This morning, Prime Minister and country’s Foreign Minister Edi Rama arrived in the office of the OSCE President

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Albania deports first Gullenist supporter to Turkey, allegedly violating human rights

Albania deports first Gullenist supporter to Turkey, allegedly violating human rights

TIRANA, Jan. 3 – Albania ordered the first deportation of a member of the Gulen movement to Erdogan’s Turkey on Wednesday evening, January 1, 2020, raising concerns about violations of fundamental human rights.  State police said they deported Harun Celik,

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Lushnja mayor injured in explosion allegedly carried out by former driver

Lushnja mayor injured in explosion allegedly carried out by former driver

TIRANA, Dec. 31 – Lushnja Mayor Fatos Tushe and his secretary Erisa Qalliu were injured on Tuesday as a result of a grenade explosion in the premises of the local city administration office. The explosive device is learned to have

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‘Ernest’ airline company suspends operating flights

‘Ernest’ airline company suspends operating flights

TIRANA, Dec. 29 – The Civil Aviation Authority (ACA) recently announced that the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) has issued the suspension act for the licence of airline company ‘Ernest’. The suspension act will take effect on January 13, 2020,

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 16 - Albanian authorities announced on Wednesday that they have ordered the expulsion from Albania of two Iranian diplomats who have been declared personae non gratae (unwanted persons).

The decision was announced by Acting Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj in a Facebook post.

According to him, both diplomats Mohammad Ali Arz Peimanemati and Seyed Ahmad Hosseini Alast have carried out “activities incompatible with their status and the principles of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” 

“Two representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been urged to leave the territory of the Republic of Albania immediately,” wrote Cakaj.

Albanian government sources told the Voice of America that the two diplomats are being expelled for activities against the Iranian opposition MEK group, being hosted in Albania. According to them, cultural attaché Seyed Ahmed Hosseini Alast had held senior positions in the Revolutionary Guard of the Islamic Republic and Mohamed Peimanemati was a member of Iran's Mois Operational Intelligence Unit and was responsible for several terrorist acts carried out in EU countries.

According to sources, they had been collaborators with Qassem Soleiman, Iran’s most powerful general whom the US assassinated on the first days of 2020.

This is the second time Albania has declared Iranian diplomats working and living in the country personae non gratae. 

In December 2018, Iran's Ambassador to Albania and another embassy diplomat were expelled from the country after being suspected of being involved in "activities that threaten security in the country". 

At that time, the Albanian Foreign Ministry specified that the decision had been taken in consultation with the Allied countries, due to their activity in Albania contrary to their diplomatic status.

Extremism expert Adrian Shtuni sees the move by the Albanian government as a defiant act against Iran's recent statements concerning “a very small but devilish European state, where Americans cooperate with Iranian traitors against the Islamic Republic.” 

Shtuni says the fact that Albania houses 3,000 members of the Iranian opposition group MEK, after a deal first made with the US in 2013, puts the country at risk not because of the group's current activities, but simply because of their status as active members of the Iranian regime's opposition. 

The growing tension between the US and Iran after the assasination of Soleiman has also ignited friction between Iran and Albania, whose relations have not been the best ever since the country began hosting the opposition group. 

In a reaction to Voice of America, a MEK spokesman in Tirana referred to the statement on Twitter made by Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. She wrote that the expulsion from the government of Albania of two diplomats of the Iranian regime is a bold and admirable measure in combating terrorism and ensuring the security of the people of Albania and the Iranian refugees.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 14 - Another Turkish national arrested by Albanian authorities after attempting to travel to Canada on a fake visa, began facing court proceedings on Tuesday. 

He was arrested on the same day as his compatriot Harun Celik, who was deported from Albania urgently on the day his sentence ended, on suspicion of violating legal procedures. Simsek is also allegedly regarded by Ankara authorities as a member of the so-called Gülenist movement, which Turkish President Recep Tayiip Erdogan blames for the 2016 failed coup d’etat. 

Both Turks had reportedly followed the same route from previously staying in Pristina, where they had shared the same room, awaiting a Canadian visa in exchange for payment. The two had entered with their regular passports at the border and were discovered by Albanian authorities in an attempt to flee to Canada.

Simsek appeared in court for the first time on Tuesday, while he has been in custody for nearly six months. Interest in his case was fueled by procedures followed with an unusual urgency for Harun Celik. The latter, who fled his country for supporting the Gülen movement and having threats to his life, was expelled from Albania within a few hours of his release from prison.

The first record of his case by the Albanian authorities was contradictory, to the extent that the professional Turkish lawyers had not received official information as to what action had been taken against their client.

One lawyer told VoA "Celik asked officials for political asylum but this was rejected by the prison police authorities." 

He explained that he had made the request in the presence of an interpreter, but prison leaders told him that he would have to do so when released, which was seen by the lawyer as a violation of his client's rights. 

Senior police chiefs and Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj recently said in an interview for the show "Capital" on Vision Plus, that there has been no written request for asylum, while Albanian legislation provides that "Asylum application" is any statement by a foreigner or stateless person, expressed in any way whatsoever.

In this context, videos released by ABC News show how during the transport by police, Celik shouts the word ‘asylum’ and ‘azil’ aloud. His expulsion also appears to have been in breach of domestic law which provides for the right to appeal.

Turkish authorities have repeatedly demanded from the Albanian side the capture of members of the FETO organization, considered a terrorist organization by Ankara. 

Representatives of the Turkish embassy were present at the hearing against Selami Simsek, but the latter, questioned by the judge, said he did not consider this a problem as he sought a shortened sentence. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 14 - The court of Tirana dismissed on Monday for lack of evidence the case of document falsification against the leader of the opposition Democratic Party Lulzim Basha and two other former officials near him.

The charge of falsifying documents against Lulzim Basha, Arben Ristani and Ilir Dervishaj was dropped by the court on Tuesday as unsupported by evidence, while in November the prosecution dropped the money-laundering charge it had previously formulated against them.

The prosecution charged the three opposition officials with falsifying documents related to DP lobbying contracts in the United States for a total of $675,000.

The amount, according to periodic statements to the US Department of Justice, was claimed by Nik Muzin's company to have been received by three payers in 2017 for lobbying activities in favor of the Democratic Party.

The DP, according to prosecutors, did not declare these payments, falsified documents and only accepted a $25,000 payment.

The group of three prosecutors split in mid-November; one demanded that the investigation be continued on all charges, while the other two withdrew the money laundering charge and sent the file to the court only for falsification of documents.

Following Tuesday’s process, former DP Secretary General and one of the accused, Arben Ristani, said the charge was politically motivated by the governing Socialists, as the DP, according to him, had paid funds from its budget that had been made transparent to the Central Elections Commission.

The accused's lawyer Eduard Halimi, stated that the charge was dropped after two years of investigation because it was based on speculation. 

“Investigations established that the indictment had nothing to do with the DP, constituted no criminal offense and that the DP did not violate the law. It was confirmed four times that the criminal offense did not exist,” said Halimi.

The leader of the Socialist Party's parliamentary group Taulant Bala, meanwhile, said that Tuesday’s theater was a shame and that it was wrong for anyone to think that this case could be closed without being investigated thoroughly and without questioning all those involved. 

“This is not just a matter of Albanian justice. It was the stimulated hurry of some prosecutor and judge who did not go through the vetting process. The High Judicial Council and the High Prosecutorial Council should investigate procedural errors done intentionally. It is necessary to appeal this absurd decision and to return the case for a full investigation, giving the court guarantees for the interrogation of the moneylender Nick Muzin,” said Balla.

The issue of lobbying payments made by the DP opened in November 2017, when the US lobbying firm Muzin Capitol Partners supplemented with additional information its statutory requirements for the Department of Justice.

According to the Muzin company, it received three payments, totaling $675,000 for its work in favor of the DP in 2017: the first payment of $150,000 on March 24, 2017 was made by ‘Biniatta Trade LP,’ while the other two payments were made by the DP, one on March 27 for $ 25,000 and the other on June 9 for $ 500,000.

From these statements by the firm Muzin, the DP Chairman has admitted that only the $ 25,000 payment was made by his party.

The DP has further never accepted links to the 'Biniatta Trade LP' firm, which turns out to be registered in Scotland and owned by a chain of other companies, allegedly tied to Russia. 

The DP has stated that "it has not broken any law, neither Albanian, nor American and of any other country" and that "there has been no direct or indirect connection with Russian individuals or companies.” 

Regarding the $ 500,000 payment that Muzin has claimed to have been made by the DP, Basha has given contradictory explanations. 

Initially, he stated that "no such payment has been made by the Democratic Party,” while in November 2017 he justified the amount with the payment made thanks to a fundraiser by a large number of Albanian-Americans, but which had not passed through the party.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 14 - Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative for the Press Harlem Desir said on Monday that he is ready to work with Albanian authorities to improve the media law, especially the provisions related to penalties and the principle of proportionality as provided by international law.

The OSCE press office made this statement after receiving explanations from Albanian President Ilir Meta for failing to comply with the Albanian press law.

"The media representative reiterates that no piece of new legislation should impede freedom of expression and freedom of the press. He hopes that the revision of the law will pave the way for further clarifications and improvements to the law so that it is in line with international standards,” the official OSCE statement reads. 

Meta returned to parliament the amendments to the two laws “on audiovisual media" and ‘on electronic communications’ after the parliament approved the package despite criticism and protests by journalists and international media freedom organizations. 

Regarding the first law, Meta considers that it contradicts the basic constitutional principles of building a democratic state, legal security and proportionality.

While regarding the changes in the law ‘on electronic communications’ Meta expressed concern about AKEP's excessive punitive power over the media.

Meanwhile, the government of Albania and the Socialist majority in parliament have insisted that the anti-defamation package has the full support of the OSCE.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi

TIRANA, Jan. 13 - As political relations between Albania and Kosovo, tied historically by a common language, culture and national identity, are becoming more and more complex, the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society and the Open Society Foundation for Albania completed an extensive research at the end of 2018 in both countries to measure the interaction and attitude of citizens in a range of important matters, especially for the people on the ground.

The study focused on interaction, social distance, perception of neighbours, attitudes towards the official cooperation between the two countries and attitudes towards future official unification and the results are both surprising and a better reflection of what normal Albanians and Kosovars think, as opposed to what the political class is depicting. 

As stated by the Open Society foundations themselves, this survey is not the ultimate goal of this joint initiative of the two foundations, but is the first step in a series of activities and efforts aimed at analyzing and fostering a debate on deepening cooperation between Kosovo and Albania and deepening of regional cooperation.

The study was prepared by Blendi Ceka, a Political Science lecturer from Albania and Agron Demi, a policy analyst, from Kosovo, who were the research leaders and authors of the study for both countries. 

 

Attitude towards national unification and EU integration 

Regarding the desire to achieve national unification, 63 percent of respondents in Albania and 54 percent of respondents in Kosovo state that they want to achieve it. But when asked if they would be willing to pay a tax which would enable national unification, respondents’ willingness declined, with only 29 percent of respondents in Albania and 49 percent of respondents in Kosovo agreeing to such a tax.

If given a chance to vote in a referendum, 75 percent of Albanians in Albania and 64 percent of Kosovo Albanians would vote in favor of national unification. Confidence falls in both countries when participants are asked how achievable they think national unification is, with only 23 percent of Albanians in Albania and 17 percent of Kosovo Albanians believing that such a thing is possible. 

For Albanians in Albania who believe that national unification is possible, the international community is seen as a key factor enabling it. Whereas to Kosovo Albanians, the main factor that can achieve such a scenario are the leaders of Kosovo and Albania. 

But even those who think that national unification cannot occur, see the international factor as a major obstacle, both in Albania and in Kosovo. The national unification and EU accession of Albania and Kosovo are seen as processes which contradict each other by 42 percent of respondents in Kosovo and 37 percent of respondents in Albania. 

Albanians of Albania, to a greater extent than Kosovo Albanians, tend to view these two processes as complementary. 

 

Perception of Albania’s role in Kosovo and their cooperation 

Regarding Albania’s official attitude towards Kosovo, the citizens of both countries agree that Albania plays the role of ‘big brother‘ to Kosovo.

To Kosovo Serbs, Albania seems to interfere a lot in Kosovo’s internal affairs, but Albanians of both countries disagree. The majority of respondents in Albania and Kosovo (of Albanian ethnicity) consider that relations between the two countries have not developed sufficiently and that there is still work to be done. 

The majority of respondents - 76 percent in Albania and 59 percent in Kosovo - think that developing close relations between Albania and Kosovo benefits both countries equally. 

 

Attitude towards the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue 

Last year’s debates on the possibility of border corrections between Kosovo and Serbia in order to enable the further development of dialogue, and eventual cooperation, between the countries have not been well received by Albanians in Kosovo (over 70 percent against) and Albania (over 52 percent against), nor by Kosovo Serbs (over 80 percent against).

However, the majority of those polled in both Kosovo and Albania do not like the current ‘status quo’ in relations between Kosovo and Serbia and expect changes to be made, but not the kind which would affect territorial integrity. 

 

Social distance

The majority of Albanian respondents in Albania and Kosovo stated that they would have no problem having social relations with someone from Kosovo or Albania, living in the same village, town, and neighborhood with someone from Kosovo or Albania, or sharing the same workplace. When respondents are asked whether they would marry Albanians from the other country - Albania or Kosovo - 75 percent of respondents in Albania said they do not have a problem and only 56 percent of respondents in Kosovo gave a positive answer.

Albanians of both Kosovo and Albanian are more distanced to Serbs than to Montenegrins and Greeks. 84 percent of Kosovo Albanians and 67 percent of Albanian citizens do not like to have social relations with Serbs. Regarding social distance with someone from Western Europe, on average 85 percent of Albanians in Albania and 65 percent of Kosovo Albanians were in favor of social ties, sharing a place of residence or work.

The numbers tied to social distance are a good reflection to the attitudes towards national unification as well. In Albania, 74.8 percent are for unification, 17.7 percent are against, while 6.2 percent didn’t know and 1.2 percent refused to answer. 

In Kosovo, on the other hand, 63.9 percent are in favor of national unification, 16.7 percent are against, while 18.4 percent didn’t know and 1 percent of the population refused to answer. 

 

Common friends and enemies 

Albanians on both sides of the border have similar opinions regarding which countries are friendly or hostile to Albania and Kosovo. Albanians in Albania and Kosovo agree that countries like Germany, Italy, France, the US, Croatia and Turkey are friendly to both countries.

Although to a lesser degree, Macedonia is also seen as a friendly country to both Albania and Kosovo, while the two hostile states to both Albania and Kosovo are considered to be Serbia and Russia. 

 

Interaction 

According to research conducted to both countries, 88.7 percent of Kosovo Albanians have visited Albania, while only 31.6 percent of Albanian citizens have visited Kosovo.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed from the Serb community living in Kosovo have visited Albania in the last two years. Overall tourism is the main reason for mutual visits, with education, health, trade and employment occupying very little space.

The vast majority of those who have not visited Albania or Kosovo say they would like to do so, but cannot because of financial constraints and distance. 

While 85 percent of respondents in Albania stated that they feel safe or very safe to travel to Kosovo, only 60 percent of Kosovo citizens shared this feeling of safety. The feeling of insecurity is high among Kosovo’s Serbian population, with only 18 percent of respondents saying they feel safe to travel to Albania.

 

The poll and its significance 

In addition to providing significant insights on the perceptions of both populations on the ground, the conducted research also gives some telling hints on what the relations between Albania and Kosovo may come to be in the following decade.

On the Albania side, Prime Minister Edi Rama has often played with the idea of unity with Kosovo and has mentioned, although allegedly provocatively, several times the prospect of both countries having a shared president and government. For the first time since Kosovo’s official becoming of nation, its incoming Prime Minister Albin Kurti has national unification as a central point of his political agenda, while his movement even has a Tirana branch. 

Although the mention of pan-Albanian political rhetoric has often been dismissed as cheap populism, as a distraction from domestic problems or as a way to encourage the EU towards accepting the region’s faster integration, especially on Rama’s side, there is no denying that this rhetoric works particularly because it does speak to widely-shared sentiments, and this latest poll testifies to that, especially after the collapse of speedy EU integration expectations as of last October. 

The Open Society poll for both countries shows that despite everything, national unification enjoys considerable support from both sides, although a reading between the lines also suggests that the general ‘yes’ is followed by many ‘but-s’ by the Albanian-speaking populations.

To begin with, the poll shows that support towards unification is higher in Albania than in Kosovo - showing the idea that Kosovo was unjustly separated by Albania when it declared its independence remains strong in the country, but put aside over Albania’s own countless domestic problems over the last two decades. This is made clear by the poll, which showed respondents’ support towards unification dropping to 29 percent in Albania and 44 percent in Kosovo  when asked if they are willing to “pay a tax” that would make unification possible.

The - surprisingly - lower intensity of support towards unification in Kosovo also testifies to a new happening: the raise in Kosovo-centered stream of thinking and identity over the first decade of its statehood. The poll clearly indicates that, in addition to the Kosovo part that was more highly integrated with Yugoslavia, now the post-war middle class of Kosovo is also finding it easier to identify with the new state of Kosovo than with its old, Albanian-tied identity.

Poll respondents who are against unification have replied they believe two states would functions better than one.

The lower support from Kosovo’s side concerning unification with Albania could also be explained by Kosovo’s justified fear of once again becoming a periphery, or with mistrust towards Albania, and particularly official Tirana, to properly understand Kosovo and possibly neglect it as result. The fact that almost 89 percent of Kosovo Albanians have visited Albania and only 32 percent of Albanians have done the same is just another sign that testifies to this. 

Another key example of the ‘but-s’ that follow the overall desire for unification is the reality of the poor political cooperation between the states, which goes hand in hand with poor trade relations. 

The countless government meetings that have been organized and held between the respective leaderships both in Albania and Kosovo have had almost no practical follow-up actions that could in reality assist the two populations separately, in addition to bringing them closer and unifying them.

Last but not least, to conclude, although the biggest share of Albania and Kosovo wants national unification in principle, only a small share believes it is possible to achieve it, blaming regional and international actors for its impossibility much more than their own internal and joint political problems. One thing is clear: Albanians trust both international and regional actors much more than Kosovo Albanians and that could become a strong diving point between the two. 

The future of Albania-Kosovo relations is majorly unclear, based on both present developments and this poll’s results. One thing is definite - the common identity and history has persisted and remains resilient in encouraging cooperative action, but much of its future fate will depend on the forces that work to push the countries apart and bring them together and on the economic and political interests that have been working and continue to work on the region on a day to day basis. 
                    [post_title] => Kosovo-Albania future: the many ‘but-s’ that follow the idea of unification
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                    [post_content] => This year the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) with the support of Hans Seidel Stiftung (HSS) carried out a national survey to measure and analyze the perceptions of Albanian citizens about the relation with key countries in the region: Kosovo, Serbia and North Macedonia. The answers reveal a complex tapestry of judgments, expectations and interpretations that citizens harbor in relation to the countries in the region and also in relation to the foreign policy of Albania itself.

Taken together, the results point clearly at the importance that citizens place on the development of economic relations with all the three countries and on the need of the Albanian government to protect the interests of Albanian communities living in the region.

ALBANIA AND SERBIA

General evaluation of the relations and their future

Albanian citizens, around 41-44 percent, believe that relations between Albania and Serbia and the two respective governments are largely neutral, hence neither good nor bad. There are more people who believe that relations between the people of the two countries are indeed good, about a third of the total sample.

There is a general public acknowledgment that these are important strategic relations. Half of the citizens believe these bilateral relations are important and another fifth of the sample say they are very important. However when asked to predict the future of the relations citizens are split into two equal halves between those who believe that they will improve and those who expect more of the same. A very small group of just 7 percent expects these relations to deteriorate.

The same dichotomy and confusion persists on judging whether these two countries are ready to build a friendly relation going forward with a fifth of responders saying they don’t know. The majority is again split into equal halves that agree and disagree with the statement.

‘Economy’ is the keyword that the citizens mention when asked where should the focus of the development of these relations stand. About 27 percent say the key stands in the economic relations followed loosely by 24 percent that mention political relations. However it is interesting to note that more and more citizens are bringing up other area of cooperation such as culture (percent), strategic and security cooperation (combined 19 percent) and society (14 percent)

Citizens seem much more determined to point out which are the obstacles to the future development and improvement of bilateral relations with Serbia in equal importance the answers indicate three reasons, each at around a third of the sample: historical enmity between the two peoples, Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo and Albania’s membership to NATO.

These final results indicate that much more work needs to be done in order to educate the public and especially the young upon the nature of these factors and how viewing them as obstacles might be a myth or misunderstanding. The historical enmity can be deconstructed as a concept and seen through an accurate and critical historical analysis whereas also the NATO membership should be viewed in the light of the fact that Serbia for years now cooperates with European defense and security missions as well as having in place also a relationship of cooperation with the Alliance.

Are Albania and Serbia, two countries ready to have a friendly relationship?

Finally, addressing the elephant in the room citizens were asked to judge the specific importance of Kosovo in the Albania-Serbia relations. 51 percent of respondents said that Kosovo is very important followed by another 37 percent who say that it is important. Clearly the relations depend a lot on the dynamics of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo which are immediately reflected in Albania as well.

Human connections 

About two thirds of Albanians would like to be tourists in Serbia whereas 24 percent of them prefer not to have this experience. On the other hand only 20 percent of those asked have ever travelled to Serbia in reality.  On the other hand the majority of Albanians believe that Serbian tourists are welcome in Albania, an assertion that is also evidenced by the consistently growing number of Serbian tourists visiting Albania in the summer.

Cultural exchanges are an important part of the process of knowing and appreciating each other. A majority of Albanian citizens, 81 percent have not read a book by a Serbian author. This is partly due to the fact that translated Serbian literature is very limited in Albania.

In the field of movies, things look on the slightly brighter side. 38 percent of those asked have watched films by Serbian directors, also due to the fact that Serbian moviemakers are among the best known in the region. These results show that there should be more opportunities for citizens to be in touch with arts and culture from other countries in the region.

ALBANIA AND KOSOVO

General evaluation of the relations and their future

Albanians believe that relations between Albania and Kosovo are good or very good, both options chosen by 42 percent of the sample. Around 10 percent say that relations are neutral. There is a slightly different dynamics perceived for the relations between the two governments. Here only a third sees the relations as very good whereas the number of those who judge them as neutral increases to 14 percent.

Again economy is chosen as the key field where the development of the relations should be focused. A third of the sample choses economy compared to 20 percent that say the focus should be on political relations. Around 15 percent of the respondents chose culture and another 15 percent social relations whereas a combined 17 percent believe the focus should be on strategic and security cooperation.

Looking outward to the future half of the citizens believe that the relations should be deepened whereas 37 percent believe that the countries should come as close as possible to each other. Only ten percent think relations are fine and should go as they are.

Current hot issues

The 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods has been the subject of extensive media coverage and contentious debate in Albania. However most Albanians citizens believe this was the right decision with 49 percent of the respondents endorsing it. Another 12 percent goes even further saying it should have been imposed before. A quarter of the sample of those asked disagrees with the tax. However when asked whether Albania should do the same, hence impose a similar tax on Serbian goods, citizens beg to differ. Most of them, 48 percent, don’t think this should be done whereas 34 percent think it is the right thing to do.

Slightly more than a half of citizens, 54 percent support an increased role of Albania in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia compared to 31 percent that think this role should be limited.

Regarding the very hot topic of a potential agreement between Serbia and Kosovo that would allegedly include territorial and/or population swaps most citizens do not support this option. 63 percent of them are against it while only 17 percent support it. There is a large number of them who don’t make a choice with 20 percent of respondents saying they don’t know. Around 60 percent of Albanians believe that the development of relations between Albania and Serbia has the potential to help Kosovo. A quarter of the sample disagrees with the statement.

Albania’s role in Kosovo

When asked to evaluate whether the role of Albania in Kosovo has changed, citizens are split in two roughly equal groups between those who say it has remained the same and those who say it has increased. Each group has about 40 percent of answers. Only 14 percent of respondents believe the role of Albania in Kosovo has decreased.

The majority of about 70 percent believe that the increase in the role of Albania in Kosovo is a good improvement whereas 18 percent deem it as neutral. Citizens are very realistic and inward focused when asked what the best thing is that Albania can do for Kosovo. Hence their answers point at the need for Albania to be a better state itself, have a better democracy and focus on economic relations with Kosovo. These answer from the overwhelming majority compared to small groups of people who pick other options such as potential granting of Albanian passports or assistance with international recognition. The last options do not go above 5 percent of the answers. In the same vein of practicality, 68 percent of those asked do not agree with the road toll in the Nation’s Highway which earlier this year caused violent protests as well as concerns in Kosovo. Only 30 percent of people agree with the necessity of the road toll.

The final reconciliation between Albanians and Serbians in the Balkans is subject to the issue of Serbia recognizing Kosovo according to the majority of citizens, about 42 percent. Another 35 percent believe that reconciliation means precisely between Serbia and Kosovo. Only 10 percent of respondents believe reconciliation can happen between Albania and Serbia. Overall citizens believe that such a process is possible with only 5 percent of the answers claiming that reconciliation in the region cannot be done.

Unification support 

Vetvendosje, the only political party in Kosovo with a clear political platform advocating for unification of the two countries registered this year a nongovernmental organization in Albania since the Albanian law prohibits the establishment of foreign parties in Albania. This development caused ripples in the media coverage. Citizens though seem largely not moved by this event. A third of the respondents believe that the registration of the political party Vetvendosje with a branch in Albania is a good thing whereas another third associates no particular positive or negative value to it. Only 12 percent believe it is bad.

How would you vote in a referendum on Albania and Kosovo's unification?

In case of a referendum about unification with Kosovo 60 percent of Albanian citizens would vote pro, 23 percent against it and 17 percent do not have a specific answer. About 48 percent of those asked believe that unification is possible or even very likely compared to 30 percent who say it’s largely unlikely and percent who claim it is impossible. However 58 percent believe unification would be a good thing compared to 24 percent who say it’s a neutral development hence neither good nor bad and 10 percent who say it’s outright a bad development.


ALBANIA AND NORTH MACEDONIA

General evaluation of the relations and their future

A large majority of Albanian citizens, about 70 percent combined believe relations between the two countries are good or even very good. Only 20 percent believe these are neutral relations, hence neither good nor bad. The same exact figures are given for the relations between the specific two governments.

The same dynamics is revealed also when citizens are asked to judge the relations between the citizens themselves based on their contacts, experiences or their knowledge. Once again the majority of 69 percent say these relations are good or very good and virtually none believes they are bad. 80 percent of citizens believe these bilateral relations are important whereas the rest deems them neutral in terms of importance.

57 percent of respondents are confident that relations between Albania and North Macedonia will improve in the future whereas 23 percent believe they won’t change.

Citizens pick economy as the first field where these relations might be focused with 42 percent of the answers followed by political relations with 30 percent and social and cultural relations at a combined 22 percent.

Current issues and role of Albania regarding Albanians in North Macedonia

Albanian respondents seem split into two groups when asked about a potential change of the role of Albania on the Albanians living in North Macedonia. About 41 percent think this role has recently increased compared to 37 percent who say it has remained constant. About 9 percent believe the role has actually decreased.

70 percent of respondents judge that the increase in the role of Albania is a positive development and another 15 percent say it is a neutral thing. Indeed two thirds of the asked sample believe that Albania should pay a bigger role among Albanians in North Macedonia compared to 17 percent who disagree.

Slightly more than half of these asked do not believe that Albanians in North Macedonia enjoy the rights they are entitled to. Only a quarter of the respondents believe they do whereas a large number of citizens don’t know. However more than 80 percent of Albanian citizens believe it was the right thing to do for Albania to support North Macedonia’s NATO membership. Only a small minority of 7 percent  disagree.

In your judgment, how can the Prespa Agreement be described in relation to the Albanians living in North Macedonia: 

The most interesting question posed about these bilateral relations concerns the recent development of the Prespa agreement which resolved the long standing dispute between Greece and North Macedonia. Only about half of the citizens in Albania believe this was a positive development for the Albanians living in north Macedonia. 21 percent believe this was neither good nor bad for them whereas one in ten respondents thinks it was a negative development for the Albanian community living in North Macedonia. A large number of respondents (about a fifth of the sample) also say that they don’t know.
                    [post_title] => AIIS and HSS public opinion on foreign policy: Albania’s relations with Serbia, Kosovo and N. Macedonia. 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 9 - Albania officially took over the OSCE Presidency on Thursday - a post to run throughout the entire 2020. 

This morning, Prime Minister and country’s Foreign Minister Edi Rama arrived in the office of the OSCE President in Vienna, where he was received by OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger. Rama called this a historic moment for Albania. 

"It is a very important day. I am very proud and have a very good cooperation. We have a very good team here with people of different nationalities," Rama said.

Afterwards, Rama spoke and presented Albania's program and priorities to the OSCE Permanent Council. Rama’s speech main focus was dialogue, but also the fight against crime, extremism, anti-Semitism, violence against women, tolerance, etc. 

Another priority, he said, is to promote freedom of expression and the media. Rama said that the mission would start from Ukraine.

“The crisis in Ukraine remains Europe's biggest security challenge. Conflict resolution efforts will be at the top of our agenda. Ukraine will be my first destination as OSCE Chairperson. The fight for freedom of expression in the media and the fight against violence towards women are urgent priorities, as well as trafficking of human beings,” Rama said. 

Acting Foreign Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Gent Cakaj, also in Vienna with Rama, said “Albania is engaged to ensuring security.”

"Albania will lead the OSCE by committing to the real implementation of our principles and ensuring a comprehensive approach to co-operation within the organization,” Cakaj said in a statement to his profile on social networks. 

Asked whether he is ready to initiate real dialogue with Albanian opposition back home, Rama thanked journalists for the question and told them he would answer back in Tirana, as PM and head of the ruling majority, as he is now in Vienna under another context and format. 

OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger said that Albania is trustworthy and welcomes the organization’s leadership from our country. 

"I welcome the OSCE chairmanship of Albania. I am grateful that Albania already has the opportunity to lead our organization. Albania's chairmanship is a historic achievement. You can count on me and the secretariat in full this year. I think Albania is very good at implementing the commitment. It is a trustworthy Albania, because it has faced many security challenges, and has had an OSCE presence on the ground for many years,” he said.

Rama, saying Albania will be engaged in promoting media freedom and encouraging free speech, was asked about the highly-debated ‘anti-libel’ package the Albanian government passed in parliament at the end of December amid multiple protests by journalists and international media freedom organizations alike. 

OSCE representatives in Albania have also spoken against the government’s anti-libel package, saying time and again it requires additional amendments to protect media freedom. 

During the conference from Vienna, Rama said he has OSCE’s full support of the package that was approved by the Socialist government. 

“The OSCE has not criticized the law. We have been working with the OSCE team for a long time to make sure that little clarification are made. The law that went to parliament had and is 100 percent supported by the OSCE, which means it is a piece of legislation that is in line with OSCE standards to find solutions to what we are experiencing for online media not only in Albania but all over the world,” he said.

Concerning all the controversial issues among which Albania is taking over the OSCE chairmanship, such as lack of dialogue with the main opposition parties at home, the challenges it is facing with combating corruption and organized crime, as well as its alleged attempts at threatening free speech, Rama and his government’s OSCE leadership claims have been either criticized by numerous field experts, or viewed with justified scepticism. 

“Prime Minister Rama may be the only figure with the deserving stature in his government worth considering for the role, but even he will not be able to as he will be increasingly preoccupied with internal political issues. It will be hard to pre-conceive that whatever peacekeeping mission priorities there may be for the organization, Rama will be able to allocate even a moment of his focus away from the byzantine mechanisms he is employing to install loyalists in the justice ‘reform.’ If he does not pursue this course, his opponents will; if he does not hijack the reform, others will. On top of this gloom are the ramifications of the November 26th earthquake, with which the government will be preoccupied in the first half of 2020,” Veton Surroi, Kosovo publicist, former journalist and politician, previously wrote in an op-ed for Tirana Times.

“The current administration in Albania, caught in its obsession over facade and populist show, will drum around this chairmanship as a key foreign policy success. However even the most simple reflection over the facts reveals that it is a just a very costly endeavor with almost zero chances to bring any impact in Albania and much less in the rest of the OSCE community of states,” wrote Tirana Times at e previous editorial. 

Rama also replied to this scepticism, saying he will work to convince the sceptics otherwise. 

“This is a historic task, as it is the first time that Albania has a role on the international stage. We started well today and set our priorities. We are not going to re-read the world or anything, but to make sure that the base remains as it is and is not broken by some dangerous winds. We want to make a difference on the ground. To fulfill our commitments together,” Rama said. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 3 - Albania ordered the first deportation of a member of the Gulen movement to Erdogan's Turkey on Wednesday evening, January 1, 2020, raising concerns about violations of fundamental human rights. 

State police said they deported Harun Celik, 42 years old, a teacher by profession, who was arrested five months ago in an attempt to flee to Canada.

Social networks reacted on Wednesday on the news of Celik being sent to Rinas Airport while an hour later, State Police spokesman Gent Mullaj confirmed to regional media that the person in question was "expelled from the country.” 

“The person was in jail after being apprehended by the Rinas border police with false documents. Pursuant to the ‘aliens' law, he will be expelled,” Mullaj said.

The office of Prime Minister Edi Rama said when asked by BIRN that "sentencing is a matter of legal proceedings not related to the prime minister.”

Through this act, Albania joined a small number of states that obey Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's request to send to Turkey any person linked to the Fethullah Gulen global movement, whom he accuses of being the mastermind of the 2016 failed state coup.

In February 2015, Kosovo expelled five wanted Turkish citizens, sparking international outrage and harsh criticism from the EU and US for violating due process of law and violating fundamental human rights. 

A lawyer for Celik told the Voice Of America that actions against his client were in violation of the law and that the prosecution should investigate these unlawful acts.

According to lawyer Alban Bengasi, Celik had told his legal representative that he had left Turkey as a supporter of the Gülen movement because of threats to his life.

The lawyer said that “Celik asked for political asylum officials but this was rejected by the prison police authorities.”

Meanwhile, Mullaj told Voice of America that the Turkish citizen “was convicted and released from prison on Wednesday ...under the law on aliens, legal procedures for leaving Albania have been undertaken.”

Asked by Voice of America if Celik had sought protection from Albania as an endangered political activist in his country, the spokesman replied that "there was no further information.”

However, Bengasi said it is unusual for a person detained for falsifying documents to be held in custody for so long while adding his client's further fate, after deportation, is unclear.

The opposition Democratic Party demanded "immediate transparency" about the event, raising the question of whether such action is in breach of laws, international conventions or human rights.

“It is a priority for any democratic country, especially in the process of European integration, to respect these principles, rights and obligations. Their transgression is back in order for Edi Rama's corrupt and incriminated government,” the PD declared.

 

Legal proceedings towards ‘Gullenist’ teacher’s deportation remain unclear 

The Albanian lawyers who defended the 42-year-old teacher by profession in the court case still do not know for what reasons and on what legal basis he was taken on 1 January by the Immigration and Border Authorities and boarded the Air Albania flight to Istanbul.

For this, they have officially requested information about what happened to their client, a fact that raises further questions about the Albanian side's actions.

Mullaj used the term "expulsion" provided by the Aliens Act, which also specifies the cases when this measure is exercised. It remains unclear where the 42-year-old's case comes from, but the law does, however, provide a several-day deadline for the execution of the removal order, while Celik was reportedly only given a few hours. 

As soon as he was released from prison, he was taken over by the Immigration and Border Authorities, who have informed him of the obligation to leave for Turkey.

Moreover, the same law recognizes, through a special article, the right to appeal. 

 

Deportation receives international criticism 

European Parliament MP Ramona Strugariu reacted immediately by criticizing the Albanian government through a status on Twitter.

“Prime Minister Edi Rama, Albania signed the CoE Convention on extradition. Moreover, you say Albania is ready for the EU. Then please follow art.19, al. 2 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and do not extradite #HarunÇelik to Turkey!,” she wrote. 

The article reads: "no one may be removed, deported or extradited to a state where there is a serious risk that he or she may be subject to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment.” 

Andrej Hunko, Rapporteur on Albania for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe also gave exclusive comments to Exit.com on the “worrying extradition” of Harun Çelik from Albania to Turkey.

“We took notice of the worrying extradition of Mr Harun Çelik and we will closely follow the situation. According to the CoE European Convention on Extradition, there shall be no extradition on political offences.”

 
                    [post_title] => Albania deports first Gullenist supporter to Turkey, allegedly violating human rights  
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 31 - Lushnja Mayor Fatos Tushe and his secretary Erisa Qalliu were injured on Tuesday as a result of a grenade explosion in the premises of the local city administration office. The explosive device is learned to have been placed by Gëzim Saraçi, Tushe's former driver. The mayor and his secretary were immediately taken to the Trauma Hospital in Tirana where doctors said Tushe suffered minor injuries on his chest, leaving the hospital in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Qalliu suffered bone damage to her face, but is out of danger to life.

The motives behind the attack are still unclear. 

It is suspected that Saraci's ties with the mayor went beyond institutional ones until a few years ago. They were often seen in each other's company, and the debates between them seem to have been frequent. Saraci was seen waiting for Tushe in front of the town hall today and then going upstairs while talking loudly. 

According to the first data gathered by police, Saraci allegedly owed the mayor some money. Police announced that they have launched multiple searches in the area, including special forces units, to capture Saraci.

According to the opposition Democratic Party, Tuesday’s event came from “breaking the bargain between the mayor and the former driver, with whom he has shared money from drugs, prostitution and corruption. It is a known fact in Lushnja that the mayor’s former driver, a drug and prostitution trafficker, has funded Fatos Tushe’s election campaign. Every citizen from Lushnja knows that the person who carried out the strike against the mayor today was Fatos Tushe’s most trusted man, and the one who negotiated everything on his behalf,” the opposition said in a statement. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 29 - The Civil Aviation Authority (ACA) recently announced that the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) has issued the suspension act for the licence of airline company ‘Ernest’. The suspension act will take effect on January 13, 2020, therefore giving the company time to inform passengers of flight cancellations or to protect those who have already booked flights with the company.

According to the ENAC, although the company's license will remain active until January 13, 2020, given the holidays in Albania and Ukraine, ‘Ernest’ will no longer be issuing tickets. ENAC also claimed that keeping the license active until January 13th, does not jeopardize the company's operational safety. During this time, if the carrier follows through with the guarantee points required by Regulation (EC) no. 1008/2008, which contains common rules for the provision of air services in the European Community, the suspension act may be revoked. 

Meanwhile, the CAA called all citizens who may have booked tickets with this airline to confirm their flight status with the company or travel agency prior to the day of the flight.

 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 16 - Albanian authorities announced on Wednesday that they have ordered the expulsion from Albania of two Iranian diplomats who have been declared personae non gratae (unwanted persons).

The decision was announced by Acting Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj in a Facebook post.

According to him, both diplomats Mohammad Ali Arz Peimanemati and Seyed Ahmad Hosseini Alast have carried out “activities incompatible with their status and the principles of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” 

“Two representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been urged to leave the territory of the Republic of Albania immediately,” wrote Cakaj.

Albanian government sources told the Voice of America that the two diplomats are being expelled for activities against the Iranian opposition MEK group, being hosted in Albania. According to them, cultural attaché Seyed Ahmed Hosseini Alast had held senior positions in the Revolutionary Guard of the Islamic Republic and Mohamed Peimanemati was a member of Iran's Mois Operational Intelligence Unit and was responsible for several terrorist acts carried out in EU countries.

According to sources, they had been collaborators with Qassem Soleiman, Iran’s most powerful general whom the US assassinated on the first days of 2020.

This is the second time Albania has declared Iranian diplomats working and living in the country personae non gratae. 

In December 2018, Iran's Ambassador to Albania and another embassy diplomat were expelled from the country after being suspected of being involved in "activities that threaten security in the country". 

At that time, the Albanian Foreign Ministry specified that the decision had been taken in consultation with the Allied countries, due to their activity in Albania contrary to their diplomatic status.

Extremism expert Adrian Shtuni sees the move by the Albanian government as a defiant act against Iran's recent statements concerning “a very small but devilish European state, where Americans cooperate with Iranian traitors against the Islamic Republic.” 

Shtuni says the fact that Albania houses 3,000 members of the Iranian opposition group MEK, after a deal first made with the US in 2013, puts the country at risk not because of the group's current activities, but simply because of their status as active members of the Iranian regime's opposition. 

The growing tension between the US and Iran after the assasination of Soleiman has also ignited friction between Iran and Albania, whose relations have not been the best ever since the country began hosting the opposition group. 

In a reaction to Voice of America, a MEK spokesman in Tirana referred to the statement on Twitter made by Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. She wrote that the expulsion from the government of Albania of two diplomats of the Iranian regime is a bold and admirable measure in combating terrorism and ensuring the security of the people of Albania and the Iranian refugees.

 
            [post_title] => Gov’t decares two more Iranian diplomats as ‘personae non gratae’
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