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Imports from Kosovo to Albania drop as those to EU rise by 48.8%

Imports from Kosovo to Albania drop as those to EU rise by 48.8%

TIRANA, Dec. 27 – During November, Kosovo’s imported goods from Albania were worth 17.1 million euros, equivalent to 5.8 percent of the total imports, according to recent data published by the Kosovo Agency of Statistics (ASK). Compared to a year

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Kosovo elects new parliament chairman, while gov’t establishment remains unclear

Kosovo elects new parliament chairman, while gov’t establishment remains unclear

TIRANA, Dec. 26 – The Kosovo parliament gathered on Thursday afternoon and elected its new chairman; with 75 votes in favor, 27 against and 6 abstentions, Glauk Konjufca was elected for the position.   The proposal was made suddenly by the

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November marked by increase in Albanian and foreign citizen outflows

November marked by increase in Albanian and foreign citizen outflows

TIRANA, Dec. 26 – According to the Institute of Statistics (INSTAT), the outflow of Albanian citizens increased by 11.4 percent during November compared to the same period in 2018, surpassing the 9 percent average annual rate. While the high rate

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Kosovo Academy of Sciences: “Mini-Schengen undermines Kosovo-Albania relations”

Kosovo Academy of Sciences: “Mini-Schengen undermines Kosovo-Albania relations”

TIRANA, Dec. 25 – The Kosovo Academy of Sciences and Arts has reacted to the attitudes of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama towards the Balkan mini-Schengen, as well as his statements towards Kosovo’s political leaders. The reaction comes after Prime

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Newly established SPAK receives its first report on sterilization concession

Newly established SPAK receives its first report on sterilization concession

TIRANA, Dec. 24 – The “Thurje” initiative made its first report on Tuesday to the newly-established Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPAK) concerning the sterilization concession, on suspicions that it is a corrupt affair. Representatives of this organization submitted the report to

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International tender process opens for Vlora Airport with 35-year term

International tender process opens for Vlora Airport with 35-year term

TIRANA, Dec. 19 – The construction of the Vlora Airport will begin on May 31 next year. At the ceremony, the cabinet ministers announced the opening of an international tender for the project that appears to be a BOT (Build-Operate,

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Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech

Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL Despite a very strong opposition by all the media sector in the country, by more than 30 media and human rights organizations worldwide and in spite of substantial criticism from international organizations such as Council of Europe,

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Decriminalization of the Balkans condition of all conditions

Decriminalization of the Balkans condition of all conditions

By Sonja Biserko  Any discussion about Serbia-Kosovo relations has to take into account the international context and interests of some global players that strongly influence regional dynamics, relations between Serbs and Albanians included. In the early 1990s at the outbreak

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Albin Kurti’s victory to work out an old agenda of Kosovo

Albin Kurti’s victory to work out an old agenda of Kosovo

By Naim Rashiti  Kosovo held new snap elections on 6 October this year. The record-high turnout brought change in the political landscape. Vetëvendosje  Movement (LVV) of Albin Kurti won the elections with 29 out of 120 seats of the Kosovo

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Albania, as OSCE’s chair will simultaneously provide and seek democratic assistance

Albania, as OSCE’s chair will simultaneously provide and seek democratic assistance

By Veton Surroi On the first day of the upcoming year, Albania will assume the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the hand-over ceremony of the Chairmanship from Slovakia, one can imagine the former

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 27 - During November, Kosovo’s imported goods from Albania were worth 17.1 million euros, equivalent to 5.8 percent of the total imports, according to recent data published by the Kosovo Agency of Statistics (ASK). Compared to a year ago, Kosovo's imports from Albania dropped by 15 percent, leading to a decline in total import share by 1.6 percentage points. During November of last year, when Kosovo's economic sanction against Serbia had not yet entered into force, Kosovo accounted for 7.4 percent of total imports in Albania. 

On the other hand, the value of Kosovo's exports to the European Union amounted to 15.6 million euros, while the value of imports amounted to 141.6 million euros, thus increasing by 48.8 percent compared to the previous year. 

“The main export partners from the EU are Italy with 14.1 percent of the total, Germany with 10 percent, the Netherlands with 4.6 percent and the UK with 2.2 percent. Imports remained at 141.6 million euros, or 47.6 percent of total imports, up by 12.5 percent.” the ASK reported. 

Data also showed that Kosovo’s exports to CEFTA countries decreased, as did the imports.

“During November 2019, the value of Kosovo's exports to CEFTA countries amounted to 13.7 million euros or 38.8 percent of total exports, decreasing by 10.7 percent since 2018. The main export partners from CEFTA countries were Albania with 14 percent of the total, North Macedonia with 12.6 percent, Serbia with 5.5 percent and Montenegro with 4.8 percent. The value of imports amounted to 41.3 million euros or 13.9 percent of total imports, down by 26 percent. The countries with the highest import share were North Macedonia with 6.7 percent of the total, Albania with 5.8 percent and Serbia with 0.1 percent,” the report stated.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 26 - The Kosovo parliament gathered on Thursday afternoon and elected its new chairman; with 75 votes in favor, 27 against and 6 abstentions, Glauk Konjufca was elected for the position.  

The proposal was made suddenly by the leader of the Self Determination (Vetevendosje) Movement Albin Kurti, and then the parliament elected the vice-chairmen, making this the fastest election of its leadership since Kosovo's declaration of independence.

The first parliament meeting was held without a political co-government agreement between the Self-Determination Movement that came first and the Democratic League that came second in the October 6 elections. Since the end of the elections, when negotiations between these parties for co-government begun, it has been assumed that the post of parliament chairman will belong to someone from the Democratic League of Kosovo.

“Today is a very good day for democracy, for state building in Kosovo, since the new parliament was elected, the parliament is a temple of democracy and lawmaking, so I am convinced that through this step we have shown a kind of democratic civilization because, unlike the sixth legislature, we have not blocked the establishment of institutions and with kindness and general interest before any other interest I believe we will overcome all obstacles and have a new government just like we established the new parliament,” said the leader of the Vetevendosje Movement Albin Kurti after the meeting. 

He said he expects cooperation from the Democratic League, with which he said "we are in regular contact.”

Hours before the parliament meeting, Democratic League of Kosovo President Isa Mustafa said that the agreement should include a reciprocal separation of powers, five ministries for Vetevendosje and five ministries for LDK. He said the post of Prime Minister should go to Vetevendosje and the post of Vice Prime Minister to LDK. Continuing, the post of parliament chairman and the post of president, according to him, should be entrusted to the LDK. In return, he said that Vetevendosje should take one more ministry under its leadership in 2021, when the new president is elected. 

"If the Vetevendosje movement is not ready for this agreement and sees the LDK as an obstacle, then I declare that the LDK is ready to relinquish all institutional responsibilities. The LDK expresses its readiness to vote without any conditions the Vetevendosje government,” said Mustafa.

After the parliamentary meeting, Lumir Abdixhiku of the LDK said the party remained true to claims it would not block the establishment of institutions.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, Kurti, via a video message posted on the social network Facebook, said that the LDK rejected his party's latest offer.

“The offer had three points; point 1: speaker of Parliament and the first vice-president belongs to the VV as the first party,  the second vice president belongs to the LDK. Let's make the row between the Parliament Chairman and the second Vice-President of the Parliament. LDK gets the Parliament Chairman and VV the second Vice President. Point 2: we best leave the president election for later. But if the LDK insists that we definitely make the promise of the LDK nomination, then we need to add us a ministry now: the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is vital to combating crime and corruption. The LDK's nomination for presidential candidate comes after we have not found a consensual nonpartisan personality, and when the LDK names his or her candidate, VV’s approval will also be required. And point 3: at the request of LDK, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports is divided, whereby Culture and Youth are transferred to the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, while the Sport is transferred to the Ministry of Health. Non-Serb minorities receive the Ministry of Regional Development or Local Government, while the Serbian minority receives the Ministry for Communities,” he said.

 

US Embassy to Pristina congratulates the new MPs

The US Embassy in Kosovo welcomed the parliamentary meeting, congratulating Chairman Glauk Konjufca.

“The U.S. Embassy welcomes the constitution of the Kosovo Assembly and congratulates Speaker Glauk Konjufca, other members of the Assembly Presidency and all Members. We encourage political leaders to form a new government immediately that is committed to fulfill the mandate of the voters.  We look forward to working with the new government on pressing issues related to peace, justice, and prosperity,” the statement read. 

 

President Thaci seeks fast government formation 

Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi congratulated MPs via a post on social networks, stressing that "the Republic of Kosovo has numerous challenges ahead, which require a high level of responsibility to be overcome, so all elected people must set aside political interests and work for the rapid establishment of institutions of the Republic of Kosovo.”

For now, it is unclear what the course of the process for setting up the new government will be.

Under the constitution, the president of Kosovo proposes to parliament the candidate for prime minister, in consultation with the political party or coalition that has won the necessary majority.

But in reality, that decision depends on the negotiations of the winning parties, the continuation of which remains unclear at this time.

Kosovo has a long experience of long negotiations between governing coalitions in the past. Observers, meanwhile, say the country is at a time when processes need to be stepped up to avoid extending an institutional gap that may have consequences for the future, or avoiding opportunities for the country to go to the polls instead of finding a solution.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 26 - According to the Institute of Statistics (INSTAT), the outflow of Albanian citizens increased by 11.4 percent during November compared to the same period in 2018, surpassing the 9 percent average annual rate. While the high rate of outflows is usual for November due to the Independence Day celebrations, the panic caused by the earthquake proved to be a major drive in the increase of nationals travelling abroad. Simultaneously, inflows of both Albanian and foreign citizens increased by 8,7 percent compared to 2018, with a total of 268.176 citizens.

In total, the number of Albanian and foreign nationals who left the country in November 2019 amounted to 787,359, increasing by 19.2 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. The number of foreigners who left Albania during November 2019 was 307,183, increasing by 34.0 percent compared to November 2018. During the eleven-month period, being among the countries with the highest inflows of citizens to Albania, Switzerland witnessed the highest increase, precisely by 19.7 percent, while inflows from Poland decreased significantly (14 percent).

The number of foreign citizen arrivals in Albania during the eleven-month period in 2019 was 6,117,330, up by 8.3 percent compared to the same period in 2018. In November 2019, Spain was the country with the most outflows to Albania, while North Macedonia witnessed a sharp decline.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-12-25 12:52:37
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 25 - The Kosovo Academy of Sciences and Arts has reacted to the attitudes of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama towards the Balkan mini-Schengen, as well as his statements towards Kosovo's political leaders.

The reaction comes after Prime Minister Rama said Kosovo's leaders were leading the country to a deadlock.

The Kosovo Academy of Sciences regards it as an unreasonable revenge that has a troubling connotation on the future of Kosovo-Albania relations during his statements at the latest summit, which took place in Tirana last Saturday. 

“In Tirana, along with the denial of Serbian aggression over Kosovo, of thousands of those killed and massacred, of unprecedented deportations and destruction, in addition to promoting Albania's official indifference and denial of this national memory, calling this part of Kosovo’s history a ‘pathetic question’; even more frightening and worrying turned out to be the lukewarm response from independent institutions, civil society, the academic world, and the free minds of creative profiles, who were either forced to remain silent or relentlessly endorsed the leader's outrageous grunts against Kosovo,” emphasized the Kosovo Academy of Sciences.

According to the academy, the initiative undertaken by Serbia aims to hamper the region’s European perspective by creating destructive alternatives for those involved. 

“Knowing that Kosovo cannot be involved in any process and in any agreement where it is not equal and which does not recognize its statehood and sovereignty, insult and injury inflicted on it at the last meeting in Tirana, including contemptuous tirades of the prime minister of albania, takes on the dimension of unreasonable revenge and fearful connotation about the future of relations between Kosovo and Albania,” the statement reads. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 24 - The "Thurje" initiative made its first report on Tuesday to the newly-established Special Prosecutor's Office (SPAK) concerning the sterilization concession, on suspicions that it is a corrupt affair.

Representatives of this organization submitted the report to the institution, expressing some doubts: first, the fact this tender was given to a private sector, when for many years the hospitals themselves were doing it and second, that the costs are too high - the price of sterilization for a surgical set was 2.4 euros from public hospitals, while the concessionaire receives on average 190 euros per contract.

Another doubt expressed in the report is the 10-year-old concession deadline, which exceeds the mandates of the two governments. The ‘Thurrja’ initiative suspected corruption because sterilization could be done through an open public tender like many other tenders, and not through an expensive concession.

The last part is the practical implementation of the tender; thus, an inquiry into the quality of this concession is also required, and whether the present sterilization, in addition to costs, really made a radical difference compared to the former one.

The representative of the ‘Thurja’ Initiative Endri Shabani said that "impunity must end so we have come to the new justice institutions. SPAK should prove itself with this first report and should not disappoint everyone's expectations.”

The Ministry of Healthcare entered into a $100 million concession agreement with ‘Sani Service’ L51910021C on December 10, 2015 for ‘integrated services for the provision of a personalized set of surgical instruments, the supply of sterile disposable medical material in surgical rooms, and treatment of biological waste and disinfection of surgical rooms.’

Other competitors in the race opposed the process, saying the winning consortium bid had been beyond the fund’s limit.

The head of the winning company, founded in Pristina, is Ilir Rrapaj, who has run a small construction firm in Umbria, Italy. It is part of a consortium that includes Investal LLC, Servizi Italia, Tecnosanimed and U.Jet S.r.l. "Investal LLC".

Albanian citizen Rrapaj owns 40 per cent stake in the consortium for the surgical sterilization concession, though media has reported he lacks the experience and sufficient capital to justify such a stake in a concession of this magnitude.

The concession for sterilization of surgical equipment was immediately described by BIRN Network investigative journalists as "a suspicious race and of flagrant violations.”

Four years ago the Albanian prosecution launched an investigation, registering criminal proceedings for at least three tenders in the field of healthcare: "free health check", "hemodialysis" and "sterilization of surgical equipment.”

The concession for free health screening for citizens aged 40-65, the hemodialysis concession and the sterilization of surgical equipment all go up to more than 250 million euros.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 19 - The construction of the Vlora Airport will begin on May 31 next year. At the ceremony, the cabinet ministers announced the opening of an international tender for the project that appears to be a BOT (Build-Operate, Transfer) concession with a 35-year term. The Minister of Infrastructure and Energy, Belinda Balluku, said that this process was given special attention, emphasizing that the working groups were careful not to repeat the same mistakes made with the Rinas Airport contract.

“We have designed an international tender for an international airport that guarantees equality. We plan for Albania to become an access point for transatlantic countries such as Canada, the USA or wherever distances are able to be covered, therefore creating wider access to the Albanian diaspora. The terms and conditions after the negotiation phase will guarantee that Vlora International Airport (VIA) will be an airport that will have a direct impact on the economy,” said Balluku. According to her, companies will have to submit bids by March 12, 2020.

The Minister of Finance and Economy, Anila Denaj, spoke about the chain effect of this project on the economy of the area. "This investment is a catalyst for the whole economy and especially for the whole of the South. We pay special attention to the tourism sector, but this is not the only sector that will be developed through the project. The impact on the economy of an airport, according to general studies, leads to a 10 percent increase in the economy of the area and 0.5 per cent of GDP per capita, as well as a 20-25 percent increase in employment at the time of implementation. Investing in this airport is the first step, which will then attract even more investments. This airport will hopefully affect investments in other areas such as healthcare or other infrastructure projects and we think that all this opportunity will be an opportunity for the increase of employment as well. We have to start working on employment because all these investments want a qualified labor force,” Denaj said.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-12-19 20:04:06
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

Despite a very strong opposition by all the media sector in the country, by more than 30 media and human rights organizations worldwide and in spite of substantial criticism from international organizations such as Council of Europe, OSCE and even the European Commission, the Albanian majority was set to approve two laws that will deeply affect freedom of media and freedom of expression in the country.

These laws that are best described as draconian by relevant experts will increase disproportionately the controlling powers and the overall influence of two government regulatory agencies:  AMA (Media Supervisory Authority) and AKEP (Telecommunication and Postal Authority). Both these agencies will assume juridical powers, shadowing the role of courts in disputes about fake news and defamations and will have the right to impose very hefty fines on media channels and portals or even close them temporarily.

This struggle to discipline the media market and fight fake news has been a long one with many setbacks for the current majority. It has always faced strong internal and external opposition. Empowered by the irresponsible behavior of certain media the majority however pushed forward this week doing its best to fuel a populist hatred in the public towards media much in the style of other authoritarian leaders who find it easy to blame everything on the messenger.

The need to have some sort of control mechanisms on media that might spread hate speech or false alarms or even defamatory rhetoric on individuals is real and global. Different mechanisms are applied in different states. However he present action of the majority has the traits of an endeavor to limit free expression and put in place a controlling and intimidating environment that will strengthen self-censorship and propaganda in reporting.

The process through which these legislative measures were put on the decisions makers’ agenda was characterized by an aggressive verbal confrontation between stakeholders.  The extreme obsession to get this through despite all the criticism put forward by serious international institutions is baffling at best. Usually adapting a careful approach claiming that they are always on the international partners’ side this time the majority finds itself at odds with the international community.

And let us not forget that these laws are being discussed and passed when there is still the numbing vacuum of the constitutional court which under normal conditions would strike them both down immediately for violating key constitutional principles of both free expression and for the separation of powers.

Therefore it becomes clear that the main objective of the so called “censorship package” is not the regulation of the media sector and the fight against fake news. It resembles much more a heavy handed approach to get the fourth power under control, no matter how absurd this sounds in the current circumstances.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-12-18 13:02:17
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-18 12:02:17
                    [post_content] => By Sonja Biserko 

Any discussion about Serbia-Kosovo relations has to take into account the international context and interests of some global players that strongly influence regional dynamics, relations between Serbs and Albanians included.

In the early 1990s at the outbreak of Yugoslav wars, the liberal order that implies international cooperation was still functional. That was evident in the way the Contact Group coped with the Yugoslav crisis, and in operations of other mechanisms in which major international players were involved. International engagement was in the function of bringing the Balkans in transatlantic integration. In addition to the aspect of security (NATO), EU member-states operated in the Balkans through soft power with and economic integration. Dynamic of the Balkans’ integration depended on the region’s potentials. However, the financial crisis (2008) changed EU’s priorities, while Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidency and Russia’s penetration into the region (2013) disturbed its existing agenda.

There is no telling so far what will come out of EU’s attempt – Germany’s in the first place – to effectuate normalization through Belgrade-Pristine dialogue, and consequently Kosovo’s recognition and its membership of UN.

The Brussels dialogue, which resulted in an agreement and a number of other special agreements, was unfortunately halted was halted the moment Commissioner Mogerini chaged the format of dialogue and accepted the deal the two presidents, Thaci and Vučić, made on Kosovo’s partition. Partition of Kosovo has always been Belgrade’s only option, but it was surprising that Thaci and Albanian Premier Rama said yes to the deal. The deal also had the support of certain international circles, but failed thanks primarily to German opposition to changing borders.

Tariffs imposed on the goods from Serbia, assassination of Oliver Ivanović and a numenr of other developments have led to blocking of dialogue and raised tensions.

The recent Kosovo elections and the victory of Albin Kurti (Self-determination and LDK) have changed the political panorama in Kosovo and opened up the possibility of creating a new framework for dialogue and a possible solution.

The results of the Kosovo elections have led to a relaxation in Kosovo society and raised expectations regarding the fight against corruption and addressing every day problems. Albin Kurti is a politician without a war record or corruption in his file. He immediately announced lifting of 100-percent- tariffs that enables reopening of the dialogue with Serbia. He also announced the principle of reciprocity requesting equality for Kosovo in its dialogue with Serbia.[1]

Thaci and Haradinaj are true electoral losers, mostly because of irresponsibility they have demonstrated at home and at international scene. Their foreign policy ended up in a fiasco – their policy for visa liberalization failed and Kosovo was not admitted to Interpol and UNESCO. Belgrade’s campaign against Kosovo’s recognition resulted in withdrawals by some smaller countries. Hence, repute and opportunities for the young state of Kosovo were seriously undermined. No doubt that Kurti’s unyielding stance about Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity considerably decided the electoral outcome.

Albin Kurti denies recognition to the Serbian List that won all the ten minority seats in the parliament. He argues that it does not represent Kosovo Serbs but the Serbian government.

Another electoral loser in Kosovo is President Vučić, who had strongly influenced developments in Kosovo via the Serbian List under his control. Belgrade is dissatisfied with the outcome of elections as it no longer has the partner to deal with on Kosovo’s partition (Thaci), it is particularly dissatisfied with the fact that Kurti becomes prime minister. It still hopes that US would exert pressure on LDK to make a coalition with Thaci’s party that ranks third by the number of votes won. Apart from Vucic and his environment, disappointment with the election results is not hidden by other actors in the Serbian scene and it can be said that there is consensus in this respect.

They mostly argue that Kurti’s “extremism” and messages he has put across “leave no room for improvements, reducing tensionsand continuation of negotiations.” Commenting on Kurti’s victory, Serbian tabloids ran headlines labeling him “A European Šešelj,”[2] “Serb-hater,[3] and “Great Albania dreamer.”[4] President Vučić himself called him “a most dangerous man.”[5] Current political elites in Belgrade, Prishtine and Tirana as well are conspiring against Albin Kurti hoping that Kosovo might go to the polls again. While speculations in this regard multiply, Kurti continues to meet all major partners from the EU and the US.

Serbia looks forward to Americans’ influence on the composition of Kosovo cabinet. However, as things stand, the West and US have accepted Kurti as a new leader capable of coping with corruption and crime. As indictments from The Hague will be coming in soon, Kurti is probably the only politician ready to extradite the accused.

The fact that US appointed two special envoys for Kosovo and the Western Balkans leads to the conclusion that it would try to speed up a settlement. It allegedly plans to force Serbia and Kosovo to take their seats at the negotiating table and reach a sustainable solution. US’ primary objective is to suppress Russia from the Balkans and have the Western Balkans in the membership of NATO. President Vučić is barely pleased with these possibilities. His statements following on his meeting with newly appointed US envoy Richard Grenell were rather pessimistic.

Belgrade has all its hopes on Russia in terms of reaching a "Kosovo compromise" that is partition. Because, as many point out, "Russian support is essential for the survival of the Republika Srpska as much as it is for the defense of Kosovo and Metohija.[6]  In addition, given the changed international circumstances, Belgrade reckons that Russia has a number of reasons to support Serbs in national positions of vital interest, regardless of its relations with Washington. Vučić pins his hopes on the meeting with President Putin, scheduled for late 2019. Russian Premier Medvedev’s visit to Belgrade also symbolically mirrored Belgrade’s expectations from Russia.

Ever since it resolutely stepped in the Balkans (2013) Kosovo has been Russia’s main argument – and instrument – for blocking the region’s movement towards Euro-Atlantic integrations. Regressive trends in each country of the region only strengthened Russia’s influence on overall developments. Democratic capitalism has been less and less attractive to Western Balkan countries; hence, they have been more and more turning towards other players such as Russia, China, Turkey or UAE. Alternatives to modernity the latter are offering are anyway more appealing to incumbent authoritarian leaders in the region. Besides, those players are placing financial resources for infrastructural projects in their hands.

Actual geopolitical circumstances in the Western Balkans and, especially, the inertia of EU (as it let down Macedonia and Albania) open up more room to Russia’s presence, even in the countries wherefrom it has been expelled recently (Montenegro and Macedonia). As status quo in Kosovo perfectly suits Russia; hence, it has been invoking UNSC Resolution 1244. The key to the problem of Kosovo is, in a way, in Russia’s hands, rather than Serbia’s. Besides, at the hearing in the European Parliament, Jose Borrell, EU’s newly appointed commissioner for foreign policy, reminded that Kosovo could not be a state unless recognized by “China, India and Russia.”[7]

Even the “Small Schengen” project Vučić has been offering to Albania and North Macedonia plays into Russia’s hands.

For, if EU neglects the Western Balkans (French President’s decision to prevent opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania), its credibility in the region will be sloping downward.

Russian analysts also argue for a status quo in Kosovo. Katarina Entina of the High School of Economics predicts yet another backward step in negotiations, and says that Kosovo is not on America’s priority list; as Trumps has begun campaigning for another presidential term, he cannot be expected to take some stronger stand about Kosovo, so everything will remain as it is for another year and a half. EU also needs to protract Serbia’s progress in the fulfillment of technical requirements for its membership. Therefore, speeding up the solution to the Kosovo issue suits neither EU nor Trump; so, “the dialogue will be only formal and technical.”[8]

Western policy for the Balkans has been unproductive because it has excessively banked on corrupted elites in power and the promises they made. Having neglected democratization – and, hence, the media, civil society and opposition – it enabled strengthening of authoritarian regimes and leaders.

No major progress towards stability and sustainable peace could be expected in the Balkan region unless it is crime cleansed. This is why Kosovo elections and Albin Kurti’s victory heralds of a new era in the Western Balkans. It will not be a process without resistance and violence, but it is certainly the only way to change the paradigm so far. And the hints we witness now require stronger presence of EU in the region, and its full support.

To sum up, the region necessitates thorough reforms, which the Western world is facing also with great resistance. It is necessary to restore faith in the liberal system and institutions. Only in this key can the Kosovo issue, as well as all other relations in the Balkans, be resolved. That’s the only key to the solution of the Kosovo problem, and all other problematic relations in the Balkans.

*This article first appeared at the Tirana Observatory (www.tiranaobservatory.com)
                    [post_title] => Decriminalization of the Balkans condition of all conditions  
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                    [post_date] => 2019-12-18 12:59:30
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-18 11:59:30
                    [post_content] => By Naim Rashiti 

Kosovo held new snap elections on 6 October this year. The record-high turnout brought change in the political landscape. Vetëvendosje  Movement (LVV) of Albin Kurti won the elections with 29 out of 120 seats of the Kosovo parliament. Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) came second with 28 seats. The governing coalition of warriors lost elections. Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Kadri Veseli came third with 24 seats. The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) of Prime minister Ramush Haradinaj earned only 13 seats. The victory of the opposition parties, VV and LDK need still work to materialise.  Elections results were certified only in late November, almost two months after the vote and the electoral system  impose coalitions of large number of parties.

In public, the opposition parties until now, LVV and LDK brought hopes. Voters expect them to change governance, fight corruption, attract investments and stand up against any possible ‘controversial options” for an agreement with Serbia. Kosovo’s context offers little room for radical improvement; it will be constrained by both the socio-economic reality, with an inefficient, starved-for-funds state and a dysfunctional party system, and the need to move forward in the various international-sponsored processes. All of this, in a difficult political landscape.

Despite the generally cordial campaign that preceded the elections, relations between key political actors remain tense; leaders do not trust each other and basic norms of cooperation between actors are still missing. That is especially true for the case of Albin Kurti, the leader of Vetëvendosje, who has spent much of his time in opposition (and before that, as an activist) attacking other parties, including his current potential partner LDK.

Last two years, Prime Minister Haradinaj had tense exchanges with President Hashim Thaçi, and the President of the Assembly, Kadri Veseli, the leader of PDK, the largest party of the coalition. At some point, relations between them broke down to a point of refusing to talk one to another. Vetëvendosje and LDK made a strong largely not-so-loyal opposition to Haradinaj; should they join forces in power, they will face the same treatment by the remnants of the PAN coalition.  In particular, Haradinaj’s AAK will harshly defend the tariffs against Serbian goods once Kurti  will remove them. In addition, PDK, which would then be the largest party in opposition, will be a challenging partner for the new government.

Furthermore, how the new government will interact with President Thaçi and his office remains doubtful. President Thaçi has so far exercised a more central role in Kosovar politics than his predecessors, due to the continuous presence of his former party in the previous governments. However, in a government led by Vetëvendosje and LDK, his influence will certainly diminish. In fact, given past animosities with them, it is likely that conflict will continue, at least until Thaçi’s end of mandate in 2021. Should the Head of State fail to build a working relationship with the Head of Government, a number of issues will risk stalling, including Foreign Affairs and the Dialogue with Serbia. Similarly, various appointments for independent constitutional institutions require consensus of both and can become a source of conflict between them. Sustained personal distaste, a shared history of mistrust and discord, and conflicting egos will make building constructive relations difficult, if not impossible.

If Kurti were to secure the premiership, he ought to build some relations with both his coalition partner and the opposition, with whom he never tried to reconcile. Any new government will have to create a favourable climate to enact the promised reforms. In the case of Kurti, especially, would entail making a U- turn and engaging with the opposition from day one.

First, he has to agree with LDK on a governing coalition and share of power; both had long engaged in talks and claimed to  have come together to a joint governing program, a structure of the government, priority policies, dialogue with Serbia etc. Yet all broke down when they set to negotiate posts. LDK leader wants VV to grant him the post of the country President in 2021, after the mandate of Hashim Thaci end. For Kurti this is too much. Even if an agreement between LVV and LDK is reached soon, they ought to negotiate with minorities, including Serbs to vote their government, whose position is still unknown.

Kurti chose LDK with whom have considerable differences; LDK is a conservative party that is loyal to the statehood and identity of Kosovo, and fully adhere to liberal policies of economy, governance etc. VV insists on opposite policies. For example. LDK support full privatisation of society owned and public enterprises, Vetëvendosje wants to put all companies under a government scheme. LDK’s trust on its potential is very low, and worry that  it will be marginalised in the Kurti government or divert policies. It’s a relation that was never tired; often conflicts between them were much higher than with others, in particular when LDK leader Isa Mustafa led the government of Kosovo between 2015 and 2017.

Both, LVV and LDK oppose new compromises in the dialogue with Serbia. For Albin Kurti, dialogue with Belgrade is not a top priority. EU and U.S. expect the new government to immediately engage in the dialogue. The Kurti-led government will remove the 100 percent tariffs imposed on goods coming from Serbia and Bosnia but will impose “full reciprocity” that will not make any easier for Belgrade. Kosovo’s allies worry that new measures can delay dialogue and if does not start soon, “the dialogue will pose for much longer”.  U.S. with two envoys, and EU to-soon-appoint a new special envoy expect Albin Kurti to appoint a broad-based negotiating team and together with President Hashim Thaçi to soon participate in the high-level dialogue, i.e. upcoming Paris Summit that French President Emanuel Macron has long aimed at doing.  LDK is more sensitive than VV toward the demands coming from international friends of Kosovo.

In recent months Albin Kurti has attempted to make himself a more Kosovo centric politician. Yet, LDK remains concerned  and worry that Kurti can change position toward Kosovo statehood,  its symbols, constitution, territory etc. Led by Vjosa Osmani, but not only, LDK wants to consolidate ‘Dardania’ identity of Kosovo, established by the former leader Ibrahim Rugova. This is not one of Kurti.

Many local and international actors worry that should Albin Kurti fail to conduct or conclude the dialogue with Serbia, he may shift to his old agenda, the laisse deep in his hear, a confederation with Albania. It has become a practice for the leaders of Kosovo and Albania to promote unification every time they fail at home, but all doubts intentions of Edi Rama or Hashim Thaçi when they do so. In the case of Albin Kurti is different; he had long promoted this policy.  LDK will oppose any formal rapprochement with Albania; it will rigidly oppose the debate for any special arrangement, a confederation or any institutional make between two countries, that undermines the sole sovereignty of Kosovo.

Likewise, LDK will strongly oppose new regional initiatives, i.e. min-Schengen that recently leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania launched. Kurti objected cautiously, largely aiming at avoiding public disagreements with Albanian Prime minister Edi Rama. LDK will oppose Rama too.

Kosovo domestic problems are enormous too. Yet, the new government can find a much greater leeway to launch its own initiatives on key reforms, accountability of government, functioning of the institutions, depolitisation and effectives of highly corrupted independent agencies and regulatory bodies, foreign policy and attracting investments. It shall priorities strength of the institutions, fight against the informal economy and employ competent officials.

Kurti needs to strengthen rule of law and reforms of judiciary, increase pace on the fight against corruption and organised crime and lobby to the EU member states to secure long-delayed free visa travel for Kosovo citizens, no later than second half of 2020, when Germany preside the council. Low quality Education and a dysfunctional healthcare are in high demand better policies. Citizens expect Vetëvendosje and LDK to soon deliver on all those ‘priorities’. Kurti needs to show rapid change to meet the high expectations, to which he has long contributed too. The composition of the government, domestic politics and international developments will determine the success or failure of Albin Kurti as leader of Kosovo.

 

This article is written before the new Kosovo institutions are constituted, and anticipate that Vetëvendosje and LDK will reach an agreement to form a majority and Albin Kurti to lead the government.
*This article first appeared at the Tirana Observatory. (www.tiranaobservatory.com) 
[post_title] => Albin Kurti’s victory to work out an old agenda of Kosovo [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albin-kurtis-victory-to-work-out-an-old-agenda-of-kosovo [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-13 15:54:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-13 14:54:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143762 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 143758 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-12-18 12:55:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-18 11:55:59 [post_content] => By Veton Surroi On the first day of the upcoming year, Albania will assume the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the hand-over ceremony of the Chairmanship from Slovakia, one can imagine the former Chair informing his Albanian counterparts about OSCE peacekeeping missions in Ukraine, Georgia, Transdniestrian region in Moldova or Nagorno Karabagh. They will also inform them on the mission to Kosovo (or ‘Kosovo and Metohija’ when speaking to delegations from Serbia, Russia or others in its obrite). They may also inform Albania’s delegation on another OSCE mission which did not belong to the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia – a country known as Albania. Said differently, Albania will assume the upcoming Chairmanship of the OSCE and be informed from the previous chair on the organizations work in Albania. This is a seemingly absurd scene. But if it can serve as comforting to Albania and Albanians, this is not the first time this scene has played out. Previously, Bosnia and Herzegovina were elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council as the body was preparing an assessment report on the country itself. This is however not comforting. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a proper state. Assuming the Chairmanship of the OSCE is a great honor for Albania. The decision to support its candidacy is in part due to its positive role during the tragic wars leading to the dissolution of Yugoslavia for which it is highly regarded by many member states. When the 2020 Chairmanship of the organization was decided, the dominant perception was that Albania had become at last a stable country, adhered to NATO and aspired EU membership as it gradually transforms itself into a functional democracy which guarantees its citizens perspective. Given this consideration, the chairmanship was expected to further advance Albania’s international position as part of the club of states with credibility. But Albania, which will temporarily lead the organization starting on January 1st, is unlikely to provide an added value, guidance to the mission in Ukraine’s Luhansk, answers to Russia’s persistence not to reduce its armament in Transdniestria, or add something to repeated pleas for reconciliation through the mission in Nagorno Karabagh. Russian diplomats must have already briefed its ‘frozen conflict’ clients about the upcoming round of foreign diplomats with an OSCE mission in their own country to explain that peace is a better alternative to war. The mission, in softer terms referred to as ‘the presence’ ritually deals with the recycling of democratic power legitimacy, otherwise known as elections. OSCE has similar missions in Serbia and North Macedonia whereas the former is increasingly autocratic and the latter more democratic. In comparison, the country assuming the chairmanship of the organization is caught in a serious institutional crisis that stands out even among the region’s outrageous precedents as uniquely authentic. As such, Albania embarks on the new year with imbalanced institutional powers, notable among which is the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court over the last two years. The legislative is also without an opposition. As a result, its prime minister governs untroubled from pressure from institutional or political checks and balances which free him from consideration for critical voices. In absence of a power balance between the three branches of the government, the President has turned into an oppositional force. The political opposition itself has become a mere spectator. I fear that the project image of Albania prior to assuming the leadership of the OSCE does not exist anymore. 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 preconceive that whatever peacekeeping mission priorities there may be for the organization, Mr. 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. When Albania was elected to lead the organization in 2020, many of its well-wishers, be them at home or abroad, were jubilant. This could have provided a great opportunity for a new generation of diplomats who could have represented the country in an emotionally affecting manner; since the state apparatus in these occasions improves its performance beyond previously known standards. It is often in occasions such as this both the society and the state dug out energies, they did not know they had at their disposal. But this is unlikely to happen in the case of Albania, which is expected to be marred by democratic legitimacy crisis until it reaches a tipping point. This could turn into an absurd historical development where the country leading the OSCE could need its assistance to hold general and local elections and to regain the democratic legitimacy of the legislative and the executive. If the chairmanship of the OSCE was previously considered as a quick medical treatment to prevent conflict escalation and assist in overcoming issues associated with democratic transition, Albania is likely to find itself in the midst of a paradox as it will seek to simultaneously seek and provide these services to others. *This article was first published at the Tirana Observatory (www.tiranaobservatory.com)   [post_title] => Albania, as OSCE’s chair will simultaneously provide and seek democratic assistance [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-as-osces-chair-will-simultaneously-provide-and-seek-democratic-assistance [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-13 15:52:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-13 14:52:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143758 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 143804 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-12-27 20:16:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-27 19:16:20 [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 27 - During November, Kosovo’s imported goods from Albania were worth 17.1 million euros, equivalent to 5.8 percent of the total imports, according to recent data published by the Kosovo Agency of Statistics (ASK). Compared to a year ago, Kosovo's imports from Albania dropped by 15 percent, leading to a decline in total import share by 1.6 percentage points. During November of last year, when Kosovo's economic sanction against Serbia had not yet entered into force, Kosovo accounted for 7.4 percent of total imports in Albania.  On the other hand, the value of Kosovo's exports to the European Union amounted to 15.6 million euros, while the value of imports amounted to 141.6 million euros, thus increasing by 48.8 percent compared to the previous year.  “The main export partners from the EU are Italy with 14.1 percent of the total, Germany with 10 percent, the Netherlands with 4.6 percent and the UK with 2.2 percent. Imports remained at 141.6 million euros, or 47.6 percent of total imports, up by 12.5 percent.” the ASK reported.  Data also showed that Kosovo’s exports to CEFTA countries decreased, as did the imports. “During November 2019, the value of Kosovo's exports to CEFTA countries amounted to 13.7 million euros or 38.8 percent of total exports, decreasing by 10.7 percent since 2018. The main export partners from CEFTA countries were Albania with 14 percent of the total, North Macedonia with 12.6 percent, Serbia with 5.5 percent and Montenegro with 4.8 percent. The value of imports amounted to 41.3 million euros or 13.9 percent of total imports, down by 26 percent. The countries with the highest import share were North Macedonia with 6.7 percent of the total, Albania with 5.8 percent and Serbia with 0.1 percent,” the report stated.   [post_title] => Imports from Kosovo to Albania drop as those to EU rise by 48.8% [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => kosovo-exports-to-albania-drop-as-those-to-eu-rise-by-48-8 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-12-28 01:50:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-12-28 00:50:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143804 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 37 [name] => Free to Read [slug] => free [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 37 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Want to read some of our articles, but are not ready to become a full paid subscriber? Register for free, and read all articles in this section — for free. [parent] => 0 [count] => 1094 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 37 [category_count] => 1094 [category_description] => Want to read some of our articles, but are not ready to become a full paid subscriber? Register for free, and read all articles in this section — for free. [cat_name] => Free to Read [category_nicename] => free [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 37 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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