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Replacing ‘me-time’ with ‘we-time’ at Tirona vs Partizani

Replacing ‘me-time’ with ‘we-time’ at Tirona vs Partizani

By Sidonja Manushi  Willingly – and excitedly even – going to a football match in Albania as a woman is worth it even just for the looks on people’s faces when you tell them you’ll be spending your Friday evening

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Editorial: A sleep walking patient aiming for the abyss

Editorial: A sleep walking patient aiming for the abyss

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL There is only one thing worse than a full blown democratic crisis and that is ignoring it, normalizing the current state of affairs as just an administrative glitch with some teargas protest flare. Any doctor will tell

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Albania launches new ‘Be Taken’ tourism campaign with appeal to overcome prejudice

Albania launches new ‘Be Taken’ tourism campaign with appeal to overcome prejudice

TIRANA, Feb. 27 – In an appeal to Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson to come and discover Albania on his own following his notorious comments about the Balkan country a decade ago in the award-winning ‘Taken’ movie, Albania has launched

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No Church in the Wild – The Peak of Laç

No Church in the Wild – The Peak of Laç

By Christopher Tushaj Kisha of Laçit was one of the most cherished of sites within Albania. But after the Communist struggle, all that was left was an old abandoned hillside with a rock showing signs of a once holy site. With

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Tirana rated among top 2019 emerging European destinations

Tirana rated among top 2019 emerging European destinations

TIRANA, Feb. 20 – London-based Emerging Europe has rated Albania’s capital, Tirana, among the top emerging European destinations to visit in 2019. In an article rating 19 top Central and Eastern European destinations, the Emerging Europe portal places Tirana sixth

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Legal, physical barriers deny tourists access to public beaches

Legal, physical barriers deny tourists access to public beaches

TIRANA, Feb. 19 – A series of barriers in place deny access to coastal areas to thousands of Albanian residents who can’t afford paying fees at private beaches, massively rented from local government units at quite cheap rates ahead of

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Shkodra campsite rated Albania’s best

Shkodra campsite rated Albania’s best

TIRANA, Feb. 14 – A campsite along the Shkodra Lake, northern Albania, has been rated Albania’s best by a German portal focused on European camping holidays. The ranking is made by Berlin-based Camping.info, one of the leading information portals for

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An Institute of Thought seeking to improve society

An Institute of Thought seeking to improve society

By Sonja Methoxha  An interview with Dr. Ardian Muhaj Prof. Dr. Ardian Muhaj is the newly appointed director of the Albanian Institute of the Islamic Thought and Civilization (AIITC). The institute was opened by visionary Dr. Ramiz Zekaj in 1996.

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A commemoration to Ismail Qemali

A commemoration to Ismail Qemali

By Sonja Methoxha   “However, God desired, that with the work, the unmatched bravery and courage of the Albanians, from today on the misfortunes and sufferings of our Motherland will cease, here and thus, we are Free, Independent and by

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Illyrian ceramic vessels found in Durres

Illyrian ceramic vessels found in Durres

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – Over 220 red-figured ceramic vessels dating back to the 4th century BC were unearthed at the necropolis of the Dauta, Kokomani and Spitalle hills, in Durres. These vessels are believed to be products from Illyrian tribes

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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi 

Willingly - and excitedly even - going to a football match in Albania as a woman is worth it even just for the looks on people’s faces when you tell them you’ll be spending your Friday evening watching legendary Tirona vs Partizani. But it’s definitely not the only reason. 

A football match is very much like a ritual. Actually, considering how F.K.Tirana fans call their team God, calling it a ritual is probably the most fitting word. 

Tirona fanatics come at a derby such as the one against Partizani (which remains undefeated by FK Tirana over the last five years) about six to five hours ahead of the game. They sit in small, not very fancy, but shady under trees coffee shops, wearing blue and white hats, shirts, scarves, and think ahead of the moment they won’t be able to drink inside the football stadium by downing as many beers as possible. 

Of course, part of the gathering process is dividing the hiding spots for all those firecrackers and pyro that we see explode inside important derbys like this although we know it’s illegal. Here too, girls are invaluable, hiding most of the equipment in places no one dares search them and sneaking in bottles of rakia as if it’s water much more efficiently than their fellow male trouble-makers. Too bad only a handful of girls attend matches, let alone be club fans who enjoy to harmlessly break the law. 

By the time police start arriving around the Selman Stërmasi stadium (home ground of the club named after eminent KF Tirana player, coach and president, Selman Stërmasi), chants dipped in excitement and cursing can already be heard, just like the occasional tipsy fan cracking a joke and then smiling devilishly at the young boys still leaving an elementary school close-by. At this point, beers are being passed around from one person to the other, and I’m guessing it’s not because the store is too far away, but because these fans communicate as if they’re part of a family and, in a family, sharing is caring. 

Another reason is that when you’re drinking time flies and, before anyone knows it it’s already one hour and a half to the game; a clear sign that entering any minute later will mean too much traffic at the entrances. Seeing even tourists - sun-kissed Germans and Dutch youths with a passion for football probably having found out about the game - sitting around the stadium’s edges, makes entering the stadium at 4:30 pm actually make sense. 

Passing through those gates marks the moment things stop making sense - or even need to.

Gate D slowly starts filling up with blue and white, with men, boys and children (and the occasional girl) banging their feet on the old plastic chairs that haven’t had someone actually sit in them in ages. They chant old and new songs and shout at the opposing side of the field, where a considerably smaller group of red-dressed fanatic fans is supporting FK Partizani.

“I know half of the guys there. We don’t really hate each other. But in this stadium we do. And in this stadium, we need to crash them,” a man noticing me take pictures of the ‘reds’ tells me confidently, and then turns in their direction holding his middle fingers up.

Not being allowed to bring many supporters at a Tirana home game, Partizani has gone all out and hired a Partizani-clad paraglider roam around the stadium about an hour before the match starts, forcing you to turn your eyes on the sky. 

Tirona fanatics do not spare their curses at him too. 

As expected, the match itself doesn’t hold much of a significance. Not because it is dull, although none of the teams ended up scoring a goal, but because the feast and atmosphere that surrounds it is much more remarkable. 

A football stadium - maybe more so than stadiums of any other sport - is a place where you can feel truly alive for 90 minutes. It is the kind of playground that makes you forget your routine, stress of daily life, that annoying co-worker or the insecurity of the future. Those moments of cheering over a ball and a football jersey are priceless and can be felt just as passionately in a pitch somewhere in a village as they do in the most crowded of stadiums.

Sometimes, during wine conversations with male and female friends who consider themselves too intellectual to watch football - and especially an Albanian match attended by “hood guys” - I have heard that football is particularly likable for apathetic boys who need to belong in a group, often lacking individuality. 

But the need to belong to a group, be part of something bigger than ourselves, is part of being human, that which Aristotle called being a “social animal.” And, in a world constantly asking you to prove, offer or possess something to feel as if you belong, rare are the places that remain without judgment and criteria, but rather welcoming of whoever is willing and capable to cheer and let go of societal norms for almost two hours. 

Consider it as your get-out-of-the-comfort-zone activity for the next time you get a chance to watch a live football match. 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

There is only one thing worse than a full blown democratic crisis and that is ignoring it, normalizing the current state of affairs as just an administrative glitch with some teargas protest flare.

Any doctor will tell that a right diagnosis is the first step for treatment. They might rightly add that the diagnosis needs to be timely. If a patient loses time, pretends that symptoms are temporary and not serious he will inch towards the inevitable much sooner leaving the doctors helpless. What is happening now in Albania is the revelation of all the grave symptoms created by the failure of the governance model and the crumbling facade of the democracy.

Yet many actors of the society go on acting as if things are completely normal, as if there are only some small surmountable obstacles to political life. The same is valid for most of the international community that seems to have directed its criticism only to one side. One can only shrug at the irony of these declarations claiming that the crisis is ruining Albania’s image and touristic potential when the house is indeed on fire.

Albania is now in the midst of a double representation and institutional vacuum: it has no Constitutional Court and no formal opposition in the Parliament. Even the most basic checks and balances that guarantee the monitoring of executive power and keeping it within the limits of the democratic game are missing. The gap leaves the entire system in a frightening disarray.

For as much as the majority and the Prime Minister continue the mantra of “keeping the contract with the electorate” and the international community plays at being a moderator for the sake of ‘negotiations’ or ‘image related issues’ or the simple preservation of stability,  then what we have is a normalization of a situation that is far from being acceptable. It seems like an effort to make a nightmare look tolerable.

Albanian democracy needs a strategic rethinking and reestablishment of the most basic rules of the game starting with the process of elections which the genesis of all evil that follows. It further needs the safekeeping of institutional checks and balances and their protection from the aggressive and blind show of force of majorities. It needs a real chance of giving each indispensable actor in the system its role to play with responsibility and vision.

Downplaying the seriousness and scope of the crisis, ignoring the powerful messages that come from the popular and political discontent might serve short term political goals and lengthen the shelf life of the already damaged facades. It can only go so far as to maintain a fragile negative stability. However borrowing the opening metaphor right now it seems as if a team of doctors were to rest in complete indifference while their patient sleep walks into an abyss.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: A sleep walking patient aiming for the abyss
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 27 – In an appeal to Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson to come and discover Albania on his own following his notorious comments about the Balkan country a decade ago in the award-winning ‘Taken’ movie, Albania has launched its new promotional campaign ahead of the peak tourist season.

“Hey Liam, we love watching your films, and we think you are very talented. But we got a bone to pick up with you. You've made people of the world think that we Albanians are criminals, thugs, and always on the look out for daughters to kidnap. Well, maybe it's time for us to show you our specific set of skills, take you on a plane because we think you will be taken by Albania,” says a popular Albanian comedy actor in a newly released promotional video.

Dubbed “Be Taken by Albania,” the promotional video features popular Albanian destinations and tourists enjoying themselves amid appeals to get to know Albania's history, traditional handicraft, castles, fjords and valleys, glacial lakes, canyons and flamingos surrounded by the warmth and friendliness of all the locals.

The new campaign follows an earlier “Albania, Go your own way” that has been branding Albania’s emerging tourism since 2014 leading to more and more tourists discovering Albania as “a new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret”.

“We've been taken by Albania. Now it's your turn!” foreign tourists say in the video.

Quoting Kosovo-Albanian actor Arben Bajraktaraj who starred as Marko from the northeastern Albanian region of Tropoja at the 'Taken' movie, tourists are urged to come and prove that “the house of an Albanian belongs to God and to the guest.”

Speaking at the launch of the campaign this week, EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca, invited foreign tourists to overcome media or movie prejudice about Albania and be taken by Albania to leave with a smile on their face and the desire to come back."

"How not to be taken by the beautiful Ionian Riviera, the majestic mountains of the North, the rich cultural heritage and history of the country, the delicious food and warm hearted people? Not to forget the vibrant city life of Tirana," said Ambassador Soreca.

An Italian national, Soreca is featured in the promotional video, rafting on the Osumi Canyon and saying "I've been taken by the beauty of the Osumi Canyon. Now, it's your turn!”

Rolf Castro-Vasquez, the CEO of Tirana International Airport, who has been living in Albania for the past 14 years, says the people are the most surprising and positive thing he has discovered about Albania.

"When you come to a new country, you always think about how you are going to be treated, or what the culture is. In Albania, the people are very kind and friendly, exactly the opposite of what the average European thinks," he is quoted as saying in an interview with the ‘Taken by Albania’ portal.

"The country is safe, and also the hospitality of the people is simply amazing. I would invite anyone to come to Albania to explore its treasures: first of all the beauty of its nature, and its rich cultural heritage, and not forgetting also economically, Albania has much to offer foreign investors," says Castro-Vasquez who regularly rides his motorbike around Albania.

Albania, where tourism is turning into a key industry, is described as “a place where routine will melt under the midday sun, and where you'll reinvigorate a zest for the undiscovered and experience the grit of nature beyond the confines of a map.”

“In a Europe that’s been tamed and explored, with rules and order around every corner, Albania is the last defender of the rugged. A place where the mountains have no roads, the rivers flow wild, and the beaches are unspoiled by the concrete promenades of the West,” says the promotional portal.

The travel and tourism industry has grown to become one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy, officially generating €1.7 billion, some 12 percent of the country’s GDP, from more than 5 million tourists.

Albania has made it to a series of top under-the-radar and affordable destinations for 2019, hinting the country’s emerging and fast growing travel and tourism industry is set for another golden year, although a tense political situation in the run-up to the June 30 elections could have some negative effect unless everything goes smooth.

The most important ratings come from prestigious Lonely Planet and booking.com, but also a number of travel writers, recommending Albania as a still off-the-beaten-path and budget destination.

Several outdoor tour operators in the country offer hiking, rafting, biking, horse riding and birds watching adventures in the country, while cross-border tourism is gaining an upper hand with the opening of several mountain hiking trails.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a hardline Stalinist dictatorship.
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                    [post_content] => By Christopher Tushaj

Kisha of Laçit was one of the most cherished of sites within Albania. But after the Communist struggle, all that was left was an old abandoned hillside with a rock showing signs of a once holy site. With all of their might, the Communists intended to destroy this holy place for the Albanians, totally demolishing in 1971. My understanding of point of articulation for this site’s sanctity doesn’t lie necessarily within the church, or the description connecting it to its Catholic narrative of holy saints. I believe there is a much deeper, simpler and recognizable truth about the mysticism surrounding this location-the mountain land itself.

There is a long-standing tradition that dates back even before the origins of this church’s original construction in the late 1200’s. Albanians all over have held other sites at mountaintops such as Tomorr, Gjallicë, Rumia and Pashtrik as places for annual spiritual pilgrimages, walks through changes in time and space towards mountain peaks everywhere. A well-known Albanian ethnologist Mark Tirta connects the cult of the mountain with the cult of the Sun. “There existed among Albanians the cult of mountains or mountaintops which were worshiped; people worshiped it in the morning when the Sun rose” (Tirta 2006: 412). Nevertheless, these ancient practices are still preserved today. And it was evident in my own journey. Believers of the Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic religions all make a similar pilgrimage, almost as if uninterrupted from the footsteps of their Pagan ancestors thousands of years earlier, to pay homage to these familiar sacred sites in the lands of the Zanas (these mountain fairies truly host a stunning and magnificent landscape). These ancient beliefs are so embedded in the roots of the Albanian culture that it was a friend of mine (Muslim) who persisted to visit one of these sacred places. This was the site of the newly reconstructed Church of Laç in northwestern Albania.

I was assured that my religion wasn’t relevant-thousands of others stories in deed could confirm the expected healing powers that this blessed site has. In 1981, a group of soldiers from Drojë dropped an order to go to the hill ‘Saint Anthony in Laç’ to demolish the remainder of the church’s foundations. The building was first collapsed in the infamous year of 1967, when the communist regime openly opposed the church and even Saint Anthony in Mejdani Square. But in the end, this silent dual with the weapon of prayer was won for the faithful. It seems that this mysterious spirit was so strong that it even contended against an entire dictatorship. The local soldiers were given orders to blow up the walls, and with them, to forever erase the memory of the chapel and of Saint Anthony. After demolishing a part of the wall, 32 platoon soldiers were left paralyzed from the waist down. Emergency services came rushed them to the hospital where they were treated for their injuries. Some soldiers became well again after many rounds of medication. Some of the soldiers were taken to Austria for 6 months, while others at the Military Hospital in Tirana. It was a completely inexplicable phenomenon how so many so many soldiers could end up in this situation. This story became big news around Albania.  This no longer dealt with some effort to simply eradicate these ruins (among many other miracles in popular memory). The government wanted every trace of any vibrant, tangible evidence of a miracle to disappear, and any news of this prohibited and forbidden. The phenomenon today remains inexplicable. The government did its utmost to justify the event, once even claiming it was food poisoning, but this diagnosis was never scientifically proven. The story remained to this day, cloaked in mystery.

Hope, inspiration, spiritual healing, miracles, deep insights, a change of perspective, a new thought, a reminded truth, a feeling of fulfillment and gratitude: at least one of these was something I was hoping to gain to help wash away the previous weeks of compiling stress of the unknown and bouts of existential depression (I'd say common especially to Westerners seeking sanctuary in a retreat destination like Albania). I’m not sure how soldiers that were paralyzed is considered a miracle. Maybe it is the old sense of no-mercy justice seems to penetrate through all systems seeking to tame the so-called wild man. Many questions filled my head as my friend and I hopped into the car on our mini journey to enlightenment. Is this all that it’s jacked up to be? My skepticism of other’s reports of the above mentioned miracles and cures was strong. Although I do like the idea that justice was served especially for such figures who still don’t know what this word means, it wasn’t the thirteenth of June (the usual day for the massive pilgrimage to this area). But I figured, ‘Hey, what the hell, might as well give it a shot! It gave me a good reason to move temporarily from the same three Bllok-blocks I’ve seen over and over again throughout my daily-double do-si-do through the former Great’s esteemed construction known as ‘basic geometric-shape’.

Even the drive was a relief from the constructed anarchy of ninety-degree angles everywhere that simultaneously are calling out for a dime and a reason. I felt every curve of the road as we ventured out towards the nature, the only chaotic system with a raw sense of checks and balances that is clear in its purpose. Luckily for me, my Albania retains that realness, and më knaq synin dhe shpirtin on a journey into the rawness of these rugged mountains. It reminds me of a return to my origins, a guide to a belief and in essence a truth about myself. It shapes and forms an identity that allows for definition and purpose within the finite. The city behind me slowly disappeared, and the effects of the pilgrimage already begin. I could feel a liberation from the daunting repetitive responsibilities of the man and the city while slowly ascending into the sky.

One who travels this way cannot forget of the church’s strong presence in the region. Everywhere you go, people salute with a ‘ju ndimoftë’. There are also plenty of young kids trying me’t hi n’gjynah by running after you with all their power in their little legs up the hill to sell small bundles of candles for a Lek. One kid didn’t need to struggle so much. He stopped my car in order to take out from underneath a large plastic water bottle that was dragging. I bought a couple of candles from him and continued on my path.
As we got up to the top of the mountain, I could see how the scenery changed from drastically, not only from the sight at the top, but also in terms of the vegetation. Big pine trees draped the sides of the road and the mountain path that goes directly up to the church. The grandeur of the panoramic view, an image of a lonely shepherd in the distance tending to his flock, the scattered stones everywhere. The elements of the scenery of what I know to be the ‘real Albania’ started to become more evident.

At the top of mountain, we were greeted with a flamboyant Christian cross, in typical Laçjan style, this hanging off a mountain side instead of someone’s neck. The rock walls of the church seemed ‘traditional-esque’, but also remnant of something industrial than aesthetic. I looked around to see  people were posing selfies with saints, cheap chinese produced trinkets being sold as if it were hand-crafted ornaments, ‘blessed’ holy water, lines of candles all uniform and un-unique in character lit the outer walls of the church grounds. My judgments were in full force. This didn’t seem to be a place where miracles could happen. But I trucked along despite, in search of my happiness and enlightenment. I followed the line of people down underneath the side of the hill where the cave where some saint apparently had visited. You could tell because there was a hole where his head made an imprint into the rock surface, others looking for the same inspiration from a cranium that has touched that very spot hundreds of years ago. I put my head in there, said a prayer, and to my surprise, I began to feel very different. My head began to cool down in temperature. This was a great relief, because I was already blowing steam in between my ears from taking this journey all the way up to this mountain to see apparent devout believers and their seriousness towards this situation. I retreated from the cave backwards in the typical saintly reverence one is expected to employ when experiencing such a life-changing experience.

I lit the entire stack of candles against the winds attempts to blow them out like a birthday cake. Oh, God, when will people realize they are actually praying and paying respects to the remnants of their former paganism rebranded and resold by newer institutions? Maybe the winds wanted this realization to come true for the men of her earth. Perhaps I’ll go on National Earth day next time I travel up to the sacred hill known in the past as a platform for my ancestors to pray to our ancient sun deity. Either way, I said many prayers for my loved ones and my self, directing my thought-energy toward the flickering flames of the. And in all honesty, and without sarcasm, it was a beautiful experience, and I’d suggest everyone to go, to take a lunch with you and stopping off the side of the road right before the last little hill before reaching the top of the mountain. Have a picnic in the mini pine tree forest, feel the energy of raw nature and food inspire you with truth and reason. I’m sure the power of the force fields of this sacred mountain will be an inspiration for you to travel to the other sites around our Albania. May you see the sanctity of the land itself instead of focusing on the idols away, from the gold sitting right at your feet. No church in the wild? Our wilderness itself is divine.
                    [post_title] => No Church in the Wild - The Peak of Laç
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 20 – London-based Emerging Europe has rated Albania's capital, Tirana, among the top emerging European destinations to visit in 2019.

In an article rating 19 top Central and Eastern European destinations, the Emerging Europe portal places Tirana sixth among Polish, Ukrainian and Romanian cities it recommends as off-the-beaten-track destinations across the region that are well worth visiting for 2019.

“Europe’s most colourful city? Possibly. Street art covers almost every available space and has become a calling card of this most misunderstood of all European capitals. During the long summer cafes and bars spill out onto the street and at weekends it can feel as if half of all Albania’s young people have turned out to party,” Craig Turp, the editor-in-chief of Emerging Europe writes about Tirana.

“Friendly locals, cheap prices and the chance to explore wider Albania (the coast is just an hour’s drive one way, the cooling, forested hills of Dajti an hour the other) make it a perfect spot for a summer break,” he adds.

Among other regional destinations, Kosovo's Prishtina, Macedonia's Ohrid lake town, Montenegro’s Budva, Bosnia's Mostar made it to the top 19 list.

Last year, famous Lonely Planet travel guide also rated Tirana as one of the top ten European hotspots for 2018, describing it as a vigorous metropolis that has undergone transformation and offers much to visitors.

Tirana's renovated Skanderbeg square has recently been shortlisted as one of the five finalists of the 2019 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award.

Earlier in 2018, Tirana’s landmark Skanderbeg square claimed the European Prize for Urban Public Space awarded by Barcelona’s Centre of Contemporary Culture, beating projects submitted by 179 cities from 32 European countries in a biennial competition recognizing and making known all kinds of works to create, recover and improve public spaces in European cities.

Named after Albania’s 15th century national hero, Skanderbeg, Tirana’s central square was given a facelift in mid-2017 following two years of drastic intervention that completely transformed the most important public space linked to a number of historical events and manifestations from King Zog’s reign until WWII to the communist takeover and the early 1990s protests for democratic changes.

Tirana is a 400-year-old town that has been the country’s capital city since 1920 when its population was at only more than a dozen thousand compared to a present day 800,000.

Tirana was established in 1614 by Sulejman Pasha from the village of Mullet who first build a mosque, a bakery and a Turkish sauna. However, the capital outskirts boast settlements and archeological heritage dating back to ancient times.

In addition to the communist legacy for more almost five decades until the early 1990s, Tirana and many Albanian cities also owe much to Italian 20th century architecture.

Tirana is also becoming an emerging adventure travel destination with sites such as Mount Dajti, the Pellumbus Cave, the Erzen and Tujan Canyons, outside the capital attracting more and more adventure travelers.

Albania has made it to a series of top under-the-radar and affordable destinations for 2019, hinting the country’s emerging and fast growing travel and tourism industry is set for another golden year.

The most important ratings come from prestigious Lonely Planet and booking.com, but also a number of travel writers, recommending Albania as a still off-the-beaten-path and budget destination.

Several outdoor tour operators in the country offer hiking, rafting, biking, horse riding and birds watching adventures in the country, while cross-border tourism is gaining an upper hand with the opening of several mountain hiking trails.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a hardline Stalinist dictatorship.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 19 - A series of barriers in place deny access to coastal areas to thousands of Albanian residents who can’t afford paying fees at private beaches, massively rented from local government units at quite cheap rates ahead of the peak tourist season.

Inspections carried out by Albania’s Supreme State Audit Institution show local residents face a series of legal and physical barriers, also hampered by lack of a clear regulation on beach management, to have access to public beaches where they can sunbathe without the need to pay fees ranging from €4 to €8 for sunbeds made available by local hotel, restaurant and coffee bar owners.

While legal provisions foresee that 20 percent of the beach area must be reserved for public purposes, the situation on the ground is quite the opposite, with public beaches although on paper meeting legal requirements, often located at distant and isolated areas and not meeting safety standards due to lack of maintenance, which makes them unappealing.

State inspectors say there are physical barriers such as lack of road signs clearly identifying public beaches as well as lack of parking space and access roads. Dividing gates, also present at tourist villages and resorts in Durres, make accessing Durres beach difficult.

The situation in the smaller coastline of Saranda, southernmost Albania, is quite different with only around a quarter of beach area run by municipalities.

The Vlora and Himara beaches, southern Albania, have reserved much of their downtown beaches for public purposes.

Renting a sunbed for as cheap as €4 could be a bargain for a foreign tourist, but tourists to Durres, the country’s largest and most popular destination, are mostly budget holidaymakers. More than a quarter of Albanian households rely on $5 a day, in a poverty rates which the World Bank says are higher compared to other regional EU aspirant countries.

Inspectors say coastal local government units face a lot of issues such as insufficient financial and human capacities and as a result manage beaches as a local asset, failing to put them at the disposal of the larger nationwide tourism industry.

Local authorities at coastal areas including the largest Durres and Vlora municipalities apply modest rates of 300 lek to 900 lek (€2.4 to €7.2) /m2 for the whole summer tourist season to rent state-owned sandy beach areas, in fees which inspectors say don't even cover increased cleaning and monitoring costs from the population more than doubling during the peak season.

“The massive privately-run beach sites without having a consolidated tourism market, has led to beach sites being considered seasonal businesses and not an activity that could reflect high tourist standards and long-term policies that would benefit both operators and local government units,” says the Supreme State Audit.

Lacking a special law on beaches, but having a coastal agency that supervises them, inspectors say beach management in Albania is fragmented to a series of separate legal provisions and neighboring local government units such as the central Albanian municipalities of Durres, Kavaja and Rrogozhina that don’t apply unified development plans that would consider them as a larger common asset.

Inspectors have also identified lack of life guards in most beaches where safety remains a concern also due to the presence of jet skis in swimming areas.

Authorities also note that negative effects from unplanned urban planning at coastal areas during the past quarter of a century of transition to a market economy has led to Albanian Adriatic and Ionian beaches losing their originality.

The major part of the downtown coastline in key destinations such as Durres, Vlora and Saranda has been overcrowded with apartment blocks and two or three-star hotels build in the early 1990s and 2000s without a clear strategy for the country’s largest destination.

Lacking international ‘blue flag’ certification, Albania's beaches are not yet decently competitive with neighboring countries with an earlier tradition in the travel and tourism industry and continue overwhelmingly relying on the so-called patriotic segment bringing ethnic-Albanian tourists from neighboring countries or the sizeable Albanian Diaspora in Europe and North America.

The Supreme State Audit has recommended increasing the area of public beaches to 40 percent for every beach site, increasing the number of lifeguards and revising the current low rental rates on public beaches.

Around 70 percent of the coastal land is currently privately-owned, but a long-standing property issue with contested ownership titles is considered a key barrier to draw major investors who are now being offered state-owned property and tax incentives in return for high-end investment and much-needed employment in a sector that is considered the future of the Albanian economy.

 

Durres beach

Boasting the country’s longest coastline of around 62 km, Durres has 80 percent of its beaches publicly- run, but being located at distant and isolated areas where access to public transport is poor, makes them difficult to reach. Residents living next to popular coastal areas often complain they are not allowed to put their umbrellas in their neighborhood beaches, where business owners, as identified by inspectors, occupy much more territory than they have on contract with local municipalities.

The port city of Durres is one of the country’s busiest cities during summer when it is flocked by dozens of thousands of tourists enjoying its beaches and cultural heritage sites.

While Durres may not be a favorite destination to most Albanians who have become tired of it, it is becoming a magnet for Scandinavian and Polish tourists who have booked some of the best local hotels and resorts for the next four months.

With a coastline stretching 62 km along the Adriatic, Durres is Albania’s largest beach destination and also boasts much history dating back to ancient Roman and Greek times as well ancient Illyria, the predecessor of present-day Albania.

The central Albanian region is known for its massive tourism in its Durres and Gjiri i Lalzit beaches as well as a wetland beach near a former naval base. More and more quality hotels and resorts as well as residential areas have been developing in the past few years as Durres seeks to attract European tourists.

 

Water quality improves

Five wastewater treatment plants that Albania has made operational in recent years have considerably improved the quality of the country’s bathing waters, giving a boost to the emerging travel and tourism industry, although Albania has to further improve the quality of its excellent waters in order to catch up with leading EU travel destinations.

The latest 2017 report by Denmark-based European Environment Agency, an EU watchdog, rated the overwhelming majority of about 85 percent of Albania’s bathing waters of excellent and at least sufficient quality.

Albania boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera, south of the country.
                    [post_title] => Legal, physical barriers deny tourists access to public beaches
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 14 - A campsite along the Shkodra Lake, northern Albania, has been rated Albania's best by a German portal focused on European camping holidays.

The ranking is made by Berlin-based Camping.info, one of the leading information portals for camping holidays in Europe selecting the most popular from over 22,000 campsites in 44 European countries.

Lake Shkodra Resort is an Albanian and English family owned campsite and holiday resort situated directly on the beautiful Lake Shkodra that has been operating for the past six years as a holiday resort with a campsite, also offering canoe and mountain bike, fishing and swimming as well as adventure trips to other northern Albanian mountain sites.

While not making it to Europe's top 100, the Lake Shkodra resort is rated as one of the top campsites from 10 other countries not represented on the Top 100 list such as Greece and Sweden.

"This annual award is purely a people’s choice award; there is no jury and no discretionary decision-making. Ratings submitted by campers are all that counts," says Camping.info.

“The rankings are based exclusively on the ratings provided by campers... in which only customer satisfaction counts. This means that even small, highly committed campsites have a good chance of being listed among the Top 100 in Europe and of being discovered as an insider tip," says Maximilian Moehrle, the managing director of Camping.info as quoted in a statement.

Lake Shkodra resort is situated only 7 km from the city of Shkodra, an ancient city that is the largest in northern Albania, some 24 km from the Montenegrin border.

"Our grounds are 2.5 hectares (over 6 acres) in size and include a private beach with direct access into the lake. Our beach front restaurant and bar specialises in grilled meats & seafood, traditional Albanian cuisine, pizzas and home grown organic vegetables. The resort boasts breathtaking views and is in a peaceful rural location, yet close to Shkoder.  We offer excursions to [northern Albania] Thethi, Valbone, Vermosh, Kruja, Lake Koman and Shkoder," owners say in their portal about the campsite which opens from mid-April to October each year.

Shared by both Albania and Montenegro, Lake Shkodra is the Balkans’ largest with a surface area of 475 km2 and has been included in the list of Ramsar site of wetlands of international importance for its variety of habitats since a decade now.

Lake Shkodra restaurants are famous for cooking the local Carp casserole, drawing local and international tourists, especially at weekends.

Back in 2017, the drastic decline in water levels at the Shkodra Lake in northern Albania following one of the worst droughts in decades brought to light a 19th century Austro-Hungarian steamship which is believed to have sunken in Shiroka, a tourist lake village just outside Shkodra.

With tourism high on the agenda as an emerging sector and efforts to make it a year-round industry Albania has several other campsites including sites along the Albanian Riviera.

Albania has made it to a series of top under-the-radar and affordable destinations for 2019, hinting the country’s emerging and fast growing travel and tourism industry is set for another golden year.

The most important ratings come from prestigious Lonely Planet and booking.com, but also a number of travel writers, recommending Albania as a still off-the-beaten-path and budget destination.

Several outdoor tour operators in the country offer hiking, rafting, biking, horse riding and birds watching adventures in the country, while cross-border tourism is gaining an upper hand with the opening of several mountain hiking trails.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a hardline Stalinist dictatorship.
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                    [post_content] => By Sonja Methoxha 

An interview with Dr. Ardian Muhaj

Prof. Dr. Ardian Muhaj is the newly appointed director of the Albanian Institute of the Islamic Thought and Civilization (AIITC). The institute was opened by visionary Dr. Ramiz Zekaj in 1996. The institute seeks to organize academic activities that study and display the islamic culture, civilization, art, tradition and customs in Albanians.

“There is only one thought, and that is the human thought. Religion, culture, tradition, customs, they all contribute in creating the human civilization,” said Muhaj.

He agreed that the one major thing that unites people is civilization. Regardless of our religions or ideologies, we all still consume products of this civilization. But the Islamic heritage and tradition had to be rebuild from ground zero. 

According to Muhaj, thanks to the vision of Dr. Zekaj, the Institute has proved itself exemplary and successful, with a stability in pursuing its mission.

It all started at zero level due to the radical ideology implemented during the 50-year-long communist regime of Enver Hoxha, as he sought to eradicate a great deal of national heritage which ended up almost being lost. These doesn’t amount only to religious traditions and intellectualism, but also to architectural sights from centuries. 

With traces of sadness in his speech, Muhaj talks in disappointment of how a group of people gave themselves the rights to judge hundreds of years of accumulated tradition. Hundreds of generations in centuries, their contribution, they gave themselves the right to put history the seat of the accused, and then it was wiped. 

“Egocentrism and presentism, the idea that we can judge in the name of the following generations, to undo what others have done with vigor, this is one of the greatest damages done to civilization,” said the historian, stressing on the irreparable damages done to the our national heritage by the cruel regime. 

Churches, mosques, serays, buildings, bazaars, all destroyed. He draws a comparison with the Romans with Cartagena, who, after invading it destroyed it, but also with all previously invaded civilizations by the conquerors. Following suit, so did communists destroy the bazaar of Shkodra (an example), which then was the biggest bazaar in the Balkans. 

“Ideology doesn’t want beauty,’’ pointed Muhaj. 

This was especially sad, because as the professor explained, this bazaar wasn’t built by Ottomans or muslims, but by the merchants themselves. Up to 90 percent of the conducts and trade were made with Trieste and other European countries, so this bazaar carried a heft significance in itself and its activities. 

These losses could never be salvaged, thus, an aim of the Institute would be to create a portrayal, an attempt to bring the best of those periods to our attention, but with slight focus on the Islamic civilization. This would be in terms of its values and contribution to the functioning of the society in general. 

The staff of the Institute comprises of doctors, professors and academics of various disciplines, both from Albania and Kosovo, but also Macedonia too. This has brought a reliability, but also accounting that the approach to this subject matter has been quite academic and scholarly. Their researches are both announced through activities, such as conferences or symposiums, but also published in their academic journal, Univers. The articles published in the scholarly magazine are from the staff, but also from contributors. A bigger incentive is given to young PhD students who wish to publish their articles or parts of their dissertations.

There are various annual awards given to the authors and their works. For instance the Best Book of the Year Award, for the corresponding year; the Best Creative Work for young ages, and the Best Painting concerning the annual leitmotif announced by the Institute. For 2018, Dr. Muhaj proudly said that there was a high submission, and the winner for the Best Painting was former Albanian president Rexhep Meidani with a picture of nationalist times, for Best Book 2018 was a professor from Kosovo, and for creative pieces there were various incredible pieces, as Muhaj admitted. 

This whole process of awarding is in terms of appreciation of the works, attracting young scholars and motivating them to work, but also keeping alive the “flame of knowledge,” as he claimed. 
There is also an activity called “Popuj dhe Kultura” (people and culture), which is a periodical activity developed under a certain thematic, for instance from concerning Arberesh, to Muslims in Europe; the cognition of Albanians in Arab countries, which are called Arnaut, as in Slavic countries they are called Arbanas, or in Greece Arvanitas, etc.. After some activities and travels of the professor Ramizi in Calabria, the final activity brought to attention was “The Contribution of Muslims in Europe, understanding is progress.”

Topics like these always arise some sort of interest and academic attention. However, Muhaj said it is important to notice how will these topics be approached and presented, what you will present to the public, and its overall contribution. These sort of activities allow the advance of knowledge and serve as contacts with people through the ideas and the discontinuation of geography. The Institute is profiled towards the pan-Albanian Islamic culture and civilization. 

Due to its mission and activity this Institute has managed to work. Its uniqueness, academic activities, and approaches to ideas has proved more successful than other Institutions which followed similar missions, but which failed due to the in-exploitation of expanses. He draws an example with the Albanian Academy of Sciences which is going through difficulties in its practices and existence, in terms of funds, academic staff and research activities.

Dr. Muhaj tells how the examples of private institutes such as AIITC, or AIIS (Albanian Institute of International Studies), with their independent functioning and research, show how necessary these academies are for society and how there should be more added. That is because these academies and institutes add to the overall societal knowledge, and knowledge, as Dr. Muhaj agrees, should be increased and not lessened. If knowledge is lessened, then the society will remain behind. 

He has specialized in Economic History for the pre-industrial period, more precisely for Europe of 14th and 15th centuries. He did his research in London, while being registered at the University of Lisbona. He finished both his Masters and PhD there.  

The main topic of research Dr. Muhaj focused on was the effects of war in economy. His arguments were that war and conflict harm the economy. A decade-long scientific research to prove that every time a nation goes through war, they always return to ground zero. He focused on the French-English wars during the 14th and 15th centuries where he showed that these extended conflicts led also to an extended societal crisis. 

Muhaj studied and constructed a map that showed the confictual and non-conflictual areas of 15th century Europe. Through the research and map studies he concluded that in conflictual areas crisis prevailed, whereas in peaceful areas, there was economic development. He draws the example of Portugal, then the most peaceful country in the world, started a development of nautical trade, and the economic map started shifting through maritime. Thus as Portugal and Spain started having flourishing economy, they submitted to travels and explorations, and gave the world new continents. 

Following a sense, Muhaj said that the heritage is a treasure that one generation leaves to its descending generation. We don’t know whether that treasure is beautiful or not, and we can’t definitely play judge. It is not important, we could only appreciate it. It may not look beautiful to us, but it may enlight a sense of aesthetics to following generations. 

“That is not our patent, it is the patent of the descending generations. It is not our duty to judge and destroy according to our tastes, but preserve and create something based on out taste and inherit it to others,’’ admitted Muhaj, with an apparent ire towards towards the heritage demolitions that the former communist regime costed the Albanian culture. 

He stressed on the judgement. He appears to have a deep dislike in judgement as a vice of the human nature which leads to destruction and separation. He wished people didn’t judge, as not others, neither the heritage, but instead he points to enjoyment and appreciation. An example he makes regarding future generations, was that someone would enjoy the tall, bleak towers and urban chaos, whereas someone would like to enjoy churches, mosques, and bazaars. Our duty is to provide all these to our children. 

These losses and destructions come due to the radicalization. The previous generation was quite radicalized as it managed to adopt the cultural heritage as its own, and thought it had a right to in deciding upon the fate of this legacy, but also to judge the history. This radical ideology didn’t only have this flaw that it destroyed history and culture, but a more grave one: it restricts innovation and constricts the worldview. 

This has led to a deterioration of the Albanian archeological sites. Dr. Muhaj said that Albania is the only country with the least archeological sites in the world. This was induced by this very “Ottoman-looking inheritance eradication policy” that the previous regime used. From the perspective of an historical economy, the professor said that the older civilizations were wise in the sense of economical construction: they would built on already existing foundations. Like all the European roads are built on trails made by the Romans. 

That is, a bridge built in Ottoman era, was most probably built on foundations of a previous medieval bridge, which was built on foundations of a Byzantine bridge, that might lead all back to Illyrian heritage. But, because of the radicalization, we have those proofs and treasure lost, as the bridge is now destroyed. 

He draws a parallel with what is happening to the Academy of Sciences today. He says that the Academy has its own issues, but shouldn’t be closed, as it holds an Albanian academic inheritance that add up to our overall knowledge as a nation. Guided by the past, it is not wise to destroy this institute and build something new in its ruins, but a reformation with updated policies and plan would be more effective. 

The problem of the cultural heritage is linked to the economic development. The not-so industrialized countries, not only Albania, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean countries of Eastern Europe, but also those belonging to the Western Europe, like Italy, Spain, or Portugal, Malta, they live with those ruins. 

“That is because people of more industrialised countries come precisely to watch those ruins, that together with the sea, the sun, they create this magical cocktail that attracts them,” said Muhaj.  

Our few archeological sites have been attracting tourists throughout the years, but not as much as it would if we would have preserved our three millennia-old heritage, since the Illyrians, which were sadly destroyed. If it wouldn’t be enough, even today we still have unexploited treasures, such as the navy. Dr. Muhaj said how Albania doesn’t have private or public cruising, but even more concerning that we don’t have a Marine. This would both generate profits, but also allow a development to culture and heritage. Adding to that there is a lot of underwater remains that could be used as a nautical museum, but that is still left unexplored and unexploited. 

The historian said there is a far larger contribution of the Albanian influence to the development of the world. Through some research he found traces of Albanians up to China, and not just Europe. However, all this information perhaps cannot be known, as there are both not many historical resources, and perhaps not many human resources to dig into those existing historical data. This arises both from nonexistent data in Albania or destruction of those historical facts. 

Muhaj said that this is an underestimation of the self. A nation which has destroyed its own cultural heritage. If the religious communities aren’t up to their right position is due to this depreciation. 

This link to religiosity has influenced some of its radicalization. Since the previous regime had destroyed most cult properties, such as churches and mosques, in order for them to be rebuilt, the religious institutions started receiving funds from outside. This of course, made the outside influence inevitable. A number of religious entities have suffered due to these fundings. However, we personally didn’t possess neither the economic means nor the cultural heritage to keep ourselves independent. 

In order to rebuild the religious traditions in Albania, these foreign sources that provided funding for the rebuilding of the cult monuments, also sent some body support, such as clerics (be it Islamic or Catholic). However, this caused conflicts, perhaps not much in terms of ideology, than in the first barrier being language, as Muhaj agreed. Since these clerics didn’t understand Albania, it was really difficult for them to understand the Albanian customs, the worldview, and details of living. Thus, they sometimes did more harm than helped, because they didn’t understand.

The religious tolerance were natural characteristics of Albanians throughout centuries. We had an instinctual co-existence among the various religions and ethnicities. These long back to the inherited customs of hospitality and neighbourly conducts. This could be noticed both by the good relations among neighbours, glorified in a family level, but in more visible view, three religious cult monuments sharing the same foundations. For example in Berat, the Mosque and the Churches are only less than 50 meters apart. 

But, throughout the years there is a phenomenon that has happened with Albanias, that we have started pretending this is not where we belong. There is this desire and overestimation of everything European, American, foreign in general. 

“I call these allocentric societies; societies which are fascinated and admire anything external, they view it as something wonderful,” explained Muhaj. 

However, we have forgotten our own potentials. He tells Nastradin’ anecdote, that “center of the world is where I am at.” Muhaj said that wherever one is, he can always find the treasure where he stands. 

This has also added to this massive emigration of Albanian citizens. However, Muhaj seemed concerned, that as everyone is induced by this allocentric trend, the first generation to leave, is a lost generation. There are these people that sacrifice everything, sell all they have so they can go to this “better place” induced by this illusion that everything non-Albanian is better. This has a negative effect, as those people are still going to lead a tough life trying to immerse themselves in that community, but also has negative effects on the country they live.

In Albania there has been a increase of village contraction and demographic aging. This is a feature of developed countries due to better living conditions, in Albania it has aroused as youth is leaving. However, what is noticed in this trend, is that a great deal of youth is leaving without even trying to “hunt the treasure,” as Dr. Muhaj said. Another feature is an emergent leave, not with full status emigrants, but as refugees or illegal aliens, which also adds up to that ‘burnt generation’ notion.

This has led to the draining of the societal bank. Billions of euros are destroyed in dysfunctional projects due to the knowledge and informational limitations. For instance the bunkers, which are turned into art pieces, which Dr. Muhaj equates it with absurdity. He calls it an adoration of stupidity which is leading to furthering this tendency for eradication. 

“This is both a disaster and anti-humanism,” admitted the professor in resentment.

Dr. Muhaj agrees that this is all linked with the returning of the multiculturalism, in respect to multi-religiousness, with the acknowledging of the risk of the ideological radicalization. Any sort of ideology, taste, anything, has a value when used rationally. The moment when one tries to adopt everything, that is when it becomes damaging. Our multiculturalism and religious tolerance has impressed Europe and the world. We also have an ethnic and language tolerance, however, we who had these characteristics in our society, said Dr. Muhaj, are the ones who are losing, whereas Europe is the one appropriating these features and rejoicing its positive effects.

Back to the neighbourly cult, a very significant characteristic of the Albanian society, which is being lost. The past regime left a scar in the Albanian mentality which led to neighbours against one another, and this vivid uniformization of tastes. Suddenly people that wear and think differently are seen as committing something bad, which on the contrary, that is something that should be appraised. This magic that we used to own, is now being lost, because we have this elites who are inspired by the mono-cultural civilizations of the west and not from the local people’s wisdom. 

This lack of coordination of the government has also led to the poverty of the society. However, these Academic Institutions with the right governmental support could do something positive in the betterment of the local Albanian civilization and its intellectualism. Yet, what Dr. Muhaj also urges, is a civil engagement towards these scholarly institutions and their activities, so we can have a fuller participation in the intellectual evolution of the 21st century, which he calls the most peaceful century.

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                    [post_title] => An Institute of Thought seeking to improve society
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                    [post_content] => By Sonja Methoxha

 

“However, God desired, that with the work, the unmatched bravery and courage of the Albanians, from today on the misfortunes and sufferings of our Motherland will cease, here and thus, we are Free, Independent and by Ourselves, that is why you should laugh and cheer!”

Ismail Qemali told these words to anticipating Albanians the night of Nov. 28, 1912, right after he and 42 delegates signed the Declaration of Independence. This line is part of his speech pitched to the Albanian public in Vlore, as he was preparing to raise the red flag with the black double-headed eagle at the balcony of his cousin’s Xhemil Bej Vlora’s house. In that house were held the first referendum prior signing the declaration with the delegators, and other meetings decisive of Albania’s future. The house was destroyed during WWI, and it is turned to the Flag’s Square.

Albania however, was recognized as an autonomous state by the Great Powers later in 1913 at the London Conference. First, the great powers decided to recognize Albania as an autonomous state under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire on May 1913, but with the persistence of the delegates and the break out of the Balkan Wars in July 1913, the Great Powers decided to recognize the total independence and autonomy of the Republic of Albania. 

Later after the declaration of independence on Dec. 4, 1912 a provisional government and senate were established to which Qemali served as prime minister until Jan. 1914. He became the first known prime minister after the declaration of independence, however. He also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, holding the position until the Great Powers recognized the full independence of Albania, leaving office in June 1913. Thus, it can be said that apart of all the events around the Balkans, he also played a key role in lobbying for Albania’s sovereignty at the London Conference. 

Ismail Qemali isn’t only the establisher of the Albanian Nation for simply authoring and being the first to sign the declaration of indepence. Qemali also was on of the people who gave a hand in stirring revolts against the Ottoman Empire in Albanian territories. According to publicist, intellectual and delegate Mid’hat Frasheri, Qemali has been traveling around Europe seeking support from the great powers in declaring the autonomy of Albania. He received support from Austro-Hungary, Romania and Italy. However, when Qemali arrived in Durres, he saw that Albanians were already in unison for overthrowing the Ottoman invaders. 

In an alleged secret meeting held on Nov. 18 between Qemali and Bertchold, it was implied that Austro-Hungary would support Albania’s independence but not its autonomy. Meaning that Albania would still somehow be under a control from the Empire. That is why some voices later said that Albania was a creation of Austria. However, Qemali only got the help he would receive and diplomatically refuse to sacrifice Albania’s autonomy. 

Qemali lived very shortly in Albania. He was an exile from the Ottoman Empire. He was born in 1844 in Vlore, from an old, traditional and rich family in Vlore. In 1847 the Vlora clan made an insurgency against the Tanzimat, which led to their exile. The men were sent in camps in Konje, whereas women and children in Thessaloniki. While there Ismail Qemali went to primary school and learned Turkish. In 1852 he returned to Vlore where he received an education by private tutors and his parents. In 1855 he was registered at Zosimea high school in Ioannina, graduating in 1859.

In 1860 he went to Istanbul staying with family members. A cousin found him a translator’s work position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there while he was studying for Law and Justice. This is where Ismail Qemali’s long career at the Ottoman Empire’s administration starts. After he finishes his studies, he gets assigned in 1868 as director of the Judicial Office in Sofia, Bulgaria (being under Ottoman invasion then). In 1870 he served as director of the European Commision of Danube, as an Ottoman delegate.

Later he was assigned as Vali in Varna, for the harbor project. From 1873-6 he served as private secretary to Mid’hat Pasha, who was then assigned as Minister of Justice in Istanbul. In 1876 he was assigned general secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, staying there was a year, which gave him a substantial knowledge as to how the Ottoman Empire works. While there he started showing Albanian nationalistic sentiments, which almost sent him to an internment camp in Anadolou. Turkish administration pressured the Sultan to send him as Vali in Turkey’s Bolou district, in which he served from 1884 until his resignation in 1890.

However, he was later sent as Vali in Beirut where he found his friend Vaso Pasha, who later died. We have to stress that in 1892 Qemali sent an extensive memorandum to Sultan Abdul Hamid on liberal reformations for Rumelia. Qemali had also written a number of liberal articles for Ottoman newspapers. He had also served as counselor to Sultan Hamid and other viziers. 

In 1900 he was assigned as Vali in Tripoli, but considering the various commotions against his name, he escaped in May of the year. For this, the Sultan sentenced him to death on absence from his position. He was taken under the protectorate of the British. For eight year Qemali traveled in Europe, met Faik Konica, directed the publication of Albania magazine in Brussels, represented Albanians in a 1902 Congress in Paris, and in 1908 he returned home.

He kept contacts with all his connoisseurs. In Dec. 1908 he was elected deputy for Berat. Together with other deputies from Albanian territories they formed the National Movement for the decentralization of the Ottoman Empire from the Albanian territories. Historian Paskal Milo writes in article for Panorama newspaper that the Qemali’s contribution took a heavier weight after the fall of the League of Prizren. 

“Albanians started to see clearly and to consider the new situation created in Balkans, as well as the danger threatening their nation,’’ has written Qemali in his diaries. 

What he means is that the Ottoman Empire was obviously weakening, and both the Great Powers would intervene after its fall to absorb its previously invaded territories. There was a revolution from the Young Turks in 1908 which inspired armed revolts in all invaded territories in Balkans. Albanian uprisings started by 1910-1. A general revolt exploded early 1912, and Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Romania declared war to the Ottoman Empire, outsing all its soldiers from their territories.

The Ottoman soldiers left were situated in Albanian territories. Ismail Qemali was already the voice the Great Powers have heard for the past two years in asking support for Albania’s autonomy. Serbian soldiers were approaching the Albanian territories, so the Albanians had to work fast and declare autonomy prior to any potential interference from the Serbians and other Balkan countries. Declaring the Independence and the ousting of the Ottomans by the Albanian soldiers during the armed uproar, sent the message that this is an autonomous state, no longer under the Ottoman domination.

Qemali had already declared to the Great Powers that Albania was going to declare itself independent. Before returning to Albania from Trieste, he sent telegrams to 83 delegates, but only 43 managed to arrive on Nov. 28. The rest came later. He also sent telegrams to Tirana and Elbasan to declare the independence and raise the flag on Nov. 26, so the Serbians would receive the message that this is an independent, autonomous republic. 

As mentioned, he became the first prime minister, his government established in its first act Albania’s Armed Forces on Dec. 4, 1912. He protected Albania and its autonomy in the face of the Great Power’s and their belittling to our country. He protected the government and gave his contribution as a European visionary and experienced statesman. He tried to absorb the other Albanian territories of Kosovo, Tetovo, Montenegro and Greece, through diplomacy, even though those projects remained suspended. 

Even after his leaving of the administration, he never ceased to protect Albania’s autonomy, seek support and hold international conferences concerning our identity and Nation. Even though he died under mysterious circumstances in 1919 in Perugia, he was there under an official invitation from the Italian government for cooperation. 

Today Jan. 24, 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of Qemali’s passing. 2019 also marks the 175th anniversary of his birth as well. Even though the circumstances of his death still remain a mystery, through the years more documents upon the weight of his positive contribution are resurfacing. Qemali is truly the father of this nation, and we owe to his and other men’s bravery for declaring the independence of this country. 

Throughout 2019 the National History Museum and other institutions will be organizing activities dedicated to Ismail Qemali’s figure. The first event starts at the National History Museum on Jan. 28 with “Journey- Ismail Qemali through years,” a scientific round table exhibition which will focus on Qemali’s role and activities on the Albanian issue. 

 
                    [post_title] => A commemoration to Ismail Qemali
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-18 11:38:21
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 14 - Over 220 red-figured ceramic vessels dating back to the 4th century BC were unearthed at the necropolis of the Dauta, Kokomani and Spitalle hills, in Durres. 

These vessels are believed to be products from Illyrian tribes that inhabited that area of Durres.

The ceramic with red figures is essential in understanding the cultural reality and mundane life of the Illyrian tribes.

It appears the Illyrians inhabited areas from the 5th century BC until the 4th century BC. This presence is a testimony of the ancient and continuous trade relations between the Illyrian tribes and Mediterranean cultures, especially in the Adriatic coast. 

The first evidence refers to imports with symposium scenes, toilette, etc., and regarding to mythological themes, Gods and heroes are figured, especially Hercules. Other themes include the epos, the everyday civic life, athletics, meetings, etc.. 

The Durres made vessels with red figures differ from the imported products by the colors of the rose-ocher clay and the high quality refined decorations, assumed to be inspired by Apulian images. The extraction of the used clay is proved by chemical analyses made from the Currila hill’s deposited layers, located at city’s north along the shore. To this result is attributed the importance of trade relations that Epidamnus (ancient Durres) had with the Helenian cities and Adriatic coast states, characterized by the cultural relations with the Illyrian world.

The geographic characteristics and the city’s position at the entry of eastern Adriatic as an historical harbor for trade paths has helped in the economic relations between the city and other Mediterranean realities, especially with southern Italy. This has created conditions for relationships with schools of the period’s painters, particularly with the 5th and ending 4th centuries BCE masters. The historical connections in terms of trade and culture with southern Italy, Illyrian realities and Helenian world, strengthened new ceramic technics in the city, especially the Attican style.  

The Attican imitations of ceramics produced in Durres wouldn’t achieve its standards, but nevertheless the Durres stylistic characteristics faced an appraisal by the local inhabitants. The local production was intensified from years 350 to 300 BCE, marking thus a production end. 

Some of these productions belong to luxury ceramic due to its refined aesthetical aspects, which were much requested by the local elite. There is a lack of kraters from the discovered containers in Durres. these discoveries have allowed the identification of trade partners such as Apulia, Calabrians, Lukans, Campanians, etc.. Many vessels display stylistic affinities with Apulians’ world (the Dauns, Yapiges, Messapians). It is worth stressing that each center of antiquity has its own characteristics. 

The first Attican imports date from the 5th century BCE, which are exhibited at the Durres Archeology Museum. The imported works of Brygos painter as amphoras with goddess Nike refiguration, the oenochoe with Athens, and Hercules, linked with the city’s establishment according to Appiani.

This last scene is also present in other works dating in the 5th century BCE. The Attican influence phase ends by year 350 BC with the local productions of great amphora with an Amazonian scene.

Local amphoras depict scenes from the Trojan war, where Amazonian queen Penthesilea on a horse opposite shielded Achilles on his feet, and another Amazonian warrior seated nearby are refigured. This scene representation allows us to see the painter’s perspective. Complementary motifs of the Attican style of 5th century BC are leaves, mints or crosses.

In this period the Durres ceramics is enriched and inspired by the Apulian style, which are influenced in the local works of the Durres masters. Such an instance is in fruition of the ceramic mosaics subjects, especially the Durres Beauty. 

The high demand for products by the Illyrian domestic market pushed the local masters to intensify their production by 330 BCE. This high production period turned Durres as the main center of the Illyrian market. The local production of the red-figure vessels in Durres for the Illyrian tribes led to a decline of imports from Apulia and other Mediterranean centers, and it is assumed that the year 330 BCE marks the dominance of local production in durres and in whole Illyria. 

The names of local painters are unknown because they didn’t leave any personal notes or names in their works. Nevertheless, this doesn’t create an issue in distinguishing the hand of specialized masters, for example the Master of Venus and Eros; the Master of goddess Nike, who prefers Dionysus scenes. Eros and Nike are typical refigurations of the 4th century BC. 

The cultural-economic development of Durres is also evident by the enriched funerary objects, in which by the of 4th century BC we find the presence of lekythos with reliefs and decorations. The scenes refer to duels, abductions of nymphs or Amazons. On the figures it is used a white paste depicting rosette-shaped flowers over their shoulders. By the end of the century a black color with mild luster on a rosey background with line intersections is used, with white-colored painted drops and elements. The general tendency of the masters seemed to be the crossing from a rich-on-elements scenography, to a more modest one with silhouette technique. This allows us to classify the subjects in two developmental categories.

The first category belongs to the 5th up to 4th centuries BC which follows the Attican and Apulian tradition of scenes and decorative elements refiguration. The second category includes the 4th century BC with local productions with refiguration of Venus, who is oftenly painted with Nike and Eros; the refiguration of Dionysus or Silenians, Maenads, Trojan war scenes, the return of Odyssey, etc..

The preferred scenes from civilians were mainly those concerning the everyday life, from home, city, athletics, reconstructions of Phebes, women, men, etc.. Present are also the animals linked with the Gods or everyday life, like owls, bulls, doves, panthers, horses, dogs, swans and rabbits. 

The scenes are enriched by floral motifs with palmette and spiral flowers, whereas the lip and neck of the vessels are decorated by various models, such as bay leaves, olives, sea waves, etc.. In some cases the scenes are decorated in the lower part with mint motifs, angles, and crosses in the center. 

By the end of the 4th century BC there is generally a lack of dye quality in the red-figured ceramics. It is usually passed from a complex scene with three or more figures, to one figure, which is less reckoned. In this period of ending 330 BC, the red-figured lekythos with the silhouette technique are the main Durres products, which are exported both to other Illyrian and Mediterranean centers. It is worth stressing that these products seized the Illyrian markets during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. 

Supporting this evidence are the kraters discovered in Belsh and the amphoras discovered in Klos, which are produced by Durres masters and exhibited at the National History Museum. In Durres are also discovered Gnathia vases from beginning 3rd century BC. The majority of the red-figures ceramics comes from discovered burial objects, mainly with women or athletes, of various kinds, like amphoras, pelikes, oenochoe, hydrias, nuptial lebes, lekanes, skyphoses, lekythos, situlas, etc..

These vases are exhibited at the Durres Archeology Museum, the Tirana Archeology Museum, and the National History Museum. Owing to its predominant role in the Illyrian markets, Durres can be attributed the alias ‘’cultural beacon,’’ because it actually signaled the access of ships at Illyrian culture areas. 

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            [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi 

Willingly - and excitedly even - going to a football match in Albania as a woman is worth it even just for the looks on people’s faces when you tell them you’ll be spending your Friday evening watching legendary Tirona vs Partizani. But it’s definitely not the only reason. 

A football match is very much like a ritual. Actually, considering how F.K.Tirana fans call their team God, calling it a ritual is probably the most fitting word. 

Tirona fanatics come at a derby such as the one against Partizani (which remains undefeated by FK Tirana over the last five years) about six to five hours ahead of the game. They sit in small, not very fancy, but shady under trees coffee shops, wearing blue and white hats, shirts, scarves, and think ahead of the moment they won’t be able to drink inside the football stadium by downing as many beers as possible. 

Of course, part of the gathering process is dividing the hiding spots for all those firecrackers and pyro that we see explode inside important derbys like this although we know it’s illegal. Here too, girls are invaluable, hiding most of the equipment in places no one dares search them and sneaking in bottles of rakia as if it’s water much more efficiently than their fellow male trouble-makers. Too bad only a handful of girls attend matches, let alone be club fans who enjoy to harmlessly break the law. 

By the time police start arriving around the Selman Stërmasi stadium (home ground of the club named after eminent KF Tirana player, coach and president, Selman Stërmasi), chants dipped in excitement and cursing can already be heard, just like the occasional tipsy fan cracking a joke and then smiling devilishly at the young boys still leaving an elementary school close-by. At this point, beers are being passed around from one person to the other, and I’m guessing it’s not because the store is too far away, but because these fans communicate as if they’re part of a family and, in a family, sharing is caring. 

Another reason is that when you’re drinking time flies and, before anyone knows it it’s already one hour and a half to the game; a clear sign that entering any minute later will mean too much traffic at the entrances. Seeing even tourists - sun-kissed Germans and Dutch youths with a passion for football probably having found out about the game - sitting around the stadium’s edges, makes entering the stadium at 4:30 pm actually make sense. 

Passing through those gates marks the moment things stop making sense - or even need to.

Gate D slowly starts filling up with blue and white, with men, boys and children (and the occasional girl) banging their feet on the old plastic chairs that haven’t had someone actually sit in them in ages. They chant old and new songs and shout at the opposing side of the field, where a considerably smaller group of red-dressed fanatic fans is supporting FK Partizani.

“I know half of the guys there. We don’t really hate each other. But in this stadium we do. And in this stadium, we need to crash them,” a man noticing me take pictures of the ‘reds’ tells me confidently, and then turns in their direction holding his middle fingers up.

Not being allowed to bring many supporters at a Tirana home game, Partizani has gone all out and hired a Partizani-clad paraglider roam around the stadium about an hour before the match starts, forcing you to turn your eyes on the sky. 

Tirona fanatics do not spare their curses at him too. 

As expected, the match itself doesn’t hold much of a significance. Not because it is dull, although none of the teams ended up scoring a goal, but because the feast and atmosphere that surrounds it is much more remarkable. 

A football stadium - maybe more so than stadiums of any other sport - is a place where you can feel truly alive for 90 minutes. It is the kind of playground that makes you forget your routine, stress of daily life, that annoying co-worker or the insecurity of the future. Those moments of cheering over a ball and a football jersey are priceless and can be felt just as passionately in a pitch somewhere in a village as they do in the most crowded of stadiums.

Sometimes, during wine conversations with male and female friends who consider themselves too intellectual to watch football - and especially an Albanian match attended by “hood guys” - I have heard that football is particularly likable for apathetic boys who need to belong in a group, often lacking individuality. 

But the need to belong to a group, be part of something bigger than ourselves, is part of being human, that which Aristotle called being a “social animal.” And, in a world constantly asking you to prove, offer or possess something to feel as if you belong, rare are the places that remain without judgment and criteria, but rather welcoming of whoever is willing and capable to cheer and let go of societal norms for almost two hours. 

Consider it as your get-out-of-the-comfort-zone activity for the next time you get a chance to watch a live football match. 
            [post_title] => Replacing ‘me-time’ with ‘we-time’ at Tirona vs Partizani 
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