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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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Albania rated 2019 under-the-radar, budget destination

Albania rated 2019 under-the-radar, budget destination

TIRANA, Jan. 16 – 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

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Doctors’ exodus makes Albania’s healthcare system more vulnerable

Doctors’ exodus makes Albania’s healthcare system more vulnerable

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Jan. 15 – Albania has been facing an exodus of doctors in the past few years, making the country’s healthcare system, already facing one of world’s lowest number of doctors, even more vulnerable. More than 500

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Upward trend in infant mortality related to lack of equipment

Upward trend in infant mortality related to lack of equipment

In the time period between Dec. 25, 2017 until Jan. 15, 2018, eleven prematurely born babies passed away at the Obstetric-Gynecologic University Hospital ‘’Koco Gliozheni’ in Tirana. In an official response, the maternity hospital admitted that half of these losses

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Dardha village, Albania’s sole ski resort destination

Dardha village, Albania’s sole ski resort destination

TIRANA, Jan. 10 – With much of Albania covered in snow during the first days of this cold January, southeastern Albania is the sole and perfect destination that ski lovers can enjoy in the country. Despite the country’s mountainous terrain

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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.
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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_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] => TIRANA, Jan. 16 - 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.

In late 2018, Albania was the sole Western Balkan country to make it to Lonely Planet’s top 10 affordable adventure destinations for 2019 as one of Europe’s final frontiers that offers hiking amid beautiful mountain scenery, superb beaches and a unique history.

“Albania has been Europe’s final frontier for a while. Here’s a pocket of great value hiding in plain sight, with some superb beaches, a unique history and none of the crowds of Montenegro to the north or Greece to the south," wrote Lonely Planet.

A world-renowned travel guidebook publisher, Lonely Planet has long been a standard for backpackers, budget travelers, and people seeking off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Earlier in 2018,  Lonely Planet also rated Albania’s capital city, 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.

In late 2018, one of Albania’s most popular destinations, Ksamil town and its islands at southernmost Albania, made it to the top 10 under-the-radar places to visit for 2019 in a rating by Booking.com, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies and the number one destination to book any type of accommodation.

The UK's Independent has also rated Albania among the world's cheapest travel destinations where low prices don't compromise on quality.

"Albania is home to some of the best beaches in Europe, but without the typical Mediterranean price tag. Travelling to the Albanian Riviera… you’ll find some of the cheapest room rates, food and drink in Europe: a three-course meal in a decent restaurant should cost no more than £14, while a pint of beer comes in at £1," writes the Independent.

The Independent's online version has also rated the Albania Riviera among the 10 best beaches to visit in 2019.

"Sandwiched between Greece and Montenegro, Albania’s brilliant beaches were hidden behind the Iron Curtain up until the early nineties. Now, wily travellers are cottoning onto the fact it offers cheaper prices and fewer crowds than its better-known neighbours, even though it’s lapped by the same azure sea,” says The Independent.

“One of the most impressive bays is Ksamil, dubbed ‘the Ionian pearl’ because of its beauty, and reachable only by boat or swimming. Historic Saranda is the unofficial capital of the Riviera, or there’s the chilled-out village of Dhermi," it recommends.

In an article examining overcrowded destinations such as Venice and Barcelona, The Traveller Australia suggests Albania's Saranda or Montenegro’s Budva for those planning Croatia's Dubrovnik which has limited daily visitors to its walled Old Town to 4,000 as it battles over-tourism.

Malaysia-based star2.com has also shortlisted Albania among the six new global destinations for 2019.

"This small country on Europe’s Balkan peninsula has much to offer, including the Albanian Alps, numerous castles and archaeological sites. In the capital city of Tirana are the Skanderbeg Square and the National History Museum, National Opera, National Library, Palace Of Culture and Ethem Bey Mosque. Further away is Ksamil, a village known for its secluded beaches and restaurants. Interesting sights include the Syri i Kalter [Blue Eye spring] and Butrint, an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site," it says.

Surprise news also comes from Italy, home to about half a million Albanian migrants, were Albania was on Google Italy’s top search list for vacations in 2018 along with top Italian destinations such as Sardinia and Sicily, according to Italian state-run Ansa news agency.

Albania was visited by around 408,000 Italians in the first 11 months of 2018, a 22 percent hike compared to the period a year ago, according to Albania’s INSTAT statistical agency. However, a considerable number of tourists counted in the number are Albanians who also hold Italian citizenship.

Last year, taking an adventure trip to Albania was rated as one of the top tours on travelers’ to-do-list for 2018 by National Geographic France which suggested discovering the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Berat and Gjirokastra, the Greco-Roman amphitheaters, the Adriatic and Ionian beaches and above all the country’s unexplored landscapes such as alpine summits, green valleys, wetlands and rich fauna.

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.

Albania's tourism industry is dominated by so-called patriotic tourism from neighboring Albanian-speaking countries and minorities and a large number of migrants living and working in EU and North American countries who regularly spend their summer vacations in Albania.

Interest in visiting Albania by central European, Nordic and Russian-speaking tourists has also been considerably increasing in the past few years, with Poles leading tourist growth for a second year in a row and climbing to the sixth largest number of tourists visiting Albania.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2018, generating around €1.5 billion in income in the first three quarters of 2018 when the country was visited by around 5 million tourists, with a key contribution to Albania’s expected decade-high 4 percent GDP growth for 2018, according to Albania’s central bank and INSTAT.
                    [post_title] => Albania rated 2019 under-the-radar, budget destination
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-15 18:33:16
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Jan. 15 - Albania has been facing an exodus of doctors in the past few years, making the country’s healthcare system, already facing one of world’s lowest number of doctors, even more vulnerable.

More than 500 doctors are reported to have left the country in the past few years, mainly heading for Germany, Europe’s largest economy, which has eased work procedures for medical staff coming from the Western Balkans as it tries to fill the huge gaps in its healthcare system.

The current numbers represent about a tenth of total number of doctors in Albania, but what’s worse is that an overwhelming majority of medical staff working at the country’s public and private hospitals would be willing to leave the country if they were offered an opportunity, leaving the country’s vulnerable healthcare system without key experts with decades of experience.

Many hospitals outside Tirana and healthcare facilities at remote areas in Albania already face shortage of specialty and even family doctors, leaving thousands without access to basic service and emergency health problems.

Monthly bonuses of up to €2,000 a month for working outside Tirana and in remote areas suffering shortages of specialty doctors since early 2018 have not been much appealing and facilities like the Dibra regional hospital, north of the country, continue redirecting their patients to Tirana, which becomes quite difficult in winter due to heavy snowfall that often makes helicopter transportation the sole opportunity to save lives.

Albania currently has only 1.2 doctors per thousand residents, in one of the lowest coverage rates comparable only to war-torn countries.

The Balkan country has regularly lost medical staff since the early 1990s following the country’s transition to democracy and a market economy following decades of a hardline communist regime and a planned economy.

However, the brain drain has sharply picked up in the past five years following a relaxation in procedures by Germany due to its huge needs for medical staff, mainly nurses in homes for the elderly.

“Germany has relaxed the doctor-recognition procedures. They accept them from all Balkan countries, though they first have to work in a rural area and undergo training,” says Dorina, an Albanian PhD holder in medicine as quoted at a recent brain drain study commissioned by the UNDP office in Albania.

“Almost 30 percent of students that completed studies in the same year as me have gone to Germany. Each year, around 180 doctors graduate [in Albania], and in the last 3–4 years around 30 percent have emigrated to Germany. This is, regrettably, a very high percentage, because there has been a six-year investment for these doctors,” she adds.

 

Almost everybody wants to leave

Doctors and nurses are among certain groups of mostly younger-age professionals such as engineers, IT specialists, legally leaving the country and heading mainly to Germany following a wave of ungrounded asylum-seekers of mainly non-qualified Albanians that have either voluntarily come back or been repatriated after overwhelmingly having their asylum applications turned down since 2014.

The situation is especially concerning among Albania’s poorly paid medical professionals, more than three quarters of whom say they are willing to leave the country if given the opportunity, according to a recent survey by a local Albanian NGO.

A survey with 1,000 doctors nationwide, including private hospitals, showed around a quarter of surveyed staff say they would immediately leave the country. Another 54 percent said they would consider leaving if they were given an opportunity and only 19 percent said they would continue working at home.

The situation is no better at the private sector offering better wages and working conditions where two-thirds of doctors say they would consider leaving the country, according to a study conducted in mid-2018 by Tirana-based ‘Together for Life’ association with support by Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

The situation appears more alarming in the region of Durres, the country's second largest, and in the northern Lezha and Dibra regions where only 5 percent of surveyed doctors are willing to continue working at home.

Albania’s public healthcare system is perceived as one of the most corrupt, with bribes to doctors and nurses to get faster and more careful treatment having become quite normal practice and culture that is little denounced.

 

‘Certificates of good standing’

Some 762 doctors were issued certificates of good standing from 2013 to 2017, among whom 94 specialty doctors in documents that are issued upon doctors' request when attending post-graduate studies abroad or looking for a job outside the country, according to the Order of Albanian Physicians, the authority that issues the certificates.

However, in late 2018, a deal between the health ministry and the Order of Physicians put an end to the issue of ‘certificates of good standing’ for doctors that are already under contract in a bid to stop the brain drain from Albania's healthcare system.

The average departure of doctors from the country, including experienced ones, from 2013 to 2017 was at 190 annually, a figure considerably higher to the average 150 graduates a year produced by the University of Medicine in Tirana, the sole public higher education institution offering studies for family and specialty doctors in studies that last between six and eight years.

Bigger in numbers and with wages almost half of what doctors receive, nurses are also more willing to leave the country.

German Dekra Akademie says it has been offering free German language courses and training for hundreds of nurses in Albania during the past three years, managing to take up to 1,200 nurses to Germany where they mainly work in homes for the elderly, earning around €1,300 a month.

Around a thousand other nurses are currently receiving training throughout the country.

 

Reasons for leaving

Low job income, poor working conditions, few opportunities for career development, exposure to political pressure, verbal and even physical violence are some of the reasons that drive doctors to abandon Albania’s public sector, sometime even to work for private hospitals offering much better wages and working conditions.

Albania's Order of Physicians says frequent legal action against doctors charged with carelessness and negligence also has an impact on the decision to leave, with doctors often ending up in prison, fined or having their licence revoked.

"Some 20 doctors were sentenced to prison in 2015-16 in Albania at a time when there were only three sentenced in the US where the number of doctors is 70 times higher compared to Albania. In addition, there are many doctors facing charges and a lot of others that have been fined," Fatmir Brahimaj, the president of Albania's Order of Physicians has said.

Doctors have appealed for new provisions to divide human error from negligence in treatment, the latter punished by fines or imprisonment of up to five years for negligence in treatment.

A negative perception on doctors has reduced patient confidence in the Albanian health sector, increasing pressure and insecurity among doctors, the doctors’ departure study shows.

Germany which has considerably eased procedures for medical staff from the Western Balkans is no surprise as the top destination for those wishing to work abroad with a 26 percent share.

Another 20 percent say they would prefer moving to the UK and 13 percent to Nordic countries.

Due to tight procedures for being hired in the local healthcare systems, Italy and Greece, home to around 1 million Albanian migrants, are not among the top three destinations.

Around a quarter of surveyed doctors say they constantly feel under pressure, disrespected and dissatisfied at their workplace and often face work overload.

Albania has more than 5,800 doctors, of whom more than half, some 3,347 working in the region of Tirana, home to the country's sole tertiary healthcare facility and several private hospitals.

A third to half of doctors say they are dissatisfied with the poor financing of the healthcare system, the system's weak management and bureaucracy.

Albania's healthcare system receives only around 3 percent of the GDP in government funding, some €360 million, in a budget that is insufficient for the system’s huge investment and staff needs.

Around three-quarters of doctors in the country believe they are unfairly highly criticized. Two-thirds fully or partially agreed with the statement that the "practice of not declaring their cash gifts with authorities is tough, but financially understandable."

Doctors say their wages have to increase by 30 to 100 percent in order to turn down bribes or cash gifts by patients. Current net wages that doctors receive are at around €500 a month, considerably above average wages, but almost half of what MPs, judges and prosecutors or other senior officials get.

Around half of doctors perceive their Albania future as uncertain. Women doctors are more prone to leave the country.

Doctors are also dissatisfied with the work culture in the country's healthcare facilities such as lack of respect, inefficient communication, poor team work and insufficient efforts for their professional development.

 

An inefficient system

"Albanian authorities do not assume responsibility, but simply put the people against doctors. Patients don't pay insurance, they bribe and the government accepts that doctors get bribed and not have their wages increase,” a Tirana obstetrician is quoted as saying on condition of anonymity.

“At a country where there is no rule of law, you face the population's pressure and doctors are suffering from this system. There are endless physical conflicts and doctors keep silent. In some case they receive media coverage and in other go silent. The pressure is a result of inappropriate functioning of the system," he adds.

Another doctor blames lack of transparency and ill-guided investment.

“There is lack of transparency. We really have a small budget, but even that small budget is not consulted with doctors on how it is going to be spent and there is no vision with investment and continuity with health policies," a Tirana kidney doctor is quoted as saying.

A cardiologist in Durres says departures are an issue related both to finances and dignity as the money they get is not enough to make ends meet for their households and bribes don't make them feel good.

The study suggests investment in the health infrastructure, the review of the legal framework on medical errors, more opportunities for professional and academic growth, improving the internal management at healthcare facilities, and engaging Albanian doctors working abroad more in the country's public health sector.

 

‘Quit Germany plans, earn more at home’

Prime Minster Edi Rama has downplayed exodus concerns saying the country has new doctors willing to get a job and invited doctors to work outside their residence areas to earn more through bonuses of $2,000 to $2,500, in income which he says is much better compared to Germany where most Albanian doctors and nurses are heading to.

"Everybody who contributes out of their residence areas will get paid the same as they started working in Germany. Doctors serving outside Tirana as experts will get their standard wage and a bonus of $2,000 to 2,500 a month. Taxes here are much lower than in Germany and what you have at the end of the day here is much better," Prime Minister Rama said in late December 2018, announcing the employment of 300 new specialty doctors for 2019.

Tritan Shehu, a doctor by profession who served as former health minister for the now opposition Democratic Party says “doctors find themselves out of a system that fails to guarantee them the appropriate technical and scientific level, qualifications, technology, the pharmacological ‘arsenal,’ literature, income and dignity and that the collapse that is knocking on the door requires fundamental changes in the whole system and not only facelifts.”

 

 A push for migration

Lack of proper healthcare, together with the low quality of the education system and poor income at home are the primary reason why Albanians migrate away from their native land, surveys show.

Albania has around 1.2 million migrants abroad, almost 40 percent of its 2.8 million resident population, making it one of the countries with the highest per capita migration around the world, with a series of social and economic consequences for the country’s future prospects.

Experts says Albanians are mostly leaving the country because of economic reasons, looking to escape poverty in their homes, but also to integrate into leading European economies and take advantage of better education, health and social protection infrastructure for their families.

Albania’s public health sector is perceived as one of the most corrupt and inefficient sectors, with patients often choosing to get treated at private hospitals in the country or go abroad.

Albanians are estimated to spend about €60 million annually in private hospitals and clinics whose number has significantly increased in the past decade.
                    [post_title] => Doctors’ exodus makes Albania’s healthcare system more vulnerable
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                    [post_content] => In the time period between Dec. 25, 2017 until Jan. 15, 2018, eleven prematurely born babies passed away at the Obstetric-Gynecologic University Hospital ‘’Koco Gliozheni’ in Tirana.

In an official response, the maternity hospital admitted that half of these losses could have been prevented if the hospital didn't lack the proper equipment. 

‘’More than half of the cases [of babies which passed away until the beginning of Jan.] is due to underdeveloped pregnancies, for which we don’t hold the appropriate technology to ensure survival,’’ wrote the hospital in a written answer.

The maternity hospital suffers from a noteworthy absence of incubators and most of the existing ones are dysfunctional. The remaining can handle only half of the infants requiring intensive care. This situation is ongoing for years and both the Hospital Directory and Ministry of Health and Social Protection seem to turn a blind eye to this, as multiple complaints from the doctors have been falling on deaf ears. 

‘’For at least 15 years nothing has been done in this service, only minor touch-ups. The Ministry is aware of it, and not only the ministry, but everyone, as this has been an ongoing issue for years,’’ said Edi Tushe, the Neonatology service chief at ‘’Koco Gliozheni.’’

He added that the equipment under disposition is technologically outdated, and the hospitals can get appliances only through governmental connections. 

In addition, Tushe admits this has caused staff shortage, as doctors and nurses are leaving their jobs due to unacceptable working conditions. 

‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ however, is not the only hospital in Albania which has been facing an absence in incubators, doctors and other medical equipment which are necessary for the survival of infants born with problems. 

Data gathered from Birn shows that this alarming situation is spread in the whole of Albania. 

In 2016, for the first time in two decades in Albania, a rise in infant mortality [babies under one years old] was registered

Warned deaths

Infant mortality number in Albania is the second highest for the region of Balkans, Macedonia being first on the list. According to UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation data, in Albania there have been 6.2 deaths in 1000 newborns for year 2017.

According to INSTAT, Albania’s State Statistics Institute, infant mortality in the country for 2016 was raised by 19 percent. 233 infants died in 2015 and 277 in 2016. For 2017, out of 30,896 registered newborn babies, only 248 passed away.  

Eleven babies who passed away at the ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ maternity hospital in 2018 were added to these sad statistics. Doctors from this hospital, who wished to remain anonymous, said the depressing situation faced there shocked the medical staff.

Another doctor of gynecology service explained that the Neonatology service had more patients than incubators at the time. This has led medics to often create double connections between babies and medical equipment in certain situations, as the only way to survive. 

‘’I have been working in that hospital for ten years and a situation like this has never occurred, it was really absurd, even though all the children, according to what we learned, were born with issues,’’ said the doctor. ‘’Trust me, for a doctor it is heartbreaking to work in such a situation.’’

The maternity hospital ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ has complained that it holds only six functional incubators out of 24 that it needs. However, the neonatology administration lacks other medical tools apart from incubators. Shortages are on ventilators, pulse oximeters, infusion pumps, laryngoscopes, and the list of essential devices for treating newborns with problems goes on. According to the doctors, the few functional appliances on hold are old and overused, which seriously threatens patient service.

According to Edi Tushe ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ hospital bears about 4500 births a year on average; meanwhile, there are 700 infants on average per year that are hospitalized in need for intensive therapy and specialized care. He said that in the hospital’s conditions that can withstand only half of the cases.

Tushe also elucidates that the doctors of the neonatology service have been sending tens of letters to the hospital directory for years, which on their behalf forward those letters to the Ministry. These letters lets them know of the scandalous situation that the doctors have to work with, however the complaints have fallen on deaf ears. 

‘’The absence of equipment and tools makes the intensive and subintensive care of neonates impossible,’’ writes Tushe in a letter from Sept. 2017 directed to the Hospital Directory. 

A similar warning was also sent earlier in 2016. After the loss of the 11 newborns on Jan. 2018, the maternity hospital sent an extended rationale to the Ministry of Health about their difficult situation, and again it recieved no concrete reaction. The hospital has 20 non-functional incubators, and only six are working, while 18 to 34 babies each day need intensive therapy.

‘’During 2017 in the department of intensive care were hospitalized 957 infants, with an average stay in the incubator of two to 98 days,’’ writes ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’. 

The maternity hospital also adds that some days there eight to 19 babies born in that hospital which occupy the incubators, and six to 15 infants coming from outside Tirana. On average there are 18 occupied beds daily, and on some other days the number can go as high as 34.

In an urgent letter sent on Nov. 22, 2018 to the hospital’s director and deputy director of finance, the neonatology dept. informed again on the emergent need to replace the almost dysfunctional air and oxygen dosimeters. 

These dysfunctional dosimeters make the resuscitation of the infants in maternity rooms impossible. Alternative forms are found to attain their provisional operation, however the service writes that the Neo Puff aparatures make the resuscitation impossible, thus the hospital should make urgent interventions to replace the dysfunctional utilities.

This university hospital which deals with serious cases even from district hospitals only has one laryngoscope, an essential instrument for opening the breathing routes and aiding respiration. This hospital also lacks portable incubators for transporting graver cases to Mother Teresa Hospital. The existing ones are more than 20 years old and unsuitable. 

‘’We need equipment and medications. How could I tell to a parent that there is no oxygen mask for their child?,’’ said a nurse from ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ hospital who wished to remain anonymous. ‘’We only have our hands, but these children won’t be saved only by our hands,’’ added the nurse. 

Regardless of the difficulties, however, the maternity hospital admits that are very rare cases when they are forced to put two infants in one incubator, as it negatively affects the health of the child. Cases in which it happens, is when the babies are born twins.

Doctors are leaving due to poor working conditions

According to Edi Tushe, this lack of working conditions is forcing doctors to quit their jobs. During 2018,  three neonatal physicians have resigned from ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’. Out of 45 nurses that the dept. needs, the staff consists of only 20 but only 17 actually work, as the rest three are on excused leaves. 

The structure should be handled by eight doctors, but Tushe said only four will be left, as another doctor is leaving soon. All the corresponding institutions are informed on the situation, but no solution has been found. 

A resigned doctor who wished to remain anonymous said that it was psychologically frustrating for her not being able to save the life of a newborn because the hospital has no equipment. 

‘’Those who are still remaining in that service are heroes, you cannot imagine how the work is done there,’’ said the doctor. 

The remaining doctors and staff seem to also be reaching an ending point. In a letter directed to director Genci Hyska on Nov. 20, they threaten a collective resigning if the situation doesn’t better, highlighting that for two years they were strained in expectation for an actual solution. They have also warned that staff shortage seriously harms the security and quality of patient service.

‘’Since we don’t have any actual solution, we are bound to inform you that this situation is no longer acceptable and tolerable- we will soon be obliged to collective resign,’’ have written the doctors and staff in the letter. 

Tushe added that it is not easy to recruit new doctors in a short period of time. He said that a neonatal doctor should be planned five years ahead, whereas here there are open calls on which no one signs up. He added that it has let the Ministry know what it should do, but he warns that the institutions plan strategies only to lock them in a drawer.

Abandonment of district maternity hospitals

According to INSTAT and the two maternity hospitals ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ and ‘’Mbreteresha Geraldine’’ (Queen Geraldine), more than a third of the countries birth are conducted in these two hospitals. “Mbreteresha Geraldine’’ registered 3117 births for period Jan. to June 2018, with only 25 infants losing their lives out of 445 cases that need neonatal resuscitation. 

‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ reported on around 4500 births during 2017. 957 babies were hospitalized for intensive care, 630 newborns from this maternity hospital and 327 coming outside Tirana. 

‘’We would be lying if we said there are no problems, but I don’t know any doctor in neonatology who neglected their job,’’ said Gerta Hagen.

Gerta Hagen is the executive director of Hospital Foundation of Mother and Child, which has been operating on maternities ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ and ‘’Mbreteresha Geraldine’’ since 2014, and is now cooperating with maternity hospital of Fier. Hagen said that the district hospitals are facing bigger problems than the university ones.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection answered that the Albanian hospitals have 134 incubators. Doctors said that this is the stock number and not the number of functional equipment in hospitals. For instance, ‘’Koco Gliozheni’’ has in stock 27 incubators, from which only six are functional. 

The maternity hospital of Korca registered 988 births during 2018, out of whom 85 instants needed an incubator. The inventory of Health Ministry claims that the hospital has seven incubators, but maternity director Ardit Konomi said that they only have three incubators, and one is not working. He added that the hospital also has ten oxygen pumps and a staff shortage. They are in need of two obstetrician-gynecologists, and the service is filled by retired doctors.

For the Durres maternity hospital which bears 2500 births on average per year, the Ministry claimed that it possesses ten incubators, but director Arjan Prodani said that the hospital has six incubators, three functional and three old ones which occasionally break down. The hospital also has two ultrasounds, and needs another one, and has one monitor, even though the inventory says it possesses three. 

‘’As for the medical staff we have considerable wants, we are only three neonatal physicians while we are supposed to be six or seven. And from the remaining three, one is retired but continues to work’’ said Prodani. 

The Shkoder maternity has enough incubators to cope with the births, according to doctor Servete Stakaj, however the hospital needs oxygen and respiratory equipment. The bigger issue is the staff shortage, which aggravates the work and patient service. 

More noted absences are in district hospitals which usually send their emergencies to Tirana hospitals. Kujtim Albrahimi who is responsive to the Librazhd municipality maternity, said their hospital carries communist era incubators and two neonatal rooms with warm and cold water. Albrahimi said that requests have been made to the Ministry for another incubator corresponding to the number of births, but he also added that the Ministry perhaps doesn't have the necessary resources. 

The absence in staff and equipment in regional hospitals are bringing fatal consequences to the patients. On Dec. 7 of 2018 in Bulqize, an expectant mother lost her triplets because the hospital didn’t have a doctor and the first birthing was conducted by a nurse until a team from Tirana arrived. 

‘’They told me that she had a premature birth, but Bulqize has no gynecologist, everything here is through,’’ said father Ferit Rexhepi, still traumatized.

The couple were following the pregnancy with checkings in Tirana because the maternity hospital in Bulqize had no proper condition. On Dec. 8 of 2018 they had the following session. Rexhepi said that this situation could have been averted if doctors were available.

Hazis Jella who is director of Bulqize hospital said that the staff did all they could and that the team from Tirana arrived fast. He said that these are the capacities the hospital holds, and the saving of the babies was impossible due to their premature age. Yet, he gave no answer regarding the absence of an obstetrician-gynecologist in this hospital.

Gerta Hagen says that the handicap is on a missing referral system which would give an awareness in what diagnosis each regional hospital can treat, that on the other hand would also relieve the weight of Tirana’s hospitals. Hagen said that a protocol for case referrals is inexistent. Not all regional hospitals are specialized for everything, but according to her there should be collective specialized centers and a referral system. 

Former minister of health and gynecologist Halim Kosova said that the equipment absence is a grave issue. However, Kosova said that doctors leaving is a more serious problem. He added that a hospital which lacks doctors cannot order new equipment, and a hospital with minimal activity, equipment and staff, perhaps shouldn’t stay open. 

According to Edi Tushe, suggestions for solutions have been well received but it is the will from respective authorities to actualize these solutions which lacks. Tushe said that he was part of the ministry team working on the reproductive health strategy. This strategy was finished last year and it holds a special chapter dedicated to infant mortality.

‘’80 percent of infant mortality are neonatal, and if interventions are not made regarding this indicator, we risk to make steps backwards,’’ warned Tushe.

 

 

Courtesy of BIRN. 
                    [post_title] => Upward trend in infant mortality related to lack of equipment
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-10 16:35:35
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 10 – With much of Albania covered in snow during the first days of this cold January, southeastern Albania is the sole and perfect destination that ski lovers can enjoy in the country.

Despite the country’s mountainous terrain and plenty of opportunities to develop winter sports, Albania has only one ski resort which is located in Dardha, a tourist village in the southeast Albanian region of Korça, some 112 km off Tirana that can be reached in a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

Located in Dardha, a village with much history in Albania and whose residents were among the first Albanians to settle in the U.S. in the late 19th century, the Bigell ski resort has been operating since 2012 offering skiing and snowboarding for both amateurs and professionals in 2 km of slopes at an elevation of around 1,600 meters above the sea level.

The village is a popular destination both in summer, as an escape from the heat wave in much of Albania, but becomes almost overcrowded in winter, with visits by local and foreign tourists and travel agencies offering three-day package holidays starting at €90.

However, the underdeveloped winter sports often take Albanians to neighboring countries such as Montenegro and Macedonia with a much earlier tradition in ski resorts.

"It's Albania's sole ski resort, even though small, modest and with minimum conditions with only two cable cars which is a pity, but at least we have one, to entertain ski lovers," a tourist says.

"It's a pity that most Albanian ski lovers travel to Montenegro’s Kolasin, which is a four-hour drive from Tirana at a time when Dardha is only about two-and-a-half hours away, but we have to admit they offer better conditions," she adds.

Snow-covered landscape, warm homes under the lights of fireplaces, traditional cooking and hospitable people make Dardha an ideal getaway spot for many, travel experts say.

“Its proximity to the touristic ‘center’ of Korça makes a visit there even more worthwhile. Plus, there are plenty of skiing opportunities and other outdoor sports in this village for all the winter sport enthusiasts,” says the IntoAlbania portal.

“It’s extremely clean air revives both body and soul and, during the winter, the green forests and houses made of stone are all covered in snow, granting the place a fairy-tale appearance. This 300-year old village is a cozy place that looks and feels like home,” it adds.

Nicknamed ‘The small Paris of Albania’ and the ‘City of serenades,’ the southeastern Albania city of Korça, also features a prehistoric museum and a national education museum where the first Albanian language school opened in 1878.

Its Dardha and Voskopoja villages are also famous Lakror pies and Kernacka meatballs.

The Dajti national park, situated just 25 km east of Tirana, is another destination for central Albania residents and tourists to Tirana, to enjoy snowfall, a rare phenomenon downtown Tirana.

Located atop Mount Dajti, the Dajti national park is a magnificent and beautiful park spanning a 3,000 ha area. It boasts much lush vegetation and has groves of 200 year-old beech trees. There are significant archaeological monuments nearby, and opportunities for hiking and climbing, as well. A cable car built a decade ago transports visitors from the outskirts of Tirana to the park in just a few minutes.

Albania made it to Lonely Planet’s top 10 affordable adventure destinations for 2019 as one of Europe’s final frontiers that offers hiking amid beautiful mountain scenery, superb beaches and a unique history.

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.

The country’s tourism industry still remains heavily reliant on summer, when Adriatic and Ionian beaches are packed with tourists. Plans to switch to a year-round industry have been slowly advancing.
                    [post_title] => Dardha village, Albania’s sole ski resort destination
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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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