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A doorway to the past, a lesson for the future

A doorway to the past, a lesson for the future

By Sidonja Manushi In the centre of a newborn city, on the second floor of a newborn house, in 1932, physician and well-known intellectual Jani Basho was cradling a newborn boy in his arms. He had only recently received King

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AIIS: Focus on media in Albania-Serbia relations

AIIS: Focus on media in Albania-Serbia relations

TIRANA, Oct. 18 – During a conference on the role of the media in informing and shaping opinion concerning the Albania-Serbia relations, a lot was said about the influence the media has in popular perception, the distinction between qualitative and

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Serbian feminist activist: ‘Albanians and Serbs are so similar in their differences’

Serbian feminist activist: ‘Albanians and Serbs are so similar in their differences’

Albania-Serbia joint projects are rare, especially in arts and culture. Historical stereotypes, lack of sufficient exchanges and funding remain a barrier for the two EU aspirant Western Balkan countries. However, civil society activists have increased efforts to boost mutual understanding

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Animal cruelty, logging continue to challenge moratoriums, watchdog unveils

Animal cruelty, logging continue to challenge moratoriums, watchdog unveils

TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Illegal logging and animal abuse continues despite moratoriums in place to protect Albania’s declining forest areas and endangered fauna species. Environmental watchdogs have identified 25 cases of abuse during the past year, mainly related to illegal

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A buddy in need is a buddy indeed

A buddy in need is a buddy indeed

TIRANA, Oct. 1st – October is the month for Down syndrome awareness. In its context, the Down Syndrome Albania (DSA) Foundation, which is the only medical centre treating Down syndrome patients in Albania, organized the fifth Buddy Walk event in

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Internal party democracy in 2016- the challenge that grows with time

Internal party democracy in 2016- the challenge that grows with time

It is the year 2016- all the three major parties in Albania show clear signs of authoritarianism, centralization of power and unification around the leader’s positions. The space for debate is narrowed and the process is made more difficult, the

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International Film Festival brings human rights in focus

International Film Festival brings human rights in focus

The International Human Rights Film Festival in Albania (IHRFFA) opened the doors of its 12th edition this Monday in Tirana, for a week of movies and documentaries’ screenings aimed at raising awareness among Albanians concerning human rights issues. The festival,

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German tourists in love with Albania, but scared by reckless driving

German tourists in love with Albania, but scared by reckless driving

TIRANA, Sept. 6 – German tourists are amazed at Albania’s stunning landscape, beaches, hospitality and food, but rather surprised by the poor public transport and reckless driving in the country. Albania is a country where German tourists find a variety

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Pellumbas Cave, Tirana’s hidden adventure travel gem

Pellumbas Cave, Tirana’s hidden adventure travel gem

TIRANA, Sept. 6 – Adventure tourism outside Tirana has received a boost with the establishment of a tourism cluster in the village of Pellumbas and its famous cave close to the Erzeni Canyon, some 25 km southeast the capital city.

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‘It’s not Antibes, but Drimadhes’

‘It’s not Antibes, but Drimadhes’

Although in Germany summer is a season that leaves much to be desired, in many other parts of Europe, especially south of it, the current temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, many southern countries lie next to the sea and

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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi

In the centre of a newborn city, on the second floor of a newborn house, in 1932, physician and well-known intellectual Jani Basho was cradling a newborn boy in his arms.

He had only recently received King Zog’s – Albania’s King – permission to turn this two-floored, red bricked house into a women’s clinic; a place they could enjoy the sunlight coming in from the tall windows, the yard with its rainbow of colors, the wooden staircases adorned with a faint smell of mold that reminded a walk in the woods. The clinic was a place women turned to mothers, babies were born and wall-climbing plants multiplied in abundance.

The baby Jani Basho was cradling in his arms that day however – just like many others all over Albania – lived to see the house transform through the course of history, loose its initial cause of nobility and turn to be the all-seeing eye of a blind power.

After King Zog fled the country, World War II ended and communist partisans took over Albania, the house became the host of the Secret Surveillance operations, which not only spied and interfered in the lives of those it deemed suspicious and enemies of the state, but also questioned, tortured and humiliated them for years in a row. Many were ultimately sentenced to death. Soon enough, the country was similar to Bentham’s Panopticon – an institutional building designed to allow all inmates to be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched – and Jani Basho’s old women’s clinic was its epicenter.

“Cursed and serious, silent and gloomy was the building during the day, yet it transformed into real hell at nightfall. Amid the intoxicating smell of the weeping willows, lime trees and the Iodoform that was poured on the bloody wounds of the arrested, the screams and yells of those who were being beaten and electrocuted arose, while the volume of the radio was turned up high and the dog of the Italian mechanic who was also convicted, Mario Massarini, was urged to bark endlessly, to cover these painful screams that gave you goose bumps. It was more painful to hear others being tortured, than to be tortured yourself…to this day, when I happen to pass by it, my knees shake and my heart beats fast…”, reads the wall of the same house where all these atrocities happened, which has now been turned into a museum.

The description comes from one of the survivors of communism’s suffocating system; the confessions of many survivors have been gathered and are exhibited in the house, currently named the ‘House of Leaves’.

Albania has a plethora of communist legacy – something to be expected after suffering one of the longest communist regimes. Across the country countless unimaginative bunkers built to protect it from a nuclear attack testify to the vision of one man only: Enver Hoxha, whose name hardly any Albanian, young or old, does not know. Two of them (Hoxha’s personal refuge and the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior) have already been made into museums (Bunk’art 1 & 2), aiming to preserve collective memory and teach of the country’s communist past.

Yet, there is something about the House of Leaves, its quiet, normal exterior, its past purpose and its haunting story that does more than simply convey lessons on communism – it marks you.

As a museum, the house is now a mixture of modern architecture and lingering traces of the years gone by. Its front wall, protecting the house from the stream of cars and people passing by it daily, has been cleaned and painted white for the public; the windows have been repaired; the walls have been adorned with modern screens, showing educative videos on Albanian history before and during communism and propaganda movies made by the Party (as Albanians call the ex-communist party); its rooms now hold an exhibition of artifacts from the country’s most mysterious and controlling period, while memories of the time babies were being born, making the house a place of creation, rather than destruction, are nowhere to be seen.

“State security is the sharp and dear weapon of our Party, because it protects the interests of our people and country, as well as against inside and outside enemies,” is written on another wall in the House of Leaves, quoting Hoxha himself. Deservingly on one of the main corridors of the museum, this quote depicts the extreme overlapping of the ‘state’ with the ‘people’ during communism, and of the very definition of the word ‘enemy’ itself.

The Party would not have been ‘the Party’ had it followed the practice of seizing all political and economic power but allowed people to go their ways concerning personal issues and beliefs. All totalitarian regimes that have survived on the long run have been much more invasive and psychologically pressuring than that – the Party is still remembered in Albania because of its invasion of something much grander and personal: the psyche of its population.

The countless Chinese and Western spying equipment exhibited in the House of Leaves are prehistoric versions of what we now have, yet they served the purpose of interfering with every inch of one’s life behind closed doors all too well. The Bug, the most infamous spying device showcased in the house, is a good symbol of the system as a whole, of the ways it would creep in and out and take over the very essence of human rights and freedoms. For the political prisoners, the screams and torturing of others were more effective and hurtful than their own; for the country, taking away its citizens’ rights to individual thoughts, feelings and ideas was more destructive than taking away their lands.

It was thus not difficult to deem almost anyone an ‘enemy’ of the state. Whenever a diverse idea flourished the Party would know, and would take measures. Bugs were placed inside homes, hotels, foreign embassies…many of the Party’s own collaborators were later accused and executed for treason as well while internal party paranoia and fear intensified and the stakes rose higher.

It is very difficult for the people who have not experienced that time and system to imagine and empathize with what it must have felt to lose all power and certainty over one’s life, just like it is difficult for those who lived through that experience, to let it go.

Upon its inauguration, PM Edi Rama said the following concerning the purpose of the museum: “What I learned from the experience of Bunk’art 1 and 2, is the physical relation with remembrance as an opportunity to tell the younger generation or foreign visitors who didn’t experience this period of history, and that upon confessing a story, the more time passes, the less we, who witnessed that time, fully believe in it.”

Tourists and students are the main visitors of the museum now; sometimes, elderly people stop by it and take a longer look, but rarely go inside. The issue of what to do with communist legacy and artifacts came into question in Albania too when the Bunk’art ideas were first introduced, as there were many people who opposed the idea of communist ‘heirlooms’. Yet, more than heirlooms and museums these buildings have walls with eyes that have seen a lot, evidence of a not-so-distance past which has been carved in the memories of those who experienced it and will not be swept away by the demolition of physical things. In this sense, collective memory serves to both respect the memories of those who suffered and to remind us of what can happen when our minds, rather than our things, are taken away from us. For this, it is good the House of Leaves is alive to tell its story.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_134234" align="alignright" width="300"]Photo: AIIS Photo: AIIS[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 18 – During a conference on the role of the media in informing and shaping opinion concerning the Albania-Serbia relations, a lot was said about the influence the media has in popular perception, the distinction between qualitative and sensational journalism, and even possible cooperation techniques in the context of further regional development.

The agenda – “Serbia and the bilateral Albania-Serbia relations in the eyes of Albanian print media” – did not only focus on one side of the coin, as research was presented comparing the printed media in both Albania and Serbia. While most of the research showed that at least quality newspapers use neutral tones in describing relations, when the Kosovo issue is mentioned, things tend to lean on the negative side.

The conference was organized by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), as one of the many events of the institute in the context of foreign relations. Held in the Tirana Times Book House, the opening remarks were spoken by Chairman of AIIS, Dr. Albert Rakipi, and Director of the FES Office in Tirana, Prof. Dr. Wulf Lapins.

“We experience two realities. One is the normal reality of things that happen, of relations, cooperation, exchange of goods and services, of history; an everyday reality found in the volume of relations between two states, economies, cultures and societies. This first reality is not a virtual reality. Meanwhile, another reality exists created by the media and the bigger the distance between these two realities, the more the way society functions is affected. The perceptions created by the media sometimes are, as popular international relations theory goes, more important than the facts themselves,” Rakipi said, highlighting the tremendous effect what we read and hear has in our everyday realities.

Prof. Dr. Lapins, who only recently took over the Director post in Tirana, spoke in a broader global and European context, of the problems and shortcomings we are all facing and the importance of mature and democratic relations between the countries in the region for European integration.

“Compared to other regions in the world, Europe could be seen as an island of happiness,” Lapins addressed the participants. “For some time now, European politics are talking of the fact the world is falling apart. This is essentially due to the fact the principles of this new world order have not yet been redefined. Globalization covers all areas of life. What are the negative effects of this globalization? Globalization affects the cohesion of citizens, societies on which democratic discourse flourishes. But even Europe – this seeming island of the lucky ones – finds itself with many problems.”

This atmosphere of change and instability, Lapins explained, has also made the Western Balkans countries “which are sitting in Europe’s waiting room” impatient.

“The Berlin process is a kind of reassurance, in other words, to make the time in the waiting room more comfortable. In all probability, the Berlin Process will end in 2018. But what comes next? Regarding the behavior of Poland and Hungary, the EU is concerned that the new member states would use their veto rights politically, as well. It would be a great contribution to the coherence of the EU if the future member countries would renounce their future veto rights under international law and the readiness for good negotiation with the European Union. Second, the naming ‘Western Balkan countries’ has a negative connotation; therefore these countries should now call themselves the countries of the East Adriatic. Third, the countries of the East Adriatic should not wait for the EU, but rather they should be implementing reforms in their national legislations. The EU is primarily a peace project, a supporter of the ability to compromise. Compromise is an indicator of the maturity of a political culture and state wisdom. Albanian-Serbian relations should be a good example of state compromise in the face of other interests.”

The research presented by Dr. Ledion Krisafi focused on Albanian printed media over the course of the year’s first six months. The four printed media used for comparison purposes were three daily newspapers – Mapo, Panorama and Shqiptarja.com – and one weekly one – Tirana Times. The connotations selected to describe the articles were positive, neutral, negative and almost negative. Out of 131 articles analyzed in the study, it was noticed that relations were positively mentioned in regards to cultural and economic cooperation, while the issue of Serbia’s ex-province Kosovo, which is now an independent country, turns comments bitter and negative.

It was also said that Albania-Serbia relations articles don’t have a permanent subject, but are rather related to different current happenings and developments. In addition, Krisafi mentioned that Serbian media cover more of Albanian tourism during the summer, whereas this is not noticed in Albanian media.

For Serbia, the newspapers researched by former exchange fellow at AIIS, Aleksander Pavlovic, and presented by current fellow Monika Maric, were Danas, Blic, Politika and Informer. Regarding Serbian media outlets, the overall number of articles mentioning Albania during the six month timeframe was 855, of which 385 belonged to Politika alone.

Serbian researcher Aleksandar Pavlovic emphasized that while around 70 per cent of the articles had a neutral tone, 184 of them had a derogatory tone and in 152 of those cases, the articles focused on Kosovo.

In Serbia’s case too, articles were more event-oriented, rather than theme oriented, with focus on events such as Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj’s arrest in France, or former Albanian president Bujar Nishani’s visit in Kosovo. A distinction could be noticed between commercially oriented and quality content newspapers in Serbia in regards of the language they use in describing Albania-Serbia relations and supporting political and social stereotypes.

Upon the comments made in conclusion to the presentations were that Kosovo stands in the middle of Albanian and Serbian relations, that Albanian media does not report enough on the region, but rather considers as news only what comes from Washington or Berlin, and that more often than not, economy and trade surpass politics and that is where the key for development and integration lies. As Dr. Rakipi mentioned in his closing remarks, Kosovo’s tension with Serbia should not be unified with Albanian-Serbian relations, but rather take separate roads politically and in the way they are represented in the media.
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                    [post_content] => Albania-Serbia joint projects are rare, especially in arts and culture. Historical stereotypes, lack of sufficient exchanges and funding remain a barrier for the two EU aspirant Western Balkan countries. However, civil society activists have increased efforts to boost mutual understanding in the past couple of years through different projects, including arts.

The latest example is the “Kismet” documentary showcasing the challenges facing young women both in Serbia and Albania.

Minja Mardjonovic, an online feminist activist, columnist, freelance writer, who directed the newly released “Kismet” documentary, tells Tirana Times in an interview “Kismet is a story about love, understanding, connecting, co-operation, friendship and sisterhood among young Albanian and Serbian women.”

Her appeal to authorities in both Serbia and Albania is “Open your iron doors for all our ideas, because the youth from both sides really intend to build peace among Albanians and Serbs”.

Full interview by Monika Maric below:

How did you come up with the idea of making this documentary and why did you decide to call it Kismet, a Turkish word of Arabic origin meaning fate/destiny as mentioned in the documentary trailer?

Kismet is a part of one big story. It's an OSCE project about co-operation and connectivity between Albanian and Serbian youth - '' Enhancing regional connectivity among Serbia and Albania youth actors.''  Within that story, I got an opportunity to think about creating a small project with the Albanian team which will be regarded to the mutual issue - the status of youth and common challenges in both societies. As a feminist activist and artist, I believe in many ways of communicating and reaching people about some non-mainstream topics. One of them for sure is video, movie, film. So, from the beginning, the idea was: to create an immortal message for the future generation about Albanian and Serbian women who rejected all prejudices and stereotypes which are imposed upon all of us. Kismet is our daily life. It's a basic stereotype which arises every time a doctor tells a pregnant woman ''It's a girl.'' And our destiny, our kismet as women is to be everything in the common term of WOMAN: to be warriors, to smash prejudices, injustices, to raise our voices, to scream and cry, to refuse to give birth, or just to give birth, to feed, to live, to love and care, to tolerate, to persist, to exist and to die.

Kismet could be a strong metaphor for the imposed truth about how women are predestined just for one thing – the house and children. KISMET is a name of our common problem- gender-based injustice.

Also, besides these typical gender roles, I need to mention one more also so typical and violent example: the role women as sexual objects in the daily life of patriarchal and popular cultures.

What are some of the common challenges facing young women in both Serbia and Albania, are there huge differences?

For example, if you mute the documentary film for a second, you will notice how really it doesn't matter where all these women are from. That's the point. We can't see differences in the context where it is not possible to conciliate. Absolutely, we are smiling and crying in the same way. Conservative and patriarchal structures of our societies make us so similar, too. So, from my point of view, the treatment of women is the best indicator of the level of social and political progress within one society. In that regard, we can really maintain how much Albanians and Serbs are so similar in their differences.

What's the message of this documentary and what is your appeal to decision-makers both in Serbia and Albania about strengthening women's role in the society and fighting cases of abuse, gender inequality, and stereotypes?

Kismet is a story about love, understanding, connecting, co-operation, friendship and sisterhood among young Albanian and Serbian women who decided to express themselves and segments of their life stories through this ''destined'' visual project.

Love is a goal and the sense of everything. Peace in the world is not just a mantra or a stereotypical Miss World sentence; it's a real need and necessity for all human beings.

So, my appeal will be addressed to institutions of the system: “Open your iron doors for all our ideas, because the youth from both sides really intend to build a peace among Albanians and Serbs”.

What were your impressions of cooperation? Was it hard to cooperate with the peers from Albania?

When you have a mutual goal and clear ideas for realization, everything needs to be perfect. You need to listen to the others. And, I think that we did it in the best way! I really believe we finished this as best as we could - “together in co-operation with honest respect, friendship and huge support.”

Which were the biggest challenges during the shooting? Were there any obstacles?

Time is always a big problem. There is little time for a lot of big things. In that sense, the biggest challenge was:  Are we going to do all this for a given period, and how will it look like at the end. All the obstacles were of a technical nature, and it's so common when you are making a film.

What was the reaction of the audience after the documentary premiere in Belgrade and Tirana?

It really was remarkable. We didn't expect a lot of people in Belgrade, nor in Tirana. For both premieres, the film was viewed by more than 200 people, and that’s great success for this kind of movie. For me, it was a wonderful experience, and for sure we deserve all of these nice things that are happening to us now.

What are the general plans for the future? Do you plan to show the documentary in other places throughout Serbia and Albania?

Yes, of course there is a plan. After the premieres in both capitals, Kismet screened for the first time in Belgrade few days ago. We are expecting four more screenings in Serbia and five in Albania, until the end of October. After this, we want to continue the Kismet story through other projects, because we believe in its potential for regional connectivity and co-operation.

Do you have any other near future Serbia-Albania documentary projects?

For now, my kismet is Kismet. (laughs)

How did you find Albania during your stay and what's your message for Serbian tourists to Albania and Albanians who want to visit Serbia. How can knowing each other and direct contact help overcome still existing stereotypes?

Our kismet trip to Albania was a really safe trip, filled with love and adventures, unforgotten experiences and nice memories.

Practically, I am in love with Albania. It's a so wild and beautiful country. You can find everything that you need for pleasure: two undiscovered seas, a lot of unexplored mountains, perfect food and coffee, delicious cakes and perfect gelato, the fast and furious energy of citizens, good parties...

Many dear Albanian friends, attentive and happy people, open-hearted smiles and the recognized Balkans soul are enough reasons because this documentary in the end has one of the most pointful messages: “Go to Albania and meet Albanians, go to Serbia and meet Serbs.”
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_134161" align="alignright" width="168"]shqiponja Golden eagle caught in Albania. Photo: PPNEA[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 11 - Illegal logging and animal abuse continues despite moratoriums in place to protect Albania's declining forest areas and endangered fauna species.

Environmental watchdogs have identified 25 cases of abuse during the past year, mainly related to illegal hunting and logging and animals held in captivity, also taking place in protected areas. Dozens of other unreported cases are estimated to have taken place as a considerable number of abuses were advertised as trophies on social networks by perpetrators themselves, apparently unaware of the legal consequences that include heavy fines and even imprisonment.

Brown hares and bears being killed and advertised as trophies on social networks or endangered species such as the Balkan Lynx kept embalmed at restaurant bars in addition to caged bear cubs held in captivity are some of the cases the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) watchdog has identified on its dedicated syrigjelber.info portal serving as a hotline to report cases of abuse.

The watchdog warns illegal logging in the Munella Mountain, northeastern Albania, the country’s sole sanctuary of the Balkan lynx, is further putting at risk one of the most threatened wildlife species in serious danger of extinction.

Camera trappings have captured the presence of 4-6 Balkan lynx individuals and thus dwindling habitat will almost certainly drive the species towards extinction.

The Balkan lynx is a critically endangered species – only about 40 or 50 individuals are reported to exist in total. About 5-6 of these have been reported to live in the Munella Mountain in the district of Puka and Mirdita, northeast Albania.

Last year, Albania imposed a 10-year wood cutting moratorium in bid to protect remaining woods after decades of illegal logging and clearing for agriculture, seriously dwindling the country’s forest cover. The ban, which sharply increased firewood prices and put some newly established wood pellet plants in trouble, applies for industry or export purposes, whereas logging for heating purposes will be allowed albeit under the supervision of local authorities.

Last May, a three-month-old bear cub that had been trapped in mountain village outside Tirana was rescued from captivity after being illegally advertised for sale at a popular portal for €1,100.

Local authorities and animal welfare organizations have been receiving assistance by Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, which last year pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping of bears, leading to more than a dozens bears and cubs being rescued from captivity.

Earlier this year, Henk and Eso, a malnourished bear couple found caged near a hotel in Puka, northeastern Albania, were transferred to a safe place in Tirana, where they will be regularly fed and treated properly until a forever home is found for them.

An estimated 180 to 250 brown bears currently live in the wild in Albania while another 50 are believed to be held captive, mainly for entertainment purposes.

Four Paws says that Albania is currently home to some of the saddest bears in Europe with dozens of bears and cubs trapped in tiny cages as ‘tourist attractions’ at restaurants, petrol stations or hotels as a way of luring customers.

Environmentalists also identified golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), the symbol of Albania's national red and black flag, kept in captivity, the killing of three red foxes and a restaurant which had turned into a museum of embalmed species in a northern Albania beach areas.

There have also been cases of illegal carp fishing during the breeding season.

Last summer, also saw a series of wildfires threatening endangered flora and fauna.

The latest violations reported by the watchdog during the first days of October include logging in the Krrab Mountain in the Puka district and the killing of a brown bear in Dibra district, northern Albania, by local residents because of damaging their crops.

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium to put an end to uncontrolled and illegal hunting, which has decimated wildlife populations in the country over the last two and a half decades after the collapse of the communist regime in the early 1990s.
                    [post_title] => Animal cruelty, logging continue to challenge moratoriums, watchdog unveils 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 1st – October is the month for Down syndrome awareness. In its context, the Down Syndrome Albania (DSA) Foundation, which is the only medical centre treating Down syndrome patients in Albania, organized the fifth Buddy Walk event in Tirana, a march aiming to promote acceptance and support for individuals with Down syndrome towards an independent and inclusive lifestyle in their respective communities. Although the event is of a peaceful nature, Albanian participators and activists also used it as an excuse to protest concerning the missing rights of Down syndrome patients in the country.

The Buddy Walk was first organized in 1995, by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in the US, which has also officially accredited the event in Albania. It kicked off, during its inaugural year, with 17 events that took place across the country, while a fund-raising component to raise money for local and national programs was added in 1999. Through the years, the event won regional and international recognition, as well as the support of celebrities and business entrepreneurs, leading to the launch of an official website, the creation of a logo, and the participation of more than 180,000 walkers in 49 states and 5 countries abroad, during the 190 events that took place in 2003, raising more than $2.5 million. Ever since, partners have joined the cause and public service announcements have been held, ranking the event in the top 30 fundraising events nationwide.

This year in Tirana, the Buddy Walk event began at the maternity hospital “Mbretëresha Geraldinë” at 11 am, where a crowd of Down syndrome patients’ family members, as well as civil society activists, were invited to walk hand-in-hand with Down syndrome patients and march towards the recently opened Toptani Centre, where a number of entertainers and singers merrily concluded the event. An entire media awareness campaign will also support the DSA Foundation during October, themed: “We all need a chance to show our abilities.”

Indeed, Down syndrome awareness in a necessity in Albanian society, as sufferers of the syndrome do not receive the medical and social attention they need. The mother of a Down syndrome patient, participating in the Buddy Walk event, told the Voice of America that she has gone through a lot of discrimination in registering her son in kindergarten and providing him the medical attention he needs, as no state administration organ other than the Foundation assists in raising her child. Through cooperation with private businesses, the DSA Foundation comes to aid more than 635 Albanian families. However, the limitations of the Foundation are obvious: its medical centre can maximally aid only 38 children, while 6 others are on a waiting list. In addition, the funds ensured from private firms and businesses are meant to expire in 6 months, leaving the DSA unsupported in its mission.

Separate events, part of the awareness campaign, will be held by the DSA Foundation during October. On the 25th of October an awareness concert of a world-wide known tenor will be held at the National Opera and Ballet Theatre, a photography exhibition by Turk, Down syndrome patient, Robert Cem Osborn, will be showcased at the ZETA Gallery on the 26th of October, and a round-table discussion, themed “All-inclusive education is still an untouchable reality for the Albanian educational system”, will take place on the 27th of October. A more analytical event program can be found on the DSA official webpage.
                    [post_title] => A buddy in need is a buddy indeed
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                    [post_content] => It is the year 2016- all the three major parties in Albania show clear signs of authoritarianism, centralization of power and unification around the leader’s positions. The space for debate is narrowed and the process is made more difficult, the rebels are swiftly targeted and cast away with ease. Ben Blushi, not given any de facto influence in decision-making inside the Socialist Party and additionally prevented to join the race for party leader abandons his historical political home and starts a new political party. Majlinda Bregu is accused as a ‘traitor’ from the DP ranks for her positions vis a vis integration which seem to differ from the party line. Over 70 percent of the SMI membership reconfirm Ilir Meta at the helm of the party.  Internal party democracy is considered by its primary stakeholders, the party members, as a desirable but not priority vector. 

What happened with the trajectory of the internal party democracy, which once seemed on track to consolidation? Why are even those parties for which the expectations were larger and more well-founded starting to depart significantly from IPD practices? Does the level of internal party democracy in the main parties in Albania influence the general health of democracy in the country? This study answers briefly these questions which are particularly relevant in the context of the upcoming electoral process in 2017. 

Abbreviations 

IPD- Internal Party Democracy 

SP- Socialist Party of Albania 

DP- Democratic Party of Albania 

SMI- Socialist Movement for Integration 

CEC - Central Elections Commission 

Introduction 

The political parties that are active today in Albania have had no chance to inherit a political past that could serve as an orientation guide. The long communist dictatorship characterized by an absolute singularity of party line and a Stalinist enmity towards any differing opinions or stances towards party dogma or even worse the party leader created a difficult context. Hence after the regime change many problems, mistakes and gaps persisted and it was clear they would require much time and effort to change. Despite the expectation that with the passing of years, parties would evolve and become more representative, more free and more inclined to encompass a Western mentality, what can be observed is that most of the actual characteristics of the parties still do not correspond to this expectation. It is obvious now that the development of Albanian political parties rather than following a straight line with time is going through and will continue to go through various ups and downs. 

Internal party democracy is one of the main traits which are particularly vulnerable to these cyclic shifts. The theories of political science show us that the quality of the overall democracy in a country is very much connected to and dependent on the internal party democracy of the main political forces. Therefore every effort to improve the situation in this regard and guide parties towards adopting more and more internally democratic standards is in fact an effort to consolidate the health of democracy for all the Albanian citizens.   

The situation in the 3 main political parties in Albania 

The Socialist Party of Albania was the first one to formally adopt practices consistent with IPD such as the main principle ‘one member one vote’ which started as early as 2005. Therefore it is at least ironic that the regress in internal party democracy is now more obvious precisely in this party. This development goes contrary to the past positive experience of the SP and the reputation it had for ample space devoted to internal debate and even rebels inside the family. Things seem to have completely changed especially during the last Party Congress (2016) which cemented the position of the party leader as unchallengeable, got rid of actual competition and produced an internal crisis which led then to the departure of two traditional socialist MPs. They formed a new political force called LIBRA.

Although these two, Blushi and Hafizi, were not the only ones to be critical of the SP leader Rama, they were the ones with the loud voices in the media and in the Parliament. According to their public declarations and programs so far it appears that their new party (Libra) will run on a platform that has internal party democracy placed at the corner stone. Furthermore the party identifies itself in contrast to the SP using the IPD as a denominator. 

In the Democratic Party the main factor that influences the degree of internal party democracy is the duality created in the leadership position between the former leader Berisha who remains very popular and influential and the current leader Basha whose authority is still unconsolidated. This duality has yielded some space for traditional figures of the DP to express their discontent or different opinions more openly, however the practice of lynching the opponents to the main party line goes on. Members of the Parliament of the DP are often the subjects of party targeting and even personal attacks from inside when they dare to differ. It does not matter if the different opinions are expressed for main national causes such as the justice reform or European integration. 

On the eve of general elections, DP leader Basha has made public several important initiatives which should they be carried out to the end, will fundamentally change the profile and the organization mode of this party. Therefore they are subject of much curiosity and need to be followed consistently. These include the call to party members to use online platforms to propose their MP candidate, the promise to adopt the principle of ‘one member one vote’ for all party elections, etc. Naturally when parties are in opposition they are more inclined to invest in their internal party democracy seeing that as an opportunity to increase and revitalize the membership and the support. 

The Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) being comparably new in its experience has had the opportunity to benefit from the already established models and hence has adopted since its establishment the principle of “One member one vote” for its party elections and some party decisions. The leader of the party, chosen by such an elections, has not changed since the creation of the SMI in 2004. In this party the same tendencies are observed: centralization of power at the hands of the party leader and around few key figures with a lot of influence in the party, which include one party MP simultaneously the wife of the party leader. SMI has not been immune to dramatic events when it comes to expressing dissent and that has resulted in the distancing or even formal separation of some key figures from the party in those cases when their discordance with the party leader has persisted. 
The view from the party youth forums The elections that took place this year (2016) in the Youth Forum of the Socialist Party (FRESSH) as well as in the Youth Forum of the Democratic Party (FRPD) are an interesting case study in order to speculate on possible developments scenarios for the future of the corresponding parties. The current developments in the youth forums can point at some expectations about the future of these parties’ developments. In this context it does not seem that there is much reason to hope for better. Young people in these forums seem at the very least comfortable and sometimes cherishing in encompassing the show aspect of the races which in turn replaces or weakens the process itself. The confrontation of the ideas and platforms is no longer the real serious race. Therefore in the case of the elections in FRESSH a race format was applied which bore much resemblance to TV talent shows. Furthermore one of the jury members was even selected from the television entertainment complex in the country.  The scheme of competing was a double procedure in which once votes were cast by the general public via social media and then the voting was done formally by the forum membership. The results from these two processes were different and some of the candidates which seemed more popular according to social media did not even make it to the lists of the formal voting. This duality put some serious questions over the genuine objectives and reasons why the voting opened to the online public at all. In total the process showed more focus on sensationalist style than on content. In the case of FRPD even after the race was completed and the leader was chosen, the forum failed to make public the lists of people who would run the leading structures of the forum. It seemed that ironically the only election that mattered was that of the head and the other structures supposed to guide the political life of the forum were downplayed. After this was pointed out the mistake was corrected but the conclusion over the tendency displayed is still valid.  
Factors: There are many factors that affect the quality of internal party democracy where some of the most well-known are the existence or the lack of a tradition that accommodates the different opinions and dissent; the will of party leader and leading structures to delegate decision making, the relationship between local branches with party headquarters and others. These are decisive factors which have been discussed in the public and even in studies focused on political parties’ development. However there are some other factors that deserve more attention such as the role of the party members themselves, the electoral system and the role of the international community.   The role of the membership The prevailing mentality of the Albanian society, which naturally corresponds to that of the majority of party members, is favorable and appreciative of a strong authoritative and even arrogant leadership. This is one of the most serious impediments for the development of democracy in general because it requires much more time to change and it can change only organically. It is the same mentality that stand behind condemning dissent in a strong way.  The party is understood as a family where the leader is ‘the patriarch – and where critics are supposed to stay inside instead of ‘in the eyes of the others’. This approach is illustrated easily from polls, among which one that was carried out two years ago revealed the following.   Asked over those cases when there can be criticizing from an individual member of the party over the decisions taken from the leading structures, “only half of the respondents said that the right to a different opinion of an individual is respected. A large part of them, 41 percent, despite the risks and the minimal chances to be heard suggest however to express criticism and dissent but only inside the party structures.” However in some cases, particularly in the so called left parties, when people or groups in the party membership owe their loyalty to specific people that are connected to their local communities or seen as local ‘benefactors’. In case of a conflict between such figures and the party leader or leadership then these group publicly take the side of the former. However in this case we have obviously not an expression of internal party democracy and the strength of local branches but rather a display of the strength of bonds of a clan-based or nepotistic nature that prevail over the party link. IPD and the electoral system changes The 2009 constitutional changes and the subsequent alterations in the Electoral Code saw the two major parties, SP and DP, which disagree on almost everything, reach an accord to use closed lists in a representative system. This development vested the party leader with the almost absolute power of choosing the people to fill the MP candidate lists and moreover deciding their ranking in the list. This ultimately made the party leaders very strong in their position and forced all those MPs whose objective is to be re-elected to use utter self-censorship in case of disagreement because otherwise they would risk the chance of being considered again. In addition another trend started to emerge: an exacerbated tendency to condemn publicly and almost in chorus those colleagues or party members who dare to challenge the leadership position. Currently the form of the Electoral Code is evaluated to be the most important factor that has led to the decrease and deterioration of internal party democracy be it in the formal way through stepping over the rules and procedures of the party statutes or in the informal way through a more general political behavior and the decision making style of political actors. The quality of internal party democracy is also closely related to the negative phenomenon of the entry of people with criminal records and dark pasts in the Parliament and in other posts of public service. Many times those individuals who have gone against the party line and the party leader and have expressed their dissent publicly have accused and denounced these individual for alleged pressure or intimidation efforts towards them. This kind of burden is an ultimate threat to the democracy in general in Albania. Therefore it is crucial that the process of decriminalization which has started through the adoption of the specific law is carried out through to the end. The elections in June 2017 will be an important test in this regard. The candidate lists should be available to the public and should be examined by independent actors just as it has been already suggested by experts of civil society.   The role of the international community Finally it should be acknowledged that the international community has played a role in the political developments within parties through various ways such as capacity building, networking and sharing of experiences but also very importantly the reactions from political party families (such as PES or EPP) in which the Albanian parties adhere. In addition another form of influence has come through the reactions of certain individuals from European politics which are present with their work in or for Albania. It has been already noted several times from experts that for the international community stability is the first key priority, often at the expense of democracy in the region. The same focus on stability for Albania has shaped an often too comfortable relation between internationals and authoritative leaders and Prime Ministers ‘who get things done fast.” Denouncing regressive steps in internal party democracy is not something that comes easy to the international community members because their reputation and public trust depends on the degree and perception of neutrality. However the big party families of the European Union have a strong role to play in order to educate and orient Albanian political parties with their experiences and the value they place on IPD. In addition there is a number of political foundations active in Albania that can use their technical and financial assistance to offer improvement opportunities in this regard especially to raise awareness in party youth forums. The situation in the region It is important to contextualize the developments in Albania with what has been happening in the same vein in the region. The different kind of historical communist experience as well as the implications of the ethnic conflict in the neighboring ex-Yugoslav countries have generated some contrasts uncommon to Albania. However when it comes to diminishing space for accommodating different opinions as well as internal party critics the same phenomenon can be observed almost everywhere. According to a series of studies undertaken and published by in the majority of the Balkans countries in each case major problems with IPD stand out. Hence the specific country studies show a similar regress can be noticed in Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia. For Montenegro parties are described as resembling cartels in which party members are worthless,; in Kosovo there are no mechanisms to check and sanction parties even in those cases where infringements upon IPD are against the law and therefore the decision making is quite informal; in Serbia things are exacerbated by the lack of free and independent media as well as the preference for a single authoritative leadership figure. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia ethnic dynamics create even more vulnerabilities and the complexity is high. However there also decision making of parties belongs to leaders and the relationship between headquarters and local branches in the party is quite weak. The situation in the region does not present much grounds for optimism since it is generally accepted the regional context exerts influence on the country developments. Moreover these troubling similarities do not only refer to the phenomenon itself but most importantly to the factors that shape the results including here the role of the international community. Conclusions and suggestions Internal party democracy is retreating and the space for dissent is rapidly shrinking in the major political parties. This is producing a negative effect on the overall health of democracy in the Albanian state and society. In order to avoid the deterioration of the situation an engagement of nonpolitical actors is necessary and should be empowered. This includes the willingness of media, civil society and the international community to denounce the regressive steps in IPD that parties are taking. The continuous denouncing of these steps should be done carefully to avoid the alienation and negative reaction of party members. On the contrary the action should aim at mobilizing them so that they can use their rights and responsibilities as party members to seek accountability from party leaders and party top forums. The assistance given for the development of political parties should include a comprehensive pillar of raising capacities and awareness of the politically engaged youth to observe the values and recognize the benefits of internal party democracy.   List of sources   - “Strengthening Internal Party Democracy”, Dori Hyseni, Albanian institute for International Studies (AIIS): 2007 - ‘ The need to publish MP candidate lists at least 90 days ahead of elections’, Zef Preci Tirana Times, 10/01/2017 http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130634 -Shqiptarët dhe modeli social evropian : demokracia e brendshme në partitë politike shqiptare ; rast studimor për DBP në PS, PD dhe LSI / Afrim Krasniqi ; Ardian Hackaj. - Tirana : Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, [2014]. http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/11316.pdf -“Electoral and Party System in Kosovo. A Perspective on Internal Party Democracy and Development”,  Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development,  http://www.rrpp-westernbalkans.net/en/News/News-Archive/2016/Research-results--Country-                 studies-on-Internal-Party-Democracy.html -“Electoral and Party System in Montenegro. A Perspective on Internal Party Democracy and Development”, Center for Monitoring and Research CeMI (Podgorica),  http://www.rrpp-westernbalkans.net/en/News/News-Archive/2016/Research-results--Country-                 studies-on-Internal-Party-Democracy.html -“Electoral and Party System in Serbia. A Perspective on Internal Party Democracy and Development”, Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade,  http://www.rrpp-westernbalkans.net/en/News/News-Archive/2016/Research-results--Country-                 studies-on-Internal-Party-Democracy.html -“Analysis of internal Party Democracy in Macedonia” , CRPM, http://www.crpm.org.mk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/kas_33615-1522-2-30_Eng.pdf   [post_title] => Internal party democracy in 2016- the challenge that grows with time [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => internal-party-democracy-in-2016-the-challenge-that-grows-with-time [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-12-06 16:43:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-12-06 15:43:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=133892 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 133886 [post_author] => 279 [post_date] => 2017-09-18 13:12:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-18 11:12:14 [post_content] => The International Human Rights Film Festival in Albania (IHRFFA) opened the doors of its 12th edition this Monday in Tirana, for a week of movies and documentaries’ screenings aimed at raising awareness among Albanians concerning human rights issues. The festival, taking place at the Marubi Film and Multimedia Academy, features thirty-nine movies of various topics, such as radicalism and populism, domestic violence, urban planning and social media communication, and it is open to the public. Since its debut in 2006, the festival has attracted an international crowd as much as a domestic one, with human rights organizations operating in Albania (such as OSCE Presence, UNICEF, etc) and a number of Embassies joining the cause of educating people with human rights concepts and worldwide issues. Theodore S. Orlin, Honorary President of the IHRFFA and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Human Rights Advocacy, stated the following concerning the cultural activity: “Let us consider the human rights issues that impact the lives of people. As we watch these films les us consider the actions we need to advocate to insure that future generations can enjoy life with the ultimate realization that the universal respect of human rights includes the protection of our children, spouses, the elderly, significant others and ourselves. Let us be mindful that there are forces that appeal to popular support that are destructive to human rights.” A perfect blend between culture and politics, domestic political and legal figures could not be absent from supporting the cause and using the festival as a chance to promote awareness and a deeper understanding of human rights. Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, communicated this aim by saying that “nothing is of more value at these times we are living than an opportunity for dialogue, for it is the very best antidote against the venom of radicalization and populism, these sides of the same coin, which are undoubtedly the greatest challenges of our time.” Indeed, a great opportunity for dialog was created the third day of the festival, on Wednesday, when the screening of the 2016 Kosovo short movie, titled ‘Home’, was done in the presence of a group of imprisoned Albanian women, brought to the Academy by the authorities as a rehabilitation activity and a way to converse with the outside world. Written and directed by Kosovo artist More Raça, ‘Home’ is a drama centered on Hava, a woman in her 30-s who, after the death of her parents, lives with her brother and works a poorly paid job. According to traditional Kosovo custom, the inheritance left by her parents belongs to Hava’s brothers, who exclude her from family property and decide to marry her off – not an optimal solution for Hava’s expectations of her future and her sexual preferences. The screening was followed by a panel discussion among personalities in the field of culture, politics and law. Among them was Arben Çuko, the General Director of prisons in Albania, Xhoi Jakaj, the Director of the Women’s prison ‘Ali Demi’, in Tirana, Bernd Borchardt, Ambassador and Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania and Kujtim Çashku, Albanian director and screenwriter. Çashku, opening the dialog between the women and the representatives of the political and legal world, said: “We have been trying to expand the communication space for twelve years. I am pleasured to welcome the Director of prisons among us and hope we can foster further activities in the future.” The movie touched the imprisoned women, who already seemed grateful to be outside of the institution, and opened an hour long conversation during which they voiced their worries concerning their families and children, while also asking Çuko to be treated more like mothers, sisters, daughters, and less like prisoners, whenever such thing is possible. To this, Çuko replied that the institution’s methodology is to always separate the individual from the crime, and respect the human rights of the imprisoned individual, by providing activities, rehabilitation and training to further raise their future chances for employment. However, he stated there are certain legal limitations in the ways he could treat the women and the freedoms he could provide them. Borchardt, on the other hand, spoke in more general terms concerning human rights awareness in Albanian society, and especially those of women. “Reaching progress in this field,” he said, “and improving the conditions of women in society, is something that societies have to work in themselves. It is also something to ask of courageous women, to work on this direction. The Western European societies have been going through these battles over the last fifty years; to speak about my own country, until 1969 you ended up in prison for same-sexual contacts, and it was only this year that same-sex marriage was introduced. What the international community can do to support and encourage these processes? First of all, informing about the model of other societies and raise awareness that there are other ways of living together. The second aspect is to provide training for the executive institutions. What the international community can do is provide the training for police to react correctly on such occasions.” The screening of Home concluded with Orlin asking the imprisoned women whether they see improvement of their conditions, and whether they see their families and children enough. Orlin stressed that children should never suffer the faults of their parents, thus it is vital that they see their mothers and spend time with them as much as possible. The women admitted to being able to see their families as many times as they asked, and particularly praised the work of Xhoi Jakaj, the Director of the Ali Demi Prison and advocate of women’s rights, as a woman who can be tough but also understanding and empathetic towards their needs and hardships. In response, Jakaj promised she would further advocate for the rights of the women inside and outside Albanian prisons and also expand these activities to further integrate the stigmatized women in our society. The International Human Rights Film Festival will end on Saturday, the 23rd of September, with a cocktail and closing ceremony which will be attended by directors, writers and all contributing members of the event.   SIDONJA MANUSHI [post_title] => International Film Festival brings human rights in focus [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => international-film-festival-brings-human-rights-in-focus [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-09-23 14:49:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-09-23 12:49:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=133886 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 133684 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-09-06 16:50:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-06 14:50:49 [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 6 - German tourists are amazed at Albania’s stunning landscape, beaches, hospitality and food, but rather surprised by the poor public transport and reckless driving in the country. Albania is a country where German tourists find a variety of tourist destinations, differentiating it from other European countries, Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service reports. "Travelling by mini-bus through the twisty roads was a very special experience for me," Moritz, a student from Koln tells DW. He says he is very pleased with his Albania holidays and had no bad experience except for public transportation vehicles which he describes as a challenge for foreign tourists to Albania. Other tourists consider driving in Albania the toughest experience. "The first time I drove in Tirana was really tough, but I soon managed to adapt even though nobody respected traffic rules," says Christin from Essen who first visited Albania a couple of years ago in September when the influx of tourists slightly drops compared to the July-August peak. Michael from Bonn, Germany, was also stunned at the Albanian way of driving, especially behavior in roundabouts. "I have never seen such driving in roundabouts like Albania in the whole of Central Europe. Special rules apply in Tirana," he adds. About 270 people die each year in road accidents in Albania. The death toll is one of Europe's highest considering Albania's total of 530,000 motor vehicles in a country of 2.8 million residents. Experts blame the high number of accidents on reckless driving, poor road infrastructure and lack of road signs. European tourists are amazed at Albanian history and culture. Kruja, Berat, Apollonia and the national museum in Tirana are their favorite tourist attractions. German tourists are especially fascinated by Tirana, where a lot of events take place, and the Albanians' festive spirit. Christin says she was amazed by the Bllok area, a neighborhood once reserved to the ruling communist elite, but which has gradually turned into the capital's city busiest area since the early 1990s with popular bars and clubs, being one of the youth's favourites. Albanian food, especially seafood, is another delight for German tourists who consider it too cheap for its special taste similar to Italian and Spanish cuisine. Hospitality and attitude to customers also remains a strength in Albania’s emerging tourism industry. "I was stunned of being offered free internet access even in the smallest bar, which does not happen even here in Germany," Bobb tells DW. In a previous article, Deutche Welle compared the Albanian southern Riviera and especially the landmark Drimadhes beach to landscapes in the French Riviera and the Italian island of Sardinia. Data published by state-statistical Institute, INSTAT, show about 63,000 Germans entered Albania in the first seven months of this year, a sharp 56 percent increase compared to the same period last year. However, a considerable number of German citizens are Albanian or Kosovars who have given up their Albanian citizenship to get the German one. Regular direct flights connect Tirana to Munich and Frankfurt. [post_title] => German tourists in love with Albania, but scared by reckless driving [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => german-tourists-in-love-with-albania-but-scared-by-reckless-driving [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-09-07 10:35:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-09-07 08:35:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=133684 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 133679 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-09-06 13:40:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-06 11:40:10 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133681" align="alignright" width="300"]pellumbas Photos: USAID Albania[/caption] TIRANA, Sept. 6 - Adventure tourism outside Tirana has received a boost with the establishment of a tourism cluster in the village of Pellumbas and its famous cave close to the Erzeni Canyon, some 25 km southeast the capital city. A U.S. and Sweden project supporting the sustainable development of Albania's promising tourism industry has helped set up a new village center, a tourism management office, a gift store and four new but original guesthouses, creating a 360-degree experience for local and international hikers. The cave, which is about an hour hike from the village of Pellumbas, opens a new era for adventure tourism in and around Tirana. The new destination management office in Pellumbas manages the entire touristic product in the valley of Erzen, near the Pellumbas (Black) Cave and the wider area, reaching up until the ancient tomb of Persqop near Petrela. "There are two parts to this investment: the rental display and the merchandise shop. Visitors to the area – and especially the cave – will have a chance to rent helmets, outerwear, LED lights, and other equipment for safe hiking. The area is known for its soft adventure trails and gorgeous scenery,” says the Tourism Investment and Finance Fund, TIFF, a multi-partner nonprofit tourism investment fund led by USAID and the embassy of Sweden in Albania. “Lastly, as a community gathering center, the shop hosts cultural events within the community, promoting local creativity, documenting what is vernacular to the area," adds TIFF. Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj said the investment creates new tourism experience in Albania, making the Pellumbas cave a must visit. pellumbas 2“Glad to see the local communities, central and local governments and other partners collaborating to create new and exciting tourism experiences in Albania! This is made possible through the Tourism and Investment Fund, supporting small and medium-sized companies in the tourism sector. Great for the Albanian economy and for local and international tourists who want to experience the country. The Pellumbas Caves is a must visit!” said Veliaj. Floris and Ivar, two Dutch 'Sailors for Sustainability' described the cave as worth a detour. "With the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Albania we witnessed the opening of a sustainable tourism centre and hiking path through beautiful nature to the stunning cave in Pëllumbas (Tirana). Definitely worth a detour when you are in Albania!" wrote the two sailors. The Pellumbas Cave and the Erzeni Canyon have become a popular sites for Albanian and international hikers and adventure travelers in recent years. "The cave itself is approximately 360 meters deep, and there are impressive stalagmites and stalactites, as well as bats flying around the cave. The inside of the cave is completely dark once stepping in. Some 40,000 years ago the cave was a home to ancient cave bears. It was later used as a settlement for ancient humans during the Middle Paleolithic period. During the World Wars, the cave was kept secret and used as a hiding spot for the villagers," says a Pellumbas Cave portal. The nearby Erzeni Canyon is also a spectacular destination with stunning views and waterfalls, also a perfect place to bathe and swim in summer. Represented by mountain hiking and rafting along canyons, Albania’s adventure tourism is also gaining popularity among European adventurers seeking new challenges in emerging destinations. Earlier this year, U.S.-based Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) placed Albania as one of the three destinations added to the top adventure travel destinations along with Cuba and Portugal. “For Europeans, Italy, Spain, and France receive the most bookings year after year. A surprise for 2017, however, is the appearance a new country among the top five destinations for Europeans: Albania. The spark of interest in Albania is noteworthy, as a spotlight has been on the region since 2014 with AdventureWeek Western Balkans, Balkans-focused AdventureEDU trainings, and the recent AdventureNEXT Balkans industry event,” says the ATTA. 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 some mountain hiking trails such as the ancient Via Egnatia linking Rome to Byzantium, the present-day Istanbul, crossing through Albania and Macedonia. The Via Dinarica and the Peaks of the Balkans are two other popular cross-border hiking trails.       [post_title] => Pellumbas Cave, Tirana’s hidden adventure travel gem [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => pellumbas-cave-tiranas-hidden-adventure-travel-gem [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-09-06 13:40:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-09-06 11:40:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=133679 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 133507 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-08-09 16:54:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-08-09 14:54:59 [post_content] => Although in Germany summer is a season that leaves much to be desired, in many other parts of Europe, especially south of it, the current temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, many southern countries lie next to the sea and offer hidden bays behind mountains surrounded by crystal turquoise water, which although quiet and shining, is kept under control on both sides by small isolated, but rather arrogant cliffs. Such landscapes are found in southern France, in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where the road from the capital city to the south is often a goal in itself. The breathtaking views offered after going through the Llogara Pass is the reward, like an extra bonbon that travelers enjoy with much desire while taking their time. Some 400 km of coastline, hidden places and big cities, beaches with international electronic music festivals such as "Turtle Fest" that was just held in Drimadhe, tourist villages for family visitors and hippie beaches for the luckier Albanian youngsters are situated in Jale. And all of these places are packed with holidaymakers these hot August days. There are groups of Albanian youngsters, French and German backpackers, Italian and Spanish families with small babies. Everything is a kind mix of people spending their holidays next to the sea in the middle of Europe. Often built on the foot of cliffs, restaurants offer a diversity of food for every kind of taste. Service is polite, multilingual and full of self-confidence. Most of the staff are students who get very modest wages during the summer holidays like Ilirian who works as a seasonal waiter at a hotel in Drimadhe. "I study veterinary medicine in Tirana. I decided to work here for the summer months," says the 20-year-old. Evi, who works as a receptions but studies German linguistics in Tirana, says "it is not a decision that takes a lot of time to make." "Having in mid the Tirana heat wave, I'd better come and work here," she smiles. Of course both of them are right. The spectacular view of deep blue and often twinkling sea that the hotel's restaurant terrace offers and where Ilirian and his colleague serve the holidaymakers, is often welcome bonus for everybody. Even international media have for several years now discovered the still virgin southern beauty which until a few years ago was reserved only to Albanians as a hidden treasure on the back of proud mountains which seem to hardly tolerate on narrow roads. And it's exactly about this treasure that Lonely Planet , National Geographic and even New York Times write about and encourage their readers to head there with the promise that what they will find when they reach there will be the greatest reward every individual tourist escaping overcrowded places can get. And this promise does not seem exaggerated at all when you are there in the middle of Europe, surrounded by woods, mountains and the sea merging with sky on the horizon and the sky that preserves exactly the same shade to the sea color gently touching it, and quiet people resting in a friendly atmosphere next to each other. Such landscapes are found in Southern France, in in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where I found all the above in one, spending the holidays of my dreams. (Article by Sonila Sand originally published on Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service, translation by Tirana Times) [post_title] => 'It's not Antibes, but Drimadhes' [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => its-not-antibes-but-drimadhes [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-08-09 16:54:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-08-09 14:54:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=133507 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134325 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-10-27 14:13:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-10-27 12:13:20 [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi In the centre of a newborn city, on the second floor of a newborn house, in 1932, physician and well-known intellectual Jani Basho was cradling a newborn boy in his arms. He had only recently received King Zog’s – Albania’s King – permission to turn this two-floored, red bricked house into a women’s clinic; a place they could enjoy the sunlight coming in from the tall windows, the yard with its rainbow of colors, the wooden staircases adorned with a faint smell of mold that reminded a walk in the woods. The clinic was a place women turned to mothers, babies were born and wall-climbing plants multiplied in abundance. The baby Jani Basho was cradling in his arms that day however – just like many others all over Albania – lived to see the house transform through the course of history, loose its initial cause of nobility and turn to be the all-seeing eye of a blind power. After King Zog fled the country, World War II ended and communist partisans took over Albania, the house became the host of the Secret Surveillance operations, which not only spied and interfered in the lives of those it deemed suspicious and enemies of the state, but also questioned, tortured and humiliated them for years in a row. Many were ultimately sentenced to death. Soon enough, the country was similar to Bentham’s Panopticon – an institutional building designed to allow all inmates to be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched – and Jani Basho’s old women’s clinic was its epicenter. “Cursed and serious, silent and gloomy was the building during the day, yet it transformed into real hell at nightfall. Amid the intoxicating smell of the weeping willows, lime trees and the Iodoform that was poured on the bloody wounds of the arrested, the screams and yells of those who were being beaten and electrocuted arose, while the volume of the radio was turned up high and the dog of the Italian mechanic who was also convicted, Mario Massarini, was urged to bark endlessly, to cover these painful screams that gave you goose bumps. It was more painful to hear others being tortured, than to be tortured yourself…to this day, when I happen to pass by it, my knees shake and my heart beats fast…”, reads the wall of the same house where all these atrocities happened, which has now been turned into a museum. The description comes from one of the survivors of communism’s suffocating system; the confessions of many survivors have been gathered and are exhibited in the house, currently named the ‘House of Leaves’. Albania has a plethora of communist legacy – something to be expected after suffering one of the longest communist regimes. Across the country countless unimaginative bunkers built to protect it from a nuclear attack testify to the vision of one man only: Enver Hoxha, whose name hardly any Albanian, young or old, does not know. Two of them (Hoxha’s personal refuge and the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior) have already been made into museums (Bunk’art 1 & 2), aiming to preserve collective memory and teach of the country’s communist past. Yet, there is something about the House of Leaves, its quiet, normal exterior, its past purpose and its haunting story that does more than simply convey lessons on communism – it marks you. As a museum, the house is now a mixture of modern architecture and lingering traces of the years gone by. Its front wall, protecting the house from the stream of cars and people passing by it daily, has been cleaned and painted white for the public; the windows have been repaired; the walls have been adorned with modern screens, showing educative videos on Albanian history before and during communism and propaganda movies made by the Party (as Albanians call the ex-communist party); its rooms now hold an exhibition of artifacts from the country’s most mysterious and controlling period, while memories of the time babies were being born, making the house a place of creation, rather than destruction, are nowhere to be seen. “State security is the sharp and dear weapon of our Party, because it protects the interests of our people and country, as well as against inside and outside enemies,” is written on another wall in the House of Leaves, quoting Hoxha himself. Deservingly on one of the main corridors of the museum, this quote depicts the extreme overlapping of the ‘state’ with the ‘people’ during communism, and of the very definition of the word ‘enemy’ itself. The Party would not have been ‘the Party’ had it followed the practice of seizing all political and economic power but allowed people to go their ways concerning personal issues and beliefs. All totalitarian regimes that have survived on the long run have been much more invasive and psychologically pressuring than that – the Party is still remembered in Albania because of its invasion of something much grander and personal: the psyche of its population. The countless Chinese and Western spying equipment exhibited in the House of Leaves are prehistoric versions of what we now have, yet they served the purpose of interfering with every inch of one’s life behind closed doors all too well. The Bug, the most infamous spying device showcased in the house, is a good symbol of the system as a whole, of the ways it would creep in and out and take over the very essence of human rights and freedoms. For the political prisoners, the screams and torturing of others were more effective and hurtful than their own; for the country, taking away its citizens’ rights to individual thoughts, feelings and ideas was more destructive than taking away their lands. It was thus not difficult to deem almost anyone an ‘enemy’ of the state. Whenever a diverse idea flourished the Party would know, and would take measures. Bugs were placed inside homes, hotels, foreign embassies…many of the Party’s own collaborators were later accused and executed for treason as well while internal party paranoia and fear intensified and the stakes rose higher. It is very difficult for the people who have not experienced that time and system to imagine and empathize with what it must have felt to lose all power and certainty over one’s life, just like it is difficult for those who lived through that experience, to let it go. Upon its inauguration, PM Edi Rama said the following concerning the purpose of the museum: “What I learned from the experience of Bunk’art 1 and 2, is the physical relation with remembrance as an opportunity to tell the younger generation or foreign visitors who didn’t experience this period of history, and that upon confessing a story, the more time passes, the less we, who witnessed that time, fully believe in it.” Tourists and students are the main visitors of the museum now; sometimes, elderly people stop by it and take a longer look, but rarely go inside. The issue of what to do with communist legacy and artifacts came into question in Albania too when the Bunk’art ideas were first introduced, as there were many people who opposed the idea of communist ‘heirlooms’. Yet, more than heirlooms and museums these buildings have walls with eyes that have seen a lot, evidence of a not-so-distance past which has been carved in the memories of those who experienced it and will not be swept away by the demolition of physical things. In this sense, collective memory serves to both respect the memories of those who suffered and to remind us of what can happen when our minds, rather than our things, are taken away from us. For this, it is good the House of Leaves is alive to tell its story.     [post_title] => A doorway to the past, a lesson for the future [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-doorway-to-the-past-a-lesson-for-the-future [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-10-27 14:13:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-10-27 12:13:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134325 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 41 [name] => Features [slug] => features [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 41 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 532 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 41 [category_count] => 532 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Features [category_nicename] => features [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 41 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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