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Albania illegal logging, animal cruelty continues at slower pace, watchdog says

Albania illegal logging, animal cruelty continues at slower pace, watchdog says

TIRANA, Nov. 7 – An Albanian environmental watchdog says it has identified illegal hunting, logging, animals kept in captivity and fires endangering rare species during this year, defying moratoriums and sanctions in place, although at a slower pace compared to

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Albania’s Ksamil named among top 10 under-the-radar places to visit for 2019

Albania’s Ksamil named among top 10 under-the-radar places to visit for 2019

TIRANA, Nov. 1 – One of Albania’s most popular destinations, southern Ksamil has 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

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Transition deepens Albania’s gender inequality, report shows

Transition deepens Albania’s gender inequality, report shows

TIRANA, Oct. 25 – High levels of unemployment, poverty and low access to economic opportunities has strengthened the inequalities between men and women in Albania during the last two decades of the socioeconomic and institutional transformations taking place in Albania,

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Albania makes it to Lonely Planet’s top 10 affordable adventure destinations

Albania makes it to Lonely Planet’s top 10 affordable adventure destinations

TIRANA, Oct. 25 – Albania has 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. Albania ranks eighth

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Daily Mail article forces gov’t to place under protection animals held in shocking captivity

Daily Mail article forces gov’t to place under protection animals held in shocking captivity

TIRANA, Oct. 17 – The Albanian government says it has ordered the relocation and protection of some malnourished and mistreated wild animals kept at a private zoo in Fier, southwestern Albania, following an article by the UK’s Daily Mail showing

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Polish Secretary of State: “Albania, important stabilizing role in the region”

Polish Secretary of State: “Albania, important stabilizing role in the region”

Interview with Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Polish politician, party activist and local government official. From 2018, he has been serving as the Secretary of State in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   Q: The number of Polish tourists coming

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Butrint set to become first Albanian site with an integrated management plan

Butrint set to become first Albanian site with an integrated management plan

TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Butrint is set to become the first Albanian UNESCO World Heritage site that will have an integrated management plan with a focus on its sustainable economic development and addressing challenges facing the country’s largest archeological park.

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A first-timer’s opera experience

A first-timer’s opera experience

By Sonja Methoxha TIRANA, Sept. 29 – The opera season in Tirana started on Sept. 27 through Sept. 30 with the return of Carmen on our stage. The production was a collaboration between the Tirana Theatre of Opera and Ballet

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Rehabilitated staircases ease access to Albania’s southern gem

Rehabilitated staircases ease access to Albania’s southern gem

TIRANA, Sept. 27 – Albania’s southernmost travel destination of Saranda is having its landmark staircases reconstructed as part of a facelift blending modernity with tradition thanks to a World Bank project supporting urban and tourism development in the country. Situated

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Neranxi Culinary Institute marks 10th anniversary of foundation

Neranxi Culinary Institute marks 10th anniversary of foundation

TIRANA – “A cuisine chef does never arrive at the destination. He is always in a long search of perfection and novices. But it is a beautiful road never getting you bored,” the President of the ‘Neranxi Company’, Nikollaq Neranxi

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_139188" align="alignright" width="300"]hide More than 9 hunting hides were placed at a small area at the central Albania Fllake-Sektori Rinia wetland, outside Durres earlier this year. Photo: PPNEA[/caption]

TIRANA, Nov. 7 – An Albanian environmental watchdog says it has identified illegal hunting, logging, animals kept in captivity and fires endangering rare species during this year, defying moratoriums and sanctions in place, although at a slower pace compared to a year ago.

The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, says it has identified illegal hunting at a wetland just outside Durres, animals kept in captivity and offered for sale online, logging and intentional fires in the northern Albanian woods of the in the Munella Mountain, the country’s sole sanctuary of the endangered Balkan lynx.

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 local PPNEA watchdog has identified on its dedicated syrigjelber.info portal serving as a hotline to report cases of abuse over the past couple of years.

The watchdog says it identified 18 cases of environmental and animal abuse from Sept. 2017 to Sept. 2018, down from 25 a year earlier. Cases of abuse include illegal hunting, logging, fires, animals kept in captivity and embalmed with environmental crime also taking place in protected areas.

While a slowdown in environmental crime is reported for the past year, the real number of cases of abuse is estimated to be far bigger as the figures reported by the watchdog only include sporadic cases reported by environmentalists, local residents or online posts of wild and protected animals advertised for sale with owners unaware of legal consequences for their actions.

More than 9 hunting hides placed at a small area at the central Albania Fllake-Sektori Rinia wetland and used by hunters to practise illegal hunting were identified by environmentalists earlier this year. Environmentalists says they also found hunting cartridges and other materials proving ongoing poaching at the wetland, one of country's most important sites for water birds situated some 10 km outside Durres.

Elsewhere in northeastern Albania, environmentalists reported illegal logging and fires posing a threat to the already critically endangered Balkan Lynx, a handful of whom live at the Munella mountain region. Local PPNEA environmental watchdog says declaring the Munella Mountain a protected area would save the current few Balkan lynx from human-caused extinction and protect several other locally endangered species breeding there such as the brown bear, the wolf, the wild goat and the roe deer.

The latest reported case of animal abuse identified by local environmentalists involves two wolf cubs advertised for sale for €200 at a local trade portal last October.

Whistle-blowers earlier identified hares caught in traps in northeastern Albania and offered for sale online. Reported cases earlier this year also include two roe deer being held in captivity at a small bar on the banks of Tirana’s artificial lake and a tortoise on sale for as cheap as 1,000 lek (€8) at a downtown open-air market in the capital city, showing what experts warn that “environmental crime does not only occur in rural areas and far away from the public’s attention, but also close to the center of Tirana, seen by thousands of people and relevant institutions.”

Earlier this year, a German researcher assessing the effectiveness of the hunting ban that Albania has been applying for the past four years collected evidence proving that illegal hunting in Albania continues even in protected areas although the cases identified are sporadic and significantly lower compared to early 2014 when Albania imposed the ban.

Four Paws watchdog has earlier described Albania as 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.

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.

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

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium until 2021 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.

In late 2017, animal rights activists submitted more than 37,000 signatures in a petition addressed to MPs seeking to make animal cruelty punishable by fines and even imprisonment by amending the country’s Criminal Code, but the legal initiative that needs a qualified majority of 84 votes, three-fifths of the current 140-seat Parliament, has not been examined yet.

 

Fier zoo animals relocated 

[caption id="attachment_139189" align="alignright" width="300"]lion Eight-year-old 'Lenci,' a lion with a black eye in need of surgery whose pictures went viral. Photo: Four Paws[/caption]

An animal abuse scandal featured last month by the UK’s Daily Mail forced Albanian authorities to close down a private zoo and relocate malnourished and mistreated wild animals kept in shocking conditions.

Three lions, a three-legged bear, a zebra, fox, a waterbuck, a red deer and three fallow deer were relocated last month to the zoo in Tirana where new enclosures for the rescued animals were waiting.

Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, said the eleven neglected animals including eight-year-old 'Lenci,' a lion with a black eye in need of surgery whose pictures went viral,  were safely taken away, but the zebra unexpectedly died following relocation to the Tirana zoo.

"There is always a residual risk when using anaesthesia – especially if the animal has been kept in poor conditions. Sedation and the two-hour transfer were obviously too much for the weakened zebra," says the Four Paws which in 2016 pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 1 - One of Albania's most popular destinations, southern Ksamil has 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 Ksamil islands and the nearby beaches in southernmost Albania offer one of the most breathtaking views of the Albanian Riviera and regularly make it to promotional spots of the country’s emerging tourism industry.

Ksamil is a popular destination only 15 kilometers south of Saranda, close to the archaeological UNESCO site of Butrint, just off the Greek island of Corfu.

The Ksamil islands remain covered in lush, green vegetation throughout the year and can be easily accessed by small boats, although environmentalists have voiced concern over lack of rehabilitation projects following the 2014 demolition of some illegal constructions that served as restaurant-bars.

“The world is getting smaller. Thanks to faster, cheaper, longer flights, far-flung destinations are easier to reach than ever before. That doesn't mean there aren't still a few stones left unturned, though. On the list are countries you may not have expected, like Uzbekistan, and places you may not have even heard of, like Ksamil in Albania,” writes the Business Insider portal referring to the booking.com rating.

The travel site used insight from over 163 million verified guest reviews and research from 21,500 travelers across 29 countries to come up with its travel predictions for next year.

“If you didn't associate Albania with pristine white beaches and pristine waters before, then you may want to reconsider. Located on the Albanian Riviera, Ksamil is a peaceful village with three islands a stone's throw from the shore. Booking.com users endorse the area for seafood, seaside, and friendly people,” the Business Insider reports.

Back in 2016, Brussels-based European Best Destinations organization rated the Ksamil islands in southernmost Albania along the country’s Riviera as one of Europe’s best beaches.

While a quiet village throughout the year, Ksamil becomes quite overcrowded with tourists during summer. The small islands are the main attraction, also featuring a number of isolated beaches.

During the past five years, Ksamil has been home to the mussel festival opening the tourist season in Saranda region in mid-May.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 25 - High levels of unemployment, poverty and low access to economic opportunities has strengthened the inequalities between men and women in Albania during the last two decades of the socioeconomic and institutional transformations taking place in Albania, according to a study by the United Nations office in Albania.

Examining the economic diversification for women living in Albanian rural areas, the UN report shows women face discrimination when it comes to land rights, labour market participation, education and training, access to financial support and agriculture advisory services.

The main issue regarding gender equality with regard to access to assets in rural areas is land rights. While the legal framework is not discriminative towards women, the application of legal norms in rural areas is frequently unsatisfactory, says the report.

“I had no idea, my husband just went to apply for the certificate and it came out on his name,” the report quotes on condition of anonymity a 45-year-old woman from Dvoran village, Korça, southeast Albania.

The study shows more than 80 percent of land titles in Albania rural areas are named after current or former male heads of households and suggests awareness campaigns about legislation on women’s land rights and promoting gender equality.

“The distorted application of the legal framework norms and regulation is rooted in the poorly organized and implemented process of land distribution in the early 1990s, the prevalence of customary rights, as well as the low awareness of the rural population on land rights,” shows the report.

The report also finds that the weak role of women in contributing to family income increases their propensity to be involved in unpaid work and be responsible for domestic chores.

The traditional role of men as breadwinners is still dominant in rural Albania with only 7 percent of women stating that they contribute more than half of the money in the household.

"Women contribute significantly to farm activities, but since men deal with commercialization of farm produce, it is perceived that such income comes from men. Cash management is also a prerogative of men. Men have more access to services and enjoy freedom to move and travel, while women are impeded by their routine work in agriculture and family chores,” shows the study.

The report also shows that remote rural women face higher unemployment rates compared to men and are clearly discouraged from seeking off-farm jobs, mostly working informally.

“Whatever the job is, it’s never well-paid. I have been working for three months now, at an agro-processing company. I get paid 750 lek (€6) for eight hours, which is less than 100 lek (€0.8) per hour, and I cannot even move my head for eight hours in a row. Of course, there is no social insurance. If you don’t want it, you can go home,” the report quotes a 47-year-old women from the northern Albanian region of Malesi e Madhe as saying.

The report shows women’s access to advisory services and vocational training education is constrained by patriarchal perceptions concerning the participation and role of women, improper venues and time for meetings and a male dominance in the advisory services staff.

"No agronomist has advised us about how to take care of tobacco. We have become agronomists by our own means. Officially, we have an agronomist, he gets paid by the agriculture directory, but he never shows up here," women in northern Albania regions are quoted as saying in the report.

An earlier report by FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, has shown Albania’s rural women are overrepresented in informal employment, unpaid work in family farming and domestic and reproductive activities.

Stereotypical attitudes and practices in rural areas also remain widespread.

“In family farming, there is a rigid gender-based distribution of tasks. Male gender roles are associated with tasks that involve control over agricultural assets, mobility and decision-making, and female gender roles are associated with manual work in agriculture and livestock, including pre-harvest and post-harvest activities, food processing and household tasks. This distribution of labour has resulted in women’s limited access to, and control over, agricultural assets and decision-making,” says FAO.

 

Gender gap narrows 

Albania climbed a huge 24 steps to rank 38th among 144 global economies and become the Western Balkans best performer in the 2017 Global Gender Gap, a report measuring the gap between men and women in economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival rates as well political involvement.

The 2017 rating, when Albania registered its best ever ranking 12 years after the annual World Economic Forum report was first published, was mainly dedicated to major progress in women’s political empowerment following a sharp increase in women MPs and women holding ministerial positions ahead of the mid-2017 general elections.

The report however shows Albania still has a lot to do in narrowing gender gaps in educational attainment and economic participation and opportunity.

“Gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive. Ensuring the full development and appropriate deployment of half of the world’s total talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide,” says the 2017 Global Gender Gap index.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138978" align="alignright" width="300"]Head to Albania for crowd-free sights and superb beaches © Landscape Nature Photo / Shutterstock Head to Albania for crowd-free sights and superb beaches © Landscape Nature Photo / Shutterstock[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 25 – Albania has 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.

Albania ranks eighth on a top 10 list led by Egypt and Poland, but which also includes Maldives, two US destinations, Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador and Slovenia, being the sole Western Balkan country to make it to the list.

The rating is made by Lonely Planet, the world-renowned travel guidebook publisher that has long been a standard for backpackers, budget travelers, and people seeking off-the-beaten-path destinations.

“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. The country’s exciting food scene celebrates the fruits of its unique local flavours and offers seriously distinctive dining,” says the 2019 ‘Best in Travel’ guidebook, Lonely Planet's annual search to find top countries, regions and cities to visit in the next twelve months.

“Although its archaeological sights, such as Apollonia and Butrint, and its one-of-a-kind blend of Balkan, Mediterranean and Italian influences are no secrets, Albania remains a destination where you can hike amid beautiful mountain scenery, stay in tiny and timeless villages and explore the buzzy capital Tirana for far less than pretty much anywhere else in Europe,” adds the guidebook.

Earlier this year, 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.

Albania has regularly made it to Lonely Planet's top 10 destinations since 2011 when the popular travel guide ranked long-isolated Albania under communism as the number one global destination to visit as the Balkan country was branding its emerging tourism industry as ‘Europe’s last secret’ and a “New Mediterranean love.”

Taking an adventure trip to Albania has also been rated as one of the top tours on travelers’ to-do-list for 2018 by National Geographic France which suggests 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.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 17 - The Albanian government says it has ordered the relocation and protection of some malnourished and mistreated wild animals kept at a private zoo in Fier, southwestern Albania, following an article by the UK's Daily Mail showing pictures exposing the shocking conditions of the animals and the zoo.

Environment Minister Blendi Klosi says he has ordered an operation by the Environment Inspectorate which is cooperating with the Fier Police and an animal welfare association to immediately relocate the mistreated animals held in captivity and place them under protection to put an end to what he calls a “shameful event.”

The relocation of animals at the Safari Park, a private run zoo that has been operating for years in Fier, Albania's third largest city, comes only after an article by a British tabloid despite the critical conditions of the wild animals held in captivity there already known by visitors to the zoo which also has a restaurant bar.

"Pictures taken at the Safari Park Zoo in Fier show a 'severely malnourished' lion living in cramped conditions with what appears to be an untreated eye injury. Other animals, including a zebra, a thin-looking wolf and several deer, were seen locked up in desolate concrete cages in the privately-owned zoological park," writes the Daily Mail.

Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, which in 2016 pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping of bears, leading to more than a dozen bears and cubs being rescued from captivity, called the situation at the Fier zoo 'absolutely unacceptable'.

"Signs of the mental and physical impact of being kept in such abject surroundings can be clearly seen on each of the poor animals at the zoo. If something is not done soon, these animals will continue to suffer and most likely die in these unspeakable conditions," Ioana Dungler, the head of the Four Paws Wild Animals Department is quoted as saying.

“Once again, we see the horrific treatment of wild animals in poor captivity, all for the sake of tourism!” she adds.

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 in Albania.

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.

Dozens of other protected wild animals live in captivity as a considerable number of the identified abuses were advertised as trophies on social networks by perpetrators themselves, apparently unaware of the legal consequences that include heavy fines and even imprisonment.

The latest reported case involves two wolf cubs advertised for sale for €200 at a local trade portal.

Earlier this year, a German researcher assessing the effectiveness of the hunting ban that Albania has been applying for the past four years collected evidence proving that illegal hunting in Albania continues even in protected areas although the cases identified are sporadic and significantly lower compared to early 2014 when Albania imposed the ban.

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

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium until 2021 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.

In late 2017, animal rights activists submitted more than 37,000 signatures in a petition addressed to MPs seeking to make animal cruelty punishable by fines and even imprisonment by amending the country’s Criminal Code, but the legal initiative that needs a qualified majority of 84 votes, three-fifths of the current 140-seat Parliament, has not been examined yet.
                    [post_title] => Daily Mail article forces gov’t to place under protection animals held in shocking captivity 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-11 19:55:33
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-10-11 17:55:33
                    [post_content] => Interview with Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Polish politician, party activist and local government official. From 2018, he has been serving as the Secretary of State in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

 

Q: The number of Polish tourists coming to Albania has increased significantly. In a way, Poland is rediscovering Albania through tourism. What is your evaluation of this development?  What have been the impressions that you have received?

A: Polish tourists are rediscovering Albania in tens of thousands, with growing numbers year by year. Albania in the season 2017 and consequently in 2018 has become one of the most popular tourist destination for Poles. In 2017 and 2018 Poles recorded in Albania the highest increase among foreign tourists. According to the Polish Institute of Tourism the dynamics of growth in 2016/2017 for Albania was 124% - second highest of all destinations (after Egypt but before Portugal, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece and Croatia). I hope that our economic relations will also grow as fast as the number of Polish tourists travelling to Albania and soon, as in tourism, we record three digit numbers in turnover growth.

 

Q: Poland has been a consistent supporter of the European accession perspective of Albania and other countries in the region. How do you see the perspective now, with all the delay in the process as well as the complex situation within the EU?

A: Poland and Albania have a very good bilateral relationship confirmed by significant number of mutual visits and bilateral initiatives creating many opportunities for exchange of experience in various areas. I have to stress that no common border and long distance dividing Albania and Poland has never been an obstacle in mutual contacts. We see Albania as a country that plays an important stabilizing role in the region, keeping the positive relationship with all its neighbors. Albania remains for us also a reliable partner in NATO. We are very satisfied that very good political relations are followed by good economic cooperation. Despite the fact that, on the background of economic cooperation with other countries in the region, Polish-Albanian trade is not so big, the trend of exchange between our countries is growing. One of initiative aimed to strengthen economic ties between our countries is the Polish-Albanian Economic Forum - third session was held in the end of September in Tirana. 

 

Q: What is your assessment of the current bilateral relations between Poland and Albania? What is the potential for the development of these relations and what should both countries do to reach it?

A: We continue to support the EU “open door” policy in general and individual aspirations of each Western Balkan country including Albania. Poland understands importance of the EU accession for Balkan partners, their societies and economies. We are truly glad about renewed momentum in the enlargement policy that translated into an ambitious and forward-looking Western Balkans strategy that encompasses all the WB countries. We hope that "enlargement fatigue" is becoming history. However, before all member states can take a decision on opening negotiations with Albania, mutually agreed criteria in key priority fields must be fulfilled.

 

Q: Poland is taking over the Berlin process and organizing the summit in Poznan in 2019. This process is very important for the Western Balkans countries. Which will be the focus areas of discussion in this summit next year?

A: Poland is very satisfied with joining the Berlin Process and organizing the Western Balkans summit in July 2019 in Poznań. We look forward to cooperating with Balkan and EU participants on connectivity, economic integration and development, security and other areas that contribute to the region’s progress on the European path and its stability. We believe that our own experience of challenging reforms before joining the EU will provide an added value for the Process.

 

Q: In the meantime you have started a tour of consultations in preparation for the summit in the region. What has been the feedback received so far? How do you asses the current situation and developments in the Western Balkans?

A: It is still ongoing process. So far our Western Balkan partners have been very positive about ideas  and the content of the agenda of our presidency in the Process. Western Balkans still have a lot of challenges ahead with ensuring security, fighting illegal migration, people smuggling, radicalization, terrorism or hybrid threats on the top of the list. We cannot forget  the need for reconciliation and solving bilateral issues as well. Overcoming the past and bringing the Western Balkan societies closer together is necessary to boost economic cooperation and prevent conflicts and disputes that sometimes stall the integration process. We closely observe dialogue on normalization between Belgrade and Pristina, forthcoming election in Bosna and Herzegovina and implementation of the Skopje-Athens agreement. All those factors are crucial not only to the future of the countries involved, but also to the stability of the entire Western Balkan region.

 

Q: Can you share with our readers the significant reasons why Poznan was chosen as a site, instead of let’s say, Warsaw?

A: The explanation for choosing Poznań as a host city of the summit is very simple. Poznań is a great example how we should link the past to the future, make historical preservation relevant for today’s culture, society, and development. Poznań, one of Poland’s oldest city with over 100-year-tradition of holding fairs, is now leading, modern regional center of business, trade and fairs with great experience in hosting big events - for example, the 2008 Climate Summit.

 

Q: There is a lot of debate about the role of third actors such as Russia, China, Turkey and others. What is your view on the influence of these actors and on the relevant geopolitical developments in general?

A: I agree that in recent years, the slowdown of the EU enlargement process has allowed other powers to intensify their presence in the Western Balkans. Especially Russia has become proactive in the region since the annexation of Crimea. Russia doesn’t accept that the Western Balkans move towards the EU and NATO. The Kremlin intervenes in local politics and promote an anti-Western and populist narrative. Moscow has been increasing its investment in key strategic sectors in the region for some time – military, security, finance and energy, which remains a key target for Russian influence. Since that, we are glad that the European Commission, in the end of its term, has enhanced its commitment in the Western Balkans. Poland is consequently engaged in supporting the Western Balkan region in its European integration reforming efforts not only in EU political dimension but also in bilateral and regional formats of cooperation (e.g. expert-to-expert meeting as the Tirana conference format launched this year, Enlargement Academy or twinning projects).

 
                    [post_title] => Polish Secretary of State: “Albania, important stabilizing role in the region”  
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-11 16:43:05
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Butrint is set to become the first Albanian UNESCO World Heritage site that will have an integrated management plan with a focus on its sustainable economic development and addressing challenges facing the country’s largest archeological park.

UK-based Prince & Pearce has been hired to draft the Butrint integrated management plan for seven months until April 2019 through funding of $250,000 by the Albanian-American Development Foundation, AADF, in a project that is expected to transform current management of one of the country’s key heritage sites and set a sustainable development model for other important sites in the country.

Situated in southernmost Albania, close to the Greek island of Corfu, Butrint is one of the main tourist attractions in Saranda and along the Albanian Riviera with an estimated 170,000 tourists visiting it last year.

The Butrint integrated management plan is the first of its kind in the country after Albania adopted a new law on cultural heritage and museums earlier this year.

“The integrated management plan will conform to UNESCO terms and provide fresh and innovative perspectives with tangible and measurable framework for the sustainability of the site. In the longer term, the project aims to offer a new approach to heritage sites in the country by addressing issues relating to years of neglect, lack of adequate financing, sustainable conservation, increasing tourism, local capacity building and community outreach,” says the Albanian-American Development Foundation which has been supporting Albania cultural heritage and tourism projects for about a decade.

UK-based Prince & Pearce says it will lead a team of experts in the fields of Graeco-Roman archaeology, natural history and biodiversity, tourism and infrastructure, cultural heritage management, business and operational planning, museology and interpretation as part of a project that will balance the conservation needs of the Butrint site with sustainable tourism to optimize public access and the economic potential of the region.

Albania’s culture ministry says the new management plan will offer guidance and policy, provide proposals on the possibility of economic development in the site and around it including travel and entertainment, propose a new management structure and increase the capacity of the park's managing staff.

The new project will also produce a new business plan on the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and prepare updated GIS mapping on the whole Butrint territory of around 9,000 hectares.

“The drafting of this plan is a great responsibility for this new stage of cultural heritage development. At the same time this is also a moment to provide an answer to some questions, dilemmas or attacks concerning Butrint," says Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro, adding that preparatory work on the plan has been made in constant communication with UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural body.

According to her, the new Butrint integrated management plan will duly address all challenges facing Butrint, the first Albanian site to make it to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992.

Last year, heritage activists protested the construction of a restaurant bar inside the park’s facilities as a threat to the park’s development, but the ministry argued there was nothing illegal and the project served tourists to the site.

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint, a UNESCO site in southernmost Albania, has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development, according to UNESCO.

Excavations have brought to light many objects – plates, vases, ceramic candlesticks – as well as sculptures including a remarkable ‘Goddess of Butrint’ which seems to completely embody, in the perfection of its features, the Greek ideal of physical beauty.

The Ksamil islands and the city of Saranda are just off the Butrint archaeological park, which has been under UNESCO protection since the early 1990s after the collapse of communist regime.

UNESCO has earlier warned that due to their geographical location or materials, structure and condition of the buildings, Albania’s three World Heritage sites of Berat, Gjirokastra and Butrint are exposed to various natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, fires and flooding.

Several factors that further increase the vulnerability of exposed populations and cultural heritage at these sites include limited awareness, public knowledge and training for disaster preparedness, inadequate infrastructure to address these hazards as well as the necessary resources to maintain them, unsafe buildings and exploitation of natural resources, says UNESCO.
                    [post_title] => Butrint set to become first Albanian site with an integrated management plan
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-05 10:57:36
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                    [post_content] => By Sonja Methoxha 

TIRANA, Sept. 29 - The opera season in Tirana started on Sept. 27 through Sept. 30 with the return of Carmen on our stage.

The production was a collaboration between the Tirana Theatre of Opera and Ballet and its Belgrade counterpart, an Albanian-Serbian joint work to celebrate art and music.

There were different artists portraying the characters in each night, so an enriched performance with flowing emotions would take place, the dynamic energy remaining as artists were taking their rest.

This was my first time in the opera. I went on the third night with a close childhood friend who was a first-timer as well. We shared feelings of anxiety and curiosity. We’ve certainly seen opera pieces on TV or the internet, but nothing beats the real thing. It’s simulation versus reality.

Carmen has four acts. The stage was already decorated for the first act, while a voice in the background repeated three times that the show would start soon, and that we should take our seats and turn the mobile phones off. On the meantime, the orchestra was playing some music to tune the instruments and fill the atmosphere until all was set.

The show started off with a game of cards. It is amazing to note the precision of the music with the blow of the cards on the table. This gave me a childlike enthusiasm and the appreciation of art’s wonders filled my chest.

Then the singing started. Suddenly, I could feel a large smile being carved on my face and my eyes sparkling almost as much as the stage lights. Goosebumps crawled on my skin. There was a piece of art which merges singing, symphony, storytelling, acting, visuals, history and fiction, into a thrilling production which explores the undying phenomenon of human character development and its love tangles.

However, on a more personal level, the piece spoke to me about the female pursuit of freedom. Living in a country where females are still objectified and face scorn both whenever they try to succeed on their own or choose a shortcut, they face violence along the way. Such cases occur mostly in the context of love relations, where love notion is equaled with possession, rather than real freedom, as should be the case.

Just like in Carmen, Don Jose for me represents the male privilege, which has built him soft and fragile with a high sense of pride that is easily being broken as the truth emerges from Carmen when she tells him that he doesn’t love her.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, Carmen was portrayed by Ivana Hoxha and Don Jose from Janko Sinadinovic. The duo was a smart combination which worked dynamically and managed to grasp and render the characters. Hoxha’s Carmen was energetic, mean and real in her depiction of sentiments, making sure to sing her thoughts clearly . 

Sinadinovic’s Don Jose was slushy, passively active, with an anticipation to his explosion in the end of the show which managed to shake the entire stage.

There was a fascination which grew in me. There was this harmony of the choir and the characters which sang at their own pace or acted in their own world. These worlds within the world of the stage which managed to coexist in concord. I couldn’t get enough of the interplay.

However, there were some technical issues which made the show a bit difficult to follow. The opera is written in French, and it was also performed in French. On the sides of the stage were two screens which showed the text in Albanian. It was like seeing the opera with subtitles. But, the subtitles weren’t always accurate; at times they forgot to display them, they weren’t following the text at all or just flashed by too quickly to be read. So in that sense, one couldn’t grasp the entirety of the plot and dialogue, unless they knew French or had already read the piece prior to the show.

There were a few instances when instead of conducting dialogue, the artists were staring from the audience instead of the interlocutor. And at times, Hoxha’s Carmen felt too wicked rather than playful and free.

At other times, the overall cast failed to follow the plot or read some movements of the characters. It focused more on the singing performance rather than exploring the full potential of the characters and exploiting the space to bring something more fluctuating, leading to everything feeling a little bit static.

Regardless, it was all an amazing experience full of wonder concerning the magic of the voice waves and how they can transmit energy and emotions. An alluring phenomenon on how sound can fill an entire auditorium.

The event took place at the Palace of Congresses, which is where the upcoming opera shows will be performed. 

The show was directed by Gezim Myshketa and the orchestra was conducted by Dejan Savic, director of Belgrade’s Opera. The main roles were performed by both Albanian and Serbian opera singers, and the two Balkan Operas anticipate future collaboration together, both in opera shows and ballet.

 
                    [post_title] => A first-timer’s opera experience 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-27 18:50:48
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 27 – Albania’s southernmost travel destination of Saranda is having its landmark staircases reconstructed as part of a facelift blending modernity with tradition thanks to a World Bank project supporting urban and tourism development in the country.

Situated in the city center of Saranda, a town known as the Pearl of the Albanian Riviera, the staircases connect the waterfront walkway to the upper parts of the town, serving tourists, local businesses and residents especially in summer when the city becomes overcrowded with tourists, but using them had become quite risky during the past few years following years of neglect.

"The project includes the reconstruction of 4 out of 5 staircases in the city. This work is complemented with improvement of the infrastructure network, which includes water supply and sewerage system, use of rainwater for plants and lighting," says Pavli Mico, a contract manager for the state-run Albanian Development Fund that is implementing the World Bank-funded project.

"After the rehabilitation, the staircases will facilitate the pedestrians to stroll through the city. This project has been designed by blending modernity with traditions in the existing staircases, preserving the stone element, but adding the modern element of mosaics, decorative lighting and enhanced greenery," he tells the World Bank in a video documentary about the project.

Modern changes to the stairs have added a mosaic design through which one can discover the city.

Local government officials are also optimistic the project will contribute to the key travel and tourism in Saranda, also home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint and the famous Ksamil islands.

"The reconstructed staircases have enriched the city's architecture, ensuring better connections not only for the city's residents, but also for the tourists to visit the city's museums such as the Onhezmi Museum, the Monastery of 40 Saints and the Synagogue," says Robert Piro, the deputy mayor of Saranda.

But for some local residents, Saranda also needs new staircases to make access to local destinations easier.

"These initiatives are welcome of course because they will serve tourism development in Saranda. But for me, it would have been more efficient to add more staircases to the city," says Xhorxhi Vasili, a Saranda resident.

Vjola Demi, another Saranda resident, says the new stone stairs have brought more harmony to the city.

"As a citizen of Saranda, I think that the rehabilitation of stairs and the new design has made it easier for the citizens to move within the city. The old stairs were heavily damaged and the new white stairs have brought harmony with the beauty of the city," she says.

The World Bank says the next major improvement in Saranda will be the reconstruction of the existing promenade, including the rehabilitation of 12,700m2 of public space.

The project comes at a time when local travel agencies report a hike in tourist numbers in Saranda.

“Saranda has seen a steady increase in tourists in the last two years, many arriving by cruise ships. Visitors are attracted by the wonderful landscape, clear water beaches, archaeological sites and the city culture. We expect the number of tourists to increase by 25 to 30 percent compared to last year,” says Romina Laze, a representative of a local travel agency.

The staircase rehabilitation is part of a larger World Bank-funded project supporting four tourism centers south of Albania, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Berat and Gjirokastra, as well as Saranda and Permet.

The World Bank says the US$ 71 million project will help create jobs, increase incomes, and support local economic development by improving urban infrastructure, enhancing tourism assets, and strengthening the capacity of institutions to support tourism at local level.

 

The Albanian pearl

Known as the pearl of Albanian Riviera, the southernmost Albanian district is a top destination in Albania during summer, offering tourists a combination of rocky and sandy beaches as well as cultural heritage attractions such as the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and the Blue Eye spring.

Situated just next to the Greek island of Corfu with regular ferry lines linking the two cities, Saranda faced a boom of unplanned and illegal constructions following the early 1990s, somehow spoiling the beauty of Albania’s southernmost coastal town.

The four small islands at Ksamil coastal area, just off the Greek island of Corfu, feature some of the most popular beaches and are recommended as a must-see to foreign tourists.

Earlier this year, Saranda, was named by Business Insider portal as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers’ attention.

 

 

 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138546" align="alignright" width="300"]neranxi 2 Photos: Neranxi Culinary Institute https://www.facebook.com/instituti.kulinar/[/caption]

TIRANA - "A cuisine chef does never arrive at the destination. He is always in a long search of perfection and novices. But it is a beautiful road never getting you bored," the President of the 'Neranxi Company', Nikollaq Neranxi has said in the inauguration ceremony of the 2018 - 2019 Academic School year of the Neranxi Culinary Institute in Tirana.

"There would not be a more beautiful manner to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our school in the atmosphere of this wonderful view," Mr. Neranxi said on September 17, 2018, launching the second decade of the Institute which is called the gate of the 'Tirana's culinary aroma' where many culinary professions have been taught.

More than a thousand students were present at the ceremony attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps in Tirana, businessmen and customers, relatives of the students and journalists.

In his emotional greeting, Mr. Neranxi extended his thanks to the Tirana German development cooperation agency, GIZ, for the cooperation with the Institute.

"A sincere thanks to GIZ for the two-year support provided to the students of vulnerable families as well as for the help given to the performance of the Neranxi Culinary Institute," Mr. Neranxi said, thanking also Albania's municipalities across the country which have picked up the students to attend the Institute.

In the meantime, he said that hundreds of students who graduated from the Institute already work in Albania and abroad.

"Some of them have started their businesses and are doing well. We continue to support them as they are customers of the Neranxi Co.," said Neranxi.

Ms. Josephine Desepada from Philippines, a chef and professor of Asian Cuisine at Neranci Co., said among others: "This company has given many opportunities to Albanians, particularly to youth, to find a job. In addition, more than the profession itself, students have learned much about social life."

 

What GIZ official told students

"I can assure you that you are at the right address. On behalf of GIZ, I would like to wish you all a great academic year," said Esra Misrahi, a programme coordinator of GIZ’s ProSEED Programme in her address at the inauguration ceremony.

"I would like to say that our ultimate goal is to boost employment, especially young people. In that spirit, we support private providers in Albania, and Neranxi is one of them in that respect; we are very happy and satisfied about our cooperation with Neranxi Co," GIZ's Misrahi told the students and participants at the launch ceremony of the 2018 - 2019 academic year of the Neranxi Culinary Institute in Tirana.
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            [post_date] => 2018-11-08 12:08:35
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_139188" align="alignright" width="300"]hide More than 9 hunting hides were placed at a small area at the central Albania Fllake-Sektori Rinia wetland, outside Durres earlier this year. Photo: PPNEA[/caption]

TIRANA, Nov. 7 – An Albanian environmental watchdog says it has identified illegal hunting, logging, animals kept in captivity and fires endangering rare species during this year, defying moratoriums and sanctions in place, although at a slower pace compared to a year ago.

The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, says it has identified illegal hunting at a wetland just outside Durres, animals kept in captivity and offered for sale online, logging and intentional fires in the northern Albanian woods of the in the Munella Mountain, the country’s sole sanctuary of the endangered Balkan lynx.

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 local PPNEA watchdog has identified on its dedicated syrigjelber.info portal serving as a hotline to report cases of abuse over the past couple of years.

The watchdog says it identified 18 cases of environmental and animal abuse from Sept. 2017 to Sept. 2018, down from 25 a year earlier. Cases of abuse include illegal hunting, logging, fires, animals kept in captivity and embalmed with environmental crime also taking place in protected areas.

While a slowdown in environmental crime is reported for the past year, the real number of cases of abuse is estimated to be far bigger as the figures reported by the watchdog only include sporadic cases reported by environmentalists, local residents or online posts of wild and protected animals advertised for sale with owners unaware of legal consequences for their actions.

More than 9 hunting hides placed at a small area at the central Albania Fllake-Sektori Rinia wetland and used by hunters to practise illegal hunting were identified by environmentalists earlier this year. Environmentalists says they also found hunting cartridges and other materials proving ongoing poaching at the wetland, one of country's most important sites for water birds situated some 10 km outside Durres.

Elsewhere in northeastern Albania, environmentalists reported illegal logging and fires posing a threat to the already critically endangered Balkan Lynx, a handful of whom live at the Munella mountain region. Local PPNEA environmental watchdog says declaring the Munella Mountain a protected area would save the current few Balkan lynx from human-caused extinction and protect several other locally endangered species breeding there such as the brown bear, the wolf, the wild goat and the roe deer.

The latest reported case of animal abuse identified by local environmentalists involves two wolf cubs advertised for sale for €200 at a local trade portal last October.

Whistle-blowers earlier identified hares caught in traps in northeastern Albania and offered for sale online. Reported cases earlier this year also include two roe deer being held in captivity at a small bar on the banks of Tirana’s artificial lake and a tortoise on sale for as cheap as 1,000 lek (€8) at a downtown open-air market in the capital city, showing what experts warn that “environmental crime does not only occur in rural areas and far away from the public’s attention, but also close to the center of Tirana, seen by thousands of people and relevant institutions.”

Earlier this year, a German researcher assessing the effectiveness of the hunting ban that Albania has been applying for the past four years collected evidence proving that illegal hunting in Albania continues even in protected areas although the cases identified are sporadic and significantly lower compared to early 2014 when Albania imposed the ban.

Four Paws watchdog has earlier described Albania as 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.

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.

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

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium until 2021 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.

In late 2017, animal rights activists submitted more than 37,000 signatures in a petition addressed to MPs seeking to make animal cruelty punishable by fines and even imprisonment by amending the country’s Criminal Code, but the legal initiative that needs a qualified majority of 84 votes, three-fifths of the current 140-seat Parliament, has not been examined yet.

 

Fier zoo animals relocated 

[caption id="attachment_139189" align="alignright" width="300"]lion Eight-year-old 'Lenci,' a lion with a black eye in need of surgery whose pictures went viral. Photo: Four Paws[/caption]

An animal abuse scandal featured last month by the UK’s Daily Mail forced Albanian authorities to close down a private zoo and relocate malnourished and mistreated wild animals kept in shocking conditions.

Three lions, a three-legged bear, a zebra, fox, a waterbuck, a red deer and three fallow deer were relocated last month to the zoo in Tirana where new enclosures for the rescued animals were waiting.

Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, said the eleven neglected animals including eight-year-old 'Lenci,' a lion with a black eye in need of surgery whose pictures went viral,  were safely taken away, but the zebra unexpectedly died following relocation to the Tirana zoo.

"There is always a residual risk when using anaesthesia – especially if the animal has been kept in poor conditions. Sedation and the two-hour transfer were obviously too much for the weakened zebra," says the Four Paws which in 2016 pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping.
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