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Top Media – the revolution in technology and communication

A successful innovation The chronological account of the expansionary progress of Top Media would go like this: First there was Top Albania Radio. Then came Top Channel and finally Digitalb. Top Albania radio’s birthday, the 14th of February, is still

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana, April 1939. On 6 April the Italians sailed out of their ports, on 7 April they landed in Durr쳬 on 8 April they entered Tirana and on 9 April Mussolini ordered the creation of a Transitory

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20 Kilometers North West of TiranaƢut 1500 years back in history

Week-end escape It is only 20 or so kilometers from Tirana, if that. A tiny little village hugging the ridge of one of the low-lying hills that encircle Tirana. A lovely little oasis where you can spend an hour or

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Shkodra, end of the XIX Century. In view of the fact that the photograph of last week’s edition, showing the Monarch, the other gentlemen and the gilded furniture may have created some illusion of high society, today

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An Albanian story: Astrit Cela’s integration into Italy

Astrit Cela works for the Milan Chamber of Commerce, and is an example of how an Albanian immigrant has successfully integrated into Italian society. MILAN, May 10 – Astrit Cela, 41, started life in neighboring Italy like any other Albanian;

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European integration, Spanish experience

In the context of the European week in Albania, the Spanish embassy, in collaboration with the Albanian Institute for International Studies, invited International and European Law Professor as well as former school friend of the current ambassador, HE , Andreu

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Skopje – living in the divided city

By Alba Cela After the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement the Macedonian example, that is what the successful resolution of the emerged conflict was named, served as a reference point every time minorities were mentioned in the international conflict arenas. Indeed

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana: the summer of the Year 1938. The King puts on a reception at the Royal Palace. On the occasion of different festivities and ceremonies, the protocol included visits by top authorities of the country (civilian, military,

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana, 1940. In view of the fact that we honoured Teacher’s Day only a few days back, I cannot fail to remember this day either, but in my own way. In the dark years of occupation, the

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10 years ago: Albania in Crisis –

Part I: Pyramid Frenzy By Nicola Nixon From 1992 to 1996, Albania appeared to have made significant progress economically speaking on the road from the Enverist communist system. During that period, the country boasted the highest economic growth in the

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                    [post_content] => A successful innovation
The chronological account of the expansionary progress of Top Media would go like this:
First there was Top Albania Radio. Then came Top Channel and finally Digitalb. 
Top Albania radio's birthday, the 14th of February, is still a popular celebration. The most loved radio of Albanians, born on the International Day of Lovers, brought them not only a wide range of music coupled with accurate and timely news, but also programs which very soon captured attention such as A song for you.
Independence, neutrality and honesty are the pillars of the kind of journalism Top Media praises, according to their website. Top Channel TV was created on July 2001. Though not recognized as a national TV, it covers almost the entire Albanian territory and through the satellite transmissions is present in Europe (Digitalb platform) and in the USA (Intelsat America 5.)
The quality of its transmissions, the reliability of its news, and especially the innovative ideas of creating programs that raise civic awareness and participation, made it soon the most followed TV channel, leaving others behind. According to a 2003 survey, Top Channel has a 50 percent share of the Albanian audience compared to the second place of 17 percent. It collaborates successfully with international news agencies such as REUTERS.  As every successful business company its corporate responsibility department has a good working relationship with development agencies that work in Albania such as UNDP, UNICEF, IOM, OSBE, USAID, and the Red Cross.  DigitAlb was first promoted in July of 2004 and was a novelty from the start. Within the first five months of its operations it became the first European platform to have both land and satellite transmissions simultaneously. 

The national dimension 
There is a very strong national dimension in the working philosophy of all Top Media. The focus on many Top Channel programs has been to reach a wide national audience and address issues that raise the attention of all the Albanian nationals wherever they maybe located. Hence the Monday evening program Shqip, has an exclusive spotlight on events and issues such as Kosovo, Macedonia, the Albanian Arberesh minority in Italy and so forth. The program Exclusive on Sunday nights also often deals with historical issues and national identity questions.
Top Albania radio through its online program availability is listened to by all Albanians possessing Internet access and distributes the Albanian new and music worldwide.
Most importantly, in a more general framework, through transmitting programs in Albanian abroad, Digitalb reaches the extensive Albanian recent Diaspora, the considerable immigrant population for which this platform is the education window of their children in order to learn Albanian and keep close contact with their native culture. Its children pre-school program has an emphasis on the learning of Albanian. 

New ideas- the key to growth
One of the most popular programs in Top Channel is definitely, Fiks Fare, a satirical overview of political, economic and social problems in Albania coupled with a humorous monitoring of all Albanian media. 
Behind the humor, Fiks Fare has often acted as a direct Ombudsman, bringing forward citizens concern and advocating for important changes. Fiks Fare is just one of the most obvious examples. Others include the extremely popular Sunday show Portokalli, another program with a lot of constructive irony incorporated in humor, Top Show, the most serious talk show that brings every day of the week important debates on many issues ranging from sports to politics and Top fest, the festival of Albanian contemporary music that is well-known for promoting new talents, once again form the national arena. 
Just like with the example of Top Albania Radio, Top Channel's success has been focus on innovation. The same is valid for DigitAlb, the forerunner of the very modern technology of numerical transmissions and recently of the technology innovation of cellular-TV devices. 
According to the general director of DigitAlb, Alban Jaho, the philosophy of the company is base don the addressing of diverse customer tastes and need sin terms of programs and information.  There are 38 channels on the land platform and 33 on the satellite one, 2 radio channels and an audio support for Top News, the most recent 24 hours news channel. 
These have been designed so that all age-groups have access to their favorite kind of transmissions and the enrichment of programs continues to be top priority. Most of the programs have subtitles or sound dubbing in Albanian. The technology is cotemporary with the use of PPV, VOD, DVB-H transmission modules, the latest word in modern telecommunication. 

The problematic relationship with the administration
Top Media has employed a critical attitude towards any government in power, exposing the corruption and inefficiencies despite the political affiliation of the administration. Only recently though, it is starting to feel the gratuitous pressure of power. 
It has all started with a conflict about the unusually frequented and allegedly unwarranted tax authorities controls especially regarding the DigitAlb branch. According to Jaho, there is a lot of evidence proving that this tax authority checks are too exclusive to be warranted by law. 
The controversial debate about the law regulating numerical transmissions, a draft that would hurt the DigitAlb platform considerably raised criticism even from Brussels. The tension is between perceptions that these measures are being taken to fight informality and those who consider all these as subtle punishment to dissenting voices.
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, April 1939. On 6 April the Italians sailed out of their ports, on 7 April they landed in Durr쳬 on 8 April they entered Tirana and on 9 April Mussolini ordered the creation of a  Transitory Administration in Tirana, which was to lay the grounds for union with Italy. At this point the plan fell over, because the Fathers of the Nation had not waited, but had already created this organism one day earlier on 8 April. To this day, 68 years later, it is not so much the invasion but the reaction of the Albanian State, beginning with the King down through the entire pyramid of the State that remains one of the most shameful of pages in our modern history. No one claims that we could have worked a miracle to fight back Italy, but to put an end to national independence in that outrageous manner is a tremendous shame.
The first photograph shows the Act of the creation of the Provisional Administrative Committee with the date of 9 April, but the Committee had already been created the day before. The Act is drafted in two languages Albanian and Italian and also bears the signatures of its members, beginning with Xhafer Ypi.  The text begins with the phrase, "On 9 April, 1939, after the entrance into Tirana of the glorious Italian troops, theƥtc, etc, was set up."  Incredible! At these really dramatic moments, no one compelled the drafters to use such watery phrases, moreover in the Memoirs of many top Italian Military, who were part of this invasion, their descriptions of this moment smack of disdain for a people who did not even reserve a degree of dignity for the fall of their country.
The other photograph was taken three days later, on 12 April. The Constitutional Assembly has been summoned to the Assembly Hall, which was to offer the Albanian Crown to King Emanuel the Third, who, right to the end continued repeating in close circles, "I don't want that pile of rocks." Once again Xhafer Ypi reads out the papers drafted at the Italian Representation, while the hall, full of the Fathers of the Nation vote in favour. A very big clock, taller than a man, stands against the wall. Curiosity: For more than thirty years this clock has stood in the ante-Chamber of the office of the Prime Minister of Albania, where it continues to work away in peace, despite everything it has witnessed over the years. At the head of the room, a portrait of Scanderbeg hangs, in whose famous footsteps these men failed to follow, not for lack of desire, but probably because their prostates played up on them.
It was in all of this miserable demise of the first period of our national independence, that the resistance movement found its inspiration, particularly the communist movement, which, if only Albanian politics has conducted itself with more dignity in the time of the King, perhaps this movement would not have flourished and taken the direction it did with all the fifty years of wretchedness that followed.
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                    [post_content] => Week-end escape 
It is only 20 or so kilometers from Tirana, if that. A tiny little village hugging the ridge of one of the low-lying hills that encircle Tirana. A lovely little oasis where you can spend an hour or two relaxing at the weekend. A place where you run into the locals, friendly and hardworking, and at the same time, go back 1500 years in history. This location is called The Castle of Preza. It is as if it doesn't even exist until you discover it.

Preza is like a home-coming
At 15:00 hours, just as the Hoxha in the local mosque begins prayers, a group of teenage girls, secondary school pupils, emerge from their houses. However, there does not seem to be any connection between the Hoxha's chanting and the appearance of these young girls in the narrow little alleyways of the village. Not only the girls, but the other locals seem somewhat indifferent to the sound of the Hoxha's voice and his message. The mosque and the tradition of the Hoxha's chanting in the afternoons, especially on a Friday, is nothing more than a ritual, a remnant of times past, which probably has very little bearing on day to day affairs and the work the locals do. There is a battered old Mercedes Benz waiting for the girls, with a radio blaring out hip hop music, which, I must add, almost drowned the voice of the Hoxha. Sporting jeans (You can't tell these days whether they are village girls or the 'Bllok'  in Tirana). Twenty years ago, their mothers would have walked through the same narrow village lanes, with heads covered and dressed in the traditional baggy trousers. With classes out for the day at the village secondary school, the girls want to immerse themselves in the noise of Tirana. So different from only a decade ago, today, no one impedes them from doing what they think is reasonable. Two or three shops, in the street below, obviously constructed with the money emigrant family members have sent home, are closing for the lunch break and their owners roll down the front shutters.

At the same time 75 year old, Tahir Dervishi, as he does every day, has stopped working in the little vegetable patch in front of his house and walks into his comfortable home, which he shares with his eldest son, to have some lunch. This old man is one of the "intellectuals" of the village, seeing that he was Director of the Secondary School of the entire zone for thirty five years; publishes the newspaper "Preza" once every three months and is Chairman of a cultural association. Neither Tahir nor any of his family have any intention of leaving Preza.

This little pearl of a village called Preza, 20 kilometers North West of Tirana is a wonderful natural oasis, which becomes quite appealing as a week-end hide out for a few hours, away from the noise and the dust of Tirana.

Tucked away snugly among the olive trees on top of soft rising hill, this little village and its stone alleyways seem to meander along the ridge line. The road that snakes up the hill, becomes the main street of the village. It is lined with little white houses, with their pots of flowers and herbs on the window ledges, the little white curtains at the windows- typical of villages of the Mediterranean, and with their womenfolk forever sweeping the front yards and porches. Preza really is like a little hideout.

"People are very mild in this village," says Mr. Dervishi. "With its fertile soil, abundant production of bread-grain and other crops, Preza is known, in particular for its olive crops, which are of the highest quality for their food value. The village lives well. Without exception, the men folk work their own land, some of the young men and women from our village have emigrated to "absorb the western way of life." But some of them have also come home and have made small investments, at the most, opened a local shop. Now, in Preza there are more vehicles than there were mules in my time, whilst our children grow up healthy and strong in the clear air of this small but attractive little community."

A Little Gem
Younger men in the village also share the opinion that Preza is a "real little gem." Arbeni, a man in his early forties, is the owner of the Bar and Restaurant "Preza." One of the most interesting in the whole zone. He says it never occurs to him to shift to Tirana. He has created a business, which has very good prospects, a guaranteed livelihood, right here in his own village.

With the help of his brother, Arben built the restaurant inside the surrounds of the old castle, designed to fit in with the character of the ambience, the old castle walls and other period objects. The Bar-Restaurant is a typical Albanian rustic-style structure, complete with wooden tables and stools, with the old built in wall cupboards, copperware and ornaments taken from local houses, and wafting out from it is the good smell of local cooking. Bread is baked at home in the old oven that dates back to World War One, the juicy chickens of the fields down below and the local meats sizzle in its oven. Its no wonder that the villagers here have never heard of genetically modified foods.

"There is nothing more healthy than home grown vegetables and food." says Arben. He thinks that this has been a key to the success of his restaurant. Home baked bread, home made wine, good cheeses and the fragrances of the plum tree blossoms in the Spring.

In the garden of the restaurant, with all its fragrances and the aroma of good cooking, you can look out over the walls of the Castle of Preza, and see the walls of the Castle of Kruja and of the Castle of Petrela. (The three castles could communicate by using torches). 

During the day, on every half hour, you get a breathtaking view of aircraft as they come into land at the Mother Theresa International Airport at Rinas, the runway of which stretches out at the foot of the hill, directly below the walls of the Castle of Preza. With the aid of some old binoculars that Arben has installed, on a fine day, you can see as far as Ulqin and even the coasts of Italy.

"This is wonderful," cried a very special friend of this restaurant, when he first visited, the former US Ambassador to Tirana, Joseph Limpricht. But this is how so many foreigners have reacted, who have found out where to go to get out of Tirana for a rest in the week end. The Albanians are much slower.

The former Manager of RognerPark Hotel, the Austrian, Herr Shmid had "fallen in love," with this "marvel of nature," and he organized a very special wedding here for an Austrian bride and an Albanian groom.

"The restaurant is always frequented by foreigners," says Arben, perhaps with a twinge of regret as to why Albanians want the more up-market restaurants and can't relax in the beautiful surroundings their country offers them.

Preza is truly a beautiful tourist spot. The Castle, the last restoration work done on it was twenty years ago, the objects full of historical value and particularly the story of the Mosque of Preza are all sources of genuine interest and curiosity. The bell tower, according to old documents, used to have a bell that weighed 2-3 kilograms in gold, prior to World War One. Although the village resisted, the Austro-Hungarians removed the bell and today it is located in the Museum of Vienna.

If you were to close your eyes for a moment, Preza could be one of dozens of very similar little tourist hamlets throughout Europe, which thrive on the revenue generated from their historical values, tourism and local arts and crafts. This is really good. You can imagine Preza like this, with its God gifted location and scenery, intertwined with the historical values of the Castle, and very good future prospects.

What are the prospects? The middle-aged generation of the village seem to have a clear idea on this subject, those who have already invested in their businesses inside the village. One alternative is to build a system of small wooden chalets, characteristic of the craftsmanship of the zone, to rent out for weekends or holidays. Some of these chalets will be ready for use this Spring and will transform Preza into a popular haunt.

Retiring to Preza time and again would be like a home coming for everyone, even for the teenage girls who, for the time being, have their sights fixed on Tirana.

Revisiting History
The earliest historical source that mentions the Castle of Preza, 20 kilometers North West of Tirana, is a note by the Historian Barleci in his work, "The History of the Life and Deeds of Skenderbe. Apart from this, Preza is mentioned in an anonymous report on Albania, of the year 1570, in a dispatch of the Venetian Ambassador Bernardo in 1591.

One of the first foreigners to have visited the castle was the Austrian scholar Hahn. The Castle is mentioned in the studies of Ipen and Shuflai, while in the years of World War One, Preza was visited by the Austrian archeologist Prashnicker.

In the report of 1570, it is stated that the Castle was built by the Turks. Croatian scholar Shuflai has probably based himself on this report too, when he deducts that the construction of this castle belongs to the Turkish period. However Barleci's mention  of the Castle,( according to him, in 1450-1467 during the Sieges of Kruja, Preza was in ruins), reveals that it had been built far earlier. The more likely variant is that the first phase of the construction of the castle dates back to Centuries 4-5 AND, as the Austrian archeologist Prashnicker thought. The castle was small and powerless to withstand powerful assaults and protracted sieges. It was originally built as a vantage point to control the very important route at its feet leading into the Plain of Tirana. The garrison of the castle also collected taxes and other levies from the population of the region.

Its construction at other historical periods had the same purpose, such as during the period of the principalities and in the time of the Turkish invasion, doing the repair work on it at later stages. For the population of the area, in the report on a journey through Albania, by the Venetian Ambassador Bernardo in 1591, it is stated that, "here too it is said that healthy and robust men are born, and when they are given rank, they become formidable horsemen."
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Shkodra, end of the XIX Century. In view of the fact that the photograph of last week's edition, showing the Monarch, the other gentlemen and the gilded furniture may have created some illusion of high society, today I have chosen some other snap shots.
Over the past two Centuries, the Albanian highlands have constantly been the object of study and admiration for many foreign scholars, which gave wings to the myths of our mountains, the highlanders, hospitality, the Cannon, honesty, the word pledged and so on. But this entire image that was built up has constantly suffered a knock back, whenever these highlanders have come in contact with the world of today in the developed countries. Having descended to the lowlands and the towns and cities, they have often become heartless murderers, unscrupulous plunderers, liars, perfidious, and it goes as far as thousands of young woman and girls from the highlands ending up on the streets of Italy and Greece, dealing the final blow to these myths. There is a saying today that has a scathing ring to it, that the tradition of the "pledged word" was searched for and sung to throughout the highlands because they were so treacherous. How can this contradiction be explained? Allow me to provide this explanation in next week's edition.
In the photograph you can see a group of highlanders, in the middle of a squabble, obviously fighting over the division of spoils lying on the ground. As if all the guns were not enough, two of the highlanders, the one wearing the black cape and the other one who is holding on to his arm, hold swords in their hands, ( a little difficult to discern without looking closely), and stand threatening each other. They both have back-up behind them, and their associates level their guns against the adversary; the fifth highlander stands between the two groups and is trying to persuade them to back down, naturally, using as an argument, his own arm.
They are all dressed in the characteristic attire of the northern highlands, pointed leather opinga, leggings, vests and woolen caps. Naturally, the clothes are not the newest or cleanest possible, but this makes them appear even more threatening and fearless. Two of them are holding Martini-Henry rifles, known in the north as "Martini" rifles and which were used in the ranks of the Turkish Army in 1890. The highlanders continued to use them for centuries, because, as one foreign author writes, "The Highlanders continued to use them; the Albanians liked them because they were very noisy when fired." The third holds an English rifle, an 1867 model known in Albania as "the cartridge."
It is most probable that this photograph was taken in Shkodra, especially because of the high stone wall in the background, where the pebbles were typically from Shkodra.
Naturally the persons in the photo have obviously posed for this photograph. If it were a genuine scene of a real fight it would be hard to believe that the photographer lived to tell the story. However it reveals what it would be like to fall into the hands of these people. 
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                    [post_content] => Astrit Cela works for the Milan Chamber of Commerce, and is an example of how an Albanian immigrant has successfully integrated into Italian society.
MILAN, May 10 - Astrit Cela, 41, started life in neighboring Italy like any other  Albanian; working in second-hand or menial labor positions. Today, however, he works for the Milan Chamber of Commerce handling marketing and computer science responsibilities. Also, he is involved in after-work programs such as inter-cultural projects at schools and at a nongovernmental foundation.
Cela, who is a 1987 graduate in French from the Albanian Faculty of History-Philology of the Tirana University, is now a long-time employee of the Milan Chamber of Commerce. His first job with the Milan Chamber was answering the telephone, but soon he was promoted to office manager. After so many years of 'loyalty' at the job he does not hide his ambition to pass on to another job level, probably in international relations. Born an Albanian, he knows he could make good use of his contacts in Albania and Kosova, the two areas which he knows best.
Cela studied to become a French elementary and high school teacher. However, he left his country with hundreds of thousands of other Albanians in 1991 aboard ships in Durres heading toward the western window, Italy. He chose to go to northern Italy, a more developed area in that country and moved to Milan. 
"I knew Italy from television," he says, "But nevertheless I left Albania without any real information about Italy, and left illegally without any documents at all. At that time it was impossible to obtain them. I challenged fate and it has gone well for me".
For six months he worked in menial labor. Then his career path moved quickly at the Milan Chamber of Commerce, very much by luck, one should acknowledge.
"I have attended many marketing and communication courses and I had a promotion to the second level in 2000. It had been a great satisfaction," he recalls. 
But not everything went so smoothly. "I have also suffered due to the prejudice against Albanians, especially from the daily media coverage of crime events, many blaming my co-patriots," he says. 
"But in Milan people know how to differentiate. They highly value everyone who works and lives a normal, committed life despite the nationality of the person."
Cela's life also changed after his marriage to an Italian in 1999. They now have a son, who loves to come to his dad's homeland and talk in Albanian with his relatives.
But besides family life, Cela developed other interests. Cela became involved in a project on inter-cultural exchanges at high schools in Lombardy, organized by a missionary center. ("I speak with students of the necessity of integration, beginning from my history, to get rid of prejudices"). 
Two years ago he also published a calendar with pictures from Albania, printing 2,000 copies at his own expense. 
"Albania is not only crime and crime," he says. "There is also an ancient culture that is rich in castles, monasteries, and landscapes. I wanted to transmit to the Italians a positive image of Albania". 
Cela has also been involved as a founder of the "Albania and Future" association.
"Our logo is a bridge," he explains, "because we want to promote mutual acquaintances, valuing the Albanian contribution of the many students, entrepreneurs, workers and intellectuals who live in Italy and contribute to its development".
                    [post_title] =>  An Albanian story: Astrit Cela's integration into Italy 
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                    [post_content] => In the context of the European week in Albania, the Spanish embassy, in collaboration with the Albanian Institute for International Studies, invited International and European Law Professor as well as former school friend of the current ambassador, HE , Andreu Olesti from the University of Barcelona, to give a couple of lectures in Albania. Mr. Olesti had never been here before he was surprised at the geographical proximity of Albania and Spain, their similar Mediterranean features. He spoke to Tirana Times about the integration challenges of Albania, his academic work in Spain and the contribution of the Bosman Act of Football*  to the European feeling.

Albanian integration challenges
Albania is just at the start of the integration process," Mr. Olesti stresses, "and a lot of work still needs to be done." Despite being a professor of law, he agrees that the main challenges in the case of Albania will not be to adapt the legal package of thousands of pages but to implement it. The process affects all the sectors of the society and needs to be willingly adopted by all economic and social actors. Borrowing from Spain's experience when an undisputable large political consensus and a social willingness to become part of the European family smoothed away the road to integration, Mr. Olesti explains the importance of will and persistence in the difficult and long way towards the EU. As far as internal EU attitudes towards enlargement are concerned, Mr. Olesti does not see them as determinant. Even when Spain entered there were sides pro and contra. No country has the luxury to have all on board. The important thing is that can be no red line denominating Europe's border and no one can say, now we have reached the limit and it's enough. We don't know that limit yet." 

European Union
"The European union is always perceived as being in a crisis. Every 6-8years there is some fundamental issue that once again raises the debate about its life. But look at where we are now, 27 countries, some of them have even given up a strong  currency to adapt the euro, something that would have sounded unbelievable 20 years go,"- Mr. Olesti says. On the topic of the European constitution he does not see the current disputed version as something that will be approved soon, but recognizes the need to support a powerful binding instrument of this nature.  

On football and culture
According to Mr Olesti a big fan of not only his city's club, the well-known Barcelona, but also of Liverpool, football is an integral feature of Europe's culture. The Bosman Act that allows players of diverse nationalities in one tem has done more for a shared European feeling than many laws taken together. Now aficionados across the border line up to see their favorite team and it is no uncommon for Spaniards to be dedicated fans of Arsenal, Milan or Chelsea. 
Similarly the exchange program in the education and culture fields should be made priority even in the case of Albania so that people know each-other, their values and experiences and learn to appreciate diversity. Talking about Spanish movies, Olesti says that for example Almadovar, the most famous director, "addresses universal issues by appealing to local aspects." 
 Impressions from a first visit

When he landed in the modern terminal of Mother Teresa Airport, Mr. Olesti knew that he had to readjust his expectations. He found the standard features of a country on the Mediterranean: good weather lost of people in the streets enjoying the sun. During his short visit, in between a lecture on the challenges of integration and a seminar on Spanish education system realized in cooperation with the Albanian Institute for International Studies, he found time only for a brief visit to Kruja. Hence the law professor might be back to enjoy the rest of the country that he once thought was so different and far way from Europe. 

* Jean-Marc Bosman brought his famous action when his club RFC Liege refused to allow him to join French side Dunkerque because they could not agree a transfer fee, even though the player's contract had expired. Consequently, players were allowed to move for free after their deals were completed and restrictions on the number of players from different EU countries were also scrapped.
                    [post_title] =>  European integration, Spanish experience 
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Cela 
After the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement the Macedonian example, that is what the successful resolution of the emerged conflict was named, served as a reference point every time minorities were mentioned in the international conflict arenas. Indeed the agreement granted the necessary rights to the significant Albanian community living in Macedonia which, according to official statistics, makes up slightly more than 20 percent of the population. Important changes in language and education policies, coupled with more representation in politics and police forces calmed down the fighting factions and avoided a new bloody turmoil in the fragile Balkans. An observation of daily life in Skopje, the lively capital of Macedonia, inhabited by around half a million people, shows that the picture might not be that rosy and that there is significant room for improvement in the relationship between the two major ethnic communities. 

The stone bridge
The Albanian quarter lies immediately on the other side of the Stone Bridge, which in itself is an impressive white stone, multi-arched, Ottoman structure that could illustrate Andric's "The bridge over the Drina." As in the book, the bridge is the symbolic boundary between the two major communities. On the Albanian side lies the magnificent old bazaar where history and religious diversity have marked the place with a special magic ambiance. Old water 観me-s (water taps), traditional mosques and small bazaar style stores form a labyrinth which is a pleasure to cross. One hears Albanian and Turkish spoken more frequently than on the other side where the majority of the communication is in Macedonian. The divided city is manifested with a subtle mistrust between the two communities which informally and in friendly tables do not hesitate to admit their fears and insecure feelings towards the other side.

Internal fears and tensions
"The Macedonians feel that they will be overwhelmed demographically and not only," our tour guide tells us. "The birth rate frequencies are very different- he laughs,- in a decade we might be looking at  a situation of 50/50." A representative of the Association for Democratic Initiatives in Macedonia addressing a conference on minorities in South Eastern Europe describes the feelings between the two communities as conditioned by a mutual fear and tension. "Macedonians feel that the Albanian community is getting unfair privileged treatment after the Ohrid agreement. The focus has been placed on ethnicity fo job allocations. The redistricting of administrative zones such as that of Struga has led to a decrease of Macedonian urban population and an inflow of Albanian rural one. Problems still go on in the education field when Albanian and Macedonain study in different shifts and do not know each other. Two generation are being brought up polarized. With the introduction of religious classes this is bound to get worse." 
It seems that other communities -Macedonia is after all a multi-ethnic and not a bi-ethnic state,- are left unsatisfied from a solution that addresses only the most numerous sides.  

A beautiful little capital of their own
Macedonia is justified in having one of the greenest capitals in the region. The city of Skopje has a plentitude of public spaces gracefully adorned with quiet urban art and a lot of parks. The castle overlooking the city looks fascinating under the special night-lighting. A huge lighted cross placed on the hill above the city seems to be an awkward monument in a multi-religious community.
The bar-filled river bank and the blooming Makedonya Street host a very young crowd enjoying the April evening.  The city museum is marked by the old clock which stopped at in 1963 when a devastating earthquake shattered most of the buildings. Now it hosts a collection of historical coins and traditional costumes that tell the history of the town in a colorful fashion. Another important site is the place where the house of Agnes Bojaxhiu, or as known to the world Mother Teresa, was born. An Albanian by origin she spent her life professing faith and charity throughout the world and has been proclaimed a saint by the Vatican. 
                    [post_title] =>  Skopje - living in the divided city 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-05-07 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana: the summer of the Year 1938. The King puts on a reception at the Royal Palace.  On the occasion of different festivities and ceremonies, the protocol included visits by top authorities of the country (civilian, military, religious, diplomatic), to the King at the Palace. Visits by different groups were conducted within fifteen minutes of one another, so each group had time to meet the King. This photo depicts the reception of the religious authorities. Like today, there were four religious leaders in those days too, representing the main religions. The Prime Minister is also present at the reception. The photo shows, from left to right: Prime Minister Ko诠Kotta, the Catholic Archbishop, King Zog, Bekteshi Leader Sali Njazi Dedei and the Orthodox Archbishop Kritofor Kissi.
PM Koco Kotta (1889-1948) wears an evening coat suit and tails in compliance with ceremonial protocol. You can also see the black and red ribbon of the Order of Skenderbeg. Decorations failed to save the Prime Minister from prison after 1945, where he also died from hunger in 1948. He had been elected Prime Minister of Albania twice, about five times Minister and for some time he was also Speaker of Parliament. According to our criteria, he fully deserved imprisonment.
Two years later, in the evening of 28 November 1940, the Bekteshi Leader, a patriot of the Old School, was assassinated, an act that was never explained.
King Zog wears the white summer military uniform and bears the ceremonial sword in its waist sheath.
Out of the men in this photograph only Kristifor Kissi manages to survive the turmoil of the War and remain in his post until 1949, when he was finally compelled to step down from the Chair of Archbishop and hand it over to Pais Pashko Vodica.
What strikes the eye is the luxurious furniture, the paintings on the walls, the engraved ceiling, the beautiful carpets on the floor, the wall dressings, the armchairs etc. In view of the fact that there was no other building, King Zog used the building that houses the Academy of Sciences today as the Royal Palace, which was privately owned and which he rented. Very little remains today of the grace and glory of the past of this edifice despite the extraordinary history it hosted.
Packets of cigarettes spread out over the marble surface of the table for the guests, according to Albanian customs. How times change!. Today the Stabilization-Association Agreement (SAA) prohibits smoking in public places which, at that time, would have compelled us to drop a well known Albanian custom. As if we preserved other customs and we regret saving this one! Or it's not as if we implemented all the other rules and regulations of the SAA and public smoking is the only one left!!
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-04-30 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, 1940. In view of the fact that we honoured Teacher's Day only a few days back, I cannot fail to remember this day either, but in my own way.
In the dark years of occupation, the foreign occupiers did their utmost to distract our thoughts from the fight for liberty by building schools in Tirana.
The first photograph shows the initial work on the opening of the foundations and the erection of the walls of the "Kosovo" School. The building site has still not been cleared of the grass and weeds, trampled underfoot by the building workers as they go backwards and forwards with carrying their tools, bricks and mortar. Beyond the construction site is Elbasan Street, which at that time had still not been tar sealed; that was to take place about one year later. Worthy of mention here is that from then on this road remained unchanged for sixty years until 2004 when it was finally widened beyond the breadth the Italians left it at. In the left hand corner of the photo, you can see the corner of the villa that belonged to the Jupi Family, which to this day is still inhabited by that family. Further, in the centre of the photo there is a large, white building of neo-classic style the owners of which, which, unfortunately, did not enjoy it for much time. In 1945 it was nationalized by the State and entire generations of Albanians visited it as the "Lenin-Stalin" Museum. After 1990, Lenin and Stalin exited the scene and the Italian Ambassador in Albania made it his residence, which is what it remains to this day. 
With a little more scrutiny, in the distance you can make out the building of the US Embassy which houses the same Embassy today too. To the right of the photo, in the distance, up on the hill, the structure of the Royal Palace under construction can be discerned which no Monarch ever got the opportunity to enjoy and this building went down in history as the Palace of the Brigades.
In the second photo, the school building has been completed and work is continuing on the play ground, but obviously it is almost ready to welcome the pupils you can see in the third photograph. Ever since that day, so may years ago, and up until somewhere in 2000, this school that bore the aspiring name, "Kosovo" welcomed and provided initial schooling for dozens of generations of children who grew to adulthood and grew old in this city, one of them being the author of these lines. But suddenly, on the dawning of the new Century the school was closed, then it fell into wrack and ruins, and then, one day we learnt that the property it had stood on had been given back to the original owners. And that occurred on the occasion of the millennium of the Internet. 
To draw wool over our eyes, the Italian occupiers built schools for us, whilst we, the occupied, when our eyes were opened, we closed down schools and substituted them with business. Sure, we lost a school, but, hey, we gained a property owner!!
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_content] => Part I: Pyramid Frenzy
By Nicola Nixon
From 1992 to 1996, Albania appeared to have made significant progress economically speaking on the road from the Enverist communist system. During that period, the country boasted the highest economic growth in the region, a low unemployment rate and a stable currency and, as such, was roundly congratulated by its European neighbours. Indeed, at that time, the country was considered a fine example of post-communist economic transition. 
From the early 1990s, numerous pyramid banking schemes had popped up all over the country offering staggering interest rates of up to 50% a month to investors. The instability of these schemes lay in the fact that, generally, rather than using savers' money for external investments, they relied on the money of new depositors to pay interest to the existing ones. Since that requires a constantly increasing flow of money into the scheme, it is simply not sustainable. Albania was not the only country in the post-communist region to see the rise of such schemes, where large pyramid schemes collapsed in the early 1990s in Russia and Romania.

The Heyday

1996 was the boom year for the pyramid schemes which had emerged in Albania in 1994. Throughout the year people all over the country - an estimated two thirds of the population - were selling up everything they had to put their money into the schemes. During 1996, a number of foreign journalists travelled to Albania and described the scenes of the good life that people were enjoying from the return on their investments, just a few months before they began to collapse. In May, CNN's Jamie McIntyre thought he could feel the onset of an 'Albanian spring' in the rising prosperity that surrounded him on his visit to Tirana. Similarly, in the same month, Steve Pagani of Reuters was impressed with the new atmosphere in the capital:
The capital, Tirana, is where it is at. The city, home to 300,000 people, is noisy, bustling and brash.  The days of queuing outside monochrome shops selling shoddy Chinese-made goods or sitting over a local brandy and thin coffee in one of the few dimly lit cafes are over. Kiosk and stall owners sell a range of goods from live chickens to second-hand television sets. Bicycles crowd the streets. Spruce shops containing expensive Western-made consumer goods rub shoulders with new marble-fronted offices, such as branches of foreign banks, to whom Albania's conservative government appears only too happy to issue licences.  Downtown, the central bazaar spills over with a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables, olives, lentils, beans and sacks of paprika in a riot of colour. Nearly 3,000 privately owned bars and restaurants have opened since 1991. Some are modest, others, boasting awnings and terraces, could grace any European capital.

For a long time, the schemes had chugged along reasonably calmly with interest rates of around 6 per cent per month. Yet during the summer of 1996, an interest-rate war began between the schemes which saw rates rocket to 100 per cent or more. It was that which started the investment frenzy. Reporters in Albania later in the year, therefore, noted the direct relationship between the new found affluence and the activities of these schemes. Some of their reports provide a very human image of the hope with which people invested everything they had into the schemes. In October, for example, Jane Perlez of the New York Times, spoke to Gjergi Peci, who 

sat in his easy chair and explained how, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, he could afford to relax, not work too hard and even buy a grander place in the future. sat in his easy chair and explained how, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, he could afford to relax, not work too hard and even buy a grander place in the future. A few months ago, he sold his apartment in a good section of this dilapidated capital for $30,000, paid off some debts and sank $20,000, his entire savings, into a pyramid scheme called Vefa. He collected his first interest payment of $3,200 a few weeks ago, he said, and is confident that he will get $6,400 more and his principal by February. 

Similarly, in November, Joanna Robertson of London's Guardian, spoke to a couple of investors in Tirana: 

Huddled among the kiosks crammed into Tirana's main park, the thriving Cafe Marlboro is usually filled with drinkers. This morning it is almost deserted. Kristina, the waitress, explains that most of her customers have gone to collect their monthly payouts from the high-interest pyramid schemes that have become wildly popular in Europe's poorest country. Kristina, aged 20, is a history student at Tirana university. She earns pounds 30 a month waitressing and recently put her savings into a scheme called Demokracia Popullore Xhaferri. If the bubble doesn't burst, her 70,000 lek ( pounds 410) investment will double in value in three months. At first, she says, she was reluctant. But she watched her friend Zana make more than pounds 3,000. She lives with the rest of her family in one cramped flat, but Kristina says things are looking up. Her father has invested his life savings in a scheme, and plans to use the interest to buy a new home. 

Ƈene is queueing in the mud outside the deposit office of a Gypsy woman offering to pay 50 per cent per month on cash deposited in her scheme during the next five days. A peasant from a village in the mountainous north, Gene slaughtered his small flock of sheep when news of the interest rate reached him and brought the cash straight to Tirana. With no sheep left he is no longer a farmer but plans to live instead on the monthly interest payments - as long as they last. Next to him, clutching two carrier bags crammed with grimy lek notes, is Sokol. He grins and says that he has just sold his flat. He expects to double his money in just a few weeks. In the meantime, he will live with 14 members of his family in a two-roomed flat, as his brothers have also sold their property.

Widespread inactivity and relaxation, where thousands wiled away the days in cafes and bars - in between bouts of investment activity - was a characteristic of life in pyramid-scheme Albania that many reporters commented upon. The BBC reported that in late 1996, an Italian entrepreneur tried to start a business in the northern town of La绠a town with a very high unemployment rate. To his surprise, despite offering twice the money for a public sector job, he was unable to employ anyone. He was told quite simply, by the residents, that they earned more from the pyramid schemes than from working, so what was the point.
The frenzied atmosphere of investments in the schemes had begun to ring warning bells among the international financial community and in some parts of the local and international media. By October, the IMF was urging the government to actively intervene and put a stop to the schemes, fearing the consequences of their collapse. The Economist reported rather presciently at the time, 'When the collapse comes, depositors may not take it quietly.'
1996 had also seen the third multi-party elections in Albania since the fall of communism that were held on May 26. These elections, which saw the re-election of the DP government, are widely considered to have been blatantly rigged. While the OSCE expressed concern over certain 'irregularities', Human Rights Watch was considerably less flattering. In their report, HRW identified, 'numerous human rights violations before, during and after the vote', 'physical attacks, ballot stuffing and voter list manipulation' and 'extreme cases of police violence after the elections.' 
The manipulation of these elections by the DP resulted in increased distrust and disappointment in the government, and Berisha himself, as President. Thus, there was already considerable anti-government sentiment prior to the disintegration of the pyramid schemes. Ironically, the DP campaign slogan had been "Vote Democrat and everybody profits."

Bankruptcy
By late 1996 there were eight major lending schemes in operation throughout the country - VEFA, Kamberi, Silva, Cenaj, Xhaferi, Populli, Gjallica, Sudje - as well as some smaller ones.
VEFA Holdings, headed by Vehbi Alimucaj, was the largest of the pyramid schemes. According to the Guardian, in January 1997, Vefa was thought to have accumulated investments of around 100 million dollars. At that time, the average deposit was between $10,000 and $30,000; a lot of money for a country where the average wage hovered around $100 a month. After the collapse of other pyramid schemes, Vefa also closed its pyramid banking activities in early March 1997, owing investors some 60 million dollars. 
Another large Tirana-based scheme was Sudje, set up by former factory worker, Maksude Kademi, who promised investors up to 50% returns on their deposits. It was the first to collapse and began preventing investors from withdrawing their money in November 1996 and finally collapsed in mid-January 1997 when the Gjallica lending scheme also collapsed. The declaration of bankruptcy by these two schemes marked the start of the riots that were to continue for the next few months.
The Xhaferi scheme, started in early 1996 by a former army general, Rapush Xhaferi, was one of the more surreal examples of the flamboyance that accompanied the moneylending phenomenon in Albania. Based in Lushnje, Xhaferi had bought the local soccer team and had paid a large sum to lure the former Argentine national team coach, Mario Kempes, to coach it. Xhaferi also brought out 19-year-old Nigerian forward, Leonardo Nosa Ineh, who suddenly found himself without a team to play on in early 1997. In February that year, a journalist from the Scotsman found the young soccer player stuck in Lushnje, 'bewildered, penniless and dependent on local charity in a one-room flat without a telephone,' when by that time, Xhaferi's scheme had collapsed. Xhaferi was arrested in mid-January along with the head of the Populli scheme, Bashlim Driza, when both schemes had ceased to make payments. 
In response to the collapse of the other schemes, the VEFA, Silva, Cenaj and Kamberi schemes attempted to demonstrate their credibility to investors by reducing their interest rates to 5 or 3 per cent. This attempt failed and they too stopped making payments to investors in the early months of 1997.
According to an IMF report released in 2000, of the schemes, VEFA had the largest liabilities when it collapsed, with 85,000 depositors. Closely linked to the government, it had attracted some of the more affluent investors in the country including employees in the government. The scale of the pyramid frenzy, however, is better illustrated by the Xhaferi and Populli schemes which, according to the IMF, at attracted some 2 million depositors during their existence. 
It is estimated that overall, the schemes cost Albanian investors something in the vicinity of 1.2 billion dollars.

Penniless
With the collapse, hundreds of thousands of Albanians lost their life savings, homes, and any other valuables they had managed to turn into cash investments. In late January, a reporter from the Financial Times interviewed Agem Mucaj, an unemployed building worker in Rrogozhine, who had invested the $30,000 he had saved while working in Germany and had lost it all. Another Rrogozhine resident, Xhyer Lamani had lost $24,000 that he had saved while working illegally in Crete. "I wanted to build a house in Tirana and make a proper life for my family, but now there's nothing else to do but go back to Greece." Meanwhile, a Guardian journalist spoke to a bank employee in Vlora for whom the loss was not only money. "I have lost my dreams," he said. Reporting from Tirana, in early February, Helena Smith wrote that the cafes and bars that had become 'wooden shrines to idle luxury' now 'stood eerily empty.'
In the meantime, the government had done little, if anything, to prevent the crisis, despite numerous warnings from international organisation. The finance ministry did not start to warn the public about the dangers of the schemes until October 1996, at which time it was too late. Even then, according to the later IMF report, 'it drew a false and misleading distinction between companies with real investments, which were believed to be solvent, and pure pyramid schemes.' Companies such as VEFA were therefore defended by the government to the end. 
By late January, people had begun to vent their anger over their lost savings on the streetsō
To be continued.
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            [post_content] => A successful innovation
The chronological account of the expansionary progress of Top Media would go like this:
First there was Top Albania Radio. Then came Top Channel and finally Digitalb. 
Top Albania radio's birthday, the 14th of February, is still a popular celebration. The most loved radio of Albanians, born on the International Day of Lovers, brought them not only a wide range of music coupled with accurate and timely news, but also programs which very soon captured attention such as A song for you.
Independence, neutrality and honesty are the pillars of the kind of journalism Top Media praises, according to their website. Top Channel TV was created on July 2001. Though not recognized as a national TV, it covers almost the entire Albanian territory and through the satellite transmissions is present in Europe (Digitalb platform) and in the USA (Intelsat America 5.)
The quality of its transmissions, the reliability of its news, and especially the innovative ideas of creating programs that raise civic awareness and participation, made it soon the most followed TV channel, leaving others behind. According to a 2003 survey, Top Channel has a 50 percent share of the Albanian audience compared to the second place of 17 percent. It collaborates successfully with international news agencies such as REUTERS.  As every successful business company its corporate responsibility department has a good working relationship with development agencies that work in Albania such as UNDP, UNICEF, IOM, OSBE, USAID, and the Red Cross.  DigitAlb was first promoted in July of 2004 and was a novelty from the start. Within the first five months of its operations it became the first European platform to have both land and satellite transmissions simultaneously. 

The national dimension 
There is a very strong national dimension in the working philosophy of all Top Media. The focus on many Top Channel programs has been to reach a wide national audience and address issues that raise the attention of all the Albanian nationals wherever they maybe located. Hence the Monday evening program Shqip, has an exclusive spotlight on events and issues such as Kosovo, Macedonia, the Albanian Arberesh minority in Italy and so forth. The program Exclusive on Sunday nights also often deals with historical issues and national identity questions.
Top Albania radio through its online program availability is listened to by all Albanians possessing Internet access and distributes the Albanian new and music worldwide.
Most importantly, in a more general framework, through transmitting programs in Albanian abroad, Digitalb reaches the extensive Albanian recent Diaspora, the considerable immigrant population for which this platform is the education window of their children in order to learn Albanian and keep close contact with their native culture. Its children pre-school program has an emphasis on the learning of Albanian. 

New ideas- the key to growth
One of the most popular programs in Top Channel is definitely, Fiks Fare, a satirical overview of political, economic and social problems in Albania coupled with a humorous monitoring of all Albanian media. 
Behind the humor, Fiks Fare has often acted as a direct Ombudsman, bringing forward citizens concern and advocating for important changes. Fiks Fare is just one of the most obvious examples. Others include the extremely popular Sunday show Portokalli, another program with a lot of constructive irony incorporated in humor, Top Show, the most serious talk show that brings every day of the week important debates on many issues ranging from sports to politics and Top fest, the festival of Albanian contemporary music that is well-known for promoting new talents, once again form the national arena. 
Just like with the example of Top Albania Radio, Top Channel's success has been focus on innovation. The same is valid for DigitAlb, the forerunner of the very modern technology of numerical transmissions and recently of the technology innovation of cellular-TV devices. 
According to the general director of DigitAlb, Alban Jaho, the philosophy of the company is base don the addressing of diverse customer tastes and need sin terms of programs and information.  There are 38 channels on the land platform and 33 on the satellite one, 2 radio channels and an audio support for Top News, the most recent 24 hours news channel. 
These have been designed so that all age-groups have access to their favorite kind of transmissions and the enrichment of programs continues to be top priority. Most of the programs have subtitles or sound dubbing in Albanian. The technology is cotemporary with the use of PPV, VOD, DVB-H transmission modules, the latest word in modern telecommunication. 

The problematic relationship with the administration
Top Media has employed a critical attitude towards any government in power, exposing the corruption and inefficiencies despite the political affiliation of the administration. Only recently though, it is starting to feel the gratuitous pressure of power. 
It has all started with a conflict about the unusually frequented and allegedly unwarranted tax authorities controls especially regarding the DigitAlb branch. According to Jaho, there is a lot of evidence proving that this tax authority checks are too exclusive to be warranted by law. 
The controversial debate about the law regulating numerical transmissions, a draft that would hurt the DigitAlb platform considerably raised criticism even from Brussels. The tension is between perceptions that these measures are being taken to fight informality and those who consider all these as subtle punishment to dissenting voices.
            [post_title] =>  Top Media - the revolution in technology and communication 
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