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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana, 1925. I noticed that last week’s edition left a feeling of sadness among many people with all its rags and poverty. So this time, allow me to paint a picture of brilliance. In January 1925, Ahmet

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Christmas in Albania

By Alba Cela Near my home, there is an American family who lives here since three years and they have a little son, David. In an email to his friends back home, he comments that “Albanians also have their big

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The Spanish EU model

Jerina Zaloshnja from Tirana Times interviewed H.E. Manuel Montobbio, the Ambasador of Kingdom of Spain in Albania on the Spanish model of integration, Spanish projects in Albania, etc. Q-You are the first Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain in Albania.

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana, June 1939. Its two months since the invasion of Albania by Italy. Italy has established a new regime in the country and work is in full swing to establish institutions to replace those of the Zog

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The global dimension

The TI survey concludes that corruption is a worldwide problem with people, despite their different original countries, believing that “the authority vested in institutions that ought to represent the public interest is, in fact, being abused.” People from all countries

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Taking the comparative standpoint

While Albania is devising new verbal strategies to cope with the report, other countries have taken the right comparative approach in analyzing the results. Across the world mass media have had different comments on the report results. Thus, one of

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A disturbing autopsy of corruption

“Planning to live in Albania- bring along bribe money” was the lead of a New York Times blog, immediately after the release of the 2006 Global Corruption Barometer by Transparency International. The blog aims at the discussion of the event

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Korca, “Le Petit Paris”

By Jerina Zaloshnja – Excuse me Miss is this your scarfſ! – The young lady, head bowed in shyness, ringlets caressing her neck, coyly darts a very quick, but prudent glance at the handkerchief, which is and isn’t hers. The

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Beckham’s X5 clandestinely into Albania

By James Podles Want to drive David Beckham’s luxury BMW X5 through the streets of Tirana? You could have the chance: unless the Real Madrid midfielder claims his car from the Macedonian police, who seized it at the Albanian border

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Energy crisis at the gates

By Alba Cela TIRANA, December 2006 – Gone are the promises of the state-owned Albanian electricity supplier KESH about a crisis-free winter. Many Albanians were fooled by the serious declarations of Economy Minister Genc Ruli and KESH Executive Director Andi

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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, 1925. I noticed that last week's edition left a feeling of sadness among many people with all its rags and poverty. So this time, allow me to paint a picture of brilliance. In January 1925, Ahmet Zog, newly returned from exile in Yugoslavia, proclaims the Albanian Republic and himself at the head of this Republic. On this occasion, several uniforms were ordered for him in Italy (I know at least three types), of which, the one shown in the photograph is the more fancy. I will allow one of his contemporaries, Catin Saraci, describe the uniform..
"I strode into His Excellency's reception room and was taken so much by surprise, I could hardly believe the extraordinary scene before my eyes, hence my hesitation on the threshold. I looked intently at him before I opened my mouth to greet him. Zog twirled around towards me and with a smile of happiness said, "I can see that you like my uniform, as do I. It is no wonder, because the individual who cut and sewed it is truly an artist.
He continued to stand in front of the mirror dressed in that crisp white uniform, a pompom of white feathers on top of a white felt Cossack type hat, embroidered in white, a white tunic, white trousers, white gloves, and to my astonishment, even white leather boots which shone from their polishing. Even the belts from which the sword hung were white. Unfortunately, the person who was some kind of Court photographer only managed to take the one photograph where Zog, all dressed up in his white uniform, stands there looking like a peacock."
The above uniform was truly magnificent, but unfortunately very much out of fashion. Uniforms of this kind had been the rage up until World War One, but after this War, they more or less ceased to be used. And even when they were in fashion, these uniforms were only worn for parades or other ceremonial occasions, and by Heads of State who were Monarchs, not Presidents. The origin of white uniforms for monarchs dates back to ancient times, as far back as the Roman Emperors, who were the only persons to be attired in white on the field of battle. Between the Emperors of Rome and our President from Mat, there is a substantial difference, but so what!
Zog was well aware of the value in a shining new uniform in the eyes of his Albanian subjects, and from this viewpoint, he was following in the footsteps of Isat Pasha Toptani, who even after the Proclamation of Independence, continued to wear the uniform of a Turkish General to give himself greater stance. During the time he was in Albania, Prince Vid also wore military uniform, to avoid acquiring the mundane bourgeois appearance complete with the borsalino, in the eyes of his subjects.
If all this reasoning possibly had any meaning at all, in the environment of the mountains of Albania, it remained absolutely beyond the comprehension of the Europeans, which led to the Monarchy of Zog being treated in their newspapers of the day, as a series of operettas and it was never taken seriously.
Twenty years later, Enver Hoxha also fell under the spell of military attire, but he soon got over this virus, making sure the rest of the military did too, by removing all their grades as well.
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Cela
Near my home, there is an American family who lives here since three years and they have a little son, David. In an email to his friends back home, he comments that "Albanians also have their big and nicely decorated Christmas tree, in the center of the capital, Tirana. It is like a small version of the Tree in New York City." The tree in the center of Tirana cannot compare to the tree in front of the Rockefeller Center in the Big Apple, where people usually go ice-skating.  Yet this benevolent child finds the will to see the positive side. When size is not enough children have always their imagination to cope with it. David's email brings me to the topic of the holiday season, the atmosphere that surrounds us now. As I walk by the usual stalls of the market where I do my grocery shopping, I can't help noticing the new Christmas stand, filled with the characteristic Christmas goods. Dry fruit, Italian-style panettone and bacon, expensive wine, decorated by shiny balls and pine tree branches are the most familiar sight anywhere in the world but a novel spectacle for us in Albania. Not only because for so many years we could not express or celebrate our religious beliefs. Pine trees line up the road shops and the diverse colors of the shiny decorations give children and adults a chance to become part of the atmosphere of celebrations. Now Christmas represents a festive occasion for many people of multi-confessional belonging. The midnight service in the Catholic and orthodox churches are attended by many people of diverse religions, who are used to the confessional harmony and join their relatives and friends in the celebrations. By a unique time coincidence, immediately after the New Year, Albanians will celebrate one of their biggest holidays, the Kurban Bajram. In the abundance of the stalls they find the antidote of the scarcity which conditioned their life for too long. For Albanians, New Years is a much more celebrated day given the country's tradition. Even the Christmas tree is often referred to as the New Year's Tree. The two consecutive holidays give people a chance to reflect on the year that is saying goodbye and to welcome the New Year with plans, dreams and objectives to reach. Some leave the country to celebrate in more exotic countries, perhaps near their emigrant relatives. Many come back to spend what is left out of their remittances with the family left back. Indeed Christmas and the holidays in general are a good occasion for business because the consumer demand goes up. The travel agencies have filled their windows with exotic posters that show how you can leave conventions behind and celebrate on the beach, accessorizing the red Christmas hat with a cocktail in your hand. The restaurants and hotels in Tirana have rushed to publish their menus and special offers for both the Christmas night and the New Year's night. As parents fill up the shops looking for presents and gifts, one cannot help but notice the large amount of foreigners, who work in Albania and live here take the direction of the airport as they fly away to join their own families and friends, celebrate according to their own traditions and welcome the New Year in their own countries.  The Christmas diner is a special occasion to gather the whole family as its is for Albanians the New Year's diner. 

What about the foreigners that live here provisionally or permanently? Do they all go back or do they choose to stay here and taste an Albanian Christmas? 
I set out to find two special British OSCE employees who could not make up their minds weather they were staying here for work or for fun.  Dan Redford, the Political Officer at the OSCE and Alex Finnen, the Deputy Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, are looking forward to the Albanian Christmas and especially the food bounty it will bring.   For Dan this is his first Albanian Christmas while Alex has already been here four times in the holiday season. They both plan to taste local delicacies in Albanian restaurants where lamb food seems to be a priority. Dan says that for New Years his plan is to go to his favorite place - Restaurant 'Brazil', just outside of Kruja.  "It's not for the feint hearted as the air is completely clouded up with the exotic perfumes of Marlboro, Dunhill or Virginia Slims. However, once you are guided to a table then you are in for a real gastronomic treat. When I first went I can remember asking for leg of lamb.  Now to all UK readers ordering a leg of lamb means getting two little legs of lamb on your plate and a few peas you then have to humiliating chase around your plate.  In Restaurant Brazil, they give you the whole lamb - I am not joking!", he adds. Dan plans to cook something for Christmas but is also glad to have an emergency plan: ordering Sufllaqe if it does not work out well! He will pass on the Sheep's head but definitely indulge on the Albanian honey-sucked cake called Shendetlije.
For both of them, the favorite eateries are outside Tirana. Among other alternatives they list restaurants in Berat, Elbasan, Gjirokaster where the scenery, the meat or the raki was just too good to forget. Christmas brings back family memories for both. They start describing the tradition of sitting in a warm home, listening to the Queen's speech surrounded by family. A frenzy of cooking which would lead to exhaustion. Somebody playing music to the expense of the other family members' ears.   "My Grandfather would always take centre stage at this point and play his banjo - to the chorus of "Oh my darling Clementine".  My dear grandpa had a high regard for his ability on the banjo, not always shared by others in the room I have to say. However, all family Christmases are about being tolerant, I guess." Dan adds on a funny note.  Alex has a very thoughtful comparison to make while observing the decorations in Tirana. "I think the decorations this year are very good and I particularly like the lights above the road in the Boulevard and the tree in Skanderbeg Square.  It reminds me of the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in London, which is given to us as a gift every year by the people of Norway.  To me this tree has always been a special symbol of Christmas and a reminder of true friendship between peoples."   The messages are familiar and common. The holiday season is about family, love, smiles and friendship. And food of course which recurs in our conversation more often than anything! British Christmas food, fat pork sausages, mashed potatoes, strong gravy and onion marmalade, is very different from the Albanian and some of it will make it to the tables of both Alex and Dan. 
They will both share the festivities with a mixture of Albanian and English friends. Alex will have a special guest visiting, his mother who will bring Christmas pudding. They will both leave to the UK for New Years as it is Alex's mother 81st birthday, a special occasion for the whole family to celebrate. On a more serious note for both British friends, Albania is not simply the country that they work in, an obligatory stop. It feels like home, worthy enough to spend your Christmas in.  
Asked weather they are staying here because of work reasons they answer honestly. Alex says: "I work in Albania, but it is also my home and more importantly a place where I feel at home and feel part of.  I am happy to be here over the Christmas, which is where I have many of my friends, my books and music." Dan agrees while adding that "Sure work comes into it but when you live in a country for now four years you get to love the place - the people, the food - everything.  It becomes your home and centre of gravity."
They can wish you a Merry Christmas in true Albanian.  
And with their words I would also like to wish our readers Gezuar Krishtlindjet!
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                    [post_content] => Jerina Zaloshnja from Tirana Times interviewed H.E. Manuel Montobbio, the Ambasador of Kingdom of Spain in Albania on the Spanish model of integration, Spanish projects in Albania, etc.

Q-You are the first Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain in Albania. Why did Spain decide to open an Embassy at this particular moment in Tirana?
The opening of the embassy in Tirana is the accomplishment of an engagement taken by the Spanish government some time ago for a number of reasons. On one hand, Albania has clearly progressed on the international arena with the perspective to associate with the EU. Also, your country is getting closer to NATO membership. We are members of both of these structures and therefore have a direct interest on Albania's further progress. Albania is also, as Spain, a Mediterranean country and we consider that the development of the Mediterranean dimension of its international relations and its participation in the Mediterranean fora is a challenge to which achievement Spain can contribute significantly. On the other hand, we consider that the embassy in Albania is needed to foster bilateral relationships in all relevant fields to our mutual benefit. As the World's fourth largest investor economy and a relevant cooperation donor, with a very important international language, Spain has a lot to offer.

Q-Although we are both Mediterranean countries, the history of Spanish- Albanian relations has been sporadic at best. There does exist a myth that the great Cervantes may have stayed in a city populated by Albanians in Montenegro, Ulqin, as a prisoner kidnapped by local pirates and, often, good relationships start with a myth. What do you expect to change in bilateral relations?
Relations should bee promoted both bilaterally and in international forums. Bilaterally there are three main fields for promoting relations.  Firstly, we want to promote Spanish culture and language. Spanish is the second international language and therefore a language of great interest. I think that the promotion of the Spanish language is the basic step conditioning relations in all other fields. Secondly, Spain is the fourth largest investor in the world thanks especially to economic expansion and Spanish investment in Latin America in the 1990s. Nowadays Spanish companies are looking for new frontiers for their investments. One of this is the area of  EU's enlargement and its neighbors. In this sense, I would say that there are interesting opportunities to promote Spanish investment and contribution to the transformation and development of Albania. Third, Spain is attaining in this legislative period 0,5% of its GDP Official Development Aid. Our International Cooperation phocuses on priority countries. Albania, together with Bosnia Herzegovina, is the only country in Europe declared a Special Action Country by Spanish Cooperation. We are designing an strategy with the main objectives to contribute to the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU and the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals, which will lead to the execution of development cooperation projects in different fields with this perspective. We have a particular capacity to contribute to Albaniaճ approach to NATO and EU by sharing our know how and experience as, to a certain extent, we have passed through this process coming out form an authoritarian regime. We went through the transition from an authoritarian regime to a consolidated democracy and from an autarchic economy to one of the most opened economies in the world which is developing very fast. Spain has emerged out of the transition period to become one of the most successful EU member states EU in using its policies for our transformation. Until this year we have been the largest recipient of  EU funds. Now we are not anymore, as we have got an average income that is above the EU average. This experience of transformation from a below average European country 20 years ago to the fourth largest investor, to a large extend thanks to our EU membership in EU, may be of great interest for Albania.  We can share these experiences and cooperate in this field to provide cooperation towards EU and NATO membership.
There is also a specific area where we can cooperate: the Mediterranean. We believe that the Mediterranean is a geo-strategic space, which we share with Albania, and we are open ton contribute to Albania's approach to the Mediterranean international fora, such as the Barcelona Process, born during the Spanish presidency of the EU in 1995. Our cooperation should proceed in all these processes, fostering of partnerships in different international forums.

Q:Mr Ambassador can you tell us about the Spanish projects actually in Albania
 There are different Spanish projects in different areas, like IBERDROLA which in one of the top Spanish companies on electricity. They are implementing in Albania a project financed by the Worlds Bank and European Development and Reconstruction Bank for production energy in Durr쳠and Elbasan. Also, they are going to begin with the construction of a thermoelectric station in Fier. These are considerable investmentsױ1 million Euro each. 
In our development cooperation we have a large program of micro credits totalling 14 million Euro. In this field, we are prioritizing credits to people that in normal banking conditions cannot gain access to credits, especially in rural areas. We are also cooperating with the High Council of Justice and the Ministry of Agriculture. 
There is a House of Spain here in Albania where Spanish language courses are offered. 
We are about to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Tirana University to provide a Lecturer of Spanish, and are willing to contribute to the establishment of the Department of the Spanish Language and Culture at the University. 
We have celebrated the joint Defense Commission between Albania and Spain. There is an action plan to foster the defense relations for this year. Spain has joint commissions in defense with only 22 countries in the world. I would say there are many initiatives going on.
Another field where we are promoting our presence in Albania is the cultural field. This year we had two weeks of the Spanish cinema in Tirana, one in May, the other in November. Spain has also participated in Tirana International Film Festival, with 9 films out of 100, and we have promoted other cultural events. 

Q: The Spanish model of relatively smooth democratic consolidation and European integration stands as an example among observers interested on these topics. This model has become known and debated in Albania as well. Do you think Albania can learn from the Spanish experience? How will you promote such learning?
There is a branch of the political science, transitology, which deals with explaining and promoting the process of democratic transition and consolidation. I would say that for good or for bad, the model of transition which is promoted by transitology to a large scale is based to the Spanish transition. The political transition of Spain has been a model for many countries in Latin America because it was a pact between the moderates of the regime and the moderates of the democratic opposition and a transition made from the law to the law. In this sense it was a transition which also was accompanied by a deep social and economic transformation and a successful opening up in foreign policy. In this sense, Albania or any other country can learn from this model. 
What we can do to promote? To bring people who can share relevant experiences. In the month of May there was in Tirana a public conference of Marcelino Oreja, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the government who carried out the democratic transition in Spain and requested the entry of Spain into the EU (afterwards he was Secretary General of the Council of Europe  and a member of European Commission). Precisely this conference was on the comparison between the Spanish and the Albanian process. We have had the visit of the Secretary General for the EU of our Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, where we shared our experience of transformation within EU with government officials and different representatives from civil society. In our cultural activities this is something to be present both at sectoral level and also with some opportunities at the reach of the Albanian public opinion. This is one of the strategic lines we are going to promote.

Q:You have been personally involved on Spain's EU Participation during its twenty years relationship with Brussels as a member of the union. Can you share some of that experience with us and haw do you think it will help you perform in your current position?
In my professional background, as many other Spanish diplomats, I have had the occasion to work from the inside, in different positions, in Spain's EU adaptation process. I was involved in the adaptation of foreign policy and foreign relations of the EU as well as developing a wide strategy within the EU together with many other Spanish diplomats. I did my postgraduate studies at the College of Europe, a center to prepare specialists on the EU affairs. This background may be useful to share our experience with a country whose main national perspective is precisely to have a EU perspective. In this sense I hope that both these professional and personal experiences whose great asset is to have stabilized Spain within EU (a national objectives of our democratic transition) will help me to understand well the challenges and needs of present day Albanian society.

Q: On a more personal level, you must still be very busy with consolidating the embassy's presence on the ground. Have you been able to see a little bit of Albania? How do you feel in your new country of residence?
I have been already in Durr쳬 Kruja, Shkodra, Vlora Berat. If I have to describe the country with one word this is essentially a Mediterranean country. People enjoy life, they want a better life and this is a good attitude for the future.

Anything else?
I believe there is a challenge of common knowledge. I find out a great sympathy for Spain here in Albania. But, the challenge is also to make Albania better known in Spain.

***
Manuel MONTOBBIO
Doctor in Political Science by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Master in High European Studies by the College of Europe (Bruges, Belgium) and graduated in Law and Economics by the University of Barcelona. Career Diplomat from 1987, at present Ambassador of Spain in Albania. Among other positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, he has been Ambassador ad Large, responsible of the Action Plan for the promotion of Spanish presence at International Organizations, as well as for the Universal Forum of Cultures Barcelona 2004, Director of the Cabinet of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Head of  the Planning and Evaluation Office of the Secretary of State for International Cooperation. He has been posted at the Embassies of Spain in San Salvador, Jakarta, Mexico and Guatemala. From 1987 till 1999 his career has been very connected to Spanish participation in the Central American peace processes.  Author of La metamorfosis del Pulgarcito. Transici
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, June 1939. Its two months since the invasion of Albania by Italy. Italy has established a new regime in the country and work is in full swing to establish institutions to replace those of the Zog Monarchy. In this context, the "voluntary offer" was made of the throne of Albania to the the Monarch of Italy, King Viktor Emanuel III, the formation of a new Albanian Government led by Shefqet V쳬aci, the functioning of the General headed by the former Italian Ambassador in Tirana Francesco Jacomoni and so on. Giving Albania a new Constitution, or Statute, as it was called at that time, was also part of this effort. Naturally the Italians had drafted it, whilst all that was left for the Alkbanians to do was to approve it. This Statute, which came into force on 3 June 1939, experienced its demise together with fascist Italy. In October 1943, with Italy's capitulation and the occupation of the country by the Germans, the Statute, with all the consequences arising from it, was no longer in force. A little later, the King of Italy also officially renounced the Crown of Albania.
In the bigger photo, you can see the closing page of the Statute, the original copy of which was hand written on parchment. One underneath the other, you can clearly see the signatures of King Viktor Emanuel, followed by those of the Albanian Council of Ministers; Shefqet V쳬aci Prime Minister, Tefik Mborja Secretary-Minister of the Albanian Fascist Party, Xhaferr Ypi Minister of Justice, Maliq Bushati Minister of the Interior, Fejzi Alizoti Minister of Finance, Andon Be衠Minister of the National Economy and Ernest Koliqi Minister of Education.
In the other photo, you can see Prime Minister V쳬aci accompanying King Viktor Emnauel, during a visit by the latter to his new Kingdom, in May 1941. The King is in military uniform, as Commander Supreme of the Armed Forces, while V쳬aci wears the black uniform of the Albanian Fascist Party.
Viktor Emanuel had never nurtured any particular feeling towards Albania and Ciano, in his diaries writes that when Mussolini was preparing to give the King this monarchy, the King had said, "Non lo voglio quel mucchio di sassi!" (I don't want that pile of rocks)!
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_content] => The TI survey concludes that corruption is a worldwide problem with people, despite their different original countries, believing that "the authority vested in institutions that ought to represent the public interest is, in fact, being abused." People from all countries polled believe that corruption greatly affects their lives. This widespread perception persists despite the differences between countries in the extent to which people experience corruption in their everyday lives,. The differences come in when the burden of the phenomenon on the society is considered. The latter is harder on poorer countries because it harms mostly those who cannot afford it. In these poor countries, the misuse of public funds severely harms the prospects of the society to be provided with safe water, proper schools and health care. The represents a real risk to people's lives and a true challenge to the authorities who can make a change. On the other hand, government action to stop corruption has been overwhelmingly judged ineffective. Above all people express concern at the role of parties and elected politicians in the corruption equation. "Political leaders [are yet] to prove that they are not actually fuelling corrupt practices, but are a genuine part of efforts to enhance transparency, accountability and integrity in societies around the world," the report says. 
                    [post_title] =>  The global dimension 
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                    [post_content] => While Albania is devising new verbal strategies to cope with the report, other countries have taken the right comparative approach in analyzing the results. Across the world mass media have had different comments on the report results. Thus, one of the main newspapers in Greece, Kathimerini reports that Greeks are eight times more likely to pay a bribe than the average Western European according to the TI report. The newspaper emphasized that in Europe, only Albania and Romania had a higher percentage of people answering yes to "a bribe" than Greece. Kathimerini compares the 17 percent of Greece's corruption to the average 2 percent of the same figure in Western Europe. The report indicates that among EU countries Greece and the Czech Republic have major problems when it comes to corrupt police forces. It also indicated that Greeks rank political parties to be the most corrupt organizations, followed by the mass media and the armed forces as the least corrupt. LA Times, concludes that corruption has a global foothold and that bribery is most common in Africa, where an average of 36% of those surveyed said had paid a bribe in the last 12 year. The article, though, does not fail to mention that Albania is to be considered the top offender. North America had the lowest incidence of bribery, with 2% of respondents saying they had paid a bribe. The global dimension of the phenomenon was also indicated by Robin Hodess, policy and research director at Transparency International who said "corruption has infiltrated public life and burrowed in."
                    [post_title] =>  Taking the comparative standpoint 
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                    [post_content] => "Planning to live in Albania- bring along bribe money" was the lead of a New York Times blog, immediately after the release of the 2006 Global Corruption Barometer by Transparency International. The blog aims at the discussion of the event by people all over the world, which have access to Internet and widens the public participation in order to measure the reaction of people to the news. The result of the report pinpoints that to the question "In the past 12 months have you or anyone living in your household paid a bribe in any form?" two out of every three Albanians answered yes. The reaction comes mostly to the fact that due to the 66 percent figure of people acknowledging rampant figures of corruption Albania ranks first in the entire region. It is quite interesting and often amusing to see what simple people have to say in this regard. Some of the commentators live currently abroad and take a more distant approach recognizing the problem and expressing their gladness of being away from the country that generates it. Thus an anonymous Marsel, considers corruption to be a way of life and an integral part of culture in Albania. He goes on to amuse his readers with the usual episode of his parents brining the airport security in order to pass on some extra liquor bottles. His analysis is very interesting because the approach he takes is quite sociological. He concludes by pointing that among structural determining factors is "the way money is viewed in a sense that it is constantly used as a gift instead of actual items (like money instead of toys for Christmas.) While it is despised, bribery that is, it is a normal function of life and dealings in companies, government and cops."
John Ullmer, an American contributor to the blog, brings yet another refreshing take on the issue, separating the different structures of economies between Albania and the US. Ulmer explains that corruption is generated by the low official revenues of the service sector, which needs informal rewards in order to survive. Ulmer concludes that the survey results should not be interpreted as "good or evil in itself. Just stating 66% pay a bribe in Albania versus 2% in the U.S. only clarifies that the two economies have different engines." Departing from the sober voices above, other foreigners seem to think that Albania's corruption tragedy is related to its historical past under the Ottomans and consequently to the Muslim religion. Wright says that the countries that have the lowest figures in the report are protestant, raising once against the familiar yet poignant debate about cultural quasi-genetic predispositions towards negative trends. 
Albanian respondent tend to be rather partisan in their comments. Prime Minister's ex advisor, Linda Ihsani seems to be ignoring the report at large and focusing only on the fact that at least the current PM is not corrupt as in the case of the last one. An Albanian builder comments on how corruption is the brand name of Socialist, with Mayor Edi Rama being personally responsible for faulty building permits. Another respondent, Sh Metalla blames it all on the communists. With a broken English and a fierce spirit he argues that Communism not only destroyed the past but is also conditioning the present with the "sons of Communists" dealing in drugs, prostitution and money laundering. His response is evidence of the kind of populist mentality sprinkled with conspiracy elements is still present in the Albanian cognitive perception. Albanians are not impressed by the phenomenon itself, confirming perhaps Marsel's explanation on the cultural dimension. They are looking for the Judas to blame and trying to present the facts in a way that better suits their political affiliation. The prospects of reflection and change in this case seem quite bleak. 

Factsheet  
Asked on how they assess the current government's actions in the fight against corruption Albanians split in two major groups. A third answered that they consider them effective and a slightly larger third considered them not effective. A small percentage (around 4) said that the government not only is not fighting corruption but it is encouraging it.   Data revealed that Albanians have the worst perception when it comes to crucial sectors such as medical services , the judiciary system and the police. Media and religious bodies seem to be doing better in the popular perception, with the lowest percentages of being seen as corrupt. Around 70 of Albanians believe the political life is severely affected by corruption, and their family life is hostage of the fact.
                    [post_title] =>  A disturbing autopsy of corruption 
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                    [post_content] => By Jerina Zaloshnja
- Excuse me Miss is this your scarfſ!
- The young lady, head bowed in shyness, ringlets caressing her neck, coyly darts a very quick, but prudent glance at the handkerchief, which is and isn't hers. The initials on it appear to be right butŮ

It is not proper for her to pause any longer. She takes the handkerchief from the charming young man, who, for almost two minutes had been paying her such profound reverences in the middle of the city's main boulevard, pats her nose and walks away. She is well aware of the fact that dozens of pairs of eyes are watching her every move from behind the wrought iron bars of the fences of the villas lining both sides of the street so she quickens her pace in the direction of home. With a refined intuition of a young woman who knows about "the modern" methods of courting, she has all the same, understood two important things: That the handkerchief had appeared as if by magic at her feet and that, despite the exaggerated care to imitate the endless handkerchiefs her mother embroidered for her, this one did not belong to her. And what is even more important is that she has understood that inside the handkerchief something had been concealed, something that will fill her life with joy, from this day onwards. A love letter. 
The scene described above was not taken from a comedy by Moliere. This was a scene from the life of an Albanian city, typically European, in the twenties. This is no small city. Peaceful, with its clean streets, the gardens of the villas that line the streets are full of Oleander and other flowers. The city of Kor衬 180 kilometers South East of Tirana. Kor衠used to be known as Albania's "little Paris," for several reasons believed to be important. 

"Le Petit Paris"
In Kor衠of the 20-30ties, different from many other towns and cities of Albania, there were two very good cinemas, The Lux and The Majestic, a coffee shop, that was famous in the whole country called, "The Panda", the city Library and many other private libraries in the homes of the Kor衠families. After completing private studies at the Lyceum, or at the two foreign secondary schools of the city, the young girls of Kor衠focused on sewing and embroidering their dowries, they took piano lessons, fussed over the roses in the garden, and then, dressed in their best, they would go out for their evening stroll, hearts a-quiver with the expectation of perhaps finding a "fallen handkerchief." The young men of Kor衬 on the other hand, continued schooling abroad, in the West. Historians relate that usually the bulk of these young men would return to their country after approximately a ten year experience in America, Bucharest, Paris and Alexandria. Another section of the young men of Kor衠completed their studies in their home town, at the famous French Lyceum or at the Greek Secondary School run by foreign professors and tutors and then they would take over the running of family businesses. The chronicles on life in the town at the time say that in the evenings these young men would gather at the "Panda" to drink a few mugs of the famous dark beer of Kor衠and deep in the night, it was not unusual to hear the serenade of a love-smitten young man, crooning to his beloved beneath her bedroom balcony. 
Today it is nigh on impossible to imagine Kor衠in its heyday, (1920-30 up until the beginning of World War Two). The road that leads to the tiny town of Kolonja, was once the route the traders of Kor衠traversed which linked their town with the famous bazaar in the Balkans, in Janina. The other road that leads to the tiny village of Bilisht, was once the road to Manastir.  Four foreign consulates once operated out of Kor衬 this city which strangely resembled a tiny corner of Europe in Albania; they were the Greek, Romanian, Italian and Yugoslav consulates. A Greek and a French secondary school, an American school an English school, and after 1950, the first American emissaries arrived who built the "Kennedy Charity Mission," all formed a community of foreign tutors, lecturers, teachers, researchers, professors who taught several generations of the local youth. The remarkable Greek Nobel Prize winner in Poetry Jorgos Seferis lived in Kor衠for two years. In 1908, Albania's first public film screening took place in the city of Kor衬 23 years after the Brothers Lumiere made their invention. It was a performance by the famous orchestra, "I Luppi di Toscana." In Kor衬 all the principle buildings, typical of a Western city, the churches, the schools, the hospital, the libraries were all built by charity. Kor衠is the only city in the country that has ever known charity, philanthropy, as one of the ways of actually developing the city's life. 
Kor衧s very own philanthropists, with considerable assets in Romania and the United States of America donated the famous Saint George Church, the building that housed the French Lyceum, the hospital, the old library. Evidence from the archives indicates that the same philanthropists of Kor衠donated innumerable scholarships for students of Kor衠outside of Albania, in the West.  
The citizens of Kor衠(like all Albanians in the thirties'), traveled freely throughout Europe without a need for visas. They studied and worked there for several years and then returned to their city of birth, the links to which the people from Kor衠describe as "pangs of longing." There was a permanent departure known as the "Field of Tears." This was the clearing where relatives gathered to say their final farewells to their loved ones. Memories of this location are still fresh in the minds of the people and its very meaningful name, known to all Albanians, the field is still there to this day. There is no reason why Albanian refugees should forget their "Field of Tears." Anyway the fields of Kor衠today differ from the Field of the Twenties. At that time, people emigrated but they returned years later. Today, refugees leave the country but do not come back.

Is there anything left of its former grace?
For an hour now I have been trying hard to understand precisely this, listening to Pandi Bello, one of the finest of Albanian musicologists, former Deputy Director of the Timishoara Opera for several years and now returned to his city of birth. "Kor衠resembles an exhausted and run-down house," he says for Tirana Times, "an abandoned house which has long outlived its major and joyful moments." 
Following the absolute monarchy of 1997, there has been very little perspective for the development of the city. This is also one of the explanations for the profound exodus of the population. The average number of persons who left the city last year was 18 persons per day (April 2005-2006). 400 families from Kor衠per year have emigrated to the United States alone. The city's life blood is being drained out of the body. "If you were to go to Ulster, Boston, Detroit, Chicago you would discover many people from Kor衠living there. The majority of the families inherit American citizenship. When  the members of a certain family begin to leave, then eventually the entire family joins them," Pandi says.
During the Summer month, the city is full of emigrants. There is so much movement and life that it becomes quite overwhelming. This surge of the return of the emigrants, on holiday, resembles a powerful wave at high tide. But, then it weakens and becomes the ordinary eddying low tide.
"Two days ago, my sister left home. Her son began to cry. My son grew up together with my sister's two daughters, spent his childhood with them. Now, they can no longer grow up together and that is painful," says Ana, pediatrician at the city's hospital.
"Here, emigration assumed a different meaning," says the well known musicologist. People from Kor衠would leave the country for a ten year period, then they would make their way back. Now, however, the issue is that there is very little hope that anyone will return if they leave. The reason for this is simple. Fifteen years in emigration, my brother has purchased a house in Athens and owns another property here. In short, he is far more better off than I am economically. There is no reason for him to return. I can't see anything happening in this city in the foreseeable future. Innumerable villas are being constructed here in the city, in the village of Dardha, in Voskopoja, in Bellovod롩n Vithkuq (all villages renown for their scenic beauty). Villas are going up everywhere, but nothing else." 
The absence of future development plans can, in fact, also be observed via other details of day to day life. The city's main boulevard is lined with restaurants on both sides of the street, former stately villas that have been renovated and turned into restaurants. The "Themistokli" Vila, that bears the name of a distinguished Albanian patriot of the twenties' is one of these villas. This is perhaps Kor衧s most up-market restaurant, chiefly due to a perfect combination of traditional cuisine and an antique ambience. Howver, on Saturday evening when I wanted to dine there, I was in fact the restaurant's only customer. The strains of an old serenade emitted by a gramophone that dates back to the last Century, and I alone broke the silence of Villa Themistokli. The manager told us that it only comes alive with the return of the emigrants. "The locals can't afford to come here often," he said.
Night life at the week end in this city also ends before 10:00 in the evening and the streets are soon deserted. 
Nikolin M. is a young businessman who has decided not to leave his home town. He owns the town's most trendy coffee bar, which he manages together with his father. However, although he does have a customer base, two managers do seem an overkill for such a small business. So you can often see the two men, father and son, sitting opposite each other, staring vacantly into space. Or you may seem them moving about the coffee bar aimlessly, no haste in their movements. "Why should we rush around. We have a good life," the young businessman says.

* * *

It is painfully obvious that the golden times when this small city was acknowledged as the Petit Paris of Albania, have long since gone. Gone are the serenades in the street, the private piano lessons for the young girls of the local wealthy families, the declarations of love via the embroidered handkerchief, the trips throughout Europe and dozens of other little luxuries and benefits the citizens of Kor衠enjoyed. Times have changed, there is now a different tempo of life. Everyone understands this and agree with the change. But no one really knows if the change is for good or bad.

A history of civilization
In the period feudal princedoms, Korca belonged to the Muzakaj family. In "History and Genealogy of Muzakaj value", written by the Albanian prince Gjon Muzakaj, in 1510, Korca is mentioned as a castle since 1280. The documents evidences for civilization in Korca, according to a Turkish register of the first half of XV-th century, tell for a fortress as a soldier centre. Korca took part in feudal family of Muzakaj during the period of feudal princedom. The moment of city establishment dates with the end of XV-th century, when Iliaz Bey Mirahori builds a big mosque in Peshkepi village (1469), which maintained also nowadays. This Bey was from Panariti village and was called Ilia Panariti (Christian name).
In the middle of century XIX, Korca had 10 thousand inhabitants. 
In the 1879 Korca had 1500 houses with 13 thousand inhabitants. 
In the 1923 the population reached 25 598 inhabitants, becoming the biggest city of Albania.
In the 1927 Korca became a Prefecture.
Korca was the center of Renaissance and National Movement. In 1887 was opened te first school for males and later in 1891 it was opened the first school for females.
During 1906 - 1912 Korca patriots tool place in the war for the country liberation from the ottoman invaders.
During the First World War, Korca was invaded by Austro - Hungarian army, then by Greeks. The French Lice, which was opened in 1917, had a great influence in education and culture of the city. French Cemetery situated just outside the city attest the homage that citiziens make to the French soldiers.
During the period of King Zog, the city took an economical development, because of the factories and enterprises as : tobacco factory, alcohol distillery in Drenove village, alcohol factory "Merkuri", some textile manufactories, ect. A good tradition was created for leather elaboration and a great importance was the factory of "Beer of  Korca" in 1934.

National Museum of Icons of the Middle Ages
There are 7500 objects of religious art, six thousand of which are wooden icons. The bulk of these icons was found in the zones of Korca, but in other cities as well, chiefly Southern Albania. Four of these objects do come from the northern city of Shkodra and date back to the 19th Century. They express the Catholic beliefs of the population of the area.
The icons of the Museum of Korca date back to the last period of the Byzantine Empire from 13-14 Century to 19th Century. Most of them belong to the post-Byzantine period. The icons of the 14-16 Centuries are nameless because at the time it was not customary for artists to leave their signatures engraves on their work. The only knowledge we have is the Churches they were found in. Among the most interesting items of the Museum's funds are icons of the 16th Century, painted by Onufri, an outstanding iconographer of this period. Te majority of the icons of Onufri have been restored in Greece, according to a five year program with the Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki. The icons like Saint Nikolla, Saint Djela; alfresco work of the 14th Century, two icons of Arch Angel Mikail, are among the most important items the museum has.

Vangjush Mio, remarkable artist, but he left me nothingō
Kozeta Mio-the daughter of the famous artist talked to Tirana Times about the life and work of Albania's most well known landscape painter of the last Century, artist Vangjush Mio.   
My father was a landscape artist from Kor衮 He devoted his entire existence to art. At a very young age Mio went abroad, to Bucharest in Romania to study. This is where he opened his first exhibition. He continued higher studies in Rome from 1920 to 1924, at the Institute of Fine Arts. On graduating he returned to Kor衠with the intention to stay forever.
My father was known better for his landscapes. He worked and roamed the country. He intimately knew and depicted on canvas scenery from Himara in the south and from all over Albania. Critics of the period called him the master of landscape painting. He also painted portraits however and still nature. Many foreigners have visited the museum, "Vangjush Mio," and have said to me: "Do you realize that your father was a distinguished landscape artist, but also a talented portrait artist?"
My father painted for forty years. At the beginning of his career, (towards the end of the forties), he also worked as an arts teacher at the French Lyceum in Kor衬 after the war as well.  In the time of the communist regime he worked as a stage decorator at the local theatre. He died at 65 years of age in 1957, in poverty. He painted about 400 works, the majority of which are landscapes, portraits and still nature, about 300 drawings in pencil and carbon pastels. All the works of Mio were brought together in a special museum, set up about thirty years ago which bears the name of the Vangjush Mio Museum. All visitors to Kor衠are usually curious to see his work. However, something really strange has happened. Irrespective of his fame, very few works of his have been sold. In the time of communism, they changed hands for a loaf of bread, while todayƉ would have preferred to have sold some of the works by my father but I have not been able to.
                    [post_title] =>  Korca, "Le Petit Paris" 
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                    [post_content] => By James Podles
Want to drive David Beckham's luxury BMW X5 through the streets of Tirana? You could have the chance: unless the Real Madrid midfielder claims his car from the Macedonian police, who seized it at the Albanian border two weeks ago, the armor-plated SUV, stolen in the Spanish capital last April, will be sold at public auction. 
Such incidents do absolutely nothing to improve the commonly-held image of Albania as the car-theft capital of Europe. Although most foreigners' perception of the automobile industry in Albania begins and ends with this stereotype, the country has a unique and tangled historical relationship with the car. From the Communist era, during which cars were reserved as the sole privilege of high-ranking Party Officials; to the neo-liberalism of the early 1990s, when borders and markets were opened to a huge influx of foreign goods, both legal and illegal; to the present time, in which international manufacturers and distributors have established a small yet growing base in the country, the Albanian automobile market has been intertwined with and often mirrored the country's political and economic development.

"Like Letting a Bull Loose in the Streets"
During the Communist era, private cars were unheard of. Driving was reserved for party officials; before 1991, there were only about 600 cars in the entire country, most of them Russian GAZes and Polish Warszawas. People relied on utterly unreliable buses to travel between towns and around cities. After the liberalization of the early nineties, cars from neighbouring countries began to flood into Albania. The impact of such a sudden inrush of vehicles into a country with no traffic signals, vehicle registration, modern highways, or even driver's licenses (not to mention a total absence of drunken-driving laws) dramatically changed the social landscape of the entire country, nowhere more so than in Tirana.
In the years before the opening of the border and the loosening of economic and mobility constraints, all of the city's public social interactions were centered around the xhiro, or evening walk. Romance and intrigue, business and social interactions: everything took place between six and nine in the evening on the boulevard stretching from Sk쯤erbeg Square to the University of Tirana. The xhiro was, for the entire city, the axis around which social life revolved; the xhiro offered freedom. 
The arrival of the first cars on the boulevard created a pandemonic disruption of the xhiro. Pedestrians were unsure how to act towards these intruders; drivers were unsure of how to treat pedestrians. Vehicles tried to act like pedestrians, threading their way through clusters of people; people tried to ignore vehicles as they encroached on the previously pedestrian-only space.
This disruption proved to be the beginning of the end of the institution of the xhiro. Pedestrians, finding their social space disturbed, began to move into the newly-opened caf곮 As more cars arrived, more caf고opened, and more pedestrians left the boulevard for the safety of the coffee houses. Eventually, the balance of the social mass tipped far enough towards the caf고that the displacement and eventual disappearance, of Tirana's xhiro was inevitable. This disappearance was perhaps the most sharply evident manifestation of the speed at which the sudden entry of the automobile into everyday life changed Albanian society.

"Your Car is Already Here"
After the country's borders were opened to imports, a flood of Western European cars began to cross into Albania. Some of these were legally imported by authorized car dealerships. Some were traded on the so-called grey market: bought outside of the country and driven back to Albania, these vehicles were then sold by one individual to another, avoiding taxation. The great majority, however, were black-market automobiles stolen in Western Europe and smuggled across the border.
As the years passed, the black market became more sophisticated and more deeply entrenched. Stolen-car dealers printed catalogues of their merchandise ("ordering" a popular car like a Fiat only took a day or two; a rarer vehicle like a Porsche might take a few weeks to arrive). In 1999, the then-Minister of Public Order's car was impounded as stolen property as he tried to cross into Greece to attend a conference on cross-border crime. A system of collusion was developed: cars (complete with keys and legal papers) were "stolen" in Germany and other Western European countries, then driven to Albania for no-questions-asked re-registration, allowing the cars' original owners to claim compensation from their insurance companies. While a national vehicle registration was eventually introduced, checking a vehicle's VIN against the European database of stolen cars was not (and still is not) part of the process. Stolen cars could effectively disappear.
At the same time, however, legal automobile dealers began to set up establishments in Albania. The company which would become Mercedes-Benz Auto Star was founded in 1991 by Basri Rruka; it was the first or one of the first private companies in the country. Originally an importer of household appliances and American tractors, in 1996 it was granted the exclusive rights to import Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Other entrepreneurs soon followed suit.
Presently, legal dealerships still have only a small section of the market. Although statistics are, of course, inexact, car dealers state that informal sales still account for a significant proportion of the new car sales in Albania. For example, of all the BMWs that entered the country in 2006, says BMW Sales Manager Altin Zhurda, his company imported only 13%. Even after taking into account legally owned cars which are sold from one individual to another, he still estimates that black-market transactions make up the majority of sales of new BMWs.

Mercedes-Benz Auto Star estimates that only 2.5% to 3% of the 142,000 Mercedes which have entered the country have passed through his dealership, rather than the desired 25%-30%. It should be noted, of course, that these figures deal only with the sales of new cars and do not take into account the thriving used-car market.
Competition with the black market is such a major problem that the Albanian Association of Legal Car Dealers (Shoqata e Distributor췥 Ligjor롴롍akinave t롒eja n롓hqip쳩) has petitioned the government (most recently, the offices of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Minister of the Interior Sokol Olldashi, Minister of Finance Ridvan Bode, and Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Lul컩m Basha) to address this crisis. The Association, headed by Z. Rruka, has written several letters calling the government's attention to the various ways in which the presence of such a large black market affects the country: illegal car sales not only throttle the development of the legitimate automobile industry, but also cost the state at least 60 million in lost taxes on the 400-million market. Additionally, the prevalence of uninspected, unregulated automobiles contributes greatly to the country's high level of air pollution (approximately 10 times higher than the European standard) and contributes negatively to international perceptions of Albania. The association estimates that up to 95% of Albanian vehicles are traded on the black market at prices anywhere from 50% to 20% of their real market value.
To reduce the presence of this black market, the association suggests the creation of an administrative unit which would act as a liaison between the government and the automotive industry, allowing them to combine and co-ordinate their resources and efforts. Additionally, it emphasizes the urgent need for the government to create and strictly enforce regulations for the automotive market, as it has for other consumer markets (alcohol, tobacco, technology, and so on). The association points out that while any type of collusion between government employees and automobile smugglers exists, especially with regard to the re-registry of foreign automobiles, it remains impossible to stem the flow of black-market cars into the country. Although Albanian legitimate car dealers have invested in bringing their companies up to European standards, and are perfectly able to meet the demands of the market, further growth will be difficult if competition from the informal market remains so strong, states the association.

Growth of an Industry
While the market for new, legally obtained vehicles is still relatively small compared to the rest of Europe, it has exhibited slow but steady growth within recent years. And as consumers' ability to legally buy competitively priced vehicles grows, the cheaper but riskier market for illegally obtained cars is slowly but steadily shrinking. Mercedes-Benz, according to Z. Rruka, sold 80 cars in 2004, a number which increased to 210 in 2006. Similarly, sales of legally imported BMWs nearly doubled over the same period of time. 
One factor which has aided the growth of the legitimate market is the relatively new possibility of obtaining cars on credit rather than by paying cash. Since 2000, Albanian banks have offered automobile loans to their customers. Presently, lease agreements, made either through banks or through car dealerships' leasing departments, account for anywhere from 50% (in the case of Peugeot) to 90% (in the case of Mercedes-Benz) of sales. As lease and lease purchase agreements both bring car ownership within the financial reach of more consumers and bolster the perception that new-car ownership is both feasible and affordable, they have been a major cause of the increase in new-car sales. 
Legitimate dealers also stress the reliability of their products compared to that of dubiously-obtained cars. The immediate savings involved in purchasing a black- or grey-market car may seem attractive to buyers: a new BMW, according to Z. Zhurda, can cost over 30,000 after taxes, while the same model can be bought on the black market for half of that amount. The Association of Legal Automobile Dealers estimates an even greater gap between real and black-market value, writing that vehicles worth from 60,000 to 80,000 can be bought for 15,000. Legitimate dealers, however, point out that these lower prices can be a false saving, as the cars come with no guarantee quality, no warranty, and no service agreement.
Automobile companies are currently focusing on marketing the brands and models that are best-suited to the often unique automotive environment of Albania. BMWs (especially X5s and the larger sedans) are highly sought-after, as are Mercedes-Benz sedans; both of these brands are known for their reliability under rough conditions. The condition of Albania's infrastructure, unfortunately, often imposes limitations on the types of cars which can be successfully sold in the country. General Motors is reluctant to ship diesel-engined cars to Albania due to concerns that using Albanian diesel, which often varies widely in quality, could damage its new, more technologically advanced models, voiding their warranties, says Valbona Shkopi of Opel-Chevrolet Noshi. The Porsche Group, according to brand manager Eno Turku, forgoes importing relatively fragile Lamborghinis into the country, concentrating rather on marketing ˫odas, Audis, and Seats as better suited to the rugged conditions of Albanian roads (while the company does not sell Porsche-brand cars at its showroom, it will order them on request; not surprisingly, the four-wheel-drive Cayenne is the most commonly ordered model).

The Future
The automotive industry has, by now, become solidly established in Albania. All of the major international car manufacturers have representatives in Tirana; nearly all of them are independent of their parent companies and are run completely by Albanian managers. Many of them have expanded or are planning to expand beyond the capital to meet the needs of growing markets elsewhere in the country. Mercedes-Benz, the most well-established importer, has branches across the country, from Durr쳠to Gjirokastra, and plans to expand to cities like Vlora, Shkodra, and Kor衮 The Porsche Holding Group, whose brands include Audi, Seat and the newly-introduced ˫oda, plans to open branches in Elbasan and Fier in 2008. Volkswagen, Peugeot and Renault-Nissan dealerships have also been established in Tirana. New car models are being introduced to the Albanian marketplace: ˫oda will launch 3 new models (including the Roomster and a new version of its popular Octavia) next year; Peugeot recently introduced the 207 and plans to begin selling the 206 in December 2006 or January 2007, says Sales and Marketing Manager Genard Zela.
This year's loosening of import regulations and the elimination of customs duties for European automobiles has provided another area of opportunity for growth. Small-scale entrepreneurs can now privately import cars for resale within the country. These entrepreneurs, who are able to operate without the overheads of the large-scale dealers, can provide a legal source of low-priced vehicles. Additionally, they can operate in a more decentralized way than can the major dealerships (which are all based in Tirana); needing no more facilities than a parking lot or even just a piece of roadside, they are able to easily sell low-priced cars anywhere in the country. An informal "network" of these entrepreneurs may prove to be a major factor in eventually supplanting the black market.
The future growth of the Albanian automobile industry depends, perhaps more so than any other industry, on the political and economic realities of the country. While current market trends exhibit a steady (albeit fairly slow) growth, sales of new, legally imported cars still make up a small percentage of the market compared to those of other countries in the region (Z. Zela estimates that 70% of car sales in Albania involve used cars, compared to an average of approximately 10% in the rest of the Western Balkans). The major obstacle to further growth is, as noted, the prevalence of black-market sales; legitimate car dealers, however, have expressed an attitude of cautious optimism, hoping that, as connections between Albania and the European Union are strengthened, government corruption, especially corruption related to the importation of vehicles, will decline. Additionally, as standards of living and average incomes rise, car dealers hope that the purchase of black-market vehicles will lose its attraction and will be supplanted by the purchase of legitimately acquired imports. In the next few years, they expect that car smuggling will be relegated to the status of a minor problem.
                    [post_title] =>  Beckham's X5 clandestinely into Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2006-12-08 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Cela
TIRANA, December 2006 - Gone are the promises of the state-owned Albanian electricity supplier KESH about a crisis-free winter. Many Albanians were fooled by the serious declarations of Economy Minister Genc Ruli and KESH Executive Director Andi Beli that Albania has the right combination key of imports and local production to go through the iron gates of winter without an economic stagnation or a business paralyze like that of last year. Power shortages have started to plague the country from the rural zones that suffer the longer hours to key strategic points like the port of Durr쳠whose activity was frozen for more than 24 hours last weekend. The situation is still going to get worse. The entire West Balkans region expects further difficulties given the gradual but definitive closing of the Bulgarian nuclear plant Kozloduy upon the country's successful acceptance in the EU this January. This makes the prospects of importing from the region quite bleak. In mid-October there was an announcement that a power line with the capacity of 400kv will be built according to the latest memorandum of agreement between Albania and the UN-run Province of Kosovo. Kosovo's energy ministry published a feasibility study determining the connection sites of the line. According to this publication the power plant Kosova B, located near Prishtina, would be connected to the sub-station of Kashar, near Tirana, realizing thus an important amount of energy exchange.  The hydroelectric unit of Vau i Dejes would be the most important transition point of the line. 250.2 kilometers of power lines would have to be built out of which the majority will be in Albania. The first segment of the line, which would run from Kosova B to Vau i Dejes, would cost $ 64 million. The line though has no energy to transport. The winter has not yet shown his bare teeth and Albanians are already consuming by loads. Excessive consumption should not surprise anyone give the country's lack of alternative ways for heating and cooking. Natural gas still remains unpopular. What should we expect? The alarming roars of power generators scattered in Tirana that make it resemble Baghdad during the bombardments? The dark and cold nights spent at home wrapped in a blanket counting the hours until our quarter is allowed to have its ration of electricity? Fear the blocking of the elevators? The freezing of activity at our job places? Our work documents at the constant threat of being lost due to malfunctioning computers? Sure the government is stepping in to patch up the wounds with threadbare bandages. After failing to procure a single provider for its imports KESH has finally decided to buy from five different ones. Director Beli is spending more hours airborne traveling throughout the region from Greece to Slovenia to beg for some energy. There is no need to blame one person for having inherited one of the less-functioning companies in the country. No later than Thursday he produced a statement that we need 7-8 million KWh imports per day to overcome the situation. There is also a sincere hope and good-will that he succeeds. But how realistic can these solutions be faced with the long-standing unsustainable situation. Relying in hydropower plants has just worsened the dependency on unpredictable factors like weather. Plans to build thermo-power plants abound but have still to be realized.  Meanwhile the relationship between KESH and its consumers runs along traditional hostility lines. One example: In an angry note last month KESH warned consumers in Shkodra not only to pay their money but also to take care of the materials used from KESH to rehabilitate their network. A KESH statement angrily denounced theft of the cable used by a Croatian company to install a 110 KW new line for the northern city with a total investment of 11 million Euro. The statement said stealing 12 meters of the cable used for the system was threatening the continuation of the project from the Croatian company. The corporation publishes daily the list of the consumers, be they individuals, private or public companies that have not paid their duties for the power consume. It is impressively negative though how it is treating the starting crisis with no transparency and accountability whatsoever. Continuous declarations to the media blame technical problems and power-line amortization when it is quite obvious that the shortages are far from being irregular but start and finish at determined hours. Certainly the distribution system needs an upgrade and often it is responsible for electricity deprivation. 
KESH also presented this week a proposal to overturn the reduce in prices for business customers , overturning the promise of Prime Minister Berisha who boasted long ago about supporting the business community with favorable energy prices. Foreign owned businesses are threatening to close up their investment projects in case the situation does not change. The good old economics laws are in rule. Price does not matter is supply can not be guaranteed. Nevertheless, the current situation is much more structural. It is inherited from long years of mismanagement and lack of investment in the energy sector despite annual crisis.
All eyes are still glued to media to watch the latest carnival-style local elections with colorful coalitions changing shape in miraculous fashion. With the upcoming longer hours of deprivations perhaps Albanians will finally find the time to reflect and react to the deep structural handicaps that condition their lives. Yet there is no guarantee. Political developments still constitute the major concern of the local constituency. A recent survey concerning integration has shown that Albanians see their future tied up to political developments even when it comes to integration. There are those officials of KESH who repeat the mantra of repairs as the cause of shortages, unable to accept their own failure. And then there are those who can not be fooled easily and that unfortunately take justice upon their own hands like the villagers of Bitincke, deprived of power for an average of 16 hours per day who threaten to block the road that leads to the Kapshtica customs office, a major border point with Greece. To sum up the energy crisis is at the gates and unless a structural reform overhauls the entire energy sector this will not be our last winter of discontent. KESH is already planning to rely on imports next year fro nothing less than the substantial 2.206 million MWh.
                    [post_title] =>  Energy crisis at the gates 
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            [post_date] => 2006-12-29 01:00:00
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            [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, 1925. I noticed that last week's edition left a feeling of sadness among many people with all its rags and poverty. So this time, allow me to paint a picture of brilliance. In January 1925, Ahmet Zog, newly returned from exile in Yugoslavia, proclaims the Albanian Republic and himself at the head of this Republic. On this occasion, several uniforms were ordered for him in Italy (I know at least three types), of which, the one shown in the photograph is the more fancy. I will allow one of his contemporaries, Catin Saraci, describe the uniform..
"I strode into His Excellency's reception room and was taken so much by surprise, I could hardly believe the extraordinary scene before my eyes, hence my hesitation on the threshold. I looked intently at him before I opened my mouth to greet him. Zog twirled around towards me and with a smile of happiness said, "I can see that you like my uniform, as do I. It is no wonder, because the individual who cut and sewed it is truly an artist.
He continued to stand in front of the mirror dressed in that crisp white uniform, a pompom of white feathers on top of a white felt Cossack type hat, embroidered in white, a white tunic, white trousers, white gloves, and to my astonishment, even white leather boots which shone from their polishing. Even the belts from which the sword hung were white. Unfortunately, the person who was some kind of Court photographer only managed to take the one photograph where Zog, all dressed up in his white uniform, stands there looking like a peacock."
The above uniform was truly magnificent, but unfortunately very much out of fashion. Uniforms of this kind had been the rage up until World War One, but after this War, they more or less ceased to be used. And even when they were in fashion, these uniforms were only worn for parades or other ceremonial occasions, and by Heads of State who were Monarchs, not Presidents. The origin of white uniforms for monarchs dates back to ancient times, as far back as the Roman Emperors, who were the only persons to be attired in white on the field of battle. Between the Emperors of Rome and our President from Mat, there is a substantial difference, but so what!
Zog was well aware of the value in a shining new uniform in the eyes of his Albanian subjects, and from this viewpoint, he was following in the footsteps of Isat Pasha Toptani, who even after the Proclamation of Independence, continued to wear the uniform of a Turkish General to give himself greater stance. During the time he was in Albania, Prince Vid also wore military uniform, to avoid acquiring the mundane bourgeois appearance complete with the borsalino, in the eyes of his subjects.
If all this reasoning possibly had any meaning at all, in the environment of the mountains of Albania, it remained absolutely beyond the comprehension of the Europeans, which led to the Monarchy of Zog being treated in their newspapers of the day, as a series of operettas and it was never taken seriously.
Twenty years later, Enver Hoxha also fell under the spell of military attire, but he soon got over this virus, making sure the rest of the military did too, by removing all their grades as well.
            [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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