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A love story amongst the Uighurs

None of them arouse the curiosity of the locals in the streets of the village of Babruu (on the outskirts of Tirana), any more. The eight Chinese citizens have shaven off their beards, and with each passing day they try

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana,1941. Towards the end of the ‘thirties, Sk쯤er Luarasi, one of the finest architects of this country of the first half of the 20th Century was commissioned to build an object which for the ensuing fifty years

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Time to get together

By Alba ȥla The manager of one of the trendiest pubs in Tirana was complaining yesterday. -This is impossible! One cannot change a reservation from 16 to 28 people so easily. When did you get to be 28 anyways? We,

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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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                    [post_content] => None of them arouse the curiosity of the locals in the streets of the village of Babruu (on the outskirts of Tirana), any more. The eight Chinese citizens have shaven off their beards, and with each passing day they try their hardest to adapt, not only to Albanian customs, but also to the way of life here. They have begun to learn Albanian, to respect the hours of worship at the local mosque, but also their comings and goings at the Centre for Asylum Seekers. They lead an almost silent existence and do their utmost to "blend in" avoiding the slightest gesture that would attract the attention of the other locals. "Almost" is the right word, because, sometimes, things that are slightly out of the ordinary have happened. For example, a love affair between one of the Uighurs and an Albanian woman.
One of the former prisoners, has now begun to relish his newly won freedom and is ready to recommence everything again. What better than a love affair to give a person the strength to put a bad chapter in his life behind him.
Reliable sources say that the youngest of the eight Uighur males who arrived in Albania a few months ago, is to marry an Albanian girl. The mosque at which the religious rituals took place has now become a starting point for a new life of the Uighur with the his young Albanian betrothed. So far, the young couple, as Albanian custom has it, have only met "to drink coffee" together, an indication of intent to marry. However the date of the wedding is still to be decided upon. The fact that the young man has no identification papers could also be a problem for this young man from China.

What are the others doing?
While everyone is expecting the climax to a love story, the other Uighurs are spending their days studying the Albanian language and devoting themselves to religious study. Reliable sources tell us that Abu Bakker Qassim buys nothing other than books on the market. After seven months of living in Albania, he now speaks Albania reasonably well. Although this country has at least offered them peace and tranquillity, none of the former prisoners have accepted to speak.
Just as reserved is the Director of the Asylum Seekers Centre Ali Rasha. According to him the eight former prisoners of Guantanamo are political asylum seekers and any statements may threaten their freedom, their rights and their life. 
Albania, "the promised land" for the Chinese, Indians, Palestinians and Moroccans.
More than 40 persons stay at the Asylum Seekers Centre, waiting to be granted status of refugee for years. (Legislative procedures foresee 51 days waiting to gain the status of refugee).
For some of the refugees, entering the Asylum Seekers Centre, it seems like "the promised land" to them. For the majority of the Asylum seekers, Albania has actually become the sole alternative of survival as they have been proclaimed "enemies of the nation" in their own countries. At a time when a part of the Albanian population would do anything to be able to leave this country, the requests of these forty refugees to be granted status of refugee here in Albania, appears really strange. These individuals from Bangladesh, Morocco, Palestine, China, Korea, Macedonia or Kosovo seek such a fortune with persistence.
Balis Halili is one of the first persons who has requested status of refugee, as early as in 1999, and has still not received a reply from the Albanian authorities. And whilst Balisi has challenged the long wait by integrating into Albanian life (he has left the centre and is living by his own means somewhere else in Tirana), it appears that none of the other asylum seekers can do this as they all remain in the centre. The language barrier, the customs, education or a possible threat to their lives, as is the case with the 8 Uighurs, has made the majority of them wait until they have an ID card issued to them.
Different from other centres in different countries, the inhabitants of Tirana's centre are free to have a private life.
They are free to come and go from the camp and the State pays for different qualification courses for each asylum seekers. Some of them have chosen to learn Albanian, others attend vocational schools, the State covers their board and food, medical care and any other social service. The asylum seekers are completely free to exercise their religious rituals, the majority of whom are Moslems. With the exception of the Chinese, (there are about ten of them in the Centre), it appears that none of the asylum seekers prefer to find gainful employment, or even work on the black market.

By coincidence 
in Albania
With the exception of the 8 Uighurs who came from the Guantanamo Prison and several individuals from Kosovo, it seems that the rest of the asylum seekers find themselves in Albania by coincidence. Different sources say that a part of the asylum seekers were victims of trafficking and that their final destination was Europe. Although they have gained the status of asylum seekers, it is somewhat surprising how 16 Chinese have ended up in Albania, 20 Indians, 10 from Bagladesh and even from Korea. Even Jemi admits this, who also departed from China to live in a western country. First of all he tried to get into Greece on a visa he had managed to secure, but he got stuck in Albania because he lost his documents.
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana,1941. Towards the end of the 'thirties, Sk쯤er Luarasi, one of the finest architects of this country of the first half of the 20th Century was commissioned to build an object which for the ensuing fifty years remained one of the finest cinemas in the country. Following the occupation by the Italians, this cinema was expanded and reconstructed, making it, at the time, a building with one of the most modern interiors in the country and the rest of the Balkans. Naturally, the Italians could not christen it with any other name other than "The Rex.," not only to honour their own monarch, who at that time was also our monarch, but also to indicate the rank of the cinema. After the war, the name of the building was changed to, "17 Nendori", (17 November), but without losing any of its fame.
In the bigger photo, a group of Albanian recruits had their photograph taken in the entrance to the cinema. Dressed in mufti, (having been given leave), and in the company of their Italian officers, having their photo taken was part of the ritual of going to see a film at the cinema. The cinema's name shines on the wall and behind the rows of the soldiers you can see the columns on which the second floor and the projection room rested. I don't believe there is any inhabitant of Tirana who had not walked down the narrow corridor between the walls and the columns to purchase tickets, a few steps away from the main entrance to the cinema, or when walking down the street.
The other photo shows a view of the interior of the cinema hall. The luxury and shine of the newly renovated environment, really need no lengthy explanations. I can't imagine that there is a single inhabitant above 20 years of age who would not recognise these photos. Now they can only recognise the photos because the building is no longer there. In 2002-2003, on the site of the former cinema, the construction work began on a massive bloc of apartments, wiping out yet the memory of yet another symbol in the city. To tell you and to explain, like one of those stubborn old men, what I tried to do to save the cinema no longer holds value, because I failed, or otherwise you can wait until I grow old. But despite this I cannot just lie back and sleep peacefully at night saying to myself, "well, I did do my best." Save these photos so that when your children grow up and go to school and learn about the talent of Architcet Luarasi, they can say that it is true we annihilated his work, but we do have a necrology. But, anyway, I did do my bit.
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                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla
The manager of one of the trendiest pubs in Tirana was complaining yesterday. 
-This is impossible! One cannot change a reservation from 16 to 28 people so easily. When did you get to be 28 anyways?
 We, a group of former and current students of a university abroad has first thought to gather our quiet little group for a proper celebration of New Years Eve. The quiet little group spread the news to our comrades in Kosovo, Macedonia, United States and Italy as well as in the other Albanian cities and soon enough the friends of friends, the sisters, brothers and the cousins added up to a good party figure of 28. The manager of the club we had booked must have raised the eyebrows many times that week when our cell phones drove him crazy with more and more requests for seats. 
"It's a time for celebrating together," - he finally said smiling and completing our requests. "I just don't want any more!" he laughed at the end when we were once again recounting our list. The holiday season it's about decorated Christmas trees, tables full of delicious dishes and gifts. Above all it's about getting together with family, relatives, old and new friends, colleagues and partners. It is about the feeling of friendship and love. That is why our borders with Greece are clogged. That is why the Durres port is making the headlines with its thousands of ship passengers waiting in the customs line. That is why when I went to the airport to pick up my best friend arriving from the distant American Ohio, I thought there was a party mob ready to protest. That is why the euro is devaluated. Everyone is back. The cafes are filled with people who are hugging and telling each other the resumes of the past year, hoping for a better one to come. 
Indeed for many people abroad New Year's is the holiday they expect most. It gives them the right excuse to see their much missed family and friends. It makes them re-switch to the caf顭ode. If you happen to sit around the cafes near the park Rinia you will see people videotaping the fountain and the other new changes they see around. They are documenting a memory to take back in their new homes in foreign countries, where they will explain to those who could not come back these holidays.
"You see, there is this new caf鮠We met there withŢ and those people will have one more incentive to come for another holiday.
The phone ringed again. It is the manager of our club. -
I don't know where you all will seat! There are not quite enough chairs for your booked table,- he explained with a concerned voice provoking laugher for all of us.
It is alright. We can stand. We can stand around each other, sip a drink, dance to a festive tune and be happy. Because the most important thing is to be together!

Tips for a wonderful and non-conventional New Years celebration:

Celebrate Twice!
It is possible of course, if you can cross the International Date Line. Options include to party on Sydney, Australia and then catch a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) for just one MORE! And if the former places are just not enough exotic, we might suggest Auckland, New Zealand to Tahiti or Fiji to Samoa. 

Celebrate with both friends and family
Do not sacrifice fun for food or vice versa. Experience has showed you can have both. Divide the time between a cozy warm dinner at home and a crazy party outside with friends. 

Celebrate despite distance
The person you love is away on a business trip or studying abroad? They could not make it in time for the New Years Eve. The new technology of video communication and projection allows you to see and hear the person anyways. So on new Years Eve plan a dinner together, laugh and share special memories, while the last hours of the year slip away. Just allow some time for getting together with other people. After all there is something pathetic about celebrating with a machine!

Celebrate in a different hemisphere
If you are from the Northern one, and you have spent all your Christmas-es making the snow men, then its time for a change. Accessorize your latest bought red Santa hat with a posh looking cocktail glass and hit the sand beach. Southern habitants can warp up in a thousand layers and discover the magic of a white New Year when snowflakes melt into your champagne glass. 

Celebrate with different religions. 
The Middle East is the best place to be at this time of year, if it was only just a bit more peaceful. The Muslim's most important celebration, Eid al-Adha, (Festival of Sacrifice) coincides this year with December 31. For multi-confessional countries like Albania it means more days off work, more food and more fun. So if the Middle East seems too dangerous to be fun, hit the Balkans!
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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!
                    [post_title] =>  Christmas in Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2006-12-23 01:00:00
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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
                    [post_title] =>  The Spanish EU model 
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                    [post_date] => 2006-12-23 01:00:00
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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_date] => 2006-12-15 01:00:00
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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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                    [ID] => 101074
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                    [post_date] => 2006-12-15 01:00:00
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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_date] => 2007-01-05 01:00:00
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            [post_content] => None of them arouse the curiosity of the locals in the streets of the village of Babruu (on the outskirts of Tirana), any more. The eight Chinese citizens have shaven off their beards, and with each passing day they try their hardest to adapt, not only to Albanian customs, but also to the way of life here. They have begun to learn Albanian, to respect the hours of worship at the local mosque, but also their comings and goings at the Centre for Asylum Seekers. They lead an almost silent existence and do their utmost to "blend in" avoiding the slightest gesture that would attract the attention of the other locals. "Almost" is the right word, because, sometimes, things that are slightly out of the ordinary have happened. For example, a love affair between one of the Uighurs and an Albanian woman.
One of the former prisoners, has now begun to relish his newly won freedom and is ready to recommence everything again. What better than a love affair to give a person the strength to put a bad chapter in his life behind him.
Reliable sources say that the youngest of the eight Uighur males who arrived in Albania a few months ago, is to marry an Albanian girl. The mosque at which the religious rituals took place has now become a starting point for a new life of the Uighur with the his young Albanian betrothed. So far, the young couple, as Albanian custom has it, have only met "to drink coffee" together, an indication of intent to marry. However the date of the wedding is still to be decided upon. The fact that the young man has no identification papers could also be a problem for this young man from China.

What are the others doing?
While everyone is expecting the climax to a love story, the other Uighurs are spending their days studying the Albanian language and devoting themselves to religious study. Reliable sources tell us that Abu Bakker Qassim buys nothing other than books on the market. After seven months of living in Albania, he now speaks Albania reasonably well. Although this country has at least offered them peace and tranquillity, none of the former prisoners have accepted to speak.
Just as reserved is the Director of the Asylum Seekers Centre Ali Rasha. According to him the eight former prisoners of Guantanamo are political asylum seekers and any statements may threaten their freedom, their rights and their life. 
Albania, "the promised land" for the Chinese, Indians, Palestinians and Moroccans.
More than 40 persons stay at the Asylum Seekers Centre, waiting to be granted status of refugee for years. (Legislative procedures foresee 51 days waiting to gain the status of refugee).
For some of the refugees, entering the Asylum Seekers Centre, it seems like "the promised land" to them. For the majority of the Asylum seekers, Albania has actually become the sole alternative of survival as they have been proclaimed "enemies of the nation" in their own countries. At a time when a part of the Albanian population would do anything to be able to leave this country, the requests of these forty refugees to be granted status of refugee here in Albania, appears really strange. These individuals from Bangladesh, Morocco, Palestine, China, Korea, Macedonia or Kosovo seek such a fortune with persistence.
Balis Halili is one of the first persons who has requested status of refugee, as early as in 1999, and has still not received a reply from the Albanian authorities. And whilst Balisi has challenged the long wait by integrating into Albanian life (he has left the centre and is living by his own means somewhere else in Tirana), it appears that none of the other asylum seekers can do this as they all remain in the centre. The language barrier, the customs, education or a possible threat to their lives, as is the case with the 8 Uighurs, has made the majority of them wait until they have an ID card issued to them.
Different from other centres in different countries, the inhabitants of Tirana's centre are free to have a private life.
They are free to come and go from the camp and the State pays for different qualification courses for each asylum seekers. Some of them have chosen to learn Albanian, others attend vocational schools, the State covers their board and food, medical care and any other social service. The asylum seekers are completely free to exercise their religious rituals, the majority of whom are Moslems. With the exception of the Chinese, (there are about ten of them in the Centre), it appears that none of the asylum seekers prefer to find gainful employment, or even work on the black market.

By coincidence 
in Albania
With the exception of the 8 Uighurs who came from the Guantanamo Prison and several individuals from Kosovo, it seems that the rest of the asylum seekers find themselves in Albania by coincidence. Different sources say that a part of the asylum seekers were victims of trafficking and that their final destination was Europe. Although they have gained the status of asylum seekers, it is somewhat surprising how 16 Chinese have ended up in Albania, 20 Indians, 10 from Bagladesh and even from Korea. Even Jemi admits this, who also departed from China to live in a western country. First of all he tried to get into Greece on a visa he had managed to secure, but he got stuck in Albania because he lost his documents.
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