Albanians, among the most expelled from Germany

Albanians, among the most expelled from Germany

TIRANA, Sept. 12 – Albania is on the list of countries with the highest number of asylum seekers expelled from Germany, writes Deutsche Welle in the article ‘Albania among the first countries for expulsion from Germany.’ The article explains that

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Editorial: President  hearings and the depth of the constitutional crisis

Editorial: President hearings and the depth of the constitutional crisis

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL Things will get worse before they get better. The political, institutional and even constitutional crisis in the country continues to be in full swing. This week the parliament opened the Meta hearings which are supposed to conclude

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A paradox from Tirana: Failed coup d’etat in Turkey, memorial in Albania

A paradox from Tirana: Failed coup d’etat in Turkey, memorial in Albania

By Alfonc Rakaj A memorial built in Tirana’s central park for the fallen of the failed Turkish coup in 2016 has been publicly shunned. Turkey’s assertive foreign policy toward the region, and Rama’s close personal relationship with Erdogan has many

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Editorial: Going beyond the farce of June 30

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The recent complete report of the OSCE Elections Observing Mission on the Electoral process of June 30 is being depicted as not surprising. All the inconsistencies, irregularities and breaches of law that the report lists and describes

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Missing in Action: Albania’s voice nowhere near key events discussing integration

Missing in Action: Albania’s voice nowhere near key events discussing integration

TIRANA TIMES OP-ED The Bled Strategic Forum, a regional activity that gathers the “who is who” of regional politics and a variety of international actors who are relevant to the Western’s Balkans fate wrapped up its works this week. The

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Editorial: A tale of two cities: the painful fissure on the Albanian social fabric

Editorial: A tale of two cities: the painful fissure on the Albanian social fabric

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL For all the artists and the citizens who convened at the premises of the National Theater to oppose its imminent demolition, this act is the final straw of arrogance, corruption, lack of transparency and total disregard for

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Greek Policy in the Balkans: Old Fashion Politics or New Momentum?

Greek Policy in the Balkans: Old Fashion Politics or New Momentum?

By Bledar Feta * Greece went to the polls on July 7. After almost four years of a SYRIZA-led government, Greek people voted resoundingly for a transfer of power in elections deemed “Greece’s return to normality”. If Greece has returned

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Editorial: The prevailing chaos dragging the future underneath

Editorial: The prevailing chaos dragging the future underneath

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL    Under the scorching sun and the fooling disguise of life going on, the chaotic political, economic and social situation in Albania is deteriorating. There is a complete, deep and absurd disarray in the institutional interplay of

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Albania is in danger!

Albania is in danger!

By Prof. Sami Repishti* Today, Albania is in danger! Facing a self-inflicted conflict originating by the excessive partisanship of the two major political parties, Albania is calling: Please, help us before we destroy our own country! We should answer: YES!

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Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on

Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  Even though the subject of having joint embassies and consular services has been promoted before, this week the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania and Kosovo presented with a lot of enthusiasm a mutually signed agreement that

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 12 - Albania is on the list of countries with the highest number of asylum seekers expelled from Germany, writes Deutsche Welle in the article 'Albania among the first countries for expulsion from Germany.’

The article explains that the German government has responded to the Left party by saying that "nearly 11,500 people were deported from Germany in the first half of 2019. A slight increase from a year earlier."

Albania is considered by the European Union as a safe country of origin and asylum applications from Albanians are not usually accepted.

In August 2019, according to data released by the German Interior Ministry, 758 Albanians were expelled from Germany in 2018, ranking the Albanian nationality among the first for the highest number of expelled citizens. 

The main reasons for deportations were the refusal of asylum applications, the expiry of a residence permit, or even undocumented residence. 

After the Albanians, the two nationalities with the highest number of deportations were the Ukrainians, with 755 cases, and the Serbs, with 509 cases.

Germany has for years stressed that Albania is a safe country of origin, so it will not accept any asylum application from Albanians. However, this has not stopped Albanians from seeking asylum in Germany, or other EU countries.

According to data from the European Asylum Support Office, EASO, 10,439 Albanians first applied for asylum from January to June this year. Compared to 2018 there was an increase of over 20 percent.

Since 2013 the number of asylum seekers from Albania has been over 11,000 per year. 

2015 had the highest number, with 68,945 applications.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

Things will get worse before they get better. The political, institutional and even constitutional crisis in the country continues to be in full swing. This week the parliament opened the Meta hearings which are supposed to conclude whether the President committed constitutional foul with his annulment of elections , which was not implemented anyways) and with his new decree of elections in October, which are all but guaranteed not to happen.

In addition the majority has invited an outside body, the Venice Commission to perform their own evaluation about Meta’s potential infringement upon the Constitution. Ironically the Venice Commission delegates had to meet with the sole standing member judge of the Constitutional Court which is dysfunctional due to the Justice reform.

The depths of the current crisis are now getting lost on almost all actors. It seems that there is a willingness to go forward beyond all what has happened.

However nothing can go on unless the seriousness and absurdity of this crisis is fully addressed. The Parliament continues to be an institution where about 20 MPs are missing and the rest of the so called new position do not represent anyone politically or otherwise.

The local elections were heavily criticized by the ODHIR observation mission for serious breaches in law in addition to the already grave fact that there was no pluralistic choice to be made whatsoever. The Socialist Party candidate for the municipality of Shkodra had to retreat even before assuming office given his unearthed criminal past.

The High Court is still not working and the brunt of the vetting process implications is starting to slowly show on first instance courts as well.

In the midst of all the huge systemic problems, Albania has the audacity to hope even for a positive move from the European Union regarding the opening of accession negotiations. And the course of action taken by the majority in the most challenging of times is to go after the institution of the President. This might be their last obstacle before assuming and centralizing all powers. However President Meta presents a quite formidable challenge. Perhaps the most enduring political figure he has weathered much worse storms. He has outmaneuvered time and time again his opponents. The outstandingly friendly demeanor of the hearing commission of the majority is evidence to another game.

Otherwise said these hearings might be the best option to divert attention. Nothing masks better the economic stagnation, increasing negative image and creeping outward migration than a well thought political showdown in front of the cameras between old foes who happen to be in a long term love-hate relationship. It stands for excellent drama. And for very poor consideration of the public good.

The Constitutional order is all but dead. The show must go on.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: President  hearings and the depth of the constitutional crisis
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                    [post_content] => By Alfonc Rakaj

A memorial built in Tirana’s central park for the fallen of the failed Turkish coup in 2016 has been publicly shunned. Turkey’s assertive foreign policy toward the region, and Rama’s close personal relationship with Erdogan has many worried about Ankara’s malign influence in Albania.

Politics of Space

Turkey and Albania enjoy a strong bilateral relationship. For decades these ties have been bolstered by increased trade, people to people exchanges and aid. Yet, the formers association with the Ottoman period is often contentious in Albania. Its neo-ottoman approach to Albania in particular and Albanians in general continues to cast doubts over Turkey’s influence, as in the case of the monument.

The monument was built by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) to mark the third anniversary of the failed coup, an event which has by enlarge defined Turkey’s domestic politics ever since. Its ramifications are being felt by small Balkan countries as Ankara seeks to diminish the influence of Fethullah Gülen and his FETO organization which Turkey blames for the coup.

FETO has a strong presence in Albania through its educational institutions, considered the best of the country, where children of the country’s elite are educated. The influence of the Gülen movement on the next generation of Albanian leader is seen as a threat to the Turkish government. As a result, Turkey’s efforts to undermine the organization and its representatives have been multidimensional and assertive.

In 2016, the Turkish embassy in Tirana submitted a request to local authorities through which it sought to ban FETO schools from using Turkish symbols such as the flag or being identified with the country. To curb their influence, Ankara has deployed Maarif Foundation, a state organization created in the aftermath of the coup, to challenge FETO’s educational presence in the world. Three years since and Maarif has vastly expanded its presence in Southeast Europe, and Albania in particular. Through a series of acquisitions, among which Tirana’s highly regarded University of New York, Ankara is seeking to outmuscle and undermine FETO’s reputation and influence.

In addition, for over three years, Turkey has pressured Balkan governments, including Albania, to extradite designated FETO representatives whom it dubs dangerous to both Turkey and host countries, and holds them responsible for playing their part in the coup. Last year, six designated representatives of the organization were forcefully deported through questionable coordinated action by Kosovo by the Turkish and Kosovar intelligence services. A parliamentary investigation conducted in its aftermath found that 31 laws and procedures were breached in the process. Kosovo’s Prime Minister claimed to have not been informed.

What happened in Kosovo should serve Albania and other countries as a warning sign of Turkey’s intent to bully allies, export its domestic problems and undermine local laws. Instead, ever since, the government of Albania led by Edi Rama has forged a closer alliance, both at the institutional and personal level. Until now, Tirana has not complied with the request, but recent developments point to a change of approach.

Recently, Rama paid an unexpected visit to Turkey where he met with the Turkish president at his residence in Marmaris. Days afterward, the Interior Minister of Turkey paid a visit to Albania and was received by both Rama and Sander Lleshaj, Albania’s Minister of Interior. The Turkish minister gave a carefully planned interview for Turkish media. Standing tall in front of the monument, inaugurated weeks before by the local Turkish ambassador following a “Triumph of Democracy March” from Tirana’s main boulevard, he noted that his counterparts’ approach toward the Gülen Movement, pleased Turkey and him personally.

Locals, largely deprived of information on the matter, were left wondering if this marked a new beginning in the government’s approach toward FETO. Others were infuriated by the lack of transparency and institutional consideration due to the missing significance of the event or the victims to Albania. Notably, the Municipal Council had not discussed, nor approved its construction.

This usurpation of public space for a monument with no connection to Tirana or Albanian citizens is telling for two reasons. First, the lack of consideration for due processes by local authorities demonstrates how disturbingly unaccountable and weak they could be. The construction of the monument is important for another reason; it exposes Turkey’s intent to export its internal political problems abroad. More worryingly, it shows Ankara’s ability to impose its own agenda in Albania.

Unanswered Questions

The government of Albania has provided no public justification for the construction. Instead, it has resorted to silence typically used for publicly unpopular matters. Tirana municipality has been equally non-transparent. The only reaction to date has come from the mayor who sufficed to say, “Tirana has enough space for all.” This intentional avoidance of accountability is telling for the nature of bilateral relations between Turkey and Albania.

Given the monuments lack of connection with Albania, both the local and the central government were susceptible to public backlash its construction would ignite. This explains the governments missing justification and its attempt to keep a low profile. This is the reason government officials, including the media savvy Mayor of Tirana sought to avoid appearing at the ceremony.

Following strong reactions against its construction in social media, the municipality has provided guarded the monument from potential vandalism. A video of an elderly gentlemen challenging the guards was captured by the media and went viral for its content. In the video, he dubbed the monument an attempt to export Turkey’s problems to Albania by Erdogan. An anonymous letter left at the monument captured the essence of objection, noting: “Respect for those who don’t live anymore, but this monument does not belong to us, it belongs to our former occupiers.”

To such reactions, some locals who seemed unbothered by the presence of the monument, refuted these claims and added that such language and opposition is indicative of the Turkophobia or Islamophobia that exists among Albanians. Yet, the gentleman whose video went viral specifically disclosed he is a practicing Muslim and his last name was Islam. An Imam based in New York reacted by saying that such “Islamists” were confusing a stance against Erdogan as a stance against Turkey or Islam, the religion.

Days later, news broke out that the monument had been vandalized. Press reactions were more composed while neither the municipality nor the embassy have publicly reacted to the act. Even the state police, which daily releases a composed list of police operations has not reported on the act. A few days after the incident, a blurred picture of a middle-aged man extracted from CCTV cameras was circulated in local media channels. Yet, to date, the identity of the author or authors remain unknown.

The incident adds more to the mystery surrounding the construction of the monument. Its vandalism contributes to the list of questions that remain unanswered. It is unclear whether Turkish authorities will seek an explanation for the vandalism and ask for its reconstruction. Either way, the public has had its say by shunning the monument prior to vandalism. What remains to be seen is whether local authorities and the embassy have received the memo.

Turkish – Albanian or Rama – Erdogan Cooperation? 

The impact of the personal, be it of attitude, character or skill is unavoidable in international affairs. Yet, in terms of Albania’s bilateral relations with Turkey, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw the line between Turkish and Albanian institutional relations, and personal ties of Mr. Rama and Mr. Erdogan.

While this may be indicative of the nature of governance in both countries where institutions are bent to the will of their leaders, this is hardly a sustainable approach for bilateral relations. This should serve as a warning to Albania and other Western Balkan countries that avoiding institutional accountability and cozying up with authoritarian leaning regimes has its drawbacks. It is for this reason they must be mindful of the nature of cooperation they seek with such partners.

After all, bilateral relations between Turkey and Albania cannot evolve solely on the merits of the relationship between their respective leaders. Even more importantly, cooperation between Ankara and Tirana must first and foremost reflect public interest on both countries. Undermining accountability is hardly the way to reflect this, nor a good foundation on which to build a sustainable partnership. And when governments, including municipalities shun scrutiny and criticism on affairs such as the construction of the monument, the public is right to believe its leaders are susceptible to unsolicited foreign influence.
                    [post_title] => A paradox from Tirana: Failed coup d'etat in Turkey, memorial in Albania
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The recent complete report of the OSCE Elections Observing Mission on the Electoral process of June 30 is being depicted as not surprising. All the inconsistencies, irregularities and breaches of law that the report lists and describes meticulously are called as public secrets, very well known by all citizens. However this report is indeed a novelty because it goes against the presumed international community’s previous acquittal of this electoral process. The alibi of the majority so far has been that our partners, our donors and supporters have subscribed to the normalcy of this democratic process. The report tells a different story. It turns out that they haven’t.

The report with its clear outline of each institution’s weakness and abuses and with the richness of its details and understanding that goes beyond the Albanian politics is a clam but serious denunciation of the situation that has been created in Albania.

The report gives the due share of responsibility to the Central Election Commission, the prosecutor’s office, to the public administration and even to the Albanian media which is portrayed as entirely captured and biased. All this however combine into the umbrella of one majority that exerts pressure on the all to behave according to its interest.

Hence these problems paint a very dark picture to the already existing gloom that hovered over the fact that this were the only elections in pro-Communist Albania when citizens did not have a real choice due to the opposition’s boycott. The outline of a looming centralized, noon democratic system captured by clientelism, crime and a total disregard for truth is depicted in all its shame and horror.

The key question is what happens now that the internationally recognized and authoritative institution regarding elections has spoken clearly? What is the way forward? Some stakeholders, both internally and from outside, have placed the bulk of hope on the upcoming electoral reform. However experts have been adamant that changing the procedures of the Electoral Law does little or nothing to do away with the intent of manipulation, vote buying and even the presence of crime in politics. The Electoral Reform per se is one right step but not the holistic approach to a solution.

There is an immediate, urgent need to restore the checks and balance system, to uphold the genuine democratic process and the rule of law and to severe the ties of crime with decision makers. None of this can be done by prompting fake oppositions or closing the eyes to the truth.

Albania is slowly but definitely transforming into a silent swamp where the waters are smelling fouler by the day. If people keep seeking ways to leave soon the majority will be left with only the oldest and the poorest. So far it seemed the international community was content with the relative tranquility of the wetland. The report perhaps is a signal of difference.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Going beyond the farce of June 30 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES OP-ED

The Bled Strategic Forum, a regional activity that gathers the “who is who” of regional politics and a variety of international actors who are relevant to the Western’s Balkans fate wrapped up its works this week. The Forum is being organized in the idyllic setting of lake Bled Slovenia since more than a decade.

This year, the key forum that got all the public and media attention. The featured the recently appointed US Special Envoy for the WB Mathew Palmer, RCC Director Majlinda Bregu and all the Ministers of Foreign Affairs form the regions countries, all except Albania.

Albania’s absence from this table was clearly a mistake. All the other ministers used the platform, the visibility and the attention of key stakeholders to present visions, request and even changing attitudes relevant to the interest of their country. Ivica Dacic played the reborn moderate card. Nikola Dimitrov took another swing at advocating once again for accession negotiations by saying that integration might stem brain drain from the region. Behgjet Pacolli rekindled talk of Kosovo in UNESCO. Everyone had a clear plan and objective and tried to achieve it. Albania simply did not show up.

The reason of Albania’s absence are not known at least not in public. It is hard to fathom any other more important event to be represented at during those days. This is a clear signal that sheds light again on the lack of priorities and overall chaos that reigns in foreign policy arm of the Albanian government. Whereas Albanians diplomacy never spares a chance to pronounce itself upon matters of global impact such as nuclear deals, Iran, North Korea etc. it is sadly absent from the tables where the very future of the region in which it partakes is being discussed. The regional focus especially in the context of the European perspective is the clear and sole focus that foreign policy needs to have.
                    [post_title] => Missing in Action: Albania’s voice nowhere near key events discussing integration
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

For all the artists and the citizens who convened at the premises of the National Theater to oppose its imminent demolition, this act is the final straw of arrogance, corruption, lack of transparency and total disregard for accountability of a government. This extremely one-sided determination to bring down a monument of history and of culture which has served several generations of citizens formed a strong coalition of discontents who did not shy away from confronting the police.

For the masterminds of promotion propaganda at the government’s office and especially the rapid response video team at the municipality office (more efficient and quicker than all emergency teams in the Albanian territory combined), the protest is nothing but the latest reactionary move of the opposition and other Luddites who oppose progress.  Bringing the examples of past transformation projects in the capital which were also opposed (although truthfully not to this degree), the municipality believes this too shall pass.

In fact it should not pass. There is a clear declaration of the European Commission who raises serious questions about the lack of transparency and disregard for competitiveness about the procedure with which the theater and most importantly the surrounding site have been given on a platter to a construction firm that intends to surround the new theatre with a bouquet of high rise towers.  Additionally, the law that enshrined this tender was yesterday submitted to the (albeit inexistent) Constitutional Court of Albania none less than the President of the Republic.

However in addition to the institutional considerations, one remains perplexed at the indifference with which this majority is willing to push forward the polarization of this society, breaking apart and tearing away at the social fabric of the people: splitting them into passive bystanders of abuse or even worse cheerleaders who are willing or force to clap at the administration actions and opponents who are showered with tear gas.

Indeed clappers abound in social media; typing enthusiastically in the comment section of propaganda videos: public administration employees, militants, ordinary citizens praising the visionary leaders of the majority for bringing Albania into the 21st century. On the other camp, their family members, neighbors, friends, colleagues and fellow ordinary citizens counteract by spilling all kinds of venom in return.

This extreme division and partisanship, the arrogance in the face of discontent and protest has the potential to cause a long-term and maybe irreparable damage to the social collective. At the present this may be subtle to grasp but is for sure even more costly than the financial consideration of the corruptive affair of the theater should it prove to be so. The incompressible and even violent haste with which the majority wants to move forward on this issue is certainly no good omen on the correctness of this procedure.

In this bitter context, the social media posting of the Prime Minister who begs God to increase the anger of the opponent since apparently it translates into more strength for him, sounds irksome and even dark. Be careful what you wish for.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: A tale of two cities: the painful fissure on the Albanian social fabric 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-26 10:35:07
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:35:07
                    [post_content] => By Bledar Feta *

Greece went to the polls on July 7. After almost four years of a SYRIZA-led government, Greek people voted resoundingly for a transfer of power in elections deemed “Greece’s return to normality”. If Greece has returned to normality with the victory of the center-right New Democracy (ND) of Kyriakos Mitsotakis that held power before the far-left SYRIZA of Alexis Tsipras, the new normality could in some ways be a lot like the old one.

The main question is whether the newly elected government will keep up the current momentum of change in Greece’s foreign policy in the Balkans or it will reverted to old-fashioned geopolitics where Athens was more part of the Balkan problem rather than part of its solution.

For a long time, Greece’s foreign policy in the Balkans remained at the back burner of Greek politics, reflecting country’s economic agonies. At the same time it has been hostage to the populist version of Greek nationalism. As a result, no real progress was achieved in any of the longstanding bilateral disputes that Greece has with its northern neighbors.

This stagnation is not only due to Greece’s preoccupation with domestic economic governance issues which in some way have diverted the political will. But it is also the result of political calculations. Country’s leading political parties have been reluctant to take the political risk of addressing issues of national interest.

Greece’s foreign policy shift in the Balkans

When SYRIZA unseated the New Democracy in January 2015, party’s anti-nationalist credentials were seen as a positive sign for the solution of Greece’s bilateral disputes with its neighbors. However, the expectations for major regional initiatives were extremely low due to the demands of domestic politics. Despite low expectations, the SYRIZA-led government found the political courage to tackle sensitive national issues at a considerable electoral cost.

The then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias underlined the need for an active foreign policy in the region that will bring a more collaborative spirit. In that context, he articulated the solution of chronic problems, whose perpetuation had damaged Greece’s interests in the Balkans, as one of the main leading principles of SYRIZA’s foreign policy. In line with this principle, he tried to close all pending issues with North Macedonia and Albania in an effort to break the impasse in relation with them.

The will to resolve the deep-seated and open issues that collides bilateral relations with neighboring Albania and the constructive engagement with North Macedonia for a compromise to the name issue as well as with Kosovo for stronger cooperation  were crucial indicators of Greece’s delicate foreign policy shift in the Balkans.

The intense diplomatic engagement between Athens and its northern neighbors not only did much to live up to Greece’s traditionally active role in the Balkans but it also started to bear other significant fruits. The biggest success of this interaction is the Prespa Agreement which put an end to the diplomatic riddle over the name conundrum turning over a new page in Athens-Skopje relationship.

Flirtation with populist nationalism a cause for great concern

Greek political class did not manage to reach a political consensus over the Prespa Agreement. On the contrary, the political debate escalated as the then government and opposition became embroiled in an inflammatory rhetoric over the benefits or not of the agreement. While in opposition, the New Democracy rejected the deal voting against its ratification in the Greek parliament presenting this decision as the will of the vast majority of the Greek people.

Now, under New Democracy government, the future of the Greece-North Macedonia Prespa Agreement remains uncertain. New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis not only is against it, but most importantly while in opposition he put the issue into a nationalist and patriotic gear considering the deal between Athens and Skopje as an act of betrayal to Greece.

This tactic can be considered as an action of New Democracy to reap benefits in the domestic political competition. This approach left little space for rational argumentation in the public debate and fuelled nationalist tendencies in the country, complicating further Mitsotakis’s task to deal now from the position of Prime Minister with the future implementation of the agreement.

Therefore, this nationalist rhetoric enhanced ND’ image as a force that is “more patriotic” than SYRIZA improving the image of his leader as a visionary pioneer with regards to national issues.

Now, with the New Democracy return to power, the newly established government has to preserve a difficult equilibrium by addressing this very sensitive issue in a very measured way, recognizing the important of not angering Greek people especially ND’s right-wing voters by seeming too lenient, while preserving good relations with North Macedonia and at the same time not upsetting Greece’s western allies who strongly support the agreement as a pillar of stability in the region.

Nevertheless, if one looks into the first steps of the newly elected government compromise rather than rupture or intransigence appear to be the rule. The declaration of Greece’s new Prime Minster that the New Democracy will respect the Prespa Agreement seems to be in this direction. The adoption of this moderate stance after the elections seems to eliminate any possibility for radical modification on Greece’s official position in relation to the agreement.

The risk of losing his reputation abroad, where the popularity of his main political opponent Alexis Tsipras has increased significantly mainly because of the name deal, may corral Mitsotaki from adopting any radical action on the issue.

However, any soft approach towards the issue will anger the million of Greek people and ND’s electorate damaging his reputation at home. The statement of Mitsotaki that his government will work to improve aspects of the agreement that are currently not in Greece’s interest may be interpreted as an effort to protect his reputation and satisfy his domestic audience.

Keeping the international-domestic equilibrium will be a real challenging task for him especially after the emergence of a new far-right political party in Greece’s political landscape. Kyriakos Velopoulos’s Greek Solution has a nationalist platform geared towards the patriotic vote. He has already started to criticize ND officials for toning down their rhetoric against the Prespa Agreement characterizing the party as insufficiently patriotic, with the intention to make gains from the ND far-right electoral base.

In any case, the rise of populist nationalism is a very worrying phenomenon. If the new government continues to flirt with nationalistic resentments, it will put the new positive momentum in the Balkans at risk.

Agreement’s implementation intractably linked to accession negotiations

In the coming months, all eyes in Greece will be in the implementation of the Agreement, a development that will determine Greece’s further steps in relation to the accession of North Macedonia into the European Union (EU). The scenario of blocking the accession negotiations with North Macedonia in October does not seem realistic, since Athens may find it more beneficial to actively promote its interests during the negotiations of each chapter. ND officials consider that the chapters negotiation process will create the necessary room for corrections or improvements in parts of the agreement that according to them goes against Greece’s national interests.

It is likely that Western mediators actively wielding carrots and sticks will be the only hedge against the problems that could prolong North Macedonia’s accession process. In that case, the stick would be related to the full implementation of the agreement and to the address of outstanding issues not touched by it, and the carrot North Macedonia’s closing of EU accession chapters. It falls to Athens to deal with this issue in a very measured way without being perceived as standing in Skopje’s way towards the EU.

A basket of problems that complicates Albania’s EU accession process

The Greek diplomacy should also maintain a delicate balance of keeping Albania’s European perspective opened, while trying to resolve bilateral issues. During the last 5 years, Athens’s relations with Tirana followed a more cooperative track with many high-level contacts which have led to the establishment of joint expert meetings where bilateral open issues were discussed in details.

The both sides were negotiating solutions for these thorny issues through the finalization of a mechanism that will result in a package agreement.  Bilateral issues were categorized on different baskets with the principle that nothing has been agreed as long as there is no agreement to all issues.

Through this policy of small steps Tirana and Athens set the train in motion again but the train never reached its final destination. The resignation of the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and the internal tensions over the deal with North Macedonia left  the completion of the agreement with Albania in a pending status.

The main concern now is whether the new government could reverse this positive political momentum or will continue the progress their predecessors left. New Democracy has strongly criticized the way that SYRIZA was negotiating with Albania. ND politicians have raised doubts about the transparency of the all process.

The mixed messages coming for ND officials does not lead to a clear conclusion of  whether the new government will continue to negotiate all pending issues with Albania: the unresolved maritime dispute, the cemeteries of Greek soldiers in Albania, the technical state of war still in place and the Cham’s claims of their confiscated property. So far, ND has remained adamant in Albania’s demands considering the maritime deal agreed by its officials a non-negotiable issue, turning down Tirana’s claims over the existence of war law and rejecting to include in the table of negotiations the non-existent for them Cham issue. There is thus an elevated risk these issues to remain unresolved for a long time.

However, Athens knows that the longer the open issues remains at limbo, the more the danger increases of these issues being hijacked by extremist forces and this is not profitable for none of the states. Therefore, the new government will probably link the solution of pending issues with the fate of the ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania.

Greek minority: a barometer of Athens-Tirana relations

The safeguard of the Greek minority rights constitutes a significant foreign policy objective of Greece. ND has directly connected the question of Greek minority rights with Greek support for Albania’s European perspective. Athens has said Albania’s EU aspirations may be compromised if Tirana fails to protect minority rights, encouraging speculations the new government to block Albania’s start of accession negotiations in October.

During a meeting with Greek minority representatives in Athens, Kyriakos Mitsotakis made clear that the progress in Tirana-Athens bilateral relations and the opening of EU accession negotiations will depend on the respect of the Greek minority’s property rights in Albania as well as on the Albanian government’s willingness to abolish the so-called minority zones.

It seems that the new government will wait for Tirana’s concrete actions towards this direction to give the green light in October. If Athens is not convinced, it will reject the opening of accession negations with Albania following the example of other Member States such as the Netherlands and France which have declared to do the same depending on the progress made in the five key priority areas.

Athens has wider strategic interests in promoting cooperation and the European integration of Albania, but frictions over minority rights cannot be precluded as uncontrolled local problems evolve especially in the predominantly ethnic Greek town of Himara, which plays a hugely disproportionate role for its size in Greek-Albanian relations.

Tensions and ethnically related incidents do occur, particularly in Himara. Yes it is in neither side’s interest to allow them to sour relations at the international level between Athens and Tirana, and this should exercise a powerful moderating effect.

Rejecting Albania’s EU accession dreams is not profitable for Greece. If the planned extension of EU membership extension to Albania is not becoming a reality or is being delayed, the country will suffer a long term political uncertainty and the emergence of an enlarged Albanian state will become even more likely. Therefore, Greece will have the very challenging task to pressure Albania over sensitive national issues keeping at the same time Tirana’s European path in track.

In the light of recent developments, the prospect for opening accession negotiations for Albania is becoming significantly more distant.

Kosovo: non-recognition but stronger cooperation

Although Greece remains one of the five EU member states that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence, Athens has followed a policy of engagement with Pristina and bilateral governmental communication has been quite intensive. It is exactly this policy of constructive cooperation that has made New Democracy more popular among Kosovars.

It was the previous government of New Democracy that gave the first positive signals to Kosovo when it agreed to put Schengen visa stamps on Kosovo citizens’ passports. One other highly indicative example of this positive momentum is the agreement that was signed in March 2013 between the then Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos, a prominent figure of ND party, and his counterpart from Kosovo, Enver Hoxhaj. The agreement set the stage for the establishment of a Kosovo Liaison Office for Economic and Trade Relations in Athens, a decision not having implemented yet.

ND has no reason to abandon this policy of engagement with Kosovo remaining highly supportive of increased cooperation between Pristina and Athens, with a particular emphasis on strengthening economic relations and trade. However, the possibility of the new government to recognize Kosovo is extremely low as long as Pristina has not resolved its dispute with Serbia, in a way that is fully satisfactory for the latter. In essence, ND will hold a waiting stance allowing for the EU to conclude its conflict resolution initiatives vis-a-vis Serbia and Kosovo, before decides on its final position regarding Kosovo’s recognition. Despite the non-recognition status, there is quite some room for improving and expanding current relations.

There is no doubt that the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia influences also EU-Kosovo relations. Kosovo’s commitment and constructive approach in the dialogue is seen to be a precondition for strengthening its path towards European integration. Athens has always supported the European perspective of Kosovo and the strengthening of EU-Kosovo relations as a necessity for the stability of the entire region. Keeping Kosovo on this track would be in the interest of Greece excluding the scenario of Kosovo’s unification with Albania.

Outlook

The new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis promised to return Greece back to normality offering a fresh perspective in all aspects of country’s political life. But no one is quite sure what that perspective actually entails and how fresh or old it really is. The fact that New Democracy did not diverge from domestic populism could be interpreted as a return to a more nationalistic foreign policy. If this is the case, Greece will stick again in the past, a development that will isolate Athens weakening significantly its international position. However, the Greek leadership has not the luxury to lose the great historic opportunity that has been created in the Balkan region after Prespa Agreement. On the contrary, it seems that the new government will take the advantage of this new momentum through the adoption of a more moderate foreign policy to reorient Greek interests towards the Balkans. The revision and the modernization of Greece’s foreign policy in the region would be the best scenario for returning to normality. The ideal normality will be to the large extent oriented towards the closing of all pending issues inherited by the past allowing Greek diplomacy to invest more capital in other more pressing issues in the east.

 

Bledar Feta*

International Relations Analyst

Research Associate, South East Europe Programme

Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)
                    [post_title] => Greek Policy in the Balkans: Old Fashion Politics or New Momentum?
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-19 09:43:58
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-19 07:43:58
                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

 

Under the scorching sun and the fooling disguise of life going on, the chaotic political, economic and social situation in Albania is deteriorating.

There is a complete, deep and absurd disarray in the institutional interplay of politics, electoral institutions and judiciary system.  In the last 48 hours there have been at least three diverging decisions by first instance courts regarding the recognition of the mandates of the mayors that claim to have won in the June 30 elections. The decision of a judge in the jurisdiction of Durres claims that the electoral materials are invalid and therefore the outcome of the decision cannot be certified by the court. This decision taken at large would mean that entire process was illegitimate. Her colleague at the very same building of the Durres Court however do not see this glitch and has ruled in favor of other candidates recognizing their mandate. In another court, the judge claimed “incompetence” of the Court to decide upon such matters and referred the material to the Administrative Court. Same case, three opinions, unknown future.

On another level the intensive yet senseless fight goes on between the Prime Minister who makes fun at the President’s decreed date of October 13 and the latter who keeps sending back draft laws to the Parliament.

The majority on the backstage keeps consolidating and centralizing all powers in its hands. The Wild West adventure of having PPPs run all the economy is in full swing. A new one is being proposed to manage the fuel reserves and potentially increase once more what is already a record high price of fuel compared to the region and to most European countries.

Every dissenting voice, even the most minimal and symbolic is shut down with full force. The example of former Socialist economy minister and current member of the Central Bank Board, Arben Malaj, is very illustrative in this regard. The majority has initiated formal steps to remove him from his position only due to his Facebook posts against the Tirana mayor. 

It seems that we live in a republic where every powerful man keeps rewriting the rules and bending them to their will, where every institution’s fragility stands in the way of its minimum functionality and where the theater of the absurd keeps reaching lower. Despite the country being deep in the dark well everyone keeps digging.

In the meantime the indicators that reveal the real state of affairs are in free fall. Foreign investments are at a historic low level. Tourism which was supposed to be in the peak season is once again feeling the impact of the political instability and most importantly of the lack of sustainable and systematic investments in infrastructure. In the meantime our neighbors keep their competition fierce. Tourism operators in a desperate trial to make what they can, respond by raising prices so at to make holidays almost unaffordable for most Albanians themselves.

Deprived of any hope for the future, Albanian young people are more than ever eager to leave. Only a few hours after finishing their graduation exams, the number of high school students who had applied for studies abroad was already in the thousands. Young professionals also follow suit with numerous applications to leave towards countries with friendly migratory policies like Canada and Germany.

This leaves us with a quest for a spark of solution.  Prior to the elections of June the international community kept repeating the mantra “elections first, dialogue next”. The second part seems to be forgotten. The sides have not moved one inch from their trenches. The premises for dialogue are even less now one the majority considers itself the ultimate winner.

This does not change the fact though that it is the Albanian citizens who are the losers in this game. The instability, the chaos, the image of a country running blind in the dark, growing more authoritarian and less institutionalized is ultimately against the interest of the citizens. The solution is not needed as some argue to give a chance to the opening of accession negotiations in October. It is needed to bring the governance of this country within the rails of the constitutional order, within the margins of normality. 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The prevailing chaos dragging the future underneath 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-19 08:01:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-19 06:01:00
                    [post_content] => By Prof. Sami Repishti*

Today, Albania is in danger! Facing a self-inflicted conflict originating by the excessive partisanship of the two major political parties, Albania is calling:

Please, help us before we destroy our own country! We should answer: YES!

By Presidential decree, local elections were to be held on June 30, 2019. For lack of trust on the part of the opposing Democratic Party, fearing election-rigging for good reasons, irregularities, stealing and buying of votes, a practice confirmed by outside observers, the PD refuses to participate, counter-offering to change the Government of E. Rama and replace it with a technical government- which excluded him. The leader of the Socialist Party refused, thus becoming the target of the opposition attacks. Considering the gravity of the situation, the President of the Republic cancelled the date, and fixed a new date, October 13, 2019, requesting from the two parties to enter into new negotiations. Mr. Rama refused net. The leader of the PD, L. Basha, insisted on his opposition. No compromise was reached, as the country faces a confrontation that does not exclude bloodshed.

That’s terrible! We should not allow it! On June 23, 2019, the Catholic Church of Albania declared a day of prayers for all churches and dioceses, to help the difficult situation”….praying that God may enlighten the minds of the leaders responsible”.

Bad news reach us day after day, Yesterday, it was announced that 26 percent of Albania’s population are asking to emigrate from Albania. In the eyes of the normal people this is the final punch affecting Albanians as a result of bad government. We have now in Albania domestic political radicalism, social unrest, institutional fragility. Trust in the political parties has been the first victim, opening the door to a militancy that predominates, affecting leaders’ decisions.

The PD has abandoned the Parliament and chosen the street to protest. Both political parties are engaged in a struggle to replace each other in leading a Government, where the leaders enjoy an unchecked authority. Some results are:

– a regional instability will be created, affecting Kosova and N. Macedonia-

– closing the door to Albania’s membership to the EU, and the reputation of Albania deeply affected as a country that does not belong to Europe.

– Entering a new phase of political chaos with unpredictable consequences;

– Opening a window for Russian interference

– Economic decline, social unrest, and deeper division of our wounded country

Today,  a firmer diplomatic initiative by the international community is urgently needed, pushing both sides towards dialogue, by avoiding venomous speeches and reigning on militants – by excluding them!

We implore one and each one of you to visit, call on the phone, email, fax and use of all means of communication available, with your representatives in the US Government and ask for their contribution to prevent a civil war and bring peace to the country of our fathers—Now and until we succeed!

 

*Sami Repishti has a Ph.D. from the Univ. of Paris and Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is the Co-founder and First President of the National Albanian American Council. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

Even though the subject of having joint embassies and consular services has been promoted before, this week the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania and Kosovo presented with a lot of enthusiasm a mutually signed agreement that puts forward the plan for using shared spaces, exchange of personnel as well as joint cultural diplomacy calendar of events.

Despite the pomp and fanfare that is ever present in these presentations once again it remains unclear what exactly this agreement will achieve for the relations between the citizens, the economies and the cultures of the two countries. A large number of agreements have been signed, most of them during equally spectacular bilateral government meetings. All of them lack teeth: concrete implementation mechanism, responsibilities and budgetary provisions. They resemble shallow Memoranda of Understanding that are usually signed by organizations that implement a modest joint project.

This paper has written before about the façade character being prompted between the two countries where in the background the number of barriers for concrete relations and exchanges is multiplying. The situation is even worse now. There is a silent trade war raging in the background of this glossy shows of brotherly cooperation. Kosovo has threatened to impose the same tariff on Albanian goods as it has done with Serbia. The toll fee in the Highway connection Kosovo to Albania is a permanent pestilence on Kosovar travelers. Recently book publishers who retuned from the Book Fair in Prishtina revealed hefty customs fee sums that they had to pay.

Indeed in addition to several disagreements and the field of economy and culture, the political relations themselves are not blooming. There have been several and repeated tensions between Tirana and Prishtina especially in the realm of key strategic decisions about the potential agreement between Kosovo and Serbia as well as about the nature of the relations between Albania and Serbia.

It is even ironic that these agreements are dubbed by furious politicians in the region then as attempt to create “Greater Albania”. If they only knew the level of seriousness of the walls being reinforced between the two countries: the trade disagreements about all sorts of goods and services, the lack of systematic cultural exchanges and the deep discontent that citizens on both sides of the borders periodically vent off faced with the polices, taxes, tariffs, tolls and all kinds of impediments and costs at every interaction step. ‘Greater Albania’, which is not the case at all anyways, would for sure require a much more systematic and serious effort to be realized than the one we see unfolding in the last two decades.

One can only hope that this recent agreement for cooperation in foreign policy is at least a bit more successful than Albania’s previous repeatedly failed attempts to assist Kosovo in its international efforts. Those failed attempts stand as reminders of mismatched grand ambitions when there is some much more concrete work to be done at home.

A real strategic document for the relations between the two countries outlining priorities and detailing concrete mechanism for implementation is the real starting point that needs to be completed. The agreement signed by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs cannot take its place.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on
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            [post_date] => 2019-09-13 09:38:38
            [post_date_gmt] => 2019-09-13 07:38:38
            [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 12 - Albania is on the list of countries with the highest number of asylum seekers expelled from Germany, writes Deutsche Welle in the article 'Albania among the first countries for expulsion from Germany.’

The article explains that the German government has responded to the Left party by saying that "nearly 11,500 people were deported from Germany in the first half of 2019. A slight increase from a year earlier."

Albania is considered by the European Union as a safe country of origin and asylum applications from Albanians are not usually accepted.

In August 2019, according to data released by the German Interior Ministry, 758 Albanians were expelled from Germany in 2018, ranking the Albanian nationality among the first for the highest number of expelled citizens. 

The main reasons for deportations were the refusal of asylum applications, the expiry of a residence permit, or even undocumented residence. 

After the Albanians, the two nationalities with the highest number of deportations were the Ukrainians, with 755 cases, and the Serbs, with 509 cases.

Germany has for years stressed that Albania is a safe country of origin, so it will not accept any asylum application from Albanians. However, this has not stopped Albanians from seeking asylum in Germany, or other EU countries.

According to data from the European Asylum Support Office, EASO, 10,439 Albanians first applied for asylum from January to June this year. Compared to 2018 there was an increase of over 20 percent.

Since 2013 the number of asylum seekers from Albania has been over 11,000 per year. 

2015 had the highest number, with 68,945 applications.

 
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