Albania, China relations gain new momentum after key assets acquisition

Albania, China relations gain new momentum after key assets acquisition

TIRANA, Aug. 14 – Albania- China relations are gaining new momentum as the Asian superpower is increasing investment in Albania, its once tiny Balkan ally in the 1960s and 70s. Four decades on, the present context is quite different as

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Smaller gov’t planned as questions remain on ministers

Smaller gov’t planned as questions remain on ministers

TIRANA, Aug. 10 – As Prime Minister Edi Rama prepares to form a new cabinet at the end of August, there are indications his second mandate will have a leaner government with fewer ministries, but questions remain on who the

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U.S. green card lottery on chopping block, dashing hopes of Albanians

U.S. green card lottery on chopping block, dashing hopes of Albanians

TIRANA, Aug. 6 – An immigration reform by the Trump Administration could mean an end the green card lottery, as the U.S. Diversity Visa Program is widely known, no doubt dashing the hopes of the hundreds of thousands of Albanians

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Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form

Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form

At the end of this month, Prime Minister Edi Rama will likely publish the list of people he is going to have in his new cabinet, the first in eight years in which the winning party does not need a

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Editorial: An Albanian version of the chicken and egg theme

Editorial: An Albanian version of the chicken and egg theme

Some time ago in an interesting expose of his understanding of the problems in Albania, current Albanian Prime Minister offered some thoughts on a key question: is it the system which is at fault or are the single individuals failing?

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Costly electricity imports unveil need for diversification of hydro-dependent sources

Costly electricity imports unveil need for diversification of hydro-dependent sources

TIRANA, July 31 – The Albanian government spent about €30 million to secure electricity for August 2017 in expensive imports for the second month in a row as the country’s hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation has been paralyzed due to one

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Editorial: Women and justice reform in Albania – a new opportunity

Editorial: Women and justice reform in Albania – a new opportunity

It comes as a good omen for the justice reform in Albania that qualified women with the right experience are being selected at the top of key new institutions that shall oversee the most important overhaul of the judicial sector

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A new rapprochement between Albania and Serbia: The implications for Kosovo

A new rapprochement between Albania and Serbia: The implications for Kosovo

By Albert Rakipi  Abstract The enhancement of the political dialogue between Albania and Serbia, including initiatives to foster economic collaboration, has spelled out a new era in bilateral relations. However, it has also prompted debate about three interrelated issues: The

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Albania sees major increase in deaths from air pollution

Albania sees major increase in deaths from air pollution

TIRANA, July 16 – Air pollution figures in Albania remain among the highest in Europe, according to the recently-released 2016 report on air quality by the European Environment Agency. About 2,120 people died in 2016 in Albania due to air

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Concerns mount as Constitutional Court postpones justice reform ruling

Concerns mount as Constitutional Court postpones justice reform ruling

TIRANA, July 20 – Albania’s Constitutional Court has postponed a decision on a lawsuit by two judges’ associations seeking to void aspects of three laws that are part of a major justice reform package seen as vital for the country’s

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 14 – Albania- China relations are gaining new momentum as the Asian superpower is increasing investment in Albania, its once tiny Balkan ally in the 1960s and 70s.

Four decades on, the present context is quite different as China has turned into the world's second largest economy, and Albania is now a NATO country and an EU candidate country with its small economy being one of the Western Balkans' most vibrant and holding one of the greatest potential due to the geographical advantage and natural resources.

Last year, Chinese companies acquired two of Albania’s most important assets, the country’s sole international airport and the largest oil company, increasing Chinese investment to Albania 10-fold to about $760 million, and turning China into one of top investors in a single year.

The acquisition reconfirmed China's investment and trade interest in traditional ally Albania, and could herald other important investment as part of Beijing’s ambitious “One Belt One Road” initiative, a plan to wrap its own infrastructure and influence westward by land and sea and the “16+1″ framework expanding cooperation with 11 EU member states and five Balkan countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The investments also come at a time when China’s growth has slowed down to a so-called ‘new normal’ following decades of strong double digit growth rates and ample liquidity it is investing throughout Europe.

Lian Gang, the commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy in Tirana, tells China Radio International in the local Albanian service that despite the geographical distance and the huge difference in the two economies, "the China-Albania economic cooperation holds great potential as both countries are able to meet each other's demands with the advantages they hold in addition to deep traditional friendship and strong political confidence."

Albania has traditionally exported its chromium to China while imports from China are the country’s top three largest.

Chinese companies already operate in oil, mining, infrastructure, energy, telecommunication and services sectors in Albania, and are looking for new opportunities in the manufacturing and tourism sectors.

Albania's emerging tourism sector is seen as key potential to attract new Chinese investment considering the recent airport ownership which can turn into a hub for Chinese tourists to Albania and the Balkan region.

The natural and cultural resources Albania offers could become a magnet to attract Chinese investment and tourists, especially among the 1960-1970s nostalgics of Albanian movies screening in China when the two countries were close allies.

"Albanian movies have accompanied an entire generation of Chinese during their youth and now the majority of them have retired or about to retire. I believe, if they are given the opportunity, they would love to visit present-day Albania to get to know it closer first-hand," Gang has told CRI in the local Albanian service.

The Chinese diplomat says Chinese investments in Albania are important in four respects.

"Firstly, they show the confidence of Chinese companies in Albania's market and future development. Secondly, big projects such as the purchase of "Bankers" oil company and shares in the "Mother Teresa" airport could attract the attention of other companies, promoting the development of other sectors in the same industrial chain," the Chinese commercial diplomat has said.

Last year, a Chinese consortium led by China Everbright Limited acquired a 100 percent stake in Albania’s sole international airport for an undisclosed amount that is estimated at €82 million. Another Chinese company, Geo-Jade Petroleum Corporation, completed the acquisition of Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, the country’s biggest oil producer for C$575 million (€392 mln) earlier in 2016, increasing China’s presence as a foreign investor in Albania from $87 million to $760 million.

"Thirdly, the cooperation has maximized the use of multilateral resources. For example, the "Mother Teresa" airport project has mixed Chinese resources regarding capital, customers and business expansion, Albanian resources in services and German management resources. As a result the number of airport passengers in the first quarter of this year rose by 10 percent.

Fourthly, Chinese companies are also promoting social responsibility in addition to business, contributing to an increase in tax income, employment and vocational training education," CRI reports.

Bankers Petroleum, the country's largest oil company operating the Patos-Marnza, one of Europe's largest onshore heavy oilfields, employs about 2,000 people, with a huge impact on the Fier region, Albania’s second largest.

At the Huawei Albania subsidiary, most of staff are Albanians who have developed high ICT skills also thanks to exchanges with Chinese experts.

Earlier this year, China reconfirmed its plans to continue boosting trade and investment ties with its old ally Albania as the economic superpower is emerging as one of the country’s top investors and second largest trading partner. The confirmation came last April as China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli paid a two-day visit to Albania, leading the highest level Chinese government delegation to Albania in five decades.

The Albania Chinese relations date back to the late 1940s when Albania was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China and tiny Balkan country helped the Asian superpower regain its seat at the UN as the PRC in the early 1970s.

Chinese experts helped rebuild much of the country’s main industries in the 1960-70s, giving rise to an unequal alliance.

“Domination in the alliance by the Great Power reduces the Small Power to the status of a satellite, rather than an ally. The Small Power thereby suffers a loss of sovereignty. Such was not the case with the unequal alliance between the smallest and one of the largest communist states: Albania and China,” says U.S.-based journalist Elez Biberaj, one of the world’s leading political scientists on Albanian issues in his “Albania and China – An unequal alliance” book, a publication of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, one of the country’s top think tanks.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 10 – As Prime Minister Edi Rama prepares to form a new cabinet at the end of August, there are indications his second mandate will have a leaner government with fewer ministries, but questions remain on who the new ministers will be.

Sources close to the prime minister have indicated that as few as ten ministries could be included in the new Socialist Party government, meaning that the number of ministries could be cut in half. There would be merging and transfer of powers to the larger more powerful ministries to achieve such a cut, several sources told local media.

The core ministries of the interior, defense, healthcare and education will likely remain as they are but all others are candidates for merging or restructuring into new bodies. The ministries of economic development and finance, for example, could like merge into a single institution.

The restructuring could result in shifts in public administration jobs, which, together with a promised deep reform in the public administration, could mean thousands of civil servants would either lose their jobs or be transferred to new positions.

Rama has said the priorities of the new government would be set through analyzing public hearings with people across the country, and he has published reports on his findings from the entire region this week.

Unlike his first mandate, Rama’s Socialist Party can now rule alone as the prime minister has a comfortable majority for day-to-day governance in parliament. Rama is, as a result, free to act on his ideas without being burdened by other parties looking “to get a piece of the pie,” as Rama put it during the electoral campaign.

The names of the new ministers will become public in the second half of August, but there has already been some speculation on who is likely to keep their seats and who is likely to be replaced.

Nowhere has speculation been higher than when it comes to the powerful post of interior minister. Fatmir Xhafaj was the last Socialist minister to hold the post and Rama has praised his work in the fight against cannabis, indicating a potential return to the seat.

However, several key position ahead of the elections were given to opposition-nominated caretaker ministers to give more guarantees that state resources would not be used to help the ruling party. The move came after an agreement between Rama and Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha.

An opposition-nominated interior minister?

Quoting unnamed sources, several newspapers reported in mid-August that Prime Minister Edi Rama is under pressure from international partners, the United States in particular, to keep the opposition-nominated caretaker Interior Minister Dritan Demiraj as a member of the new Socialist Party government to take office in September.

The move would provide for a better fight against cannabis and criminality as well as give the government a wider appeal across party lines, proponents of the move told local media.

Demiraj, a decorated former army colonel who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was nominated as a caretaker minister by the Democratic Party ahead of the elections. Local media reported that large changes are pending to police structures around the country – with new people being brought it and others transferred -- and Demiraj could be implementing the reforms.

Demiraj has had the highest profile among the opposition-nominated caretaker ministers so far and there has been a trend by the opposition Democratic Party to tone down its attacks on the government on crime-related issues.

In fact, the media have speculated for weeks of a potential coalition of some sort between Albania’s two largest parties, SP and DP, even though with the election results, the SP does not need the help of any other party to form the government.

Opposition critics against any support for gov’t

However any potential alliance will likely face stiff resistance, in particular among opposition representatives.

DP MP Tritan Shehu issued a statement calling the reports of Demiraj potentially keeping the interior minister position “fake news” aiming to undermine the opposition work of DP Chairman Basha by making it seem like DP will have an alliance with SP.

Fatmir Mediu, an MP in the DP list who leads the Republican Party, called on Basha to withdraw the opposition-nominated ministers from the government immediately to “remove all ties with Rama” and his policies.

Chair of the Movement for National Development Dashamir Shehi, another ally of the DP, also called on Basha to recall all caretaker ministers from the Rama government as their presence, Shehi said, undermines the opposition’s credibility.

DP MP Edmond Spaho repeated the official stance Basha issued last month that DP-appointed caretaker ministers must stay in their posts until the completion of the election monitoring report.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 6 - An immigration reform by the Trump Administration could mean an end the green card lottery, as the U.S. Diversity Visa Program is widely known, no doubt dashing the hopes of the hundreds of thousands of Albanians who apply every year in hope of reaching the promised land beyond the Atlantic.

Thousands of Albanians and their families have already benefited from the program in the past couple of decades, moving to the United States for a better life.

Official data show Albanians are among the most avid applicants per capita to the program, which aims to give a chance to immigrate to people in countries that are underrepresented among immigrants the United States.

Two Republican senators are working with the White House on a comprehensive immigration bill that reports say will cut legal immigration in half. The bill aims to cut legal immigration from 1 million to 500,000 each year, calling for limiting admission for migrants' family members, ending the diversity visa lottery program and making the process of obtaining “green card” work permits much more difficult.

The immigration reforms aims to lower the number of unskilled immigrants and attract more skilled migrants who speak English through a point system, similar to programs Canada and Australia have had in place for year.

“We support the bill one hundred percent," said Joe Guzzardi, national media director at the Californians for Population Stabilization. It “achieves many of the objectives: low levels of legal immigration, eliminating the diversity visa — which it's hard to defend the need for diversity visa — and also lower numbers for refugee resettlement.

Guzzardi hopes the legislation will stimulate an "intelligent conversation" in the U.S. Congress about the consequences of what he said is "continuing on autopilot with the same immigration policies that have been in effect for decades... regardless of recession or regardless of a mortgage meltdown, regardless of a job market."

 
                    [post_title] => U.S. green card lottery on chopping block, dashing hopes of Albanians
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                    [post_content] => At the end of this month, Prime Minister Edi Rama will likely publish the list of people he is going to have in his new cabinet, the first in eight years in which the winning party does not need a coalition party to rule.

Rama himself has indicated he wants a lean cabinet with fewer ministries. The questions that now remain relate to what ministries will be merged and how. The core ministries of the interior, defense, healthcare, education will likely remain as they are but all others are candidates for merging or restructuring into new bodies. The ministries of economic development and finance would like merge into a single institution, for example.

Other questions relate to who the ministers will be. Will any opposition-nominated minister make the cut, as some have suggested? If the Democratic Party does have some sort of participation in government, it would widen the appeal of the government but then it could also weaken the opposition, as critics of any grand coalition have suggested.

One thing is certain, however, Rama can rule alone. He has a comfortable majority for day-to-day governance in parliament. He is now free to act on his ideas without being burdened by other parties looking “to get a piece of the pie” as Rama has put it.

Rama’s campaign and actions following his victory in the general elections have created certain expectations among citizens. He has chosen a populist move to hold public hearings across the country, seeking “a co-governance with the people of Albania.” His findings from the hearings are not surprising – people want jobs and better infrastructure. They want quality healthcare and education. They want their property rights to be better protected.

It remains to be seen how and if Rama will be able to meet their expectation in this second mandate. What we do know is that Rama will likely start with a purge in the public administration. Some of the higher officials have already been sacked or forced to resign. Lower level purges are likely to continue. We can only hope this will lead to better services for Albanian citizens rather than simply opening the way for one party’s activists to get the jobs of activists from other parties.

Albania has major challenges ahead. Despite a more optimistic economic growth forecast this year, it must be translated into job number and better wages to stem the massive exodus of young and qualified workers leaving the country in droves to look for better jobs elsewhere.

Albania’s bid to open membership negotiations with the European Union will also likely be an uphill road. In addition to domestic issues related to organized crime, drugs, corruption and poverty – Albanians are now realistic about expecting little in terms of a push from Brussel.

As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker put in an interview this week, he is “not in favor of the Western Balkans joining the EU soon.”

The region and Albania for now will continue to better serve as the boogeyman for the union and others. In Junker’s words: “If you take away the European perspective, then we will again experience what we experienced in the 1990s. In this respect, the stability of the composition of the European Union is a prerequisite for the Balkans not being at war again.”

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form
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                    [post_content] => Some time ago in an interesting expose of his understanding of the problems in Albania, current Albanian Prime Minister offered some thoughts on a key question: is it the system which is at fault or are the single individuals failing? To elaborate it just a bit more: is the system built in a such a way that it makes away with accountability and therefore leaves mistakes and crimes unpunished or are individuals skillful of such levels of corruption that they overcome any systematic barriers?

These are important and difficult questions that have bothered many who try to make sense of the long and torturous Albanian transition. The Rama answer a few years ago was that the system was to blame, it ultimately corrupted the individuals. Fast forward and he seems to have changed his mind.

It is becoming a usual, however disturbing occurrence that the Prime Minister calls a meeting with head of institutions of a certain sector, berates them on live broadcast in front of the cameras and urges them to resign. It is unclear whether his is an order, a suggestion or a threat, most likely all of the above. So far the property registration offices and hospital managers have been the prey.  His argument, which bears considerable and hurtful truth, is that these two sectors have shaped the connection of citizens with the state and due to their negative performance are the source of shame and disappointment. Again there is a lot of truth here, no doubt. The collective sigh and curse of Albanians when faced with the long lines at the property office or with the filthy corridors of the public hospitals is and has always been loud enough to be heard even without the wide consultations performed in the last weeks.

It is interesting to see how quietly these directors, managers and administrators sit in these meetings tilting their heads down, silently contemplating the misfortune that has come to their door. None of them has been shown to protest, to offer a counter argument, none has been canny enough to remind the PM of his system-central approach of some time ago.

Yet their silence does not make it right. In going after these sensational solutions with populist appeal, this government, which will be formally constituted next month, is already exposing a frightfully authoritarian intent.  Additionally the approach is not even as practical or efficient as it seems.

How will these new, supposedly clean and strong incoming leaders and managers outshine the systemic obstacles and built in incentives for corruption? The system has not ceased to be a problem just because the PM has changed his mind. How will the new property registration directors outperform the old ones when the digital data system in Albania is still dysfunctional and the state requires notarized documents even to recognize its own institutions, its own certificates? How will the new hospitals managers eliminate the barriers of medicine provision put up by the lucrative concessions or the party led employment requests for staff recruiting?

What will be done to assist the new heads of the sector not to fall into the same habits, the same traps, the same failing and dragging routine? These are questions that are not addressed in these meetings and since there is no official program yet, are not addressed anywhere. In this context playing the loud blame game does not serve governance but publicity purposes.

Is it the system or the individual? Who came first the chicken or the egg? The difficult questions persists.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: An Albanian version of the chicken and egg theme 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-07-31 11:34:16
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-07-31 09:34:16
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 31 - The Albanian government spent about €30 million to secure electricity for August 2017 in expensive imports for the second month in a row as the country’s hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation has been paralyzed due to one of the worst droughts in decades.

Last week's tender held by state-run OSHEE electricity distribution operator also saw a sharp increase in electricity prices as regional demand is at its peak and authorities had to renegotiate with all bidders to increase the amount of electricity and slightly reduce offered prices.

OSHEE distribution operator says it purchased 434,000 MWh of electricity for the whole of August 2017 for a total amount of €29.9 million. The average price of €69/MWh was one of the highest in the past decade.

Electricity imports are expected to cover more than three-quarters of the country’s domestic electricity needs for August, in a situation that hurts both government revenue and planned investment in the country’s poor condition power grid.

Domestic electricity production by state-run hydropower plants in the northern Drin River Cascade has almost been paralyzed due lack of rainfall for the past three months and water levels at an almost historic low. The three state-run HPPs in the Drin Cascade produce about three quarters of domestic electricity generation while the rest is produced by more than 100 private and concession HPPs, making Albania’s wholly-dependent electricity sector vulnerable to adverse weather conditions such as this year’s prolonged drought.

Albania's state-run power operator imported about €23 million of electricity last July in emergency purchases as water levels in the country's HPPs were sharply dropping, hitting stoppage point in some HPPs.

State-run OSHEE distribution operator purchased electricity at an average price of €68.2/MWh in an early July emergency tender, up €10.8/MWh more expensive compared to the June 24 tender.

The situation with huge electricity imports is also expected to continue next September although demand for imports could be lower due to the end of the tourist season and eventual rainfall somehow filling the empty reservoirs of the country’s HPPs.

While access to electricity has in general been stable, the prolonged drought has affected access to tap water in some areas.

Agriculture seems to be the country's hardest hit sector as corn harvest is expected to be one of the lowest in decades.

The major part of Albania’s agriculture land lacks irrigation systems, relying on sporadic rainfall during summer, although the country has plenty of water sources it can make use of.

Agriculture is a key sector of the Albanian economy employing about half of the country’s population, but producing only a fifth of the country’s GDP, unveiling its poor efficiency.

The prolonged drought is also expected to have a negative impact on the country’s GDP growth for this year due to poor performance of the key energy and agriculture sectors.

Albania’s growth is expected to pick up to about 3.8 percent of the GDP in 2017 mainly thanks to some major energy-related investment such as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and a boost from the emerging tourism industry.

 

 Diversification needs

The Vlora thermal power plant and the launch of the Albania-Kosovo interconnection line are Albania's sole hopes of diversifying the country's power sources.

The Vlora thermal power plant, a costly debt-financed investment of $112 million has not been put to use since 2010 when it was finished due to high costs of operating on fuel and problems with its cooling system.

The launch of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and its first gas flows by 2020 are expected to make the costly thermal power plant operational and increase the country's energy security.

Meanwhile, a Kosovo-Serbia dispute over the ownership of transmission assets in Kosovo territory has been holding back a newly built 400 kV interconnection line between Albania and Kosovo for more than a year, with negative effects on plans to create a common regional market and missed earning in both countries.

The €70 million German-funded interconnector was sensationally inaugurated in mid-2016 by the Albanian and Kosovo prime ministers who announced plans to set up a joint energy market and a power exchange helping Kosovo’s lignite-fired power plants and Albania’s hydro-dependent electricity system exchange electricity during their peak production levels, reducing dependency on costly imports.

Albania’s state-run electricity distribution system has considerably improved in the past few years thanks to a reform collecting hundreds of millions of euros in accumulated unpaid bills by household and business consumers, lower grid losses and higher investment.

The recovery followed a short-term failed privatization of the country’s distribution operator by Czech Republic’s CEZ in early 2013.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Costly electricity imports unveil need for diversification of hydro-dependent sources 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-07-28 09:36:13
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-07-28 07:36:13
                    [post_content] => It comes as a good omen for the justice reform in Albania that qualified women with the right experience are being selected at the top of key new institutions that shall oversee the most important overhaul of the judicial sector in the country.

Natasha Mulaj was selected a few days as Head of the Appellate Chamber. She follows Genta Tafa who was recently elected as Head of the Independent Qualifications Commission usually known as the famous Vetting Commission. Other prominent women of Albanian justice such as former Attorney General Ina Rama and Secretary General of the Assembly Albana Shtylla are also part of the Appellate Chamber. It is equally telling that the Head of the International Mentoring Mission that closely oversees the reform is also an influential woman of justice in the EU, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera. Rumor has it that the next Justice Minister of the Rama 2 cabinet may very likely be a woman with considerable legal experience.

The justice reform’s importance for Albania’s future development and for its progress on the European integration path is impossible to overstate. These women shall have the unique opportunity to shape what life will be in this country for years to come and to establish solid foundations so that Albanian citizens can have professional judges and prosecutors that act with integrity and are held accountable if they don’t.

The social science research over whether women are less corrupted and more efficient in relevant leadership positions is appealing yet inconclusive. There is not an inherent quality in women that makes them less prone to corruption. A few weeks ago a woman judge in Albania was given a harsh sentence for corruption and the President was formally asked to remove her title as a judge. Other women judges have been the frequent subject of investigative articles questioning the source of their impressive and allegedly unjustified wealth.

However there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggest that women may do better in high pressure reform times. There are good examples that that come from other countries. In Romania Laura Kovesi, the prosecutor heading the special anti corruption unit DNA became the fright of corrupted politicians bringing the career of many high level representatives to an end. In neighboring Macedonia, Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva appointed to investigate the wiretapping scandals held strong against immense political pressure from the previous government.

The women that apparently shall lead the reform in Albania have, in addition to their unquestionable expertise, substantial levels of support from the international community and should use it to their work’s advantage.  The expectations of the Albanian citizens from these women at the helm of important institutions are quite high. The success of this reform is the perhaps the single key condition for the country to make a significant qualitative jump into a better future. Let’s sincerely wish that the women in charge will succeed. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Women and justice reform in Albania - a new opportunity
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                    [post_date] => 2017-07-21 10:26:41
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]Albert Rakipi, PhD Albert Rakipi, PhD[/caption]

By Albert Rakipi

 Abstract

The enhancement of the political dialogue between Albania and Serbia, including initiatives to foster economic collaboration, has spelled out a new era in bilateral relations. However, it has also prompted debate about three interrelated issues:

The first issue relates to the past, current and the future of interstate relations between Albania and Serbia. Second, there are the implications for the relations between Albanians and Serbs as two peoples in the region, including reconciliation. Last but not least, the new rapprochement between Albania and Serbia has generated a controversial debate on the future of interstate relations between Albania and Kosovo.

The efforts to normalize relations between the states of Albania and Serbia began soon after the fall of the Milosevic regime, and took on new impetus after the last change in the political map of the Balkans with Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. The recognition of Kosovo as an independent state marks the solution of what for Albanians, in the past 100 years, has constituted the essence of the national question.

In the past two years, Albania and Serbia have increased their political communication substantially and have undertaken some concrete steps to enhance economic collaboration. Despite modest progress thus far, all the necessary premises are now in place to mark a new era of relations between the two states. To date, there has been low local support for the development of the relations between two states and their respective people. The causes of this are historic, and they include the myth of eternal enmity between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans, the war in Kosovo and the ethnic cleansing campaigns undertaken by the Milosevic regime there, as well as weak economic interdependence. In today’s new context, local ownership would be necessary to deepen the bilateral relations in a sustainable way.

This paper analyzes the current state of relations between Albania and Serbia and the potential implications for the relations between Albania and Kosovo in the context of the recent rapprochement between Tirana and Belgrade.

 

Conflict as a dominant narrative

Despite the fact that Albania and Serbia as two independent states have never fought a war against each other, conflict and enmity have been the dominant mode of relations between Serbs and Albanians. In addition, there has been a constant effort on the Serbian side to dominate in this relationship, starting at least from the establishment of the modern states in the region, during a period when the examination and comparing of facts is easily feasible.

In the eyes of Albanians, neighboring states in the region have historically been racing and fighting among themselves to grab and divide as much Albanian territory as possible. Following the establishment of the modern Albanian state in 1912, on a fraction of what Albanians historically considered to be their territory, Serbia and Montenegro took the lion’s share of Albanian-inhabited areas, with “40 percent of the Albanian nation and over half of the territories inhabited by Albanians” ending up in the northern neighboring states.1 This was perceived as a great injustice for which Albanians blamed their neighbors but also the great European powers of the time. In a paradoxical and even tragic way, the establishment of the modern Albanian state created rather than solved the Albanian national question, the solution of which in 1912 included the return of the Albanian territories annexed by neighbors, mainly what later became Yugoslavia, with the support of the Great Powers.

Preparing the foundations for the creation of the modern Albanian state during the period of King Zog was initially accompanied by a controversial foreign policy, especially toward Belgrade. However, King Zog very skillfully achieved the right balances in the Balkans in an environment which was entirely hazardous towards the future of an Albanian state.

After the end of the Second World War, Albanian-Serbian relations were developed in the context of state relations between Albania and the Yugoslav Federation. In an extraordinary turn of events for a traditional understanding of Albanian-Serbian relations, Albania and Yugoslavia, at the time both communist countries, established a completely different relationship in the years immediately after the war. They quickly moved into a special alliance consolidated by a number of agreements which signaled that Albania was about to become part of the Yugoslav Federation.2 The extraordinary influence that Yugoslavia had on the communist government of Enver Hoxha could be easily explained by the role that the Yugoslav Communist Party played in the establishment of the Albanian Communist Party. Hence Albania was swiftly and silently sliding into the Yugoslav orbit with plans to join the federation as a seventh republic. In 1946, with the signing of a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Albania and Yugoslavia entered into a formal alliance of a dual political and military nature, which, as mentioned above, was an extraordinary departure in the foreign policy of the entire history of the Albanian modern state. This alliance was further strengthened by signing the Treaty for Coordination of Economic Policy, achieving a customs union and unified currency, while in 1947, Belgrade presented the plan to unify Albania and Yugoslavia on a federal basis. However, one year later, in 1948, the disagreements between the Soviet Union and the Yugoslav Federation ended the honeymoon between Albania and Yugoslavia.

Relations between Albanians and Serbs, as part of state relations between Albania and the Yugoslav Federation, froze for about two decades. However, at the end of the 1960s there were a set of new developments between the two states influenced by several factors. These concerned mostly Cold War dynamics such as the dramatic development of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union, but also the new alliance between Albania and China. This was the second non-conflict relationship period since the end of the Second World War. Among other things, the new relationship also enabled dynamic cooperation in several areas between Albania and Kosovo. At the beginning of the 1990s, Albania had just emerged out of communism, and a shrinking Yugoslavia fell under the leadership of Milosevic. The countries came close to a military conflict at the time, a trend that continued for the entire decade. However, despite the fact that conflict has been the predominant relationship mode, Albania and Serbia, as two independent states, have never fought an official war against each other.

 

Towards a new chapter

Since the fall of the Milosevic regime, Albania has been willing to establish dialogue and cooperation with Serbia. Even before the removal of Milosevic, during some of the most difficult and tense times in the relations between Albanians and Serbs, then Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano did not hesitate to meet then Serbian President Milosevic at the Crete Summit in November 1997. At the time the war in Kosovo, the last of the wars of Former Yugoslavia, was about to erupt, it is unlikely that the Crete Summit, and more specifically the meeting between the Prime Minister of Albania and the President of Serbia, could have served to stop the new conflict between Serbs and Albanians, or contributed to a new climate in the region. Following the Crete Summit, Milosevic declared that Kosovo was an internal Serbian issue and that a solution was to be found in providing guarantees for the fundamental human rights of Albanians in Kosovo and not in granting autonomy.

After the fall of Milosevic, the political dialogue and the official relations between Tirana and Belgrade began to enter onto a normal path, having an active and consistent approach of Albania’s diplomacy behind them. Immediately after the re-establishment of the diplomatic relations in January 2001, both countries committed to increasing communication. In 2003 Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta visited Belgrade. In addition, several visits of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs took place on both sides.

Economic relations, despite being quite modest due to the long separation and lack of communication, have now raised the interest and captured the attention of both countries. At the same time, a number of relevant agreements have been signed. Trade exchanges have jumped from a mere $233,000 in 2000 to $139 million in 2010. During the past three years, trade and other exchanges have risen consistently and a number of competitive Serbian companies present in the region have openly expressed their ambition to enter the Albanian market. The current annual economic exchanges have reached €173 million.3

In September 2014, Air Serbia started regular direct flights to Tirana, thereby facilitating communications between people, while statistics show that year after year an increasing number of Serbian tourists choose Albania as a tourist destination.

There are several factors and issues that make cooperation and integration difficult. These include the relatively long isolation of the two societies from each other, the lack of communication and, among other things, the lack of mutual cultural knowledge and interaction in addition to the strong myth of enmity between the two peoples. But the issue of Kosovo is more important than all the above: The Kosovo War, the independence of Kosovo and the subsequent recognition and support from Albania, most Western states and more than half of UN members, but not Serbia and its allies, remain a clear point of division.

Many Serbian citizens who visit Albania and especially Tirana today are very surprised to find an open-minded society and a friendly environment, far from the enemy that they feared. Their surprise stems from the perception that they have of Albania and for Albanians. The myth of ‘two people and two countries forever enemies’ seems to have a hold over a considerable part of Serbian society and, unfortunately, the Serbian elite. The same myth is rooted in the mentality of many Albanians as well, although this is more relevant for segments of the Albanian diaspora in the West as well as for Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia.

According to the most recent relevant study of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, the majority of Albanians, contrary to expectations, believe that if there is a state that represents a major threat to Albania, it is Greece, not Serbia.4

 

Albania and Kosovo, two brothers, each one in his own home 5

Since 2008, Albania and Kosovo have made efforts to accommodate their relationship as two independent states. It is paradoxical and even ironic that what seemed to be an easy feat, a guaranteed smooth operation, is tuning out not to be such. One reason, for which neither Tirana nor Pristina can be blamed, is the past, the separation and the long-term lack of communication between the two societies and elites as well as the very weak, indeed almost nonexistent relations between the two markets. Historically the economic and market relations between Albania and Kosovo were very natural, especially in the northern and eastern part of Albania until the first decade of the 20th century. However, the decision of the European powers to recognize the shrunken Albanian state in 1913 left outside its formal borders purely ethnic Albanian cities like Prizren and Gjakova, hence interrupting the natural and coherent markets as well as civic cultural exchanges.6 For more than 100 years of the history of the modern Albanian state, Albania and Kosovo have functioned as two separate markets. The short-term establishment of the Natural Albania, almost on its ethnic borders, during the Second World War by Nazi Germany, remained nevertheless very far from creating a functional state, market and joint administration.78 Ten years after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the state of economic relations is unveiling other forms of incoherence between the tendency to cooperate and the reality in the ground. The emergence of an ethnic market between Albania and Kosovo might seem as natural development given the fact that the two states belong to the same ethnic group, sharing the same language and culture. Now that Kosovo is an independent state and the context is much friendlier, the natural tendency is expected of being that of economic integration with Albania. In spite of this, the economy remains one of the weakest links in bilateral relations. In order to understand what seems like an anomaly in the relations between Albania and Kosovo, we must look backward in time.

Throughout the past century, the markets and the economies of these two countries have existed in complete isolation from each other. The trade relations that existed at the beginning of the 20th century, influenced by the long period of Ottoman rule, were destroyed for many decades. Kosovo became part of the wide market of Yugoslavia, while Albania slowly turned into itself. The difficult years of the 90s when communist regimes collapsed and Yugoslavia dissolved were certainly not favorable years to conduct trade in a legal and legitimate form.

Second, for many decades, both these economies have been primarily agrarian and often very underdeveloped. Similar to most of the countries in the Balkans, the degree of industrialization in Albania and Kosovo is quite low even today and that is a serious obstacle to integration into the current profitable global economic sectors.

Third, the markets and economies of the Balkan states are being increasingly oriented toward member states of the European Union and especially neighboring ones, such as Italy and Greece. Trade exchanges between the Balkan countries which are not members of the EU, are very far from their real potential. The strengthening of the economic ties between Albania and Kosovo is of crucial importance for the economic development of both countries. Through Albania, Kosovo has an access point to the sea and also an opportunity to expand its very small existing market. The highway between Durrës and Kukës, popularly known as “The Nation’s Road,” has brought recognizable changes in the road infrastructure between both countries and will facilitate Kosovo’s use of the Durrës Port.

The social and cultural sphere presents a slightly more dynamic panorama. To a certain degree, Albania and Kosovo seem to represent two different societies and two different levels of modernization. Religion and family play a much different role in terms of quantitative and perhaps even qualitative importance in the social structure of each country. However, at the same time, both societies reflect common characteristics including the low level of law implementation, the weak organizational power of communities, etc.

Kosovo is starting to resemble Albania more and more when we consider developments pertaining to society, state, culture, education and media. However it remains to be seen whether this means that Albania is exporting a model or whether it is a normal manifestation of the contradictory developments within Kosovo society itself.

Albania was among the very first countries9 that officially recognized the independence of Kosovo, which seems to be thus far the only true contribution to the recognition of the sovereignty of Kosovo as a state, despite many claims that Albania played a significant role in securing new recognitions for Kosovo in the global arena.10

This decade of bilateral relations has been characterized by more enthusiasm, fewer obstacles but still very little substance. It seems that the heritage of a shared market of the former Yugoslavia still has the upper hand: Business ties from the time when Kosovo was part of the Yugoslav Federation are still strong to this day. Hence Kosovo, a former unit of Yugoslav Federation , has developed a dependence on market exchanges with the other former members of Yugoslavia, but not with Albania. This is also the reason that the countries that once made up Yugoslavia, and now are all independent states, from an economic perspective, are all returning to their previous experience in a sort of ‘back to the future’ fashion.

This scenario is not valid for Albania. It cannot turn back to any previous experience in its relations with Kosovo except to the times before 1913, when, as mentioned earlier, the main Kosovo cities were an integral and functioning part of the economy of Northern Albania. In the meantime, the idea of establishing a common market between Albania and Kosovo based on ethnic commonalities, in spite of all the desires and patriotic slogans, seems not to be working. Both markets, in Kosovo and in Albania, reflect a very low scale of functionality and their ethnic commonality is certainly not helping. Despite the improvement in the infrastructure that connects the countries and the repeated efforts by both governments, a healthy and vibrant economic exchange relationship is yet to happen. In the last three years, Albania has taken the initiative of holding joint government meetings in order to push forward bilateral collaboration, mainly in the economic field. However, we have not seen any results yet. In the last four or five years, both countries have signed several agreements in the areas of economy, education and even culture; however, most of these are not accompanied by the necessary concrete instruments, including the needed bylaws and regulations that would directly help the development of economic relations. These ‘brotherly’ agreements between two countries resemble more general protocols where the two sides commit to the deepening of the collaboration in principle, while at the same time, practically, there are many barriers between the countries that impede the communication and economic cooperation.11 The so-called “Greater Albania,” in modern terms, can only be seen as a “Greater Economic Albania,” but from both sides of the border we have not seen yet any serious initiative and instruments to enable it.12

The poor state of relations in the economic field should also be analyzed and understood in the context of the current economies in Albania and Kosovo. This explanation should also take into account the low level of rule of law, widespread corruption and the influence of monopolies in both economies.

From the strategic point of view, both Albania and Kosovo see their joint future as members of the European Union13 and not in establishing a joint state, as is often speculated with the idea and term of “Greater Albania.” At the society level, the majority of citizens in Albania believe that relations with the state of Kosovo are of primary importance, and they want their government to pay proper attention to these relations.14 However, Albanians in Albania do not support the unification of Kosovo with Albania. Only 9 percent of Albanians believe that unification would be a positive thing, whereas a full 35 percent believe that it would be a negative development. Another 37 percent are neutral on the issue.15 The situation is very different in Kosovo, where 81 percent of the surveyed public is in favor of the unification with Albania into one single state.16 However, Albanian leaders prefer a sort of ambiguity, with vague notions,17 when they speak about the future of both states, in an attempt not to lose the votes of the remaining nationalists who keep talking about the unsolved national issue and see its solution in the unification of the two states. Currently in Albania there are no large political parties or any other serious organizations that support or call for the unification of Kosovo with Albania. On the other hand, Kosovo’s Vetëvendosja (Self-Determination) Party has a political platform to unify the two states, but it has failed to increase its clout and numbers in the parliament to turn its platform into action.

The relations between Kosovo and Albania as two independent states are determined by a variety of complex factors. These include the long separation in the past, beginning with the establishment of the independent Albanian state, very weak economic ties, the missing links between cultures and peoples as well as the current poor state of both economies, the low grade of functionality of the state and democracy, and finally the populist actions on both sides.

However there seems to be another new factor that will influence the future of the relations between Albania and Kosovo, again as two independent states, in a stronger and perhaps more decisive way, and that is the new rapprochement between Albania and Serbia.

 

Albania-Serbia, Kosovo as a proxy battle

When Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama visited Belgrade in November 2014, the first Albanian government head to visit since Enver Hoxha in 1946, it was not expected that the agenda of discussions would include Kosovo in any way. It was well understood that more than the agenda of the event, what mattered was the very fact that this visit was happening.

The attention of European diplomats, as well as that of the local and international media, focused simply on the fact that after many decades of conflict, an Albanian Prime Minister was going to Serbia and not on the content of the conversations that were to happen. The symbolism behind the change was clear: “The two greatest enemies in the Balkans are departing from the past and setting out towards peace.”

In the same vein, the poor state of relations between Albania and Serbia was another factor that was impeding any immediate concrete agenda of bilateral relations, even less so of a high level meeting of the two governments. The only feasible thing was an agreement in principal to cooperate.

In the meantime there were at least three factors which suggested the exclusion of Kosovo from the agenda of the meeting of the two Prime Ministers:

First of all, Kosovo has been an independent state since 2008 recognized by more than one hundred states, including Albania. Despite the fact that currently Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state, both countries have entered into a process of dialogue and have signed several agreements mediated by a third party, the European Union. The inclusion of Kosovo in the agenda of the bilateral talks between Albania and Serbia, which was in fact the inclusion of a third country, was entirely out of place and suggestive of incorrect assumptions. Kosovo’s inclusion would have suggested that Kosovo could be perceived and interpreted as an issue that needed to be resolved between Albania and Serbia. This did not happen even prior to 2008 when the status of Kosovo was really unsettled after the fall of the Milosevic regime. Albania has never conditioned its relations with Serbia after the democratic changes that happened there and until 2008 when Kosovo’s independence was declared. During this period Albania, in cases when the issue of Kosovo emerged, applied the formula ‘agree to disagree’ in order to foster dialogue and cooperation with Serbia.

Second, even though there exists a possibility that Albania can influence and can encourage the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state by countries that haven’t done this yet, this opportunity has rarely materialized and is unlikely to do so in the future.18 This is also due to the fact that Albania itself is a small country, a weak state in which the international community frequently interferes in both internal and foreign policies. And of course Albania had little power to influence Serbia’s decision with regard to the recognition of Kosovo.

Third, there was a potential hazard of including an issue such as Kosovo’s independence for which Albania and Serbia maintain diametrically opposite positions in a special meeting that happened after so many decades of a divergence of opinions. This would neither help the meeting nor contribute to the fulfillment of expectations for a new climate between these two countries long hostage to the myth of “historical enmity.”

Another accidental factor that excluded Kosovo from this high level agenda was the incident in the Belgrade stadium with the flight of the “famous drone,” carrying a flag that was later interpreted as a flag of Greater Albania. Just one week prior to the visit of the Prime Minister of Albania to Serbia, both countries nearly returned to a clash that was reminiscent of the past. Within 24 hours, both governments exchanged Protest Notes.19 The ambassadors of both countries were urgently called to the relevant diplomatic premises. The highest level statesmen from both countries were involved in declarations, polemics and even accusations made from a distance.

These, among other details, bore a stunning resemblance to the Cold War times of 70 years ago, when Albania and Tito’s Yugoslavia ended their ‘honeymoon’ in 1948. The myth of the historical enmity between Albanians and Serbs in the Balkans reappeared suddenly and in an absurd way in the interstate relations between Albania and Serbia.

However, despite the fact that including Kosovo in this first meeting of heads of governments after 70 years would be neither rational nor beneficial, it happened nevertheless. Kosovo was included in front of the press, and the public reaction to the two different stances on the state of Kosovo of the two Prime Ministers almost eclipsed everything else, including the importance and the symbolic nature of the entire visit. The lengthy speech of the Prime Minister of Albania focused excessively on “the issue of Kosovo” in Belgrade, and the speech was saluted by Albanian political leaders20 from Albanian populist circles, especially those outside Albania, including some of the political leaders in Kosovo.

A similar process happened in Serbia. Kosovo served as a “proxy battle” for nationalists and populists, including Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic who expressed pity for what he called “the provocation of the Prime Minister of Albania,” while all Serbian local media unified in their position and glorified “his determination to confront the provocations and protect Kosovo, whose independence we shall never recognize.”

On the other side, the government of Kosovo and high level state officials showed restraint with regard to this “patriotic act of the Albanian Prime Minister in the heart of Belgrade” and through almost neutral comments stressed the fact that Kosovo and Serbia were currently engaged in a dialogue with each other.

Hashim Thaçi, at that time Prime Minister of Kosovo, while “congratulating Rama on his stance about the necessity of ‘coming to terms with the reality of the independent Kosovo,’” also highlighted the ongoing dialogue process between Serbia and Kosovo.21

Meanwhile, in Tirana and Prishtina, independent analysts highlighted that the important aspect of the meeting between Rama and Vucic was the effort from both leaders to project an image of collaboration to Brussels and other Western decision-making circles.22

Since that first meeting in the autumn of 2014, the Prime Ministers of Albania and Serbia have continued to meet more frequently,23 in order to push forward a new climate in the interstate relations and simultaneously build their own image as modern leaders, who "look toward the future.”

Despite the fact that economic ties between Albania and Serbia are still weak, trade flow during the past two years have witnessed a modest increase,24 while both administrations are looking for new instruments in order to further develop economic cooperation.25

However, efforts to establish a new close relationship between Albania and Serbia have not been welcomed in Kosovo. Starting with a lack of enthusiasm and neutral positions noticed in the beginning, political leaders in Kosovo look progressively more critical positions on what was happening between Tirana and Belgrade. They think that Tirana is “rushing” its efforts to deepen relations with Belgrade.

Why does Prishtina harbor so much skepticism regarding the rapprochement between Tirana and Belgrade? At the political level, Kosovo and Serbia, while being engaged in a process of dialogue facilitated by the EU, have reached some solutions or have begun to approach the solving of some practical issues between their countries. These issues have a direct impact on the lives of their citizens despite the fact that Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo. From the economic point of view, there is more substance between Kosovo and Serbia than there is in economic relations between Kosovo and Albania.

It is clear that the nervous stance and opposition that Kosovo shows is not related to the deepening and developing of economic relations between Albania and Serbia in particular, nor is it even related to the development of the state relations and their rapprochement per se.

The reserved position of the government of Kosovo with regard to the rapprochement has to do with the fact that Albania and Serbia, continue “to keep” Kosovo on their bilateral agenda in a situation in which in Kosovo, de facto, Serbia does not have any kind of sovereignty whereas Albania de facto and de jure has recognized Kosovo’s independence. The same has been done by more than one hundred states, most of the Security Council members, most of the EU members and most of the globe’s democratic states.

 

Is Albania trying to play the role of ‘mother country’ toward Kosovo and if so why?

When, 103 years ago, the European powers recognized the Albanian state, they split Albanian territories. Therefore Albania, the established state, at that time became the ‘mother country’ in relation to Kosovo and the other Albanian populations that made up compact communities in the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later, after World War II, the Yugoslav Federation. But for the first hundred years Albania could not play the role of the mother country toward Albanians that were left out of the official state borders and acquired the status of minorities.

Even after the collapse of the communist regime and the end of the Cold War, Albania, a very weak state occasionally endangered itself, could not play the role of mother country to Kosovo and other Albanian minorities in the Yugoslav Federation, which had started to violently disintegrate.

Albania in a consistent way has supported Western policies in the Balkans and its political position in relation to the future of Kosovo has not differed from that of the western powers, such as the United States and major European countries. Despite the fact that political leaders in Albania have often declared that they supported the independence of Kosovo, the official political class in Tirana was unable to form and advocate for a unique point of view and position, independent from others, in relation to the future of Kosovo as an independent state. Such a thing did not happen at least not before the start of the war in Kosovo.

It would be worse than paradoxical and ironic if Albania tries to do now what it could not do before: To play the role of mother country now after more than 100 years and with Kosovo already independent, a role never played for known historical reasons. There is no doubt that after 2008, Albania could no longer be the mother country of an independent Kosovo. It is even questionable whether Albania should play the same role for Albanians in the Presevo Valley, which constitute a minority in Serbia. It is quite natural that for the Albanian minority in Presevo, Kosovo and not Albania is considered their mother country. To arrive at that conclusion, one must keep in mind that the Presevo Valley is an integral part of the same economic and cultural unity that connects it to Kosovo first and foremost, before ever connecting it to Albania.26 In a context when Albania cannot even theoretically play the mother country role for Kosovo in its relations with Serbia, is it then reasonable for Albania “to keep the elephant in the living room”, a proxy battle, just as it is for Serbia? Albania has continuously asked to be rewarded for its moderate policy in the Balkans, where bloody conflicts and disagreements have been raging and where tensions persist to the present day. The international community has often spoken about Albania’s constructive role in the Balkans and as a result Albania has been waiting to be rewarded for its constructiveness. The reward is often conceptualized mainly as support from the West for individuals and leaders, rather than for the countries and states that they lead.

Currently this role for Albania in the Balkans is decreasing for at least three reasons. First, the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state with its own institutions and its own government naturally reduces the role that Tirana could potentially play in the region. Second, the efforts of Albania to influence developments in Kosovo (and also in Macedonia) have been perceived mostly as paternalism, which also explains the gradual rebuttal from the political elites in Kosovo. Third, the efforts of Tirana to influence the politics in Kosovo have ended up being clientelistic actions to back certain political parties or even worse single individuals. And last but not least, the recurrent crises in Albania, that sometimes have bordered on state collapse, have eroded the legitimacy, the reputation and therefore the possibility of Albania exerting a leadership role as a model for Albanians in the Balkans.27

The efforts to build up a new climate in the relations between Albania and Serbia are in fact efforts to normalize these bilateral relations. On the surface it looks paradoxical that two states without any substantial contested issues would have difficulties to normalize relations. This of course would not be the case if the two countries chose to leave their Kosovo stances out of their bilateral agenda. In fact, including a third country like Kosovo, is a paradox in itself.28

The European Union is already playing the role of mediator, as a third party, in the normalization of the relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Therefore, it does not make any sense for Albania, a small and weak state, to try to play the very same role. Additionally, let’s not forget the implications that came with the fact that Albania as a state was considered at least formally the mother country for Kosovo until 2008, the year of Prishtina’s declaration of independence. Currently, Albania does not have a mandate to negotiate with Serbia on behalf of Kosovo and expectations that Albania could have any influence on the relations between Serbia and Kosovo do not exist, either in Belgrade or in Tirana.29 Kosovo itself is opposed to any intermediating role of Albania, among other reasons because “Albania is not a global actor like the United States or the European Union.” Therefore, in the relations between Kosovo and Serbia, the former requires the support of the United States or the European Union,” which are in possession of the instruments that can make a difference.30

Hence, if Albania is a state too small and weak and dependent on a high degree of interference on the part of the international community in its internal and foreign affairs; if Kosovo itself does not desire a mediating role for Albania in its relations with Serbia and considering that this role has been already taken up by an international power like the EU, what then would explain the persistence of official Tirana to keep the “issue of Kosovo” on the bilateral agenda with Serbia? The term itself, “issue of Kosovo” symbolizes fully the mythic notion of post-communist political Albania concerning Kosovo.31

Throughout the last 25 years, since the beginning of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, in the “battle of Albania for the issue of Kosovo” the elements of a proxy battle have been abundant. The issue of Kosovo before and after independence has been used first and foremost by political leaders of Albania in order to advance their own short term political interests and second, most importantly, the issue has been used to secure legitimacy from the international community for their “moderate and constructive policies in the Balkans.” On the other side, the political leadership in Kosovo has accepted these proxy elements by welcoming the package of support and contributions from Albania. In the meantime, political figures in Kosovo have also used their connections and influence in Albania for their internal political conflict. In this complex relationship between Tirana and Prishtina there have often been disagreements, polemics, but for the first time we are witnessing real tension in the political relations between these “two brothers.” The battle that Tirana is currently waging with Belgrade for Kosovo implies the perception that in fact Kosovo, factually a third state, is simply a matter that should be solved between Albania and Serbia.32 The tensions between Kosovo and Albania were at an apex particularly after the visit of the Albanian Prime Minister to Serbia in October 2016. First, some independent voices in Prishtina compared the behavior of Albania regarding Kosovo to the behavior of Serbia regarding Republika Srpska and considered this approach as entirely “unacceptable.”33 The government of Kosovo joined these critical voices through the comments of Foreign Affairs Minister Enver Hoxhaj, who warned Tirana that as far as “the normalization of the Kosovo-Serbia relations, Kosovo is itself a political actor and Albania is clear about the process and ... will be clear about it even in the future.”34

Kosovo and its relationship with Serbia is becoming increasingly included as an issue on the agenda of the bilateral relations between Albania and Serbia, whereas it is an of a third state and naturally under the mandate of that specific state, in this case Kosovo.35

Albania and Serbia have prepared project proposals about infrastructure whose implementation, such as in the case of the Durrës-Nish highway, implies the agreement and the engagement of a third state that geographically stands between them, that of Kosovo. The signing of bilateral protocols between Albania and Serbia for these infrastructure protocols has generated concern and even alarm in Prishtina which fears that the signed agreements recognize the sovereignty of Serbia over Kosovo.36

Keeping this “elephant in the room,” while the elephant was set free in 2008, is not the only thing that makes the “proxy” battle of Albania, as well as that of Serbia, for Kosovo not only useless but dangerous. With this new rapprochement with Serbia, Albania has not hidden its ambitions to lead together with Serbia the process of reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs in the Balkans.

According to the Prime Minister of Albania, “Serbia and Albania must look forward, accomplishing for the Balkans what Germany and France accomplished for the entire Europe after World War II.”37 Is the Franco-German model of reconciliation sustainable for the case of Albania and Serbia? Enmity between Albanians and Serbs is a myth, unlike the case of the enmity and rivalry between France and Germany. Most importantly, in the modern conflict between Albanians and Serbs the issue of Kosovo has been central. Despite the conflict dominated relationship, Albania and Serbia as two independent states have never fought against each other, as France and Germany have often done until the end of the Second World War, of course if we don’t consider the efforts of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and the European powers to split Albanian territories on the eve of the establishment and recognition of the Albanian state. The war, the genocide, the mass killings, the mass dislocations have happened in Kosovo and not in Albania. Under these circumstances, is it possible for Albania to lead the reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs in the Balkans?38 Hashim Thaçi, President of Kosovo, has a clear and unequivocal answer to this question: “The full normalization of Albanian-Serbian relations does not go from Belgrade through Tirana, but through Prishtina”.39

 

Conclusions

Albania and Serbia are two key states with regard to the security, stability and development of the Balkans. Their relations are strategic relations and as such they require local ownership and local support, aside from the encouragement and support of the European Union.

The new rapprochement between Albania and Serbia obviously has the backing of special key European powers who have high expectations for results. The support of the European Union, in general, and that of Germany, in particular, for a new era in the state relations between Albania and Serbia is related to the expectations for the idea of reconciliation of Albanians and Serbs as the two “biggest enemy states” in the Balkans.

Deepening and developing state relations between Albania and Serbia can help to create a new climate between Albanians and Serbs in the Balkans, however, the reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs as two peoples must happen between Serbia and Kosovo.

In the meantime there are two decisive factors that shape the current relations between Albania and Kosovo: The recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and the new relations between Albania and Serbia.

Since the declaration of independence of Kosovo in 2008, Albania and Kosovo have been trying to develop entirely new relations, now as two independent states. It might seem like a paradox, but the accommodation and the functioning of Albania and Kosovo as two independent states and furthermore the development of the relations between them seems a difficult feat even after almost a decade. From time to time, on the state border that now separates two ethnically Albanian states, we see the explosion of “little wars” about the trade of potatoes, milk, flour, etc. In the relations between the two states, there is less substance and disproportionately more facade about the brotherly cooperation. In addition, there is a constant paternalistic attitude from Tirana that from time to time results in nervous reactions from Prishtina.

For well-known historical reasons, Albania could never play the role of ‘mother country’ toward Kosovo or the other Albanian minorities in the Balkans and it is understood that every effort to try to play this role after the independence of Kosovo would be absurd and damaging. Kosovo and Albania, as two independent states, could harmonize their regional policies, especially those that concern Albanian minorities in other countries in the Balkans, rather than having clashing positions.

Since 2008, as far as relations between Albania and Serbia are concerned, Kosovo is not and can no longer be “the elephant in the room.” Not adapting to this reality and still keeping he same position means ignoring the fact that Kosovo is independent, which could lead to serious implications in its relations with Serbia. In the meantime, it also relativizes, if not undermining altogether, the role of the international factors, as third parties between Serbia and Kosovo, such as in the case of the European Union. And last but not least a ‘proxy’ battle from Tirana has brought on the clouds of a tension and antagonism between Albania and Kosovo.

Populist and paternalistic stances from both Belgrade and Tirana will keep the stagnant status quo in state relations between Albania and Serbia and become an obstacle toward real progress, while simultaneously substantially damaging state relations between Albania and Kosovo.

 

1Biberaj, "Albania in international relations"

 2Biberaj, "An unequal alliance"

3"Further steps to normalize relations" Tirana Times, 7

4Cela, “Albanian Serbian Relations", 22

5Jan Braathu, Ambassador of Norway to Kosovo and Albania quoting President Ibrahim Rugova, “We are two brothers, but we live in separate houses,”

6Armstrong, “The six months Kingdom”

7Fischer, “Albania 1943-45”

8Milo, “Udhëkryqe shqiptaro-gjermane”

9Certainly, after the recognition from the United States and major European countries.

 10The latest initiative of the Albanian diplomacy to support the membership of Kosovo in UNESCO failed quite spectacularly, with the abstention of some European countries which have in fact recognized its independence since many years ago.

11“Albania still doesn’t recognize certificates of origin issued by Kosovo authorities which makes the export of Kosovo products to Albania difficult.” Naim Gashi

12In order to assess how ridiculous the thesis of Greater Albania, often claimed by third parties, truly is one needs only to observe the economic relations.

 13Rakipi “Il Piemonte Albanese e Bruxelles”

 14AIIS, "People on state and democracy"

 15Ibid.

16The support for the Natural Albania seems spectacular in Kosovo with about 81 percent of those asked in favour, however this number seems questionable if we consider the fact that the political party Vetëvendosja, the only serious political organization that supports the unification of the two states, received only 12 percent of the ballots in general elections in Kosovo.

 17The series of joint government meetings between Albania and Kosovo started with the first meeting held in Prizren. The choice of the place, Prizren, coupled with the careful scenography of the event full of flags, and two leaders of course was a reflection of the symbolic history of unity, enshrined in the League of Prizren.

18In 2015, Albania undertook a leading role in assisting Kosovo’s efforts to become a member of UNESCO but this attempt failed as many states which have in fact recognized Kosovo’s independence abstained in the voting.

 19Agolli, "Shqipëria notë proteste Serbisë", Voice of America

20 “Demaçi and Thaçi on Rama’s declarations", InfoAlbania

21Ponatov, "Albanian visit to Serbia"

22 Robelli “Rama’s visit to Belgrade”, Koha.net

23In addition to meeting in third countries, the Serbian Prime Minister Vucic visited Tirana in March of 2015, while the Albanian Prime Minister visited Belgrade again in October of this year (2016).

 24Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges continue to remain lower than with Serbia, Tirana Times

 25In October 2016 Albania and Serbia established The Joint Chamber of Commerce with the aim of encouraging trade exchanges and potential investments.

 26 “Rama meets Vucic” - Gazeta Dita

27Rakipi, “Talking Albanian Foreign Policy”

 28The Italian proposal in the summer of 2014 to mediate between Albania and Serbia has been equally paradoxical in a context when these two countries have never experienced disagreements that require the facilitation of a third country, barring of course the case when in the relations between Albania and Serbia one includes Kosovo.

 29Zaba, “Serbia-Albania Relations: A Fragile Work in Progress”

 30Hoxhaj, “We don’t need Albania’s help to dialogue with Serbia”

31Since the start of the dissolution of former Yugoslavia and throughout the recent 25 years it has been in the agenda of every meeting with third parties including that of the President, Head of Government, Foreign Affairs Ministers and even down to Commune mayors.

 32During the last meeting in October of 2016 between the Prime Ministers of Albania and Serbia in Belgrade, Kosovo dominated the public discussion between them in front of an audience of experts and journalists. For more see Belgrade Security Forum, October 2016.

 33Pallaska, “Albania can not behave with Kosovo as Serbia behaves to Republika Srpska”, Telegrafi.

 34Hoxhaj, “We don’t need Albania’s help”

35During the public semi-formal meeting between the Prime Ministers of Albania and Serbia in Belgrade, in October of 2016, the issues that were prominent in the discussion were: the decision of the government of Kosovo to nationalize the mines of Trepça, the arresting of the Albanian police director of Mitrovica Police and similar issues.

 36Hasani, “Albania and Serbia undo Kosovo”

37 Ibid.

 38Robelli, The Albanian-Serbian reconciliation” Koha Jonë

 39Comments of the Kosovo President, Hashim Thaçi, for Klan Kosova TV.

 

REFERENCES

"Adem Demaçi and Menduh Thaçi vlerësojnë deklaratat e Ramës në Beograd", InfoAlbania, 12 November 2014. http://infoalbania.al/adem-demaci-dhe-menduh-thaci-vleresojne-deklaratat-e-rames-ne-beograd/ According to the activist Adem Demaçi the speech of the Albanian Prime Minister in Belgrade was an act of courage. According to him, Rama made it clear to the world that Serbians are keeping at their role of hypocrisy. “With his stance in Belgrade, Rama ended the century-old illusions of the Serbian politics that Albania should not speak about Kosovo. Albania showed to Serbia that it is independent from Europe and Edi Rama showed them what they have to do. He showed them that Serbs should look towards Europe and should not daydream about Kosovo”, - Demaçi says.

“Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges continue to remain lower than with Serbia”, Tirana Times, 2 December 2016. Albania’s exports to Serbia rose to 3.2 billion lek (€23.3 mln) in 2015 but imports were seven times higher at almost 21 billion lek (€153 mln), according to INSTAT, Albania’s state statistical INSTAT.

"Albania Twenty Years After: People on State and Democracy" AIIS, 2011. According to the latest relevant study of the AIIS, 88 percent of the citizens in Albania see relations with Kosovo as strategically important, while at the same time 99 percent of them see relations with Italy as such, 94 percent believe the same about the European Union and 90 percent about the United States.

"Rama meets Vucic, let’s do what Germany and France did after the Second World War" (Rama Takohet me Vuçiç, Të bëjmë atë që Franca dhe Gjermania bënë pas Luftës së Dytë Botërore.) Gazeta Dita, 21 April 2015

Agolli, I. "Shqipëria i paraqet notë proteste Serbisë", Voice of America, 16 October 2014. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania presented a note of protest on October 16, 2014 to the Serbian government in which the following was stressed: The Albanian government “was strongly condemning the political mud-throwing of the main Serbian leaders against the Albanian state and Albanian people.” The protest note from the Albanian government was in fact a response to that of the Serbian government. http://www.zeriamerikes.com/a/deklarat-e-ditmir-bushatit/2486075.html

Albania, Serbia take further steps to normalize relations, Tirana Times, 13 May 2014.

Armstrong, D. H. “Albania – The six months Kingdom”. AIIS Press, 2012.

Biberaj, E. "Albania: a small power in search of security" in Albania and China: An unequal alliance (Shqipëria dhe Kina - një aleancë e pabarabartë), 13-35. AIIS Press, 2011.

Biberaj, E. Albania in international relations (Shqipëria në marrëdhëniet ndërkombëtare), AIIS Press, 2013

Cela, A. “Albanian Serbian Relations in the eyes of the Albanian public opinion 2015”, 22 Tirana, AIIS, 2015. http://www.aiis-albania.org/sites/default/files/Albania-

Serbia%20relations%20in%20the%20eyes%20of%20the%20albanian%20public%20 2015.pdf

Fischer, B. “Albania 1943-1945: A view through Western Documents”. AIIS Press, 2012.

Hamidi L. et al, Albania and Serbia undo Kosovo (Shqipëria dhe Serbia 'zhbëjnë' Kosovën). Zeri, 19 October 2016. http://zeri.info/aktuale/112919/shqiperia-dhe-serbia-zhbejne-kosoven-dokument/ Signing of a protocol of collaboration between Albania and Serbia on projects of infrastructure.

Hoxhaj, E. "We don't need Albania's help to dialogue with Serbia" (Nuk na duhet ndihma e Shqipërisë për dialogun me Serbinë) http://www.gazetadita.al/hoxhaj-nuk-na-duhet-ndihma-e-shqiperise-per-dialogun-me-serbine/

Milo P., “Udhëkryqe shqiptaro-gjermane”. Toena, 2016.

Pallaska, D. "Albania can not behave to Kosovo as Serbia behaves to Republika Srpska" (“Pallaska: Shqipëria nuk mund të sillet me Kosovën si Serbia me Republikën Srpska.) According to Pallaska, a lawyer and analyst, “Serbia has created Republika Srpska while Kosovo has been created by its own people with their war and with the assistance of the international community.” http://telegrafi.com/pallaska-shqiperia-nuk-mund-te-sillet-kosoven-si-serbia-republiken-srpska-video/

Poznatov, M. "‘Historic’ Albanian visit to Serbia leaves bitter aftertaste" https://www.euractiv.com/section/enlargement/news/historic-albanian-visit-to-serbia-leaves-bitter-aftertaste/ EurActiv, 13 November 2014.

Rakipi A. “Il Piemonte Albanese e Bruxelles”, Limes Nr. 2, Rome 2008.

Rakipi, A. "Talking Albanian Foreign Policy". The Journal of Turkish Weekly, 25 May 2016.

Robelli, E. “Edi Rama’s visit to Belgrade and the unnecessary greetings from Kosovo” (Vizita e Edi Ramës në Beograd  dhe Selamet e panevojshme nga Kosova).

Koha, 12 October 2014.

http://archive.koha.net/index.php/.../docs/repository/pytjet/pdf/jeta-xharra.pdf?id=31&o=349

Robelli, E. "The Albanian-Serbian reconciliation: Large shoes to fill in for Rama and Vucic" (Pajtimi shqiptaro-serb: Këpucët e mëdha për Ramën dhe Vuçiçin) Koha Jonë, 24 October 2016

Zaba, N. "Serbia-Albania Relations: A Fragile Work in Progress". Balkan Insight, 13 October 2016. As Albania’s PM visits Serbia, experts argue that improving Belgrade-

Tirana relations are a result of their leaders’ hope of pleasing the EU rather than a real breakthrough between the two countries.

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/serbia-albania-relations-a-fragile-work-in-progress-10-13-2016#sthash.cTXRwJYa.dpuf

 

 
                    [post_title] => A new rapprochement between Albania and Serbia: The implications for Kosovo 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133326" align="alignright" width="300"]Air in Tirana is affected by high traffic among other things. (Photo: Archives)  Air in Tirana is affected by high traffic among other things. (Photo: Archives)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 16 – Air pollution figures in Albania remain among the highest in Europe, according to the recently-released 2016 report on air quality by the European Environment Agency.

About 2,120 people died in 2016 in Albania due to air pollution, of whom 2,010 were victims of high concentrations of fine particles in the air, 10 of nitrogen dioxide concentration and 100 of the ozone concentration, according to the report.

There has been a major increase in the past three years, with 776 pollution-related deaths in 2013.

Other countries of the Western Balkans don't fare much better, with Serbia reporting 10,730 pollution-related deaths in 2016, according to the report.

The European Environment Agency advises the increase in efforts to reduce the concentration value of harmful particles below the levels set by the European Union.

Local authorities say that among Albanian cities, Tirana features the worst air quality with traffic, construction and high-density living all contributing to low-quality air. The southeastern city of Korça, the coldest large city in Albania, also has a spike in winter air-pollution due to using coal and wood for heat, according to the General Director of the National Environment Agency, Julian Beqiri.

“Fine air particles remain a problem with Tirana as the most polluted city nationally,” Beqiri said. “Korça is also a problem in winter time.”

In an interview with Albanian media Beqiri added that in addition to air quality, noise and water pollution remain a problem.

“Tirana remains a problematic here too, with 17 percent higher noise levels than the norm during the day with nighttime noises being 25 percent higher than the norm,” Beqiri added.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania sees major increase in deaths from air pollution
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 20 - Albania's Constitutional Court has postponed a decision on a lawsuit by two judges' associations seeking to void aspects of three laws that are part of a major justice reform package seen as vital for the country's EU bid.

Proponents of the reform are worried the lawsuit is a delay tactic to postpone implementation of the reform.

One of the laws in question relates to re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors, best known as the Vetting Law, which is considered as a key element of the justice reform.

Earlier, the Constitutional Court had indicated it would not hold hearings on the matter and rule on filed documents alone, while deciding to take on the request of the judges' association, an unusual move by this Constitutional Court, according to the experts.

Fighting against the request are lawyers representing Albania's parliament, which approved the reform almost unanimously with the backing of the country's international partners.

Based on this week's decision by the Constitutional Court, legal positions from both sides will be heard in an open session on Sept. 28.

Lawyers for Albania's parliament contend that the laws that were passed are based on the best international standards and do not violate Albania's constitution.


Judges' associations: Laws unfair, unconstitutional


Albania’s National Association of Judges and the Union of Judges have filed a joint motion at the Constitutional Court seeking to void two laws of justice reform, including the much debated vetting law.

The judges groups say some aspects of the reform are unfair, and they are asking the country’s highest court to void certain parts of the Law on Judicial and Prosecutorial Status Bodies and the Law on the Provisional Reassessment of Judges and Prosecutors in the Republic of Albania, known widely as the Vetting Law.

It is the second such motion by the two associations, which also filed a motion in the fall of 2016 against the vetting law. The Constitutional Court court decided not to rule on that first motion.

However, the judges groups were able to get some provisions of another act, the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors in the Republic of Albania voided through another motion.

In their request to the Constitutional Court, the two judges associations seek to void some provisions regulating the vetting process of judges and prosecutors in terms of their potential links to organized crime. They want a shorter timeframe for the scrutiny and firmer evidence to be used.

A provision of the law that is challenged by associations as unconstitutional relates to the defining contacts between judges and prosecutors and people associated with organized crime. They note that the evidence that can be used in the vetting process is not enough to prove association under the country’s constitution.

The groups also reject the idea of having a deadline for resignations to avoid a full vetting process. Under the law the judges and prosecutors have three months since the law’s approval to resign to avoid the investigation.

The motion also includes several other regulations related to the vetting process and the bodies in charge of it.

International partners urge Albanians to implement reform

The justice reform, which was approved in full only last month, is seen as key to Albania’s progress toward EU integration, as graft in the judiciary is one of the largest problems the country has faced during its post-communist transition.

The U.S. Embassy in Tirana recently issued a statement regarding challenges to the reform.

"The Albanian people must be concerned by efforts to weaken the reform, to protect corrupt judges and prosecutors, including those related to organized crime," the embassy statement said.

EU member states and the EU Delegation in Tirana also issued a joint statement, saying the re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors, as envisaged in the legislation, has already been evaluated and green-lighted by the Venice Commission and the Constitutional Court of Albania.

The EU statement added that the credible and tangible progress of the five key priorities, the implementation of justice reform, and in particular the re-evaluation [vetting] law, are essential for opening accession negotiations with Albania.

In an interview this week, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for Western Balkans at the EU Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, who is to lead the international monitoring group on the vetting process, said the justice reform and the vetting process are so important for Albania that they can be considered a process of historic relevance, a defining moment for the justice system in the country.

“Strengthening an impartial, independent, accountable, efficient and truly professional judiciary has relevance also for a broader challenge to irreversibly consolidate the rule of law in Albania, once for all. With such expectations, clearly, the earlier the process starts the better it will be. The citizens of Albania have already waited too long; they deserve a judicial system that can be truly relied upon, by everybody,” Ruiz Calavera said.

Ruiz Calavera added she expected the vetting process to start in the early Autumn.

 
                    [post_title] => Concerns mount as Constitutional Court postpones justice reform ruling
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 14 – Albania- China relations are gaining new momentum as the Asian superpower is increasing investment in Albania, its once tiny Balkan ally in the 1960s and 70s.

Four decades on, the present context is quite different as China has turned into the world's second largest economy, and Albania is now a NATO country and an EU candidate country with its small economy being one of the Western Balkans' most vibrant and holding one of the greatest potential due to the geographical advantage and natural resources.

Last year, Chinese companies acquired two of Albania’s most important assets, the country’s sole international airport and the largest oil company, increasing Chinese investment to Albania 10-fold to about $760 million, and turning China into one of top investors in a single year.

The acquisition reconfirmed China's investment and trade interest in traditional ally Albania, and could herald other important investment as part of Beijing’s ambitious “One Belt One Road” initiative, a plan to wrap its own infrastructure and influence westward by land and sea and the “16+1″ framework expanding cooperation with 11 EU member states and five Balkan countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The investments also come at a time when China’s growth has slowed down to a so-called ‘new normal’ following decades of strong double digit growth rates and ample liquidity it is investing throughout Europe.

Lian Gang, the commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy in Tirana, tells China Radio International in the local Albanian service that despite the geographical distance and the huge difference in the two economies, "the China-Albania economic cooperation holds great potential as both countries are able to meet each other's demands with the advantages they hold in addition to deep traditional friendship and strong political confidence."

Albania has traditionally exported its chromium to China while imports from China are the country’s top three largest.

Chinese companies already operate in oil, mining, infrastructure, energy, telecommunication and services sectors in Albania, and are looking for new opportunities in the manufacturing and tourism sectors.

Albania's emerging tourism sector is seen as key potential to attract new Chinese investment considering the recent airport ownership which can turn into a hub for Chinese tourists to Albania and the Balkan region.

The natural and cultural resources Albania offers could become a magnet to attract Chinese investment and tourists, especially among the 1960-1970s nostalgics of Albanian movies screening in China when the two countries were close allies.

"Albanian movies have accompanied an entire generation of Chinese during their youth and now the majority of them have retired or about to retire. I believe, if they are given the opportunity, they would love to visit present-day Albania to get to know it closer first-hand," Gang has told CRI in the local Albanian service.

The Chinese diplomat says Chinese investments in Albania are important in four respects.

"Firstly, they show the confidence of Chinese companies in Albania's market and future development. Secondly, big projects such as the purchase of "Bankers" oil company and shares in the "Mother Teresa" airport could attract the attention of other companies, promoting the development of other sectors in the same industrial chain," the Chinese commercial diplomat has said.

Last year, a Chinese consortium led by China Everbright Limited acquired a 100 percent stake in Albania’s sole international airport for an undisclosed amount that is estimated at €82 million. Another Chinese company, Geo-Jade Petroleum Corporation, completed the acquisition of Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, the country’s biggest oil producer for C$575 million (€392 mln) earlier in 2016, increasing China’s presence as a foreign investor in Albania from $87 million to $760 million.

"Thirdly, the cooperation has maximized the use of multilateral resources. For example, the "Mother Teresa" airport project has mixed Chinese resources regarding capital, customers and business expansion, Albanian resources in services and German management resources. As a result the number of airport passengers in the first quarter of this year rose by 10 percent.

Fourthly, Chinese companies are also promoting social responsibility in addition to business, contributing to an increase in tax income, employment and vocational training education," CRI reports.

Bankers Petroleum, the country's largest oil company operating the Patos-Marnza, one of Europe's largest onshore heavy oilfields, employs about 2,000 people, with a huge impact on the Fier region, Albania’s second largest.

At the Huawei Albania subsidiary, most of staff are Albanians who have developed high ICT skills also thanks to exchanges with Chinese experts.

Earlier this year, China reconfirmed its plans to continue boosting trade and investment ties with its old ally Albania as the economic superpower is emerging as one of the country’s top investors and second largest trading partner. The confirmation came last April as China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli paid a two-day visit to Albania, leading the highest level Chinese government delegation to Albania in five decades.

The Albania Chinese relations date back to the late 1940s when Albania was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China and tiny Balkan country helped the Asian superpower regain its seat at the UN as the PRC in the early 1970s.

Chinese experts helped rebuild much of the country’s main industries in the 1960-70s, giving rise to an unequal alliance.

“Domination in the alliance by the Great Power reduces the Small Power to the status of a satellite, rather than an ally. The Small Power thereby suffers a loss of sovereignty. Such was not the case with the unequal alliance between the smallest and one of the largest communist states: Albania and China,” says U.S.-based journalist Elez Biberaj, one of the world’s leading political scientists on Albanian issues in his “Albania and China – An unequal alliance” book, a publication of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, one of the country’s top think tanks.

 
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