The rigged game: CEC shoots itself on the foot

TIRANA TIMES OP-ED Democracy is a system that needs rules. It is fragile and even the smallest deviation from the rules can have cascading effects. Albania as a country that has not succeeded to complete its democratic transition knows this

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Editorial: Foreign policy and bilateral relations: where’s the focus at?

Editorial: Foreign policy and bilateral relations: where’s the focus at?

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The Brdo-Brijuni Process Leaders’ Meeting is under way in Tirana and heads of states of the region have gathered under conditions which cannot to be described as favorable. The visit of Serbian president Vucic and the President

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Editorial: The fallout from the Berlin Summit: realism must prevail on all sides

Editorial: The fallout from the Berlin Summit: realism must prevail on all sides

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The much anticipated Summit in Berlin where German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron gathered all Balkan leaders had a fallout that resembled a cold sobering shower for many of the region’s politicians but also for the

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New political party, same old obsolete story

New political party, same old obsolete story

TIRANA TIMES OP-ED In principle the establishment of a new political party in any pluralistic system should be good news. The creation of a platform where citizens can advocate for common interest is the key way to play the democratic

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Editorial: The lessons of the painful past beg to be remembered

Editorial: The lessons of the painful past beg to be remembered

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL One of the key abilities for both individuals and countries to be mature and prosperous is to be able to learn from their past mistakes. Experience, no matter how painful or absurd, holds valuable lessons for the

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“Albania’s NATO commitment is a commitment to the region”

“Albania’s NATO commitment is a commitment to the region”

By Ilir Meta  In the capacities of the President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Albania, but especially as a witness and protagonist of my country’s nearly 30-year-old Euro-Atlantic journey, I would like to share with

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Editorial: For whom the bell tolls? The foreshadow of regress is already here

Editorial: For whom the bell tolls? The foreshadow of regress is already here

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL This week, the majority of the MPs in the Dutch parliament took a vote to ask to their government for the return of the visa regime with Albania. The dramatic development included several political parties in the

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Anti-Chinese hysteria as the wrong response approach

TIRANA TIMES OP-ED The higher ranks of the Albanian Executive, from the Prime Minister himself to the Minister of interior Affairs and the Minister of Infrastructure down to the Albanian police chiefs seem to have found an incorrect and dangerous

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Editorial: Twice the crime, twice the terror: a day of reckoning for Albania and its security

Editorial: Twice the crime, twice the terror: a day of reckoning for Albania and its security

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL It is the most bitter of ironies that in the same time when Albania celebrates the 10th anniversary of NATO membership, a membership into the strongest, most efficient and prestigious security alliance in the world, the security

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The saga of foreign affairs fake drama persists

TIRANA TIMES OP-ED Another week, another important press conference with the presence of none less than the foreign affairs minister who has to communicate something of crucial importance to the Albanian public. He is urging the holders of diplomatic passport

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES OP-ED

Democracy is a system that needs rules. It is fragile and even the smallest deviation from the rules can have cascading effects. Albania as a country that has not succeeded to complete its democratic transition knows this too well. The political crisis that the country finds itself in is first and foremost about the rules of the democratic process, about a regular electoral process and legitimate outcomes that come out of free and fair elections. The key institution in charge to safeguard those rules and ensure their implementation is the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Whereas political pressure has always been a negative factor in the performance of the CEC, there have been many cases when the Commission has shown serious responsibility and taken decisions that have paved the way to protecting the rules of the game.

Therefore it is particularly concerning and disheartening to see the behavior of the CEC members this week, when in full contradiction to the law, to their previous track record and in utter defiance of the sensitive situation of the crisis they went ahead with allowing a new political party to enter the yet uncertain to happen local elections next month.

There were multiple grave irregularities with this act. The law has been broken by those in charge to safeguard it. The final date set to submit relevant registration documents was April 21. The CEC itself has had similar cases in 2015 and has voted unanimously to refute them. Most importantly in the moment when the new party, ironically dubbed Democratic Conviction, submitted the application to the CEC, it had not yet been formalized by the Court of Tirana. It was not a full juridical entity and therefore impossible to be registered as a competitor. However sadly the sky is the limit when it comes to the absurdity of the current state of affairs.

The decision of the CEC members that are nominated by the majority, was contested by the CEC head, the last remaining member representing the opposition in this institution, citing all the aforementioned arguments. It is clear that these move, alongside the disappointing persistence to treat the rather ridiculous group of substitute MPs as ‘real’ or ‘new’ opposition by the majority, are in line with an ill- advised strategy to go ahead in the elections with an alibi of partaking opposition.

This paper has discussed and forewarned in previous editorials the immense risk of executing such a plan and how the past holds bitter lessons for those who try this adventure.

However the most serious responsibility in this case is about the Central Elections Commission which has demonstrated a spectacular failure, an obvious and disgraceful bow to political pressure and a deep incapability of exerting its basic functions. This is the CEC in charge on June 30.

A last word is warranted about the role of the OSCE in Albania which has been very vocal about the need to have a regular electoral process and which remained inexplicably silent about this recent serious digression. This silence does not fare well and is even more worrisome on the context of the legitimacy of the international mission which is under a lot of criticism already.

Once again all sides, national and international, must come to terms that as long as the game is perpetually rigged and meddled with, the transition will never end and the vicious cycle of crisis will keep this country and its future forever hostage.
                    [post_title] => The rigged game: CEC shoots itself on the foot 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The Brdo-Brijuni Process Leaders’ Meeting is under way in Tirana and heads of states of the region have gathered under conditions which cannot to be described as favorable.

The visit of Serbian president Vucic and the President of the Republika Srpska Dodik was awaited with protests called by Vetvendosje. The latter being a political party in Kosovo has registered a branch in the form of a NGO in Albania. They are carrying a discourse which does not resonate with the mainstream political parties in Albania who have always favored ongoing dialogue and deepening relations with Serbia as a strategic way to preserve stability in the region. This ‘imported protests’ though being a bit of a novelty do not carry any real weight since they don’t have legitimacy stemming from the home public.

However relations with Serbia have been stagnant after the enthusiasm of the high level meetings a few years ago. The inspiring ideas which resulted in few concrete achievements such as the Joint Chamber of Commerce have abated and the shadow of the situation with Kosovo has again taken prominence in the dialogue between Tirana and Belgrade

The region is still reeling from the most recent yet not unique cold shower that the enlargement perspective got at the Berlin Summit hosted by Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron. The message seems to be lost on the outgoing leadership of the External Action Service who curiously insists on not delaying what has already been delayed.

Perhaps the most disappointed one is the Republic of North Macedonia whose leaders, after going to quite some lengths to reach the agreement with Greece, are openly asking what more does it take for the opening of negotiations.  It is only a matter of time before the negative impact that the case of Albania, still in the throes of a full blown political crisis, exerts on the whole issue becomes an issue as well.

The Summit also did into succeed to bring anything new for the Kosovo-Serbia relations which are at a new low which is not that surprising. What is disappointing is the role that the Albanian leadership has played with its interference. In addition to being unhelpful, the meddling of Albanian PM Rama and the following conflict between him and PM Haradinaj has also soured the relations between Kosovo and Albania. Trading rhetorical jabs over the last few days about ‘treason’, ‘patriotism’ and half a dozen other words that are reminiscent of the 19th century discourse is not making things any better.

Hence paradoxically Albanian bilateral relations with both Serbia and Kosovo are at the same time faltering. The Albanian foreign policy seems to have lost focus of the need to strengthen bilateral relations and keep them in focus. The first step to project any kind of influence is to fix the things at home, a message bluntly delivered in Berlin as well. Albania can neither help Kosovo in any way nor improve relations with Serbia in the current state that finds itself today, engulfed by a crisis with no horizon at sight. The wobbly behavior of the Albanian majority leaders in the international field is a perfect illustration of that.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Foreign policy and bilateral relations: where’s the focus at?
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The much anticipated Summit in Berlin where German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron gathered all Balkan leaders had a fallout that resembled a cold sobering shower for many of the region’s politicians but also for the public opinion. The latter has been fooled more than once by conflicting messages. It is enough to recall grotesque festivities of the early celebration of the negotiations opening last year, and even decorating the ambassadors in some of the EU member states with this motivation!

 “Get your houses in order before we can talk about any enlargement step!” was the prevailing message on the secondary topic of the Summit, given that the event’s main pillar was reigniting the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. This simple yet powerful message should serve as a hard wake up call for several actors to adopt a realistic approach to evaluating the progress made by aspiring countries in key areas relevant not only to their integration perspective but most importantly to their consolidation as democratic functional states.

Notwithstanding the pressure from their internal dynamics (in the case of France) and from the very close European parliament elections (in the case of both), the message of the European powerhouses Germany and France has strong doses of realism in it. These should serve as bitter but necessary pills to be ingested first and foremost by Albanian leaders in order to refocus their attention at home rather than serving ill-fitted solutions to the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, in which by the way they seem to be neither invited nor welcomed. The Albanian majority in power should redirect all their attention at home, at the internal political crisis that is putting whatever little progress that might have been achieved with the reforms in serious jeopardy.

Albania as it stand today, in the midst of a serious political and social crisis, should better not invent justifications for its internal failures.  Even more so it should steer clear of bilateral disputes between independent states, especially now that the negotiation and mediation power is at all-time low for both internal and regional reasons.

The realistic message should also ring true in the ears of European diplomats serving in the region, but particularly in Tirana. There seems to be a curios yet unhelpful switch of the attention of the diplomatic corps in Tirana towards the modus operandi of “travelogy”- experiencing, describing and promoting the panoramic, cultural, culinary and associated delights of place, focusing on the exotic. These messages come at the cost of ignoring or downplaying the real structural problems and most poignantly the acute crisis that is unfolding every day in Albania. To borrow a metaphor from Ivan Krastev, “a weak state in crisis is as big as an elephant”, but once you decide to shut your eyes you cannot see it, despite its size.

One more actor needs to be seriously engaged in this analytical reconsideration infused with realism. The previous experience of the report issued by the European Commission which recommended the unconditional opening of the accession negotiations and yet was not enough for the Council to give the green light, did enough damage to the legitimacy, authority and reputation of the Commission both in Brussels and in the region. Repeating this mistake again this year would definitely be a destructive second blow. The report must strike the correct balance between acknowledging tangible progress and highlighting deep systematic road blocks, if it is to be taken seriously this time.

The Albanian society is pro-European and pro-western. The Albanian foreign policy has been mostly consistent with that of the western alliances. There is no political party or force in the country that roots for any other plan B. The key frame conditions are set. The desire to start the serious path of negotiations is real and should be respected by all sides by fulfilling the rest with responsibility: by getting the house in order.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The fallout from the Berlin Summit: realism must prevail on all sides
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES OP-ED

In principle the establishment of a new political party in any pluralistic system should be good news. The creation of a platform where citizens can advocate for common interest is the key way to play the democratic game by the rules. However the political development story of Albania has seen the same old story repeat itself again and again in times prior to elections. Disgruntled individuals out of anger, spite and opportunism establish new parties after leaving old ones. They claim they stand for the principles the party has left aside.

Instead of providing real alternatives, they provide only a chance to vent off some discontent. The same logic applies to the establishment of the newest party on the right of the political spectrum by individuals who have long ago parted ways with the leadership of the Democratic Party. Despite having had plenty of time to establish this political force before, they chose to appear in this specific moment when the DP is out of the system and already has decided to forgo the local elections.

One needs not necessarily believe the conspiracy stories that the majority stands behind this new party to judge its obsoleteness. No matter how this force is promoted, it still serves nothing but the ill termed attempt to replace the real opposition who has taken to the streets with a fake one.

The democratic pluralistic system in Albania at the moment is in dire need of consolidating the rules of the game by making a firm, clear and final departure from using crime and money to influence and manipulate elections. The establishment of a new party that stems from an old one, real or fake, is a step in the void.
                    [post_title] => New political party, same old obsolete story 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

One of the key abilities for both individuals and countries to be mature and prosperous is to be able to learn from their past mistakes. Experience, no matter how painful or absurd, holds valuable lessons for the future. The most precious of these lessons are the acquired skills to recognize what specific mistakes led to catastrophic situations and avoid them by all means in the future.

In 1996 the Albanian political scene, despite fundamental differences in context and specificities, had quite some semblances to the current political crisis in Albania. The majority of the time ignored the risks of amassing unchecked power, ignored and belittled the opposition (latter to exert violence on it as well) and went on an absurd adventure to support fake opposition members of parliament. It sounds familiar because it is. The results of these mistakes was the disastrous period of 1996-1997 which costs Albania too much in terms of human lives, years of development progress, terrible country image and so on. It was a deeply bitter catastrophe that could have been avoided had the political players moved with more maturity and responsibility.

It is ironic that even the declarations from those dark times are sadly recycled in the last years. From the then communist style “Skrapar has fallen!” calls of the state controlled media to the now declarations that “the bastion of Kavaja has turned purple” from the still state controlled private media, the absurdity has a way to rise from the ashes again and again. Skrapar a stronghold of the left and its counterpart Kavaja on the right, alongside the rest of Albania, are definitely none the better because of it.

Fast forward more than two decades alter and sadly the lesson of that time seems to be lost on both national and international stakeholders. The decision of the real opposition to boycott the upcoming local elections is in line with their decision to be out of the system and not grant legitimacy to it. This decision turns a new more radical and decisive page in the revolt of the opposition and presents major risks to the short term stability of the country.

Whatever majority rulers or ambassadors say, the mostly caricature figures that fill in the seats of the Assembly now cannot be counted as the proper opposition of the country. They have neither the profile nor the legitimacy to fit the task. The solution of the crisis can never come unless the real sides get to agree. Any shortcut to circumvent this is a dangerous exercise.

Time has come to break free from the vicious circle of amnesia, to overcome this debilitating inability to learn from the past. The simple key lesson that holds the solution here is: don’t meddle with elections. Putting in place the right guarantees and the consensus spirit that political parties will not manipulate elections by money, pressure, blackmail, fraud and organized crime, as well as by public administration and police is the step to break the cycle.

The past is gone and all it can do now is to beg to be remembered. But we can still shape the future.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The lessons of the painful past beg to be remembered
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                    [post_date] => 2019-04-19 10:23:14
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                    [post_content] => By Ilir Meta 

In the capacities of the President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Albania, but especially as a witness and protagonist of my country’s nearly 30-year-old Euro-Atlantic journey, I would like to share with you some views and stands about this important process. 

After the great political upheavals and transformations that took place during the 1990s, Albania inherited a completely militarized state based on the concept of ‘the entire people ready to serve as soldiers’ who would fight against the two superpowers of that time, by consuming every year up to 20% of our country’s citizens’ GDP.

The new era of political pluralism, the first steps taken towards the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights, a free market economy, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, were accompanied by a strong political willingness to join the Western collective security and the European values as well.

Albania, in 1994 was among the first four countries belonging to the former Eastern Camp that signed the PFP initiative with NATO and during the 1999 Washington Summit, it was involved and included in the MAP program by being accepted as an aspiring country.

We celebrated in Tirana, just a few days ago, the 10th anniversary of our NATO membership marking one of the most important dates in Albania’s and Albanians’ modern history and an historic event not only for our country, but also for the Western Balkans region.

This process would not have been successful without the sincere support and assistance provided by our friends and partners: NATO member countries.

Albania, during its NATO accession process, has undergone profound transformations, faced and overcame difficult challenges, and has marked tremendous achievements.

Domestic political transformations, constitutional and legal, economic system reforms, but especially the deep reform in our foreign policy, security and defense system, constitute the most prominent achievements of my country in fulfilling the obligations required to join NATO.

Establishing the democratic civilian control over security and defense structures and transforming Albanian Armed Forces from a people’s army with Cold War concepts into a modern small and professional army is the most impressive aspect of this process.

I would like to stress that not only during this deep transformation process of Albanian society, but even at the present day, the constant support of Albanian citizens (over 90% of them), and that of the public opinion, civil society and the broad political and inclusive consensus are the elements that highlight the case of Albania’s membership in NATO, showing therefore not only the political orientation, but above and first of all, the orientation and Western affiliation of the Albanians.

Our commitment to NATO and our engagement does not serves only our national security and our country’s development, but above all, it represents a great responsibility to serve the peace, stability and security of our region, of the Mediterranean one and beyond them as well.

Albania’s geostrategic position is a challenging potential in the interest of NATO’s engagement but at the same time an envious and attractive ground for the ambitions and goals of other state and non-state actors aimed at weakening the Alliance, the division of the European Union and undermining the cooperation and mutual trust that unites us in NATO and in the European Union as well.

Therefore Albania strongly supports the “Open Doors” policy to expand the Alliance with the other countries of our region.

We are convinced that Montenegro’s accession into NATO was a just and necessary action taken to have a regional and geostrategic impact. The Alliance proved its strength, power and determination by successfully challenging serious attempts aimed at forcing this process to fail.

We are happy today for the end of the lengthy saga of the dispute between Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia and the signing of the Prespa Agreement, because I am convinced that the membership of our neighboring country in NATO and in the European Union too marks another cornerstone of security and the stability of the Western Balkans.

Albania thinks that the acceleration of Kosova’ steps and those of the remaining countries of our region towards NATO and European Union would serve not only the long-term security and stability of the Balkans, but also the economic cooperation and growth and the increase of foreign investments, mainly from the North Atlantic Alliance and of the European Union member countries.

The legacy from the not so distant and bitter past, is still alive in the region. The prejudices, particularly the ethnic ones, continue to pop up and to hinder the indispensable process of reconciliation and cooperation among the countries and peoples in the region, – a vital challenge for its security and future.

My country, which once was a consumer of security, today is a contributor to the stability and security in our region and beyond it.

Albania will take over the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office in 2020 and is prepared for that challenge.

The increasing ambitions and the “geo-strategic expansion” of third actors, state or non-state actors in the Western Balkans and beyond it, remain a potential and challenging threat and danger for both the Western Balkans and the Alliance per se.

Therefore, we deem that the NATO’s role and continuation of its presence in Kosova and our region, is crucial for the peace and Euro-Atlantic values.

Our Euro-Atlantic agenda is faced today also with the increasing threat of the religious radicalization and terrorism, with violent extremism, with foreign fighters and the consequences of their war, with illegal migration and human and narcotics trafficking, which threaten and endanger our national interests and those of the Alliance.

Yet again, the current world order appears to face major challenges of balances of powers.

New potential conflicts, the crisis of multilateralism, new forms of international cooperation, cyber and hybrid attacks, and the emerging of new economic powers with obvious and noticeable ambitions for geopolitical expansion, are threatening the current and the future of our societies.

The rapid pace of globalization, climate changes, the fight to establish the monopoly over resources and energy corridors are issues that have sparked intense debates in the framework of transatlantic relations trying to challenge them.

Under such conditions, we need to strengthen our partnership and mutual trust within the Alliance, to enhance and increase our co-operation, to share our experiences and information, especially among the relevant specialized agencies and security structures.

Albania guarantees to fulfill its responsibilities, about its engagement, commitment and solidarity enshrined in the principle of “the collective defense and security” of each NATO member country and of the strategic interests of the Alliance.

Albania has made available its entire infrastructure to the benefit of collective defense and the Alliance’s operations and military exercises by demonstrating itself as a reliable partner and leader in all regional initiatives with a view to enhance the confidence among the countries of the region, strengthening the cooperation and sharing of its membership experience.

In its 10 years of membership, Albania remains a major contributor to the implementation of United States and NATO initiatives and projects, contributing to peacebuilding and increasing mutual trust and stability in the region.

After its accession, Albania increased its ambitions and contributions of the NATO’s obligations by receiving deservingly in 2012 its official appreciation as “one of the 5 model countries for reforms, its defense budget, fulfillment of obligations and contributions for NATO” thanks to the 500 persons at the same time contribution placed at the disposal of the Alliance.

During its 10 years of membership, Albania has carried out important defense modernization projects such as the: Naval Space Monitoring, Patrol Ships, Helicopters, Special Forces, new Uniforms, High Security Course, Strategic Studies Center, digitalization of personnel data, the exemplary project of demolition of inherited ammunition (about 300,000 5 tons of ammunition), creating the museum and image of the Armed Forces; signing of several understanding agreements regarding Special Forces, Intelligence, Paris Protocol / SOFA, exchanging the classified information, etc.

Ever since 1996, my country has contributed to international missions alongside allied countries with about 8,000 men and women in uniform, a significant figure for a country with modest opportunities and counting on a relatively small population.

Almost all of our military personnel have contributed and taken part in NATO missions, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chad, Mali and Kosova.

By actually contributing to the international operations of the Alliance and the European Union with 210 military personnel, we are ranked third when it comes to percentage of the population for contributions to international operations.

Albania is seriously engaged in the Global Coalition for the destruction of the so-called Islamic State, and developing new capabilities and technologies to tackle the terrorist threat and to manage the consequences of a terrorist attack by substantially contributing to this very important challenge.

In the framework of its commitment in the global counter-terrorism efforts my country has taken concrete steps to establish the Center of Excellence combating the phenomenon of Terrorist Foreign Fighters.

The selection of Kuçova’s as the location of NATO’s modern air base is a strategic investment to the benefit of our national security, region and projects and also of the long-term goals of the Alliance in Western Balkans and beyond it, and also the expression of the mutual trust and appreciation of Albania’s contributions to the North Atlantic Alliance.

Any commitment and project that serves the strategic goals of the Alliance and strengthening of its role in the Balkans will enjoy my support for the timely and serious implementation as a major and national obligation.

I will urge and encourage the increase of the defense budget during the upcoming years because it is a priority and also as a commitment and engagement to the Alliance.

I am convinced that in this way, we will efficiently and proactively respond and answer to the new threats, dangers and challenges of security and improving the spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.

Ladies and gentleman,

On March 24th, 1999, NATO’s intervention in Kosova marked an extraordinary mission that not only prevented a humanitarian catastrophe and brought to an end the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians, but above all, established the peace and contributed to the security and stability of the region.

I reiterate my deep gratitude to the United States and to all the member countries that successfully completed that noble mission.

“We won the war, but you are the ones who need to gain the peace.” – stated former United States President Clinton during his visit to Kosova, that took place in November of 1999.

Albania, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is determined not only to preserve this peace, but also to seriously remain committed to the common geostrategic challenges that the Alliance faces in the region and beyond it.

It is ready to take on all the responsibilities required from it, and to particularly fulfilling its irreplaceable role as a factor of stability in the region, as a tireless promoter of regional cooperation and integration, as a firm supporter of the NATO’s “Open Doors Policy” and as an Alliance’ strategic partner by following and implementing a coherent and credible foreign policy.

While expressing my warm congratulations on the occasion of the Alliance’s 70th anniversary and thanking you for your attention, I would like to extend to you the invitation to visit my country which, as you may know, enjoys a special cultural heritage, possesses a marvelous tourist seashore and mountainous environment, but above all, cherishes a unique hospitality that you cannot find anywhere else.

*This speech was held at the NATO Defense College in Rome 
                    [post_title] => “Albania’s NATO commitment is a commitment to the region” 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-04-19 10:11:44
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

This week, the majority of the MPs in the Dutch parliament took a vote to ask to their government for the return of the visa regime with Albania. The dramatic development included several political parties in the Netherlands who are also well presented in the governing positions. This decision will not materialize soon and the relevant ministers have already presented the arguments against it. Also in any case the EU is bound to strike it down give its existing regulations. However, more than a decade after the visa regime was lifted for Albania, such a development risks to put in jeopardy, even in just rhetoric, one of the most significant achievements in the post-transition phase. The damage is already done giving Albania a hard hit on its already fragile image, discouraging investment and putting another dark a looming shadow also on its perspective.

To be fair, this decision of the Dutch MPs is a biased indictment of the Albanian people and society built on perceptions that should have not been generalized. The situation of Albanian crime in the country or in other countries of the EU, exaggerated as it is often by the media, would not warrant this decision alone, unless it was coupled with an evaluation that Dutch politicians are implicitly making about the country. This decision is translated into a position of the Netherlands, a key EU member state, that Albania is a captured state by organized crime.

It is one of the hardest blows to the image of the country and a very gloomy foreteller of negative outcome of the EU Council meeting that will decide the fate of opening the negotiations. How can a country that favors returning the visa regime simultaneously agree to open accession negotiations with Albania?

In the midst of this crisis, Albanian politicians instead of assessing the dramatic damage being done are continuing with their domestic crisis or their fake indifference. The government though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is downplaying the realistic probability of the decision, being turned into policy, willingly ignoring in the process its significance and the signal its ends to other skeptical EU states. Unbelievably the Minister of Internal Affairs justifies the current increase of serious crimes by complaining that the opposition protest are consuming attention and resources. Equally ridiculous and farfetched are the declarations of the Deputy Prime Minister and the head of the majority’s parliamentary group that this development has been reached due to the friendships and lobbying of the leader of the Albanian opposition in the Netherlands. Trying to portray Lulzim Basha as holding a parliamentary majority of the Netherlands under his sway is an ultimate irony on the claimers themselves. 

So the ultimate outcome is that alarming bells rings deaf for everyone who should take responsibility and action over it.

In times like this it would have made sense for visionary politicians with the nation’s interest at heart to join forces and turn up together, with resolve and clarity and ask for clarifications from the Dutch Parliament over such an aggressive decision upon all the Albanians citizens. They would have to work hard and lobby together to protect the freedom of movement which is so sensitive to all their constituents and was very well deserved by Albania through fulfilling all conditions in the relevant roadmap.

Albanians do not the isolation that they were subjected to from the absurd visa regime for years. Neither do they deserve the politicians who are not lifting a finger to protect them from this dangerous and humiliating let down.  

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: For whom the bell tolls? The foreshadow of regress is already here 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-04-12 09:35:24
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-04-12 07:35:24
                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES OP-ED

The higher ranks of the Albanian Executive, from the Prime Minister himself to the Minister of interior Affairs and the Minister of Infrastructure down to the Albanian police chiefs seem to have found an incorrect and dangerous way to shift their part of responsibility in the latest grave breach of security that happened with the heist at the international airport. The collective anti-Chinese hysteria in the narrative style of their press conferences is not just a lack of ethics but resembles downright racism and reflect a deep-seated lack of respect and failure to take their own responsibilities. It is unclear what would the same people say were it to be the former concessionary owners. Would they be blaming “the Germans” or “the Europeans”?

Each of these high ranking heads of the key executive cabinet posts have failed spectacularly to acknowledge their responsibilities according to their specific sectors, with the special focus on the Minister of Interior Affairs. There seems to have been an additional violation of an order given by his predecessor, after the same incident happened there years ago, that the police forces should accompany significant transfers of money sums. The same logic is valid for the Minister of Infrastructure who can rile away at the private company but needs to do more than just fire the Head of the Civil Aviation in return for her line ministry’s share of the fault.

The private concession which manages among others the security within the perimeter of the tarmac should of course be held accountable for its failures. This can be very well done without any discriminatory labels about their country of origin which happens to be one of the strategic investors of the region and has a very long and strong relation with Albania.

The state might be within its rights to restore official control of the airport by its own police forces and army as it has done in the last hours. It is within its rights to investigate the private firm that is supposed to take care of the security and the concession that has subcontracted it. However no state official, not even ministers and the head of the cabinet have the right to use derogatory comments that are useful to divert blame but are totally unfit for a serious official communication.  

 
                    [post_title] => Anti-Chinese hysteria as the wrong response approach 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-04-12 09:30:58
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

It is the most bitter of ironies that in the same time when Albania celebrates the 10th anniversary of NATO membership, a membership into the strongest, most efficient and prestigious security alliance in the world, the security in its only international airport is breached so violently, so frighteningly for the second time in less than three years.

The strategic importance of the international airport “Nene Tereza”, located in Rinas, is very well-known. The famous bank robbery that happened in 2016 at around the same spot made headlines and was marked down as one of the gravest breaches of national security. And now comes another. Extremely well-organized criminals, equipped with weapons and even grenades, some of them masked with silicone face masks as to be rendered entirely non-recognizable, using a van again bitterly and ironically marked as ‘Financial Investigation’ stole away the stash of money that was being deposited on the plane to be flown to Austria. Possessing internal information and likely internal assistance as well the group then proceed to burn their car and escape. The police during their chase assassinated one of them, well-known for previous criminal records both in Albania and in Greece. However no further arrests have been made and the rest of the culprits together with the money are on the run.

One can only imagine the terror and shock of the passengers observing this from their plane windows. If this was a group of terrorists they could have easily entered the plane and possibly even flown it to hit European targets easily reachable in a very short time.

It is entirely unacceptable for a crime of such intensity and terror, of such high impact in this specific location to be repeated twice. It is unforgivable.  This is not only on the police but on the entire apparatus that is supposed to keep the only international airport safe: the airport from which the US Assistant Deputy Secretary of State had flown in just hours ago. The airport from which our troops leave for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of NATO. The airport that every day sees thousands and thousands of citizens, families and businesses walk through it taking for granted their peace and safety.

The security and law enforcement agencies in Albania are facing a day of shame but also most importantly a day of reckoning. It is of utmost importance to overhaul the entire security, to find and keep accountable the authors of this heinous crime and to rethink strategically the obligations related to internal and external security of Albania as a NATO member state.  

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Twice the crime, twice the terror: a day of reckoning for Albania and its security 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-04-12 08:36:10
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-04-12 06:36:10
                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES OP-ED

Another week, another important press conference with the presence of none less than the foreign affairs minister who has to communicate something of crucial importance to the Albanian public. He is urging the holders of diplomatic passport to return them since they will be annulled. Apparently most of them, around 300, have been issued not in accordance to the legal requirements.

Another announcement of administrative nature which stipulates that the law and the regulations have been breached but that no measures shall be taken to identify and keep culprits accountable.

Another press conference and another chance of the minister to be sadly used in the ongoing, otherwise- almost- silent internal fight between the head of the majority and the departed minister of foreign affairs. A war that showed one of its battles in the latter’s parliament speech where he denounced the arrogance and overall approach with which the majority is handling the political crisis and appealed for a deal with the ‘real’ opposition.

If there is a process of reflection and reform for the foreign affairs as the new minister seems to claim, so far there is nothing to it: no substance. Only blitz administrative measures that look radical for a few seconds in the Tv screen until people stop to reflect that nothing is really changing. Those people removed will come back. After all a few of them have been removed before and due to the connections have made their way back to the same or even higher posts. As long as the law is bent and deformed to the will of the governing and their entourage the quality of Foreign Service will remain wanting.

Even for this petty measures regarding the removal of car plates and diplomatic or service passports, a way will be found for those with the right links to reverse them or wait until the noise is abated and claim them back again.

This set of measures to allegedly clean up the ministry and to improve the management of foreign policy is set to fail because it is just an internal political battle with some features of trying to impress the public through the media coverage. It is not a consistent strategic reform to set once and for all the simple meritocratic rules of employment and promotion, of career and privileges.

 
                    [post_title] => The saga of foreign affairs fake drama persists
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            [post_date] => 2019-05-10 11:54:53
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            [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES OP-ED

Democracy is a system that needs rules. It is fragile and even the smallest deviation from the rules can have cascading effects. Albania as a country that has not succeeded to complete its democratic transition knows this too well. The political crisis that the country finds itself in is first and foremost about the rules of the democratic process, about a regular electoral process and legitimate outcomes that come out of free and fair elections. The key institution in charge to safeguard those rules and ensure their implementation is the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Whereas political pressure has always been a negative factor in the performance of the CEC, there have been many cases when the Commission has shown serious responsibility and taken decisions that have paved the way to protecting the rules of the game.

Therefore it is particularly concerning and disheartening to see the behavior of the CEC members this week, when in full contradiction to the law, to their previous track record and in utter defiance of the sensitive situation of the crisis they went ahead with allowing a new political party to enter the yet uncertain to happen local elections next month.

There were multiple grave irregularities with this act. The law has been broken by those in charge to safeguard it. The final date set to submit relevant registration documents was April 21. The CEC itself has had similar cases in 2015 and has voted unanimously to refute them. Most importantly in the moment when the new party, ironically dubbed Democratic Conviction, submitted the application to the CEC, it had not yet been formalized by the Court of Tirana. It was not a full juridical entity and therefore impossible to be registered as a competitor. However sadly the sky is the limit when it comes to the absurdity of the current state of affairs.

The decision of the CEC members that are nominated by the majority, was contested by the CEC head, the last remaining member representing the opposition in this institution, citing all the aforementioned arguments. It is clear that these move, alongside the disappointing persistence to treat the rather ridiculous group of substitute MPs as ‘real’ or ‘new’ opposition by the majority, are in line with an ill- advised strategy to go ahead in the elections with an alibi of partaking opposition.

This paper has discussed and forewarned in previous editorials the immense risk of executing such a plan and how the past holds bitter lessons for those who try this adventure.

However the most serious responsibility in this case is about the Central Elections Commission which has demonstrated a spectacular failure, an obvious and disgraceful bow to political pressure and a deep incapability of exerting its basic functions. This is the CEC in charge on June 30.

A last word is warranted about the role of the OSCE in Albania which has been very vocal about the need to have a regular electoral process and which remained inexplicably silent about this recent serious digression. This silence does not fare well and is even more worrisome on the context of the legitimacy of the international mission which is under a lot of criticism already.

Once again all sides, national and international, must come to terms that as long as the game is perpetually rigged and meddled with, the transition will never end and the vicious cycle of crisis will keep this country and its future forever hostage.
            [post_title] => The rigged game: CEC shoots itself on the foot 
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