Greek-Albanian Relations in Greek and Albanian Historiography of the 2000s

Greek-Albanian Relations in Greek and Albanian Historiography of the 2000s

By Konstantinos Giakoumis* … I am glad to report that our project proposal was finally accepted by the General Assembly of … I presented the project on the first day and was badly attacked by the … [a national] delegate… The

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                    [post_content] => By Konstantinos Giakoumis*

… I am glad to report that our project proposal was finally accepted by the General Assembly of … I presented the project on the first day and was badly attacked by the … [a national] delegate… The Academy of [capital city of a Balkan state] does not accept the term “pre-modern” or any term different to the term “post-Byzantine,” although it is not willing to participate in the project. We had a discussion and I convinced the other delegates that the latter term is just an expression of a Balkan anachronistic nationalism, not a scholarly argument. The vote for the new projects was on the last day and … [the very national delegate] used that period to oppose me and to find people on his/her side. I kept answering indirect questions and made a lot of clarifications. Finally, at the time of vote, the ad hoc Committee presented the project in a positive way, and even [the very national delegate] voted us, but surprisingly the … delegate [of a western European state] voted against. So, the project was triumphally accepted and I was congratulated a lot by many colleagues from all over the world. The … delegate [of a Balkan state] refused to support me in the last day, because the … Academy [of the very Balkan state] is …

This anonymised report, whose extract is quoted above carefully edited with square brackets, could well have been an extract from the lobbying meetings at the side of negotiations ahead of the Treaty of Lausanne, had it not been for the terms “project,” “pre-modern” and “post-Byzantine” pointing to contemporary times. In reality, the text above was reported on the basis of a recent meeting of an international scientific event for the purpose of evaluating a number of research project proposals. As is implied, the outline negotiations involve a number of Balkan states, including Greece and Albania. This event is not the least isolated; to quote only one type of such events, many times international scientific events have fallen prey to Greek boycott on account of how the neighbouring state of FYR Macedonia is reported. Without entering into the essence of the name issue, the self-exclusion from events aimed at bringing together scientists who are potentially to drive the change of hostile public perception towards the Other is much telling. It is therefore understood that in some ways the past continues to haunt the Balkan present and its scientific circles, especially those employed at state institutions. In this context, the aim of this paper is to outline the evolution of the Greek and Albanian historiography in matters pertaining to Greek-Albanian relations in the course of the 2000s and how these are conditioned more by ideological proclivities than by the intensity and quality of contact of Albanian and Greek historians with each other or by the generation of historians.

Questions pertaining to the ideological orientation of Greek and Albanian historiography even after the 2000s remain highly controversial for a number of reasons. The scientific politics and ideologemes brought forward by both sides are more often than not based, originate or are attributed to early twentieth century inertial remnants (Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2007, 9). In the course of the past century several generations of Albanians (including Albanian historians) were nationally nurtured with the image of the Greek as an enemy (Giakoumis and Kalemaj 2015 & 2017; Kalemaj and Giakoumis 2015) while the same generations of Greeks were raised with the morale of the irredentist political notion of “Northern Epirus,” popularized in nationalist songs, like “ I have a little sister, truly a doll; her name is Northern Epiros and I love her…” (Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2007, 17). Hence, dealing with the multifaceted aspects of Greek-Albanian relations has inevitably borne the ideological charge and arsenal that such perceptions of the ethnic Other has inherited.

In the past, matters related to the ideological orientation of Greek and Albanian historiography were deceptively upheld as self-evident truths in the service of political agendas which were set out in advance of research on historical material. Blatsiotis has demonstrated how the principal ideologeme of Greek policy that Albanians constitute no nation, but rather a volatile ethnic group has transformed in various periods of time (2003, 46-50), also imparting scholarly works of quite some merit (e.g. Malkidis 2007, 1-80). Conversely, Greek irredentist claims over Northern Epiros, entangled, as they were, in the period they were raised, acquired a quasi-inherent trait of the Greeks as the ethnic Other and was consequently projected by the Albanian popular and scientific historiography into the ancient past to uphold the national myth of permanent victimization (e.g. Ministria 1959, 6).

In pre-war Balkan scholarship, but also thereafter, historical problems and phenomena were separated from their wider, international context and were studied from the narrow sight of national ideology in an attempt to construct their alleged ‘national’ character. For example, the long 19th century’s passage from the empire as a political entity to the nation-state was viewed in a linear fashion, thereby failing to distinguish processes of hybridization in the process of constructing national identities, whereby empires imagined they could transform to nation-states (Ottomanism) and nation-states envisaged their future as empires (the Greek ‘Great Idea’ and the Serbian ‘Nacertaniye;’ Stamatopoulos 2018, Introduction). I have elsewhere demonstrated how the instrumentalization of the Albanian language question in the process of constructing a national identity led to historical exaggerations and distortions with regards to the stance of the Orthodox Patriarchate towards Albanian language and its use in liturgical services (Giakoumis 2011). It is therefore evident that such ethno-centric constructs are profoundly both methodologically problematic and research-distorting.

Such biases in Greek and Albanian historiography could, in theory, provide partial answer to the question why education does not always lead to prejudices reduction in Albania, contrary to the conclusions of intergroup communication theory scholars. An increasing body of literature presents evidence that more education leads to less intergroup prejudices. However, as Peshkopia et al. has presented (2017), this conclusion, drawn on the basis of evidence from western countries applying multicultural education, does not apply to most Balkan countries which, alike Albania, set primary goal of their educational systems to instil a sense of national identity and belonging, in view that enduring notions of national identity are believed to form in the course of primary socialization years as also indicated by the US paradigm (cf. Giakoumis & Kalemaj 2017). In his survey, Peshkopia has found that, contrary to the expectation that more education leads to less intergroup biases, in the case of Albania, more education leads on the one hand to prejudice reduction towards homosexuals, but on the other hand to prejudice increase towards Greeks, i.e. a group targeted as the hostile Other by ethno-nationalist narratives (Peshkopia et al. 2017). While Peshkopia’s research has not been conducted in Greece to draw useful conclusions, Papakosta’s work (2009; 2013) certainly indicates similar prompts from the side of Greek historiography.

Not surprisingly, the subjects of historical research from both academic and non-academic milieus were dominated by subjects related to dominant national(ist) narratives, occasionally alternated with topics of political and diplomatic history. One also notes the parallel development of a non-academic literature on the same matters (e.g. Dalianis 2000 & 2008; Isufi 2002; Karkasinas 2014; Litsios 2008; Mandi & Jovani 2013), not bound by rigorous scientific methods and interpretative apparatus. Such literature more often than not promotes nationalist agendas. Especially after the turn of the 21st century, public history initiatives play an increasingly important role, on occasion leaving noteworthy traces (e.g. Tzimas 2010). The availability of archives has significantly facilitated research, although the declassification time of archives after 25 years, in the case of Albania, and 30 years in regard to Greece is only nominal as in reality fewer documents have been declassified and prepared for historical research to the official declassification time (cf. Skoulidas 2015). It should be noted, however, that the number of documentary evidence published or utilized from Albanian archives (Boçi 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2012; Dervishi 2009; Dushku 2012; Gurakuqi 2011; Meta 2009, 2010, 2012a, 2012b & 2013; Naska 1999; Puto 2011; Tritos 2003) is greater than the number of published Greek sources of the like (Baltsiotis 2009; Karakitsios 2010; Kollaros 2015; Koltsida 2008; Kondis 2004; Kouzas 2013; Manta 2004 & 2005; Margaritis 2005).

For the historical period from before Albania’s independence until World War II dominant topics in the Albanian and Greek post-2000 historiography relate to matters of territory, minority rights, the establishment of the Autocephalous Church of Albania and the so-called “Cham” issue. The delimitation of the new state’s borders was studied from a variety of perspectives. Most scholars include matters related to territory in wider studies pertaining to Greek-Albanian relations (e.g. Gurakuqi 2011; Dushku 2012; Meta 2013) and the subsequent claims of an unsolved “North-Epirotan” issue (Barkas 2016; Skoulidas 2015 & 2012; Baltsiotis & Skoulidas 2013; Triadafilopoulos 2010; Malkidis 2007; Baltsiotis 2003). Another preferred subject for the Greek historiography relates to the ethnic Greek minority in Albania and its rights, a topic that has been touched in political (e.g. Baltsiotis 2009; Barkas 2016; Anastasopoulou 2013; Dalianis 2000 & 2008; Karakitsios 2010; Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2003), geographical (Kallivretakis 1995), linguistic (e.g. Barkas 2016), cultural (e.g. Karkasinas 2014; Litsios 2008; Mandi&Jovani 2013; Pappa 2009) and educational (Barkas 2016; Giakoumis&Kalemaj 2017; Ismyrliadou 2013; Karakitsios 2010; Koltsida 2008; Kouzas 2013) perspectives. The matter of the Orthodox Church of Albania and its Autocephaly was dealt with in a lesser number of monographs [Glavinas 1996; Katopodis 2001; Giannakou 2009; Simaku 2011; Bido 2016]. Last but not least, a significant number of works have been devoted to Chameria and its inhabitants. This is a primarily legal matter related to the properties of the exiled Cham Muslims who were forced to flee out of Greece towards Albania after World War II, after the collaboration of certain individuals of this community with the Nazi occupation forces in Greece, but it also bears political ramifications. Such works were written from an Albanian (Naska 1999; Isufi 2002; Dervishi 2009; Meta 2009, 2010, 2012a; Puto 2011; Elsie & Bejtullah 2013), and a Greek (Tritos 2003; Manta 2004; Margaritis 2005; Ktistakis 2006; Papatheodorou 2007; Baltsiotis 2009) perspective on the matter.

Although one would have expected that, after many years of Greek-Albanian exchanges at all levels, Albania’s integration to NATO and the EU, where Greece is already a member and Albania’s supporter, a certain postnationalistic (Bennett 2001) or internationalistic trend would emerge, in fact, nationalist discourses and related stereotypes demonstrate an outstanding endurance. This is partly owed to the fact that very few scholars speak the language of the ethnic other. Michael Tritos’ brief treatise on the Chams (2003), for instance, cites no Albanian bibliography, while the Albanian perspectives considered by Malkidis (2007) are solely in English, thereby imparting the author’s ability to pass more informed judgements on the matters he raises. This is not an exclusivity of Greek historiography. Writing about minorities and the construction of national identity in Albania a year after his election as a member of the Albanian Academy of Science (2012), Beqir Meta (2013) did not consider any newer Greek bibliography to Lazarou’s 1986 book on the Vlachs of the Balkans and their language. His books on Chams (Meta 2010) and the Greek-Albanian tension from the outbreak of the World War II (1939) to the end of the Greek Civil War (1949) (Meta 2012a) includes no Greek scholarship after 1997, while even the Albanian works considered were published no later than 2000 and 2001 respectively. One could attribute this to personal hastiness, as his book on Greek-Albanian relations in 1949-1990 (Meta 2012b) has no bibliographical updates after 1997, had it not been for scholars of a younger generation who conducted part of their studies in Greece using a rather outdated bibliography, as is the case of Sonila Boçi’s work on minorities in Albania from 1939-1949 (Boçi 2012), whose last consulted work in Greek bibliography was Manta’s monograph (2004). It is surprising that Ktistakis’ authoritarian, purely legal work on the properties of Chams and Albanians in Greece and the lift of the war status from a domestic and international legal standpoint (Febr. 2006) has been entirely neglected in Albanian bibliography, as far as I know.

The absence of an international perspective from the majority of historiographic works produced in Greece and Albania after the year 2000 is also an approach entangled in past, ethnocentric perceptions and narratives. Hence, while Ardit Bido’s monograph (2016) is very well-informed in terms of Greek and Albanian bibliography, the author’s monoscopic perspective of the relations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the Orthodox Church of Albania falls short of understanding how developments analysed and discussed in his work were conditioned by wider political power reconfigurations that shaped the frame in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate could move, such as developments with the Romanian and Bulgarian Churches, etc. (cf. Giakoumis 2011). Sonila Boçi’s (2012) well-researched and overall balanced monograph on minorities in Albania between 1939 and 1949 reproduces uncritically an older thesis of Albanian historiography, stereotypically repeated by the older generation of Albanian historians (e.g. Meta 2013, 51-8), that the Greek-speaking population in Southern Albania were metics settled during the second half of the 18th century to work the lands of the rich land owners (formerly called feudal lords) of Gjirokastra and Saranda, a thesis that has long been reviewed (cf. Giakoumis 2003). The dominance of ethnocentric, monoscopic and rather localistic interpretative apparatus is apparently not a trait of some Albanian historiographical works (cf. Xhufi 2009; Karagjozi-Kore 2014), but also of Greek historiography (e.g. Koltsida 2008; Koltsidas 2008; Pappa 2009; Karakitsios 2010; Xynadas 2012; Ismyrliadou 2013; Karkasinas 2014). It is interesting to note that such proclivities are very evident to select historiography produced by members of the Greek minority in Albania (Barkas 2016).

The studies of scholars substantially trained internationally offer insights of wider interest. The historiographical value of the work of Ilir Kalemaj (2014) is good evidence of how substantial exposure to international scholarly environments can provide original insights of interest beyond the narrow focus of a study. While Kalemaj’s study did not focus exclusively on Greek-Albanian relations, his study of real versus imaginary territoriality of Albania also touches on Greek-Albanian relations. Kalemaj developed a two-by-two matrix, one of whose axis related to domestic political pressures regarding Albania’s actual and should-be borders, while the other to international pressures vis-à-vis Albania’s borders. His findings that high international pressure lowered claims of imagined territories and that low international pressure resulted in augmented domestic political claims over imagined borders can be applied in wider contexts. The works of Ridvan Peshkopia and his colleagues (Peshkopia & Voss 2016) can be classified in the same category of studies by internationally trained scholars dealing with matters related to the history of Greek-Albanian relations and how these affect current attitudes towards the other. Peshkopia & Voss’ work on the role of ethnic divisions in the attitude of ethnic majorities or minorities toward the death penalty (2016) draws conclusions of universal interest in such matters. Though about an entirely different period and setting, I think that Margaritis’ stunning comparative study of both Jews and Chams as “undesired fellow-patriots” (2005) can also be classified to the interpretative apparatus of viewing multiple perspectives of a single matter for safer conclusions.

[1]Assoc. Prof. Konstantinos Giakoumis, Ph.D., European University of Tirana

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 16 – The Albanian government has proposed tighter rules against tax evasion following a series of incentives already approved or pending final approval that are expected to become effective next January in a carrot and stick approach ahead of the upcoming mid-2019 local elections.

In its 2019 fiscal package, the ruling Socialist Party majority has reportedly proposed businesses will no longer be allowed to suspend their activity by switching to passive status without paying off tax obligations.

The move comes at a time when the number of businesses closing down has seen a sharp double-digit increase amid a hike in the tax burden on small businesses, already facing tougher competition from shopping chains and supermarkets as well as a decline in the purchasing power.

Data published by Albania’s tax administration shows the number of businesses shifting to passive status in the first nine months of this year rose to about 11,200, a 60 percent hike compared to the same period last year.

As a rule, businesses switch to the passive register in case of not operating or not submitting tax statements for 12 months or declaring the suspension of commercial operation with the National Business Center for a period of more than 1 year or indefinitely.

In early 2018, tax authorities warned of penalties over what they described as fictitious closures by small businesses to escape the 20 percent VAT system starting April 2018 after a lower turnover threshold became effective increasing the tax burden for some 11,000 businesses nationwide.

Another legal change proposed as part of the 2018 fiscal package is related to small family-run businesses registered as natural persons whose owners will not be allowed to obtain more than one tax ID number to avoid paying profit tax or pay at a lower rate by dividing their business into separate companies and keep the turnover low.

In addition to a reduction in the dividend tax, the ruling majority is also expected to include anti-evasion provisions on capital gains for non-residents. The measure could bring millions of euros in income to the government following a series of takeovers among major foreign-owned businesses operating in Albania in the past couple of years and Albania not collecting the 15 percent capital gain tax rate due to company owners registered in tax havens.

Several major assets in Albania, including the country’s sole international airport, the largest oil producer, banks have changed hands in the past couple of years and shareholders in lucrative concession contracts sold their stakes for ridiculously low prices, reportedly escaping the 15 percent capital gain tax because of operating under offshore tax haven laws.

The tax evasion sanctions came after the government has proposed a cut in the dividend tax, a slight reduction in the tax burden for high income earners and an increase in the mining royalty on chromium exports in its year-end 2019 fiscal package following some mid-year incentives that are also expected to come into force next January ahead of the expected mid-2019 local elections.

Despite a series of nationwide campaigns to fight tax evasion in the past three years, a higher tax burden and a shift to progressive taxation on both households and businesses since 2014 still keeps the grey economy at high levels, with estimates of about 30 percent of the country’s GDP.

The major change in the upcoming fiscal package includes a reduction in the dividend tax to 8 percent, down from a current 15 percent in a measure that foreign business associations say is expected to provide a positive effect on boosting investment and creating more favorable treatment for employees.

The year-end fiscal package follows a mid-2018 package when the ruling majority approved lower corporate income tax for mid-sized businesses and incentives on agribusinesses.

Investors complain a higher tax burden compared to neighboring countries of similar size makes Albania less competitive despite its favorable geographical position.

In addition, widespread corruption and an inefficient judiciary remain key concerns for foreign investors.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 15 – Albania’s top ten companies continue to be dominated by energy-related and telecommunication companies unlike some of the region’s main competitors where the automobile industry is one of the key drivers of economy and employers.

An annual report examining the top 100 South East Europe companies in terms of turnover shows almost the same companies are making it to Albania’s largest enterprises for several years in a row now,  on a list dominated by a state-run electricity operator and oil producing and trading companies.

The annual report produced by Bulgaria-based SeeNews agency shows Albanian companies failed to make it to the top SEE 100 for the third year in a row in a ranking that includes five Western Balkan EU aspirants, four EU members and Moldova.

State-run OSHEE distribution operator was Albania’s largest company in terms of income for the second year in a row in 2017 despite its profits receiving a severe blow due to costly electricity imports after one of the worst droughts in decades paralyzed hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation.

The state-run electricity distribution monopoly generated €462 million in income in 2017 to rank the 137th largest SEE company, compared to 125th in 2016, according to the SEE report.

In its 2017 financial report, OSHEE distribution operator says its net profit dropped by 10 times to a mere 1.8 billion lek (€14.5 mln) last year, down from a record high of 18.7 billion lek (€148 mln) in 2016 to register its worst financial result for the past three years. The sharp cut in profits was negatively affected by costly imports of around €200 million that both state-run OSHEE and power utility KESH handled in the second half of 2017 amid an internal drought-triggered electricity crisis.

The top 10 list also includes four Albanian-owned major oil importers and wholesale and retail traders, Chinese-owned Bankers Petroleum, the country's largest oil producer whose investment and production is rising as international oil prices gradually pick up, and the Albanian unit of France's Spiecapag contracted for the construction of the Albanian section of the major Trans Adriatic Pipeline bringing Caspian gas to Europe.

Turkish-owned Kurum, Albania's largest steelmaker, and two mobile and electronic communication operators are also on Albania's top 10 list.

Regional competitors of a similar size to Albania such as Macedonia and Serbia, the region’s largest economy, have their top ten companies also diversified in higher value added sectors such as the car industry with major Italian and Belgian investment.

Romanian car maker Automobile Dacia, a unit of France’s Renault, led the top 100 SEE list for the fourth year in a row on a top 10 list dominated by Romanian, Slovenian and Bulgarian companies mainly operating in the oil industry.

Almost no changes at all on the top 10 largest companies in Albania for several years in a row unveils a poorly diversified economy relying on state-run electricity generation and oil imports and domestic production represented by only two companies focused on low value added crude oil as well as steel, most of which destined for exports.

The garment and footwear industry and the call center industry, both of which relying on cheap labor costs and producing goods and services mainly destined for Italy, Albania’s top trading partner, are two of the top private sector employers in Albania.

IMF research shows Albania has managed to attract only about a tenth of the inward foreign direct investment stock in the Western Balkans in an FDI race that is led by Serbia, the region’s largest economy.

Albania is the third largest recipient in terms of FDI stock with a 10 percent share among the six Western Balkan economies, lagging behind Bosnia and Herzegovina with a 12 percent share and Serbia with a 55 percent share alone.

Albania has been the region's second largest FDI recipient in the past eight years with average inflows of $1 million annually, but much of the energy-related FDI has flown out of the country and the country’s FDI stock was at €7.1 billion in the first half of this year, representing about 60 percent of the country’s GDP.

As in much of the region, corruption is a key concern for potential foreign investors to Albania, where unclear property titles, an inefficient judiciary also remain key concerns.

FDI concern has recently grown in Albania as TAP and Devoll Hydropower, the two major energy-related projects that led FDI growth in the past four years, are set to complete their investment stage by early 2019 and no major project replaces them. The FDI gap of some €200 million to €300 million that is expected to be created unless major investment replaces the energy-related projects in their final stage is the main reason why some international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF expect Albania's growth to slow down to 3.5 to 3.7 percent in 2019, down from an expected 4 percent this year.

The Albanian economy grew by an average of 4.4 percent in the first half of 2018 fuelled by heavy rainfall lifting the state-run electricity sector out of crisis. However, quite paradoxically Albania's business and consumer confidence hit a surprise 2-year low in the third quarter of this year, the peak of the tourist season, signaling that the decade-high energy-fuelled GDP growth rate that the country registered in the year’s first half is not having any positive effect on overall confidence, according to a central bank survey.

Experts say the Albanian economy needs to grow by at least 6 percent annually, a growth rate it enjoyed for about a decade ahead of the 2008-09 global financial crisis in order to produce tangible welfare for the country’s households and bridge the huge gaps with EU member countries.
                    [post_title] => Albania lags behind regional competitors on top 10 company diversification
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138856" align="alignright" width="283"]israel 1 Photo: Israel Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 15 – Albania are almost out of the Nations League following an away loss to Israel and only a mathematical miracle at the closing game with Scotland could see them top their group and keep alive their hopes for a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 through UEFA’s inaugural competition.

Albania lost 2-0 away to Israel on Sunday night in their third Nations League qualifier and with one game remaining are now bottom of League C Group 1 with three points, but Scotland ranking second on better goal difference.

Israel now comfortably lead Group 1 with six points following two resurgent home victories against Scotland and Albania this month after a poor start last September when they lost their opening qualifier away to Albania.

The final qualifiers next November when Albania play home to Scotland and Israel travel to Scotland will be decisive for the group’s lead and mathematics could play a key role in case both Albania and Scotland win their home matches in a scenario that would see all three teams end up with six points.

Albania need to win by at least three goals in their final home qualifier against Scotland on Nov. 17 and hope Scotland beat Israel in their final group encounter on Nov. 20 to possibly qualify through superior goal difference in case all three teams finish on six points.

 

Shock loss to Israel

Albania’s chances of a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 suffered a severe blow as Israel avenged their last September’s 1-0 away defat to Albania with a 2-0 home win to top League C Group 1.

Although dominating in terms of ball possession and shots on target, Albania had nothing in common compared to a World Cup qualifier in mid-2017 when they claimed a surprise 3-0 victory away to Israel to avenge their first-leg qualifier under former coach Gianni De Biasi, the Italian who led Albania to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016.

The Israeli game once again unveiled Albania’s defensive problems after a long pass from the Israeli keeper set up their early opening goal in ongoing blunders that have been costing the national side dearly this year.

Albania have lost five out of their seven games this year in a situation that has increased pressure on Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The away qualifier to Israel also revealed attacking problems, with the national side having scored only once in their first three Nations League qualifiers as key attackers and midfielders of the impressive Euro 2016 campaign are missing and newly called up players have so far failed to convince.

Striker Armando Sadiku who scored twice from long-range shots in the away victory against Israel in mid-2017 and midfielder Odise Roshi, a key assist provider, have both been missing in the Nations League qualifiers due to injury.

Coach Christian Panucci whose tactics have been called into question by some former Albanian internationals and coaches admits the Nations League qualifying bid is now over for Albania.

"It is difficult winning 3-0 [against Scotland] and then for Scotland to beat Israel and then be level on points. In the meantime, we are out. We have not surrendered, but losing like this becomes even more difficult,” Panucci told journalists after the match.

A former Italian international with not much coaching experience, Panucci has lost seven out of 12 games since taking over in mid-2017 with the humiliating losses even against opponents of a similar level and his comments about justifying the defeats as “Albania is neither Brazil nor France,” irritating fans. Last June, Panucci was forced to abandon a post-match TV interview after irritated fans chanted ‘We want De Biasi back’ as Albania lost 4-1 against Ukraine, conceding their third consecutive loss following previous warm-up defeats against Norway and Kosovo.

However, Panucci has the apparent support of the football association president Armand Duka who says the coach should be given more time to make the required changes and the Italian is likely to continue leading Albania in the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the Nations League results.

Albania will also play a home friendly against Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the next December’s group stage draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with hopes of repeating their the historic first ever European Championship qualification claimed in 2016.

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, provides teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides from each league qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-11 19:55:33
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                    [post_content] => Interview with Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Polish politician, party activist and local government official. From 2018, he has been serving as the Secretary of State in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

 

Q: The number of Polish tourists coming to Albania has increased significantly. In a way, Poland is rediscovering Albania through tourism. What is your evaluation of this development?  What have been the impressions that you have received?

A: Polish tourists are rediscovering Albania in tens of thousands, with growing numbers year by year. Albania in the season 2017 and consequently in 2018 has become one of the most popular tourist destination for Poles. In 2017 and 2018 Poles recorded in Albania the highest increase among foreign tourists. According to the Polish Institute of Tourism the dynamics of growth in 2016/2017 for Albania was 124% - second highest of all destinations (after Egypt but before Portugal, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece and Croatia). I hope that our economic relations will also grow as fast as the number of Polish tourists travelling to Albania and soon, as in tourism, we record three digit numbers in turnover growth.

 

Q: Poland has been a consistent supporter of the European accession perspective of Albania and other countries in the region. How do you see the perspective now, with all the delay in the process as well as the complex situation within the EU?

A: Poland and Albania have a very good bilateral relationship confirmed by significant number of mutual visits and bilateral initiatives creating many opportunities for exchange of experience in various areas. I have to stress that no common border and long distance dividing Albania and Poland has never been an obstacle in mutual contacts. We see Albania as a country that plays an important stabilizing role in the region, keeping the positive relationship with all its neighbors. Albania remains for us also a reliable partner in NATO. We are very satisfied that very good political relations are followed by good economic cooperation. Despite the fact that, on the background of economic cooperation with other countries in the region, Polish-Albanian trade is not so big, the trend of exchange between our countries is growing. One of initiative aimed to strengthen economic ties between our countries is the Polish-Albanian Economic Forum - third session was held in the end of September in Tirana. 

 

Q: What is your assessment of the current bilateral relations between Poland and Albania? What is the potential for the development of these relations and what should both countries do to reach it?

A: We continue to support the EU “open door” policy in general and individual aspirations of each Western Balkan country including Albania. Poland understands importance of the EU accession for Balkan partners, their societies and economies. We are truly glad about renewed momentum in the enlargement policy that translated into an ambitious and forward-looking Western Balkans strategy that encompasses all the WB countries. We hope that "enlargement fatigue" is becoming history. However, before all member states can take a decision on opening negotiations with Albania, mutually agreed criteria in key priority fields must be fulfilled.

 

Q: Poland is taking over the Berlin process and organizing the summit in Poznan in 2019. This process is very important for the Western Balkans countries. Which will be the focus areas of discussion in this summit next year?

A: Poland is very satisfied with joining the Berlin Process and organizing the Western Balkans summit in July 2019 in Poznań. We look forward to cooperating with Balkan and EU participants on connectivity, economic integration and development, security and other areas that contribute to the region’s progress on the European path and its stability. We believe that our own experience of challenging reforms before joining the EU will provide an added value for the Process.

 

Q: In the meantime you have started a tour of consultations in preparation for the summit in the region. What has been the feedback received so far? How do you asses the current situation and developments in the Western Balkans?

A: It is still ongoing process. So far our Western Balkan partners have been very positive about ideas  and the content of the agenda of our presidency in the Process. Western Balkans still have a lot of challenges ahead with ensuring security, fighting illegal migration, people smuggling, radicalization, terrorism or hybrid threats on the top of the list. We cannot forget  the need for reconciliation and solving bilateral issues as well. Overcoming the past and bringing the Western Balkan societies closer together is necessary to boost economic cooperation and prevent conflicts and disputes that sometimes stall the integration process. We closely observe dialogue on normalization between Belgrade and Pristina, forthcoming election in Bosna and Herzegovina and implementation of the Skopje-Athens agreement. All those factors are crucial not only to the future of the countries involved, but also to the stability of the entire Western Balkan region.

 

Q: Can you share with our readers the significant reasons why Poznan was chosen as a site, instead of let’s say, Warsaw?

A: The explanation for choosing Poznań as a host city of the summit is very simple. Poznań is a great example how we should link the past to the future, make historical preservation relevant for today’s culture, society, and development. Poznań, one of Poland’s oldest city with over 100-year-tradition of holding fairs, is now leading, modern regional center of business, trade and fairs with great experience in hosting big events - for example, the 2008 Climate Summit.

 

Q: There is a lot of debate about the role of third actors such as Russia, China, Turkey and others. What is your view on the influence of these actors and on the relevant geopolitical developments in general?

A: I agree that in recent years, the slowdown of the EU enlargement process has allowed other powers to intensify their presence in the Western Balkans. Especially Russia has become proactive in the region since the annexation of Crimea. Russia doesn’t accept that the Western Balkans move towards the EU and NATO. The Kremlin intervenes in local politics and promote an anti-Western and populist narrative. Moscow has been increasing its investment in key strategic sectors in the region for some time – military, security, finance and energy, which remains a key target for Russian influence. Since that, we are glad that the European Commission, in the end of its term, has enhanced its commitment in the Western Balkans. Poland is consequently engaged in supporting the Western Balkan region in its European integration reforming efforts not only in EU political dimension but also in bilateral and regional formats of cooperation (e.g. expert-to-expert meeting as the Tirana conference format launched this year, Enlargement Academy or twinning projects).

 
                    [post_title] => Polish Secretary of State: “Albania, important stabilizing role in the region”  
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-11 19:48:35
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The saga of the videos allegedly incriminating the brother of the Minister of Interior Affairs in narco-trafficking is going on. Despite the brother being actually sent to Italy in haste to carry out his sentence of jail, the majority claimed the whole video was a montage and produced some evidence from a person who claimed he was paid to imitate one of the voices. In response the opposition produced another video here the same person says he was forced to do so, to claim he was an impersonator, buy none other than the Chief of Albanian Police.

In the meantime the institution of the Prosecution against Serious Crimes has issued arrest warrants for the journalist that produced the first video and the main character in it.  The story becomes even more difficult to comprehend because of the multiple political accusations from both sides.  The leader of the executive has been extremely vocal in denying the video’s authenticity and claiming that the professional examination of it would reveal it was a farce. As it turns out the examination is inconclusive.

While the Albanian soap opera of secret videos, or so called ‘Babale’ issue, rages on it is becoming increasingly difficult to see through the smoke and listen through the noise. The only strategy to get some clearance is to try and stick with the few facts:

First and foremost, the brother of the Minister of Interior Affairs had a valid jail sentence for trafficking of narcotics from Italy which he started to serve only after it was exposed in Albania and became part of the heated public debate. He stands accused by one side that he was continuing his trafficking in Albania, but before these accusations had a chance to be investigated properly he was sent to serve the jail time in Italy. The brother is in a prison, that’s the first fact.

If the Prime Minister or other members of the executive continue the practice of being attorneys, judges, forensic experts that distinguish one real video from a montage, that know the results of an investigation before the justice system does, then the justice reform does not stand one chance of succeeding. This ugly game needs to stop if any credibility in the new justice system is to be built. By purposefully raising hail and storm around every court case that touches upon their interest, politician will once again undermine the justice sector. The same is valid for the opposition, whose unserious and inconsistent approach is not winging any public points for them. The separation of powers is a fundamental feature of modern democratic and functioning states. The justice system needs to be given space and time to do its job, otherwise we will be back to ground zero. This is the second fact.

By consuming so much time, effort and energy with this noise, the executive is not focusing on governance which needs to be its primary job. Albania is not short of governance and development problems, on the contrary.  It is offensive, deplorable and utterly cruel to subject ordinary Albanians to this charade of ridiculous, revolting actors inside the videos and outside, who have spun webs of lies around dark truths.

Most Albanians need real economic growth, need real improvements in their lives, need more reasons to stay then to leave.  This is not helping. And this is the third, final and most important fact.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Justice and governance need to work independently for the good of both
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-10 15:39:12
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 10 – The Albanian government has made official its stance that it does not favor a possible takeover of the country’s second largest mobile company by Telekom Serbia where the Serbian government holds a majority stake.

Prime Minister Edi Rama says Serbian companies are welcome to invest in Albania, but not in a strategic sector such as telecommunications where some experts have voiced concern the country’s national security could be put at risk by non-EU and non-NATO service providers.

His comments came this week following unconfirmed reports that the Albanian government has turned down a possible takeover of Telekom Albania, part of German giant Deutsche Telekom, following an offer by Telekom Serbia despite the state-run Serbian operator reported to have submitted the highest bid of around €61 million in a tender held last September.

“The Albanian government is not part of the transaction that a private company such as Deutsche Telekom wants to carry out as part of its withdrawal strategy from small markets... not only from Albania.  But this is a strategic sector and of course the Albanian government is asked for an opinion from the parties interested,” said Prime Minister Rama.

“The Albanian government's stance is quite simple and clear, Serbian businesses are welcome in the Republic of Albania, but in this strategic sector, it is not our preference," he added.

His comments followed statements by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic that opposition to Telekom Serbia’s bid for Telekom Albania sent a wrong message that Serbian investors were not welcome in Albania and that he was going to talk to Rama hoping to resolve the situation.

“I heard from representatives of Telekom Serbia that we gave the best offer, but that the Albanian telecommunications minister said that Serbia cannot buy Telekom Albania,” Vucic said this week at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg in Belgrade, as quoted by Serbian media.

Telekom Serbia representatives say they “have a goal to position themselves as a regional leader in telecommunications” while Serbian government officials have described Telekom Serbia plans “a very logical and justified move,” according to local Serbian media.

Rama-Vucic meetings have been quite common in the past four years as relations between the two countries temporarily entered a Cold War era status quo in October 2014 following a drone incident with Albanian nationalistic and patriotic symbols flying over the Partizan stadium in Belgrade in the midst of a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier.

In late 2014, Prime Minister Rama paid a historic visit to Serbia, the first by an Albanian Prime Minister in 68 years, in a tense climate following the drone incident, but paving the way to the normalization of relations between the two countries which are considered key players for the region’s security, economic development and the Western Balkan’s European integration.

The entry to Albania of Telekom Serbia, which also operates in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, would mark the first major Serbian investment in Albania, where Serbian investment is quite modest at around €20 million, amid tense political relations over Kosovo, the ethnic-Albanian country which declared its independence from Serbia a decade ago.

The majority 58 percent stake in Telekom Serbia is held by the Serbian government.

Unnamed government sources had warned the involvement of Telekom Serbia in the Albanian mobile telephony market could spark reactions that would have a negative impact even for the company itself due to concerns over national security in a sensitive sector such as telecommunications and amid fears of the public not welcoming the operator’s arrival over non-positive feelings and perceptions related to tense historical political relations between the two countries.

Concerns over security are a result of both Albanians and Serbians perceiving themselves among top threats and enemies despite political relations having significantly improved in the past few years and the civil society in both countries contributing to the normalization of relations between two countries that are considered key to the region’s stability and peace.

Former AMC Albania was initially launched as a state-run operator in late 1995 as the country’s first mobile operator before it was acquired in 2000 by Greece’s OTE Group and rebranded Telekom Albania in mid-2015.

Telekom Albania is currently the second largest mobile operator in the country with a 36 percent market share, but posted significant losses in 2017 along with leading mobile operator Vodafone Albania as the mobile phone market suffered a double-digit decline in revenue, in an ongoing downward trend since almost a decade, triggered by tougher competition and smartphone apps replacing traditional phone calls and text messages, according to the electronic communications watchdog.

 

Possible new buyers

Turkish-owned Albtelecom, which runs the country’s third largest mobile operator, Czech PPF Group, Bulgaria’s Vivacom and Telenor, as well as Giannis Vardinogiannis, a Greek billionaire shipping magnate, are potential Telekom Albania buyers following bids submitted in a September tender.

However, sources at Greece-based OTE Group, where Deutsche Telekom holds a 40 percent stake, have told Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service that there is no final decision and that the company is still examining regional offers.

A sale deal on Telekom Albania would also have to receive the okay of Albanian state-run regulators such as the electronic communications and competition watchdogs.

The potential Telekom Albania acquisition would make Turkish-owned Albtelecom, the country’s largest operator, overtaking leading Vodafone Albania which has an almost 50 percent share in terms of subscribers and income.

However, the acquisition could reduce the number of operators to two and likely bring problems when the purchase is examined by Albania’s electronic communication and competition watchdogs due to cutting the number of operators to two compared to a previous four until late 2017 when Albanian-owned Plus Communication ceased its operations.
                    [post_title] => Rama turns down Vucic offer on Telekom Albania buy as ‘non-preferable’
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-09 17:26:07
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 9 - Albania is almost immune to current global trade tensions between leading economies and Turkish market volatility to the Western Balkans, but a possible escalation of trade conflicts between key players could also affect the small Albanian economy as it did in the aftermath of the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

Due to stronger trade and investment ties with Turkey, a possible escalation of the crisis in Turkey, where the Turkish lira has lost about 40 percent of its value against the US dollar this year could affect Albania more than the current round of trade disputes involving the United States, China and other U.S. trading partners, which a World Bank report says may create both opportunities and risks for Western Balkan countries.

Examining the channels for the transmission of Turkish market volatility to the Western Balkans, a recent World Bank report shows Albania is little exposed in terms of exports, but to a higher degree if imports, foreign direct investment and the banking sector assets are concerned.

The report shows Albania's exports to Turkey, mainly involving steel from a Turkish steelmaker operating in the country, account for only a modest 0.8 percent of Albania's total exports. Imports of goods and services from Turkey are bigger at 5 percent of the total.

Trade exchanges between Albania and Turkey are at about 50 billion lek (€395 mln) annually, representing 6 percent of Albania’s total but overwhelming dominated by Albanian imports from Turkey, according to INSTAT, the Albanian statistical office.

Meanwhile, the stock of Turkish FDI to Albania, at €565 million in mid-2018, represents about 8 percent of total FDI stock in Albania, according to Albania's central bank.

Turkey is more actively engaged in Albania's banking sector, with the country's largest commercial bank, Turkish-owned BKT, accounting for 28 percent of banking assets in the country, but not estimated to pose any significant risk due to operating as a separate legal entity and with modest exposure to Turkish government lira-denominated securities.

The report describes Turkey as a key economic partner in the Western Balkans, a region it once ruled for centuries under the Ottoman Empire until the early 20th century with trade, investment and banking ties stronger with Kosovo and Albania as a share of the respective countries' total, rather than former Yugoslav countries.

While current contagion risk is estimated as manageable, the World Bank warns a possible escalation of the crisis in Turkey could also negatively affect investment flows to emerging markets such as the Western Balkans, an EU aspirant region of some 20 million consumers where investment flows are already hampered by perceptions of weak rule of law and corruption.

“The risk of contagion is manageable, with the main channel of potential impact through capital flows into emerging markets. The risk of contagion through the banking system is small. Should there be a risk through Turkish private sector borrowing from European banks, the banks are well-capitalized, with access to funds still easy. Although the high presence of Turkish banks in Albania and Kosovo is an additional risk, these operate as separate legal entities and are subject to national monitoring and safeguards,” says the World Bank report.

World Bank experts say the main risk is the contagion through investor aversion to emerging markets, which may prompt them to sell riskier assets as investors search for yield in the low interest rate environment. “Like other emerging markets, Western Balkans countries are vulnerable to contagion from the capital markets,” adds the report.

The sharp decline of the Turkish lira against the US dollar, also hit by a diplomatic spat with the US, has seen inflation register record high of about 25 percent in Turkey and its economy is now expected to grow by 3.5 percent in 2018, less than half of last year's 7.4 percent expansion.

The IMF says it expects Turkey's 2019 GDP growth to drop to a mere 0.4 percent, warning that "the challenges that Turkey faces will require a comprehensive policy package comprising monetary, fiscal, quasi-fiscal, and financial sector policies."

Recessions in Italy and Greece, Albania’s main trading partners, top investors and the hosts of 1 million Albanian migrants, had a series of negative effect on Albania through lower trade, investment and remittance flows in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Albania’s GDP growth has only in the past couple of years picked to about 4 percent after avoiding recession, but growing between 1 to 3 percent for about 8 years until 2016. Experts say the country needs to grow by 6 percent annually in order to produce tangible and all-inclusive growth.

 

Possible spillovers from global trade tensions 

The World Bank says the current round of trade disputes, involving the United States, China, and U.S. trading partners, may create both opportunities and risks for the Western Balkans, but pose a threat to Albania’s steel and aluminum exports to the US, estimated at about $20 million a year.

"Tariff surcharges on U.S. imports of particular categories of goods, to the extent that they are global or near-global, could reduce U.S. imports from the Western Balkans to the extent that Western Balkan countries actually export any of these goods to the U.S.," says the World Bank.

“EU imports from the Western Balkans of goods targeted from the U.S. are dominated by iron, steel and, aluminum products, apparel, furniture, and cereals. The share of all EU imports from the Western Balkans that appear on the targeted list is significant, ranging from 4.1 percent for Macedonia to 10.7 percent for Albania,” it adds.

Considering that current tariff actions are targeted against specific countries, the World Bank says there might also be an opportunity for Western Balkan exports to increase because they might partially substitute for targeted goods previously imported from the U.S. or China.

“However, if escalation of trade conflicts and accompanying uncertainty leads to a significant global decline in investor confidence, all regions of the world would be harmed,” it adds.

 

GDP growth forecast 

The World Bank has upgraded its 2018 growth forecast on Albania to 4 percent supported by weather-related spike in hydroelectric power production and a strong tourism season but expects medium-term growth to slow down to 3.5 percent with risks to the outlook involving the international situation in emerging markets, growth in the EU, and the success of the fiscal consolidation and tax reform.

"Growth in Albania is projected to slow somewhat as private investment decelerates after two large FDI-financed energy projects are completed," says the World Bank which now expects Albania's growth to slow down to 3.6 percent and 3.5 percent in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Fiscal consolidation, more efficient public spending, and structural reforms are still critical to sustainable and equitable growth, urges the Washington-based financial institutions which has been supporting Albania with a series of projects and reforms since the early 1990s collapse of the communist regime.

The World Bank expects Albania’s poverty rate measured at US$5.5/day in purchasing power parity to drop to about a quarter of population by 2020, down from about 28 percent, but yet remain one of the highest in the region.

Meanwhile, the IMF has also revised upward its 2018 economic outlook on Albania to 4 percent, but expects the country's growth to linger around 3.7 percent to 4 percent over 2019-2023.
                    [post_title] => World Bank: Albania is not immune to Turkey, global trade tensions 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 9 – Germany says Albania needs to continue reforms strengthening rule of law and improving the business climate in order to become more appealing to German investors considering huge untapped potential in a series of sectors.

German Ambassador to Albania Susanne Schutz says Albania has great development potential in several sectors, including tourism, green energy, but also agriculture and services.

“But in all those sectors, it is equally important to create the necessary general conditions for potential investors, be they local or foreign ones. And these conditions first of all include legal security, transparency and a functioning, efficient and non-corrupt administration," says the German ambassador, adding that German investors welcome the vetting process that is scanning judges and prosecutors as part of the justice reform.

"The vetting process strengthens trust in rule of law, considerably contributing to increasing Albania's attractiveness as an investment destination. From the point of view of German business community, those reforms must necessarily continue to be implemented,” Schutz has told local Albanian language Monitor magazine in an interview.

Poor fight against corruption and crime, lack of transparency in public procurement, lack of legal security and unpredictability of economic policies due to frequently changing tax laws and regulations are the top concerns for German businesses operating in the country, in barriers that remain almost unchanged to the previous years, according to a 2018 survey by DIHA, the German Association of Industry and Trade in Albania.

"We still have companies from Germany, that is potential investors for Albania who complain about shortcomings in the information policy and transparency as far as public procurement is concerned or unclear ownership relations at potential investment sites. On the other hand, shortcomings in the track record on arrears in case of public contracts do not have a positive effect on Albania's image as an investment destination," says the ambassador.

About a third of all public procurement in Albania is carried out using the little transparent and limited competition negotiated procedure, making Albania the top Western Balkan country that overuses this procedure, according to a report by the European Court of Auditors, the EU’s independent external auditor.

Tourism is also high on the agenda as a potential sector as more and more German tourists discover Albania.

German tourists, a considerable number of whom include visitors of ethnic Albanian roots, lead tourist growth in Albania this year, with more than 121,000 visiting the country in the first eight months of 2018, up 37 percent compared to the same period last year, according to INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute.

“Albania has great potential in the tourism sector. But it is also clear that it finds itself in a global market with tough competition. Albania's attractiveness as a tourist destination can grow if infrastructure in general such as roads and highways, waste management, illegal construction, sewerage and the quality of service improves. Germany supports Albania in this context with a series of projects such as capacity development on sustainable tourism in mountain areas,” says the German Ambassador.

The German ambassador suggests EU candidate Albania should promote open competition in public procurement, bringing the example of the National Theater bill which has now formally opened a race for the construction of a new theater following a presidential veto and EU recommendations.

“Albania still faces big challenges to handle. For example, The European Commission stance on the National Theater law illustrates the standards that have to be applied in the public procurement sector in Albania,” says the German ambassador.

Last September’s bill review came after a European Commission letter suggested open competition for the controversial project after an Albanian company had already received the okay to demolish an Italian-built WWII theater building in downtown Tirana and build a new contemporary architecture theater in return for being offered public land to build business towers next to it. The main opposition Democrats and a group of artists described the national theater deal as a corruptive affair with an Albanian company with alleged close ties to the ruling Socialists.

“EU accession means that each of the candidate countries assumes the union's normative and legal inventory, the so-called acquis communautaire. In addition to legal standards, this also includes important chapters on the economy such as those on public procurement, competition law and consumer protection. Albania has made steps forward in these sectors also thanks to German and European support,” says the ambassador.

Albania is pending to launch accession talks by next year following a positive recommendation this year, but EU leaders have urged the country’s authorities to continue with rule of law reforms, warning that there will be no automatic opening of talks.

Germany is currently supporting Albania reform its tap waster sector where poor infrastructure and illegal connections contribute to huge losses in non-revenue water and most of Albania having limited access to running water which they guarantee with water tanks.

The German government is also supporting Albania’s key agriculture sector through the Rural Credit Guarantee Fund, encouraging banks and non-bank financial institutions to provide financial services to farmers and rural businesses in Albania on a sustained basis.

Albania is also marking the 12 edition of the German October with a series of events focused on arts and culture following last year's edition marking the 30th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Albania.

 

Trade, investment ties

German investors perceive the country's business climate to have considerably improved in the past few years, but yet rate Albania one of the least attractive South East Europe destinations, according to a DIHA survey.

German companies in Albania are engaged in important sectors such as banking, construction, production, retail sales and logistics.

Germany is one of the top 10 foreign investors in Albania but the stock of foreign direct investment from Europe’s largest economy remains quite modest at about €130 million in mid-2018, according to Albania’s central bank.

Europe’s largest economy, Germany has emerged as the second largest trading partner for Albania in the past couple of years with the 2017 trade exchanges accounting for 6.8 percent of the total, the same to neighbouring Greece, the traditional second largest partner of Albania after Italy, according to state-run statistical institute, INSTAT.

Since the late 1980s just before the collapse of Albania’s communist regime, Germany has invested more than €800 million in development projects in Albania, mainly energy, water supply and sewerage, becoming the country’s main donor.
                    [post_title] => Ambassador Schutz: Rule of law, business climate reforms essential for more German investment
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 8 – A cut in the dividend tax, a slight reduction in the tax burden for high income earners and an increase in the mining royalty on chromium exports are the main changes the government is planning for its 2019 fiscal package following some mid-year incentives that are also expected to come into force next January ahead of the expected mid-2019 local elections.

The major change in the upcoming fiscal package includes a reduction in the dividend tax to 8 percent, down from a current 15 percent in a measure that foreign business associations say is expected to provide a positive effect on boosting investment and creating more favorable treatment for employees.

However, some local business associations suggest a zero dividend rate on reinvestment and progressive taxation for companies that operate under monopoly conditions due to concession contracts on specific products and services to prevent the significant outflow of profits from the country.

Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj says the government will also include anti-evasion provisions on non-capital gains for non-residents in details that will be disclosed later when the fiscal package is officially unveiled.

Foreign companies operating in Albania transfer about €200 million to €300 million annually to their parent companies rather than reinvesting it in Albania, in transfers that often avoid taxation and that has been significantly increasing following the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

A slight reduction in the tax burden for high income earners is another change that the government is proposing following concerns over a hike in tax evasion after Albania abandoned its 10 percent flat tax in 2014 to introduce new progressive taxation on personal income and corporate tax.

The government says some 15,400 employees will benefit lower taxation after progressive taxation of 23 percent is applied for monthly salaries higher than 150,000 lek (€1,188), up from a current threshold of 130,000 lek (€1,030) in an incentive that experts say mostly benefits senior government and public administration officials, but not the private sector where the high tax burden is the main reason for not reporting real wages with the authorities.

Albania currently applies progressive taxation of up to 23 percent on personal income for monthly wages of more than 130,000 lek (€1,017) under a system that excludes the first 30,000 lek (€225) from taxation and applies a 13 percent rate on income from 30,000 to 130,000 lek.

However, only 8,700 individuals, about 1.3 percent of the total workers, declared annual income of more than 2 million lek (€15,600) with tax authorities for 2017 as part of self-declaration process for high income earners on extra taxation purposes.

The third important change that authorities are planning includes increasing the mining royalty on the key chromium exports to 9 percent, up from a current 6 percent in a move that discourages exports of raw chromium and gives a boost to local processing industry where major investment has been made.

Chromium is the key mineral Albania produces, with most exports destined for China, one of Albania’s top trading partners.

Other proposed changes include cuts in the value added for imports of electric buses and VAT exclusions on imports of agricultural machinery and raw material for the pharmaceutical industry.

 

‘Reform-fueled incentives’

Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj says the tax incentives are a result of reforms and fiscal consolidation that the Socialist Party has undertaken since late 2013 when they assumed power, but the opposition says the business climate has worsened and more businesses are closing and no major foreign investors coming to Albania.

"Everything that the budget and the 2019 fiscal package does is a direct result of what the Prime Minister has put as 'reforms being painful, tough but crucial.’ The salary hike that we are planning in next year's budget for teachers, doctors, military officers, the solidarity package [pensioners], the baby bonus that has never been at those levels to promote demographic growth, free of charge textbooks, progressive taxation, including the uninsured in the universal health care, increasing wages for the public administration again are all a result of reforms,” says Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj.

However, the main opposition Democratic Party and its allies who have been boycotting Parliament since September in protest of lack of rule of law, say more businesses are closing down due to a high tax burden, rising corruption and PPP contracts awarded to what it calls oligarchs.

 

Businesses want more incentives

Business representatives have called on government to reduce VAT on basic food products and lift the tax on plastic and glass packaging in order to make domestic industries more competitive to imports which are becoming cheaper as Europe’s single currency continues to trade a 10-year low against the Albanian lek.

Business also want a revise downward in the price of electricity, generated at a low cost by state-run operators in cases of favorable hydro-situation and a series of other tax cuts.

However, the perennial requests by the business community are little likely to be taken into consideration at a time when public finances are on a consolidation path in a bid to bring down public debt to 60 percent of the GDP by 2021, down from a current 70 percent of the GDP, a high level for Albania’s current stage of development.

Investors complain a higher tax burden compared to neighboring countries of similar size makes Albania less competitive despite its favorable geographical position.

In addition, widespread corruption and an inefficient judiciary remain key concerns for foreign investors.

The year-end fiscal package follows a mid-2018 package when the ruling majority approved lower corporate income tax for mid-sized businesses and incentives on agribusinesses.

Some 10,000 businesses currently paying a 15 percent profit rate are expected to pay a reduced 5 percent corporate income tax as the turnover threshold for the new 5 percent profit rate increases to an annual 14 million lek (€110,000), up from a previous 8 million lek (€ 63,000).

The emerging agritourism sector is also set to benefit from several tax incentives, including a 5 percent corporate income tax, a reduced 6 percent VAT and exemption from the infrastructure tax on investment.
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            [post_date] => 2018-10-19 09:30:52
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            [post_content] => By Konstantinos Giakoumis*

… I am glad to report that our project proposal was finally accepted by the General Assembly of … I presented the project on the first day and was badly attacked by the … [a national] delegate… The Academy of [capital city of a Balkan state] does not accept the term “pre-modern” or any term different to the term “post-Byzantine,” although it is not willing to participate in the project. We had a discussion and I convinced the other delegates that the latter term is just an expression of a Balkan anachronistic nationalism, not a scholarly argument. The vote for the new projects was on the last day and … [the very national delegate] used that period to oppose me and to find people on his/her side. I kept answering indirect questions and made a lot of clarifications. Finally, at the time of vote, the ad hoc Committee presented the project in a positive way, and even [the very national delegate] voted us, but surprisingly the … delegate [of a western European state] voted against. So, the project was triumphally accepted and I was congratulated a lot by many colleagues from all over the world. The … delegate [of a Balkan state] refused to support me in the last day, because the … Academy [of the very Balkan state] is …

This anonymised report, whose extract is quoted above carefully edited with square brackets, could well have been an extract from the lobbying meetings at the side of negotiations ahead of the Treaty of Lausanne, had it not been for the terms “project,” “pre-modern” and “post-Byzantine” pointing to contemporary times. In reality, the text above was reported on the basis of a recent meeting of an international scientific event for the purpose of evaluating a number of research project proposals. As is implied, the outline negotiations involve a number of Balkan states, including Greece and Albania. This event is not the least isolated; to quote only one type of such events, many times international scientific events have fallen prey to Greek boycott on account of how the neighbouring state of FYR Macedonia is reported. Without entering into the essence of the name issue, the self-exclusion from events aimed at bringing together scientists who are potentially to drive the change of hostile public perception towards the Other is much telling. It is therefore understood that in some ways the past continues to haunt the Balkan present and its scientific circles, especially those employed at state institutions. In this context, the aim of this paper is to outline the evolution of the Greek and Albanian historiography in matters pertaining to Greek-Albanian relations in the course of the 2000s and how these are conditioned more by ideological proclivities than by the intensity and quality of contact of Albanian and Greek historians with each other or by the generation of historians.

Questions pertaining to the ideological orientation of Greek and Albanian historiography even after the 2000s remain highly controversial for a number of reasons. The scientific politics and ideologemes brought forward by both sides are more often than not based, originate or are attributed to early twentieth century inertial remnants (Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2007, 9). In the course of the past century several generations of Albanians (including Albanian historians) were nationally nurtured with the image of the Greek as an enemy (Giakoumis and Kalemaj 2015 & 2017; Kalemaj and Giakoumis 2015) while the same generations of Greeks were raised with the morale of the irredentist political notion of “Northern Epirus,” popularized in nationalist songs, like “ I have a little sister, truly a doll; her name is Northern Epiros and I love her…” (Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2007, 17). Hence, dealing with the multifaceted aspects of Greek-Albanian relations has inevitably borne the ideological charge and arsenal that such perceptions of the ethnic Other has inherited.

In the past, matters related to the ideological orientation of Greek and Albanian historiography were deceptively upheld as self-evident truths in the service of political agendas which were set out in advance of research on historical material. Blatsiotis has demonstrated how the principal ideologeme of Greek policy that Albanians constitute no nation, but rather a volatile ethnic group has transformed in various periods of time (2003, 46-50), also imparting scholarly works of quite some merit (e.g. Malkidis 2007, 1-80). Conversely, Greek irredentist claims over Northern Epiros, entangled, as they were, in the period they were raised, acquired a quasi-inherent trait of the Greeks as the ethnic Other and was consequently projected by the Albanian popular and scientific historiography into the ancient past to uphold the national myth of permanent victimization (e.g. Ministria 1959, 6).

In pre-war Balkan scholarship, but also thereafter, historical problems and phenomena were separated from their wider, international context and were studied from the narrow sight of national ideology in an attempt to construct their alleged ‘national’ character. For example, the long 19th century’s passage from the empire as a political entity to the nation-state was viewed in a linear fashion, thereby failing to distinguish processes of hybridization in the process of constructing national identities, whereby empires imagined they could transform to nation-states (Ottomanism) and nation-states envisaged their future as empires (the Greek ‘Great Idea’ and the Serbian ‘Nacertaniye;’ Stamatopoulos 2018, Introduction). I have elsewhere demonstrated how the instrumentalization of the Albanian language question in the process of constructing a national identity led to historical exaggerations and distortions with regards to the stance of the Orthodox Patriarchate towards Albanian language and its use in liturgical services (Giakoumis 2011). It is therefore evident that such ethno-centric constructs are profoundly both methodologically problematic and research-distorting.

Such biases in Greek and Albanian historiography could, in theory, provide partial answer to the question why education does not always lead to prejudices reduction in Albania, contrary to the conclusions of intergroup communication theory scholars. An increasing body of literature presents evidence that more education leads to less intergroup prejudices. However, as Peshkopia et al. has presented (2017), this conclusion, drawn on the basis of evidence from western countries applying multicultural education, does not apply to most Balkan countries which, alike Albania, set primary goal of their educational systems to instil a sense of national identity and belonging, in view that enduring notions of national identity are believed to form in the course of primary socialization years as also indicated by the US paradigm (cf. Giakoumis & Kalemaj 2017). In his survey, Peshkopia has found that, contrary to the expectation that more education leads to less intergroup biases, in the case of Albania, more education leads on the one hand to prejudice reduction towards homosexuals, but on the other hand to prejudice increase towards Greeks, i.e. a group targeted as the hostile Other by ethno-nationalist narratives (Peshkopia et al. 2017). While Peshkopia’s research has not been conducted in Greece to draw useful conclusions, Papakosta’s work (2009; 2013) certainly indicates similar prompts from the side of Greek historiography.

Not surprisingly, the subjects of historical research from both academic and non-academic milieus were dominated by subjects related to dominant national(ist) narratives, occasionally alternated with topics of political and diplomatic history. One also notes the parallel development of a non-academic literature on the same matters (e.g. Dalianis 2000 & 2008; Isufi 2002; Karkasinas 2014; Litsios 2008; Mandi & Jovani 2013), not bound by rigorous scientific methods and interpretative apparatus. Such literature more often than not promotes nationalist agendas. Especially after the turn of the 21st century, public history initiatives play an increasingly important role, on occasion leaving noteworthy traces (e.g. Tzimas 2010). The availability of archives has significantly facilitated research, although the declassification time of archives after 25 years, in the case of Albania, and 30 years in regard to Greece is only nominal as in reality fewer documents have been declassified and prepared for historical research to the official declassification time (cf. Skoulidas 2015). It should be noted, however, that the number of documentary evidence published or utilized from Albanian archives (Boçi 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2012; Dervishi 2009; Dushku 2012; Gurakuqi 2011; Meta 2009, 2010, 2012a, 2012b & 2013; Naska 1999; Puto 2011; Tritos 2003) is greater than the number of published Greek sources of the like (Baltsiotis 2009; Karakitsios 2010; Kollaros 2015; Koltsida 2008; Kondis 2004; Kouzas 2013; Manta 2004 & 2005; Margaritis 2005).

For the historical period from before Albania’s independence until World War II dominant topics in the Albanian and Greek post-2000 historiography relate to matters of territory, minority rights, the establishment of the Autocephalous Church of Albania and the so-called “Cham” issue. The delimitation of the new state’s borders was studied from a variety of perspectives. Most scholars include matters related to territory in wider studies pertaining to Greek-Albanian relations (e.g. Gurakuqi 2011; Dushku 2012; Meta 2013) and the subsequent claims of an unsolved “North-Epirotan” issue (Barkas 2016; Skoulidas 2015 & 2012; Baltsiotis & Skoulidas 2013; Triadafilopoulos 2010; Malkidis 2007; Baltsiotis 2003). Another preferred subject for the Greek historiography relates to the ethnic Greek minority in Albania and its rights, a topic that has been touched in political (e.g. Baltsiotis 2009; Barkas 2016; Anastasopoulou 2013; Dalianis 2000 & 2008; Karakitsios 2010; Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2003), geographical (Kallivretakis 1995), linguistic (e.g. Barkas 2016), cultural (e.g. Karkasinas 2014; Litsios 2008; Mandi&Jovani 2013; Pappa 2009) and educational (Barkas 2016; Giakoumis&Kalemaj 2017; Ismyrliadou 2013; Karakitsios 2010; Koltsida 2008; Kouzas 2013) perspectives. The matter of the Orthodox Church of Albania and its Autocephaly was dealt with in a lesser number of monographs [Glavinas 1996; Katopodis 2001; Giannakou 2009; Simaku 2011; Bido 2016]. Last but not least, a significant number of works have been devoted to Chameria and its inhabitants. This is a primarily legal matter related to the properties of the exiled Cham Muslims who were forced to flee out of Greece towards Albania after World War II, after the collaboration of certain individuals of this community with the Nazi occupation forces in Greece, but it also bears political ramifications. Such works were written from an Albanian (Naska 1999; Isufi 2002; Dervishi 2009; Meta 2009, 2010, 2012a; Puto 2011; Elsie & Bejtullah 2013), and a Greek (Tritos 2003; Manta 2004; Margaritis 2005; Ktistakis 2006; Papatheodorou 2007; Baltsiotis 2009) perspective on the matter.

Although one would have expected that, after many years of Greek-Albanian exchanges at all levels, Albania’s integration to NATO and the EU, where Greece is already a member and Albania’s supporter, a certain postnationalistic (Bennett 2001) or internationalistic trend would emerge, in fact, nationalist discourses and related stereotypes demonstrate an outstanding endurance. This is partly owed to the fact that very few scholars speak the language of the ethnic other. Michael Tritos’ brief treatise on the Chams (2003), for instance, cites no Albanian bibliography, while the Albanian perspectives considered by Malkidis (2007) are solely in English, thereby imparting the author’s ability to pass more informed judgements on the matters he raises. This is not an exclusivity of Greek historiography. Writing about minorities and the construction of national identity in Albania a year after his election as a member of the Albanian Academy of Science (2012), Beqir Meta (2013) did not consider any newer Greek bibliography to Lazarou’s 1986 book on the Vlachs of the Balkans and their language. His books on Chams (Meta 2010) and the Greek-Albanian tension from the outbreak of the World War II (1939) to the end of the Greek Civil War (1949) (Meta 2012a) includes no Greek scholarship after 1997, while even the Albanian works considered were published no later than 2000 and 2001 respectively. One could attribute this to personal hastiness, as his book on Greek-Albanian relations in 1949-1990 (Meta 2012b) has no bibliographical updates after 1997, had it not been for scholars of a younger generation who conducted part of their studies in Greece using a rather outdated bibliography, as is the case of Sonila Boçi’s work on minorities in Albania from 1939-1949 (Boçi 2012), whose last consulted work in Greek bibliography was Manta’s monograph (2004). It is surprising that Ktistakis’ authoritarian, purely legal work on the properties of Chams and Albanians in Greece and the lift of the war status from a domestic and international legal standpoint (Febr. 2006) has been entirely neglected in Albanian bibliography, as far as I know.

The absence of an international perspective from the majority of historiographic works produced in Greece and Albania after the year 2000 is also an approach entangled in past, ethnocentric perceptions and narratives. Hence, while Ardit Bido’s monograph (2016) is very well-informed in terms of Greek and Albanian bibliography, the author’s monoscopic perspective of the relations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the Orthodox Church of Albania falls short of understanding how developments analysed and discussed in his work were conditioned by wider political power reconfigurations that shaped the frame in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate could move, such as developments with the Romanian and Bulgarian Churches, etc. (cf. Giakoumis 2011). Sonila Boçi’s (2012) well-researched and overall balanced monograph on minorities in Albania between 1939 and 1949 reproduces uncritically an older thesis of Albanian historiography, stereotypically repeated by the older generation of Albanian historians (e.g. Meta 2013, 51-8), that the Greek-speaking population in Southern Albania were metics settled during the second half of the 18th century to work the lands of the rich land owners (formerly called feudal lords) of Gjirokastra and Saranda, a thesis that has long been reviewed (cf. Giakoumis 2003). The dominance of ethnocentric, monoscopic and rather localistic interpretative apparatus is apparently not a trait of some Albanian historiographical works (cf. Xhufi 2009; Karagjozi-Kore 2014), but also of Greek historiography (e.g. Koltsida 2008; Koltsidas 2008; Pappa 2009; Karakitsios 2010; Xynadas 2012; Ismyrliadou 2013; Karkasinas 2014). It is interesting to note that such proclivities are very evident to select historiography produced by members of the Greek minority in Albania (Barkas 2016).

The studies of scholars substantially trained internationally offer insights of wider interest. The historiographical value of the work of Ilir Kalemaj (2014) is good evidence of how substantial exposure to international scholarly environments can provide original insights of interest beyond the narrow focus of a study. While Kalemaj’s study did not focus exclusively on Greek-Albanian relations, his study of real versus imaginary territoriality of Albania also touches on Greek-Albanian relations. Kalemaj developed a two-by-two matrix, one of whose axis related to domestic political pressures regarding Albania’s actual and should-be borders, while the other to international pressures vis-à-vis Albania’s borders. His findings that high international pressure lowered claims of imagined territories and that low international pressure resulted in augmented domestic political claims over imagined borders can be applied in wider contexts. The works of Ridvan Peshkopia and his colleagues (Peshkopia & Voss 2016) can be classified in the same category of studies by internationally trained scholars dealing with matters related to the history of Greek-Albanian relations and how these affect current attitudes towards the other. Peshkopia & Voss’ work on the role of ethnic divisions in the attitude of ethnic majorities or minorities toward the death penalty (2016) draws conclusions of universal interest in such matters. Though about an entirely different period and setting, I think that Margaritis’ stunning comparative study of both Jews and Chams as “undesired fellow-patriots” (2005) can also be classified to the interpretative apparatus of viewing multiple perspectives of a single matter for safer conclusions.

[1]Assoc. Prof. Konstantinos Giakoumis, Ph.D., European University of Tirana

 
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