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European Parliament president calls for judicial reform, stronger rule of law

European Parliament president calls for judicial reform, stronger rule of law

TIRANA, July 15 – Albania must commit to reforms that assure an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and build up an efficient system of public administration, European Parliament President Martin Schulz has said in a speech to the Albanian

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Despite progress, prejudice for neighbours still exists in region’s media, experts say

Despite progress, prejudice for neighbours still exists in region’s media, experts say

TIRANA, July 13 – Although media coverage of the neighbouring countries and nationalities in the region is improving, some old stereotypes and hate speech are still prevalent, regional media experts said at a Tirana conference, which analyzed media coverage in

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Euro 2016 qualification dream closer than ever as Albania  climb to 10 points with one game in hand

Euro 2016 qualification dream closer than ever as Albania climb to 10 points with one game in hand

UEFA updated ranking Group I Teams P +/- Pts  Portugal 5 3 12  Denmark 5 4 10  Albania 4 5 10  Armenia 5 -4 1  Serbia * 5 -8 -2 * Serbia have had 3 points deducted (Source: UEFA) TIRANA, July

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In final decision, CAS awards Albania 0-3 victory for abandoned Belgrade match, upholds drone fine

In final decision, CAS awards Albania 0-3 victory for abandoned Belgrade match, upholds drone fine

TIRANA, July 10 – In a final decision, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has awarded Albania three points for last year’s match against Serbia abandoned due to violence in Belgrade. The Switzerland-based CAS said in a statement that Serbia

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Merkel visits Tirana

Merkel visits Tirana

TIRANA, July 8 – German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Tirana at the start of a regional tour, meeting with the country’s top officials and discussing economic cooperation at a business forum. In her one-day visit, Merkel is scheduled to

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Albanians mourn two Czech victims, police arrest confessed killer

Albanians mourn two Czech victims, police arrest confessed killer

TIRANA, July 5 – Hundreds of Albanians have held vigils in Shkodra and Tirana to honor two Czech visitors who were killed in rural northern Albania last week. Michal Svatoš, 27, and Anna Kosinová, 36, were visiting the mountainous Dukagjin

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Visegrad Group – A model for regional cooperation

Visegrad Group – A model for regional cooperation

By Bronislava Tomášová Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Tirana It is my hope that nobody in this room is surprised that the Czech Ambassador chose as a subject of her lecture a topic related to the Visegrad Group, an

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Greek crisis escalation won’t affect Albania’s banking system, central bank says

Greek crisis escalation won’t affect Albania’s banking system, central bank says

TIRANA, June 29 – As the Greek debt crisis escalates and a possible exit from the eurozone is closer than ever, Albania’s central bank has assured a potential Greek default would not affect Albania or the country’s banking system, where

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Socialists’ Erion Veliaj elected Tirana mayor

Socialists’ Erion Veliaj elected Tirana mayor

TIRANA, June 24 – Erion Veliaj of the governing Socialist Party has been elected Tirana’s new mayor by a comfortable margin in Sunday’s election, official results show. Veliaj’s victory in Tirana, where nearly one in three Albanians live, was the

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Eurostat: Albania’s price levels for consumer goods and services among the region’s lowest

Eurostat: Albania’s price levels for consumer goods and services among the region’s lowest

TIRANA, June 19 – Albania’s price levels for consumer goods and services are among Europe’s lowest although the country’s GDP per capita and consumption stand far below the EU and regional average, according to a report published on Friday by

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122701" align="alignright" width="300"]European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke to the Albanian parliament. (Photo: Kuvendi i Shqipërisë)  European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke to the Albanian parliament. (Photo: Kuvendi i Shqipërisë)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 15 – Albania must commit to reforms that assure an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and build up an efficient system of public administration, European Parliament President Martin Schulz has said in a speech to the Albanian parliament.

A strong justice system is very important in increasing of foreign investments and in offering further steps toward launching full membership negotiations with the European Union, he added in a press conference.

Schulz made the comments during a two-day visit to Tirana, where he met with all top officials, urging them to go ahead with the judicial reform and implement stronger rule of law in the country.

Schulz said that it is important that the reforms are effective and successful, but he declined to answer whether the launch of the full membership negotiations will be possible this year as Tirana hopes will be the case.

"The second half of 2015 is too soon. You have the full support of European Parliament, but as you know, it's not the only institution that decides on issuing a positive response for the start of talks with Albania,” Schulz said. “However, during the second half of this year, we will promote positive debate in order to have a positive response, while for the moment, I cannot give you a positive response."

Schultz expressed concern about the confrontational political climate in Albania.

“The persistent tensions were damaging your country and constituted a risk to the whole reform process. I share [this] concern. I call on you, therefore, to act in accordance with the 13 conclusions of the dialogue, particularly as regards reforms of the justice system, strengthening an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and building up an efficient system of public administration,” he said. “Independent institutions are the key to a fair and prosperous future. And initial successes in efforts to combat corruption should encourage the government to pursue them further in an energetic manner.”

In a portion of the parliament speech that got a lot of attention in Albanian media, Schultz said Europe would not forget Albania's suffering and virtues shown in the past, referring to a particularly brutal episode in WWII.

“The massacre by the German Army in Borova, 72 years ago, on 6 July 1943, in which German soldiers barbarically took reprisals for attacks by partisans and cruelly murdered women and children, will for ever fill us with shame. We shall not forget it,” said Schultz, a native of Germany. “Just as we shall never forget the courage and humanity of those Albanians who saved their Jewish neighbours from deportation. Thousands of Jewish refugees also found shelter and protection in your country.”

This was the first visit to Albania by Schulz as the president of the European Parliament, but the German Social Democrat has visited Albania several times. After Tirana, Schulz visited to Serbia and then Bosnia Herzegovina.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122640" align="alignright" width="300"]The Albanian Media Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland in Albania organized in Tirana the Regional Conference "Reporting Neighbors in the Balkan Media." The Albanian Media Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland in Albania organized in Tirana the Regional Conference "Reporting Neighbors in the Balkan Media."[/caption]

TIRANA, July 13 - Although media coverage of the neighbouring countries and nationalities in the region is improving, some old stereotypes and hate speech are still prevalent, regional media experts said at a Tirana conference, which analyzed media coverage in various Balkan countries.

The regional conference, "Reporting Neighbours in the Balkan Media," was organized by the Albanian Media Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland in Albania. Participants included researchers, journalists, media experts, and representatives of media organizations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The research results were presented after experts spent several months researching media outlets in these countries. Experts who worked on this project targeted TV, radio press and online media.

The conference concluded a regional project, which aimed to analyze the main trends and tendencies of mainstream media in the region regarding the reporting on neighbouring countries. Independent experts from the countries of the region contributed with their work, which analyzed positive developments in covering neighbours in the media, as well as negative sides of this coverage.

[caption id="attachment_122641" align="alignright" width="228"]conference1 The regional conference's publication.[/caption]

Collected in a special publication, the studies provide a complex overview of the role that media has on relations between neighbors.

“In spite of undeniable progress of the last decade, it cannot yet be said – on this basis -- that negative stereotypes and historical prejudice belong in the past,” the report noted.

How do we report on our neighbors when the Balkan conflicts are a thing of the past and the other countries of the region find themselves in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration? What is the image of the Other in the media of the region?  What is the impact of the process of European integration on the way countries of Western Balkans see each other? What is the role of new media and social media in creating perceptions of one another?

The answers to these questions are attempted in the publication that was presented during the conference.

As the Ambassador of Switzerland in Tirana, Christoph Graf, notes in the book’s preface, this publication opens up a path for dialogue and better mutual understanding among media actors in the various Western Balkan countries.

During the two days of the conference, the participants discussed on the way and tools to take forward this dialogue.
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Group I
Teams P +/- Pts
 Portugal 5 3 12
 Denmark 5 4 10
 Albania 4 5 10
 Armenia 5 -4 1
 Serbia * 5 -8 -2
* Serbia have had 3 points deducted (Source: UEFA) TIRANA, July 15 - Albania climbed to ten points in Group I of the Euro 2016 qualifiers after Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport gave Albania a 3-0 victory in last October’s abandoned match away to Serbia in a final decision ending a legal battle which reversed a previous ruling by Europe's football governing body. With one game in hand, Albania now see themselves rank third in Group I with 10 points, level on points with Denmark which holds an advantage only thanks to a goal away to Albania in last October's 1-1 qualifier. UEFA published the corrected ranking on Wednesday after having previously placed Albania second on better goal difference. Albania's Football Association also clarified that Albania currently ranks third because of the UEFA regulation which first considers statistics in the direct match between the concerned teams in case of equal points before applying the goal-difference rule for all group matches. Portugal lead the group with 12 points in five games having lost only at home against Albania in their opening group match in what was described as a shock defeat for the Portuguese, but a key and sensational win for the Red and Blacks' dream of a first ever qualification in a major football tournament. Armenia ranks fourth in Group I while Serbia are bottom with -2 points after having 3 points deducted by CAS over the abandoned match with Albania following violence fuelled by a drone with Albanian nationalist symbols. With four games to go before the qualifiers close, Albania sees itself in a comfortable position which has also worried favorite rivals Portugal and Denmark. As never before, Albania has almost mathematically secured a spot in the play-offs in case of finishing third in group but also stands good chances to secure a place in the top two which means direct qualification as it currently stands two points behind group leaders Portugal with one game less. Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark on September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later. Albania’s coach Gianni De Biasi said the CAS decision had increased Albania’s chances of qualification into Euro 2016 but Albania still faces a tough challenge. “I am happy because justice has been done and now we are calmer,” De Biasi said after last weekend’s ruling which was celebrated all over Albania, Kosovo and the Diaspora. “The Sept. 4 match away to Denmark is a great challenge which we have to overcome.” Albania have achieved their highest ever FIFA world ranking following remarkable progress in their Euro 2016 qualification bid and a historic victory with France last June. Albania climbed 15 spots to 36th in the July FIFA ranking, which is a historic high for the country’s national side since 1946 when it made its international debut with a friendly against then-Yugoslavia. The new ranking has officially earned Albania one seeding pot for the World Cup qualifying draw Russia 2018 scheduled for July 25. Albania is set to be seeded in Pot 3 for the first time ever after having been historically seeded in Pots 4 and 5 in previous draws. Football experts say Albania, whose players play in prestigious leagues including Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, stands a real chance to qualify for the France Euro 2016 after historically finishing bottom and second from bottom in previous Euro and World Cup qualifying stages. The top two group teams and the best third-placed side qualify directly for the final tournament of the Euro 2016. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers.
[post_title] => Euro 2016 qualification dream closer than ever as Albania climb to 10 points with one game in hand [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => euro-2016-qualification-dream-closer-than-ever-after-albania-climbs-to-2nd-in-group-i [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-15 16:23:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-15 14:23:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122624 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122570 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-07-10 11:33:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-07-10 09:33:42 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122608" align="alignright" width="300"]Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (Photo: Fanny Schertzer/CC Wikimedia Commons) Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (Photo: Fanny Schertzer/Wikimedia Commons)[/caption] TIRANA, July 10 - In a final decision, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has awarded Albania three points for last year's match against Serbia abandoned due to violence in Belgrade. The Switzerland-based CAS said in a statement that Serbia would have to forfeit the game 0-3 due to violence by its fans. The court did leave in force a Euro 100,000 fine against the Albanian football association for the disruption to the match by a drone carrying an Albanian banner. The court had postponed the decision twice asking more time to study the evidence. It's ruling is not open to any further appeals. . “The CAS Panel has decided that the UEFA European Championship qualifying Group I match between Serbia and Albania be deemed to have been forfeited by the FAS [the Football Association of Serbia] by the score of 0:3,” the court's statement said. CAS added it found no evidence that Albania refused to play following an order issued by the referee in the 41st minute when the match was abandoned and that FAS and not the Football Association of Albania must be considered as responsible for the match not being played in full. The ruling overturned an UEFA decision that noted Albania had refused to play. “The CAS Panel was unable to ascertain to its comfortable satisfaction that the referee issued a clear, direct and unconditional order to the players to resume the match on the basis of a definite decision that safety had been assured,” the court's statement said. The CAS left in force the Euro 100,000 fine against Albania, declaring the Albanian football association responsible for the drone operated during the match, carrying a banner depicting Albanian nationalistic and patriotic symbols. The news of the decision has caused a storm of celebration among Albanians on social media. "Super. This is what European Justice means. 3 points for the Red and Blacks in Belgrade. Go Albania," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on his Twitter profile. Albania's coach Gianni De Biasi said the CAS decision had increased Albania's chances of qualification into Euro 2016 but Albania still faces a tough challenge. "I am happy because justice has been done and now we are calmer," De Biasi said. "The Sept. 4 match away to Denmark is a great challenge which we have to overcome." De Biasi had earlier described the CAS decision as key to securing a spot in the top two in Group I, which means a direct qualification and no need for a play-off in case of a third place. “We are very dependent on the CAS decision on the match against Serbia. A decision in favour of Albania will increase Albania’s chances of a direct qualification,” De Biasi has said ahead of the friendly with France, which Albania won. Albania had appealed UEFA decision which handed the national team a 3-0 loss and a €100,000 fine over the abandonment of the match last October after a fight in the match’s first half when a drone with Albanian nationalist symbols was flown into the pitch, sparking a violent brawl which saw Albanian players running for the dressing room and hit with objects thrown from the stadium where Albanian fans had been banned to attend. UEFA punished Albania for "refusing to play on" and Serbia for their part in the incident fueled by the “Greater Albania” map which also featured Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian country which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after an armed conflict in the late 1990s. Some of Albania’s best players have roots in Kosovo and play for top clubs in Europe. Serbia also opposed the UEFA decision which despite handing them 3-0 victory, deducted them three points, were ordered to play the next two matches behind closed doors and fined €100,000. Albania achieved their highest ever FIFA world ranking this week following remarkable progress in their Euro 2016 qualification bid and a historic victory with France last June. Albania climbed 15 spots to 36th in the July FIFA ranking, which is a historic high for the country's national side since 1946 when it made its international debut with a friendly against then-Yugoslavia. The new ranking has officially earned Albania one seeding pot for the World Cup qualifying draw Russia 2018 scheduled for July 25. Albania is set to be seeded in Pot 3 for the first time ever after having been historically seeded in Pots 4 and 5 in previous draws. Asked about the historic climb, Albania's coach Gianni De Biasi has avoided strong enthusiasm by saying "I will reach my conclusions when I see the teams we are drawn against. For now, we still don't know how much the third pot is worth." The three points awarded by CAS mean Albania now rank on par to second-placed Denmark with 10 points. With one game in hand, Albania currently officially rank third in Group I with 7 points, five behind group leaders Portugal and three behind second-placed Denmark, both of which have played one game more. Serbia and Armenia rank bottom with one point each in five matches. Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark on September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later. Football experts say Albania, whose players play in prestigious leagues including Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, stands a real chance to qualify for the France Euro 2016 after historically finishing bottom and second from bottom in previous Euro and World Cup qualifying stages. The top two group teams and the best third-placed side qualify directly for the final tournament of the Euro 2016. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers.   [post_title] => In final decision, CAS awards Albania 0-3 victory for abandoned Belgrade match, upholds drone fine [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => official-court-of-arbitration-for-sport-awards-albania-victory-in-abandoned-match-with-serbia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-10 14:39:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-10 12:39:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122570 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122481 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-07-08 11:21:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-07-08 09:21:07 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122486" align="alignright" width="300"]German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Tirana at the start of a regional tour. (TT Photo) German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Tirana at the start of a regional tour. She was welcomed with a ceremony in front of the Albanian prime minister's office. (Photo: Tirana Times)[/caption] TIRANA, July 8 - German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Tirana at the start of a regional tour, meeting with the country's top officials and discussing economic cooperation at a business forum. In her one-day visit, Merkel is scheduled to meet with her counterpart, Prime Minister Edi Rama, and President Bujar Nishani, before speaking at the German-Albanian Business Conference, making her only public appearance in the regional tour, which will also take her to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Merkel’s visit follows on Berlin's efforts last year to take an active leadership role to help the Western Balkans along their EU integration path. The Western Balkans have a “European perspective,” Merkel said. “All states in the Western Balkans should have the opportunity to join the European Union if they fulfill the accession requirements.” Ahead of the visit, the Albanian and German governments signed agreements worth a total of 107.5 million euros to promote Albania's energy and water supply sectors. The support announced Monday, includes government loans worth 106 million euros and a grant of 1.5 million euros. Germany has been one of Albania's main EU donors since the countries re-established diplomatic ties in 1988, offering 1 billion euros in mostly soft development loans to sectors such as energy, water and education, as well as rural and urban development. In addition to economic and EU integration issues, German officials are also likely to discuss the increase in asylum claims from Albanians in Germany, the vast majority of whom are would-be economic migrants and thus ineligible for asylum Albanians officials have called on the country's citizens not to fall victims to scams that promise asylum in Germany and urged them to get informed and follow the rules set in the country's visa-free agreement with much of the European Union. [post_title] => Merkel visits Tirana [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => merkel-visits-tirana [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-08 15:28:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-08 13:28:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122481 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122468 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-07-06 13:24:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-07-06 11:24:00 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122470" align="alignright" width="300"]Albanians lit candles and wrote messages of condolences at a gathering in Tirana. (Photos: A. Balla/ Tirana  Times) Albanians lit candles and wrote messages of condolences at a gathering in Tirana. (Photo: A. Balla/ Tirana Times)[/caption] TIRANA, July 5 – Hundreds of Albanians have held vigils in Shkodra and Tirana to honor two Czech visitors who were killed in rural northern Albania last week. Michal Svatoš, 27, and Anna Kosinová, 36, were visiting the mountainous Dukagjin and Theth regions, which are popular with campers from central Europe, when they were shot dead in their vehicle, which was later rolled down a ravine. Police on Sunday said a man they had arrested in the case as the primary suspect had confessed to having committed the murders as part of an attempted robbery. Albanian social media channels quickly filled with angry comments over the crime, and solidarity rallies were organized and held in Shkodra, the nearest city to the murder, and Tirana, the Albanian capital. Crowds holding the photos of the victims as well as the flags of the Czech Republic and Albania rallied in Shkodra, while Tirana residents lit candles honoring the victims and wrote messages of condolences. Albanians hold welcoming and keeping guests safe as a basic element of their culture, the organizers said. And crimes against tourists are rarer than elsewhere in Europe, statistics show. Police identified and arrested 20-year-old Sokol Fran Mjacaj of Lotaj village, Dukagjin region, as the author. He had just come out of prison a month earlier, after serving time for his association with another killing five years ago. Mjacaj's fingerprints were found at the scene, and he confessed to the murders as part of a botched robbery, police told local media. [post_title] => Albanians mourn two Czech victims, police arrest confessed killer [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albanians-mourn-two-czech-victims-as-police-arrest-confessed-killer [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-08 11:50:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-08 09:50:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122468 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122453 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-07-03 10:02:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-07-03 08:02:25 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122456" align="alignright" width="300"]Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum  On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on June 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum. Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum  On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on June 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum. Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum
On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on July 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum. Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum
On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on June 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum.[/caption] By Bronislava Tomášová Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Tirana It is my hope that nobody in this room is surprised that the Czech Ambassador chose as a subject of her lecture a topic related to the Visegrad Group, an alliance of 4 countries in the Central Europe, whose the Czech Republic is part of. It is widely known in Albania that the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia like to call themselves as the Visegrad Group, or just the V4. It is also known that all these countries in the Central Europe support Albania on its way to the European Union. But the V4 is much more, and hence I decided to dedicate my discourse at the Albanian Institute for the International Studies to this topic. I cannot hide at the same time that there is also another reason for choosing this subject. The Czech Republic as of yesterday started its yearly Presidency in the V4 and it does not hide its ambitions in the policies even towards the Western Balkans. It was on February 15, 1991 when Václav Havel, President of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, Lech Wałȩsa, President of the Republic of Poland, and József Antall, Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary signed the so-called Visegrad Declaration creating an alliance which during the Czech Presidency in the V4 will commemorate its 25th Anniversary. The original aim of the establishment of the Visegrad Group was to overcome the difficult past of the totalitarian regimes in all Visegrad countries.  Approaching as quickly as possible with Europe in sense of its political, economic and security system, and through intensive joint cooperation and exchange of experience was the main drive of the alliance. I still remember the atmosphere at the beginning of the 90ies in Europe: the joy  following the fall of the Iron Curtain and of the bipolar world. Yet, at the same time I recall the fear of Europe from the unknown of the post-soviet satellites. It is not a long time ago when I was looking through a book with published speeches of Vaclav Havel from the beginning of the 90ies.   I found in some of  them frustrated calls towards the EU to open its doors for the new members. The Visegrad Declaration was signed only 10 days before the fall of the Warsaw Pact. The importance of cooperating within Visegrad to approximate NATO was of the same relevance as the cooperation in the EU integration. Till nowadays the EU and joint defence policies are the pillars of the cooperation among the Visegrad countries. The history proved that the intensity of this cooperation was nevertheless not always the same. In 1993, just shortly after the approval of the Copenhagen Criteria for the EU enlargement policy and shortly after the split of Czechoslovakia in two states, the V4 countries preferred to follow the fulfilment of the conditions of the integration processes individually. They even developed a certain kind of competition among them. Only after 1997, when Slovakia was excluded from the NATO invitation due to the internal political circumstances in country, regarded as not enough democratic by the international community, the V4 countries changed the approach.  They were finally aware that mutual support and exchange of experience in the pre-accession negotiations were   crucial to each of them and that together they are stronger. The new approach was particularly helpful for Slovakia, already delayed in its integration processes of the time, and it resulted in the joint accession of all V4 countries in the EU in 2004. Doubts about continuation of the V4 cooperation after the achievement of  NATO and EU memberships  were removed  in time. The V4 countries represent a strong alliance even after 11 years of their EU membership.  The coordination of their positions in the creation of many EU and NATO new policies and cooperation in the implementation of these policies is a common practice of every day V4 interaction. Sometimes they even introduce their own initiatives towards other Member States of the EU and NATO. EU Policy Learning from own experience, the V4 countries strongly and constantly support the EU enlargement process and the open door NATO policy to build a stable and democratic Europe. That is why the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe are considered as priorities of the V4 countries in terms of the foreign policy. Maintaining the momentum and credibility of the EU and NATO integration processes is crucial in the understanding of the V4. Yet,  fulfilment of the criteria and a merit-based approach must be the essence of these processes. The V4 countries are ready to share their own experience in the transition and the EU and NATO integration with aspirant countries including Albania. The access of our partners from the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe  to the International Visegrad Fund finances  to implement projects in their countries in cooperation with Visegrad partners, the possibility for students from the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe to apply for the International Visegrad Fund scholarships, and the Expert Network on Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights between the V4 and the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe countries, are some of the V4 instruments serving to this purpose. The EU enlargement policy is not the only EU policy to which the V4 countries pay such high attention. Energy security, including the use of the nuclear energy as the reliable source of the environmentally friendly energy, building of the Energy Union, establishment of the EU single digital market, establishment of  the EU unified gas market, and the EU cohesion policy are examples of other important EU policies in the focus of the joint  stance of the V4 countries. Apart of these policies, the Czech Republic would like to draw a closer attention during its V4 Presidency to the social impacts of newly elaborated EU policies and to the EU tax policies related to the fight against  fiscal evasion. The EU migration policy will become most probably another new topic of the close V4 coordination as the last June V4 Summit and the European Summit proved. Defence Policy The Defence Policy is another field of close cooperation among the V4. The V4 countries intensively coordinate their positions  within the NATO framework and often come up with joint declarations. One of them is expected to be drafted during the Czech V4 Presidency in relation to the next NATO Summit in Warsaw. Even in the implementation of the NATO policies, the V4 countries cooperate closely. As of now they are for example looking to the common approach in implementing Readiness Action Plan-related measures, one of the outcomes of the last NATO Summit in Wales related to the crises in Ukraine, but not only. All V4 countries always strongly supported the close cooperation between the EU and the NATO in security matters. The cooperation in the Defence Policy within the Visegrad strongly developed especially after the approval of the Smart Defence Concept in the NATO in 2012. The crises in Ukraine provided a new impetus to this regional cooperation. In the first half of 2016, during the Czech Presidency in the V4, the V4 Battle Group, serving to objectives of the Common European Security and Defence Policy in case of an armed conflict outside the EU, is expected to be certified as fully operational.  The establishment of the permanent V4 Military Structure (modular force) is foreseen to be used as the V4 contribution to the NATO and EU capacities when needed. The yearly joint military exercises of the V4 armed forces will be executed every year starting this year. The conduction of joint V4 airspace protection is currently analysed and the agreement on establishment of the Visegrad Group Military Educational Platform has been reached only recently. Even close cooperation in the procurement and production of the defence industry by the V4 countries is foreseen. The V4 cooperation in Cyber Security  will  be also in the focus of the Czech V4 Presidency. Foreign Policy Through its almost 25 years of history, the Visegrad Group obtained the status of a respectable multilateral player, not only inside of the EU and the NATO. Joint meetings between different levels of V4 representatives and third parties as Germany, Turkey, Republic of Korea, Switzerland and others to lead dialog on the issues of common interest and look for modalities of joint cooperation are a usual practice. The meeting of the V4 foreign ministers with the foreign ministers of the Western Balkans are taking place on regular basis every year. The next one will be hosted in Prague on November 13. It will surely be also an opportunity to share views on the progress so far achieved by the Western Balkan countries in their reforms related to the integration processes, as well as in their mutual cooperation. Internal Policy Nevertheless, the original idea of the foundation of the Visegrad Group was based on the cooperation mainly within the V4 territories in all possible fields to contribute in the establishment of functional democracies and market economy. Till nowadays, the V4 countries closely coordinate their efforts in building interconnectivity infrastructure, especially in the field of communications, the power system, and the telecommunication networks, with regard to both: links among the Visegrad countries and those with other parts of Europe. The construction of  the North-South Gas Corridor and the expansion of next-generation access networks to strengthen the regional digitalisation are important objectives of the V4 even in the focus of the Czech V4 Presidency. Environment, flood prevention, tourism, cross-border cooperation and recently, to a greater extent, even justice and police cooperation, are other fields where the Visegrad countries coordinate their policies, exchange experience and cooperate closely.  The trade mark “Discover Central Europe” is for example just one of the new V4 initiatives to promote tourism of all V4 countries jointly at the foreign distant markets. International Visegrad Fund Civil society - in the quotation of the Visegrad Declaration - is the key question to the spiritual and material development of the Central European region and an indispensable condition to establish a mutually beneficial cooperation with developed countries and European institutions. In 2000, the Visegrad countries decided to establish the so-called International Visegrad Fund to support civil society  in the Visegrad region as  a major tool to build people-to-people contacts within the V4. On June 9, 2015, the International Visegrad Fund - the only institution of the Visegrad Group - celebrated already its 15th Anniversary. The Fund started with the amount of 1 million euros. Today it operates with 8 million  euros yearly. The constant  increase of the V4 countries contributions to the Fund, even on the background of the financial crises in Europe, clearly shows the attention the V4 countries pay to building people-to-people contacts within the V4 space and  between the V4 region with the Western Balkans and the Eastern European countries. Any non-state actor from Albania – NGO, academia, local government, research institute, culture entity – may apply for the financing of a project implemented in Albania in cooperation with partners from at least 3 of the V4 countries. Any Albanian student may apply for a scholarship at any University in any of the V4 countries for Master or Post-Graduate Studies covered by the International Visegrad Fund. But the whole programme offer of the International Visegrad Fund is though much larger and I strongly recommend to visit the web pages of the Fund and look to it in detail. Higher participation of Albanian individuals and entities in the International Visegrad Fund programmes would be very welcome. Throughout its 15 years of history, the International Visegrad Fund financed around 6.000 projects and approximately 400 semesters scholarships yearly, which all together represent the total amount of 62 million  euros. The Fund gained the international reputation of a credible institution and many international donors such as Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden or the Republic of Korea regularly contribute to the Fund to cover its activities. Western Balkan Fund Positive experience from the functioning of the International Visegrad Fund and its popularity among potential applicants,  brought forth the idea during the last Czech V4 Presidency in 2011-2012 to share this experience with the Western Balkans.  A lot of work has been done in this direction so far and we strongly believe that in a very short time, the Western Balkan Fund will be established and start to be operational to create similar opportunities as in the V4 for the youth, non-governmental sector, local communities, artists, academia and research bodies in the Western Balkan countries. Under the same principle as for the projects financed by the International Visegrad Fund, only projects implemented in close cooperation with at least 3 members of the Western Balkan Fund shall be eligible to succeed in the competition.   It was in 1335 when the King of Bohemia John of Luxembourg, King of Hungary Charles I Anjou and King of Poland Casimir III met in the Hungarian King Residence in Visegrad to achieve a peace agreement between the Bohemian and Polish Kings in the dispute over the lands under the Hungarian arbitration. The peace achieved among these strong kings in Central Europe opened the door to prosperity of the region in the benefit of its population. 656 (six hundred and fifty six) years later, the descendants of Czechs, Hungarians, Poles and Slovaks revived the history and established a new platform of friendship and cooperation which proved through its history that it is worth to build on and further develop even after the main goals of the foundation of the Visegrad Cooperation – integration in the EU and the NATO – have been fully accomplished. Each of the V4 countries is a sovereign country, with own national interest, own culture, own mentality and opinions on different policies. We do not agree always on everything among us, but we always put efforts to find a common approach in our acting to ultimately create a reality beneficial to people in all our countries. Looking to the common future requires trust. “We for Trust” is the slogan of the Czech V4 Presidency.   [post_title] => Visegrad Group - A model for regional cooperation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => visegrad-group-a-model-for-regional-cooperation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-03 11:46:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-03 09:46:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122453 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122332 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-06-29 14:21:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-06-29 12:21:20 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122333" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania's central bank governor, Gent Sejko, says the banking system in Albania is immune to spillover effects from a possible Greek default. (Photo: Archives) Albania's central bank governor, Gent Sejko, says the banking system in Albania is immune to spillover effects from a possible Greek default. (Photo: Archives)[/caption] TIRANA, June 29 - As the Greek debt crisis escalates and a possible exit from the eurozone is closer than ever, Albania's central bank has assured a potential Greek default would not affect Albania or the country's banking system, where three subsidiaries of Greek banks hold around 16 percent of assets. Albania's central bank governor, Gent Sejko, says the banking system in Albania is immune to possible spillover effects from a possible Greek default and that the Greek banks operating in Albania are liquid and well-capitalized. The message by the Bank of Albania governor comes a time when Greece is on the verge of defaulting on its debts and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a surprise referendum for July 5 on the latest terms offered by Greece's creditors. Banks in Greece are currently closed and will stay shut the entire week after a decision by the Greek government to restrict panic cash withdrawals following the failure of talks with Greek creditors on continuing with the bailout program. "We have been monitoring so that Greek banks [in Albania] are not exposed to their home country and parent banks. These banks are licensed and operate in Albania as independent banks and any deterioration in the Greek economy would not have any real and powerful impact apart from confidence factors," Sejko said earlier in an interview with VoA’s Albanian service. The central bank governor says the Albanian economy has already handled the major impacts of Greece's six-year recession with a sharp decline in remittances from around half a million migrants in the neighboring country and a sharp cut in trade exchanges, especially exports. “Greece has a high level of foreign investment in Albania, but Albania's exports to Greece are low at only 3 percent, which is a factor showing that we are somewhat immune economically,” said Sejko. As elsewhere in the region, Albanian banks witnessed substantial panic deposit withdrawals in the face of spillovers from instability of global financial markets, which were compounded by concerns about the health of the Greek banking system in the fall of 2008. Ample liquidity buffers were utilized to meet deposit withdrawals. To boost confidence, deposit insurance limits were raised fivefold to 2.5 million lek (€17,500), and deposits started to recover from the second half of 2009. Greek banks account for less than one-fifth of Albania’s banking system. NBG Bank Albania, a subsidiary of the National Bank of Greece, holds 3.3 percent of the total assets in the Albanian banking system. The two other Greek banks operating in Albania, the Tirana Bank part of Piraeus Bank and Alpha Bank Albania, part of Alpha Bank, hold 7.4 percent and 5.9 percent respectively, according to an IMF report. The share of assets held by Greek bank in Albania has dropped from an estimated 25 percent in the pre-crisis years to around 16 percent currently. The situation is also a result of the acquisition of Emporiki Bank by France-based Credit Agricole. The same Albanian unit was recently acquired by U.S.-based NCH Capital Inc, private equity and venture firm. Analysts in Albania warned last December just before leftist Syriza party formed the new government, Greece's return to its old drachma currency would have positive impacts in the short run because of the transfer of savings by Albanian migrants to Albania, but it would negatively affect remittances in the long run because of a weaker drachma. A possible Greek default on its debts and its withdrawal from the eurozone could affect Albania more through financial rather than trade links, the IMF has warned in a report. Standard and Poor's, one of the top three credit rating agencies, has recently warned it could downgrade the credit ratings of several South East European countries, including Albania, where subsidiaries of Greek banks hold a considerable share of assets, if the troubles of Greece spill over into their banking systems. Greece, which is Albania’s second top trade partner and the largest foreign investor, escaped its crippling six-year recession in 2014, but experts estimate that it will take years for Greece to recoup the economic ground during its worst-ever recession that has made its economy around a quarter smaller compared to the onset of recession in summer 2008. This is a web update. If you are subscriber, read our latest edition for more in-depth coverage on this topic. [post_title] => Greek crisis escalation won't affect Albania's banking system, central bank says [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => escalation-in-greek-crisis-will-not-affect-albanias-banking-system-central-bank-says [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-03 11:37:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-03 09:37:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122332 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122218 [post_author] => 68 [post_date] => 2015-06-26 11:00:12 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-06-26 09:00:12 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122231" align="alignright" width="206"]rion Veliaj, a 35-year-old former civil society activist and the previous welfare affairs minister, declared victory Tuesday. (Photo: Tirana Times/Veliaj campaign handout) Erion Veliaj, a 35-year-old former civil society activist and the previous welfare affairs minister, declared victory Tuesday. (Photo: Veliaj Campaign)[/caption] TIRANA, June 24 - Erion Veliaj of the governing Socialist Party has been elected Tirana’s new mayor by a comfortable margin in Sunday's election, official results show. Veliaj's victory in Tirana, where nearly one in three Albanians live, was the crown jewel for the Socialist Party-led coalition of Prime Minister Edi Rama, which also won 45 out of 61 municipalities across the country. Veliaj won 53.6 percent of the vote, while Kosova received 38.9 percent of the vote, according to CEC data, with all votes counted. Veliaj, a 35-year-old former civil society activist and the previous welfare affairs minister, declared victory Tuesday. "Instead of celebrating, let's roll up our sleeves ... and take the city in the right direction,” Veliaj told supporters on the lawn of the Socialist Party headquarters. Veliaj’s chief rival, Halim Kosova of the Democratic Party, conceded defeat, congratulated the new mayor and urged Veliaj to keep the pledges he made during the campaign. There were three other candidates in the race, including Gjergj Bojaxhi, an Albanian American economist who received about 16,000 votes, or 5.4 percent of the electorate.   [post_title] => Socialists' Erion Veliaj elected Tirana mayor [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => socialists-erion-veliaj-elected-tirana-mayor [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-06-26 11:35:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-06-26 09:35:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122218 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122170 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-06-26 10:55:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-06-26 08:55:25 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122171" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania's restaurant and hotel prices are among the lowest in the region Albania's restaurant and hotel prices are among the lowest in the region[/caption] TIRANA, June 19 - Albania's price levels for consumer goods and services are among Europe's lowest although the country's GDP per capita and consumption stand far below the EU and regional average, according to a report published on Friday by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. At 50 percent of the EU 28 average, Albania's price levels for consumer goods and services in 2014 were the third lowest in a in a 37-country list which includes 28 EU member states, three EFTA members, five EU candidate countries and one potential candidate. Price levels among regional countries vary from the lowest 47 percent of the EU average in neighboring Macedonia to 50 percent in Albania, 53 percent in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, 57 percent in Montenegro. Surprisingly, EU member Bulgaria has the lowest price levels in Europe at only 48 percent of the EU average followed by Romania at 54 percent. Albania has one of Europe's lowest price levels for restaurants and hotels at only 42 percent of the EU average which rank the most competitive in the region along with Macedonia. The indicator is positive about Albania's growing  travel and tourism industry, which employs around 41,000 people in Albania and is estimated to have contributed by $639 million or around 4.8 percent of the GDP in 2014. Alcoholic beverages and tobacco prices are also among Europe's lowest at only 45 percent of the EU average. Clothes in Albania are also the second cheapest after Turkey at 66 percent of the EU average. Prices of personal transport equipment which includes motor cars, motor cycles and bicycles but excludes their maintenance and repair, spare parts and fuel, are also the second cheapest in Europe after the Czech Republic, standing at 77 percent of the EU average. However, when it comes to consumer electronic, including TVs, computers and software, Albania has one of Europe's highest prices at 8 percent above the EU average and the highest in the Western Balkan region. Price levels for consumer goods and services in the European Union in 2014 ranged from 48 percent of the EU average in Bulgaria to 138 percent in Denmark. Albania's GDP per capita, a measure of economic activity and the actual individual consumption, an indicator of the material welfare of households, ranks among the poorest in Europe and in the region at almost a third of the EU 28, according to an earlier Eurostat report. [post_title] => Eurostat: Albania's price levels for consumer goods and services among the region’s lowest [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => eurostat-albanias-price-levels-for-consumer-goods-and-services-among-the-regions-lowest [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-06-26 11:43:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-06-26 09:43:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122170 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 10 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122679 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-07-17 01:00:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-07-16 23:00:27 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122701" align="alignright" width="300"]European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke to the Albanian parliament. (Photo: Kuvendi i Shqipërisë) European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke to the Albanian parliament. (Photo: Kuvendi i Shqipërisë)[/caption] TIRANA, July 15 – Albania must commit to reforms that assure an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and build up an efficient system of public administration, European Parliament President Martin Schulz has said in a speech to the Albanian parliament. A strong justice system is very important in increasing of foreign investments and in offering further steps toward launching full membership negotiations with the European Union, he added in a press conference. Schulz made the comments during a two-day visit to Tirana, where he met with all top officials, urging them to go ahead with the judicial reform and implement stronger rule of law in the country. Schulz said that it is important that the reforms are effective and successful, but he declined to answer whether the launch of the full membership negotiations will be possible this year as Tirana hopes will be the case. "The second half of 2015 is too soon. You have the full support of European Parliament, but as you know, it's not the only institution that decides on issuing a positive response for the start of talks with Albania,” Schulz said. “However, during the second half of this year, we will promote positive debate in order to have a positive response, while for the moment, I cannot give you a positive response." Schultz expressed concern about the confrontational political climate in Albania. “The persistent tensions were damaging your country and constituted a risk to the whole reform process. I share [this] concern. I call on you, therefore, to act in accordance with the 13 conclusions of the dialogue, particularly as regards reforms of the justice system, strengthening an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and building up an efficient system of public administration,” he said. “Independent institutions are the key to a fair and prosperous future. And initial successes in efforts to combat corruption should encourage the government to pursue them further in an energetic manner.” In a portion of the parliament speech that got a lot of attention in Albanian media, Schultz said Europe would not forget Albania's suffering and virtues shown in the past, referring to a particularly brutal episode in WWII. “The massacre by the German Army in Borova, 72 years ago, on 6 July 1943, in which German soldiers barbarically took reprisals for attacks by partisans and cruelly murdered women and children, will for ever fill us with shame. We shall not forget it,” said Schultz, a native of Germany. “Just as we shall never forget the courage and humanity of those Albanians who saved their Jewish neighbours from deportation. Thousands of Jewish refugees also found shelter and protection in your country.” This was the first visit to Albania by Schulz as the president of the European Parliament, but the German Social Democrat has visited Albania several times. After Tirana, Schulz visited to Serbia and then Bosnia Herzegovina.     [post_title] => European Parliament president calls for judicial reform, stronger rule of law [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => european-parliament-president-calls-for-judicial-reform-stronger-rule-of-law [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-17 01:12:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-16 23:12:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122679 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 1109 [max_num_pages] => 111 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => 1 [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_comments_popup] => [is_paged] => 1 [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 175ff57030e6e9a0c4a9e03fddd3f6cb [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => 1 [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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