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Showing posts from 2006

Christmas Greetings

Our Man in Tirana is taking a break for a couple of weeks, though there may be one or two postings between now and the new year. Thanks to everyone who has read, linked and commented over the past year. Happy Christmas. Happy New Year. I will be back in early January. Until then, here are some pictures of the Christmas decorations in the city.

Pace Notes

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is the latest institution to express concern about the state of political life in Albania. The Council adopted a draft resolution on Albania last Wednesday which addressed, among other things, democratic reform. These are some excerpts from the resolution:
4. Albanian political life is plagued by confrontation and obstructionism. The poor political climate is delaying reforms, in particular in the field of election legislation and the media, which are urgently required in view of the forthcoming local elections scheduled for January 2007. A bi-partisan agreement reached on 30 August 2006 with international assistance was warmly welcomed but has yet to be implemented.7.1.1. The Assembly believes that the Albanian authorities should in particular continue to improve the accuracy of civil registers and voters' lists and develop a uniform system of addresses for buildings; new identity documents should be introduced; the excessive ro…

Christmas Tree

Collaborators

In an earlier post I noted a resolution from parliament calling for the opening up of files from the communist era identifying those who collaborated with the regime.Since then, a number of bills have been brought before parliament, and it seems likely that at some point next year one of these bills will become law. However, not everyone is pleased with the prospect.Karolina Risto in a report for Balkan Insight discusses concerns about the process raised by a number of individuals and NGO's in Albania.

Battle of Words

The Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, issued a public statement on Tuesday responding to some of the claims made during the recent dispute over the planned local elections.Responding to Edi Rama's claim that it was Albania's international partners who wanted a postponement, Berisha said that during his meetings with officials from these partners none of them, with no exception, has asked [for] the postponement of the elections and the unconstitutional extension of mandates, but on the contrary have clearly demanded respect for the Constitution concerning office terms and elections date."Regarding the dispute over the election lists, Berisha asserted that in two thirds of the country and in ninety per cent of Tirana the lists were compiled and the certificates issued by municipalities under the control of the Socialist Party.The Prime Minister also published the text of a letter to Rama, which was a response to an earlier public letter to him from Rama. I have not been able to…

Boycott

Just for a short time it seemed as if we were making progress. While the two main parties, the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the opposition Socialist Party under Edi Rama, were not able to reach an agreement on the date of the local elections, both had indicated that they would accept the decision of the President, Alfred Moisiu. The President subsequently announced that the elections would be held on Saturday 20 January. Yet this week the process fell apart once again. On Monday, the Socialist Party's National Assembly met and decided to boycott the elections. The Party claimed that, in the absence of reform of the electoral role, it would be impossible to hold free and fair elections, and called on the government to postpone the elections in order to accomplish the necessary reforms.According to the International Herald Tribune, the Socialist Party also accused the government of distributing fake birth certificates - used for identification purposes -…

Christmas Lights

The European Trade Center is dressed for Christmas.

PS If anyone at Raiffeissen is feeling full of Christmas spirit please feel free to send me gifts for advertising your bank.

Global Corruption Barometer

Transparency International just released their 2006 Global Corruption Barometer. This is slightly different from the Corruption Perceptions Index released in November. The Index draws on data from experts in the field in each of the 150 countries surveyed, as well as public surveys. The Barometer is based exclusively on a public survey commissioned by TI and carried out in 60 countries. The aim is to understand how ordinary citizens perceive corruption and the impact of corruption in their own lives, and in public and political life. This year for the first time Albania was included in the GCB and the results, as with previous reports and surveys I have mentioned, is not encouraging.

66% of those surveyed in Albania claimed to have paid bribes in the last 12 months. Of the other countries in the survey only Cameroon comes close to this figure with 60%. Only two other countries score higher than 40%.

Strangely, though, Albanians seem to be reasonably happy with the government's anti-…

Skanderbeg Square

The reconstruction work around the Square is continuing with the sunken garden area immediately behind the statue of the man himself currently being redeveloped.



Summitry

The Central European Initiative (CEI) was in town last month. At the start of November the CEI Parliamentary Assembly met. Last week we had the CEI Youth Forum in Durres, the Economic Forum and the Heads of Government meeting. Thankfully, the delegations from the 18 member countries have not yet reached that level of self-importance that requires 30 car motorcades so the traffic was no more chaotic than usual. Apart from a few posters, and some extra security there were very few signs of their presence.
Why where they here? According to their website,
The CEI was established in 1989 as an intergovernmental forum for political, economic and cultural co-operation among its Member States. Its main aim was to help transition countries in Central Europe come closer to the EU. In the second half of 1990’s, the extension of its membership to South-eastern and Eastern Europe refocused its priorities on countries in special need.One of CEI’s objectives is to bring the countries of Central and E…

OSCE Election Report

If President Moisiu's public address yesterday expressed the ideal, the recently released report from the OSCE on the forthcoming local elections named the reality.
The 2005 Parliamentary elections in Albania confirmed a consistent trend towards improvement in the conduct of elections and the electoral framework, and Albania witnessed a peaceful and orderly handover of power in September 2005 between the Socialist Party (SP) and the Democratic Party (DP). Yet, the political dialogue between the ruling coalition and the opposition has since been strained by an increasingly polarised atmosphere, lack of trust, and displays of acrimony between the respective political party leadership. This situation has impacted upon electoral reform efforts, and indeed preparations for the upcoming local elections. While there was apparent agreement among political forces to implement recommendations following the publication of the OSCE/ODIHR Final Report on the 2005 parliamentary elections, success…

National Day

Today is Albania's National Day, known here as Flag Day. Congratulations and greetings to Albanian readers everywhere.
Congratulations also from the Philippines, Jordan, Azerbaijan and New Zealand.Jeff, a missionary in Kosovo, discusses the Albanian national flag, especially as it related to Kosovo. President Moisiu gave a public address at Vlora. This is part of what he said: I have said and I am repeating it again: there are many political parties, but Albania is only one. All the citizens, regardless of the political convictions and pertinences, when found in front of Albania and its interest are Albanians and must be like one and united.
The ninety-four years of the Albanian state make up a path which has been open by cutting through numerous hardships. We have gone through happy and bitter days, although today we have all the reasons to feel proud with the Rule of Law and democracy which regardless of the shortcomings are being strengthened and consolidated day by day.We have …

Skyscraper

Like all growing cities Tirana is expanding upwards. For the most part, the new buildings are unimaginative boxes of steel, glass and concrete. Even those attempts at breaking away from the predictable have only resulted in buildings that are either ugly - the Twin Towers - or really ugly - the Sheraton. Only the recently opened European Trade Center represents an improvement.Over the months I have watched as another new building has gradually taken shape in the city. On one level it is yet another utilitarian office block, with the usual look - slabs of glass and concrete - and from a distance it is entirely unremarkable.Up close, though, it is much more striking. The architects have achieved this effect by adding wings or fins - I'm not sure what to call them - in different colours around the outside of the building. The closer you get, and the more you have to look up, the more striking the effect becomes.It's a nice idea, and it's good to see more imaginative developme…

Good Health

Having visited one of the major hospitals in Tirana a little while ago I was interested in this report from the World Bank that was published earlier this year. The report paints a grim picture of the state of Albania's health care sector and outlines the kind of reforms needed to raise it to an acceptable level.

Election Fever

So it seems that there might at last be a date for Albania's municipal elections. Under the constitution, elections are supposed to take place from 30 to 60 days after the end of the existing mandate. This means that elections should be held between 20 December and 20 January. Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the government and opposition have been unable to agree on a date. The Socialist opposition has been pushing for a date in the spring, claiming that bad weather in January might disrupt turn out in rural or mountainous areas of the country. This is true, but they can hardly blame the government for the weather.In the absence of agreement, the President has stepped in and is proposing two possible dates in January - 14th and 21st. The Socialists have indicated that they will drop their objections and accept the President's decision - though it is hard to see what choice they have.As well as seats in Albania's municipalities, the position of Mayor of Tirana…

Sunshine Bella

I don't have any opinions about anything today, so here is a nice picture of Bella enjoying the sunshine.

Another Use for Raki

Yesterday's Scotsman carried a Reuters story about Skender Prushi from Lac who owns a miniature copy of the Koran. Those who want to handle the little book have to wash their hands in raki first. The National Examiner has a story about Rubena Sukaj, an Albanian volleyball player, now playing in the US.Thanks again to Stephen Tanghe who drew my attention to a couple of pieces from the New Yorker. The first is a short story by Kadare, 'The Albanian Writers' Union as Mirrored by a Woman', and the second is an interview with Kadare.Stephen also supplied a link to a series of articles on Albania from the Atlantic Monthly, published over a thirty year period from 1963-1993. Unfortunately, a subscription is required to view these articles, but local libraries may have access.Finally, Paddie Holdsworth sent me a piece on Kruja that she wrote for the Yorkshire Gazette & Herald.

Bad Lands

Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, has featured before on this blog. Two articles of his are listed in my Albania in the Media post and offer a positive view of the country:
What country has Roman and Greek ruins, a stretch of Mediterranean coast yet to be discovered by international tourism, a beautiful old mountain town with UNESCO World Heritage status, good food, wine and beer, a buzzing entertainment district in the capital city? It seems that his reflections on Albania and a group of other countries are about to appear in book form, but if I were an Albanian I'm not sure I would be entirely happy at the prospect. The book, due for publication in April 2007, is not mentioned on the Lonely Planet website but it is available for pre-order on amazon.com where I found the details and the cover image. It's called Bad Lands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil. Yet as well as North Korea, Iran and Iraq - the original axis of evil according to George Bush - he also includes Afghanist…

Justice, Power and Visas

Following the OSCE's critical report on the criminal justice system, the President, Alfred Moisu, met with representatives of the National Judicial Conference, the High Justice Council and the Supreme Court. The meeting resulted in the establishment of a working group to coordinate progress in implementing the reforms called for by the OSCE. Media sources in Bulgaria reported that the European Parliament's rapporteur for the country was calling on the EU to delay their demand for the closure of Bulgaria's elderly nuclear reactors in order to head off a potential energy crisis in the region. The rapporteur, Geoffrey van Orden, denied this, claiming that his call for 'flexibility' did not imply keeping the reactors running.EC Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn and Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini issued a press release welcoming the decision to pursue agreements on visas and read…

The European Union and Visa Facilitation

Albanian friends tell me of the difficulties involved in obtaining a visa to travel almost anywhere in the European Union. The process is expensive and complicated and often it seems that the presumption is against granting visas. It is easy to understand why the process creates much frustration and resentment.More than three years ago the EU's External Relations Council at its meeting in Thessaloniki produced The Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans: moving towards European Integration.This document recognised the importance of visa liberalisation as an issue in the Balkans, but stated that progress was dependent on reform in 'areas such as the strengthening of the rule of law, combating organised crime, corruption and illegal migration, and strengthening their administrative capacity in border control and security of documents.' The EU Council meeting at Thessaloniki endorsed this paper referring to the 'privileged relations between the EU and the Western Balk…

Autumn in the Park

Deja Vu?

Another day, another report again. This time it is the European Commission's much leaked Enlargement Strategy and Progress Reports 2006. As usual with the EU it's a lengthy piece of work, but the key sections for Albania can be found in two places. The Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2006-2007 contains, among much else, the conclusions regarding candidate countries. Those concerning Albania can be found on pp 22-26.The Progress Report on Albania on which the conclusions are based runs to 47 pages and covers political and economic matters and Albania's capacity to meet a range of European standards.In an accompanying press release the Commission presents its key findings for each country. These are the key finding for Albania:
ALBANIAAlbania signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU on 12 June 2006. Signing this agreement represented an important step forward on Albania's EU path. Albania now faces the challenge of successfully impleme…

Another Day, Another Report

Today's report comes from Transparency International. I mentioned last year's Corruption Perceptions Index in an earlier post, and on Monday this year's CPI was released. The good news is that Albania's position in the CPI has improved. The 2005 Index placed Albania 126th with a score of 2.4 out of a maximum of 10. The 2006 Index has the country in 111th place with a score of 2.6.The bad news is that Albania still ranks as the country with the highest perceived level of corruption in the Balkans, and the the second highest level in the whole of Europe, ahead only of Belarus. (Russia is also perceived as more corrupt, but whether it counts as Europe is another matter).

Neither Fair, Nor Independent

The OSCE released a new report on the state of Albania's criminal justice system on Friday. The full report runs to nearly 250 pages, but the summary of the findings are hardly encouraging:
The Albanian justice system has undergone radical changes and a significant improvement during the past decade or so. The present analysis, however, indicates that there is a need for further improvement in order to create a stable and transparent justice system based on the rule of law. As will be seen in both the case studies chapter and in the other chapters in this report, the legal rules are frequently not respected or are abused in order to achieve “desired” – but not necessary lawful – results. As a consequence, the rights and freedoms of individuals are frequently violated, and an impression of a justice system that is neither fair, nor independent, is created.I think this comes under the category of 'damned with faint praise'.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that a forthcoming report …

Where Did I put the Candles?

It seems that we are in for more long blackouts this winter. Last winter the power was off for 10-12 hours most days and KESH, the Albanian utility that manages the electricity system, and the government had been hoping that things would be better this year.

Since, in the short term, Albania cannot boost its own generation of electricity, the plan was to buy it from other countries. Now it turns out that one of the major exporters, Bulgaria, is no longer in a position to help. The EU has insisted, as a condition of Bulgaria's accession, that the country decommission two Soviet era nuclear reactors at its Kozloduy plant. According to Hotnews.ro, a Romanian news agency,
the closure of Kozloduy III and IV will drain about 40 per cent of the pool of electricity that Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo use to cover their energy deficits.With less electricity on the market, competition for supplies will increase and prices will rise. The result is that, even if Albania does manage…

Albania in the Media

Over the past year I have linked to a number of articles on Albania published around the world. I thought it might be a good idea to list them all in one place. I have checked all the links and removed those that are no longer working. The first section lists a series of feature articles on Tirana and Albania, including the now infamous contribution from AA Gill. On Tirana:Simon Calder 'This is One East European Capital the Stags Might Want to Give a Miss' The Independent 25 March 2006Christopher Winner 'Tirana Gets Real' The American June 2006Matt Gross 'A Capital Full of Contradictions' New York Times 9 July 2006On Albania:Paul Mansfield 'Albania Steps in From the Cold' The Observer 9 April 2006Will Hide 'Albania: Europe's Last Secret' The Times 15 April 2006Tony Wheeler 'Albania: Europe's Last Forgotten Corner' Lonely Planet 9 May 2006AA Gill 'The Land that Time Forgot' The Sunday Times 23 July 2006Raymond Travers '…

Lustration

Dealing with the past is never easy in communist regimes which systematically recruited huge numbers of citizens and turned them into informers against their own families and neighbours.

One of the ways in which post-communist states of Central Europe have tried to deal with this is through the process of lustration.

This can involve a number of different processes. Former functionaries of the communist regimes might be named publicly. Since these people often maintained positions of importance after the transition from communism, simply being identified could make their positions untenable.

In other cases, these individuals would be banned from holding public office as elected representatives, or as civil servants, or in the armed forces, or the police force.

Linked to the process of lustration has been the practice of opening the files of the former regimes that identify those who 'collaborated' and those who were guilty of what where - in the post-communist context - crimes.

The…

Unveiled

First France, then the UK, now Albania.

Two students at a university in Durres have been suspended - Behije Hoxha for wearing a veil, and Julian Mebelli for wearing a beard. Though I'm not sure how you tell the difference between a beard as a religious statement and a beard as a fashion statement.

I did find a website with an entire section dedicated to the beard in Islam and a s far as I can tell they argue that the beard should be grown and the moustache shaved. This would certainly be an unusual combination for the fashion-conscious beard wearer, and perhaps Mr Mebelli's beard was of this kind.

On the other hand, members of the Saudi royal family, the leader of Hezbollah, and the President of Iran - all overtly Muslim - seem to prefer the full beard and moustache. In fact, Ahmadinejad's is a rather neat effort.

The full face covering that was the issue in the UK does seem to me to be unacceptable in a public context; but it seems a bit much to exclude people for wearing vei…

Join the Club

Albania's greatest political goal is membership of the European Union. The Government of Albania has an entire ministerial department exclusively dedicated to pursuing the process of integration. Equally important for the government is membership of NATO.

This week, three aspiring members of NATO from the Balkans - Albania, Croatia and Macedonia - met in Tirana for a conference aimed at co-ordinating their quest for membership. All three would like to be invited to join the Organisation at the NATO summit in Washington in 2008.

The conference follows a series of visits to the region by various worthies offering support for Albania's goal of membership. NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Croatia and Albania in July and, while in Tirana addressed the Albanian parliament. The US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, was in Tirana in September, while US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, visited Croatia in May and met with the leaders of all three countries while …

Press Freedom in Albania

Reporters without Borders recently issued their fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Unfortunately Albania, which first appeared on the Index in 2003 continues to slide down the rankings. In 2003 the country was ranked 34. Last year it had slipped to 62 and this year it has fallen further to 80. Within Europe, only countries like Moldova and Belarus do worse.

Not that too many Western nations have any reason to be complacent. Most of these have also slipped dramatically over the period covered by the index. Germany has fallen from 7 to 23; France from 11 to 35; Japan from 26 to 51; the USA from 17 to 53; and Canada from 5 to 16. The UK has muddled along in the 20's throughout.

Not all of the pressure on the media comes from the state, and RSF include threats to press freedom from 'armed militias, clandestine organisations or pressure groups.' This gives a more accurate picture overall, but can give a distorted picture of the state's role. The weaker the state, th…