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Showing posts from June, 2006

Going Down

The World Bank recently reported that poverty in Albania has fallen significantly between 2002 and 2003. In 2002 25.4% of the population were defined as poor; by 2005 that figure been reduced to 18.5%. This means that 235,000 people have been lifted out of poverty. At the same time there has not been any noticable increase in income inequality. Albania's Gini coefficient has shifted only slightly over the same period - from 28.2 to 28.6. According the World Bank, this reduction in poverty has been brought about almost entirely as a result of Albania's economic growth which has averaged 6% per year since 1998. Moreover, the Bank claims that it is the poor who have benefitted most from growth. The Bank's conclusion is that: To maintain the momentum in poverty reduction, there is a need to remain on the reform path that has led to sustained economic growth, including maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment, improving the investment climate for private sector developme

Cellphones Can Seriously Damage Your Pocket

Albania has only two mobile phone operators - AMC and Vodafone. The absence of competition and effective government regulation leads to the inevitable. If I want to phone an AMC mobile from my AMC mobile it costs me 35 Lek per minute. If I want to phone a Vodafone mobile it cost 75 Lek. To put that in more familiar terms, AMC to AMC costs 20 pence (GBP), 28c (EUR), or 36c (USD), while AMC to Vodafone costs 42 pence (GBP), 61c (EUR) or 77c (USD). You will not be surprised to hear that Vodafone's charges are exactly the same. It was in protest against these charges and the informal cartel that keeps them at these extortionate levels that the Albanian Coalition Against Corruption organised a protest campaign. One of the posters I featured on a previous post was part of that campaign. Under the slogan Cellulari Dëmton Rëndë Xhepin , they called on cellphone users to switch them off for an hour on 8th June. The Coalition claimed that 75% of the 300 cellphones they called during the prot

Please Fasten Your Seatbelt

Now we can fly to Cologne. The expansion of Tirana's international connections continues with an announcement by German Wings of flights from Tirana to Cologne-Bonn over the summer months. Unfortunately, they only offer one weekly flight each way. If you want to fly to Cologne you will have to leave on Sunday morning at 01.35 and arriving at 03.55 in the morning. Coming back your one option is Saturday night at 22.35 arriving in Tirana shortly after midnight. I'm not entirely sure who these flights are aimed at since they are of little use to expats and Cologne is not exactly an international hub. The only people I can think of who might make use of them are Albanians working in Germany. German Wings are also starting direct weekend flights from Pristina to Cologne-Bonn and to Hamburg though at more reasonable hours. Meanwhile, rumours continue to circulate of the return of Lufthansa who are, supposedly, going to introduce a service between Tirana and Frankfurt - that would be

Posters and Banners 2

Posters and Banners 1

Dougal's Day

The great link cull has been delayed slightly, partly because I have discovered so many good Albanian links and partly because I am trying to discover Blogger hacks that will let me present them in the way I want. In the meantime, here are the deep thoughts of Dougal. Hello, I'm Dougal and I'm a dog. I should say that 'Dougal' is what Our Man in Tirana calls me. To me I'm just me. He was out watching football last night and he hasn't recovered from that second Swedish goal, so he asked me to fill in for him today. You'll notice that even though I'm an Albanian dog, I know English. I can't type, in case you were wondering, but I can communicate with Our Man in Tirana after he's has a few glasses of Raki. Today I woke up early. Had to wait for my personal trainer - Our Man in Tirana - to come and open up for me and my friends, dog and other dog. When he finally dragged himself out of bed I went through my usual morning fitness regime - chase some

Just a Few Small Details

Sali Berisha recently made it onto the front page of the International Herald Tribune. The occasion was the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU. This was generally heralded as a cause for great rejoicing, and it is true that it does represent a statement of serious commitment by both parties - but especially the EU - to Albanian membership. On the other hand, Albania is now in the position of a climber who has climbed the first hills to reach base camp and is now being shown the towering cliffs ahead. Or, using the metaphor preferred by Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, it is the "first stepping stone" towards the European Union. The 550 page document "creates significant obligations in terms of trade, rule of law, human rights, democratic standards, regional co-operation and new legislation," as Hubert Petit, acting head of the EU delegation in Albania, pointed out . (I haven't been able to find a copy of the text

Demolition Day

The City recently sent the bulldozers onto the streets of Tirana to tear down some local businesses - mostly restaurants. All the premises that were destroyed consisted of extensions that had been built onto existing structures. Presumably, these businesses never had permission to build these extensions, though there are many other buildings of the same kind that remain untouched. One of those to go was Tirana's only Malaysian restaurant, Eastana. Even though its take on Malaysian food is not quite what you might expect, it did add a little variety to the choice of restaurants in the city and was quite popular among expats. The owners have put up a notice promising that the closure is only temporary and that they will be back in business soon. Thanks to Steve for the photographs. He just happened to be in the right place with his camera when the bulldozers moved in.

Corruption in Albania - Perception and Experience

The Institute for Development Research and Alternatives recently published the results of their survey into corruption in Albania. According to their research the most honest institutions or groups in the country are the President, religious leaders and the military. The most corrupt are customs officials, tax officials, doctors, judges and parliamentarians. One of the most surprising - to me - of the many findings from the survey was the extent of corruption in the health sector. Around 40% of those interviewed said that they had given bribes to medical staff in the previous year. That makes the health system the most corrupt public service insitution in the country. More information on the survey can be found on the IDRA website and a summary of the many findings from the survey is also available there in English and Albanian .

Uighur Update

The saga of the five Uighur's moved to Albania from Guantanamo rumbles on. The Toronto Star reported on an interview with Argita Totozani, Albania's National Commissioner for Refugees. According to the paper, Totozani said that the Albanian government did not intend to grant asylum to the men. "Their future is not here," she said. "There is not a Uighur community (here). They don't speak any Albanian ... There is no integration possibility for them here. We realized their future is not in Albania." Totozani also suggested that the men might be resettled in Canada: "I've heard they have relatives in Canada. There is a good community in Canada for Uighurs." The Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that there was any plan to transfer the men, insisting that the process of granting political asylum was continuing and that the authorities were working to integrate the men into Albanian society. According to one of the local papers, Gaz


At the weekend we finally took a trip on the teleferic. The weather was dry but a little hazy, so the photographs of the city are not the best. The teleferic itself is good fun. Unfortunately, someone seems to have forgotten to develop the top of the mountain where the ride stops. We walked out of the terminal building to be greeted by an incomplete viewing tower, a muddy road and a random collection of minibuses taking visitors to the mountainside hotels and restaurants along a narrow, badly surfaced, litter-strewn road. Maybe they will do something with it in time for next summer.

Human Trafficking

The US Department of State recently published its annual report on human trafficking around the world. The report assigns countries to one of four tiers on the basis of government action to combat trafficking. Albania is assigned to Tier 2. Governments in this category "are making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards." You can read what the Department has to say about Albania here . The full report is available here .


It's dog hunting season, and three of the neighbourhood dogs are currently living in our yard and condescending to wear collars and be taken for walks on leashes. It's a lot of fun trying to walk three large untrained dogs at once. We heard about the planned cull from a friend who read about it in a local newspaper. A quick call to City Hall by a colleague confirmed that the cull was scheduled to begin last Monday. Walking the dogs, I was a little suspicious of this since there seemed to be no obvious reduction in the number of dogs on the streets. It turns out that the cull is being carried out district by disctrict. A neighbouring district was covered last night and ours was due to be done tonight. However, the lorry being used - presumably to bring in the shooters and carry away the corpses - broke down and our district has now been rescheduled for Friday night. So it looks like the dogs in our area have been given a few more days of life. Our guests will, of course, be sta

That's Not Music, That's Just Noise

I'm not a big fan of the kind of music they play at night clubs, but I have been hearing a lot of it recently. Twice over the past few weeks someone has been running open air events near our house. Starting late at night, the wind carries the very loud and distorted sounds from these events over to our house. They eventually stops sometime in the early hours of the morning. Now thanks to a link I found on Peshku pa Ujë I know more of what is going on. Just click on any of the top three photographs on the linked site and run the slideshow.

Think Big

While the 14 hour power cuts of last November are now a distant memory, the underlying problems with the power system remain. According to KESH, the state energy utility, domestic production met 97% of domestic demand in 1990, but only 47% last year. Not only has demand been increasing, but capacity has been falling. Ordinary people who suffer as a result, and so does the country as a whole. The IMF estimates that last year's power cuts knocked .5% off Albania's economic growth rate. The Albanian government has an ambitious plan, not only to solve Albania's energy problems, but also to turn the country into an energy exporter. At the heart of the plan is the construction of a series of gas-fired power stations in the south of the country. The biggest of these is to be constructed in the Fier district and it is expected that it alone could generate enough power to meet all of Albania's needs. Gas for the power stations will come from a re-gasification plant to be built i

World Cup in Tirana

Looking Over Tirana

These views over Tirana were taken from the Dajti Road.