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Showing posts from October, 2006


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 wear

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 countrie

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,

His First Hijacking

You may remember that one of the big stories out of Albania recently was the hijacking of a Turkish Airlines plane flying from Tirana to Istanbul. I didn't mention it at the time because there was not much more to be said than was already being reported in the news. As it turns out, though, one of the passengers was an American guy who was leaving Albania after a short holiday. He wrote up the story of the hijacking from the passengers' point of view which is a lot more interesting than most of what was being reported. You can find his story on his blog, The Chronicles of Chris .


This container, filled with grapes from our house, provided the perfect environment for fermentation. After two weeks, the grapes were ready to be turned into raki . First they were loaded into the still... ...then the still was sealed using a paste made from ash and flour. The still is then heated. Distillation works because alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water. The steam that rises to the top of the sealed still is the result of the alcohol boiling. It has nowhere to go except into the arm that is attached to the top of the still. The steam passes down the arm which is immersed in cold water. The water lowers the temperature inside the arm so that the steam condenses back into liquid. We wait for the newly made raki to appear... ...which it does as the temperature rises. After collecting the newly made raki , its strength can be measured. The still is unsealed... ...and the leftovers... ...go to the garden to fertilise the grapes for next year. We now have 12 litres of ou

Contemporary Verse from Albania

Thanks to Manos who drew my attention to the online literary journal, transcript . The latest issue is on Albanian poetry. Here, a sample from Parid Teferiçi. In a Country as Small as This One The Albanian Leviathan is a sardine. The sitting rooms where men gather are tins of sardines. Truth, in order to find space there, has to be folded in two and then folded again. In a country as small as this, so small that you could easily draw it on a one-to-one scale on this packet of cigarettes, you don't know where and how to sit or support yourself: on the throat of your neighbour, or on the buttocks of the other fellow's wife. Seated, huddled around the coffee table, how can you greet anyone without jabbing someone else with your elbow? How can you pay a compliment without deafening someone? We can see one another in our spoons, and we are warped.

More From the Media

The Sophia Echo recently carried an interview with Albania's ambassador to Bulgaria. Robert Austin discusses Albania's New Investment Strategies in Southeast European Times. Voice of America reports on Tirana's post-communist growth and the challenge of managing the influx of people. Finally, David Brown, a Scotsman in prison in Tirana suspected of sexually abusing children in his care, claims in the Scotsman that he was the one who exposed the abuse.

Boulevard Reconstruction

The reconstruction of Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit has increased the traffic chaos around the city, but the area is starting to look better. One side of the Boulevard between the Lana and Mother Teresa Square is almost completed, and work is continuing outside the Art Gallery. The grounds of the Art Gallery are also getting a face lift. The front lawn has been replanted and the pathways around the building are being retiled. Work has also started outside the Opera House where the footpaths have been pulled up.

In the Clear

AA Gill, author of the article on Albania that caused such outrage recently, has been cleared of inaccuracy and discrimination by the UK's Press Complaints Commission , following a complaint by Lavdrim Terziu. Gill's article was certainly insulting, but this was the right decision. It is becoming too easy for those who take offence to silence those who cause offence.

That Agreement in Full

In an earlier post commenting on the signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Albania I mentioned that the EU had not managed to post a copy of the Agreement on their website. Checking back on some old links I can now confirm that all 550 pages are available for you reading pleasure. If anyone feels up to the challenge you can now find both the SAA and the Interim Agreement on trade on the website of the European Commission's Delegation to Albania .

Albania's Ancient History Surfaces

Neil Woodburn who, apart from his tragic inability to find restaurants in Tirana, has written very appreciatively of his visit to Albania mentions another article on Albania that I missed. Rose Dosti, writing in the Los Angeles Times, describes a trip to the main archaeological sites of the South.

Store Wars

I have never liked grocery shopping, viewing it as one of life's necessary evils. Sometimes, though, I have found myself fondly imagining pushing a trolley round a great big Tesco. Tirana only has one real supermarket, the Euromax at the QTU on the Tirana-Durres Autostrada. In the city itself the choices were quite limited until recently. When we first arrived there were a number of small markets across the city trading under the 'Xhea' name. Unfortunately, not many months later, they were closed down by the tax police. In the last few weeks, though, a number of these locations have reopened. Better yet, the first of the Italian Conad supermarkets has opened at the Galeria mall in the ETC. It is, unfortunately, a fairly small store with a limited range of goods, but I believe that Conad intend to develop their presence in Albania so we hope that a full scale supermarket might appear in the not too distant future. The locally owned Euromax group also has plans to expand . T

Why We Use Mobile Phones

A New and European Reality

Yesterday, Albania's Prime Minister Sali Berisha addressed the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly on corruption, reform and Kosova, among other topics. This was his starting point: I should first like warmly to greet President René van der Linden, Secretary General Terry Davis and all members of the Parliamentary Assembly and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you today. I am indeed honoured by this occasion. I also feel immensely indebted to you and the Council of Europe for your continuous support for Albania. The Council of Europe was the first international institution that I visited in 1992, only a few weeks after I was elected President of Albania, to ask for your assistance with our project to build a democratic society based on the rule of law on the ruins of the most Orwellian dictatorship that Europe has known. Since then, the Council has always been on Albania’s side. I am deeply moved and proud to speak before you all, dear friends. I have

Dangerously Fashionable

Two more Western newspapers carried stories on Albania at the weekend. The San Francisco Chronicle published a piece by Bill Fink on Sunday, Not Such a Joke . Here is a sample: I arrived in Tirana expecting to see a city with a new surface but rotting at the core, a painted pig of a capital wallowing in its own filth. But as disasters go, it was another disappointment. Central Tirana parks are now filled with kids playing around new jungle gyms. Parents sit on public benches amid neatly manicured, trash-free lawns. Multicolored buildings create a skyline resembling a postmodern Lego set. Couples stroll through the formerly forbidden and now fashionable "bloc" district of bars, cafes and restaurants. At night, young groups order cocktails and listen to chill music in Euro-hip bars, while men sip their thimbles of coffee and smoke away the time in sidewalk cafes. People walk home without fear of mugging. The same day, The Independent on Sunday published a piece by Alex Wade, t

Zogu i Zi Reconstruction

A few days ago I was passing Zogu i Zi and discovered that construction of the new roundabout to replace the demolished overpass was a lot more advanced than I had imagined. Most of the major work has been completed on the central section and the approach roads, and traffic is flowing smoothly. As well as the roundabout itself, the central section and the roadside areas have been or are being landscaped, new lighting has been put in place and it looks as if the central section will eventually have a fountain. The planners have also provided a footpath that encircles this central section. But as far as I can see, the only way to get to it is to cross the road on the roundabout itself which seems a little hazardous. Perhaps it is simply in recognition that Tirana's pedestrians - myself included - will cross the road wherever and however they like. I went back on Sunday when they were working on the final surfacing of the approach road into the city and took the photographs below. Now