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Showing posts from February, 2007

Saint or Celebrity

Gezim Alpion, whose work I have mentioned before , recently produced a book on Mother Teresa, entitled Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity? There is a good review of the book on the Spiked website. This is the blurb from the publisher's website : Mother Teresa was one of the most written about and publicised women in modern times. Apart from Pope John Paul II, she was arguably the most advertised religious celebrity in the last quarter of the twentieth century. During her lifetime as well as posthumously, Mother Teresa continues to generate a huge level of interest and heated debate. Gëzim Alpion explores the significance of Mother Teresa to the mass media, to celebrity culture, to the Church and to various political groups. A section explores the ways different vested interests have sought to appropriate her after her death, and also examines Mother Teresa's own attitude to her childhood and to the Balkan conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. This book sheds a new and fascinating l

Business as Usual

Did I say no more election postings? Well, perhaps one more. One week on from the elections we are still waiting for the final results. The process of counting has been incredibly slow - in many cases this seems to have been a deliberate ploy. It was only when counting got underway that the most serious incidents to date took place. In Ndroq, in the Tirana region, I watched Lajme 24 broadcast pictures of members of the counting commission throwing chairs, tables and what appeared to be a hat-stand at each other. Two were hospitalised, four were arrested and one was sentenced to fifteen days in prison. In Bushat, in the Shkodra region, there were also disputes, though without the violence. The opposition are demanding that the election be rerun. In Himara, there was large and disruptive crowd outside the counting centre where accusations were flying. Himara is the major city of a region which has a sizeable Greek community. The Greek party, PBDNJ, was accusing the PD and PS of working t

Rr. Durresit

A New Wave in Cinema

Watershed Media Centre is in Bristol in the south west of England. The Centre recently announced a short Albanian Film Season from 16th - 18th March. Among the films on view will be the two best known Albanian films of recent years, Slogans and Tirana Year Zero . I have the latter on a very dodgy looking DVD but have not watched it yet. Explaining why they were running this season, Mark Cosgrove, the Head of Programme at the Centre said this: Albanian cinema has been largely under-represented in the West, but over the past five years the stories, directing and cinematography coming out of this country has become stronger and stronger and should be seen by a wider audience. Tirana suffers from a shortage of good venues for showing films. The local Millenium (this is how they spell it) cinema shows the usual range of western - mostly American - movies. The Black Box Theatre at the Academy of Arts shows more interesting films but obviously Albanian films in Albania don't need subtit

Kamëz Part 3

For those who want a lengthy detailed report into the election there will, undoubtedly, be a range of them to chose from. In the meantime, here are my brief reflections on the last few weeks. At the heart of the problems around this election is the unwarranted influence of political parties on all aspects of the electoral process. Every institution responsible for organising and facilitating the election is under the control of political parties. The Electoral Code itself was heavily revised only days before the original date for the elections and only weeks before the actual date (Law 9676 13 January 2007). It was these revisions, specifically Article 181/2, that created the overly complicated identification requirements that caused so much confusion, and undoubtedly disenfranchised some voters. Let's be clear though: these revisions were not designed to protect the interests of the electorate. They were drafted primarily because the political parties do not trust each other. The

Kamëz Part 2

Kamëz is a poor area, lacking in infrastructure. Normally, this would lead you to expect parties of the left to have a strong presence. Yet in Kamëz it is the ostensibly right wing Democratic Party that is dominant. The local government elections of 2003 resulted in DP control of the municipality and a DP mayor, Agim Canaj. Canaj is not running in this election since he has had some difficulties in the past few years. He was dismissed from his post in 2005 following allegations of involvement in issuing false birth certificates and failing to clear duplicate entries from the voters' list. The Constitutional Court later reinstated him. The DP candidate this time round is Xhelal Mziu. Unfortunately for the DP his nomination resulted in a split in the party and the nomination of a disgruntled DP member, Remzi Tota, as an independent candidate. Tota's registration was initially turned down by the Local Government Election Commission and by the Central Election Commission. These de


For any of you interested in following the results of these elections there is a lot of information on the website of the Komisioni Qendror i Zgjedhjeve - Central Election Commission in both Albanian and English .

Kamëz Part 1

Kamëz is a place best avoided. There is nothing to see and the place is chaotic. Pick the wrong time of day and it can take an hour to travel a few miles. It was not always like this. Kamëz is like one of those new towns planners were so keen on in the 1960's and 70's. This is an Albanian new town, though, so planners were not involved. Like most communist countries Albania had a rigorous system of internal population controls. When the communist regime collapsed the people, making up for lost time, packed their possessions and left the countryside and the villages behind for the cities - especially Tirana. With no private property and no functioning state, people picked an empty spot and began to build. In Kamëz, the majority of those who arrived came from the villages and towns of the North. Eventually Kamëz, once a sea of fields, grew into a town of 80,000 people. In our time here, we had only previously passed through Kamëz on our way to Kruja, never straying off the main r

Final Push

The rain started in the early afternoon yesterday, which was unfortunate for the two coalitions as they prepared for their end of campaign rallies. Fortunately, it did not get too heavy and there was still a good turnout for both events later that evening. Unfortunately, it was difficult to see much through all the umbrellas. The PD had the better location and the better presentation, including a laser display which projected the party logo and the Vote Olldashi logo onto the backdrop and on to the Tirana International Hotel - not sure if they asked permission for that. For some reason their background music was a continuous loop of something that sounded like 80's disco music. Since they were next to the mosque and since it was Friday night, at one point the music was competing with the call to prayer drifting across the square. This greatly improved the music and if someone has the wit to record the two together, it could be the next big thing. After introducing the coalition'

E - 2

Yesterday was spent at the Sheraton where the OSCE election monitoring mission was delivering its pre-election briefing. It was a long day, lightened mostly by the media briefing which included clips from some of the television advertisements and programmes that have aired during the campaign. These included, among other things, comparing Mr Olldashi to a sumo wrestler and a kangaroo, and an 'interview' with Mr Rama that was actually a interview with an empty sofa. The most striking thing that came out of this briefing is how incredibly complicated the voting process is, especially regarding the key issue of voter identification. I suspect that most of the problems on the day will have less to do with deliberate attempts to affect the outcome than the confusion caused by the process. That said, in the absence of a proper voter registration and identification system, it is hard to see how it could be made any simpler. Tomorrow - Saturday - is supposed to be a silent day with no


One of the first things I do when I get home to Belfast is go to Spicy world, and Indian restaurant and take-away near our house. On our regualr trips to Thessaloniki, we stock up on the Sharwoods range of Indian cooking sauces, curry pastes and puppodoms. So, I was quite excited to learn that Tirana now has its own Indian restaurant. It's called Ashiana and it is by the Lana not far from Rinia Park. It's tiny - only holds about 20 people - and those who have tried it say that they need to be a bit more generous with the spices. However, I wish them success, and am planning my first visit soon. Below is the blurb from the flyer announcing their opening. Revered Sirs / Madam We have the pleasure to announce the opening of the first and only Indian Restaurant in Albania. Location: Set in the chic locale of Tirana, the Indian restaurant provides a cozy nook for those looking for ambiance, elegance and of course good Indian cuisine. The decor is unique with its recessed lighting an


Many of you are unable to enjoy the full Tirana power cut experience. Not only does sections of the city descend into darkness - though, mysteriously, there are always a number of random buildings that don't seem to be affected - but there is also the aural experience; the Tirana symphony of rows of generators running at the same time. When I was out walking a few nights ago, I decided to try to record the sound of one of the many generators on my phone. I managed to convert this to a five second MP3 file. So I am pleased to announce this new Tirana ring tone is available for your use here . Just click on download, enter the given code and hit 'get'. Use it for your ringtone, message tone or any way you want in solidarity with the good people of Albania. I don't know much about these kind of files, so the quality is not great. If any of you know better how to improve it, feel free to do so and either send it back to me or put it on Wiki Upload and send me the link. Thi

Lights Out

Thanks to Drita, obviously an avid reader of The Economist, for directing me to this article on Albania's energy problems following the closure of the two Bulgarian nuclear units. The article reports that: Last month [sali Berisha] made a joint appeal with Sergey Stanishev, his Bulgarian counterpart, for units 3 and 4 at Kozloduy to stay open (units 1 and 2 are already closed; units 5 and 6 are more modern and safer). Bulgarians argue in Brussels that Balkan countries need as much energy as the region can produce if they are to grow faster. Andris Piebalgs, the EU energy commissioner, is not convinced. On February 1st he told Mr Berisha that instead of teaming up with the Bulgarians to demand special treatment he should do more to sort things out at home. This was not quite the pre-election response Mr Berisha had been hoping for. I hope Commissioner Piebalgs sticks to his his guns. While it is tough for ordinary Albanians who have to live without reliable power supplies, thi

The Smiles that Clean the System

Sometimes I wonder where all the money goes. Regularly, the EU, the US, the World Bank and other worthies announce multi-million Euro/Dollar loans, grants or investments in Albania. Much of this is directed to worthy causes - reforming infrastructure, reforming the police and criminal justice system, relieving poverty and the like. And slowly - very slowly in some cases - it does make a difference. Still, you can't spend all your time building roads and tackling organised crime. Which was why I was delighted to come across a story from a few month's ago on the website of the British Embassy. It seems the good old Brits are helping Albanians develop their satirical skills. Four local journalists attended a seminar on satire in Zagreb last November. The Embassy press release explains the thinking behind the seminar: One of British journalism's greatest traditional weapons in the battle against corruption and malpractice through five centuries has been the ability to laugh i

Coalition of the Corrupt

For those who can read Albanian, here is a hard-hitting opinion piece by Mentor Kikia in the Albanian newspaper Shqip , (8 February 2007 p 11) indicting politicians of all hues. For those who don't read Albanian I will try to summarise this story. On 13 January the Albanian Parliament passed law number 9678 'P ër Dh ënie Amnistie' - For the Granting of Amnesty. While this has led to the release of a number of convicted criminals, Kikia claims that the politicians have effectively granted themselves immunity from investigation and prosecution, especially with regard to corruption. While Albanian politicans have rarely agreed about much recently, even boycotting parliamentary votes, Kikia notes that in this case there was overwhelming support for the law from all the political groupings represented in Parliament.

More Candidates

Why bother with one poster when you can put up 20 or 30 or 50? Zak Topuzi in open neck shirt looking casual for the young folks. Zak Topuzi in collar and tie looking formal for the old folks. Not too many women have appeared on the posters yet. This is one of only two I have seen. Going for the mature, 'trust me' look. It seems that a lot of the candidates are relatively young. Gerti Bogdani and Roland Celmeta go head to head in district number 10. Pandeli Sara looks a bit stiff and ill at ease. The SP and the DP aren't content with mere posters.


I grew up in an conservative evangelical Baptist home. We didn't drink alcohol. Ever. People I knew referred to alcoholic drinks as 'the devil's buttermilk' or, more graphically, 'the devil's vomit'. The fact that Jesus drank wine, to the point of being accused of being a 'winebibber' - great word that - and a 'friend of publicans' (Luke 7.34), was only a minor stumbling block. It was variously argued that the wine Jesus drank was non-alcoholic, grapejuice, watered to the point where there was almost no alcohol or that he alone had special authority to drink wine. It was all fairly unconvincing and somewhere along the way though I stayed Baptist, even conservative - I prefer to say orthodox - I started to try the odd drop myself. Now, as well as our home made raki and my collection of malt whisky, beer or wine is the normal accompaniment to dinner. It used to be beer almost exclusively - I am from a land of grain rather than grape - but the s

Dougal and Me

Boulevard Reconstruction

Work on the boulevard is mostly finished. This is how it looks now.

German War Memorial

During WW2 Albania was occupied by the Italians until that country's surrender in 1943. At that point the Germans invaded and occupied Albania. In previous posts I mentioned the British and Commonwealth Memorial in Tirana park. In the same part of the park there is also a memorial to the many more German soldiers who died in Albania during the occupation.

Under Investigation

One of the accusations the opposition Socialists made against the ruling Democrats during recent disputes over the forthcoming local elections was that the Democrats were issuing large numbers of birth certificates - used for identification purposes in the elections. Last week on Fiks Fare , they broadcast a piece in which a journalist managed to acquire a birth certificate after supplying fake documents. This subsequently led to a lawsuit from the Socialists against Ferdinand Poni, Deputy Minister of the Interior. The Socialists alleged that Mr Poni had issued an instruction on 23 January easing the identification requirements for issuing birth certificates. As a result, Mr Poni was invited on Thursday to visit the Tirana Prosecution Office to explain his decision. Mr Poni did not dispute the claim that he issued the instruction. The question seems to be whether or not he was acting within his legal authority. So far, there has been no comment from the Prosecutor, or from Mr Poni.


National Public Radio (NPR) in the US has a feature on Valdet Dule in their World@Work feature. Dule works in mine clearance on the Albania - Kosovo border. The programme is available as a Real Media file , and there is also a transcript of the story.