Week II : Travel Highlight Cefalú, Palermo, Mamma Sicilia


Two years ago I went for a week in Sicily, known as the garden of the Mediterranean. Located at the southern tip of Italy with all those wild stories you hear about it, I was quite curios and happy to go there. What I immediately found striking was that Sicily it’s more than just an island, it’s a huge island where bits and pieces of Europe, Africa and Asia are blended into one of the world’s first multicultural societies. It’s a unique place full of art and archaeology, history and breathtaking scenery. The fabulous mixture displayed in Greek amphitheaters, temples, Roman villas, Arab mosques and gardens, Norman cathedrals, Renaissance palaces, Baroque churches – more than 30 centuries of culture.  Not to my surprise I could see signs of several towns like Piana degli Albanesi that was founded or repopulated by the Albanians in 1488. These “Arbereshe” communities still exist today and some of these agricultural sites are distinguished for wine tasting and recreational activities.

Since happened to be in Palermo, I also visited the little coastal town, Cefalú. Its breathtaking rocky seaside along that charming little town made it quite interesting place to spend the day. Special were the little restaurants, souvenir shops, the delicious food and of course “La Grande Famiglia”gatherings. That was fun, when we had to squeeze ourselves in a tiny corner once the entire restaurant was “invaded” by 30 people part of a family celebration for a 1-year-old birthday boy. It was great to observe, as Sicilians are known to be unbeatable for their body language. As D.H. Lawrence writes about Sicilians in Sea and Sardinia “They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips.”

 

 

The Spirit of Albanian Protesters


Pictures worth 1000 words. Albanians protesting in front of their Prime Minister’s office waiting for the PM to say No to dismantling Syrian chemical weapons in Albania. The tension increased rapidly in the last hours, as the countdown for disclosing the decision of the government started. Plus PM Rama is known for his long speeches. Nevertheless the protest went peacefully, and ended literally in fireworks as government said NO to Syrian arsenal.

Never felt more proud than today, looking at youngsters, parents with their kids, and elderly gathered for the first time for an unanimous cause that went beyond any electoral party event. We love our country free from hazardous substances and today we said NO.

You Guys protesting rocked! Deep appreciation also go to the social media managers, the backstage people we don’t see, but who supported non-stop the protesters and the larger audience. Having said that now I can relax. Waiter, one cup of tea with no Sarin please…

 

Open Letter to President Obama


Dear President Obama,

I am a deeply concerned citizen of Albania, who like millions of Albanians is shocked by the news that deadly toxic chemical arsenal of Assad’s regime is landing to Albanian shores. For a small country of 28,000 km2, over-populated, with poor infrastructure, with countless problems in every sector of the economy, health, education, environment, agriculture, tourism, struggling for over two decades to fight corruption and organized crime plagued in every cell of our society, the decision of demolition chemical weapons in Albania is TOXIC. The lethal impact that this potential decision will have in the lives of Albanians and the generations to come is unquestionable.

I am addressing to you this letter for a couple of reasons. Our historic ties to US date back to 1919, when US President Woodrow Wilson intervened to block the Paris Peace Conference agreement, which divided Albania among former Yugoslavia, Italy, and Greece. US support followed until these days with President Clinton’s decision to halt the Serbian genocide in Kosovo, for which we as Albanians are deeply grateful.  But as dark days have captured the skyline of the Albanian people, our eyes are turned to you as a world leader in a desperate attempt to change the tragic fate of our nation. From a nightmarish dream we woke up few days ago to the horrible news that our government has volunteered to host the Assad’s arsenal of +1,000 MT of highly dangerous chemical weapons and materials, infringing our constitutional rights, without any transparency, public consent, REFERENDUM, or even any hearings from the interest groups. Our government is selling this issue of hosting Assad’s weapons as a request of NATO to our country as a member of NATO alliance, while there is no evidence that neither NATO itself is involved in the process of disarming Syria nor that NATO officially has submitted a request to Albania to host it. Plus in 1993 the U.S. supported Germany and Europe by shipping out of our continent the very dangerous German chemical weapons stockpile. How can one in good conscience suggest to bring now, in 2013, in the heart of Europe, Assad’s stockpile?

But what should ring the ALARM bells to the international community is the wrong evaluation of capacities of our country for handling an operation of this magnitude.

How can the poorest country in Europe deal with a potential accident of this nature? How can a country like ours deal with waste management of Sarin and Mustard gas if DID NOT yet manage the waste from its own symbolic destruction of chemical materials inherited from communism? The lives of those innocent people and children killed in Gerdec (army depot explosion) by the incompetence of public authorities do not signal any concern? What about the image of Albania worldwide pinned as the toxic ground of Europe? What about potential poisoned water resources, land, shores?  Who will pay the consequences of this irrational act? – The Albanian people!!! And the future generations to come will be condemned without being guilty for a crime that they did not commit.

In this dark moment of desperation, but also proud of being a citizen of a peaceful nation that embraces democratic values, seeking to join EU, we ask you President Obama to stop this move.

To end this heartfelt letter, I am going to quote our famous patriot and former Minister and Extraordinary Envoy of Albania to the U.S Faik Konitza. “If Albania will die, it will die because of its politicians” 

5 Reasons why we should protest at the Prime Minister’s Office


Here are a couple of thoughts on why I think we should protest in front of our Prime Minister’s office and not in front of the American Embassy:

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1. We are citizens of Albania and as such we are obeying by the rules and regulations of the Republic of Albania. The Article 56 of the Albanian Constitution guaranties the right to everyone to be informed on the conditions or our environment, its protection, which in combination with Article 59 “the right to have a healthy environment for today’s and future generations” set the stage for demanding these basic rights to our government. Any infringement of our constitutional rights is strictly our business, therefore should be addressed to our government. It is not like the infringement of US constitutional rights are at stake here.

2. We recently elected our government to represent us with a majority of 84 deputies in the parliament. It is our government’s responsibility and duty to protect it’s citizens and not in any way to jeopardize or put its lives in danger.

3. Call for REFERENDUM against importation of Chemical Weapons is definitely an internal measure addressed to our government and not to the US embassy.

4. US is one of the most historic allies of Albanians, and as such it will respect the common will of Albanians coming through a democratic Referendum for this matter.

5. Last but not the least, we are entitled of transparency on our government’s side related to this national issue. Arrogance is not welcomed and not deserved by the Albanian people.

The Affair of Destroying Syrian Weapons Arsenal in Albania


These days of heated debate for destroying Assad’s weapon arsenal, I can’t stop thinking of the same question. Why on earth Albania, I mean Albania is targeted as the backyard of destroying these mass destruction weapons? Our country does not have the capacity, any plant for weapon destruction, or real experience (what they call experience is destroying 16 mt chemicals inherited from communism). So, I start doing a little homework in order to better comprehend this operation.

Here is a view of the distribution of global stockpile of chemical weapons: two main stockpile owners are US and Russia which have destroyed about 90% and 74% of their own arsenal. Obviously it makes them experienced and resourcefully of handling such operations, but yet reluctant to host such operation. Patricia Lewis, from the London-Based think tank Chatham House, favors shipping the bulk agent out of Syria to a country like Russia. “Because Russia has taken the initiative here, they have that responsibility now to make sure it works.”Plus Russia has a naval base at Tartus in Syria”. But it is obvious that reluctance comes from a price tag associated with it, moving deadly chemicals is a risky business plus what you do with the waste coming out of Incineration or Neutralisation.

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On the other hand US is offering to bring this mobile unit developed by the US military called the Explosive Destruction System (EDS), which can handle up to six weapons at a time. The reason this mobile unit was invented is to avoid moving the highly dangerous arsenal from the initial storage, since transportation of chemical weapons can cause terrible accidents. So why Albania? Why bringing the EDS mobile unit to Albania if the weapon arsenal is in Syria and yet needs to be transported? Doesn’t it make sense to do this operation in Syria or near by where the arsenal is stored? Did our government volunteered to host the toxic stockpile or was asked by big powers? How big is the price tag to justify lives of Albanians? For these questions the Albanian citizens demand an answer. Not to mention here how is our government going to handle such accidents, potentially speaking? As we are talking about toxic chemicals like sarin and mustard gas that takes hundred of thousands of life’s in a blink of an eye.

So the risk of this potential operation is very serious and present. And if you are living in Albania and yet not convinced just look at YouTube videos of Syrian victims of chemical weapons. This could be you or your child.

Assad’s Chemical Weapons in Albanian Soil? No Thank You…


The breaking news that Syrian chemical weapons are most likely to be shipped for destruction to Albania has created an unanimous public reaction. Civil society, environmental groups, young activists, intellectuals, public figures, and citizens started a Ghandi-style marathon of protests in Tirana. Every day by staying in silence in front of government offices, protesters will gather to oppose the decision of bringing Syrian chemical weapons for destruction to Albania. Today, we all gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s (MP) office to protest. A Syrian woman, mother of two kids gave a strong message in the name of Syrians, victims of chemical weapons. “Albanian kids should not have the same fate as Syrian ones” added the Syrian woman bursting into tears. Other activists and prominent figures also issued strong messages addressed to the government.

Pics from the today’s protest in front of PM office:

Ironically, the first action of Rama’s government when took the office two months ago was to stop the importation of waste as a measure to ensure environment protection. This was one of the key promises in its electoral agenda. Now it’s being challenged by the decision of diluting 1,000 MT stocks of sarin nerve agent and mustard gas, which implies officiating the image of Albania as Europe’s toxic landfill. The silence of PM’s office on this issue is not only concerning and unacceptable, but raises further questions. Strangely the opposition, DP party is silent too. Meanwhile “the virtual war” has started. Online petitions are being signed, calls for referendum have initiated, daily protests are being organized. I doubt this will go easy and unnoticed. Albanians are irritated that on top of economic hardships and everyday struggles, they are being served a new threat to their health, environment, country image and most importantly the future of generations to come. I am sure that if Syrian weapons will make it to Albanian shores, Rama government will be nailed by the public opinion. It’s “New Born” reputation will fall off the cliff, it will earn the hatred of its own voters, it will face serious grassroots opposition, and will be viewed if not as evil, definitely as a weak bootlicker that puts in jeopardy the life of its own constituents.

Instead our government should work on promoting the country as a tourist destination not as the toxic dumping ground of Europe, as it is clear our country is lacking capacity, infrastructure, and experience in undertaking tasks of this magnitude with such high degree of hazard. Our neighboring countries should worry too. Are they really comfortable with storing tons of weapons of mass destruction in their neighbors’ backyard? 

Week 1-Travel Highlight, Bol, Croatia


The Balkan summer this year was an absolute highlight. The island of Brac in Croatia was the final destination after driving along Dalmatian coastal area and stopping over other alluring places. The ultimate place for sunbath, suntan, water sports, known as one of the most popular destinations in Europe is Bol. Its most famous and recognizable beach, by all means, is Zlatni Rat. As a pure miracle of nature is known for its golden horn shape which tip shifts with the changes of currents and winds. In contrast to the western side of the horn which is exposed to strong winds and big surfing waves, the eastern part is blessed with calm waters, perfect for sunbaths, chilling and sipping margaritas in nearby bars.

Another beautiful spotlight is Dominican Monastery, the oldest institution of Bol. It was a nice change of scenery with crystal clear beaches and shady pine-lined promenade. Waters were cold, but who cared.

And of course the experience was not complete without enjoying a real taste of Dalmatian cuisine at the famous restaurant in Bol, Vagabundo. The food was delicious and the waiter serving us looked like coming straight from Sinatra’s Epoque. Definitely a funky and yet remarkable treatment that will stay in memory for a long time. So was the vivid night life by the beach with bar girls playing violins in the background.