Category Archives: News & Politics

Gängeviertel: Where Politics and Art go Head to Head

I often enjoy to circumnavigate and explore parts of the city which are new to me. While I walk through wet-paved alleys in Hamburg city center, I run into this historic quarter looking all depressed in one side and glowing fancy on the other. I can barely recall such a sharp distinction in a well established and developed city. The run-down facades soaked in historic memories are all wrapped up in funky artistic street charm. The other side of the street makes the contrast sharper as it features the expensive newly build Scandinavian hotel, glass facades and shopping malls. I got curious, and I asked my boyfriend about this area and researched it later.

Gängeviertel or the Alleys’ Quarter, a small ensemble of historic houses dating back since 1780 which has certainly created attention and political debate in the city senate. In a nutshell, the story of Gängeviertel is this:

The city of Hamburg sold the run down historic Gängeviertel to Hanzevast Holding to build highly polished office buildings and shopping malls like the ones laying just across the street. But in 2009 the Gängeviertel was occupied by about 200 squatters, artists, free-lance graphic designers, painters and so on. They occupied the historic buildings that was put for sale. Not only the squatting of the Gängeviertel was tolerated by the authorities, but the squatters turned this movement “Komm in die Gänge” into what is featured by some leading newspapers in Germany like “The Miracle of Hamburg”. They even succeeded to get the Hamburg senate to buy back the area from the previous owner Hanzevast Holding. In the end no politician wants to be responsible of selling off this old slice of historic Hamburg, and certainly not against an increasing public awareness on historic preservation issues.

But why am I writing about this? What do I care about these city historic preservation issues?

Well, first I find easy just by walking through the Gängeviertel to sympathize the “Komm in die Gänge” movement while reading about famous characters such as water carrier Hans Hummel and the petite lemon seller “Zitronenjette” once lived in Gängeviertel. Just to walk through the hood feels like being brought back in the 17th century.

Second, I find fascinating for a over-regulated country like Germany, that some 200 squatters take over the good old hood, gather in a movement not only to preserve it, but also to develop an alternative social housing for free-lance artists who can not afford to live otherwise in the city. Their cotribution in return is to preserve and revitalize the Gängeviertel.

Last but not the least I would like to bring this movement as a great example for the society I come from where the money rush seems to have no limits, but to seize and hold firmly every historic corner,  like old characteristic Tirana houses. How many of them are left before turning them into block buildings? Can the shining facades always justify the trade-off?

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” 

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.


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? 

The Shepherd’s Call to Journalist Ethics

Last week unveiled the awful sexual abuse case of an eleven years old child and a potential murder case that has shaken public opinion throughout the country.

Pics Courtesy to Google Images
Pics Courtesy to Google Images

As expected most media channels have covered intensively this tragedy. But some have gone way too far with their coverage details, questioning the applied ethics within media standards and its principles. So was the case of, an online newspaper that issued an over-contested article by giving details of sexual abuse of the child. A public thunderstorm on Facebook attacked the editorial leadership of the newspaper. Analysts gathered in TV talk shows to discuss this unethical media coverage of the case and asked explanations from the editor in chief Mrs Anila Basha of Unfortunately, the response was quite disappointing. I don’t actually know which is worse, making a stupid mistake like publishing this article or this ironic “apology” of yours which seriously offends the public.

What happened to public inquiry on the dreadful article published by this newspaper? What’s the response of the editorial leadership on the public call? Was there an apology made in the talk show?

For you Miss Editor in Chief “the public” is your Shepherd, “the public awareness” is your pledge, your marriage vows till death do you apart. BTW, yes Krasta we heard, she wants to get married, badly so. We’ll get her a ring, just give us another chance.
So Miss, as you walk on the dark valley of a child abuse, pressurized by “your public awareness pledge” you once did to your Shepherd, you go deep into the wound of the crying little boy and scratched it hard, as if it wasn’t enough the horror he has gone through. Nothing seems to stop you, as you continue to display in bold dreadful letters, the naked sufferance of the little boy.

Just there, the pornographic details of a child abuse scene, after being leaked from state authorities, are being dismantled virtually in front of thousands of public-shepherd eyes at your newspaper. And when you were asked why, you answered to us fellow Shepherds with such great determination ” As a journalist it’s my pledge to aware the public on cases such as pedophilia”. Really? As a Shepherd I can tell you to spare me those ugly abuse details. I am aware and I need no horrifying narrative to understand the graveness of this crime. I certainly don’t need you to embrace and treat this case in line with a pink-celeb gossip coverage.
I see, you Miss fear no God, no Evil, no Law, and obviously ethics mean nothing to you. But could you put yourself in the shoes of a parent who’s child is sexually abused and try to walk 10 meters with the branded name of your child forever in Google? Could you go back to being eleven years old and go to school with the horrendous pain, others pity, stigma, and carry with you this abuse tag forever? It’s harsh heeeh!!!

Well, I hope you’ll realize the irreparable damage you did to this boy and to his parents. I hope you’ll have the decency to publicly apologize to the victims and to your Shepherds. I hope you’ll reflect on the viral public outrage you caused and not just downgrade it to a Facebook-ish reaction. And I really hope not to see similar scary unethical coverage in the future, if I ever go again to click on your page.

Were these clicks or sold paper worth it? I don’t think so. Remember that public leverage is the leverage of clicks, sponsorship, lost reputation, and definitely will last more then 3 days. Amen.

Happy Birthday SHQIPERI!

Let me tell you a real fairy tale in a nutshell. Once upon a time, 100 years ago, there was a nation with its own language, customs, and symbols. A nation in its own land occupied for 5 centuries by the Ottoman Empire. My Albanian stepfathers who were known as great fighters, by realizing the weakness of the Turkish army, accelerated to take measures on their own hands. Therefore, our founding father Ismail Qemali departed from Istanbul, set off for Vienna where he reached an agreement with the Great Powers, and invited all Albanians to gather in Vlora on November 28th 1912, precisely 469 years after our National Hero Skanderbeg liberated Kruja and raised the flag on November 28th 1443. Ismail Qemali was extremely pleased to see that delegates from all parts of Albania were gathered to proclaim the Albanian Independence, a free and independent state under a provisional government. He was the key figure in the Albanian Declaration of Independence and the formation of the independent Albania in 28 November 1912.

Here we are standing after 100 years of Independent State heritage, having certainly gone through historic turmoil like World and Balkan Wars, monarchy, communism, and lately democracy. There’s a great deal of history to take a look at during this past century in terms of political events, influential leadership, a deeper reflection on how we evolved, and where we’re headed to. Personally, I have been reflecting a lot on such epic event like the 100 Anniversary of Independence.

More I thought of it, more confused I have got. On the verge of this national super-exaltation, grabbing every moment of city life like a clock ticking with accelerated tick-tack rhythm, I’m caught thinking 100 questions: “What would be like the equivalent of freedoms we enjoy today versus those 100 years ago?”; “How comparable are the nowadays leaders to the idealistic founding fathers”; “Are we really better off discounting time-inflation factor?”; “Have we changed much and to what extend?” What are your thoughts?

Since this anniversary is truly iconic for its importance, I can understand why any remote skeptical opinion on current developments is viewed as anti-patriotic or political oriented. I have the feeling there’s no place for constructive criticism on what we have achieved in this century time-frame or added to the taste of celebrating this mega event. If one does that, risks falling into the anti-patriotic or political bi-polar loop trap. Sounds complicated, but let me simplify it. Two main political parties in the country, or better two main political leaders, celebrate the 28th separately – the one in power in Tirana while the opposition one celebrates it in Vlora. How cheerless and shameful would be for our political leadership to show up divided even in this symbolic day! Can’t they just in the name of national interest leave behind their contradictions/interests at least for ONE DAY? Finally its official, after all the media rumors, prior declarations, or speculations the political leadership of all colors stayed united in the opening ceremony today in Vlora where symbolically the Albanian flag was raised again after 100 years.

As the prominent novelist Mr. Rexhep Qosja mentioned earlier in his speech, today is the day where Albanians worldwide celebrate their independence as Albanians, not divided by their political views, geographical region or religion.

Today we commemorate our Independence Day as one great nation and that’s what counts most. And here’s a pre-taste of what’s going on right now…

Delegates coming from different regions of Kosovo headed to Vlora (impersonated, remembering 28 November 1912), Photo credit: Eris Gashi

Hundred of thousands Albanians gathered in Vlora to celebrate 100 Years Independence!

Arms and Helmet of Skanderbeg in a 45 days exhibition for the first time in Tirana – Collection of Arms and Armour at the Neue Burg (affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum) in Vienna.

Standing in front of Skanderbeg weapons @ Albanian Historical Museum. His weapons have been subjects of mythical adoration.

Flag kept by patriot Said Najdeni

Inauguration of the Eagle Square

Google Doodle wearing Albanian Flag Colors. View-able in Albania

Tirana getting ready for the Independence Day

…and it’s everywhere

…also up in the blue sky (Photo Credit to Aeronautika Shqiptare)

Gathered for some after hour celebration…
…and sipping Margaritas to some awesome Etno Jazz rhythms @ Opium bar


The Auction of Values

I had a crazy dream last night. I dreamt of participating in a special auction in a remote highland area of Northern Albania. It wasn’t about valuable famous paintings, gold or diamonds. It was an exceptionally distinct one – the auction of value.  I found myself suddenly so overwhelmed by this large pool of values where I had to pick what meant the most to me. While my eyes pre-screened almost subconsciously values like loyalty, knowledge, freedom, independence, family, order, openness, love, integrity, vision, trust, modesty, originality, motivation, optimism, leadership and so forth, my mind was busy listing them by priority in a hierarchic order. It is a difficult task setting value priorities, which are important since they relate to my purpose in life. Certain values even stay at the core of my being with a clear perspective of what I stand for. And here I come up with my top three values: family, loyalty and knowledge. Then I thought some of these values, the social ones I could even move to a different pool.

Reminiscing about different historical époques of Albania, it comes easier to relate the core values of a given period to social condition of that respective time. Throughout the history Albanians have fought against many foreign occupations like against the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Often our people have been in midst of Balkan wars, were subject of the 1913 arbitrary division of Albanian territory among neighboring countries and further followed by World War I and World War II. What used to be dominant values (braveness, honesty, trustworthy, mettlesome, fearlessness, audacity and courageous) were the ones that oriented Albanian against occupiers. Normally, social values usually last for 20 to 50 years. But some of these values still prevail and stay at core of many problems that our society faces. A sad example is blood feud which together with the inheritance of fierce clan mentality and tribal loyalties is still persistent to this day in highlands of Albania.

In the last two post communist decades, the transition of values faces the typical dilemma: traditional versus Western liberal and democratic values. Thinking back of late 80s, it feels like we have been trapped in our own episode of “Truman Show” where Albanian territory was “The World” to us, where were no private cars running on streets, rights to own something, democratic institutions, and where concepts like drugs, HIV/SIDA, prostitution, crime were beyond imagination of an average Albanian. Therefore, the fall of the iron curtain found many Albanians in a crossroad, with little guidance and knowledge, poor leadership and all the freedoms in their empty hands. Just we had a big misunderstanding of freedom. We thought freedom was free while the invisible hand of government serving as regulator to the free market economy using decisive and sound public policies was just not there.

A pool of brand new survival values was suddenly available to us like in a nightmarish auction. Who used to be honest was suddenly considered stupid. Getting rich and educated over night was seen as braveness. Using public resources for our own benefits was regarded with indifference. In other words: welcome to the “Paradise” where the rule means no rule and where everything is possible. The contradiction on family values also couldn’t fall behind. Though marriage and kids are considered the cornerstone of our society, still the number of divorces and family crime has grabbed the “holy” marriage institution and become a plague for our society.

In other words seems like history sadly is being repeated over and over again. Just that our enemies are no longer the border countries, communism, or dictatorship. Our enemy is…

Congratulations, President Obama!

It’s history in the making! In the wee small hours of the morning Barack Obama won his second term and stays the 44th President of the USA. What great news to wake up to: Four more years! My Facebook Timeline was totally flooded with hyper news on Obama’s victory. Facebook and Twitter users were excited about the well deserved victory which did not surprise me. While most of us were celebrating, someone else like Mr. ‘McDonald’ Trump was calling for a revolution in US or marches in Washington. Man, that’s so desperate and ironic to call for such Marxist approach to Obama’s win.

I followed all three Presidential Debates without being an American citizen, living in US or planning to move to US. Nor am I working for some US development agency overseas, neither I’m involved in politics. Plus: Living in Albania, it doesn’t matter if the new elected US President is left or right wing. The core direction of US foreign policy toward my country is not affected by the orientation of US political leadership. Both Republicans and Democrats historically have been supportive to the Albanian cause. So someone might wonder where all this interest comes from.

It‘s very emotional to see videos and photos of people cheering worldwide about Obama (click here) – and very understandable after the epic acceptance speech this morning. Certainly people around the globe see Obama’s re-election as the better choice and as an unique opportunity to keep the superpower on the right track. I am sure this image doesn’t apply to Mitt Romney. To his misfortune, he is viewed as less charismatic, less smart, trust-worthless, a greedy rich Wall Streeter, and he’s rather seen as a Bush follower. He failed to convince American voters to give him the benefit of doubt and win this presidential race.

But living in a globalized world, it isn’t possible to be indifferent to such a crucial event. Is it going to affect my life from one day to another? Probably not, since I’m not domestically target of Obama’s policies. But one thing is for sure, the average person out there wants a world leader to trigger hope, inspiration, positivism,  humanism, peace and handle well and sound economic policies to avoid the next Lehman-like meltdown, especially in light of heated Euro-zone crisis.

Today, Barack Obama stand in front of the world as winner and challenger. The very first attack on the newly elected President starts with the so-called “fiscal cliff” which effectively would throw the US economy back into a severe recession in January. It’s gonna be a rocky start for Obama with so many pissed republicans by the side – just look at the market slaughter today. But that’s certainly something familiar to Obama. On the day of his election in 2008 the Dow Jones tanked by 486 points. Four years later, the Dow Jones only sold off by 313 points. Yes, Mr. President, you can do it!

Music Ban and the End of Summer Nights in Tirana

After our “wise leading fathers” addressed all our political and societal problems, fought corruption which is holding back the country’s integration to the bigger European family, improved our quality of life through sound public policies, created countless jobs for youngsters and middle class, created parks in every neighborhood, invested in public transportation, education, and health system it is about time to win the last battle: The War on noise pollution in every corner of the Albanian territory.

Since a couple of weeks now you see police knocking on every bar-pub-club door with a clear noise-free mission: To enforce our Prime Father’s order for shutting down music at midnight. Seriously, the music in every bar in Tirana stops at 12 pm, followed by crowds of young people leaving soon afterwards.

So the typical Saturday night now looks like go out around 11 pm and come back home around midnight. Why bothering, really!!! Such an effort to dress up, do my hair, put on some make up, get the car out of the garage, look for parking, order quickly a drink while waiting for the music to ditch me by midnight? This is nonsense. There’s no need to mention the disappointment of younger crowds and their frustration to this ridicule. This harassment has to stop, it is mockery.

We are a Southern country with the youngest population age in Europe. One of the biggest if not the only asset of Tirana, often pointed out by foreigners for its dullness is the stylish and vibrant night life. There is really a neat party culture in Tirana which is hard to find even in some main European metropolis. Numerous fancy designed bars, open air summer terrace, well behaved and dressed up people partying to urban beats in +26 degrees at night, sets a wonderful example of modern party culture. Not to mention here the negative economic effects and burden of this sudden restriction on local bars and entertainment businesses.Image

What is more important is to understand that the concept of noise pollution does not only refer neither it is limited to loud music in bars. It is a much broader concept and addressing it requires smart public policies and not lousy executive orders followed by police authority. Keeping the city noise down requires a long-term plan and commitment set to cope with a wide range of factors, such as noise from transportation, private businesses, road works, construction sites, noisy neighbors, etc. This plan should involve better management of transportation systems, better city planning and better design of buildings. Roads, for example, can be made quieter by better repairing them, using low-noise road surfaces, and also by educating drivers to use less horns and drive less chaotically. Barking dogs or quarreling neighbors are not less sleep disturbing though are generally accepted in here.

I’m not saying that we have to ignore the rights of habitants for living in a quite city. I’m just trying to trigger a second thought to this discussion. There are certainly better ways for addressing this issue properly than cutting corners. Applying specific rules and regulations in certain areas depending on population density, setting different closing hours, music volume, etc. Midnight music ban in “Mai Tai” located in outskirts of Tirana, in the middle of valleys is misfitting to the general rule. A clustered plan based on cost and benefit analysis could determine the optimized solution. Let’s rather try for a win win situation and avoid lousy shortcuts.

The Russians are coming!!!

No longer than two months, while dinning with my boyfriend at the ground floor restaurant of the Twin Towers in Tirana, we couldn’t stop overhearing the conversation coming from the next table on my right. An educated Russian man with a distinguished rasping accent was sitting in the table next to us with two locals. An immediate thought crossed our minds: “A Russian Oligarch doing business in Tirana!” Well, not knowing their occupation we could only make an educated guess judging by their “oil-natural gas-investment”-keywords used in their settled evening talks.

This morning while going through the daily press, I noticed suddenly a small paragraph written in a rather gossiping form about Albpetrol getting privatized at an initial price tag of €150 million. The unofficial sources claims that the potential buyers of Albpetrol are the Sebro-Russian group Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS). Company’s main business is the petroleum, natural gas exploration, production, importing, processing, and marketing of oil products in Serbia. NIS was privatized in 2008 by Gazprom holding the majority of shares. Since then Serbia and Russia have signed an agreement giving 51% of NIS’s shares to Gazprom (for a total value of €400 million and €550 million in investments until 2012). This news was not officially confirmed by the Albanian officials at METE (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Energy), but it is logical to think that prior to 2013 elections it might be a good time for our government to cash in some millions.

Plus to make the rumor even more amusing let me tell you that the last entry for booking a hotel in Himara through was a Russian. Surprised! I’m not really. Just looking at our neighbors in Montenegro, Budva has turned into the new Mallorca of Russia, the ultimate vacation spot for many Russians. Some local Montenegrin papers are writing figures like 40% of property in Montenegro is owned by Russians and that Russian money has also totally inflated the housing market by the Montenegrin coast.

Just driving there you can easily see €1 million price tags on a house in vicinities of Budva and Kotor. Not mentioning here how hard and expensive it gets to fly to Podgorica or especially Tivat from a non-Russian destination.  To make the story short, I’m dying to see how the likelihood of a Russian influence in Albania will develop in the near future. And please don’t forget to tell me if you see Russians by the Ionian coast this summer, ok…

The home made Albanian Bourgeoisie

The old Chinese proverb “Fu bu guo san dai,” or “Wealth never survives three generations”, could have a grim of truth in itself, as we randomly have seen it happening throughout history. Looking back over the last 100 years of Albanian independence as a state of its own, with several political systems (monarchy, communism, democracy) and social-economic dynamics is still hard to point out the bourgeoisie (upper class) holding on to their money for three straight generations. Not to mention here the lack of established royalty. As we frequently hear in people’s conversations when recalling Hoxha’s time “…back in communism we were all the same”.

If a foreigner will read this, he/she might get confused with my reference to middle and upper class in Albania. Why so, since these are pretty straightforward and self explanatory concepts? So, let’s straighten this up for our international friends. Dear Friends, in your developed society professionals such as politicians, ministers, presidents, attorneys in law, judges, builders, businessmen are considered middle class. Well, not in Albania. Just for the sake of it, I took a flash “mini survey” with friends and co-workers. I asked them who are the richest in Albania. The absolute unanimous answer was THE Politicians. And unlike in other consolidated democracies the above mentioned professions make the newly rich Albanian Bourgeoisie. While professionals like economists, journalists, teachers, professors, administrators, technicians electricians, small businessmen, etc. are the remaining middle class which I’m also part of. We mind our own business and we are certainly the least influential in public policy making process. Therefore, the self exclusion of the newly rich from the middle class, creates a non-representation of our interests in the society.  In addition, the situation becomes even more abnormal due to the rather small base of the middle class (since a considerable percentage is at the lower and extreme poverty levels). What the hell am I saying: I’m part of a weak middle class who does not serve as the engine of growth, the advocator of social values and human rights, and the backbone of a state run by laws instead of by strongmen? Sadly, maybe!

Not only our newly rich Bourgeoisie is the upper class, but to some extent they also could be seen as “royals”.  What pushes forward an issue to the top political agenda apart from its importance in a normal democracy is mainly the lobbing of interest groups and constituents’ pressure toward their political representations. In contrast, here the constituents’ pressure happens to be only in one day, on the Election Day. In 16 years as a voter I never met with my political representative in Tirana, neither write to his/her staff on an issue since they are publicly invisible. As a foreign student in US and non-US citizen I once wrote to my congressmen regarding my scholarship status. Here’s how.

I could go on for hours with pros and cons on the traits of the newly rich, but that’s not important here. What’s crucial is their way of governing. What I desperately hope to see is that we immediately find “a pill” to this sickness. It is very wrong to be governed by a political class which holds deep the interest of the 0.5% rich guys and leaves ignored, neglected beyond belief the needs of the rest. Politicians are there to make and enforce public policies. We don’t vote them to tailor policies as if were to be their own dresses.

Albania: South-East looking West!

I have a hard time to remember how many times I was asked in US: “Where are you from? Russia, Germany?” Hmm, not really, I’m from Albania. Well, I certainly I don’t have an accent to be from Albany, NY, so it’s got to be something else, more exotic;) The next obvious question of an unsatisfied curious mind was something like “… and where is that located?”

Yeah, where is Albania located? In Europe, a border country with ancient Greece, the former Yugoslavian states, while facing Italy throughout Adriatic coastline. That’s so obvious and well hidden at the same time since it was such a small self-isolated country for 45 years of severe communist dictatorship. I still remember the fascination of my cute Japanese friend at the E.K.Y. University after discovering the existence of an “nonexistent” country to her knowledge, surrounded by Hellenic and Roman old civilizations. With an inquiring thrill for discovering that Albania emerged from the prehistoric stage of 4th century BC, with early records of Illyria, my friend Ayumi even was offered to visit me in Tirana that summer of 2004.

How fascinating it is for a non-European person to learn about the co-existence of so many different neighboring countries settling in a rather small territory with often pre-historic conflicting neighbors. Balkans – the Old Mountain or the Chain of Wooded Mountains is a hot spot in Europe. It is geographically part of the old continent, but not quite considered part of it, at least politically and economically speaking.

All South Eastern European countries (a rather more inclusive term then Balkans itself), though arising from different backgrounds and conditions in the recent decades, seem to have a common denominator: a shared love for EU and US.

Thinking back of my country in early transition years, certain slogans “We want Albania like the rest of Europe” still persist in our collective memory of the famous 90s. In my early youth that seemed like a genuine dream more likely to be fulfilled in the near future regardless the heavy social-economic state and hardship of our parents’ generation.

And here we are 20+ years later when it feels like a lot and then nothing really has changed. The years of transition  to the free market economy, democratic law and order were so everlasting that “our men” took off that out of date wording from our daily news vocabulary and replaced it with a newer one, trendier one, meeting conditions for EU integration.

Same substance, different wording mistakenly gives a rather evolving impression of our society.  The earlier genuine dream of the 90’s for being part of European community has been endorsed by every politician’s agenda. It is worthless to spend time and energy on describing our collective frustration as citizens toward our political representation, whom are blaming one another for constantly failing on doing their homework assigned to meet conditions to grant the EU candidacy status. What is even worse than frustration is our collective indifference on accepting this theatrical role play in every inch of media channels. In this sense we are a dying society unable to trigger change and move forward. With that in mind, I so miss the 90’s wind of change.

While reading the daily local and international feeds, it so feels like living in two parallel worlds. Someone can rightfully acknowledge that our respective worlds are quite different with regards to local matters. That’s true. What makes a hot issue in Tirana cannot necessarily apply for Madrid. But in recent years there seems to be a serious sovereign debt crisis for many developed countries of the European Union which doesn’t even exclude the likelihood that any of these countries leave the Eurozone if not complying with the harsh measures set to reduce their public debt. This certainly does not translate into “Please Albania, do your homework since we are waiting for you arms wide open to join us”, like we are constantly hearing in our media/diplomatic channels. Under these circumstances the remote connection to west looks still far away. It will require a great deal of political will and social pressure to gear up the integration process with the hope that one day we finally will know where our country is located.

P.S: Welcome to my blog! 🙂