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Albania News: |
The Economist - Albania A Hybrid Democracy
Posted on Wednesday, January 21 @ 13:38:40 PST by classiclady
Published by ACLIS Jan 21, 2009
Albanian religious communities foster co-operation
Exploring the museum towns Berat and Gjirokastër
Hydro power deal with EVN
Message from Tema editorial offices surrounded by police - by Mero Baze
Tirana | 19 January 2009 | A report released on
Saturday by the Economist Intelligence unit ranks Albania’s political system as a hybrid between democracy and totalitarianism.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Index on Democracy ranks Albania and Bosnia as the least democratic countries in the Balkans. Both countries came in at no. 81 out of 167 countries polled around the world.
Although almost half of the world’s countries can be considered democracies, the number of “full democracies” is relatively low, with only 30 making the grade, while 50 states are rated as “flawed democracies”. Of the remaining 87 states, 51 are authoritarian and 36 are considered to be “hybrid regimes”.
The study looks at five key factors to calculate the rankings in the index; electoral process and pluralism, political participation, political culture and civil right
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s measure of democracy, half of the world’s population now lives in a democracy of some sort. In recent years, there have been few further advances and several setbacks, and the spread of democracy appears to have come to a halt.
Albanian religious communities foster co-operation
By Manjola Hala for Southeast European Times in Tirana – 21/01/09
Albania's three main religious communities have taken a step towards co-operation by signing an agreement that will regulate relations between them and the government, paving the way for improved co-operation.
The highest representatives of the Sunni Muslim
community, the Orthodox Church of Albania, and the Bektaashi (Shiite Muslim) community signed the agreement late last year with Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Ylli Pango. He represented the government at the signing, just as the three religious communities represent the country's cultural diversity, his ministry said.
Major religious communities in Albania signed a government-drafted agreement on co-operation
The fourth large faith community, the Albanian Catholic Church, signed the same agreement in 2001 at the Vatican's request. The new talks went smoothly, leading to a quick signing process.
"Though Albanians always enjoyed religious rights and freedoms, the new agreement is part of [the government's] constitutional duty," said Rasim Hasanaj, the head of the State Committee on Cults.
According to the agreement, the state returns to those communities land it confiscated before 1967, when the communist regime banned all religious activity and closed every religious entity outright.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha called the signing of the pact a historic event, asserting that it will initiate new relations between the government and faith communities in Albania.
The agreement establishes tax exemptions and state financing for religious entities. The State Committee on Cults, in charge of drafting the bill, took into account the experience of other European countries that endorsed the same bill, while respecting international documents on human rights and freedoms.
According to the constitution, Albania has no official religion. However, the state recognises equality among its religious communities and their independence.
Four faiths in Albania -- Muslim (Sunni), Orthodox, Catholic, and Bektaashi (Shiite Muslim) -- together comprise 98% of the population. The rest, some 135 smaller communities, are Protestants (Evangelists), Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Baha'i and others. The Muslims are traditionally Albania's majority.
After decades of harshly enforced atheism that ended in 1990, a relatively small number of Albanians worship regularly. Albanian religious communities have long demonstrated mutual tolerance and harmonious co-existence, which are especially visible during religious holidays.
Exploring the museum towns Berat and Gjirokastër
By Jocelyn Chan, North Shore News
The driver of the Albanian minibus, or furgon, sped from Tirana to Berat in fourth gear.
During that time, the furgon flew over huge potholes and narrowly avoided head-on collisions. Then it nearly hit a bomb bunker while the driver passed a horse-drawn buggy on a hairpin curve. Never mind that roads were mostly mud or gravel: if half the fun is getting to one's destination, fun meant hopping on a furgon for $5, shutting my eyes tight and clutching the armrest hoping to get to Albania's seldom visited but fascinating UNESCO-designated museum towns alive.
Three hours later, the driver called out "Berat! Berat!" and I was in what Albanians consider to be their country's most beautiful town.
4,000-year-old Berat has fallen under Illyrian, Roman, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Slavic and Ottoman rule. The most visible lasting impression was left by the Ottomans, who constructed most of the ancient castle overlooking this town of 40,000 when not peppering the place with mosques. Distinctive Ottoman houses, whitewashed with brown tiled roofs and many windows along the front, make for a stunning visual.
Because of Berat's location on a steep hill, it looks as if the houses have been built atop one another
from afar. Countless windows, some houses with seven or eight in a row on the second storey, face the road into Berat, hence its moniker "The Town of a Thousand Windows."
It's a fifteen minute trek uphill to the castle. Built to protect north-south trade routes, it's not a castle in the traditional sense but a thick stone wall and towers encircling the grounds, which are filled with still-inhabited Ottoman homes.
A large enclosed pit once collected rainwater so in medieval times, locals weren't making the long trek to the river. During sieges, citizens didn't need to worry about their water supply; the pit is roughly the size of a school gymnasium, with a set of stairs for people to climb down with buckets and leather sacs.
Unassuming little toolshed-like structures house churches that served Berat's Christians for centuries. Most of their artwork was moved to the Onufri Museum, a former church. Most of the work is by Onufri, who worked in the mid-1500s and is considered one of Albania's best artists. The dyes he mixed and used have remarkably retained their brightness to the present day.
Wandering around the castle takes a day due to the many enthusiastic locals who insist on showing me around the grounds. Some just want to practice their English; some want some money, hardly surprising given Albania's relative poverty. Locals looking to cash in on the trickle of tourists fill a void in Albania's developing tourism infrastructure, which is still in its infancy: "high season" simply means that a hotel has guests. However, with an early bus to catch the next morning, I bid farewell to the elderly man who's taken me to the castle churches, give him a few hundred lek and depart for an early night.
A bumpy five-hour bus ride south of Berat is the easygoing town of Gjirokastër. Immortalized by local author Ismail Kadare in Chronicle in Stone, this once-prosperous merchant town is known for its unique 19th century Ottoman-influenced stone houses, the kule.
Like Berat, Gjirokastër was designated a "museum town" by the old communist Albanian government. Restrictive building regulations forbade alterations to historic houses and forbade modern development in the old quarter, sparing it from the sprawl of ugly socialist buildings dominating many Albanian towns.
Gjirokastër's view of the Drinos Valley made it an ideal location to defend south Balkan trade routes. Homes were built with this in mind: the solid stone and slate roofs wouldn't burn down, narrow doors deterred armour-clad soldiers and invaders
couldn't climb in the high windows. Additionally, a fortified castle above town served as Ottoman Albania's administrative centre.
The castle now houses a collection of weapons and military artillery, but lacks captions informing visitors about the artifacts and the castle itself. Not much of the 13th century castle remains, although its spooky, high-vaulted tunnels stand tall. Poke around the gloomy rooms and overgrown ramparts and one will stumble across Gjirokastër's oddest sight: the shell of an old American spy plane.
It's believed that the pilot got lost and made an emergency landing in the 1950s although what happened to the pilot or who he was remains a mystery and castle staff could not offer any more information. They did, however, point out the castle's dreary recent history: its cells served as a prison for political dissidents during independence, the Second World War and the communist era through the 1970s.
One staff member mentions that during the winter, guards dumped water into the cells so it would freeze on the floor. The unfortunate prisoner had no choice but to stand, sit or lay down on the frozen ground. Another recollects how under communist rule, anything from resisting collectivization to listening to foreign radio broadcasts led to jail time. Given the staff's penchant for telling stories about the mass imprisonments in a mix of Italian and scattered English, the cells are even more depressing to be in.
But outside, the surrounding mountains cast long shadows across the valley while slate roofs sparkled beneath the setting sun. Ultimately, though, the museum towns' mix of contradictions -- eye-catching scenery born out of hostile times, expensive German cars sharing bad roads with donkey-drawn buggies, the best views of Gjirokastër coming from the spy plane's platform -- and unique Ottoman-Illyrian architecture -- are what makes them all the more compelling and memorable.
If you go:
Berat's Hotel Mangalemi is near both the kala and bus and furgon stops. This cozy and charming inn is located in a lovingly restored Ottoman villa.
The in-house restaurant has local potatoes-and-meat (including brain, tongue and ears) specialties with mains starting at $4.50. Loft rooms are $20 for singles and $25 for doubles. Breakfast is $2 extra.
No English is spoken but the friendly owner, Tomi, knows Italian.
Staff at Gjirokastër's Hotel Kalemi (http://hotelkalemi.tripod.com) often open their front doors to let folks in, even if they're not guests, so they can see what the inside of a kule looks like. The ornate wood-carved ceilings and Turkish rugs are typical for this type of house, and antique furnishings give it the feel of an old museum.
A complimentary breakfast is served in a rustic stonewalled cellar, one that includes locally made cheese and jam. Rooms are $50 per night. English and French are spoken.
Canadians do not need visas to enter Albania but must pay a 10 euro entry tax.
Albania's only international airport is in Tirana. Lufthansa flies from Vancouver to Tirana via Frankfurt; round trip fares are about $2,500. Budget travelers can fly to Rome and hop on budget carrier Belle Air to Tirana. One-way fares can start as low as $12.50 excluding taxes.
From Tirana, Berat is three hours south by furgon. However, furgon stops change frequently so it's best to grab a taxi and ask for the furgon to Berat; cabbies are always up to date on the latest departure points. Within Tirana, fares are $5.
Buses from Berat to Gjirokastër depart at 8 a.m. from Berat's bus depot. In Gjirokastër, passengers are dropped off a kilometre away from the old town. It's not called the "Town of a Thousand Steps" for nothing: the slog up the mountainside resembles the Grouse Grind. Plus, Gjirokastër lacks street signs, so shell out $5 for a taxi. It's $5 for the Berat-Gjirokastër bus.
Hydro power deal with EVN
TIRANA, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Albania's government approved on Wednesday a deal with Austria's EVN (EVNV.VI) and Norway's Statkraft [STATKF.UL] to build three hydroelectric plants worth 950 million euros ($1,37 bln) on the Devoll river.
"We approve the contract between the Energy Ministry and EVN AG, Statkraft AS and Devoll Hydropower Sha (Holding) as co-owners of the concession to build, operate and transfer the hydropwer project on the Devoll river," the government said.
The contract needs also to be finally passed by parliament, but that is likely to be a formality because Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democrats control the chamber.
EVN and Statkraft, which each have a 50 percent share in the venture, will build three peak-load hydropower power plants over eight years, in a project they called the biggest hydro power project in Europe. The plants will have a total capacity of around 340 MW that will generate around 1,000 GWh annually.
Berisha invited foreign companies to build power projects in Albania to end its chronic power shortages since demand rose several fold after it toppled communism. Wind farms, coal-fired plants and even nuclear projects are on the table.
EVN and Statkraft negotiated a contract with Albania for more about a year since they won a build-operate-transfer concession for 35 years, or until the project reaches 59 TWh -- or 59,000 GWh -- to exploit the whole potential of the Devoll river valley.
One of the three plants in the project is a partially constructed hydropower station in Banja, which was abandoned at the end of the communist regime. Another plant will be built at Lozhane-Grabove and the third one at Skanderbegas.
Currently, three hydropower stations on the Drini River supply 95 percent of Albania's power, with an installed capacity of 1,450 MGh. (Editing by James Jukwey)
Message from our editorial offices surrounded by police
By Mero Baze
I thank you for your moral support. Being not able to replay to all, because must be working, I’d like to let you know that the police surrounded our papers offices and tried to stop the journalist
entering in. the journalists that were in were not let to get out, the ones out were let not to get in.
Mr. Mero Baze
About 7 pm I had to enter by force in our offices. The photograph speaks for itself. After that I called the director of police and he explained that was ordered by Minister of Interior to stop us entering our offices. The police does not give official explanations.
On 16 of December, Ministry of Economy cancelled unilaterally, without notice, a 20 year investments contract that we have for this premises. We filed a lawsuit, at the Tirana Court, against unilateral cancelling of the contract and the Court of Tirana approved our case. On 6 of January, Tirana Court decided that Ministry of Economy Genc Ruli must cancel all actions against our interests as investors on this premises.
The unexpected police siege and Prime Minister’s arrogance to make us silent, as it seems, do not know any limits. In these conditions, we are today surrounded by police, but we will get “TemA” paper done anyway. Tomorrow we will not be able to enter our offices, the police made it clear yesterday.
I have invited all my colleagues for a protest today at 12 am, in front of our closed door by police, but I have hardly any hope that Prime Minister will withdraw his decision.
Our attorney contacted yesterday Minister of Economy, Genc Ruli, and he did not take any responsibility as Court of Tirana decision of cancellation is concerned.
In this situation, we will file a lawsuit against the police for not respecting the judicial decision of Tirana Court and will continue to ask be permitted to enter our offices. We will not remove anything from our investment at our editorial offices, until judicial process is finished. We hope that rule of law will act and Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, will understand that blind hate against free press is a battle that he can not win.
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