Friday, August 17, 2007

Albania's government:No power, no glory

Aug 16th 2007 TIRANA
From The Economist print edition

A tale of corruption and power cuts

BAMIR TOPI, Albania's recently elected president, may find himself doing rather more than his job description would suggest. A 50-year-old biologist, he is the first head of the republican state never to have been a member of the Communist Party. He is also one of the country's few senior politicians not to have been seriously tainted by scandal.

The president does not have executive powers, but he has a say in appointing senior members of the judiciary and is also head of the armed forces. Mr Topi, deputy leader of the ruling Democratic Party under Sali Berisha, the present prime minister, has a reputation as a moderate. Could he give Albania's image abroad a boost and help to calm the chronic political in-fighting that came close to wrecking last month's presidential vote and precipitating an early general election?

It took four rounds of voting for Mr Topi to scrape together the three-fifths majority he needed to win. The final vote came after days of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring between Mr Berisha and Fatos Nano, his Socialist predecessor. Mr Nano's own hopes of becoming president were dashed when he failed to win the backing of his successor as party leader, Edi Rama.

The feud between Mr Berisha and Mr Nano, both prominent under Enver Hoxha, is one reason why Albania still suffers from high unemployment and low investment. Albanian migrants working in western Europe and America send home almost $1 billion a year in remittances. Most goes towards building homes and looking after jobless family members. Many Albanians are wary of setting up businesses at home, where licences are given out to political cronies, existing firms use blackmail and intimidation to discourage rivals and the judiciary is corrupt.

Mr Topi's first big task will be to name a new chief prosecutor to replace Theodhori Sollaku, who has been accused of having links with organised crime. Mr Sollaku, who was appointed by the Socialists in 2002, denies this, and his mandate has no expiry date. But Mr Topi is expected to push for a constitutional amendment to set a time limit. He will present this as one of the reforms that are needed for entry into NATO, a goal Albania hopes to achieve at next year's NATO summit in Romania. Without even a remote chance of early European Union membership, Albania is eager to join the other principal Western club soon.

Mr Berisha hopes to attract more foreign investment with his “Albania one-euro” policy of offering sites to foreign companies at minimal rents. But there are likely to be few takers so long as electricity shortages persist. In Tirana this summer, power has been switched off for at least six hours a day; in the countryside, power cuts can last as long as 20 hours. Plans for private investors to build new power plants are way behind schedule. Continuing power cuts are a big reason for a recent dip in the government's popularity and a revival in the Socialists' fortunes.

On the other hand, the economy is growing by about 6% a year. Land prices are rising, especially along the Adriatic coast, as foreigners buy up plots for future development. If the future of Kosovo is settled satisfactorily later this year, the prospects for Albania should brighten.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Liberating Kosovo

Chicago Tribute Editorial

August 13, 2007

Eight years after bombing by U.S.-led forces put an end to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the troubled province still lacks its independence -- an evolution now threatened with further delay. Kosovo, with ethnic Albanian Muslims making up 90 percent of its 2 million people, still is part of Serbia, although it has been administered by the United Nations since the end of the war there in 1999. The U.S. and its European allies want Kosovo to achieve independence. The main diplomatic obstacle: Mother Russia, with its ancestral ties to the Serbian people.

But that's not the whole story. Russia's obstructionist stance is less about deep solidarity with its Slavic sister nation than with Moscow's tussle against Washington for spheres of influence in Europe. There's also Russia's fear that freedom for Kosovo will only encourage impatient separatists in its own multiethnic realm.

As a consequence, Russia in recent weeks has forced the U.S. and the Europeans to withdraw several Kosovo resolutions they had offered to the UN Security Council. All of these proposals would have paved the way for an independent Kosovo while providing for the protection of the prospective nation's Serbian minority.

How to attack the stalemate? The West has now agreed that a troika composed of the U.S., Russia and the European Union will conduct 120 days of shuttle diplomacy, which began Friday, with Serbian officials in Belgrade and Kosovo officials in Pristina. This may be the final attempt to find an amicable solution.

Should those talks surprisingly bear fruit, the EU likely would take over the administration of Kosovo. The EU then could economically rebuild this region of 4,200 square miles that has largely depended on the generosity of ethnic Albanians living across Europe. The Serbs would be compensated for giving away 15 percent of their territory, which many of them consider the cradle of their nation, with the prospect of joining the EU and enjoying the economic boost it has brought in recent years to its new member states.

But persuading the Serbs that liberating Kosovo serves their own long-term interests is a demanding task. They do, after all, have Russia's support for insisting on their territorial integrity, which was enshrined in the Security Council resolution that put the interim UN administration in place. And the perceived strength of their position may well entice Serbian leaders in Belgrade to thwart the West in repayment for what they still regard as unjust and humiliating treatment during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

The Bush administration is ready to recognize an independent Kosovo regardless of the outcome of the new talks. This proper (and calculated) move has stepped up pressure not only on the Serbs but also on those European governments that have been reluctant to take the same step. Some, such as Spain and Cyprus, would prefer to extend the status quo indefinitely rather than do anything to keep their own domestic separatists from growing bolder. Others, such as Germany and France, want the Security Council involved, both to bolster the UN's credibility and to give the EU legal authority to be involved in Kosovo's reconstruction.

Washington's task is to convince the European governments that the Kosovars are finally entitled to assume responsibility for their own fate. That means pushing the Europeans to set aside their respective domestic fears and act as a group.

Getting Europe united and having the West speak with one voice would send a long-overdue signal to Russia that its muscular tactics won't increase its influence in European affairs.

And in practical terms, a united Europe also is crucial to securing a strong engagement of the EU in Kosovo, even if the shuttle diplomacy fails. Given that, according to the UN, 400,000 arms are still being kept in the province illegally, an EU commitment going forward is critical to prevent new eruptions of violence in what remains Europe's most explosive spot.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Letters home: School uniform is 'cool' for Kosovo girl shot 16 times and now in UK

From Manchester with love

Cool school uniform, warm Manchester days and refugee theatre form some of the early impressions of a young orphan rescued from Kosovo, recounted in letters home.

Saranda lost 14 members of her family in the war.

Saranda Bogujevci, 22, enjoyed the most miraculous of miraculous escapes as Serbian paramilitary killers riddled her body with 16 bullets in a massacre in the garden of her family home in the village of Podujevo on the 28th March 1999. Six of her family - including her mother and brother - were killed.

Saranda left the bloodshed in Pristina behind as she settled in Manchester and recovered from her injuries. But the horror of her family's murder follows her, and years later she returns to the region to testify against the killers.

Below are extracts from letters she wrote home to her grandmother, as she gets to grips with her new surroundings in the north-west of England.


Dear Grandma, It's been months since I saw you but so much has happened and I want to tell you how I've ended up here, sitting in a hospital bed in Manchester, England.

We were rescued from the hospital in Kosovo and sent here. I can remember the night so clearly in my head. 14 June. All four of us cousins were in Pristina Hospital. This was where the other soldiers had sent us after the shooting of the family.

I've not been able to say what I'm thinking because my English isn't good enough. It's driving me mad

It was very dark outside - pitch, pitch black. The lights in the corridor were really dim. It was so quiet inside. I could see the nurses going up and down the corridor but there were no soldiers. Usually this corridor was filled with drunken or injured soldiers. With lots of noise, shouting, laughing, singing, even shooting sometimes, but on this night there was none of that.

In the morning, when the time came for the nurses to wake us up, nothing happened. So I got up with the girl who was sharing my room to go to the toilet. Whilst I was waiting for her, I looked out the window and I caught sight of a Nato sign on one of the tanks. Even though I was tired and weak, I ran down the corridor to tell my cousin Jehona. I just wanted to scream as loud as I could.


Dear Grandma, The last time I wrote I was lying in a hospital bed. Well, things have got better since then. I still have physiotherapy all the time, sometimes up to five times a week but at least I get to go home in the evenings.

About three months ago I had the major operation on my arm. Please don't worry about my injuries, though, the doctors here did a great job. So good in fact that I'm back at school. It's great to be back amongst kids my own age. Plus I get to wear a school uniform which is really cool. No one back home would wear them but here we all turn up in our grey skirts, jumpers and purple ties.

It's hot here too today - it doesn't happen often but Manchester can get pretty warm

The lessons take my mind off what has happened in the last year. Even though it's only science, maths and the odd art lesson, I can lose myself in the tasks. Plus the other pupils and the teachers are really nice, which makes all the difference.

It's strange though, as the whole school system is different to how it would be in Kosovo. Instead of the teachers having their own room, my class has a room and the teachers have to come to us.

Although I'm healing well on the inside there are still things that get in my way. I can't tell people what I think. So many times I've not been able to say what I'm thinking because my English isn't good enough. It's driving me mad, I want to say to people: "This isn't me, I'm not coming across in the way I intend!"

But I can't so I feel like a different person. I hate it. I was never quiet back home and here the teachers think I'm so well behaved. If only they knew! I miss you and home so much. Hope to see you soon. Love Saranda.

20 AUGUST 2002

Dear Grandma, I was just thinking about you. I'd got my music system on and cousin Ismet's track was playing. You know, the one about the wedding. If I close my eyes, I can see myself out in the garden in Podujevo, in the bright sun. It's hot here too today. It doesn't happen often but Manchester can get pretty warm, not like home though.

Anyway, I've got some good news. Today I got my GCSE results (they're sort of like the exams you'd do at the end of primary school). I got the top mark in art!

Ever since that day, when the Serbian army came in and shot us, I wanted to see them brought to justice

I think I had a really good teacher but still, I feel a little weird, I really didn't write that much for the coursework. I wasn't even sure if I'd pass the exam. So to get an A* is, well, not what I expected.

Having said that, recently I have become so much more confident in speaking to people in English. Now I can say what I really think. I've felt invisible for the past few years and its great not to have someone else talk for me at last. I think I might take art at college, since it was my best grade. The place I've decided to go to has a great art department.

Remember how I thought I might have to be a pharmacist? Well, how things change. I can tell you, I would have been a really bad pharmacist, it's probably better for everyone's health now. Hope to see you soon. Love Saranda.

MARCH 2003

Dear Grandma, I'm feeling so odd today. We got back from the airport yesterday but it still hasn't sunk in that the trial is over. Ever since that day, when the Serbian army came in and shot us, I wanted to see them brought to justice. Seeing them sitting in the courtroom everyday, it felt so, on the one hand great because we could say what they'd done to us but also scary.

We were worried that something could happen again. It was tough getting through the process: we needed 24-hour protection. From the moment we landed in Belgrade to the moment we left again.

It's funny, when I went home this summer and tried to hook up with my old mates it was harder than I expected - most are now married, or have moved away

It was weird because I ended up testifying on mum's birthday and in the car on the way back I remember resting my head on the car window and looking at the sun, it was so bright. Anyway, just for a second, there she was, smiling face-to-face at me. I'd forgotten it was her birthday and it took my mobile phone's calendar to remind me of it. When I switched it on at the end of the day it beeped up with the message, "Mum's birthday".

We had to go and I'm glad we did but I'm pleased to be back home in Manchester. I've spent so long thinking about what happened back in 1999 and now, at last, I feel like I can move on, that it's okay to move on, that the people that did this to me, to you, to all the women and children, that they've been punished. I miss you. Love Saranda.


Dear Grandma, I've just come back from meeting a friend in town. She's like me; she has family abroad and totally gets what it's like to have two cultures in your life, one foot in Manchester and one foot elsewhere. She's so chilled out and doesn't judge me at all.

Aside from Claire, I'm making other new friends here all of the time. It's funny, when I went home this summer and tried to hook up with my old mates it was harder than I expected. Most are now married, or have moved away. I suppose we've all grown apart. We're not the people we were back in primary school.

There are other good things going on in Manchester too. I've started to do loads more activities. The local theatre, the Royal Exchange, has got a group together of refugees who act and we're devising a show for the studio theatre. I learned a lot from the cast. Most of us hadn't acted before but this made us all really close as we needed each other. The show we devised was called Face to Face: Love in the UK and is all about relationships. It's very funny. I wished you'd seen it. Love Saranda.

30 JUNE 2007

Dear Grandma, I've got time to write to you as I've finished my uni for the summer. You'll never guess where I'm going next year though... Canada. I can remember wanting to go places as a kid, especially coming to England. I never thought I'd live here and now I'm heading off for another land.

I can't wait to see you all. You know that Kosovo will always be the place of my childhood and where I was made but Manchester is what made me an adult. I wish I could talk to Mum and ask her what she thinks of me as an adult. Is this the grown up Saranda she had in mind? I'll never know. I'll write soon, love Saranda.

Fair use from BBC.