Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Berisha vs. Rama: Power Struggle for Albania

By Matthew Brunwasser, The NY Times
January 26, 2010

TIRANA — In Albania’s rough and murky politics, the personalities are strong and the public institutions still count for less, 20 years after communism crumbled.

The latest illustration of violent tussle between two opposing camps occurred Friday, when a crowd tried to storm the office of Prime Minister Sali Berisha. The five-hour clash left three protesters dead, about 60 hurt and 113 arrested. Opposition supporters threw sticks and stones at the building, while the police responded with tear gas, water cannons and firearms.

Mr. Berisha said in an interview that watching the crowd made him “sad” for his country. “No one should try to topple a legitimately elected government with 200-300 paid thugs,” he said in the prime minister’s office, which his own supporters tried to storm in 1998 when Fatos Nano held the post and Mr. Berisha was an opposition leader.

“If they use violence, you must react,” said Mr. Berisha, a former president who has been in top office for more than half of Albania’s post-communist history. “The police showed extraordinary professionalism.” He vowed he would not be dislodged from power.

The battle was part of a long and increasingly shrill conflict between Mr. Berisha and Edi Rama, leader of the opposition Socialists. Mr. Rama, mayor of Tirana since 2000, demands Mr. Berisha’s resignation and continues to challenge the results of the elections in 2009 that gave him his second five-year term as prime minister.

Mr. Rama, an artist, has long since traded in casual clothes for a somber politician’s suit and is focused on winning power.

“I’m not a man of violence, but at the same time, I’m not someone who can submit to such a masquerade that’s named democracy,” he said in his spacious, flashy City Hall office. “What we are asking for is not a movement to overthrow a regime, it’s a movement to stand strong against a way of governing which is not acceptable anymore.”

Caught between these two entrenched camps are most of Albania’s three million people, who while experiencing strong economic growth from a dismally low base in the past decade still find life tough. The colorful facades painted on Tirana buildings when Mr. Rama came to power are now faded and dull.

The demonstrations last week were fueled by a video that appears to show the deputy prime minister discussing a bribe for giving permission to build a power plant. Mr. Berisha called the video a forgery.

Albania has gained stability since it was paralyzed by widespread riots, chaos and curfew in 1997 after the collapse of pyramid investment schemes. It joined NATO in 2009 and had visa requirements waived last month by the Schengen nations, covering much of Europe. Yet doubts about the rule of law, organized crime and corruption have kept it from gaining full candidate status for the European Union.

These concerns were not eased in recent days, when Mr. Berisha’s office prevented the police from executing a prosecutor’s warrant to arrest six members of the National Guard in connection with allegations of abuse at the demonstrations. Indeed, Mr. Berisha gave bonuses to officers on duty at the protest.

Tensions have continued high this week because the opposition has called another demonstration for Friday. Mr. Berisha said he was canceling his own “rally against violence” on Saturday. “The climate is not right,” he said.

During the communist era, Albania was a hermit within the Eastern bloc. In 1991, it was the last East European country to overthrow communist rule, which in Albania was particularly harsh.

That has impeded the development of democratic give-and-take. To many Albanians, said Lutfi Dervishi, an independent political analyst, the battle between the two important parties just seems a stubborn contest between two men and the interests they represent.

“They are not talking to each other; rather they are in a bunker and shooting at each other,” Mr. Dervishi said. “They pretend to have the support of the people, but they have to bus people in from the countryside for rallies.”

The building facades painted under Mr. Rama serve as another symbol, said Artan Lame, an engineer and deputy mayor for urban planning for the first two years of Mr. Rama’s time in office.

“It was a fusion of his desire to make the changes visible and the people’s desire for change,” Mr. Lame said. “He should have gone a step further, but unfortunately he got stuck just improving the facades.”

Mr. Rama, he implied, tired of the business of governing. “Here we have just an artist and a facade, and no system” for governance, Mr. Lame said.

Gjergji Filipi of the Agenda Institute, a private analytical group in Tirana, said economic growth slowed to 2.8 percent last year after eight years averaging 7.5 percent.

“I think people feel that,” he said. In a poorly administered country whose infrastructure is still basic, a 10 percent flat tax implemented in 2007 turned out to be unsustainable. So, Mr. Filipi said, they began to “cook the books.”

When the global economic downturn hit, the government lost credibility for promoting the notion that Albania was untouched. The country has also suffered from the sharp downturn in neighboring Greece, where many Albanians once found casual work, sending money back home.

Politics in general is overshadowed by lack of openness about the brutality under Enver Hoxha, who ruled for 40 years until his death in 1985.

Perhaps the most visible symbol of his rule now is the bizarre communist-era pyramid in central Tirana next to the prime minister’s office. Opened as a museum-monument to Mr. Hoxha in 1988, the pyramid has since hosted a museum, a cultural center, the Mummy Nightclub, cafes, the offices of the U.S. Agency for International Development and now a television channel.

Today, it is a decaying eyesore. Children can no longer slide down its steep sides since the marble crumbled off. Protesters broke off pieces last Friday to throw at the prime minister’s office across the street. Most Albanians seem convinced that the truth about that violence — as most other events here — will never emerge.

“Nothing is going to be done,” said Eralda Murataj, 22, who studies finance at Tirana University. “Nothing in this country is done very well. We’re not a full democracy yet.”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 27, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune..

Monday, January 24, 2011

Montenegro Opposition to File Charges Against Djukanovic

A Montenegrin opposition party plans to file criminal charges against former prime minister Milo Djukanovic and the Italian premier for "damaging Montenegro's energy sector".

The Movement for Change, PZP, plans to submit the charges against Djukanovic and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for inflicting "immeasurable damage on the Montenegrin energy sector", the party's vice-president, Branko Radulovic, said on Sunday.

Djukanovic stepped down from his post in December after leading the country for almost twenty years.

"There are grounds to believe that persons in Italy and Montenegro have a critical impact on the way the remaining energy resources in Montenegro are valued, the quality of investments in the sector and the possible construction of hydropower plants on the Moraca river," Radulovic told Podgorica-based media.

The party also plans to file charges against Montenegro's Deputy Prime Minister Vujica Lazovic and former minister of economy Branko Vujovic.

"The high price of electricity, which could climb even higher, is only one of the negative effects of this collusion, and the illegal and harmful contracts that are created and signed by Djukanovic, Berlusconi, Lazovic and Vujovic, and their associates," the PZP said in a statement signed by Radulovic.

According to him, these agreements directly influenced the creation of a plan for the energy lobby in Italy to take over Montenegro's energy potential.

"This is the third time Italy has attempted to occupy Montenegro. They first tried in 1918 and 1941, but we managed to turn them away. I hope that we also manage the third time," Radulovic said.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

EU parliament tells Serbia to Give up on Kosovo

Strasbourg, France - Serbia was urged by the European Parliament on Wednesday to finally give up on efforts to hold on to Kosovo, a province which seceded from it in 2008 with Western backing.

The message was delivered as EU lawmakers approved a trade liberalization deal between the European Union and Serbia, green- lighted last year by EU governments, but which still needs final ratification in national parliaments.

In a resolution, the EU assembly called 'on Serbia to enter into dialogue with Kosovo without referring any more to new negotiations on the status.'

Following intense negotiations with the EU, Serbia agreed in September to hold talks with Kosovo, even if authorities in Belgrade vow they will never accept its independence. The so-called 'dialogue' is expected to start later in 2011.

EU lawmakers called on both sides to show 'commitment and readiness to compromise,' but urged Serbia, in particular, to stop undermining the authority of the Kosovo government by supporting 'parallel structures' in the Serb-populated north of the country.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wayne Law Professor to speak on Kosova Independence

Posted January 12, 2011

Wayne State University Law School's Program for International Legal Studies and the International Law Students Association will host a lecture by Brad Roth, an associate professor at Wayne Law and in WSU's Department of Political Science, at 12:15-1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 19, in the Law School's Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium. Roth's lecture is titled: "The independence of Kosova and self-determination in international law."

"Brad Roth is one of the world's leading scholars of statehood and its meaning in contemporary international affairs," said Wayne Law Professor Gregory Fox, director of the Program for International Legal Studies. "His take on Kosova independence should not be missed. It will be of interest to those curious about conflict in the Balkans, as well as those interested in the phenomenon of secession worldwide."

Roth specializes in international law, comparative public law, and political and legal theory. His latest article, "Secessions, coups, and the international rule of law: assessing the decline of the effective control doctrine," will appear in the May 2011 issue of the Melbourne Journal of International Law. He is the author of Governmental Illegitimacy in International Law, contributing co-editor with Fox of Democratic Governance and International Law, and the author of roughly 30 book chapters, journal articles and commentaries dealing with questions of sovereignty, constitutionalism, human rights and democracy.

The event is free and open to the public, and lunch will be provided. Parking is available for $4.75 in Structure #1 across from the Law School on West Palmer Street in Detroit.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Montenegro: Split in ruling DPS looms

Podgorica, 7 Jan. (AKI) – Montenegro’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists may be heading for a split, two weeks after the resignation of its supreme leader Milo Djukanovic as prime minister, local media reported on Friday.

Djukanovic, 48, who had ruled the country for the past twenty years, resigned on 21 December, only a few days after Montenegro was granted the status of official candidate for European Union membership.

The EU has tied Montenegro’s pre-accession talks to an intensified fight against organised crime and corruption and the judicial reform.

A few days after the resignation of Djukanovic and his deputy premier Svetozar Marovic, Montenegro police arrested ten people in Marovic’s Adriatic home town of Budva on corruption charges.

Among those arrested were Budva mayor Rajko Kuljaca and his deputy Dragan Marovic, the former vice-premier’s brother.

Djukanovic is considered Montenegro’s political 'godfather'. He is suspected of having mysteriously accumulated enormous wealth and has retained the post of DPS president. He is said to be running the country from behind the scenes, despite the appointment of a new prime minister, Igor Luksic.

Svetozar Marovic retained the post of DPS vice-president. But Podgorica daily Vijesti said Marovic was under strong pressure from his Budva group to split with the DPS (who are reformed communists) and to form his own party.

“The talks are going on daily, but Marovic still doesn’t want to say whether he wants to join that project,” Vijesti sad.

After his brother’s arrest, Marovic said that it was clear from the start that he, not his brother, was “a political target” of Budva arrests.

Djukanovic, a controversial figure, was investigated by Italian prosecutors in Bari for an alleged multi-million euro cigarette smuggling scheme, but no charges were pressed against him.

Vijesti said Marovic was about to reveal “murky business deals made by Djukanovic”. But he decided to keep silent after meeting with Djukanovic, Luksic and president Filip Vujanovic to protect his brother Dragan.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Scottish Labour Leader links Montenegro to Ethnic Cleansing

By Lucinda Cameron

Published: 03/01/2011

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was yesterday urged to apologise after his comments linking Montenegro to ethnic cleansing sparked a diplomatic row.

A Montenegrin diplomat has written to him to complain over what he said in the Scottish Parliament just before Christmas.

During first minister’s questions that day, Mr Gray said he had looked at the SNP website for arguments in support of independence and that it cited Montenegro as having gained its independence in 40 days.

The SNP website states: “Montenegro shows us just how easy it can be to become an independent country. Forty days is all it took for Montenegro to regain her freedom. It could be Scotland next.”

But Mr Gray said it took “forty days, two world wars, the Balkan conflict, ethnic cleansing, a war crimes tribunal and a UN peacekeeping mission”.

Marijana Zivkovic, Charge d’affaires at the Embassy of Montenegro in London, has rebuked him over the comments he made at Holyrood on December 23.

In a letter to Mr Gray, which was also copied to First Minister Alex Salmond and Labour leader Ed Miliband, she expressed her “deep regret” about the way he depicted the country in his public statement.

She wrote: “Your statement that Montenegro was involved in ethnic cleansing, including your references to a war crimes tribunal and a UN peacekeeping mission is simply incorrect.

“It was the only former Yugoslav republic where neither war nor devastations took place in the last decade of the 20th century. Apart from the fact that there was no ethnic cleansing, Montenegro also opened its doors to the refugees of all nations.”

The country was part of Yugoslavia and then the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, but gained independence in 2006 following a referendum.

A 1992 UN paper on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina said it was “gravely concerned” about human rights abuses by Serbian and Montenegrin forces.

SNP foreign affairs spokesman Angus Robertson MP called on Mr Gray to apologise for his comments.

He said: “We are used to Mr Gray not letting the facts get in the way of his rhetoric but he has now managed to let his international ignorance embarrass Scotland. That is not good enough. He needs to do the decent thing and apologise to the people of Montenegro. And, he also needs to apologise to the people of Scotland for the embarrassment his gaffes have caused.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Iain Gray will of course reply to the Montenegrin embassy and inform them in full of his comments and the context he made them in.

“The SNP website’s assertion that Montenegro’s path to independence took 40 days and “showed how easy it can be to become an independent country” was facile and ignored the history of the wider region through two world wars and the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

“To re-establish statehood as a modern democracy was a remarkable achievement and should not be referred to glibly as easy.”