Books on Albania
Update No: 122 - (26/07/07)
New president at last after a stalemate
Albania has been suffering a grave crisis in its polity. Its political parties
were unable to agree on a new president after three rounds of voting by
parliament (which elects the president) and the deadlock was pushing the country
towards fresh general elections, potentially bad news for its fragile stability.
Moreover, the timing - at the height of the tourist season - would have been
A majority of Albanians opposed early elections. A survey by the Democratic
Institute for International Issues and the research company Agenda in early July
said 61 per cent of respondents thought early elections would have a negative
impact on Albania, while only 22 per cent thought elections would be positive.
Fully aware of these facts the politicians had second thoughts. A fourth round
of voting for president were scheduled in parliament for Friday July 20th and a
fifth, if needed, for Tuesday the 24th. But it became clear that an inconclusive
election was highly undesirable, indeed would jeopardise the public's view of
allowing parliament, not the people, to decide the issue in future. Opposition
politicians, who had boycotted three previous rounds to deprive Bamir Topi,
deputy head of Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, of the necessary
quorum for election, changed their minds.
Bamir Topi is Albania's new president. Albania's parliament elected him on July
20th as the country's new president. 85 MPs voted in favour - one more than
required by the Albanian Constitution.
Topi replaces the outgoing President Alfred Moisiu, who held the post for five
years. The newly elected Albanian president is 50 and a biologist by profession.
Topi was elected president thanks to the votes of some MPs from the oppositional
Socialist Party, who refused to boycott the vote.
There could be repercussions all the same
The crisis has left a lot of rancour behind it. The opposition and the
majority political parties had earlier negotiated a deal that General Arjan
Zaimi, Albania's representative to NATO, would stand as their compromise
But the agreement, negotiated in early July, collapsed after Berisha's
government insisted the deal also shorten the mandate of Chief Prosecutor
Theodhori Sollaku to five years. The chief prosecutor has a lifetime position
under Albania's constitution. He can be removed only by the president on
Sollaku has responded that Berisha was unfairly placing him in the middle of the
political standoff by accusing him of corruption. "It is a problem for the
politicians to resolve the crisis. They either agree or should go into early
elections. Berisha should not slander my name. He is turning himself into a
banana republic premier," Sollaku said.
In a bid to woo MPs from the left to vote for Topi, Berisha had dangled the
possibility of inclusion in his centre-right coalition.
"We are open to deputies and political forces who want to cooperate for the
selection of the new president," he said.
Popular presidency may result
The Democratic Institute poll found that if the president was elected by
popular vote, Topi would be the choice of 40 per cent of Albanians. Moisiu the
choice of 27 percent. Nano drew support from 15 per cent.
The poll also found dissatisfaction with the political process, with 60 per cent
of Albanians saying they wanted to elect the head of state. Seventy-five percent
of respondents believed a popularly-elected president would be more responsive
toward the people than one selected by parliament.
"After they get elected they disappear from their electoral zones for the
next four years. It is always about what is convenient, while they don't really
bother about the people who elected them. It would be better if we could vote
for the president on our own", said Arjan, a young Tirana taxi driver.
Tourists balk at Albania's sewage-filled sea
There are many reasons why Albania's tourist industry is in trouble, quite
apart from the unwanted distraction of general elections. The country is really
beautiful, a jewel on the Adriatic. But the competition is stiff. Croatia and
now Montenegro can be similarly described. And then there is always Greece, with
its eternal monuments and glories.
By contrast, beer bottles and plastic wrappers are a common sight along
Albania's coast, which lacks the garbage cans necessary to contain waste
produced by the country's growing tourism industry. The piles of trash contrast
sharply with the sight of beautiful, high mountains reflected in the transparent
sea of the southern riviera, which tourists enjoy as they drive along the coast
of the Adriatic and Ionian seas from the capital of Tirana to Betrint in the
Albania cannot hope to become a major tourist destination unless it solves its
waste management problem. "One of the things tourists coming here complain
most about is garbage," said Kate Yarhouse, who promotes tourism in Albania
as part of her job with Peace Corps USA.
Albania's waste management facilities were overwhelmed by the rapid increase in
consumption in the 1990s after the fall of state socialism and the consequent
opening up of the country. Proper waste treatment systems were not set up.
Garbage collection facilities since then have simply not coped with the mounting
The sewage produced by Albanian cities flows untreated into the sea. Merita
Mansaku-Meksi, an expert in waste management working for the Environmental
Center for Development Education and Networking, said that although the water is
largely safe for swimmers at the moment, the situation is not sustainable.
"Not only is sewage water dumped into the sea, but also used oil from
restaurants and industrial production, and this increases the danger,"
Arian Gace, national coordinator at the Global Environment Facility in Albania,
said most coastal towns in the country now have plans to develop sewage
collection and treatment facilities. Kavaja, close to Tirana, has already built
a modern system of sewage collection, with financial assistance from the German
KfW Development Bank. But most municipalities are still at the planning stage.
The country faces similar problems with solid waste management. Traditionally,
the authorities have simply dumped trash into empty fields close to the
residential areas. Two decades ago, when the rates of consumption and waste
production were much lower, the inappropriateness of the method passed
unnoticed. Now, the trash is too much and too pollutant.
Over the past years, the authorities and specialized civil society organizations
have started working their way through the problem of solid waste. Fadil Nasufi,
mayor of Berat, said his municipality is preparing to build an ecological waste
processing system. The population will be charged a yearly tax for a solid waste
plant to be built and operated close to the town. The mayor offered few details
about the project, or about how waste is being handled presently. But from the
beautiful medieval castle towering over the town, one can see piles of trash
emitting clouds of smoke.
The picture is similar in most Albanian cities. Tirana and the nearby urban
areas that make up the large city of Durres dump their waste in the nearby
fields of Shara. The population of the neighbouring villages is now getting
increasingly concerned about the health risks arising from the garbage, and the
municipality is planning to build a landfill.
Tirana is one of only three cities in Albania to have concrete plans for
constructing a landfill. The other two are Vlora and Shkonder. The rest of the
municipalities, such as Berat, have good intentions, not projects on the way.
But people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to deal with the garbage
ecologically. Xhemal Mato, executive director of the Eco-movement Center sees
hope in the successful campaign led by his organization against the building of
an incinerator for Tirana.
The authorities had signed an agreement with an Italian company called
Albanianbeg Ambient regarding the building of such a plant. Under those plans,
the Albanian government would support the cost of constructing the incinerator
with credit from the Italian government. Given that an incinerator needs to be
used at full capacity to operate properly, and that the trash produced by Tirana
would only require 40 percent of the capacity, it was planned that Albanianbeg
would bring waste from Italy to be incinerated in Albania.
The local population, however, did not want Italy's trash to be burned in
Tirana. Mobilized by NGOs, they staged protests against the incinerator and
forced their politicians to cancel the deal. "We are not sure that this
means the incinerator will never be built," Xhemal Mato said. "But it
is an important step for us."
Merita Mansaku-Meksi has also won some small victories in the battle against
waste. Her NGO is running awareness campaigns about recycling in 14 schools in
Tirana. She is also involved in a project to teach small local communities
around the capital how to separate and recycle their trash.
Heat Wave Helps Fires Raging Across Albania
There is another problem right now. The weather is intolerably hot and the
forests are in a highly combustible state. A heat wave driving temperatures over
40 degrees has sparked a series of fires across Albania. Blazes burning hundreds
of hectares raged outside the coastal towns of Vlora and Himara on July 19th.
Fifty hectares of forest also burned in the remote Karaburun peninsula. Other
fires have been reported burning hundreds of hectares of forest in the
prefectures of Diber, Kukes, Korce, Fier and Tirana.
Firefighters, police officers and local residents fighting the blazes have had
to struggle against rugged and steep terrain. The driver of a fire engine was
injured when the vehicle overturned on a mountain road outside the town of
Librazhd in northeastern Albania.
The Albanian government held an emergency meeting on July 19th and formed a task
force to organize the response of structures including the army and the police.
The working group coordinated by Deputy Prime Minister Gazmend Oketa also
includes Interior Minister Bujar Nishani and Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu. The
helicopter squadron of the armed forces was mobilized to monitor the blazes.
EVN to invest in hydroelectric plants
Austrian regional utility EVN AG plans to invest in three mega hydroelectric
power plants in Albania, AENews reported.
Albania's government has endorsed its proposal for the power plants to be built
on the Devoll River following the positive outcome of a feasibility study. The
three plants will generate more than 400 megawatts of electricity for the Balkan
country. Sources close to the deal were cited by AENews as saying that if EVN's
tender is successful, the investment volume will be around one billion Euro,
considering the cost of building a single hydro plant.
World Bank gives 10m loan to help mortgage lending
The World Bank recently approved a loan worth 10 million Euro to Albania's Banka
Popullore (People's Bank) to help the country's mortgage lending market, reads a
press release, New Europe reported.
The duration of the loan is 12 years. The loan will help to expand the housing
finance market in Albania adding over 1,000 long-term residential mortgages,
according to a statement. It would introduce new products such as mortgage
finance and increase the depth and liquidity of the country's financial markets.
The investment will also support growth in the construction industry and related
sectors, said Shahbaz Mavaddat, regional director of the International Finance
Corporation, the World Bank's private sector arm. The World Bank would also
provide advice to both Banka Popullore and the Albanian regulatory authorities
to help standardise mortgage credit and mortgage operations. World Bank
commitments to the country have so far reached US$925 million (695 million
Euro.) Banka Popullore, one of 17 private banks in Albania, started operations
in March 2004.