Books on Albania
Update No: 119 - (30/04/07)
The pauper on the mend
Albania is a very backward country, for many years utterly destitute under the
grimmest communist dictatorship in Europe. That came to an end, as all things
good or ill must. But the years of transition to capitalism in the 1990s were
Salvation came from an unusual direction, the Kosovo War of 1999, which put the
country on the map. Massive aid and aid personnel came to Albania under the
spotlight of the world media, reducing the great risk of it all getting into the
wrong hands, although a lot has of course.
Still growth of GDP has been around 7% per annum since then. Albania is no
longer the poorest country in Europe.
Support grows for Nano's candidacy for presidency
But the old proclivities are coming back, albeit in a much milder form. The
Unity for Human Rights Party leader Vangel Dule blamed the Prime Minister Sali
Berisha of totalitarian rule and threatened to drop out of the governing
coalition unless things changed.
There is a looming election for the presidency. Unity for Human Rights Party,
representing Albania's ethnic Greek population, said it would stand behind the
ex-prime minister Fatos Nano's candidacy for president of Albania. Leonard
Solis, the head of party's parliamentary group, said the party would back Nano
as the best choice for head of state.
The Unity for Human Rights Party, although a government ally, refused to support
the Democratic Party's candidate Bamir Topi. The Democrats' candidate also ran
out of support from the government ally - the Republican Party, which came up
with its own candidate for president.
Media in Albania give a nationwide publicity on Fatos Nano's participation in a
ceremony in Vatican on the occasion of 80th birthday of Pope Benedict XI. The
media say the invitation to pontiff's birthday confirms Nano's worldwide
reputation. he did, indeed, preside over the boom years until 2005.
The media against the Sali Berisha government
Albania's main television station claims the government is putting pressure
on it because it has criticised the ruling party, while the government insists
it is only tackling fiscal evasion. Top Channel has long had poor relations with
the authorities. It has been fiercely critical of the centre-right government of
Sali Berisha ever since his Democratic Party narrowly won the 2005 general
Top Channel, the most popular television station in the country, and the company
that owns it, Top Media Group, say that they are under continuous and
unwarranted investigation from the tax authorities, and that this is a form of
intimidation. They also fear a new government sponsored bill, presented in the
Albanian parliament in mid - April, is designed to cripple their finances by
forcing them to sell half of their digital and satellite services for free.
Analysts are divided over who is right in the latest media battle. Some say that
Top channel should come under exactly the same close financial scrutiny as any
other business and blame the station for exaggerating the matter. Others insist
that the authorities are putting pressure on the independent media.
"Both sides are telling their own half of the truth," said Fatos
Lubonja, an independent analyst in Tirana. "The government is right when it
says that the media is distorting the truth," he added. "But Top
Channel is right when it complains that the government is conducting a selective
campaign against them."
Croatian and Albanian Ministers on Cooperation
Croatia and Albania for long had very little contact. They were both
formally communist, but of very different persuasion. Tito, half Croat and half
Slovene, was the least fanatical of communist leaders, a fact spotted by the
young Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, who advised Churchill to back him in the second
world war. He allowed a market economy to thrive and allowed people to travel
abroad. Yugoslavia was the only communist country that was not a prison.
To Enver Hoxha, leader of Albania, this was all pure heresy. Yugoslavia was the
ultimate 'revisionist' state. Relations were put in deep cold storage, pending
the overthrow of the revisionists by the true comrades. Hoxha came to have the
same view of the USSR. He died in March 1985, the very month a certain Mikhail
Gorbachev came to power in Moscow. Things have not quite panned out as Hoxha
would have hoped.
This all goes to explain why, although the total trade between Croatia and
Albania was increased last year by almost 50% over 2005, it was at a level of
only US$33.6 million, of which more than US$30 million consist of Croatian
exports to Albania. This is a paltry scale of trade between near neighbours.
New contacts have been made to rectify matters. The Croatian Minister of
Economy, Labour and Entrepreneurship Branko Vukelic met up in mid-April with the
Albanian Minister of Economy, Trade and Energetics Genc Ruli, who was heading
the Albanian economic delegation in a two-day visit to Croatia. Business
meetings were held, among other things, between these two economists.
According to the ministers' statements, the meeting was dominated by topics of
co-operation in the field of small and middle entrepreneurship and of energy, as
well as the participation of Croatian companies in the privatisation process in
The two sides agreed, according to Minister Vukelic, to start the procedure over
a co-operation memo of the two countries in the field of small and middle
entrepreneurship; and the Albanian side was requested to support the initiative
on establishing a regional centre for education of small and middle
entrepreneurs in Croatia. Croatia has strong support from the European
Commission for the realisation of this project, Vukelic pointed out, because of
the progress that was made in this area in the past few years.
The Croatian minister announced that a more significant economic delegation will
participate in this year's Autumn Fair, which should give additional incentive
to the development of economic relations between the two countries, which are,
measured by goods trade, still inadequate, in relation to their potential.
Minister Ruli primarily expressed an interest on the Albanian side for
co-operation with Croatian companies in the field of energy. On this occasion,
he pointed out that the Ina oil company was invited during the meeting to join
in the privatisation of the Albanian national oil company. Also, he said that
Albania, among other things, is planning a construction of several hydroelectric
power plants and expects that Croatian companies will show interest for the
participation in these projects, especially those companies which are already
present on the Albanian market, like Montmontaza, Dalekovod, Konstruktor etc.
Hoxha must be turning over in his grave at all this because all the parties
involved are of course dreaded denizens of capitalism. Too bad.
Albania fight power cuts with new plants
In a bid to reduce the risk of power cuts affecting its population and its
attempts to attract western production facilities, Albania has begun
constructing a new, big electrical power plant and will review all contract with
foreign managers of its existing plants, Italian news agency ANSA reported on
According to daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the plan, coordinated by the Economy
Minister, Genc Ruli, focuses on the construction of the new hydroelectric plant
in Skavica, which will cost US$500 million and will be managed under a
concession deal. The Tirana Government has also launched the tender for
construction of a further 17 power plants and is currently renegotiating the
contracts with several Italian investors, which are allocating increasingly
growing funds to projects in Albania.
Albtelecom goes mobile as density soars
Albania's fixed line operator, Albtelecom, has been the key state-owned company
slated for privatisation in line with the Albanian government's policy, in
addition to the power utility company, KESH, the International Herald Tribune
reported on March 30th.
Plans to sell the company were underway in 2005 when the former Socialist
government signed a deal with the Turkish Calik Enerji Telekom consortium to
sell 76 per cent of the company for US$120 million; however, when the new
government came into office it did not recognise the agreement, saying it lacked
transparency, competition and public discussion. Today, the government - instead
of initiating a new tender - is renegotiating some of the contract's terms, a
process which is expected to take up to nine months. Privatisation is expected
to be completed by the end of 2007.
As the only fixed line telecommunications company, Albtelecom has a monopoly on
the fixed line sector. The company posted a US$10.9m gross profit for the first
half of 2006, due to network expansion and cutting costs, 46.3 per cent above
its original forecast.
In the first half of 2006, the company installed 10,261 new fixed lines, up 80
per cent from the previous year and almost 30 per cent over initial targets. At
the end of the year the company had almost 250,000 subscribers. Also offering a
host of services, including broadband and internet, Albtelecom saw its internet
revenue rise by 219 per cent year on year.
In terms of mobile carriers, Albania's major operators include Albanian Mobile
Communications and Vodafone Albania. Albtelecom recently launched its mobile
arm, Eagle Mobile. Mobile telecommunications in Albania is at a greater density
than in any other country in the region as it is quite effective and covers
almost all the territory throughout the country.
Ilirian Kuka, the company's General Director, says, "My priorities have
been to change the image of the company and to introduce new products. WE are
working on improving the infrastructure and increasing capacities. In ten years
I see Albtelecom as a very modern company in line with other big telecoms firms
in Europe, and also a big player in the Balkans.
Air traffic expansion set to double passenger flow
"Flight traffic has increased and will continue to do so for two reasons.
Firstly, Albania's success in managing its airspace and secondly, our strategic
location," says Arben Xhiku, General Director of the National Air Traffic
Authority (NATA),l the International Herald Tribune reported.
This increase in traffic is also a result of Albania's expanding political and
economic relations. At the forefront of it all is NATA which, in order to meet
tomorrow's challenges, has embarked on two groundbreaking plans. The first is
the Master Air Traffic Management Plan, aimed at modernising Albania's air
traffic system by 2010.
The other is the National Airspace Modernisation Program (NAMP), an Albania-U.S.-Europe
partnership that first took flight in 2001. Two years later a US$50m contract
was signed with Lockheed Marin to help Albania establish radar control
capabilities for the 2004 Athens Olympics, install new navigation equipment and
construct a new airport tower and traffic control centre.
The new system will triple capacity for flights over Albania, decrease flight
times for airlines flying between north-western Europe and the eastern
Mediterranean and provide Albania with self-sustaining over-flight revenues.
This project will also allow NATA to improve safety by using the latest
With European traffic expected to triple in the next two decades, Albania must
take steps towards modernisation for the sector's economic development. The
country's international airport in Rinas, which currently sees 750,000
passengers per year, will be able to welcome a southeastern European air-traffic
hub. A growing list of companies fly to Albania including Olympic Airlines,
Alitalia and British Airways.
According to Mr Xhike, "NATA is European in every sense of the word,"
and as Albania plays a key role in stepping up services and in European air
traffic, it is very much a modern truth.