EU – WB Summit in Tirana: pro-EU opposition calls rally against political monism on December 6th

Following the massive rallies of July 7th (here) and of November 12th (here), the Albanian opposition has decided to call for a consecutive rally on December 6th.

Prof. Dr. Sali Berisha, Chairman of the Democratic Party declared that “we will welcome the leaders of the EU”, and that this will be a “historic occasion for the highest representatives of the European democracies to witness the manifestation of the opposition people against the full installation of political monism by Edi Rama, struggling for the very existence of pluralism” in Albania.

The rally aims to prove that European and democratic aspirations remain strong in a country that is increasingly being impoverished, robbed, and massively abandoned as confirmed by Eurostat data with Albania being year after year among the top asylum seekers country of origin per capita in the EU, even before war-torn Syria or Afghanistan (data here).

According to the World Justice Project, Albania currently ranks 53 positions below Kosovo, and even 4 positions worse than communist Vietnam, in terms of rule of law standards (here).

“We will greet and welcome all EU Heads of State and of Government. I invite them to consider such a rally as an act of support towards the values and principles shared by EU countries, but that Albania lacks today. This is why it is definitely a rally against Edi Rama, whom, by transforming the State into an electoral machine, imposing the system of ‘patronages’ armed with the official governmental database of Albanian citizens, the use of massive vote-buying and intimidation practices of voters by criminal and drug gangs – all of which now confirmed by the OSCE/ODHIR electoral reports (here) – has achieved to metamorphose the electoral process and free vote, into a fictious vote. And this is how he wins every election. Edi Rama, through his mega-scandals of corruption with public funds and public assets, is a shame for every nation, citizen, and person, for any freedom, pluralism, human rights, and transparency. It will be a protest against the man who has transformed Albanians into a nation of boat people, like no other nation in Europe”, Berisha declared.

Prime Minister Rama gets aggressive with international journalists, reports EFJ

After a two-day fact-finding mission, representatives of 7 international partner organizations of the Platform for the Safety of Journalists of the Council of Europe declared at a press conference in Tirana, that Albania continues to deteriorate on its media freedom.

Prime Minister Rama got angry and aggressive towards the participating international journalists during a meeting with him (here), as confirmed by Ricardo Gutierrez, the General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists in his public tweet (here).

Referring to the latest report on media pluralism ranking Albania as the second worst country in Europe after Turkey, Gutierrez noted that “this government has done nothing to improve the media situation since the last time we were here, and the situation today is even worse. This is a failure of the current government and we expect action to be taken.”

According to the findings, the lack of pluralism and of transparency from public institutions, the economic interests of the owners, as well as Prime Minister’s penalising practices against journalists who ask challenging questions, continue to stifle independent journalism in Albania (here).

Port of Durrës scandal – government swings over figures while PM Rama spreads fake news

The opposition continued denouncing during this week the scandalous affair of the Durres Port. Whereas Durres Port is the largest commercial port in the country, it still remains unclear who the real “strategic investor” in the project aiming at transforming the Port into a residential area. First the government claimed that the public contract had been awarded to Emaar Group, but media documents appear to suggest another company partially owned by El Alabbar. There are allegations that the business partners chosen by the Rama government, may be linked to the Serbian Karic brothers – sanctioned by EU authorities, and who have run a similar shadowy scheme with Belarusian authoritarian leader Lukashenko. The remaining shares of the new marina are allegedly linked to Rama and his close associates.

The contract has been awarded without any competition and as of today, 60% of the shares are not yet publicly known.The intermediary insurance company of the deal is not a bank, nor a financial institution, but a construction company in Abu Dhabi.

The government is also giving different accounts on the size of public property awarded to the company free of charge, and exempt from construction-related taxes. First it declared that this company would be given 812,600 m2 of land, but this changed during the week with several other options. In her last appearance before the parliamentary committee, Deputy Prime Minister Balluku stated that the company will in fact be awarded 1.500.000 to 2.000.000 m2 of public land, more than double size of what was initially declared. Also, the government earlier declared that the project would be implemented for a 5-year period, while during the week this period it stated that it will be extended to 20 years.

Whereas the Port of Durrës is part of the strategic security infrastructure – with the European Commission, through its TEN-T network, has labelled the Durres port as one of the two strategic maritime ports of the Western Balkans region – the Albanian government is inexplicably rushing to pass the Framework Agreement signed with the Arab company with an accelerated procedure in the Assembly, seeking to immediately start the works. The government fails to explain the lack of a financial institution guaranteeing an investment of such proportions, or how it will secure the 2 billion euros needed for the relocation of the commercial port of Durrës to the new port of Porto Romano, as foreseen in the preliminary feasibility study.

Following growing controversy and strong public reaction against this affair, Prime Minister Rama was quick to spread a fake news, in an effort to support this project. He claimed that the same Arab company had managed to successfully implement a similar project in Zagreb in 2019, but was later forced to admit that the company had, as a matter of fact, failed to implement its project following citizens’ protests against it. The media reveals that the same secret practice and the dubious contractual terms detrimental to public interests had fuelled suspicions on corruption, leading to protests and withdrawal from this project by Croatian authorities.

Meanwhile, the Albanian media continued to publish compromising data from the dubious Agreement signed with the company, to which the government refuses to respond. The government also refuses to clarify why this agreement was concluded in violation of articles 70, 71, and 74 of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, nor why it opted out from an open international competition on this project.

Why DP calls for a national rally

The Democratic Party of Albania has called for a national rally and for the Prime Minister Edi Rama to resign following the recurrent governmental scandals and the deep deterioration of the country’s socioeconomic situation.

Waste incineration affair: Edi Rama has signed an unlawful practice relating to the construction of three waste incinerators in Elbasan, Tirana and Fier – worth 420 million euros – in a flagrant breach of the law forbidding closed procurements, and against the official opinion of the National Agency of Public Procurements confirming to the Council of Ministers the existence of such restrictions. The beneficiary company doesn’t have any experience in the field of waste incineration. There are numerous allegations that the company is linked to Edi Rama and Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj. Even though 6 years have passed since the signature of the contracts, two waste incinerators are not built yet and the third is out of service. The Prosecution has arrested former Minister of Environment, Koka, and the socialist MP Bllako until now, but the later was let out of prison to be sent to house arrest. The waste incineration scandal is valued up to 420 million euros and public authorities are still paying nowadays. Rama has publicly threatened SPAK reminding that this special prosecution is a created by the Socialist Party and that it goes without saying that no one can undertake any action against it.

Media freedom: State authorities have seized a second national TV media, Ora TV. This follows the forced state closure of Agon Channel for which Rama’s government is currently paying a 110 million fine following an international arbitration. Both media outlets are known for their opposition to state policies. Reporters Without Borders, in their annual media freedom index (here) have given to Albania the worst evaluation ever, rating the contry at 103 for 2021, 20 places down from 2020.

Abuse with public office: following the massive recent leak of public data, it appears PM Rama has used a personal charter for 137 trips abroad, including vacation trips in Paris or for participating in an NBA basketball game in the USA, Florida. More than 22 million euros are accounted in associated flight costs. This amount appears to be a record value if compared also with other European or International public representatives.

Port of Durres: opposition MPs, civil society representatives and media have been continuously denied the detailed project and the names of the final beneficiaries of the 2 billion USD scheme. According to an agreement signed on Nov.4th, the public land of the Port of Durres will be transferred to a private consortium driven by a fund based in the United Emirates linked to the notorius serbian Karic brothers, sanctioned for their connections with Lukashenko. The scheme is non-transparent and in clear breach of the EU-Albanian laws.

Butrint scandal: following a large AADF-funded project related to the archaeological site of Butrint (UNESCO World heritage status), Rama’s government has transferred 800ha of protected public land that fell under the Butrint territory, to a real estate promoter linked to the family of a former socialist minister.

Edi Rama isolated following diplomatic incidents in Italy, Strasbourg, and UK

During a public event in Bergamo held on October 9th, in the presence of the former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, Prime Minister Rama declared that Di Maio and himself had run a contraband operation in sending Covid19 vaccines to Albania during the 2020 pandemic crisis. Rama declaring that “If I am an albano-italian, Di Maio is an Napoletano-Albanese, and together we did a contraband operation. You may be Italian or Albanian, are you always in line with the law?”. According to media reports, the Italian authorities have started an investigation on the matter. In addition, it should be noted that Rama, after having promised through a writen form to neighbourging Italy the Albanian vote for the World Expo 2030, has stepped back from his promise while supporting instead Saudi Arabia, allegedly based on a bribe.

In parallel, as a result of an unconventional intervention of 1 hour during the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, held on November 12th, it appears CoE Parliamentary Groups have withdrawn from an invitation to a working dinner send by the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. The decline, as confirmed by the PPE/DC Group President, Mr. Aleksander Pociej, was a result of the breach of the CoE protocols by PM Rama. During his speech, as a reaction to the Chairman of the plenary session, Rama was even heard declaring “I feel like I am in the Albanian Parliament”.

Lastly, in a series of public declarations, PM Rama accused the UK Government for an imperial, racist and failed policy towards Albanian recent emigration surge. During 2022, the UK is facing an unprecedented wave of illegal emigrants from Albania, after France and Germany faced the same during the previous years. Albania tops now all nationalities illegally emigrating to the UK through the channel and the concern has become a media and political national issue with numerous articles from the Guardian and the BBC. An article in the British Spectator goes further calling this a national “exodus of hopelessness”. The UK Prime Minister and Minister of Interior were also involved in the public debate. Minister Rama refuses any blame and considers this a UK problem relating to their border control. One should note that in the last decade corresponding to Rama’s coming into power, according to EU statistics, 744.417 Albanians have left the country, with Albania being on an early basis the no.1 asylum seeker per capita, ahead of war-torn countries such as Afghanistan or Syria.

Official Positions of the Democratic Party

On the UK emigration surge from Albania.
The Democratic Party rejects and denounces as irresponsible Edi Rama’s statement blaming the Great Britain authorities over the situation while pointing specifically to the British conservatives as guilty. The Democratic Party of Albania also invites the government, the Parliament, the political forces of the United Kingdom to take the time and to analyze the real causes of the transformation of Albanians into “people of rafts” by Rama’s current government, as this can help them and their interest in grasping what is truly happening with the Albanians in Albania. The reasons of this emigrational surge are… (read more).
• On the call for Rama’s resignation
The Democratic Party of Albania demands the resignation and final removal from any public function of Edi Rama, who with his illegal, unconstitutional acts, has become today the symbol of the abusive ruler who does not recognize norms, moral, legal or constitutional standards when it comes to personal enrichment, luxury, and power. In specific terms he is responsible for … (read more).
• On the Berlin Process
The Democratic Party welcomes the recent Berlin Summit and its results. Through the signed agreements on free movement with identity cards, the recognition of diplomas and of professional qualifications, the Balkans have become freer, more equal and fairer. Only a Balkan of equal states is a region that moves towards the European Union towards the future… (read more).
• On the Kosovo recent developments.
The Democratic Party fully supports and welcomes NATO’s position and condemns with the greatest severity the efforts of the “little Putin” to ignite a new conflict in the region. The DP warns the Serbian nationalist Vucic that his dreams of a “Greater Serbia” have failed once and for all in Kosovo and that to every act of aggression, Albanians will react as a single nation … (read more).

Speech of Prof. Dr. Berisha
“A changing Europe and the security of the Western Balkans”.

June 16, 2022

Your excellency, Ambassador Elliott
Dear Panellists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Unfortunately, the Balkans’ peninsula is the region having shaped more wars and history than any other region in Europe in the past.

Today, following the last conflict of the ’90s, three out of six Western Balkans’ countries are members of NATO and by definition they produce security. Also, four out of six WB countries have received the EU candidate country status; two of them have opened the EU membership negotiations.

Despite these very positive changes in the field of security, in this domain, the Western Balkans are at a crossroad. Today, over 23 years since the last conflict, progress towards a lasting peace is modest and not what should be, or was expected to be so.

I think that the main causes of today’s crossroad are:

1 – The presence of open wounds from the past conflicts and the shadows of ultra-nationalism are keeping the conflict “on hold”,

2 – Russia’s strong influence in the region and

3 – Organized crime at the highest levels, linked to an autocratic ruling, as well as corruption at all levels.

Thus, today, 23 years afterwards, while there are dozens and dozens of agreements signed in Brussels between Kosovo and Serbia – with some implemented and others still on paper – the President of Serbia in his last visit to northern Kosovo would declare in every meeting that Serbia will become bigger and that Milosevic was a great leader but that he made mistakes.

Two weeks ago, the same President Vucic, during his inaugural oath in parliament following his new term, would promise that he would defend the sovereignty and the integrity of independent Kosovo, as part of the Republic of Serbia.

I think these positions don’t help at all the conclusion of an agreement between the two countries. They prove Serbia is keeping “on hold” the conflict. If we add that Serbia is being armed with numerous Russian and Chinese weapons, at a time when Serbia is not threatened by any country, then this is a serious concern.

The agreement has been hindered and is currently being hindered by two other initiatives.

The initiative for borders change and territories exchange, meaning the establishment of new borders between Kosovo and Serbia on a purely ethnic basis.

This old initiative of Milosevic from the 90s, was divulged by the Open Society Foundation in Belgrade a few years ago. The initiative was presented as a solution for three Serbian-speaking municipalities located in northern Kosovo, and for three Albanian-speaking municipalities located in southern Serbia. It was an extremely dangerous initiative as it opened the ‘pandora box’ in a region with other similar regions to that of northern Kosovo. Even though the initiative was backed by Russia and although it was contrary to all the international and national acts on which Kosovo’s independence was declared, unfortunately, it found a non-negligible support in Brussels and Washington due to the lobbying efforts of billionaire George Soros.

Of course this initiative failed but its failure took the process back in time.

A second development that has hindered in my opinion the progress towards a lasting peace agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, has been the Western Balkans Mini-Schengen initiative, announced by the President of Serbia in Novi Sad in October 2019, during a meeting with the Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia.

It is based on a secret treaty, and I say secret because neither the treaty, nor a single chapter of it, have never been published.

The initiative was later renamed to ‘Open Balkans’ in honour of George Soros as its main promoter. It was later concluded and consolidated as a trilateral alliance between Belgrade-Skopje-Tirana as three other countries, namely Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, did not join the initiative. They considered it as an initiative that restored Serbia’s hegemony in the region and with it, the Russian influence in the region.

In addition, in a region with a high conflictual recent past, special bi- or tri- lateral alliances that are not supported by others, are unnecessary and useless. They should be avoided as they create more problems than they solve.

I recall here that the next day his visit to Belgrade was cancelled – as his airplane was refused by NATO member countries to travel through their airspace – Sergey Lavrov, stated that one of the main purposes of his visit to Belgrade was to support the Open Balkans initiative, as according to him, Brussels wants a closed Balkans.

The truth is that Brussels – ie. the Berlin Process which started years ago – doesn’t seek a closed Balkans but an open Balkans, and a common regional market among six equal WB states, and this is the right project for the region.

In conclusion I think:

First of all, the Berlin Process is a useful initiative and it should be followed. Whereas the Open Balkans is a Serbian-Russian initiative aiming to put the region under Serbia’s hegemony and Russia’s influence.

The mystery here lies on what brings together in this project George Soros with Lavrov?

George Soros’ support for Russian-backed projects in the region represents a real problem for the region.

Second, an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, based on international law guarantying the mutual recognition between the two countries is essential.

Serbia itself must stop keeping the conflict “on hold” because that is a serious problem for the region.

Third, the United States of America have been a major stakeholder in terminating conflicts in the region, and I think that the joint mediation by Brussels and Washington, is of crucial importance to reach a lasting peace agreement.

In the last 150 years, all agreements in this peninsula have been reached not through full-will, but through partial-will and enforcement, and this necessary agreement will hardly be an exception.

Finally, for the six WB countries, EU integration is vital. In this context the opening of negotiations, the decision to open negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia, let us hope at the end of this month, will be positive.

Thank you.

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