Unknown albania, a case study cultural and environmental tourism


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Unknown albania, a case study cultural and environmental tourism

  1. 1. UNKNOWN ALBANIA A Case Study: Cultural and Environmental Tourism This document has been produced with the financi- al assistance of UNDP Albania. Its contents are the sole responsibility of IPS and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the views of UNDP Albania.
  2. 2. ContentsIntroduction Ramesh Jaura 5European Integration Takes More Than Attitude Alba Çela 7A Few Greeks Discover Their Neighbour Apostolis Fotiadis 9Civil Society Far From Local Needs Zoltán Dujisin 10Forget Communism...Or Sell It Zoltán Dujisin 13UNESCO Not A Life Saver Zoltán Dujisin 15Ambitious New Framework To Regulate Tourism Alba Çela 17No Time To Waste Claudia Ciobanu 18Preserving A Beauty Called Biodiversity Vesna Peric Zimonjic 20Energy Needs Clash With Tourism Claudia Ciobanu 22A Provincial Capital On The Move Claudia Ciobanu 25But Where Are the Differences? Vesna Peric Zimonjic 27Saving Beaches For Others - And Itself Claudia Ciobanu 28Time To Know The Unknown - Interview with Speaker of the 30Albanian Parliament Jozefina TopalliTourism Brings Environmental Challenge Vesna Peric Zimonjic 32Environment And Tourism Can Hold Hands Zoltán Dujisin 34Landing Might Be An Idea Sanjay Suri 36Albania On The Road From The World - Interview with Sanjay Suri 38Dr. Ylli Pango, Albanian minister for tourismLong And Winding Road Straightening Out Altin Raxhimi 40Imprint 42
  3. 3. IntroductionBy Ramesh Jaura ince the end of the East-West cold war, tegy. UNDP is assisting the Government to createS Albania has made significant strides in esta-blishing the foundations of democratic instituti- the right circumstances for tourism-driven deve- lopment, as well as providing assistance to localons and a market economy, including its 1998 tourism development.Constitution. In 2000, Albania became a memberof the World Trade Organisation, which illustra- Culture and environment can indeed be impor-tes its determination to build an open and inte- tant parts of the tourism industry, and a boon tograted economy. rural communities. IPS examines this approach - and to what extent it finds success -- using Albania And yet it remains Europes last "unknown" as a case study in a globalised world with fundscountry - in part, because it is not an easy tourism from UNDP Albania.destination for international markets to under-stand. But the fact that the country maintains a This publication compiles all articles that havecultural "authenticity" with its wide range of been written by independent journalists from thehistoric and natural attractions could hold great IPS European network and disseminated throughallure for the outside world. With this in view, IPS website, in special publications, newsletters andAlbania has turned its focus to tourism develop- by way of translations among others into Dutch,ment. In the process, the quality of life of a signi- German and Spanish. The articles in English areficant number of Albanians could be improved - available in internet at a special website:in tune with the countrys commitment to the www.ipsnews.net/new_focus/tourism/index.aspMillennium Development Goals. In the six months since the special website went UNDP Albania is working closely with the online, thousands of people from around theGovernment of Albania, in particular with the world have visited it. Nearly one quarter of a mil-Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sports lion page views underline the great interest IPSand the National Tourism Organization to imple- has created in Albanias cultural and environmen-ment the countrys eco and cultural tourism stra- tal tourism efforts.Berlin, December 2007Ramesh Jaura, Project Coordinator | IPS European Director 5
  4. 4. Llaman Beach close to Himare with a colourfully decorated bunker to the right (Klaus Friedl 2007)6
  5. 5. European IntegrationTakes More Than AttitudeBy Alba Çela irana - Albanians are among the most Euro- pessimism expressed by every visiting EU repre-T enthusiastic people in the Western Balkans,surveys show. But that does not mean they belie- sentative. Commissioner for education, training, culture and youth Jan Figel told the media on ave they will join the EU in a hurry. As many as visit to Tirana last month that Albania has made93.8 percent want to join the European family, progress on its road to the EU, but that muchaccording to a study Rethinking EU Integration: remains to be done. "It is up to Albania to do itsAlbanian realities and perceptions 2007 by the fundamental homework as it is your own country,Albanian Institute for International Studies and we can only support you all the way," Figel(AIIS). The AIIS has been gauging perceptions said.about the EU and the integration process for the Aspirations for the EU have in the past beenlast five years, and has found approval rates for controversial. One of the most powerful slogansAlbanias entry to the EU always above 80 per- raised by Albanian protesters who challenged thecent. The enthusiasm is fed in part by the growing communist regime in 1991 was, "We want Albanianumber of European visitors who have been to be like Europe!" Significant reforms are neces-coming to Albania as it puts infrastructure and sary before Albania can hope for EU membership.environment improvements in place to bring The government is trying to come to terms with aitself up to EU standards. range of political and economic problems that impede the integration process, among them Opening of markets widespread corruption and an energy crisis. "Albanians and people in the Balkans generally In 2005, the approval was 83.9 percent. In 2006 will benefit largely after integration, in terms ofit jumped to 92.5 percent, following the signing of democratic stability, economic modernisation anda Stabilisation and Association Agreement with social welfare," Xavier Vidal-Folch, deputy editorthe EU in July 2005. Such an agreement is a first of El Pais told Albanian journalists at a trainingstep towards eventual membership. "One of the session in September.most important conclusions of our study is thatAlbanians see the EU as their countrys most strate- Ticket to free movementgic partner," AIIS executive director Albert Rakipitold IPS. The AIIS study found internal nuances of "On the other side, they will have to sacrificeattitude among the polled people. The business time and effort to convince the existing memberscategory seems to be more skeptical, and is concer- of the added value. This should be done by thened about the economic costs of accession and the aspiring countries political class, intellectualopening of markets. But even so, the vast majority elite and journalists." But the move to the EUof businesses are positive about EU accession. gets more difficult with time. "The larger the EU But though Albanians want to join the EU, gets, the harder it is going to be to make it lar-their expectations are different. "One of the main ger. Members will seek guarantees that expansi-findings of the survey is that despite the extreme- on will be for the better of the Union," Vidal-ly high level of support for integration, Albanians Folch told IPS. For most Albanians, entry in thehave no illusions as to their countrys readiness to EU means a ticket to free movement. But a firstenter the EU," Maklen Misha, director of research step has been taken with the signing of the visaat AIIS told IPS. As many as 82.8 percent of the facilitation and readmission agreements inpeople polled said Albania is not ready to join the Brussels Sep. 18. Meanwhile, Albanians remainEU. The majority of Albanians place their acces- keen on something they do not believe will hap-sion date no earlier than 2020. This reflects the pen in a hurry. (Reported in November 2007) 7
  6. 6. The ferry harbour of Brëgelumë (Klaus Friedl 2007)8
  7. 7. A Few GreeksDiscover Their NeighbourBy Apostolis Fotiadis thens - Some years ago most Greeks knew emphasis is given to the archaeological siteA Albania only as an unknown frontier. It wasa country from which impoverished migrants Butrinti, 290km south of Tirana, and other southern cities with an ethnic Greek populati-crossed into Greece in search of a job and a bet- on like Gjirokaster, Himara and Sarande.ter life; a place that people were leaving, where Greek tourists say they are attracted largely bynobody wanted to go. A gradual if limited inte- ethnic ties and feelings.gration of the newcomers and the opening of a Nikos Petalotis, a 33-year-old dentist, saidnewborn market for Greek business in Albania his visit to Albania was a dream come true. "Ithas created an opportunity for a few in the is important for me to visit this region ofGreek public to learn more about their Hellenic culture about which I have read manyneighbour. books and heard innumerable stories. I am Historical links have been rediscovered. The interested in the Byzantine and post-Byzantineflow of people has started becoming reciprocal monuments." Andrea Litis, a pensioner, sayseven if marginally. Stefanos Hatzimanolis is the he goes for personal reasons. "My parentsone travel agent to have sensed this change. The came from a small village outside Gjirokaster,last two years he has been organising holiday but they never managed to return after thepackages to Albania. Second World War. Indirectly, through their "People who buy packages for Albania are stories, I became nostalgic about these places. Ieither experienced passengers who want to add felt strong emotions during my trip."this destination to the list of places they havebeen to, or they are motivated by curiosity," he Lack of infrastructuretold IPS. "They are well educated, and they are Despite the countrys natural beauty and theusually informed about their destination." attractiveness of its cultural wealth, Albanias Customers mostly from Greece tourism development is widely challenged by lack of infrastructure. "It is obvious that they His customers come mostly from northern need a new road circulation network," saidGreece, and are interested in four or five-day Natassa Siniori, a journalist who has travelledexcursions which include transportation, hotels, extensively around Albania. "Distances are notmeals and a tourist guide. "It makes it easier for calculated by kilometres but by minutes orthe visitor since these services do not work per- hours. Narrow streets with bad quality tarmacfectly all along the country. Currently we move make an otherwise pleasant journey tiring andmore than 800 people annually by airplane or difficult."bus." The trip that the agency offers covers many But problems with infrastructure do not detersights and cities in central and south Albania. all. Hatzimanolis says cultural and other attracti- "Visitors are usually impressed with the castle ons more than compensate.at Berat, the city of Durres, and the city centre in "Perhaps the tourist sector and basic infra-Tirana. The cost of the trip is between 295 and 340 structure still need a lot of advancement. But theeuro, depending on the services someone wants will of people to improve things, and their limit-to buy, plus any personal expenses. It is very dif- less interest in opening up this market createsficult to convince someone to travel to Albania for good conditions for cooperation. And local cui-more than that at the moment," Hatzimanolis sine and Albanian culture are likely to grab thesaid. The trip focuses on the ancient heritage and attention of the tourist from Greece and the broad-the ethnic Greek element of the country. Specific er Mediterranean.” (Reported in September 2007) 9
  8. 8. Civil Society Far From Local Needs By Zoltán Dujisin irana - Achieving environmentally sustaina- standards than the rest of the population, and T ble tourism in Albania will also be up to the efforts of communities and civil society organi- access to Western goods or visas in a country that up until recently had little contact with the outsi- sations, but as in much of the post-socialist de world. While acknowledging that Albania is world, non-governmental organisations living under a "very hard capitalism" similar to (NGOs) and their donors will have to clean up that of "150 years ago in America", Tare is even their act first. The dependence on foreign more critical of the NGOs raison dêtre. donors and philanthropists is still causing Albanian civic organizations to respond more Democratisation as primary goal to donor requests than to the local needs they "Everybody makes an NGO because thats a supposedly represent. way of making money out of Westerners. And Organisations fostering civil society deve- Westerners want to work with NGOS. This lopment are powerful actors in Albania, and creates another East-West world of corruption." have been central in promoting democratisati- Tare describes NGO work as "just a way of on in the formerly communist country. Donors doing a lot of paperwork, seminars, workshops, are often accused by local civic organisations of but nothing on the ground." Asked if he could being inflexible, withholding vital information pinpoint any concrete achievements by NGOs, on common projects and of putting forward he said, "I dont know of any yet." Representa- abstract guidelines which are not based on any tives of NGOs, however, disagree. Xhemal study of local conditions and needs. Mato, executive director of the Ecomovement Centre, says there is truth to some of the accu- Lack of altruism sations, but explains difficulties faced by well- "Morally civic organizations should represent intentioned activists in Albania. "We are only those who they claim to represent, but legally given money for meetings and seminars, not for they are obliged towards the donors, so I think starting something concrete," Mato told IPS. "It donors should be more responsible," Auron Tare, is very important to be able to find funds to director of the Albanian National Trust told IPS. raise awareness on challenges such as Illegal But not everything can be expected from donors. building in the coast or building without consi- "If local Albanians themselves dont engage in deration to environmental needs." protecting the coastline and the environment, whatever donors do, its not going to happen," Pushing the municipality says Tare. "They have their own interests, and With donors seeing the primary goal of these are never purely altruistic." democratisation as having been partly achieved, The lack of altruism is also pervasive among funds have started to dwindle, and competition activists themselves. "Mostly NGOs here are from the many Albanian NGOs for the little opportunistic, not specialised, and they will available funding is stiffening. "Donors are not chew on whatever is thrown at them in terms as abundant as at the beginning of democratisa- of funding," Arian Gace, national coordinator tion, and there is very big competition," says for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Mato. "Now that the political aspect is over, small grants programme told IPS. Working for donors feel governments should continue doing an NGO often means access to higher living the job." Even with poor funding, Mato believes10
  9. 9. A traditional Albanian family (Klaus Friedl 2005)something has been achieved. "You have some think environmental groups in Albania have notconcrete examples in which you can say that achieved enough from lack of experience in nego-without NGOS some problems could not be sol- tiating and reaching compromises. "Albania isved," he says. One such example, he says, is not in a position to make great sacrifices to saveenvironmental NGOS pushing the municipality the environment, and we have to make the mostof Tirana to raise its waste treatment standards. we can from what we have," Gace told IPS. "Part Other important projects promoted by of the coast will have to be sacrificed and otherNGOs, such as an awareness campaign in eco- parts protected as part of a sort of social pact."tourism, remain only on paper as the organisa- This is what Gace feels environmental groupstions struggle to obtain government support. have not yet grasped. "The NGO communityUnfortunately for Mato, his group and other would have gotten much more if they wouldNGOs feel the government is not on their side come to the table with options and be ready toprecisely as a result of one of their positive actually bargain, because otherwise the otherfunctions. part will make a decision anyway," he said. "Ive "Because we frequently are a second voice for seen them reacting too much emotionally, theyvejournalists in contradicting the government, the been saying well protect everything, everywhere,government doesnt really like NGOs." Others all the time." (Reported in August 2007) 11
  10. 10. Bunkers dot several Albanian landscapes (Klaus Friedl 2005)12
  11. 11. Forget Communism...Or Sell ItBy Zoltán Dujisin irana - Bunkers? Underground catacombs? building of around 750,000 bunkers between 1974T Submarine bases? Albania has been shapedby one of the most bizarre communist regimes and 1986 to protect Albanian citizens from what Tirana perceived as a hostile international envi-ever and the potential to exploit it for tourism is ronment. The engineer who designed them wasinestimable. The possibilities for what has been said to be so confident of their indestructibilitytermed as communist heritage tourism are pre- that state officials had a bunker tested againstsent, but as with other post-socialist countries in rockets with the designer himself inside. Thethe region, the attempt at creating a communist- engineer survived, and mass production of bun-free national identity since the 1990s is in conflict kers commenced.with Western tourists increasing interest in rem-nants of the communist past. Bunkers are omnipresent "If there are people interested just in these 50 These are now one of the trademarks of theyears of history, why not offer it?" says Nevila Albanian landscape. Some, mostly Albanians,Popa, business development specialist for USAID think the bunkers spoil Albanias beautiful coun-in Albania. While it remains a niche market, tryside, whereas others, mostly foreigners, see insome, as Gent Mati from the tourism agency the mushroom-like structures a chilling but fasci-Outdoors Albania, confirm "there is interest for nating sign of an obscure political history. What isthis paranoid, psychotic regime." Several monu- undeniable is that Albanias bunkers, whose con-ments suffered destruction at the hands of angry crete could have solved much of Albanias hou-crowds when state socialism collapsed, but much sing problems, are omnipresent: outside citiesremains for the curious eye. and towns, on mountain slopes and hills and on Architecture of socialism the seaside, in varying sizes. They are mostly abandoned, and used as public toilets, waste con- "We have so many elements of communism tainers or lover hideouts.that it is unavoidable; anywhere we drive you see Yet some have been given a more creativethe signs," Mati told IPS. "Its an integral part of function: a few concrete structures have beenAlbanian history and more constantly present covered with psychedelic pink and purple motifsthan other monuments you would have to seek." following an initiative of the culture ministry. InOn arriving in capital Tirana it becomes obvious the coastal resort of Durres, less than an hoursthat the architecture of socialism dominates the drive from Tirana, bunkers have been re-interpre-urban landscape. A visit to the National Historical ted in a more commercial fashion, and now serveMuseum, itself an example of socialist realist art, refreshments to sun and water bathers.will suffice to grasp just how much weight com- Yet some of the attractions of the potential com-munism had in Albanias recent history. munist heritage tourism are not as ubiquitous, and Communism came to Albania in 1944, and one will literally have to sink deep to find them.relations with other socialist states were normal "The ministry of defence is being lobbied to openup until 1961, when the countrys leader, Enver unused military bases, some of which are at veryHoxha, broke with the revisionist Soviet Union beautiful places, and which could be restored atand decided to draw closer to China. Hoxha imi- museums," Mati told IPS.tated the concept of cultural revolution from One of these places is the bay of Palermo, onChina, but the alliance lasted only until 1978, Albanias southern shore, where a former Soviet sub-when Beijing normalised relations with the marine base, now abandoned, is begging for visitors.United States and angered Tirana. Albania deci- The World Bank, in cooperation with the ministry ofded to go its own, nationalistic and still Stalinist tourism, is already on the case trying to open up theway, resulting in complete isolation and even infrastructure for tourism. The base is carved on aharsher economic conditions. cliff in the idyllic bay, which also happens to be one The political isolation made the regime para- of the most attractive spots for unspoiled Medi-noid, the most telling example of this being the terranean swimming. (Reported in August 007) 13
  12. 12. The picturesque downtown Gjirokastro (Klaus Friedl 2007)14
  13. 13. UNESCO Not A Life SaverBy Zoltán Dujisin jirokastro - Good looks have not sufficed to Albanian National Trust, "but UNESCO does notG make Gjirokaster, a picturesque historical cityin Southern Albania, the wealthy and successful give money, it is just a prestigious title." Tare told IPS that UNESCO status increases awareness so thattourist destination it aspires to be. Tourism is prac- "local people try to do something for their own towntically the only aspiration for the 30,000-inhabitant rather than expecting UNESCO or other organisati-town where most of its formerly important light ons to help them."industries have gone bankrupt. In 2005 the United Bragg says the Albanian government makesNations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Orga- investment difficult, precisely when there is a pres-nisations (UNESCO) included the southern sing need for wealthy foreigners to save decayingAlbanian town in its World Heritage List, a sta- buildings. While foreigners can purchase propertytus-granting achievement that helps with main- in Albania, the most valuable buildings are not ac-taining and cataloguing sites of cultural interest. cessible to them. Moreover, foreigners who invest Gjirokaster, the birthplace of former communist in Albania often consider these investments to beruler Enver Hoxha, began flourishing under risky. The World Banks latest Doing BusinessOttoman rule, and its architectonical evolution report ranks Albania among the worst countriesboasts some unique 17th and 19th century styles. when it comes to protecting foreign investment, inNational recognition of its cultural value came 162nd place. But this city still offers many opportu-before, in 1961, when authorities granted it the nities for those wishing to invest in tourism, whilestatus of a museum city. The former communist saving the towns architectonical patrimony.ruler was very fond of his hometown, which stillvotes overwhelmingly socialist, and hundreds of Infrastructure before marketingpeople were employed in preservation of the Kate Yarhouse, also part of the Peace Corps pro-town, which was taken for granted by residents. gramme to promote tourism in the city, told IPS that Status of a museum city many of the endangered houses could be turned into bed & breakfast places, "which would still be But today the local office of the Institute of Mo- worth the investment in spite of the high cost ofnuments is highly understaffed. The towns traditio- renovations." Marketing would only be prioritisednal houses formally enjoy very strong legal protecti- once the city offers minimal conditions to tourists.on, but in practice neglect and lack of aesthetic care "We are trying to put infrastructure before marke-are often visible, and illegal construction, as elsewhe- ting," Yarhouse said. The danger with focusing onre in Albania, is taking a toll on Gjirokasters land- marketing lies in the high expectations tourists inva-scape. "In the museum zone of the city there are riably have when arriving at a UNESCO site. "If theyhundreds of bits of illegal construction not follo- are not properly prepared, tourists might go backwing historical guidelines," David Bragg, a U.S. and say they did not find the image that was beingcitizen who was assigned to Gjirokaster by Peace promoted to correspond to reality," Tare told IPS.Corps, a humanitarian organisation, and who is "People are not coming to Gjirokaster because of thenow helping get tourism information across lack preparedness for tourism."through a series of projects in cooperation with Tare is also among the founders of one ofthe United Nations Development Programme Albanias most successful tourist destinations, the(UNDP) told IPS. "And while laws are there, Butrint National Park in Southern Albania thatthere is no will or capacity to implement them." due to its archaeological and environmental value When the town was included in UNESCOs heri- has become, together with Gjirokaster, the onlytage list, many locals thought the West had come to other UNESCO site in Albania. "Butrint was suc-save Gjirokaster from its neglect. But little has cessful because we invested and built bridges withchanged and high expectations have given place to the communities," he says. "The moment you dontsour feelings. "Nothing has improved here," Sofia, engage them you are going to have problems. Theyan aged local ethnic Greek told IPS. "Ever since the are shareholders of what happens to their places.change of regime things get worse by the year." "The Doing tourism with the presence of locals is some-perception is that UNESCO would solve its pro- thing very new in Albania, it should become ablems," explains Auron Tare, director of the national strategy." (Reported in July 2007) 15
  14. 14. The ancient city wall and towers of Durrës (Klaus Friedl 2007)16
  15. 15. Ambitious New FrameworkTo Regulate TourismBy Alba Çela irana - Tourism, one of the economic priori- Tourists have been given rights to register claimsT ties of the administration, will now be regula-ted by a new law. The law replaces the older 1993 and complaints in order to receive refunds. This procedure has been assigned to the Office forlegislation, and takes into account the market Tourist Assistance. A tourist community protec-conditions under which the tourism industry is ted by law is now seen as the first serious stepcoming up. The law targets major issues related towards improving the business climate of tour-to tourism such as licensing and monitoring tour- ism in Albania. But the increased regulation hasism operators to guarantee quality of service. It brought some complaints too, and not everyoneprovides for production of continuous and reliab- has welcomed all the new provisions.le statistics on tourist numbers. And it holds out a "The government requires us to present a listcomprehensive vision for tourism development. of customers 48 hours before they reach the bor- The law passed in May is among a series of der checkpoint," Pandeli Sotiri, owner of a tour-measures taken this year, such as development of ism agency in Saranda told IPS. "But we operatethe National Cultural Tourism Strategy and the on the basis of attracting tourists just for one day.Tourism Development Strategy 2012 with the aim These customers usually come from Corfu andof generating at least 15 percent of gross national spontaneously decide to spend one day inincome by that year. Albania, Europes last Saranda. I dont know how to cope with this newsecret! is the slogan of the season accompanying regulation." But a solid legal framework can bethe new policies. The limitation of Albanias expo- good news for business if correctly implemented.sure is being built now as its strength. It guarantees stability and standards, and sends a positive signal to customers that in turn helps “Europes last secret” business and investment. The new law liberalises substantially the gran- Investment of two million eurosting of licence to tourist agencies in a move toincrease competition. The law also guarantees New investments in the field are not lacking.that Albania will soon have healthy auditing and "An investment of two million euros has beeninspecting capacities. The law seeks to protect committed to Durres for this tourist season," saystourists, and the image of Albanian tourism, from Andrea Xhovara, head of the Chamber of Com-unprofessional practices. "It will also prevent merce of Durres. Durres has traditionally beenugly deformations such as the advent of sexual the biggest tourist draw, bringing in revenues lasttourism or money laundering through this trade," year of 120 million euro from 150,000 tourists. Theformer tourism minister Bujar Leskaj, who was a law requires government agencies to coordinatemember of the drafting committee for the new their actions efficiently in order to facilitate tour-law, told IPS. ism. In a recent decision the Interior Ministry One of the more positive provisions of this used this framework to ban heavy load trucksnew law is financial assistance through a special from roads linking tourist sites, in an attempt todevelopment fund for small, private businesses. ease traffic congestion and make the sites moreThe fund will be administered by the National appealing to visitors.Tourism Agency operating under the Ministry of As the tourist season progresses, many busi-Tourism. The agency will also coordinate efforts nesses are looking to more rapid implementationof the central and local government as well as of the new law. The new law was initiated to com-non-governmental organisations and local busi- ply with the Stabilisation and Associationnesses to promote tourism. Agreement (SAA) signed in June last year to take The provision of a strong legal framework for Albania on the road to the EU. The country isprotecting tourists is central to the new law. now on its way. (Reported in July 2007) 17
  16. 16. No Time To Waste By Claudia Ciobanu irana - Albania cannot hope to become a horities have simply dumped trash into empty T major tourist destination unless it solves its waste management problem. Seeing this, aut- fields close to the residential areas. Two deca- des ago, when the rates of consumption and horities are wasting no more time in taking waste production were much lower, the inap- action. Driving along the coast of the Adriatic propriateness of the method passed unnoticed. and Ionian seas from capital Tirana to southern Now, the trash is too much and too pollutant. Betrint presents picturesque scenery, most impressively the high mountains reflected in Piles of trash, clouds of smoke the transparent sea of the southern riviera. But a closer look reveals the destructive effects of Over the past years, the authorities and spe- human activity. Piles of trash, comprising very cialised civil society organisations have started visibly beer bottles and plastic wrappers, are a working their way through the problem of solid common sight on the coast, even in remote waste. Fadil Nasufi, mayor of Berat, one of the pastures. There are not enough waste bins most important towns in the country, says his along the way, or at restaurants. municipality is preparing a plan to build an ecological waste processing system. The popu- Rapid increase in consumption lation will be charged a yearly tax for a solid waste plant to be built and operated close to the "One of the things tourists coming here com- town. The mayor offered few details about the plain most about is garbage," says Kate Yarhouse, project, or on how waste is being handled pre- working for Peace Corps USA for the promotion sently. But from the beautiful medieval castle of tourism in Albania. Albanias waste manage- towering over the town, one can see piles of ment facilities were overwhelmed by the rapid trash emitting clouds of smoke. The picture is increase in consumption in the 1990s after the fall similar in most Albanian cities. Capital Tirana of state socialism and the consequent opening up and the nearby urban areas comprising the of the country. Proper waste treatment systems large city Durres dump their waste in nearby were not set up. Garbage collection facilities since Shara fields. The population of the neigh- then have simply not coped with the mounting bouring villages is now getting increasingly waste. The sewage produced by Albanian cities concerned about the health risks arising from ends up, untreated, in the sea. Merita Mansaku- the garbage, and the municipality now plans to Meksi, an expert in waste management working build a landfill. Tirana is one of only three cities for the Environmental Centre for Development in Albania to have concrete plans for construc- Education and Networking, warns that although ting a landfill. The other two are Vlora and the water is largely safe for swimmers at the Shkonder. The rest of the municipalities, like moment, the situation is not sustainable. Berat, have good intentions, not projects on the "Not only is sewage water dumped into the way. sea, but also used oil from restaurants and industrial production, and this increases the Waste from Italy danger," Mansaku-Meksi told IPS. Arian Gace, national coordinator at the Global Environment But people are becoming increasingly aware Facility (GEF) Albania, says that most coastal of the need to deal with the garbage ecological- towns in the country now have plans to deve- ly. Xhemal Mato, executive director of the lop sewage collection and treatment facilities. Ecomovement Centre sees hope in the success- Kavaja, close to Tirana, has already built a ful campaign led by his organisation against modern system of sewage collection, with the building of an incinerator for Tirana. financial assistance from the German KfW The authorities had signed an agreement Development Bank. But most municipalities are with Italian company Albanianbeg Ambient for still at the planning stage. building such a plant. Under those plans, the The country faces similar problems with Albanian government would support the cost solid waste management. Traditionally, the aut- of constructing the incinerator with credit from18
  17. 17. The thermal springs in Elbasan are mostly used by the locals, who ignore the rubbbsh that is cumulating (Klaus Friedl 2007)the Italian government. Given that an incinera- not sure that this means the incinerator willtor needs to be used at full capacity to operate never be built," Xhemal Mato told IPS. "But it isproperly, and that the trash produced by Tirana an important step for us."would only require 40 percent of the capacity, it Merita Mansaku-Meksi also has some smallwas planned that Albanianbeg would bring victories to boast in the battle against waste.waste from Italy to be incinerated in Albania. Her NGO is running awareness campaigns But the local population did not want Italys about recycling in 14 schools in Tirana. She istrash burnt in Tirana. Mobilised by NGOs, they also involved in a project to teach small localstaged protests against the incinerator and for- communities around the capital how to separateced their politicians to cancel the deal. "We are and recycle their trash. (Reported in July 2007) 19
  18. 18. Preserving A Beauty Called Biodiversity By Vesna Peric Zimonjic elipoja - It takes a short walk from the people and the "wild developers" out to exploit V famous Velipoja beach in Shkodra town on the Adriatic coast to put behind the stresses of natural resources without concern for consequen- ces. modern life, and the beach attractions themsel- Albania has ratified most international proto- ves. The walk takes you to the Buna River Delta cols on environmental issues, but it lacks the Reservation, a marshy confluence of the 44 km mechanism to implement them. "Non-govern- waterway that flows from Shkodra Lake into the mental organisations (NGOs) that work to raise Adriatic. The silence of the cool forest is broken awareness are often viewed as enemies," Mato only by twittering birds and the whispers of rare said. "However, we did have some important suc- visitors heading for bird watching towers or cess. It was the action to prevent adoption of the exploring the banks of the Buna. The bird wat- law that would allow genetically modified organ- chers will see loggerhead turtles, pygmy cormo- isms (GMOs) freely to enter the country. We are rants, Adriatic pelicans and rare Levant sparrow very proud of that." hawks, among many others. Parts of this large Albania still has naturally grown food of nature reserve are home also to boar, foxes and excellent quality. Neat fields of wheat, maize or jackals. sunflower are spread out in the lowlands of cen- tral and northern Albania. Homegrown quality Forty-five years of isolation vegetables are the pride of the nation. Sheep and cows can be seen in green fields along the roads This reservation is one of several in Albania. that connect capital Tirana with the central town Forty-five years of isolation under communist Berat and northern town Shkodra. Hens and rule did mean some protection to wildlife and ducks can be seen in the backyards of modest far- biodiversity. Post-communist development over mers homes, well fed by home-grown corn. the last 17 years has brought new challenges, and the reserves are now a vital preservation move. Last development chance? "We have seen the pollution costs of develop- ment," Xhemail Mato, head of the Association for "Albania wants to develop tourism, and this is Environmental Protection told IPS. "This country its last development chance," Mato said. "In was dubbed the first in Europe for its biodiversi- order to achieve that, it counts on its good ty not so long ago. However, things have changed nature. We have to develop eco-awareness here since 1990. Now, a lot has to be done to preserve in order to accomplish that goal." Among the the good nature." most interesting spots for tourism development Studies by the United Nations Development are the five lagoons along the Adriatic and Ionian Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations coast. They once spread over more than 70,000 Environmental Programme (UNEP) show that hectares. But more than 15,000 hectares were Albania suffers from one of the highest rates of drained in the 1960s to reclaim fertile soil and to biodiversity loss in Europe. Deforestation, soil eradicate malaria. One of them, the Karavasta erosion, uncontrolled land use and pollution are Lagoon in the south, is considered of particular rapidly destroying precious resources. "Some 30 importance. It has been placed under a special percent of Albanias forests have been destroyed management and protection programme now to since 1990," Mato said. "Destruction is faster than save its unique biodiversity of plants, birds and the process of raising awareness among people." animals. The battle for preserving the richness of biodi- Another two, Narta and Orikumi, are also versity and natural resources is now on. Environ- under environmentalists watch. Efforts to halt mentalists are fighting to raise awareness among illegal sand digging, illegal construction and20
  19. 19. The ancient castle above the city center of Shkodër (Klaus Friedl 2007)waste dumping are under way. Tree planting has both international organisations and local NGOs.started around Orikumi, but Narta is facing pro- "The system needs to be changed," he said.blems. Oil-drilling has begun here, preventing "Organisations boasted that money went for wol-further environment protection projects. ves or money went to pelicans, but no one said Despite such setbacks, considerable progress there were no roads to reach the wolves or peli-is afoot across Albania. "All the projects for envi- cans. One has to keep in mind the human dimen-ronment protection need to have measurable sion of projects in order to have success."impact on biodiversity," says Arian Gace, natio- Albania is not making its efforts alone. It isnal coordinator for the Global Environmental cooperating with neighbour Montenegro. TheFacility (GEF), an NGO that helps developing two share the large Shkodra Lake and Buna delta.nations fund programmes to protect nature. The neighbours are involved in a joint project for "Programmes for biodiversity protection sustainable development through a broader enga-should also be coupled in time with investment gement of people from local fishing villages, andfor the improvement of life of people." Gace is employment of the young in the tourism industry.critical of the funding that came to Albania for This also means saving the unique biodiversity ofyears, driven by romantic views on nature among the shared delta. (Reported in July 2007) 21
  20. 20. Energy Needs Clash With Tourism By Claudia Ciobanu lora - The building of a thermal power plant ted Albanian Macedonian Bulgarian Oil V in Vlora could reduce Albanias electricity deficit, but it would also damage one of the coun- Corporation (AMBO) pipeline. The 870 km Burgas-Vlora oil duct is still in the planning stage. trys most beautiful tourist destinations. The local When completed, it would carry around 35 milli- population is fighting to have the factory built on tonnes of crude oil yearly, brought from Russia elsewhere. The 3.2 million inhabitants of Albania and the Caspian Sea. have gotten used to daily power cuts. At the moment, the country can only meet half its elec- Inhabitants of Vlora protest tricity needs. Roughly 90 percent of these are While the international financial institutions and covered by hydropower, and this generation is the Albanian authorities speak of the benefits of the dependent on weather conditions. thermal plant, the inhabitants of Vlora have been Power consumption has increased dramatical- protesting for the past three years against the plant. ly over the past two decades. Formerly a state "Despite the governments assurances that the power socialist country, Albania has established a demo- plant should provide a remedy to the increasingly cratic system and is moving to liberalise the eco- acute energy situation in Albania, there are indicati- nomy. In order to increase domestic power pro- ons that the fulfilment of Albanias energy demand duction, the Albanian Power Corporation (KESH) features only as secondary to the export of electricity -- in cooperation with the World Bank, the to the European energy market, particularly the European Bank for Reconstruction and Deve- Italian market," Aleksander Mita, representative of lopment (EBRD) and the European Investment the Alliance for the Protection of Vlora Gulf said in a Bank (EIB) -- plans to construct an oil-fuelled report prepared for the CEE Bankwatch Network, an thermal power plant in Vlora, about 100km south independent group monitoring loans in the region. of Tirana. As a condition for the granting of loans by the Not a tourist attraction international financial institutions, Italian electricity company ENEL is assisting KESH to manage Situated off the Adriatic coast in south-western Albanias power production and distribution system. Albania, Vlora is one of the most popular tourist Still, the main concern of the inhabitants of Vlora is destinations in the country. Beautiful beaches and not where the energy will go; it is the chosen location lagoons, as well as ancient and medieval monu- of the plant. "Albania needs a lot of energy, and we ments make it an appealing travel destination. are not opposed even to oil-produced energy, but we Vlora is also famous for its biodiversity and its are opposed to the site - the beach resort and protec- wine, olive oil and fish. "The Vlora power plant ted area chosen," Aleksander Mita told IPS. The plant will contribute to an increase in Albanias electri- would be part of an industrial park to be created in city production, diversify domestic generation the region. The industrial park is projected to cover a and reduce excessive dependence on electricity 560 hectare area, close to several protected lagoons. imports," says Iftikhar Khalil, World Bank mana- Given that the entire city area of Vlora is 1120 hecta- ger for the project. res, and that the industrial zone will be located 1.5 The plant is expected to have a production km from the centre within a residential area, town capacity of 97 megawatts. The construction costs people are worried about the negative impact on are estimated around 110 million euro. To cover social life and on the tourism potential. the expenses, KESH will take a 40 million euro According to the Environmental Impact loan from ERBD. The World Bank and the EIB Assessment (EIA) done at the request of the World will also cover a part of the expenses - as present Bank, the building of a thermal plant in Vlora will plans go. Under the project, the thermal plant will entail a series of negative consequences: polluting run on fuel brought through the oil and gas ter- emissions in the air (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxi- minal La Petrolifera Italo-Rumena and the projec- des, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and trace22
  21. 21. The ‘Albanian Riviera’ stretching between Vlorë and Butrint (Klaus Friedl 2007)metals), oil spills, noise, water intakes and tempera- Convention (on Access to Information, Publicture changes that will alter the ecosystem of the Participation in Decision-making and Access tolagoon waters. Justice in Environmental Matters). The World Bank insists that measures will be The NGOs have also been complaining to thetaken to limit the damage, and to adhere to European World Bank, ERDB and EIB, and have filed crimi-Union level environmental standards. But in spite of nal charges against the minister for energy andefforts by the international financial institutions to transport for abusing the legislation on protectedreassure them, the inhabitants of Vlora remain suspi- areas. A World Bank inspection panel visitedcious about the plant. Local NGOs have been organi- Vlora Jun. 26-27 to evaluate the risks associatedsing numerous public protests. They have also with the building of the thermal plant there. Theappealed to the Aarhus Convention Compliance executive board of the Bank is expected to take aCommittee, whose provisional report in March final decision within a month whether it will keep2007 declared the Albanian government non- up with its plans to have the thermal plant built incompliant with several articles of the Aarhus Vlora. (Reported in July 2007) 23
  22. 22. City center of Tirana with a view of the Academy of Arts (Photo: Frank Stueken 2007)24
  23. 23. A Provincial Capital On The MoveBy Claudia Ciobanu irana - Friendly, small-scale and cheap, colourful we have the Mediterranean sun and its a crimeT and somewhat improvised, Tirana, like itspeople, seems to be happy and curious about any not to make the most of it," says Alba, a young journalist living in Tirana.visitor. Whether it can preserve this charm remains to Perhaps the most distinguishable feature of Tiranabe seen. The capital of Albania, Tirana, hosts roughly is its colourful buildings. Like in most Eastern750,000 of the countrys total of 3.2 million people. Its European cities, the capitals residential blocks werepopulation increased threefold over the past decade. built during socialism in the characteristic style of theAfter the fall of state socialism in 1989 and, conse- times: minimalist, functional and uniform. In thequently, the closing down of industries that were early 2000s, as a symbolic gesture of breaking withsupported by the state, and after the financial cri- the past, the mayor of Tirana decided to have all thesis in 1997, many people in the country were left grey buildings painted in bright colours. While somejobless and poor. Those who did not go abroad appreciate the initiative of mayor Edi Rama as brin-saw no choice but to move to the capital. In ging change and variety, others are critical of theTirana, they found more and more work in the chaotic look of the blocks, arguably bordering kitch.services sector, which has been expanding follo- As Tirana quickly modernises, its inhabitants andwing the liberalisation of the economy. authorities are faced with a dilemma. Whether they But, in spite of its rapid growth, the capital are aware of it or not at the moment, the people ofretains an air of communal life, which can be refres- Tirana will choose between developing "at any cost",hing for a Western tourist accustomed to big city or expanding while also preserving the sense of com-alienation. Tirana might be the only European capital munity, staying in touch with old customs and natu-where people are still ready to interrupt any activity ral surroundings.they pursue in order to show a confused travelleraround. Albanians are willing to communicate with Invading wild natureforeigners and can do so in many languages. While A comparison between the scenery on oppositeEnglish may be useless in some parts of Tirana, shores of the artificial lake illustrates this crossroads.Albanians will usually understand Italian and, often- On one side, continuous construction takes placetimes, Greek. Many of them work in these countries. unauthorised and unchecked. Invading the wildOthers have picked up Italian from television. nature and ignoring urban planning, people raise An air of communal life high buildings in expectation of a boom in real estate. On the other side of the lake, a large park remains a Moving in from small towns and villages, people favourite hideout from the heat and noise of the city.have brought along old habits. One of the most The inhabitants of Tirana say the town hall has planscrowded places in Tirana is the promenade next to to bring down the unauthorised buildings. But itthe artificial lake. Young girls stroll up and down the remains to be seen whether the municipality canalley next to the water, showing off their best. The resist pressure from the businesses. The present localsmell of barbeque rising from the nearby terraces administration has so far proven concerned with thebrings a delicious aroma to the street. That combi- environment and the community. The current mayor,nes with the sight of fresh fruit and vegetables, Socialist Edi Rama, has cleaned up the area aroundsold at stands on most sidewalks in the city. From the central square, getting rid of the countless kiosksimported fruit, perfectly equal in size, to the local and small bars, a heaven for drug trafficking. Instead,outrageously shaped heart of the ox tomatoes, he created a new park for the city. Much remains toanything can be found, and cheap. be done though, like creating ecological solid waste As in any other city in the Balkans, coffee shops and sewage management systems.are the most common sight on the streets of Tirana. Tirana is nowadays going through one of its mostModest ones, with just one or two tables, where only dynamic periods. At the moment, it represents one ofthe locals, usually men, dare to sit down, and posh the best locations to observe the transformation fromones, frequented by the Tirana youth, expats and socialism to liberalism and its impact on the socialforeign tourists, where prices compare to those in the fabric. "Visitors appreciate the fact that Albania is justWest. And as in any other Mediterranean city, freshly different from what they have seen before," says Katewashed clothes hang from all the balconies of Yarhouse, a Peace Corps activist working in the coun-apartment blocks, as well as from the windows of try. "Albania is not perfect, but people who come herefancy hotels in the centre. "There is no other way, dont seem to mind that." (Reported in July 2007) 25
  24. 24. Downtown Korçë (Klaus Friedl 2007)26
  25. 25. But Where Are the Differences?By Vesna Peric Zimonjic irana - People across the Balkans have much sale for a single Euro, in the hope that some busi-T in common, forget the conflicts of the recentor distant past, and the efforts of politicians to nessman might want to modernise the facilities and resume production. In Serbia, several oldconvince them how "different" or "distinctive" sugar mills were turned into highly profitable fac-they are. It takes only a couple of days for a Serb tories this way. The same cannot be said for onceto figure in Tirana how children go to "skholla", successful textile kombinati in Bosnia-Herze-just as Serbian children go to "skola". Their govina, sold 10 years ago for one German Markparents could work in "kancellari" (office) in Tira- each. They never reopened. Albania is having a gona, or "kancelarija" in Belgrade. At home, they at such sales now. "We plan to introduce a pro-tuck into that fermented yellow cheese "kachka- gramme called Albania for one Euro," deputyvali" in Tirana or "kackavalj" in Belgrade, while minister for foreign affairs Edith Harxhi told IPS.watching "reklame" (advertisements). Afterwards "We hope this might attract investors."in either country they might have some "supa"(soup) or "pita" (pie). On the road to Europe And in either country you could go shopping And like the other nations in the region,for "bluze" (blouses) and "pantalone" (trousers). Albania is looking for new wealth through tour-After hundreds of years both countries of today ism. That has brought some healthy competition,spent under the Ottoman Turkish rule, language but also cooperation, with many countries loo-and ways had to find commonness. But it is more king at least in part for tourists continuing onthan language that evokes similarities. Its just their way from the other. Meanwhile, like manyeveryday ways that are so similar. In the Alba- other people in the region, large numbers ofnian city Shkodra, 150 km north of the capital, Albanians live off remittances sent by familyneatly dressed pensioners sit on park benches, members who migrated abroad. Remittancesregardless of the heat, playing chess. The picture make some 13 percent of countrys gross nationalcan be strikingly similar in Serbian capital income. Remittances had kept many going inBelgrade or Bosnian capital Sarajevo. Serbia during the years of the sanctions, from 1992 Defunct factory complexes until 2000. Work was not an option at the time, just as it is not in todays Montenegro. In the evening, a downtown stroll or "xhiro" is "This makes people lazy," environmental acti-a must in Shkoder. So is the "korzo" in, say, vist Arian Gace told IPS. "But it cannot be stop-Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or in towns in ped; we lack the culture of parents being strictSerbia. But there is more to similarity than a stroll with their children. They let them do whateveror two. Nations in the region come from a similar they want, as if they want to recover the time lostpast, and are looking to a similar future. Alba- in the past when we had nothing." "We have sonians are struggling to leave a Stalinist past much in common, all people around," Ajetbehind. That past stands like the defunct factory Nallbani, manager of the Berat Institut of Culturalcomplexes near Shkodra and in Berat, 120 km Monuments told IPS. Albanians, Bosniaks,south. These factories used to produce textiles, Kosovars and Montenegrins are all "on the samefertilisers and other goods. road," he said. "That is the road to Europe, the Similar complexes, the "kombinati" (combined only one for us." And that, finally, should dissol-factories) in both Albanian and other Balkans ve some of todays political differences. "Oncelanguages, stand along the roads of Bosnia or we are close to Europe, well have to put behindSerbia. After capitalism entered the region in the all those nasty things we carry around, like1990s, few were interested in buying them or wars and ethnic tension. That is the only realinvesting in them. Everywhere, many of these chance for us, and people here are ready for"white elephants" of the communist era are on that," Nallbani said. (Reported in July 2007) 27
  26. 26. Saving Beaches For Others - And Itself By Claudia Ciobanu irana - Albania has launched a new program- lars. Preserving natural habitat will not be an easy T me to save its beaches for tourists - and from tourists. Given its need for income from tourism, task. "Albania cannot afford the luxury to keep the entire coast undeveloped and in a natural Albania cannot turn away from development of state," Gace said. Mass tourism will be unavoida- infrastructure for visitors. Which means that ble in some areas, he said. But some income from "Albania is not in a position to make great sacrifi- mass tourism could pay for preservation of other ces for the environment," Arian Gace, national regions for eco-tourism, he said. coordinator for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) small grants programme told IPS. But there Regions for eco-tourism is still much to preserve. Home to 3.2 million people, Albania is among A good deal of the northern coast has been the poorest countries in Europe. Most of its natio- damaged already, and Gace is looking to pro- nal industry collapsed with the fall of state socia- grammes to preserve the south. Efforts are being lism in the early 1990s. Much hope for revival made already to preserve the coast, he said. now rests on tourism. Foreign visitors are still to Wastewater processing facilities are being set up discover the pristine beaches in the south or the in most cities on the southern coast. But eventual- inhabited fortresses in Berat and Girokastra. "This ly the coast can be protected only if more areas country has astonishing nature, which is entirely are granted protection status, Gace said. unknown to people who come here," says Gent According to a study published by the Council of Mati from the tourism agency Outdoors Albania. Europe, protected areas in Albania cover a surfa- Mati mentions primarily the "great sea coast, ce of 166.611 hectares, 5.8 percent of the countrys sandy, rocky and very different." area. Some parts of the coast are far too damaged to be presented as attractions. "Swimming in the Strategy and action plan sea at Durres is like entering a lake next to an oil distillery," said Giorgos Adoniu, a Greek tourist The coast stretches 470 km along the Adriatic travelling along the Albanian coast. "The water to the west and the Ionian Sea further south. The was greenish, and the bottom of the sea covered popularity of the Dalmatian region in Croatia and in slime." of the Italian and Greek Mediterranean coasts suggests that the economy of Albania could bene- Protection of remote shores fit enormously from exploitation of its seashore. But mass tourism has a flip side; it damages the Situated less than an hours drive from capital environment and disrupts the rhythm of local Tirana, Durres is the second largest city in communities. And that has led Albanian authori- Albania. It also has the second largest concentra- ties to promote eco-tourism, and not just mass tion of industry. The beaches around Durres are tourism. the most popular holiday destination for Tirana The government launched a strategy and residents. People have learnt to ignore the poor action plan for the development of the Albanian quality of the water. "Pollution from sewage that tourism sector based on cultural and environ- comes straight into the sea from nearby houses mental tourism last year. The United Nations and hotels is alarming for the future of tourism Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting here," says Xhemal Mato, executive director of the this programme with more than 3.5 million dol- Ecomovement Centre.28
  27. 27. Still unspoiled: the beautiful shingle beach in Dhermi (Klaus Friedl 2007) But conditions improve radically as one tra- ges and, in a rather different way, some of the halfvels south. Vlora and Saranda are surrounded by million bunkers Communist leader Enver Hoxhabeautiful, unspoilt beaches. But construction is built during the Cold War years.now booming here too. Many of the new hotels If kept unspoilt, the small beaches of the southand restaurants are unauthorised, as in many will remain ideal destinations for eco-tourism. Inparts of Albania. This is where Gace suggests aut- Ksamil, a small beach close to Saranda, one canhorities could intervene to tax builders, and use rent a water bicycle for less than three euro to litt-that revenue for protection of remote shores. The le islets, all uninhabited. Few foreign touristsdrive on a narrow mountain road along the sout- come here. "Its not necessary to over-develop inhern coast offers breathtaking views. The only order to attract tourists to such wonderful pla-signs of human presence are the traditional villa- ces," says Adoniu. (Reported in July 2007) 29
  28. 28. Time To Know The Unknown Interview with Speaker of the Albanian Parliament Jozefina Topalli irana - Albania is too often and too superficially licensing procedures and by lowering fiscal taxes. T described as "a European country little is known about." The issues the nation of 3.1 million is facing Foreign investments are growing. We have had very important foreign investors who have already start- on its thorny road of development and towards ed work in Albania, but we are expecting more of democracy are also often met with little knowledge them to come and invest in our wonderful seaside. and loads of prejudice abroad. High on the political IPS: Which are the most supportive EU countries in the agenda of the nation now are economic development integration process? and access to the European Union, in order to finally provide better prospects to an eager population after Jozefina Topalli: The process of Albanias integrati- decades of troubled history. Modern, educated and on to the EU is undergoing a very important step -- European-oriented young leaders of Albania speak that of ratification of SAA by European member freely on such ambitions, tasks and challenges, stres- states, that is, national parliaments. The pace of ratifi- sing that a lot of hard work has yet to be done. cation is unique. In ten months, 10 European parlia- Among the most prominent is surely the Speaker of ments like those of Slovakia, Slovenia, the Chamber Albanian Parliament Jozefina Topalli, the first of Deputies and Senate of Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania, woman in this position. Topalli has headed the 140- Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Spain and Ireland voted seat parliament for two years now. in favour of Albanias integration to EU by ratifying the SAA. Other national parliaments are going IPS: Albania has signed the Stabilisation and Association through the same procedures and will ratify it soon. Agreement (SAA) with the European Union (EU) as the first step towards EU membership. What does this mean? IPS: Are neighbours such as Italy or Greece particularly supporting the negotiation process? Jozefina Topalli: Signing of the SAA Agreement between Albania and the EU a year ago was percei- Jozefina Topalli: I would like to stress here that sub- ved by all Albanians as the most important event in stantial support was provided to us not only from the history of Albanian democracy, after long and our neighbours, but from other countries, which alt- continuous efforts to consolidate the rule of law and hough geographically distant, were quite close to us in democracy. This opened a new chapter to Albania, this process. SAAratification constitutes a great support that of integration into European structures. It is to us. This encourages us to move ahead on this road. I obvious that this agreement has as its final goal would like to mention here the assistance of Austria, Albanias integration into EU. We are doing our Italy, Germany, France and many more. utmost to perform major reforms in every aspect of IPS: How long could the negotiations process for EU life. Each article of this Agreement is an obligation membership last? to be met by us, turning them into benchmarks that Jozefina Topalli: We sure hope that this process take us to European standards. ends quickly. We know that situation within EU is IPS: What does Albania expect from this agreement? not favourable at this moment, as with the inner Jozefina Topalli: We certainly expect a lot from this debates related to approval of the Constitution. agreement, but this does not imply that everything However, this is not discouraging to us. On the con- would come out of the blue. We are not in the emer- trary, this gives us confidence to work harder in gency stage. We are ready to work closely as part- order to deserve integration into EU; to deserve the ners and we are conscious of the fact that member attention and confidence of EU member states and states expect a lot from us. convince them that Albania is serious in its commit- ment to become a member. Declarations of many IPS: What do the Albanians expect? leaders of EU member states that Europe is not com- Jozefina Topalli: I believe that what Albanians plete without the Balkan countries are realistic and expect now is a solid rule of law. We want to reward very encouraging for our final goal. the trust placed in us by giving positive tangible IPS: What are the difficulties predicted on the road? results, as well as by offering an altered image to foreigners, an image which is often quite different Jozefina Topalli: We already know that the enlarge- from the perception that Albanians have of themsel- ment process faces hardship. Integration is and must ves and their country. be a process based on merit, and we will do our best to implement and achieve European standards. Our IPS: What has been done in that direction? historical identity and European origin provide us Jozefina Topalli: We are doing our utmost to offer a with the strength to walk the right course and fill the positive climate to foreign investors by facilitating place we deserve within the European family.30
  29. 29. Jozefina Topalli (Photo: www.senat.be 2007)IPS: What are the challenges? Jozefina Topalli: Functioning through the majority election system is the true reason that the number ofJozefina Topalli: We have major challenges facing women in Albanian politics is lower than in otherus, like reforms in the judiciary and election reform, countries. It is not that this number is considerablyzero tolerance fight against organised crime and ter- bigger in France or Italy, countries with a long historyrorism, follow-up reforms in the economy etc. These of development and emancipation and historicalare the priorities we are determined to achieve. feminist movements. The replacement of AlbaniasIPS: Along with an unreal image of the role of women in majority electoral system with a quota system mightfamily and society, painted in favourable yet untrue not be the best solution and the most preferred one,colours in the old times, Albania has inherited problems but there is no other solution for the start of womenrelated to patriarchal and clan organised society. How who want to embark on a political career.does the challenge of greater role of women fit into the IPS: What can or does make a woman a successful in poli-activities of a parliamentary speaker or the career of poli- tics in Albania?tically active women in general? Jozefina Topalli: Family tradition, education, politi-Jozefina Topalli: I never consider the daily challen- cal instinct, strong will and charisma are chief helpingge as one narrowly related to woman emancipation pillars for a woman to move up the career stages andand her better representation in a contest with men. become a part of political leadership. I would like toA competition is an endeavour for personal repre- say that, at the beginning of my career, I learned tosentation and it should be treated like that. choose my battles as far as their importance is concer-IPS: You were not frightened by the fate of your family ned, I learned to focus on the key issues, to face themmembers who suffered so much under the old dictatorial, head on, but more importantly, I learned to see posi-communist regime. As a representative of the Democratic tive elements even in negative issues. I can say withParty of Sali Berisha, the former president and current deep conviction that family discipline is one elementPrime Minister, was it an easy encounter while facing I will not forget, which helped me quite a lot alongmen rivals in the majority electoral system of Albania? the way. (Reported in June 2007) 31
  30. 30. Tourism Brings Environmental Challenge By Vesna Peric Zimonjic irana - It was not so long ago that Albania, a Montenegro. There is a large Albanian population T tiny nation of 3.1 million in the western Balkans remained off route for hundreds of thousands of outside the region as well. Official estimates put the number in the United States, Switzerland, Germany, tourists who rushed to the Adriatic coast for their Greece and Italy at another two million. summer vacations. But things have changed in this In recent years Albanians migrated out in all part of the world, and thousands of visitors now directions, chasing every opportunity. Some fled undertake what seems to be a very logical journey: illegally across the snowy mountain passes to they continue south from the beautiful Croatian and Kosovo or Macedonia. Others took boats across the Montenegrin coasts to explore Albania. Albania, Adriatic to Italy. No one keeps statistics how many they discover, is a land of unexpected beauty, bre- died trying to flee. People fled what is now simply athtaking mountains and a stunning 362 km coast. described as a "troubled past". That includes the era It is a country also with a discreet aroma of a recent of former autocratic communist ruler Enver Hoxha, and secretive past. Albania emerged from decades who died in 1985. Decades of his rule since World of self-isolation only 17 years ago. War II saw the country swing from friendship with "It is the taste of the unknown they usually have in former Yugoslavia in the 1940s to closer relations mind when planning the visit," tourist guide Argon with the former Soviet Union until the late 1960s. Ghuri told IPS, pointing at a group of 10 Japanese tou- Then followed a sharp turn towards China, earlier rists he took to the main Skenderbej Square of Tirana. dismissed as an adequate communist friend. "The Japanese usually go to the Croatian and Montenegrin coast first and end up their 10-day visit Tourism as a chance and challenge to the region with Albania," he added. The 1990s and the introduction of the multi-party 900,000 visitors came last year system saw not only major political changes, but the collapse of the state-controlled economy. One conse- This is how some 10 percent of 900,000 visitors quence was the violent end of privately introduced came into the country last year, according to the pyramid saving schemes in 1997. In 1999, more than United Nations Development Programme UNDP). 500,000 ethnic Albanians were pushed into the coun- But revenue from tourism still makes for only 3.8 per- try from Kosovo, following a brutal campaign by cent of the countrys gross domestic product. There is Serbian security forces. Recovery from all this has no separate ministry for what some see as Albanias been slow. But tourism is seen now as the most fastest developing industry. Tourism, culture, youth important tool for it. "We had so many beginnings in and sports are under the umbrella of a single mini- the past decades," Gent Mati who owns the stry. The UNDP is currently helping Albania with its Outdoors Albania travel business told IPS. "Tourism Eco and Cultural Tourism Support Programme to is our next best chance and challenge." promote the potential of Albania abroad. But Xhemail Mato, who heads the Association for "Some 55 percent of exactly 914,046 visitors last Environmental Protection, is concerned about the year were ethnic Albanians from the neighbourhood environment, which began to suffer after 1991. The - Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro - who visited country lacked proper regulation in the 1990s, but their families and friends or went to the coast," UNDP was not short of entrepreneurs seeking quick pro- programme manager Lauren Bohatka told IPS. About fit. They abused the legal vacuum, and created two million ethnic Albanians live in Kosovo, and hun- chaos through unregulated construction. "Tourism dreds of thousands in neighbouring Macedonia and is the only chance for Albania, in the economic and32
  31. 31. Albanian Children (Klaus Friedl 2007)development sense, as we barely produce any- rest points in order to attract more tourists. Vividlything," Mato said. "However, development is quik- painted high rises, mostly built without permissionker than regulation; destruction of the environment in the past decade, have crowded Durres. No oneis faster than the rise of awareness among the thought about the environment; laws came later.people." Mato rides a bicycle around Tirana, a city Sewage was channelled into the sea, close toof 750,000 with more than 200,000 cars. beaches. No one was familiar with waste manage- Albania has seen an explosion of construction, ment, landfills or dumpsites. Garbage is stillparticularly in the coastal area closest to Tirana, sometimes simply burned. "What was done waswhere a new highway was built to Durres, some 40 done, but we have to improve it," Mato said.km to the west. This is one of the rare new roads in a "Durres is, unfortunately, a good lesson for a badcountry which needs dozens more along major inte- example in Albania." (Reported in June 2007) 33
  32. 32. Environment And Tourism Can Hold Hands By Zoltán Dujisin erat - A pleasant hilly town of narrow, winding the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific B streets, Berat has survived the chaotic urban development of central Albania and hopes to grasp a and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage List with the help of foreign experts. Most of Albania still lacks unique opportunity in tourism. But it is also threate- the basic tourism facilities and comfort that visitors ned by the unavoidable environmental and urban expect, and Berat, while being well ahead of most perils of a transition economy. Few European towns Albanian towns, will have to step up efforts if it can offer picturesque ambience and rich cultural heri- wants its infrastructure to meet the requirements of tage without the sight of hordes of tourists, but Berat, those travellers who seek UNESCO sights. The pro- one of the oldest cities in Albania, is a special place cess has already been rewarding, as international where the visitor too, feels special. While roaming cooperation has "helped the citys experts learn from the white streets of this 65,000 inhabitant town, preservation techniques elsewhere," Nasufi told IPS. the curiosity of the traveller towards the locals But funds are still lacking. will be reciprocated, as most tourists have not yet UNESCO does not automatically provide the heard of this secret jewel of the Balkans. money, but municipal officials seem confident it will Only one sixth of visitors to Berat are foreigners, indirectly bring much needed financing, and not only and those holding a foreign passport are usually eth- by attracting wealthy visitors. "The municipality nic Albanians from neighbouring countries. Human expects this will increase awareness of the citys value settlements have existed in Berat for 4,000 years and within regional and national authorities and even the city nowadays correctly symbolizes some of foreign donors," Nasufi says. "It will work as a green Albanias most characteristics features: a land for light for us; it will put us in the world map." But the which many empires have spilled blood but also mayor is aware nothing will happen if citizens sit on where religious cohabitation has endured more than their backs and wait for a miracle. Calling for increa- anywhere else in the region. Illyrian tribes, Macedo- sed citizen awareness, Nasufi warns "we will have to nian, Roman, Slav, Byzantine and Ottoman rule have work by ourselves too." all left their mark, but nothing amazes visitors more than the ancient mosques and orthodox churches Working on waste management that attest to a religious tolerance still prevailing International cooperation has brought the town in this mostly Muslim country. much more than just dreams of tourism: some of the New dimensions post-socialism environmental challenges go well beyond it, though they cannot be completely disconnected from it. The Designated a museum city under communist municipality is involved in various projects with rule in 1976, its old white houses and monuments international organisations and the European have been spared from socialist urban planning, and Union to solve the towns waste management the regimes atheism campaign did not claim Berats problems, its biggest environmental threat which, beautiful religious buildings as it did elsewhere in if tackled, could increase the towns tourist poten- the country. Now Fadil Nasufi, mayor of Berat, tial. Most of Albania still relies on incineration as wants additional protection and awareness of the the main waste treatment technology, and Berat is citys value in face of the threats posed by the wild working on a land field for waste management to urban development and environmental neglect be located in the towns outskirts which will that took new dimensions post-socialism. "We are hopefully ensure thorough elimination. in the very early stages of tourism development, Air pollution is not the sole danger. Another vic- but it will allow us to face the challenges and tim is one of Berats natural assets: the river avoid mistakes," the mayor told IPS. Osum, which runs through the city. For decades, In cooperation with local and national institutions, two factories and the sewage system have dum- Berats town hall is pushing forward its candidacy to ped their waste into the river. The collapse of state34