On Sunday, 2 April, Paskal Milo and Ermelinda Meksi, the Albanian Foreign Minister and Public Economic Cooperation Minister, respectively, held a press conference on the results of the Regional Funding Conference on the Stability Pact for South East Europe, which was held in Brussels on 29 and 30 March. The Foreign Minister told journalists that Italy and, to a lesser extent, Greece were designated "tutor countries" for Albania on behalf of the Stability Pact. According to Milo, "Italy has a larger role than Greece because it has greater economic resources and because we have always had a tradition of greater cooperation with this country." Meksi said that most of the projects to be undertaken during Phases I and II would be financed by Italy. According to Milo and Meksi, the Regional Funding Conference approved all the requests presented for financing Albanian projects.
On Monday, Greek military border guards opened fire at a boat carrying illegal immigrants that was crossing Albanian territorial waters in the shared Ionian Sea. Four of the immigrants are confirmed wounded. The Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a note of protest to Greek authorities, calling for legal verification of the incident and for greater political flexibility in such cases. In response, the Greek Foreign Ministry accused Albanian authorities of being incapable of guarding their own borders and said that Albania's report of the incident was incorrect. According to the Greek account, the wounded were shot by the smugglers, who wanted to escape the Greek border patrol. In fact, the incident was reported in detail by the independent mass media in both countries. According to some analysts, the events are related to Albania's position in the Stability Pact between Italy and Greece.
Albania has abolished its death penalty and ratified Protocol Number 6 of the Council of Europe's European Convention on Human Rights. On Tuesday, 4 April, Albanian premier Ilir Meta, accompanied by Justice Minister Ilir Panda, signed this last remaining requirements for membership of the Council. Meta signed the Protocol in Strasbourg two months after the Albanian Constitutional Court declared the death penalty incompatible with Albania's new Constitution, adopted after winning broad popular support in a November 1998 referendum. Albania, which has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1995, is in full compliance with all Council obligations and enjoys full rights within it.
The arguments over the composition of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) have now been solved. Twenty-four hours after a meeting between OSCE Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens and Albanian Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano, two of the presidential nominees of the CEC, have quietly resigned, opening the door to a possible resolution of the current impasse. The two opposition parties, which opposed the nominations for the president and insisted their members consitute half of the Commission, have declared themselves satisfied with these actions and said that they represent a chance for compromise. The Socialist Party claimed the actions resulted from their public appeals to the Commission's members for resignations in order to contribute to a political solution and respect the Constitution.
The American Institute for Ethnic Relations has invited Albania's top political leaders to its conference on Kosovo held in Budapest on April 7 and 8. Attending the conference, among others, will be Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo. Democratic Party Leader and former President Sali Berisha turned down the opportunity to attend because of a previous commitment to attend the Youth Democratic Congress on the same days.
Albania is now on the list of NATO member candidate countries. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are already participating in the Organisation's Memebership Action Plan and it is reported that several other countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Slovenia and Slovakia, plan to follow suit. Albania lost an earlier chance of joining NATO after the pyramid-scheme bankruptcy crisis of 1997, which almost brought down the Albanian government and standing army. A preparatory summit to provide practical support to NATO candidate countries was held in April 1999.
A delegation of the Industrial Chamber of Commerce of Prahova, Romania, recently organised an official visit to Albania. On the agenda were several meetings with groups of Albanian businessmen, aimed at developing greater cooperation between the two countries. Romanian Secretary of Agriculture and Food, Aurel Pana, who also heads the Joint Albanian-Romanian Economic Cooperation Commission, led the Romanian delegation. Mustafa Muci, Albanian Minister of Privatisation, welcomed Pana at a meeting in which concrete means of collaboration were discussed.
Well-known Greek singer Demis Roussos gave a concert at the Pallati i Kongreseve Hall in Tirana. The distinguished entertainer performed all his best-known songs, with the audience joining in the chorus of his most famous numbers. After the show, Russos told journalists he was very happy with how the concert went According to the newspaper Albania, Roussos was paid USD 50,000 for his performance.
An Albanian-French opera titled Helena's Sacrifice has come to the Albanian stage thanks to an Albanian-French collaboration. The National Opera Institute developed the project in cooperation with a French agency as a premiere for the Albanian Theatre and Ballet Institute and the work is based on a scenario written by French librettist Didié Filber Zheni. The performance was the debut of composer Ksenija Skakan, who also sang the title role of Helena. The production also marked the opera debut of Albanian conductor Edmond Doko.
According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Albanian National Cinema Centre (NCC) is currently organising the XIth Albanian Film Festival, to be held soon in Tirana. The festival will feature Albanian films produced in the five years since 1995, when the last festival was held. Numerous awards will be given, among them Best Film, Best Actor and Actress, and Best Set Design. Posters and catalogues of this cinematic event will be available.
Artur Nura, 7 April 2000