Election wrangling continues
The issue of the Permanent Elections Commission for Albania's October 2000 elections is still unresolved, and the last meeting between President Rexhep Mejdani and various right-wing parliamentary parties has failed as well. The Commission is still missing one member, which the judiciary said should be proposed by the Opposition parties - most of whom have refused to take part in the proceedings, which they call biased.
According to some analysts, the President's approach has been biased and could threaten the elections. Opposition members of Parliament also opposed the draft electoral code, which was passed into law by the majority Socialist deputies. After the controversial 26 May 1996 elections, which were protested by the then-opposition (now ruling) parties, the 2000 elections will be an important test of the Albanian political system.
EC to grant new Balkan trade preferences?
The European Commission last week proposed the granting of new trade preferences to Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, hoping to encourage foreign investment and help boost political and economic stability. The changes will have little impact on the European Commission (EC) market, but could make a big difference in efforts to stimulate economic activity and trade in the western Balkans. The EC also proposed improved access for agricultural products from these areas, including processed foods and fishery products.
According to the EC, about 80 percent of exports from the western Balkan countries already enjoy duty-free access to the European Union, but there is room for further liberalization.
Prime Minister Ilir Meta has met with the top management of AMBO, the Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian-Oil Pipeline, including Board chairwoman Stefanie Tashkovic and company president Ted Ferguson. AMBO, a private US company based in Pond Ridge, New York, hopes to construct a giant pipeline to transport Russian oil across Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania to a terminus in the coastal city of Vlora.
According to feasibility studies, it will take five years to complete the 890km-long pipeline, which will have an estimated capacity of 750,000 barrels of oil per day. Meta stressed that "our commitment to maintaining and furthering cooperation with our partner countries in this project, Bulgaria and Macedonia, will contribute to the success of the project itself."
Albania's potential profit from the project is calculated at USD 40 million.
During a meeting to nominate a new general director of the Public Ministry's Highway Department, the Albanian prime minister angrily criticized foreign and domestic companies involved in highway projects for not meeting their contractual deadlines. Ilir Meta specifically mentioned the Greek company Sarantopoulos, Italy's Italstrada, the Turkish firm Be-Ha-Se and Albanian's Dervini, which hold the largest contracts for Albanian roadwork.
Meta called for every contractor to meet its responsibilities or face penalties. The road situation has been problematic in recent years, and now threatens developing plans for the Albanian segment of Corridor 8. In ongoing attempts to stabilize the situation, Meta's government last month forced the resignation of former Public Minister Ingrid Shuli, who has been replaced by Sokol Nako.
"Oil Route" to replace "Silk Route"?
The 15th session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) opened on Tuesday 6 June in Tirana. Most BSEC countries were historically part of the so-called Silk Route, which linked Europe and Asia. In an address at the assembly's opening, Albanian President Rexhep Mejdani called for increased cooperation between the two continents, highlighting the good will and opportunities between BSEC's members and appealing for the establishment of a new "Oil Route" and "Energy Route" in the region.
Albania has held the Presidency of the BSEC for the past six months and is already engaged in initiatives such as the Stability Pact and the Adriatic Sea Initiative (SECI). Armenia will hold the BSEC Presidency for the coming six months.
KFOR boss in Tirana for talks
Prime Minister Ilir Meta recently welcomed General Juan Ortugno, Commander of NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR), in Tirana. After the meeting, Meta and Ortugno called for cooperation in halting contraband and illegal trafficking across the Albania-Kosovo border. The KFOR commander's visit underlined the necessity of cooperation between Albanian and Kosovar authorities and between the two countries. Specific joint projects, especially the reconstruction of the Durrës-Kukës highway linking Albania with Kosovo, were also discussed at the meetings.
General Ortugno also met with President Rexhep Mejdani during his two-day visit, and both men praised the level of stability that has been achieved in Kosovo. Support for KFOR's presence in Kosovo is an important expression of Albania's and Kosovo's desire to cooperate with NATO.
Kosovo overshadows Milo's Russia visit
Paskal Milo, Albania's foreign minister, made a two-day visit to Moscow to discuss the equivalence of university, scientific and military degrees offered in the two nations. The expected signing of an agreement between the Republic of Albania and the Federation of Russia for mutual acceptance of degrees was eclipsed, however, by discussions of Kosovo.
On Thursday, Milo met with Gennady Seleznyev, speaker of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. According to the Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA), Seleznyov declared that "without respect for the rights of Serbs there will be no peace in Kosovo." This declaration follows the Duma's recent decision to maintain a Russian military presence in Kosovo.
The Albanian foreign minister's visit followed the visits of Serbian opposition parties, who were not met with enthusiasm by Moscow. As yet, Moscow has shown no inclination to break off ties with the Milošević regime, so improved relations with Albania seem unlikely.
IBM: Infotech growing
Experts from IBM have noted that Albanian commerce in the information technology (IT) sector is growing impressively among small businesses, saying that many among these will have to be reclassified as "larger enterprises" as a result of the firms' impressive growth.
Due to the expansion of the Albanian IT market, IBM's office for Southeastern Europe, based in Bucharest, Romania, says the company will soon open a branch office in Albania. IBM products have been available in the country since 1992.
"La Lumiere" to illuminate Albanian film
The new Albanian Cineastes Association, "La Lumiere," has been installed in the building of the former Albanian Cinema Studio. Among the founders of the new society are internationally renowned artists such as director Kujtim Cashku, screenwriter Vath Koreshi and Petrit Beci, the director of the National Center of Cinema. La Lumiere plans to establish a modern cinema archive and a professional school of filmmaking, and has been supported in its efforts by the offices of the French and German cultural attachés in Tirana.
Founded in 1952, the Albanian Cinema Studio has produced some 15 films per year.
Albanian symphony breaking new ground
Celebrated Italian singer Lucio Dalla, accompanied by the Albanian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, will perform a concert at Milan's Piazza d'Uomo during the upcoming International Music Days in July. The event is particularly notable for the fact that while the Albanian symphony traditionally performs classical pieces, Dalla specializes in "light music" and the concert will attempt to merge the two forms into a new genre.
Artur Nura, 10 June 2000