Friday, December 31, 2010

Hashim Thaci: Another point of view...

Here''s an interesting, recently published article challenging the spate of anti-Hashim Thaci, anti-Kosova postings on the internet.


The Human Organs of the Council of Europe: there is no evidence in the Marty report

Denis MacShane, 29th December 2010

About the author
Denis MacShane is a Labour Party member of the British parliament and former minister for Europe in Tony Blair's government. He was a member of the Party of European Socialists executive committee for several years.

Dick Marty's report to the Council of Europe reflects the unfortunate politicisation of that body by Russia since accession in 1995. Kosovan politics is not clean, but there is no evidence of organ trafficking by Thaçi. And Marty's judgement is clouded by his anti-American instincts. Christophe Solioz disagrees here'>">here

In the midst of the Wikileaks, another story exploded onto front pages around the world which claimed that the present prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, had been a master-mind criminal involved in the killing of people to extract their kidneys for sale..

Not since Pol Pot have quite such lurid statements made about a serving leader of his nation. Thaçi was re- elected In December with just 34 per cent of the Kosovan voters supporting him, a little less than David Cameron and a lot more than George W Bush in 2000. No Balkan election is without allegations of voting irregularities. Kosovan political parties are clannish, linked to dubious business interests, and bankrolled in part by the Kosovan diaspora. Kosovan, like Croatian, Montenegran, Albanian, and Macedonian political leaders are regularly accused (often with justice) of diverting money for their own or for party political ends. And since “business” in the Western Balkans is based on cigarette smuggling and sex slave trafficking as much as legal economic activity the politician who cannot be accused of keeping bad company is a rare animal indeed. Thaçi is no different. But Thaçi who has been in and out of power for a decade operates as a politician closely supervised by an assortment of UN and EU bodies as well as outside observers and visitors.

The report that has caused the stir is not yet adopted or approved by the Council of Europe, merely one of its innumerable sub-committees. It is written by a forceful Swiss-Italian politician-cum- prosecuting lawyer called Dick Marty. He is close his fellow Italian-Swiss political lawyer, Carla del Ponte, whose book in Italian made identical allegations to Mr Marty’s report. Mr Marty is a member of the Swiss Liberal Party . It is not liberal in the modern English sense but in the 19th century continental sense of supporting the ideology of an ultra-free market, protection of private property rights and a small state. Mr Marty’s party is the strongest ideological supporter of Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws which have indeed, been much used by the Kosovan Diaspora which is strongly present in Switzerland.

Mr Marty’s report is not a precise judicial document. It contains long rambling enunciations of Western policy as it unfolded in the Kosovo crisis at the end of the 1990s. In this Mr Marty reflects the politicisation of the Council of Europe which ever since it admitted Russia as a member in 1995 had been skilfully used by the Kremlin to advance Russian diplomatic interests. Russia has cultivated allies there in different political blocks. In Britain, the Liberal-Demcratic MP and Council of Europe member, Mike Hancock, has been accused by the Chair of the British All Party Parliamentary Group on Russia of being flagrantly pro-Kremlin in Council of Europe debates. The British Conservative MPs on the Council of Europe sit in the same group at Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked delegation. The Russians, with the support of British Conservative MPs, sought to place a former KGB staffer as president of the Council of Europe in 2008. In short, the Council of Europe is not some disinterested gathering of Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch parliamentarians but a deeply conflicted politicised body where states mobilise to promote support for their current Weltanschauing.

A top priority for the Kremlin has been to maximise support for anti-US and anti-Nato positions at the Council of Europe. Russia has sought to cultivate allies to protect Serbia and other Slav or Orthodox states from criticism. Efforts by centrist social democrats from Sweden to promote reconciliation between Serbs and Kosovans have been rebuffed.

Terrible things were done by Serb soldiers and para-militaries in Kosovo once Richard Holbrooke’s forceful diplomacy at Dayton fifteen years ago closed down Milosevic’s Serb nationalist passions further north. Visit Kosovan villages and the Muslim cemeteries have dozens of headstone with people born on different dates but all killed on the same day as Serb execution squads went wild. Equally terrible things were done as some Kosovans turned from the two decades-long peaceful and passive resistance under Ibrahim Rugova and instead for a brief but intense 15-18 month period opted for armed resistance, including the assassination, and brutal treatment of collaborators in the style of the French resistance in 1944. Instead of seeking peace and reconciliation there has been a constant effort by the Serb-Russian axis at the Council of Europe to pretend that Kosovo is a criminal gangster breakaway province of Belgrade that one day would return to Serb rule.

Discrediting the different Kosovan leaders, nearly all whom took part in one way or another in the resistance struggle against Milosevic which ended with the Blair-Clinton Nato intervention in the summer of 1999, has been a top political priority for Serbs and Russians. Mr Marty together with others hostile to the United States on the Council of Europe has never made any secret of his oppositions to Kosovan independence. He has opposed calls for Kosovo to be given member or even observer status at the Council of Europe.

Now Mr Marty has produced his highly personalised report which is the biggest propaganda coup for revanchist Serbs since the fall of Milosevic. Rapporteurs at the Council of Europe are workaday politicians. There are dozens of such reports each year. Britain’s (Lord) Frank Judd was one such when he was a delegate. He resigned in disgust when his reports on the brutality of Russia forces under Putin in Chechnya were side-lined by the pro-Moscow alliances at the Council.

Senator Marty is his own man and his sincerity is not up for question. He believes in what he believes. But a reading of his 19,000 word report throws up one problem. There is not one single name or a single witness to the allegations that Thaçi was involved in the harvesting of human organs from murdered victims. That such disgusting practices happened and happen elsewhere in the world is not in doubt. But Marty fails to link Thaçi directly to organ harvesting though the lurid title of his report - “Illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo” – is designed to maximise headlines.

Senator Marty does all he can to blacken Thaçi’s name, accusing him of being little more than a criminal who used the crisis of Kosovo chiefly to establish a mafia-style operation. To read this is to require a very great suspension of belief. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovans fled their country as the Serb rage, frustrated that attempts to destroy Croatian and Bosnian identity in the break-up of Yugoslavia had been thwarted, was turned on Kosovo. After all, it had been in Kosovo that Milosevic had made his famous threat “We will beat you” as he unleashed the monster of Serb nationalism at the end of the 1980s. Like the IRA, ETA and other armed political movements, the Kosovans were brutal, greedy and used every illegal means to advance their cause. Marty makes much of the fact that Thaçi and other young Kosovan resistance leaders who formed the KLA (Kosovan Liberation Army) operated as much in Albania as in Kosovo proper. Well, yes, they did just as the IRA floated between northern Ireland or ETA sought refuge from Spanish police in France.

But Marty is re-writing history as he opts for the Serb world-view which paints all Kosovan resistance as essentially and exclusively criminal. Moreover, argues Marty, it was “explicit endorsements from Western powers, founded on strong lobbying from the United States” that led to “the perception of KLA pre-eminence – largely created by the Americans.” Here Marty wears his anti-US heart on his Council of Europe sleeve. Council of Europe parliamentarians who were active in their parliaments in this period will recall rather that the US refused to put any real pressure on the Serbs and their supporters in Russia who constantly blocked and vetoed effective UN action against the mass murder of European Muslims in Kosovo. President Clinton continually baulked at effective military action to stop the bloodshed. Far from the KLA being the creation and creature of the US, it would be more accurate to depict the KLA as waiting helplessly until the world realised that after Srebrenica, Milosevic was willing to oversee a second genocidal assault on secular European Kosovan Muslims who dared defy his bullying.

What did happen in the months after the air-assault and then military invasion finally convinced Milosovic to pull out of most of Kosovo was undoubtedly terrible. But Marty is unable to produce one eye-witness who can connect Thaçi to the crime of organ harvesting. Marty says that Kosovans have a clan loyalty that forbids them testifying against leaders. But Thaçi is just one of a number of competing ex-KLA political leaders. There have been thousands of international investigators, police and lawyers operating in Kosovo since 2000. The Serbs have been unable to produce any victims or families of people who were killed and then had their kidneys extracted. According to the BBC, legal experts from the EU operating in Kosovo cannot substantiate Marty’s allegations.

Senator Marty says he has read the many denunciations of Thaçi with “consternation and a sense of moral outrage”. He claims that MI6 backs his claims but again produces no evidence that he has read MI6 reports naming Thaçi and his group. Moral outrage and consternation are important reactions but should a factual report endorsed by the Council of Europe not have some direct witness statements, some dry facts, some proof, and, find at least one person who can substantiate the link between Thaçi and organ harvesting?

Perhaps one day such proof will emerge. That Kosovan and Albanian criminal gangs blossomed as the ten-year crisis of the Yugoslav wars of succession destroyed all sense of moral order in the Serb, Croatian, Bosnian and Albanian regions of the western Balkans cannot be denied. That truly evil things were done by men carrying guns and wearing rudimentary uniforms who were half an armed expression of national rejection of Serb rule and half a group of thugs with an eye on the main chance to make money fast is also not in doubt.

That Kosovo needs law, order and justice is also not in doubt. But as long as Serbia still claims that Kosovo bleibt unser ("remains ours"), as post-war revanchist Germans dreaming of a return to Silesia used to say, there will be no stability and peace and the chance for normal economics and democracy to root themselves in.

The Marty report is a huge headline win for Serbia’s narrative that all that happened in Kosovo was the result of Albanian criminals. The Swiss Senator may well be right that Thaçi is unfit to be a European government leader. He is certainly right that more investigation is needed. But perhaps before the full Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly debates his report in January might he produce just a scintilla of incontrovertible evidence that would justify the lurid headlines he enjoys producing.

This article is published by Denis MacShane, and under a Creative Commons licence [7]. You may republish it without needing further permission, with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines [8]. These rules apply to one-off or infrequent use. For all re-print, syndication and educational use please see read our republishing guidelines [9] or contact us [10]. Some articles on this site are published under different terms. No images on the site or in articles may be re-used without permission unless specifically licensed under Creative Commons.

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Created 12/29/2010 - 19:04

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year 2011 / Vitin E Ri 2011

Peace to you,
To those you love,
And to the world
The New Year 2011.


Paqe per ju,
Per ata qe doni,
Dhe per boten
Vitin E Ri 2011.

Jane and Van Christo

Monday, December 20, 2010

Kosova - The Kaçak Movement (1918)

It may come as news to some just how Kosovar Albanians played a role in the Albanian government after Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.

Read on...


a frosina infobit / Kosova - The Kaçak Movement

In 1918, disaffected Kosova Albanians, who had rallied around Hasan Prishtina, formed a "Committee for the National Defence of Kosova" in Shkodra, their main demand being the reunification of Albanian lands. A general revolt started, known as the Kaçak (outlaw) movement, led by Azem Betja-Galica against the incorporation of Kosova into the newly proclaimed 'kingdom of Serbia, Croats, and Slovenes' otherwise known as the first Yugoslavia.The Committee issued strict guidelines to the Kaçak fighters, urging insurgents not toharm local Slavs, burn houses or churches, or mistreat victims -- instructions which were in stark contrast to Serbian activities in Kosova.

The movement enjoyed considerable support from Albania, especially after 1920 when three well-known Kosovar Albanians became senior officials in Albania's government -- Hasan Prishtina, a member of parliament, Hoxhe Kadriu, Minister of Justice, and Bajram Curri, Minister of War. The key task for Belgrade, therefore, was to destabilize Albania, and an effort was made to this end, with the encouragement of the Catholic areas in Mirdita, north-east of Tirana, to proclaim an independent republic -- something that the Montenegrins had several times attempted in the past, with some success. But the new interior minister, Ahmet Zogu, managed to route the Mirdita rebels, who returned with Yugoslav forces to take some territory in northern Albania.

The Kaçak movement began to suffer, mostly as a result of politics inside Albania. The Kosova leaders fell out with Zog, and Prishtina, who briefly became Albania's prime minister, tried to dismiss him, but this ended in street fighting between the rivals' supporters.

Zog became prime minister on 2 December 1922. His squabbles with the Kosova leaders had turned him into a fierce opponent of the Kaçak rebellion, and of Kosova in particular; hence the end of Albania's short-lived support of Kosova. Zog sentenced the Kaçak leader, Betja, and Prishtina to death in absentia and had Prishtina assassinated in 1933. Betja died after being wounded in 1924 and the Kaçak movement withered away afterwards.

Two years after coming to power, Zog experienced the first and only significant challenge to his authority when he was forced out of office by a more liberal coalition led by Bishop Fan Noli and supported by Bajram Curri. Zog retreated to Yugoslavia where he was supplied with money and men and returned to stage a coup six months later. From then onwards, he became a virtual vassal of the Serbs, and the question of Kosova was buried. However, his Serbian vassalage did not last long and Zog's government and chances of survival were to remain subject to the whims of Italy and Yugoslavia. When, in 1928, Zog proclaimed himself King Zog I, transforming the country into a monarchy, political pragmatism had led him to abandon the Serbs in favor of Italian promises of economic assistance. With Italian blessing, the Albanian leader proceeded to style himself 'King of the Albanians'. The title infuriated Belgrade as it openly signalled territorial claims to Kosova and other Albanian-inhabited lands in Yugoslavia although Zog displayed no intention of planning any such thing.

The plight of the Albanians annexed into the first Yugoslavia worsened when a Belgrade programme aimed at changing the ethnic composition of Kosova and Macedonia had begun after the Balkan wars, pursuant to the 'Decree on the Settlement of Newly Liberated and Annexed Regions of the Kingdom of Serbia' of 20 February 1914. However, its implementation had been interrupted by the start of hostilities. When the war ended, the agrarian reform began, culminating in decrees passed in 1931 aimed at forcing Albanians out of their lands, with, among other things, new regulations requiring all land to pass into state property unless the owner could produce Yugoslav title-deeds -- something few Albanians had been issued with. A fuller platform for the colonization of Kosova was worked out by Vaso Cubrilovic in 1937 in the form of a memorandum called 'The Expulsion of Arnauts'.* Some of its draconian measures were implemented in the interwar period -- which coincided with the signing in 1938 of an agreement between the Yugoslav and Turkish governments on the deportation to Turkey of huge numbers of Albanians. But the Italian occupation of Albania in April 1939 and the onset of World War II subjected the country and its people to a different kind of fate.

*'Arnaut' - old Turkish word for 'Albanian'

PP 18-20, "The Myth of Greater Albania" by Paulin Kola, New York University Press,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Albania President Condemns Organ Harvesting Repor

17 Dec 2010 / 13:10

Albania President Condemns Organ Harvesting Report

Albania’s President Bamir Topi condemned on Friday the Council of Europe report linking top Kosovo politicians to organised crime and organ-trafficking, as baseless and hearsay.

Besar Likmeta

“The president condemns forcefully all accusations not based on concrete proof and allegations spun in a web of hearsay, which seem to have been cooked up in a démodé kitchen of ultra-nationalistic circles, which unfortunately continue to exist in the Balkans – a territory where time after time the mass graves of the genocide of Milosevic’s forces are discovered and war criminals wanted by the Hague tribunal find sanctuary,” Topi said in a statement.

“These phantasmagoric accusations, brought up many times, formerly investigated and never proven, do nothing less than slander Albania, the Albanian nation and its identity,” the statement added.

The draft report, which was compiled by Swiss MP Dick Marty, was approved by the Council of Europe's Legal and Political Affairs Committee in Paris on Thursday. It links a group of former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, including Kosovo's current Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, to organised crime.

It also criticizes Albania for not cooperating in investigating the alleged abuses mentioned in the report.

Thaci, whose party won the recent elections in Kosovo, called the report "scandalous" and said it is filled with defamation and lies, in a press conference on Thursday.

In his statement Topi said that the dangerous smokescreen created by the report not only undermined Albania’s image but also risked peace and stability in the region.

He suggested that the best way to put an end to the allegations would be through renewed cooperation between national and international investigative bodies, like EULEX, the Hague tribunal and national prosecutor’s offices, which, he said, despite thorough investigations have found no proof to bring anyone before the courts.

“Albania’s institutions have always cooperated with international specialized institutions regarding the investigations made in the project-resolution compiled by Dick Marty, who has made his stance against Kosovo known worldwide,” Topi said.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ALBANIA: #1 in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 Survey!!

With a big thanks to my wife, Jane, who found this tidbit, here's GREAT news for all travelers who want the best bang for the travel buck!!


Lonely Planet’s top 10 countries for 2011

Where in the world should you go next year? Our in-house travel experts, including Lonely Planet cofounder Tony Wheeler, have chosen their top 10 countries for next year based on scores for topicality, excitement, value for money and…that special X-factor. Here they are, in order of rank, from Lonely Planet’s latest book: Best in Travel 2011.

1. Albania

Not so long ago, when the Balkans were considered an ‘only for the brave’ travel destination, only the bravest of the brave trickled into Albania. Since backpackers started coming to elusive Albania in the 1990s, tales have been told in ‘keep it to yourself’ whispers of azure beaches, confrontingly good cuisine, heritage sites, nightlife, affordable adventures and the possibility of old-style unplanned journeys complete with open-armed locals for whom travellers are still a novelty. Sick to death of being dismissed with blinged-up crime-boss clichés, Albania has announced ‘A New Mediterranean Love’ via its tourist board. The jig is almost up – Albania won’t be off the beaten track for much longer.

Here's Lonely Planet's website for the complete list:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Albanian success story!

Here's an interesting success story about an Albanian artist who made it big after the fall of repressive communism in Albania. Read on...


Escape From Communism Opened Albanian Artist’s Eyes

Two decades after the fall of the rigid Stalinist regime, Ilirjan Xhixha reminisces over his journey from Albanian migrant to renowned international master.

Besar Likmeta

“I don’t know where I am in there, but I remember that I felt like a child - if you leave him an open door, he goes out.”

Back home in Albania, visiting his parents, the sculptor and painter Ilirjan Xhixha is gazing at a picture of the ship Iliria, overloaded with Albanian emigrants in the Italian port of Brindisi.

As a fourth-year painting student at Tirana’s Higher Institute of Arts, Xhixha joined tens of thousand of Albanian youngsters in February 1991 on a perilous voyage across the Adriatic, fleeing Europe’s most isolated country.

The son of artists, Xhixha spent his youth mingling with paints in his father’s studio, trying to emulate him. “We could touch everything in total freedom as long as we communicated with colour,” he recalls.

But life outside the studio in the Stalinist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha was anything but free and colourful.

He grew up a rebellious soul, with contempt for authority. The Tirana Arts Academy, with its stringent rules about “Social Realism” and its lack of information, was too rigid for him.

If his compatriots, cramped in the Iliria, yearned for blue jeans, sports cars and the life that they had glimpsed on Italian television, which despite the censors was widely watched on the Albanian coast, the young artist dreamed of visiting galleries and getting acquainted with the art world.

“The only contemporary works we saw in Albania were in secret - some album passed around by hand among friends, or smuggled in by sailors,” he recalls. “Little did we know how the art world had evolved.”

Today, Xhixha’s monumental sculptures and paintings, defined by their rhythm, movement and elegance, adorn piazzas, banks, and private collections from Tokyo to New York.

“I didn’t know where were I was going, but once out, you start running intuitively,” Xhixha, says, tracing the path of his artistic life.

Like many of those on board the Iliria, his journey started in the San Giovanni Bosco high school in Brindisi, which was converted temporarily into a centre for housing migrants.

“The drawers at the school, which had been left open, had aquarelles and pastels and naturally I started drawing,” he recalls.

After the Italian authorities transferred them to an army barracks in the town of Casale Monferrato, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, he took his drawings to a local art gallery, stepping unknowingly toward what now seems a long-promised future.

The gallery owner took a keen interest in him, sponsored his first exhibition and pushed him to enroll in the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan to complete his studies.

After two years of fighting bureaucratic red tape over a residency permit, Xhixha entered the academy in 1993.

It opened up doors to the avant-garde. Unlike the academy that he had left behind in Tirana, Brera was an art school where artists from all over the world congregated, redefining its limits.

“At Brera, the concept of art was humanistic and not nationalistic,” Xhixha, says, comparing the two schools. It gave artists “an unrestrained freedom to know oneself”.

In Milan, Xhixha studied under the supervision of some of the Italian artists of the Informal movement, such as Gottardo Ortelli, Davide Benati and Paolo Minolli, who have since become the movement’s symbols.

“I was determined to follow these giants who had created in Milan a monument to the research of light,” Xhixha says. He graduated from Brera in painting in 1998 and in sculpture in 2003.

According to Xhixha the way that artists have used colour and light to communicate has evolved from the Ancient Greeks to the Impressionists, Expressionist or Cubists, all of whom introduced their own concept of it; but light and colour now have no form or dimension.

“The limit to this research of light is recreating light in itself and communicating it with a human code to all… in a spiritual dimension,” he says.

Sculpture today, he adds, is not only modeling or carving marble; it can be created by putting things together that are tied conceptually.

However, borrowing an example from poetry, Xhixha says that although artists are free to choose their language, “a poem cannot be five words in Greek, three in French and two others in English,” because that would be incomprehensible.

For him, the history of art is continuity, and artists today rely on past masters as much as a “child relies on its parents to learn to read.”

“In the endless stream of movements of today’s contemporary art, one carves a path for oneself,” says Xhixha. “Every artist speaks with his own language - but that language is one.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

House Passes DREAM Act to Senate

Here's a bit of good news if this bill passes the Senate. If Yes, think of the thousands of undocumented immigrants in America who will begin paying income taxes!!


House Passes DREAM Act to Senate

Immigrant Youth thank Mass delegation, ask Senator Brown not to crush DREAM

BOSTON -- Late Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act, a bill enabling undocumented youngsters who were brought to the U.S. as children to enlist in the military or attend college on their way to becoming citizens. The bill passed by a vote of 216 to 198, with all ten representatives from Massachusetts voting in favor, minus retiring Congressman Bill Delahunt, who did not vote. Supporters noted that DREAM will create billions of dollars in tax revenues and integrate hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth into the economic and social fabric of the nation they were raised in.

The DREAM Act now moves to the U.S. Senate, where a filibuster by Senate Republicans seeks to stop DREAM from coming to consideration on the floor. Sixty votes are needed to end the filibuster, and as of this morning an effort was underway to circumvent the vote by introducing the House version to the Senate next week. Starting today a concerted effort by Massachusetts immigrant youth and their allies hopes to move Massachusetts' junior Senator, Scott Brown, from his apparent opposition to DREAM.

"We want to thank everyone who has supported the DREAM Act for the House vote," said Jose Palma, Lead Organizer of the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM). "But we can't stop now. We ask everyone to take a moment to contact Senator Brown and let him know that youth in Massachusetts and the nation need him to support DREAM."

Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), strongly supported Palma's sentiments. "We at MIRA also give our heartfelt thanks to all the members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, including Representative Stephen Lynch here in Greater Boston, whose ultimate yes vote demonstrates his attention to the extraordinary diversity of his district.We also thank Senator Kerry for his unflagging support in the Senate.

"But we also ask supporters here and in Washington to keep moving forward," Millona continued. "Please contact Senator Brown and ask him to support DREAM "

You can contact Senator Brown by calling a switchboard at 866-996-5161, or by calling the senator's offices directly at 202-224-4543 or 617-565-3170.

For more information, you may contact SIM by calling Deivid Ribeiro at (508) 292-5163 or Jose Palma at (781) 244-3357, or contact MIRA by calling Frank Soults at (617) 350-5480 ext. 204.

In partnership with its members, MIRA works for the rights and opportunities of immigrants and refugees through policy analysis and advocacy, institutional organizing, training and leadership development, and strategic communications.

# # #

©2009 | MIRA Coalition | 105 Chauncy Street, Boston, MA 02111.
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New U.S. Ambassador to Albania

Ambassador Arzivu is alredy in Tirana where he presented his credentials to President Bamir Topi. However, the official announcement about his arrival in Albania, published elsewhere, did not provide background information about Ambassador Arzivu's diplomatic experience as shown below...


***Officially In: Alexander A. Arvizu to Tirana

On July 1, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Alexander A. Arvizu to be Ambassador to the Republic of Albania. The WH released the following brief bio:

Alexander Arvizu is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, rank of Minister-Counselor. He is currently the Director of Entry-Level Career Development and Assignments in the Department of State. Previously, he was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangkok, Thailand, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. His other overseas postings were Seoul, Korea and Osaka-Kobe, Japan. His Washington service includes a detail assignment to the National Security Council, where he was Director for Asian Affairs, and as a Member of the 46th Senior Seminar.

A native of Colorado, Mr. Arvizu received a B.S. degree from Georgetown University.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Albanian woman victim of domestic violence needs help!!

I just received the E-Mail below from the Director of the Family Law Project, Rachel Biscardi, requesting help for an Albanian woman who is a victim of domestic violence but speaks no English. If you - or someone you know - can help out, please contact Rachel Biscardi immediately! Thanks.


My name is Rachel Biscardi and I am the Director of the Family Law Project in Boston. We help low-income victims of domestic violence (both men and women) find attorneys to represent them for free in family law cases. We have had times where someone has contacted us who speaks no English and we would like to help them. If we could find someone who would be willing to help translate, for free, that would be a wonderful resource. Additionally, if you know of any social service providers who specialize in domestic violence, we would love to connect with them.

Right now
we have a woman that we would like to help but she only speaks Albanian.

Please feel free to email me at this address.

Thank you kindly,

Rachel B. Biscardi
Director, Family Law Project
Women’s Bar Foundation
27 School Street, Suite 500
Boston, MA 02108

Ph: (617) 973-6666
Fx: (617) 973-6663

News Sources in Albania and Kosova

For those of you who would like some direct news from Albania and Kosova, check out the 3 sources listed below...

World-Newspapers > Europe > Albania


Discussion forums/lists and news distribution list related to Albania and Albanians.

Albanian Daily News
Provides daily Albanian economic, political, and financial news.

Independent news agency from Kosovo.

(Albanian language only)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Albanian Muslims Grapple with Religious Identity

A Turkish brand of Islam now dominates the country’s religious institutions, as local Muslims struggle to find their own spiritual path.
By Altin Raxhimi Tirana

Bamir Topi, the president of Albania, is caught unwittingly on film as he, like any other theatre goer, settles into his seat and looks around to see who else has come to watch the show at Tirana’s main concert hall.

Agron Hoxha fast-forwards the unedited video. The footage shows the host, a prominent local actress of Orthodox Christian origin, as she recites verses by Muslim mystic Rumi and passages from the Koran. She introduces the artists on the stage to a full audience at the capital’s Palace of Congresses.

Tenors and sopranos and mezzos and contraltos chant ilahis, the Muslim answer to Georgian chants, backed by the strings of the Albanian State TV Orchestra.

“The Arabs do not like this,” Hoxha, the public relations chief of the Muslim Community of Albania, MCA, says of the ilahis and the glittery show.

The ‘Arabs’ Hoxha refers to are actually Albanian Muslims; they are believers who embraced forms of Islam that were heavily influenced by some Arab schools of thought after the collapse of communism in the 1990s.

Atheist under communism

Albania was strictly atheist under the Stalinist regime that was in place for the second half of the 20th century. When communism collapsed, overseas Islamic charities came, largely from the Arab peninsula and north-eastern Africa, to assist the Muslim community.

These foreign Islamic groups were the main financial backers for the resurgent MCA, the official organisation that runs Islamic affairs in the country. Albania’s Islamic community was starved of funds and poorly organised, as public worship was outlawed under communism.
Secret worship under communism

Enver Hoxha, the hardline communist leader who ruled Albania for much of the second half of the 20th century, imposed a ban on religion and, in 1976, declared Albania the first atheist state in the world. All forms of religious worship were banned and criminalized. Some believers – of all faiths – practised their religion in secret.

Tahir Zenelhasani, now an Islamic educator in Albania, recalls how, during one Ramadan in the late 70s, his father was checked on by three party executives to see if he was fasting. They placed coffee and cigarettes in front of him. His father’s fasting was an open secret in their village, Zenelhasani says.

However, one of those supposed to find out whether he was practicing religion had quietly entered his office earlier, drank the coffee and stubbed out a cigarette in the ashtray, so protecting Zenelhasani’s father.

The ban of religion was lifted when communism collapsed in 1990.

The current conflict between the older generation, who secretly practised Ottoman Islam, and younger people, influenced by ‘Arab’ schools of Islam, has been compounded by the absence of significant number of believers among the generation in between, and of home-grown religious leaders - a direct result of imposed atheism.

Seventy per cent of Albania’s 3m population are of Muslim origin, but the number of practicing believers is much smaller. The younger generation discovering religion for the first time after communism, did so via schools and mosques established by foreign, often Arabic, charities.

Up until 2001, Arab and north-east African Islamic organisations funded and ran all but one of the country’s madrasas – schools that provide religious instruction – and built about 400 mosques.

Albanian followers of largely Arabic schools of Islamic thought – including Wahhabism and Salafism - were criticised by fellow Muslims, who found these ‘imported’ brands of Islam culturally alien.

Others were suspicious of so-called Arab groups whose interpretation of Islam was highly controversial in their home states.

Some believe ‘the Arabs’ brought in a strict, intolerant brand of Islam influenced by Arab countries where Christian minorities were virtually inexistent, such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Conflicts arose between opposing factions, young ‘Arabs’ who come of age during the nineties found themselves at odds with their elders, many of whom had secretly practised Ottoman Islam under communism.

Differences in prayer styles, whether joined hands should be placed above or below the navel, became the subject of fierce debate. Other disputes included whether to allow marriage between first cousins, banned by Albanian law and among Ottoman Muslims but permitted in many foreign countries.

“At some point in the early 90s, everyone (young Albanian Muslim believers) went through a Salafi stage,” remarks an imam in Tirana, who prefers not to be identified.

During that period, at least 500 Albanians studied theology in Saudi Arabia who then returned to Albania, a country with just 570 mosques, say sources within the Muslim community.

These Arab-influenced followers are easily identifiable: bearded sombre men, initially wearing pants ending above their ankles, huddling in specific jam-packed mosques in Albania’s capital Tirana.

They dislike ‘the Turk’, who they regard as lax and ignorant in religious practice, believing them to adhere to traditions contrary to Islam. They regard the MCA as corrupt and inept.

‘Turk-Arab’ stand off

A group of ‘Arabs’ defied the MCA last March by creating its own official organisation - the League of Albanian Imams. The split was a result of an old stand-off between them and MCA officials.

In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on America, the government was forced to examine the background of foreign Islamic charities operating in the country. Some appeared on US and UN lists of organisations suspected of having links to, or funding, terrorist groups. These were closed down or expelled from Albania.

Other groups, some of whom were not on the US or UN lists, chose to leave voluntarily.

“The Arab charities responded to emergencies,” says Tahir Zenelhasani, who runs an Islamic cultural centre in Tirana which draws funding from Arab and Turkish sources.

“When the environment here became unfriendly, they felt it was better to pull out. The Turkish approach was more institutional. They clearly know how to manage.”
Islamic traditions

Called Madhhabs in Arabic and Islamic scholarship, different Islamic traditions developed, interpreting Islamic law differently. There are four main schools of thought.

The largest school, the Hanafi, was predominant in the Ottoman and Mughal Empires. The Islamic communities in the Balkans and in Turkey have, by and large, adopted it as their official school.

The Hanbali school, prevalent in Saudi Arabia, has some praying differences with the Hanafi, school, which had caused problems between youths and traditionalists in Albania. Most Salafi movements follow the Hanbali legal school, as does Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s brand of Islam.

“There was more stress on form in the 90s,” says Roald Hysa, a believer who prays the traditional Hanafi way; hands held together under the navel, kneeling and with the feet kept open at the width of the shoulders.

The Shafi school, predominant in parts of Egypt, was also brought to Albania by some Egyptian missionaries in the 90s.

Maliki legal interpretation is prevalent in Northern Africa and some parts of the Arab peninsula, but its presence in Albania has been relatively small.

While Arab organizations propped up the cash-starved resurgent Islamic community in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of communism, Turkish religious doctrines have gained favour since.

Turkish Islam is regarded as culturally more in step with Albania’s Muslims and less vulnerable to radicalized religious interpretation.

Private Islamic Turkish charities established religious and non-religious schools in Albania which have become known for good discipline and high academic standards. Diyanet, the Turkish state’s Muslim affairs department, has representatives in the country who are working with Albanian officials and institutions.

“The battle within the Muslim Community has always been between a pro-Arab faction and a pro-Turk faction,” says Pirro Misha, a Tirana-based secular intellectual who monitors religious developments in the country. “It seems now that the Turkish faction is winning decisively.”

Albania’s European ambitions

While Misha has fiercely criticised the more radical expressions of religion by some of ‘the Arabs’, he is worried that the new Turkish influence might just be one element of Ankara’s increasing political and economic ambitions in the region.

“That might damage the European aspirations of the Balkans,” he says.

None but one of the current 30 members of the MCA administration have studied in Arab countries, a reversed ratio compared to ten years ago. Its three-story headquarters was renovated with a 300,000 euro grant from Turkish government’s aid branch TIKA.

A dozen Albanians study theology in Turkey every year now, and Albanian believers have asked the Diyanet, to arrange their hajj – something that was managed by Arab charities and organisations in the past.

Problems have emerged, however. When SEMA, the religious foundation run by the Turkish Gulen movement, took over the madrasa of Tirana, for example, it imposed intensive Turkish language courses.

Zenelhasani’s association complained these language classes put extra pressure on students already following study programmes crammed with Arabic lessons and religious instruction, in addition to the ordinary school curriculum.

Named after its founder, the 69-year-old Anatolian preacher Fetullah Gulen, the Gulen Movement is one of the most important religious groups in Turkey. It has a controlling interest in the country’s largest newspaper Zaman. Its followers are strongly represented within Turkey’s political administration and business elite.

The Gulen Movement has expanded internationally by building educational systems. Supporters say its stress on education and moderate practices, that emphasise incorporating secular values into Islamic worship, makes it ‘friendlier’ to the West. Gulen’s vehement condemnation of any form of terrorism or violent protest has also earned him many western allies.

Critics, however, say the Gulen Movement is simply a carefully marketed form of Islam that is superficial and presents a romantic view of the Ottoman Empire.


This is a view echoed by those who distrust Turkey’s renewed influence in the country - Albania came under direct Ottoman rule for 500 years until the 1912-13 Balkan Wars - as neo-Ottomanism. They believe Turkey merely wishes to expand its influence in former territories of the Ottoman Empire.

In Albania, the Gulen movement has built a chain of non-religious schools, from nursery to university level, which are run by a non-religious foundation. The madrasas are run by the movement’s religious foundation in Albania, Sema.

Five out of seven of Albania’s madrasas are now under Sema’s management. One has been given to another Turkish group, Istanbul Vakfi of Sufi sheikh Osman Nuri Topbas. Another, a madrasa for girls in the second largest city of Durres, is run by the Qatar Foundation.

‘The Turk’, the Albanian believer influenced by Turkish Islam, is most often a youth who has studied at Gulen schools in Albania. Typically, he is a clean-shaven, courteous, jacket-and-pants wearing ‘ordinary guy’ who is integrated in society. He will be a non-drinking Muslim, but would not object to hanging out with bon viveurs at alcohol-serving bars.

The Turkish groups playing a role now, like the Gulen movement, are modern schools of thought that did not exist when Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire. Such movements emerged as Turkey sought to accommodate religious worship within a fiercely secular state, supported by the political class loyal to the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

This renewed religious influence is, of course, understandable. The Ottomans, current-day Turks, brought Islam to Albania and elsewhere in the Balkans, when they ruled an empire that stretched from Iran to the Hungarian plains in central Europe and north-eastern Africa.

On the balcony of a bar in a western suburb of Tirana, the Saudi-trained theologian Justinian Topulli acknowledges there was intolerance in the past, but stresses that the so-called ‘Arab’ faction has mellowed.

“I have friends who think of the stupidities they made back then and laugh in shame,” says Topulli, a 27-year-old father of two with a degree from the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia.

A six-angled star, an ornament that looked like the Star of David, was mysteriously erased from the oldest mosque in Tirana. A group of teenagers studying at a Sudanese-funded madrasa in Cerrik in the mid-90s had scratched Allah is Great across 17th century frescoes in Christian Orthodox churches.

The Sudanese foundation was expelled from the country for inciting religious intolerance among the students, and the madrasa was promptly given to Gulen’s Sema foundation.

‘Arabs’ marginalised

Long-bearded Topulli is one of the founders of the League of Albanian Imams. He says it was created as a reaction to what he believes is the degradation of the image of Albania’s Islamic community.

He is concerned that ‘Arab’ Albanian Muslims have been excluded from the debate, and wants the Islamic community to make room for other views on prayers styles, how to determine the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

“We don’t want to impose our own [views], but we want to have our ideas included in the public discourse,” says Topulli.

What the ‘Arabs’ have “is mostly a problem of access,” says Besnik Sinani, who has studied the Islamic communities in Albania for his degree at New York University in the US.

“There will be [problems] if groups like the League of Imams do not have a voice in Muslim affairs,” he warns.

Olsi Jazexhi, a Toronto-based commentator on Islam and nationalism in Albania, calls “the Arabs” the “penniless ones”, who must be reintegrated within the mainstream Islamic community in Albania.

However, Genti Kruja, a senior MCA official, denies that so-called ‘Arabs’ have been excluded. “No one denies Arab-trained clergy access,” he says. “They run Albania’s most important mosques and many of the regional departments.”

The Turkish influence is definitely on the increase, while the so-called Arab one is on the wane. But many see the infighting within Albania’s Muslim community as a straightforward power struggle. The pro-Turk faction is criticised for describing the ‘Arabs’ in terms that imply support for extremism and even terrorism.

The presence of the Albanian president at the ilahi concert this year, sponsored by SEMA and the MCA, demonstrates the government’s active support for Turkish schools of Islam.

At the end of the concert, the MCA’s public relations chief – who is also a product of the Gulen education system - can be seen, along with some stage performers, thanking Topi for attending.

While official support for Turkish Islam may be politically expedient for Albania’s leadership, the MCA is fighting to maintain, even gain, credibility among its believers. Albania’s Muslims are still searching for their own religious path.

“We want an Albanian Islam,” says Ramiz Zekaj of the Albanian Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilization, a Tirana-based think tank. “We cannot have one if we don’t even control our own educational institutions.”

This article was produced as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence's Alumni Initiative, established and funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation.