From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Alice’s Guide to Albanian Politics: Seven Things We Learned This Week

This is Alice’s tongue-in-cheek take on the main news in Albania over the last week.

Rama in Trouble after Fangirling Hard for Obama

Prime Minister Edi Rama was in hot water this week after the men who arranged his ‘meet-and-greet’ with the then President Barack Obama, were sentenced in the United States.

With the enthusiasm of teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert, Rama allegedly engineered a meeting between himself and Obama at a fundraiser in 2012. This cost some $80,000 and the money was apparently funnelled through several other jurisdictions before it found itself in the hands of William Argeros who, in conjunction with Bilal Shehu used it to sneak Rama into a fundraiser.

Not only is this illegal under American federal law, but I really cannot imagine Edi Rama ‘sneaking’ anywhere- have you seen the size of him? Anyway, money changed hands, Rama was stopped at the entrance and was unable to sneak into the event with Bilal Shehu’s wife’s ticket. All he got for his 80k was an incredibly awkward photo of what appears to be him boring Obama to death with the latter too polite to ask “Sorry, who are you?” before walking off. 

Of course, according to the Albanian prosecution, Rama, and his chief of propaganda Endri Fuga, nothing untoward happened despite everyone else involved in the scheme being behind bars.

Erion Veliaj Told Two Lies This Week

When I wrote last week that Erion Veliaj managed to pass a full seven days without telling a lie, I knew it was too good to be true. To make up for lost time, he came back full throttle with not one but TWO whoppers this week- one regarding the aftermath of the recent earthquakes and another about the United Nations.

Mayor Veliaj announced that he has broken not just a national record but a European record as well (gee whizz) , managing to assess some 1220 earthquake damaged houses in just five days.

But of course he did, anyone can break whatever records they like, especially when the whole thing is dreamt up in the dark abyss of the Municipality communications department.

The reality of the matter, however, is that to complete such a task the Municipality would need to engage 74 teams of structural and civil engineers to undertake that amount of work in that timeframe, not just “Municipality employees” wielding a hastily created app, as Veliaj said.

His claim was quickly debunked by two engineers who stated that Veliaj was either lying, or had done a substandard job, putting the lives of his constituents at risk.

His second lie was that the United Nations had “recognised” Tirana as “one of the cities that has done more in sustainable development policies, by planting trees, adding pedestrian spaces and paying attention to children.”

Of course, they did no such thing, and this along with another claim that the UN awarded him a prize around two weeks ago for Tirana’s supposed “best economic performance” are both total piles of fabricated nonsense. 

Albanian Police Are About as Useful as a Chocolate Teapot

Imagine it- a cross border drug smuggling sting, elite forces from the US and Greece, sophisticated tracking software, hundreds of kilos of cocaine- it is like something out of a Netflix original. 

After careful coordination, international cooperation, in-depth investigation, and decades of accumulated expertise, the plan to bring down a ring of transcontinental drug dealers is almost complete. Then, at the very last stage of the operation, as the drugs enter Albania, the suspects are in sight, under full surveillance, nothing can go wrong…the Albanian police go and “lose” the main suspect.

Tasked with just ONE JOB which was to apprehend the alleged ringleader of the Albanian drug distribution racket, they managed to somehow misplace him after he left the port of Durres.

Those involved in utterly screwing up a big-scale drug bust then gave a press conference calling it a “successful operation” completely omitting the fact that the whole point of the operation was to catch the bad guy, not let him toddle off back to his mother’s house for some byrek and dhalle.

You had ONE JOB!

The Socialist Party Bullies People into Liking Them

Over the last few weeks, I interviewed a few state employees who all described how part of their unofficial job description was to like, share, and comment on Socialist Party and government propaganda to create the illusion that people actually like them.

Much in the same way that Enver Hoxha would have probably behaved had Facebook existed in his time, orders are passed down through the ranks of the party, to those who rely on their state salary to feed their families. If they don’t do the bidding of the regime, they face being fired and blacklisted from all civil service jobs as long as Supreme Leader Rama and his party is in power.

I can sort of understand why the Party insists on this because, let’s be honest, if we took away all of those who are obliged, forced, threatened, pressured, and harassed into liking/sharing/voting for anyone in the Socialist Party, there wouldn’t be many people left.

You know your party is doomed when you have to blackmail people into liking you, instead of, you know, being a decent government and having the interests of the people at heart.

Dutch Politicians Don’t Like Rama Very Much

Dutch people are known for not beating around the bush and there is no exception when it comes to their thoughts on Albanian EU accession talks opening.

 In a statement sent to Dutch Parliament on 4 October, Stef Blok said they needed to show a “convincing track record in the fight against organised crime and corruption” basically implying that at the moment they are bloody useless.

Whilst the letter didn’t explicitly state that the Dutch government will veto the opening accession negotiations, it certainly seems to imply that chances for that are high.

Dutch politicians have been consistently wary of Rama and his government, making a number of demands that they stop being so corrupt and get their act together as well as appealing to the EU to suspend visa-free travel for Albanians throughout Europe.

I’m Still Fighting to Live in Albania Whilst 83% of Albanian’s Want to Leave

Last week I was back in court fighting for my right to live in Albania. The government are so threatened by the truth that after I reported on their corruption, they created a media smear campaign against me and my family when I was six months pregnant and then revoked the approval of my residence permit.

The whole thing is totally absurd as I have every right to be here, filled out all the paperwork correctly, and am in line with the requirements as stipulated in law, but for some reason (!) the police rescinded their approval. 

The timing coincided with pro-government tabloids calling me a Russian spy which is totally absurd. I grew up on a farm in Cornwall, UK, I don’t like vodka, am opposed to fur, and I prefer to spend my time in my pyjamas with a glass of wine, my family and my cats rather than planning cross-border espionage.

Of course, anyone with an IQ above that of room temperature knows I am not a Russian spy or an opposition paid PR stunt, planted here to usurp democracy- I almost wish my life was exciting, but sadly it is not.

In court the police lawyer objected to my medical certificates being entered into evidence, saying she had never seen them. Apart from the fact that she was given a copy in February. And in April. And in May. We resume the farce on 9 October.

To be honest, it is all just a bit of an inconvenience now. Since the government tried to intimidate me into silence, I have started writing more often, more critically, and more daringly- if anything I am less intimidated and more determined to write the truth, no matter how ugly and unpleasant it is.

The Albanian Justice System is Still Screwed

In a depressing continuation of events with zero tangible progress since last week, the Albanian justice system is still well and truly screwed. There is still no high court, no constitutional court, the vetting process is still a disaster, and the ‘temporary’ General Prosecutor Arta Marku is still in her job. Better luck for next week!