From: Artan Rama
The Truths behind a Fake “Public Hearing”

It was Friday late afternoon when I had just returned from a trip out of Tirana and heard exploding fireworks in Sami Frasheri Street close to Wilson Square. Gathered in front of the headquarters of the LSI there were the young supporters of the party, announcing that their leader had been elected for President.

Exactly at that moment my thoughts acquired a new sense of order. I had been confused by a number of unusual events that I had experienced during the day, but the turbulent thoughts cleared away and my confusion diminished. Appearing differently now, the connection between some of these events had become unavoidable.

And so that the readers may understand this too, I am commencing my narration a bit earlier in time…

A dramatic order, coming from the halls of Parliament, ought to have caused some action in the bureaucratic structures of the Commission for Commerce and Environment, on Thursday morning. I am referring to Order no. 40 of the Speaker of Parliament, which demanded an accelerated procedure for the examination of the draft law “For Protected Zones” during parliamentary session of Friday.

The reasons behind this emergency aren’t known yet, but this rush is unnatural since the Head of the Commission, Besnik Bare, declares that “the draft has been presented eighteen months ago.”

However, there is an obvious attempt to approve it before the closure of the current legislature, and the possibilities of this happening by next Thursday are high. Let’s wait and see, if the accelerated procedures that written down from the Parliamentary Regulations will be respected.

The next day, in Divjaka, Mabetex, the company owned by Behgjet Pacolli, is organizing a public hearing with the citizens and interested groups, to present the tourist resort project that has been proposed to be built in the Karavasta National Park in Divjaka. This park is protected by the law “For Protected Zones,” the same law on which changes have been ordered for approval through an accelerated procedure, a day before.

What is inexplicable is the fact that the Ministry of Environment, while it is demanding an accelerated procedure to approve the law, did not publish any announcement regarding the event of public consultation on the protected zone in Karavasta!

Such an announcement is a legal requirement provided by the Law of Public Announcement and Consultation, which states that interested groups and individuals should be “informed not less than twenty work days ahead.” Thanks to this “carelessness,” the circle of people informed about the public hearing was limited, which helped the company in its attempt to get the approval for an unusually large project in an extremely vulnerable area with a diverse ecosystem, on which the construction of the project will have an inevitable impact.

In the afternoon, the main hall of the Cultural Center in Divjaka was filled up. As if the friends of the mayor weren’t enough, some chairs were occupied by his family members. On the front rows, where the chairs were close to the podium, there was the administration of the municipality. Trying to avoid the representatives of Mabatex, I sat beside the Secretary of the Municipality Council.

Behind my back, in the row behind, there was an angry man. Under the hat cap there was a pair of thick, frowning eyebrows. A thin brown tie snuck firmly around his collar, on top of a beige shirt, together with a swagger characteristic for rural residents, created the feeling of another time.

I do not want to tire you with further descriptions, so I will narrate the only climatic moment, right as some representatives of the Delegation of the European Union abandoned the room.

“Through this project we are aiming at a secure financial stability to achieve a win–win situation,” concluded a representative of Mabatex. Applause followed. They were stronger in the back rows, where the faces became harder to identify.

Taulant Bino, an ecologist and professor at Polis University took the microphone. The angry man, behind me, moved. Still not having finished his word, Mr. Bino was attacked by this person, who after having violently acquired the mic started holding his speech. The room supported him while the organizers of the hearing were silent.

The attention shifted from Mabatex towards the environmentalists. The environmental organizations were the “enemy of the people.” Within a short time the public hearing was transformed into a public lynching. The environmentalists were not allowed to speak and their questions remained unanswered.

The representatives of the European Union got up and left, while from the speakers in the room on a the pathetic tone only the following words were discernible: “Croatia, Italy, Greece are aggressive and want to finish us. What did China loose when it handed Hong Kong over to Great Britain for hundred years!… I see it as a dream… Pacolli is a patriot!… four times blessed! Let’s help Pacolli with our money…”

The monotonous situation typical for this small city in the western lowlands was wonderfully transformed into a magic realist image. The conclusion of every speech ended in applause, a part which was even reserved for the representatives of Mabatex.

The hearing finished but not the applause. Here, at the former heart of culture, the representatives of Mabatex were leaving filled with hope…

“It was desperate to see how the legitimate environmental and the socio-economic issues were not taken into account and were treated like academic discussions from Tirana,” said Sebastian Berends, an environmentalist and councilor of the OSCE mission in Tirana, who was present during the hearing. Even though the situation in the room had put him off, he has no doubts. “The symbol of pride, the pelican that is an important potential for the development of ecotourism that renders this place unique, will belong to the past if this project is carried out.”

Even though present until the end of hearing, Katerina Karaguti, director of Natura Web 2000 in Albania, an EU initiative for nature protection, had difficulties understanding what was going on. “I have an idea and I think that being poor or neglected caused that reaction. They have to understand that they cannot do without the park. Such constructions will always have an effect,” she concludes.

Meanwhile in Tirana, most likely at the same time, the draft law “For the Protected Zone” was passing with an accelerated procedure through Parliament following Order no. 40.

In the new draft, using the principle that the “zoning matches the objectives of protection with the characteristic of the subzones,” the protection of the Karavasta National Park in Divjaka in several of its subzones falls under the third level, which “…allows the development of socio-economic events … with the business community” (art. 50(1)). It is exactly this new type of “protection” that gives legitimacy to the Mabatex investment. Under the previous law (nr. 8906, art. 6(2)), a higher level of protection was in place in Karavasta, the second.

So the new law is weaker and no longer protects the Karavasta Park. On the contrary, it makes giving permission to every construction project easier.

The youth of Divjaka, gathered in front of the Cultural Center, left. In the empty area the colors of facades were easily discernible. A little further back, the sound of water springing from of the tiles of the square could be heard.

For the reasons I gave above, on Friday afternoon, when the skies were filled with the noise of fireworks for the new President, a thought sparked in my mind: the dedicated youth of the LSI headquarters, the rushed Order no. 40 coming from the halls of the Parliament, the lack of on online announcement for the public hearing event on the Ministry of Environment website, and the attempt to stop environmentalists in Divjaka, were inevitably linked.