Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Albanian Airlines: A cowboy outfit

I note with satisfaction that Albania’s Civil Aviation Authority has revoked the licence of Albanian Airlines, citing safety concerns relating to the technical conditions of its aircraft. This apparently followed the freezing by the Albanian authorities of the assets of the owner of Albanian Airlines ‘on suspicion of money laundering related to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.’ The revocation appears aimed at pre-empting a decision by the EU to add the airline to its blacklist of those banned from operating in the Union. In fact, it was thanks to the intervention of Italy – not exactly the least corrupt country in the EU – that Albanian Airlines avoided being placed on the blacklist; Italy has pledged to help the airline improve its performance. Even so, Albanian Airlines has squealed that the revocation of its licence was an example of unfair competition aimed at forcing it into bankruptcy, and has threatened legal action in response.

I have personal experience with Albanian Airlines, and I can confirm that it is a cowboy outfit, pure and simple. I am an experienced flier, and have taken several flights a year for most of my adult life, but my experience with Albanian Airlines stands out as the worst airline experience I have ever had. In June 2010, my girlfriend and I had a ten-day holiday in Albania, which neither of us had previously visited. Our experience of Albania and the Albanian people was almost entirely positive, but the holiday was almost torpedoed before it began: although our ticket had been booked nearly three months in advance, Albanian Airlines cancelled our flight without informing us or refunding our money. When we arrived at Stansted Airport on the day of the flight and discovered this, we phoned Albanian Airlines to demand that they arrange an alternative flight for us, which they failed to do, forcing us to buy a wholly new and expensive one-way ticket from Alitalia, for a flight that departed from a different airport.

Following our return to the UK, I complained to Albanian Airlines: its representatives gave me no apology and refunded less than what I had paid for the tickets, while refusing to reimburse me for any of the considerable expenses I had incurred as a result of their incompetence. I would take the airline to court, but its ‘sales office’ in London turned out to be a rented unit in a shared office building somewhere in the suburbs, with a dead phone line. As I write this, I can no longer find any trace of this supposed sales office on any page on the internet.

This sort of behaviour by an airline is not characteristic of the region; I have flown many times with Croatia Airlines and with Serbia’s JAT, and my own experiences with them have always been broadly positive (although last year my mother and father had a bottle of whiskey ‘confiscated’ from them by security staff at Zagreb airport as they were transferring to a flight to Split; the staff were operating a shakedown to divest passengers of goods bought legitimately at departure lounge duty free shops). Albanian Airlines, on the other hand, apparently behaves like this regularly, judging by the online reviews that it receives. According to a Judith Evans from the UK, ‘We booked to travel with this airline from Stansted to Tirana. We booked the flight on line in February and then two weeks before we were supposed to fly they emailed us to say the route had been suspended- no explanation just a one line email. We have been emailing them since to get a refund – nearly 4 weeks now and still have had no reply. I would never book with them again as their communication is non existant.’

According to an Arthur Selman from Australia, ‘Just like your earlier report from Judith Evans, I booked for 2 people a Frankfurt-Tirana leg in mid July. We also received an email telling us “This flight has been cancelled” no other info, no alternative, no anything! This leaves me trying to find alternative arrangements at this late stage – Not Funny! I still do not know the reason for the cancellation. Hardly the way the way to run an airline. ‘ And according to a Martin Clarke from the UK, ‘I was due to fly from London Stansted-Tirana with Albanian Airlines. I received an email informing me that my flights had been cancelled, again with no explanation. Fortunately, I had booked through ebookers who will ensure I get my money back, but it is a massive pain. This seems to be a common feature of Albanian Airlines, reading other reviews. My advice would be to avoid, its not worth the risk/hassle.’

As far as Albanian Airlines’ current woes are concerned, the revocation of its licence is to be welcomed, but I am shocked that it has managed to avoid EU blacklisting. Shocked but not surprised. Cowboy airlines of this kind are only able to operate in the EU because their behaviour is tolerated by the enforcement bodies in the EU member states. In the UK, the Regulatory Policy Group of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and its precursor, the Air Transport Users’ Council (AUC), to which I complained about Albanian Airlines, proved less than useless. Over a period of more than a year, the CAA/AUC sent a total of three one-sentence emails to Albanian Airlines, asking them to refund my expenses. When the latter naturally ignored all three emails, the CAA/AUC simply informed me that there was nothing further it could do for me, and that I was on my own. The CAA/AUC’s supposed complaints procedure had served only to delay any legal action I might have taken by over a year. Doubtlessly, many aggrieved air passengers have gone through this fig-leaf ‘complaints procedure’, only to find that, a year later, they are no closer to receiving restitution but have lost any appetite for further pursuit of their claims. Under EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers are legally entitled to a set compensation from airlines for cancelled or delayed flights of this kind. Based on my own experience, I believe that the CAA is required to appear to be upholding this regulation, but has no interest in actually doing so, and that cowboy outfits such as Albanian Airlines operate in the UK because the CAA allows them to do so; indeed, acts as a buffer that shields them from passengers’ anger.

How good it is to know that, while Britain’s public services are being slaughtered in the name of deficit reduction, taxpayers’ money can still be found to support Potemkin-village bureaucracies of this kind.

Thursday, 8 December 2011 Posted by | Albania, Balkans | , , , | Leave a comment

Serbian prosecutors issue international arrest warrant for Mother Teresa

Serbian war-crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic announced at a news conference today that Serbia has issued an international warrant for the arrest of the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an ethnic Albanian accused of atrocities against Yugoslav soldiers and civilians during the conflict in Kosovo of 1998-1999.

According to one Serbian source, ‘Mother Teresa was a leading member of the global jihad; an Islamist terrorist fighting for a Greater Albania, who also traded in the kidneys and other organs of prisoners captured by her forces. She met with Osama bin Laden in Albania in 1998 and planned with him the launching of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s uprising.’ The source dismissed objections that Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun, therefore unlikely to have participated in an Islamic jihad: ‘It is an indisputable and universally acknowledged fact that the Vatican first promoted the break up of Yugoslavia, then supported the jihad in Bosnia and Kosovo with the aim of destroying the Serbian nation.’ As for Mother Teresa having already been dead at the time the crimes in question were alleged to have occurred: ‘Our enemies have always exaggerated their casualties, with the aim of demonising the Serbs so as to pave the way for military intervention against us. It is common knowledge that most of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslims allegedly killed in the so-called “massacre” at Srebrenica later turned up alive and well in the Muslim-held town of Tuzla.’

Mr Vukcevic rejected criticism that the case against Mother Teresa was politically motivated, insisting that the allegations against her were valid: ‘I believe there is a sufficient level of reasonable doubt for an investigation to be carried out regarding these crimes’ he told the news conference.

The issuing of the international warrant means that Mother Teresa is in danger of being arrested, should she travel outside India, the country whose citizenship she held and where she lived until her death in 1997.

Greater Surbiton News Service

Wednesday, 9 March 2011 Posted by | Albania, Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , | Leave a comment

Kosovo gets the Israel treatment

The ‘Israel of the Balkans’ was how journalist Michael J. Totten once described Kosovo. Well, Kosovo is certainly receiving the Israel treatment now: real or alleged crimes of its political and military leaders are being loudly trumpeted by the very states that would like to see it wiped off the map. The Putin regime in Russia, which for the past two years has blocked Kosovo’s full international recognition as a ploy to divide Serbia from the West and derail the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans, has led demands for an international probe into allegations of organ trafficking on the part of Kosovar officials. This is the same Russia that ranks 154th out of 178 countries on Transparency International‘s corruption index – 44 places lower than Kosovo, at 110th place, and 63 places lower than Albania, at 87th place. Serbia’s President Boris Tadic has likewise been prominent in demanding an international probe. He has lambasted the role of organised crime in the Balkans, claiming that ‘It subverts politics. It corrupts economies’ and ‘it kills to steal parts of people’s bodies’, an unsubtle allusion suggesting that his statement had less actually to do with opposition to organised crime, and more with the ongoing Serbian campaign to undermine Kosovo’s independence.

Both Kosovo and its enemies are, however, agreed that an international investigation must take place. Both Prime Minister Sali Berisha of Albania and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of Kosovo – himself the most prominent Kosovar accused by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s report into organ trafficking – have called for an independent international investigation into the allegations. Such an investigation is indeed essential. If Thaci and other accused Kosovars are guilty, then they must be brought to justice. If they are innocent, they must be exonerated. Either way, it is in the interest of Kosovo and its people that the matter be resolved. Thaci was re-elected prime minister of Kosovo in December, and it would be a monstrous injustice to Kosovar democracy for a freely elected prime minister to carry the stigma of crimes of which he is innocent; equally, a democratic Kosovo founded on the rule of law requires that any war-criminals or other criminals from among its ranks be brought to justice, no matter how high-ranking they be. If Kosovo is the Israel of the Balkans, it is worth remembering that it is a tribute to the Israeli justice system that Israel’s former president Moshe Katsav was recently convicted of rape and sexual harassment by an Israeli court.

Since Thaci has accepted the need for a full and independent international investigation into the organ-trafficking charges and is not attempting to obstruct the course of justice, he is entitled to the degree of respect due to the democratically elected leader of a national government, and should be assumed innocent until proven guilty. Other high-ranking officials of former-Yugoslav states have been prosecuted for war-crimes but found not to be guilty – including Serbia’s former president Milan Milutinovic and Bosnia’s former chief of staff of the army, Sefer Halilovic. Earlier investigations having failed to uncover any evidence that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army were involved in trafficking the organs of their captives. There is therefore reason to give Thaci and his fellow accusees the benefit of the doubt – so long as they continue to cooperate with international investigations.

Were Marty’s report merely the result of an impartial investigation into allegations of war-crimes, it would be something that all Kosovars and all friends of Kosovo could welcome unequivocally. After all, the prosecutions of Serb and Croat accused war-criminals by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were welcomed by all Serb and Croat democrats, and opposed only by nationalists. Indeed, a previous sitting Kosovar prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted and prosecuted by the ICTY, and though acquitted, is now in the process of being re-tried.

What makes Marty’s accusations problematic is not the idea that a high-ranking official of Kosovo should be accused of war-crimes, but that they are linked to an anti-Kosovar political agenda. Marty was a sworn opponent of Kosovo’s independence, and chose to publish his report immediately after its principal target, Thaci, was victorious in Kosovo’s general election. The report is not limited to specific criminal allegations against individual Kosovars – such as might be found in an ICTY indictment – but also constitutes a critique of Western policy. Marty’s report pointedly states: ‘The NATO intervention had essentially taken the form of an aerial campaign, with bombing in Kosovo and in Serbia – operations thought by some to have infringed international law, as they were not authorised by the UN Security Council – while on the ground NATO’s de facto ally was the KLA.’ The strong implication is that the ‘some’ include Marty himself. The language used in the report, including the use of terms such as ‘frightful’, ‘horrendous’, ‘wicked’, ‘insane’, and references to Marty himself in the first person, including a reference to his own – ‘sense of moral outrage’ – suggest above all a personalised statement of opinion and value-judgement.

As Marty’s report presents it, international intervention in Kosovo has been unduly biased in favour of the Kosovo Albanians and against Serbia: ‘The appalling crimes committed by Serbian forces, which stirred up very strong feelings worldwide, gave rise to a mood reflected as well in the attitude of certain international agencies, according to which it was invariably one side that were regarded as the perpetrators of crimes and the other side as the victims, thus necessarily innocent. The reality is less clear-cut and more complex.’ And again: ‘All the indications are that efforts to establish the facts of the Kosovo conflict and punish the attendant war crimes had primarily been concentrated in one direction, based on an implicit presumption that one side were the victims and the other side the perpetrators. As we shall see, the reality seems to have been more complex.’ And again: ‘what emerged in parallel [to the crimes being carried out by Milosevic's Serbia] was a climate and a tendency according to which led to all these events and acts were viewed through a lens that depicted everything as rather too clear-cut: on one side the Serbs, who were seen as the evil oppressors, and on the other side the Kosovar Albanians, who were seen as the innocent victims.’ Consequently, ‘The international actors chose to turn a blind eye to the war crimes of the KLA, placing a premium instead on achieving some degree of short-term stability.'; ‘International officials told us… that the approach of the international community could be aptly encapsulated in the notion of “stability and peace at any cost”. Obviously such an approach implied not falling out with the local actors in power.’ Marty’s unconcealed agenda is to correct this perceived pro-Albanian imbalance in international policy.

On another occasion, Marty said ‘Most of the facts mentioned were known … and there is a silencing of facts… Those things were known to intelligence services of several countries. They were known to police services, to many people who told us in private, “Oh yes, we know this,” but chose to remain silent for reasons of political opportunity.’ This represents an indictment of the international community as much as of members of the KLA. But it is not a fair one: the ICTY indicted sixteen individuals for war-crimes in Kosovo, of whom seven were Albanians and nine were Serbian officials. Albanians, responsible for less than a fifth of the killing during the Kosovo War, made up two-fifths of the ICTY’s indictees for war-crimes in Kosovo. A sitting Kosovar prime minister was, as noted above, himself indicted. Marty’s claim that only one side has been treated as guilty and the other as innocent by international bodies is therefore false.

Marty’s report complains that ‘the ICTY carried out an exploratory mission to the site of the notorious “Yellow House”, though proceeding in a fairly superficial way and with a standard of professionalism that prompts some bewilderment.’ He has not so much sought to complement and build upon the work of existing mechanisms for international justice, but to dismiss them in the service of his own political narrative, critical of the supposedly pro-Albanian policy of the international community. Rather then let his allegations against members of the KLA speak for themselves, Marty himself tells us what the conclusion should be: ‘The evidence we have uncovered is perhaps most significant in that it often contradicts the much-touted image of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, as a guerrilla army that fought valiantly to defend the right of its people to inhabit the territory of Kosovo.’

None of this means that Marty’s allegations against Thaci and other Kosovars are necessarily untrue. But it does mean that they are not the accusations of an impartial investigator, but of someone with an unhidden political agenda. Marty is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and as Denis MacShane writes, ‘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.’ MacShane links Marty’s accusations to Russian machinations in the Council of Europe. In these circumstances, there should be no automatic assumption that Marty is right and that Thaci and his fellows are guilty. On the contrary, the onus should very much be on Marty and his collaborators to provide the evidence to substantiate their very serious allegations against the democratically elected prime-minister of a European state.

From Serbia’s Karadjordje Petrovic to Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk and beyond, leaders of national-liberation struggles have carried out massive atrocities but continued to be revered by subsequent generations of their respective nations, and often by outsiders as well. Today, we expect a higher standard of respect for human rights and human life from contemporary statesmen, and are ready to prosecute members of a national-liberation struggle guilty of war-crimes. Yet the crimes of Karadjordje and Ataturk do not invalidate the independence and statehood of Serbia or Turkey; nor do the crimes of Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman invalidate Croatia’s independence and statehood; nor does the Deir Yassin massacre invalidate Israel’s independence and statehood. Whatever the truth of Marty’s allegations, Kosovo’s struggle for freedom and independence from Serbian colonial rule was legitimate and just. Now, more than ever, the democratic world should rally round Europe’s newest democracy, and make clear that independent Kosovo will never, ever be wiped off the map.

This article was posted today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Friday, 28 January 2011 Posted by | Albania, Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Israel, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EU insult to Bosnians and Albanians

Citizens of Bosnia and Albania recently received the right to visa-free travel to the EU. These are the last countries in the Balkans whose citizens have received this right, leaving Kosova as the only remaining country in the region whose citizens do not enjoy it. Yet it appears that EU officialdom is less than enthusiastic.

‘It is a possibility to travel, to meet friends, family and to get to know each other better… [but] it does not give any rights to work or to stay longer in the EU’, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said after she met in Sarajevo with Bosnian officials and university students. ‘If the [European] Commission sees that there is a systematic abuse of this, automatically, of course, the visa liberalisation, visa freedom can be withdrawn’. Furthermore,’I hope we will not reach that stage, but we are here today with the Belgium presidency (of the EU) to bear in mind the limits in order not to give the wrong message and to inform people’. She then visited Tirana, where she repeated this warning: ‘we encourage Albanians and Bosnians to think carefully and to respect the rules established for visa liberalisation in the Schengen area.’

‘Visa liberalization allows you to come and you are welcome but you cannot abuse visa liberalization’, said Melchior Wathelet, immigration and asylum secretary for Belgium, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. ‘It doesn’t mean you can seek asylum, get money from member states, seek welfare support from the member states, or that you will be allowed to work in the EU’. Furthermore,’Do not undermine the signal that has been given by the member states, it’s really a signal of confidence towards Bosnia’. Wathelet said. Malmstrom said the European Commission would make a report on the way the procedures have been respected ‘in six months’.

What these worthy Eurocrats are actually saying, of course, is ‘we in the EU don’t much like Muslims, Gypsies or poor foreigners in general, and you worthless Balkan untermenschen had better not get above yourselves and do anything that might upset the racist and Islamophobic constituency in Western Europe, to which our mainstream politicians nowadays are grovelling.’

In the face of such an insulting threat, it is heartening to note that some are ignoring it. As BalkanInsight reports, Mirela Imsirevic, a 28-year-old Roma from Sarajevo, is planning ‘to finally get a life’ by taking her five children abroad: ‘I would like to live abroad…in any country that would let me do it’.

This appears sensible; if it is really true that visa-free travel can be withdrawn, then all those who want to come had better hurry up. There are few causes more noble than upsetting gypsy-baiters like Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy and their supporters as an end in itself. Bosnians in particular should remember the EU’s responsibility for causing the economic and political mess in their country; the appeasement of Milosevic and Karadzic; the arms embargo; the betrayal of Srebrenica. The EU owes you. Albanians have been among the staunchest defenders of the free world over Afghanistan and Iraq, something that cannot unfortunately be said for all EU member states. The least the EU can do is to allow you to immigrate to it without whining.

Bosnians, Albanians and other peoples of the Balkans should send a clear message to the EU apparatchiks that they will not be intimidated. Come on over !

Saturday, 20 November 2010 Posted by | Albania, Balkans, Bosnia, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Racism | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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