Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pitella meets Rama and Meta

Pitella meets Rama and Meta
Gianni Pittella, the Vice President of the European Parliament, arrived in Tirana to greet the agreement between the SP and the SMI,


He had his first meeting with the opposition leader, Edi Rama. Pittella declared that he sent the full support of the European left parties for the unification of the Albanian left group. Pittella believes that they are the government that will put the country out of the crisis and will continue the EU integration path.

“I decided to personally thank my friends, Ilir Meta and Edi Rama, for reaching this agreement and communicate our best wishes on behalf of the European Parliament and the Socialist left parties, so that they can leave the past behind and start a new path.
The problems of this country are many. There is a high unemployment rate and a high public debt. This makes us say that the best solution is to unite all forces. We must see the unification of the Albanian left parties, and this is the guarantee that there will be a new government focused on integration. We must turn the dream of the Albanians to reality, ini order to be closer to Europe. The new alliance of left parties will help us a lot in this direction. I guaranteed a strong support to Meta and Rama”, Pittella declared.

For Ilir Meta, who gave his first interview from the opposition, it is possible to vote the three integration laws in this parliamentary session.

“SMI started this day as an opposition force, but with the main goal to contribute to the country’s stability and to accelerate the EU integration process, which could take a new impulse within this mandate. I believe that we have all the possibilities to progress with this”, Meta declared.

Consultations on Kosovo continue over weekend

BELGRADE -- Consultations between Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić, Prime Minister Ivica Dačić and First Deputy PM Aleksandar Vučić will continue over the weekend.

Ivica Dačić and Aleksandar Vučić (Beta, file)
Ivica Dačić and Aleksandar Vučić (Beta, file)


Ivica Dačić and Aleksandar Vučić (Beta, file)
Nikolić, Dačić and Vučić are due to meet with heads of parliamentary groups on Sunday, media have reported.

Belgrade-based daily Politika writes that the talks of the three most senior officials will also be held during the weekend, while on Sunday they should meet heads of parliamentary groups.

B92 has learned that an extraordinary government session will be held on Monday and that the cabinet members will discuss the EU's offer.

Today's issue of daily Blic also noted that the consultations will be continued over the weekend.

“Nikolic, Dacic and Vucic are in constant contact, the talks are being intensified, just as it has been announced in the previous days,” Blic has reported.

That daily adds that the plan is to convene a meeting with heads of all parliamentary groups on Sunday, at which they could voice their opinion on Brussels' conditions.

On Friday afternoon, consultations were held between Nikolić, Dačić and Vučić in the Serbian Presidency building. However, they did not give any statements after the meeting.

Before the meeting, Dačić informed the ministers about the dialogue with Priština at a government sitting, and then joined the president and the first deputy PM.

Friday, April 5, 2013

North Korean Atomic Bomb Subs Cause Global Panic


By Hellas Frappe on 4.4.13


A grim Ministry of Defense (MOD) “URGENT ACTION” bulletin to all Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) is warning these nuclear units to prepare for “Dead Hand” operations over growing fears that at least 5 atomic-bomb equipped North Korean submarines have “successfully evaded” US Naval Forces and are preparing to strike targets in South Korea, Japan and North America.

According to this MOD bulletin, North Korea conducted its third underground nuclear test in seven years on 12 February after which Russian defense analysts noted a series of “highly suspicious” transfers of  “unknown materials” from the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility to the Mayang Do Naval Base where shortly thereafter at least 10 Yono-class miniature submarines departed and are feared to have aboard them atomic bombs.

A Yono-class submarine is thought to have fired the torpedo attack which sank a South Korean Pohang-class corvette, the ROKS Cheonan on 26 March 2010 in South Korean waters that killed 46 and injured 56.

According to some investigators, the weapon used in the attack was a North Korean-manufactured CHT-02D torpedo, from which substantial parts were recovered. The device allegedly exploded not by contact, but by proximity, creating a powerful pillar of water, called the bubble jet effect.

Critical to note about North Korea’s CHT-02D torpedo, this MOD bulletin warns, is that it is capable of being armed with a small nuclear device similar to that of the United States M-28 or M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon System developed in the 1950’s and having a yield equivalent to somewhere between 10 or 20 tons of TNT.

So concerned were Russian military leaders about the potential danger these atomic bomb equipped North Korean submarines could pose to world peace, this MOD bulletin says, UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, on 5 March, called for an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council, and which yesterday punished the Hermit Kingdom with tough, new sanctions targeting its economy and leadership.

Within hours of these new UN sanctions being announced, this bulletin continues, the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea announced that “[North Korea] abrogates all agreements on non-aggression reached between the North and the South,” severed its hotline with South Korea, and its leader, Kim Jong-Un, called for “all-out war” as he visited a frontline military unit involved in the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who had previously ordered her nations military forces to their highest alert status, called the current security situation “very grave,” and warned that North Korean forces were preparing for a “massive military exercise.”

Most worrisome however, this MOD bulletin says, was North Korea's state news agency warning yesterday: “Now that the US is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, (our) revolutionary armed forces... will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors.” The North Korean official reading this ominous statement further stated that a second Korean war is “unavoidable.”

To North Korea’s war strategy in employing these atomic bomb equipped submarines, this MOD bulletin warns, is to attack their enemies vital shipping ports which, if successful, could destroy the entire global economy.

Russian military analysts contributing to this MOD bulletin note that the most likely targets for these atomic bomb equipped North Korean submarines include South Korea’s Port of Busan, Japan’s Port of Yokohama, and the United States ports of Seattle (Washington) and Oakland (California).

Unbeknownst to the American, South Korean and Japanese peoples about these North Korean mini submarines, and perhaps best stated by the US National Defense magazine, is that the US Navy has already admitted that it has “no silver bullets” able to defeat them.

To how vulnerable the Western coastal areas of the United States currently are was noted by Russian military intelligence experts on 8 November 2010 after a Chinese submarine successfully penetrated American waters and launched a missile in full view of Los Angeles, and as we can read, in part, as reported by the Infowar News Service:
    “China flexed its military muscle Monday evening in the skies west of Los Angeles when a Chinese Navy Jin class ballistic missile nuclear submarine, deployed secretly from its underground home base on the south coast of Hainan island, launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from international waters off the southern California coast.

    WMR’s intelligence sources in Asia, including Japan, say the belief by the military commands in Asia and the intelligence services is that the Chinese decided to demonstrate to the United States its capabilities on the eve of the G-20 Summit in Seoul and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Tokyo, where President Obama is scheduled to attend during his ten-day trip to Asia.”
This MOD bulletin further notes that China’s 2010 submarine incursion into US waters utilized the “concealment and camouflage” of large container ships entering the Port of Los Angeles, and which these “missing” North Korean mini subs are “without doubt” planning to do too as they approach their strike targets.

As White House spokesman Jay Carney told the American people today, “I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack,” this MOD bulletin notes that the Obama regime is failing to tell their citizens the true state of this war and the danger it poses to the whole world.

The same cannot be said of Russia, as within 5 days of the 12 February North Korean nuclear test, and their subsequent moving of atomic materials to their submarine base, President Putin ordered the largest nuclear army drill in two decades in preparation for what in all terms can only be called World War III.

To if North Korea will be successful in carrying out its nuclear strikes it remains unknown, as does also the intentions of the United States should they begin to bargain with the Hermit Kingdom.

Sorcha Faal

Albania: Profits transferred abroad


2012 was one of the most difficult years for the Albanian business. According to the Ministry of Finances, the annual revenues of enterprises shrank with 14.5%, one of the biggest historic reductions.

The deterioration of the financial indicators of foreign companies is result of the reduced sales and the general economic slowdown. But not all businesses are affected. Some of them, especially foreign enterprises that do business in Albania, have had a very lucrative 2012. According to Bank of Albania, foreign companies have transferred 264.3 million EUR abroad, 40% more than last year.

Most of them come from lucrative sectors, such as banking and telecommunication. Others operate through monopolies with concessions and privatized objects.

The massive transfer started in 2007, when foreign businesses transferred only 65.6 million EUR from Albania. One year later it increased five times. The exchange rate started fluctuating and ALL was devaluated towards EUR with 15%.

After 2008, the transferred profits has have remained within the 2..4-4% of the GDP. The historic record was that of 2009, when it reached 400 million EUR. One year later the government was obliged to take loans in the international market, and one of the reasons for this decision was the lack of foreign currency in the economy. Experts say that there are two main reasons why there are more profits being transferred abroad. The first reason is that some of these investments, after several years, now entered the profit collection phase. The second reason is related tot he economic situation, with businesses being more prone to keep their profits rather than investing, due to the reduced buying power in Albania.

Greece Unable to Send Foreign Prisoners Home

By Hellas Frappe on 5.4.13


More BANANIA land stories. According to press reports the State is finding it very difficult to deport prisoners from other countries to their homelands because this requires the consent of the inmates, and obviously they are not willing to comply.

When asked why detainees are not being returned to their countries of origin, Deputy Justice Minister Costas Karagounis said on Thursday that Greece had a number of bilateral agreements for inmates to serve their sentences in their homelands but the pacts had proved ineffective.

He added that Tirana had rebuffed several offers from Athens to construct a prison on Albanian soil at the cost of Greek taxpayers so Albanian inmates could serve their time there rather than in Greek jails.

New Woody Allen Film About Greek Crisis - To Star Brad Pitt & Penelope Cruz


By Hellas Frappe on 5.4.13

Hollywood legend, director and actor, Woody Allen, is apparently preparing a new film based on the Greek crisis and star leading actor Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz.

Gossip mags in Athens are saying that the film's theme is inspired by the modern day Greece of the memorandum, and the economic crisis that has come along with it. What is really great about this idea is that the movie is also going to focus on the humanitarian crisis that surfaced because of all the austerity measures as well as show how people dealt with the bankruptcy of the nation.Let us just hope that this is not Hollywood promo and rhetoric or something that will just show fluff so that Greece's real story can be told.

The same reports claim that it will be called "Athens by Night" and is expected to narrate the life of a young American author who lives in the area of Plaka, and writes an epic novel on the Greek crisis.

Apparently the script is from Paul Auster and the leading role will be played by (sexy) Brad Pitt, while Penelope Cruz is going to play the role of his Greek lover. (She has the perfect look and accent for it).

The same gossip columns add that Woody Allen and the partners of the movie have already sent an 11-member team to Athens, in complete secrecy, and they are scouting the city for shooting locations. Allen is expected to arrive early May in Athens to start shooting and according to the the production company, the film is going to be completed by late September.

Ladies are you listening - That means that Brad Pitt is going to be in Athens all summer long!

Article in Greek - Sofokleous

OSCE to send hundreds of election monitors to Albania due to concerns over political tensions



TIRANA, Albania - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says it will send hundreds of monitors to observe June's national elections in Albania, where political tensions are running high.

An OSCE report says an initial mission has heard concerns that longstanding conflicts among Albania's fractious political parties could affect the election.

Previous elections in Albania have been marred by violence, accusations of vote-rigging and intimidation.

The mission will include 30 long-term and 400 short-term observers, the OSCE said Friday. It will be the 11th Albanian election monitored by an on-the-spot OSCE mission.

On June 23, some 3.3 million registered voters will elect 140 legislators for a four-year term. The two main parties are Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party and the Socialist Party of Edi Rama

Albania Restores Macedonian Names In Mala Prespa

By SETimes -- (April 4, 2013)

Tirana, Albania's capital and largest city.
Tirana, Albania's capital and largest city.

By Miki Trajkovski

The decision by Albania’s parliament to restore Macedonian place names in Mala Prespa furthers Macedonia-Albania relations and fosters minority integration, experts said.

The names in Mala Prespa, a region in southeastern Albania with a predominantly Macedonian population, were changed to Albanian names by authorities in Tirana during the authoritarian rule of dictator Enver Hoxha.

Edmond Spaho, an MP of the ruling Democratic Party, initiated the request to parliament on March 12th. This is his second try; his attempt in 2009 failed when Socialist Party MPs quit parliament and stalled its work.

“This is a historical moment for the Macedonians in Albania. Pustec and all the populated settlements in this municipality are getting their authentic names back,” Edmond Temelko, mayor of Pustec municipality in Mala Prespa, told SETimes.

Temelko said the Albanian government signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 with minorities which allows local governments to name villages, roads and bridges with their traditional names.

With parliament’s approval, the local government now has the right to restore the names of all eight villages in the Pustec municipality which are populated by ethnic Macedonians.

Macedonians live throughout Albania, but about 150,000 are concentrated in the Mala (Small) Prespa as well as Gora and Golo Brdo.

“This is an act of tolerance, understanding and respect towards one minority, but [also] a positive act of integration,” Ilir Meta, president of the Socialist Movement of Integration and former prime minister of Albania, said.

Experts agree the decision is a step forward in improving inter-ethnic relations in Albania, and said it also presents an opening to address the issues facing the Macedonian minority there.

“It means the Albanian authorities are turning a new page in the protection of the national minorities, which will strengthen the latter’s trust in the state that they live as equal citizens,” Rubin Zemun, expert on minority issues at the NGO Evro Balkan, told SETimes.

Macedonian minority issues are a hot point in Albanian electorial politics. Issues include mother tongue education in schools, identification by ethnicity in the Albanian census and funds for local development.

Temelko said he reached out to the parliamentary parties in Albania to support the initiative, following an official request to the Albanian government and a petition sent to Korca.

Experts said the parliament’s decision will also positively affect Albania’s international position and good neighbourly relations.

“This will be mentioned in all international reports for respect of the rights of minorities in Albania,” Vasil Sterjovski, member of the Macedonian Alliance for European Integration, told SETimes.

“Albania can [improve relations] by respecting the Framework Convention for the Protection of the National Minorities which it has signed and ratified in parliament, as well as to make projects and plans for its implementation. It will be good to sign a bilateral agreement for protection of the minorities, like Macedonia has done with Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro,” Zemun said.

Mala Prespa residents said the parliament’s decision has positive human rights connotations.

“No one ever used the Albanian names,” Kristo Kristo, a resident of the Pustec municipality, told SETimes.

U.S. supports Belgrade-Priština dialogue, ambassador says

BELGRADE -- U.S. Ambassador Michael Kirby said on Friday that the U.S. supported the Belgrade-Priština dialogue and voiced confidence that an agreement could be reached.

Michael Kirby (Beta, file)
Michael Kirby (Beta, file)


Michael Kirby (Beta, file)
“The Serbian government has been putting great efforts in an attempt to achieve an agreement with Priština, and I am optimistic that an agreement could be reached and that Serbia could continue to advance toward EU membership,” Kirby told reporters in the Serbian parliament.

“The U.S. supports an agreement between Priština and Belgrade,” he said once again, adding that “any agreement requires an agreement of both parties, not just one.”

In response to the statement by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci that Priština's stands were to a great extent in accordance with the stands of the U.S. and the European Union, Kirby said that during the visit of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and the then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Belgrade in late 2012, it was made clear that Washington “supported both sides moving together, not just one side.”

Asked to comment on media reports that Thaci first accepted the proposals that Ashton put forward to him some ten days before the eighth round of talks, and then after the meeting with U.S. official Philip Reeker, he decided to reject them, Kirby said:

“I did not take part in any talks that were allegedly held in Brussels, but I believe that an agreement, based on what happened, remains possible.”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

North Korea warns military cleared to attack U.S. with nuclear weapons

Experts suspect Pyongyang does not yet have the ability to launch nuclear-tipped missiles, but its other nuclear capabilities aren't fully known.

By  Apr.04, 2013 | 9:19 AM  8
North Koreans attend a rally held to gather their willingness for a victory in a possible war
North Koreans attend a rally held to gather their willingness for a victory in a possible war against the United States and South Korea in Nampo, North Korea, April 3, 2013. Photo by Reuters

"There's nothing left to discuss in Kosovo talks"

PARIS -- Ivica Dačić says he received assurances from his French counterpart that his country would "advocate for Serbia to get an EU talks date as soon as possible."



The Serbian prime minister made the statement on Thursday in Paris, after a meeting with his host, Jean-Marc Ayrault.

During the talks with his French counterpart, Dačić said that Serbia "had no sincere friend in the West who would have more understanding for its stands on the most important issues troubling the region."

"That puts Serbia in a situation in which it keeps losing ground year after year, because nowadays those who are deciding on the EU and the most important political processes in Europe do not appreciate Serbia's stands," the prime minister noted.

Dačić said that he had also informed the French prime minister about the situation following the recent negotiations in Brussels, and that Serbia had put a lot in the dialogue with Priština that is also related to the country's EU integration.

Serbia practically did not partake in negotiations, but rather the meetings in Brussels focused on the ways in which Belgrade could ensure that its institutions in the north Kosovo would be disbanded, and the Serbs there be integrated into Kosovo institutions.

"It has been said that a broad autonomy for Serbs within Kosovo would be offered - however, that has not come to fruition, and now we have a deadline until Tuesday to decide whether we would accept the proposal. There is nothing more to discuss in the dialogue as Priština will not change its stands," the prime minister said.

The Serbian prime minister noted that Ayrault had given assurances that France would "absolutely advocate for Serbia to obtain a starting date for EU accession talks as soon as possible, that Paris would fully back Serbia and stand by the bilateral agreement on strategic partnership."

And that means that Serbia has support, Dačić said, noting that in that case, the strategic partnership with France is a realistic solution for Serbia.

The Serbian prime minister noted that he had a very good meeting with the French counterpart, and that they both pointed to the traditional friendship between the two countries - but that this friendship was, "unfortunately, more part of history school books, than of real politics in the last several decades."

The prime minister said that this was a very important meeting, noting that no Serbian prime minister had visited Paris in the last seven years, while the French president was last time in Belgrade in 2001.

"The anniversary of World War I may be an opportunity to renew some old partnerships, and what is the most important - to ensure that Serbia's stands are met with more understanding in the West than it is being the case at the moment," Dačić noted.

Εθνική επιταγή η αποκατάσταση Βορειοηπειρωτών και Ποντίων

Christos Pappas: 

Greek Governments is losting the trust of the Community of Northern Epirus

The speech of the deputy of the ASE debate on the amendment of the law removes pensions Northern Epirus and Pontian Greeks

“Elements of solution for Kosovo are still on table”

BRUSSELS, BELGRADE -- Belgrade and Priština have discussed “elements of a possible solution” for northern Kosovo several times. These elements are still on the negotiating table.

(Beta/AP, file)
(Beta/AP, file)


(Beta/AP, file)
This is according to EU High Representative Catherine Ashton’s Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič.

She did not confirm or deny Serbian First Deputy PM Aleksandar Vučić’s statement that Brussels had made a very bad “take it or leave it” offer to Belgrade and said that the Belgrade and Priština negotiating teams were consulting their colleagues and “they should inform Ashton about their decisions in a few days”.

When asked to confirm that a “take it or leave it” type of paper was offered to the Belgrade delegation during the eighth round of the talks on April 2 in Brussels, Kocijančič said that the “only thing I can say at the moment is that the delegations have spoken about the elements of a possible solution a number of times in the dialogue”.

The top Serbian officials at the moment do not have a response to the EU’s conditions, PM Ivica Dačić and Vučić confirmed after they had returned from Brussels.

Both Belgrade and Priština are under time pressure, as well as the EU bearing in mind that it has missed the determined deadlines.

In the meantime, Priština keeps repeating that Belgrade is responsible for the failure to reach an agreement and refuses to back down from its requests in the slightest. The most disputable request for Serbia is that a community of Serb municipalities should have neither legislative nor executive powers.

Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci said on Thursday he was optimistic and that a an agreement on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia was possible.

“I cannot tell you what our response will be at the moment because the top state officials will consult on it again,” Dačić said on Wednesday.

Vučić said that Serbia needed to decide between two equally disastrous solutions in the next three or four days – to accept or reject a very bad offer on Kosovo.

He confirmed on Wednesday evening that he had offered his resignation after it had turned out that Brussels was offering Serbia a “poor and unfair” take it or leave it type of a plan.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn goes global with political ambitions

Golden Dawn
Χρυσή Αυγή

Buoyed by its meteoric domestic success, the far right party is planning to expand 'wherever there are Greeks'
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013 18.00 BST
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Link to video: Golden Dawn party infiltrates Greece's police, claims senior officer
Emboldened by its meteoric rise in Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party is spreading its tentacles abroad, amid fears it is acting on its pledge to "create cells in every corner of the world". The extremist group, which forged links with British neo-Nazis when it was founded in the 1980s, has begun opening offices in Germany, Australia, Canada and the US.

The international push follows successive polls that show Golden Dawn entrenching its position as Greece's third, and fastest growing, political force. First catapulted into parliament with 18 MPs last year, the ultra-nationalists captured 11.5% support in a recent survey conducted by polling company Public Issue.

The group – whose logo resembles the swastika and whose members are prone to give Nazi salutes – has gone from strength to strength, promoting itself as the only force willing to take on the "rotten establishment". Amid rumours of backing from wealthy shipowners, it has succeeded in opening party offices across Greece.

It is also concentrating on spreading internationally, with news last month that it had opened an office in Germany and planned to set up branches in Australia. The party's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, said it had decided to establish cells "wherever there are Greeks".

"People have understood that Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] tells the truth," he told a Greek-language paper in Melbourne. "In our immediate sights and aims is the creation of an office and local organisation in Melbourne. In fact, very soon a visit of MPs to Australia is planned."

Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris (centre) leaves an Athens court this month where he denied assisting in a 2007 assault and robbery. He has said the party will spread 'wherever there are Greeks'. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
But the campaign has met with disgust and derision by many prominent members of the Greek diaspora who represent communities in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

"We don't see any gold in Golden Dawn," said Father Alex Karloutsos, one of America's leading Greek community figures, in Southampton, New York. "Nationalism, fascism, xenophobia are not part of our spiritual or cultural heritage."

But Golden Dawn is hoping to tap into the deep well of disappointment and fury felt by Greeks living abroad, in the three years since the debt-stricken nation was plunged into crisis.

"Golden Dawn is not like other parties in Greece. From its beginnings, in the early 80s, it always had one eye abroad," said Dimitris Psarras, whose book, Golden Dawn's Black Bible, chronicles the organisation since its creation by Nikos Michaloliakos, an overt supporter of the colonels who oversaw seven years of brutal anti-leftist dictatorship until the collapse of military rule in 1974.

"Like-minded groups in Europe and Russia have given the party ideological, and sometimes financial, support to print books and magazines. After years of importing nazism, it now wants to export nazism," added Psarras. By infiltrating communities abroad, the far-rightists were attempting not only to shore up their credibility but also to find extra funding and perhaps even potential votes if Greeks abroad ever won the right to cast ballots in elections.

"[Golden Dawn] not only wants to become the central pole of a pan-European alliance of neo-Nazis, even if in public it will hotly deny that," claimed Psarras, who said party members regularly met with neo-Nazis from Germany, Italy and Romania. "It wants to spread its influence worldwide."

With its 300,000-strong community, Melbourne has pride of place in the constellation of Greek-populated metropolises that dot a diaspora officially estimated at around 7 million.

A Golden Dawn election rally in Athens in April.
As part of its international push, Golden Dawn has also focused on the US, a magnet for migrants for generations, and Canada, which attracted tens of thousands of Greeks after Greece's devastating 1946-49 civil war.

"It's a well-studied campaign," said Anastasios Tamis, Australia's pre-eminent ethnic Greek historian. "There is a large stock of very conservative people here – former royalists, former loyalists to the junta, that sort of thing – who are very disappointed at what has been happening in Greece and are trying to find a means to express it. They are nationalists who feel betrayed by Greece over issues like Macedonia, Cyprus and [the Greek minority] in Voreio Epirus [southern Albania], who cannot see the fascistic part of this party. Golden Dawn is trying to exploit them."

The younger generation — children of agrarian and unskilled immigrants – were also being targeted, he said. "They're the generation who were born here and grew up here and know next to nothing about Greece, its history and social and economic background. They're easy prey and Golden Dawn will capitalise on their ignorance."

Tamis, who admits that some of his students support the organisation, does not think the group will gain traction even if Australia's far-right party has been quick to embrace it. But the prospect of Golden Dawn descending on the country has clearly sent tremors through the Greek community.

"This is a multicultural society. They are not wanted or welcome here," said one prominent member, requesting anonymity when talk turned to the group.

Greek Australian leftists have begun collecting protest signatures to bring pressure on the Australia immigration minister, Brendan O'Connor, to prohibit Golden Dawn MPs from entering the country. In a statement urging the government not to give the deputies visas, they said the extremists had to be stopped "from spreading their influence within the Greek community and threatening the multicultural society that Greek Australians and other migrants have fought to defend".

The neo-Nazis have been given a similar reception in Canada, where the party opened a chapter last October. Despite getting the father of champion sprinter Nicolas Macrozonaris to front it, the group was quickly denounced by Greek Canadians as "a black mark".

The culture of intolerance that has allowed racially motivated violence to flourish in Greece – with black-clad Golden Dawn members being blamed for a big rise in attacks on immigrants – had, they said, no place in a country that prides itself on liberal values.

"Their philosophy and ideology does not appeal to Greeks living here," insisted Father Lambros Kamperidis, a Greek Orthodox priest in Montreal. "We all got scared when we saw they were giving a press conference. But it was a deplorable event and as soon as we heard their deplorable views they were condemned by community leaders and the church."

"We are all immigrants in Canada," added Kamperidis, referring to Golden Dawn's tactic of tapping into anti-immigrant resentment. "The conditions that apply in Greece do not apply here, so there is no justification for the party to flourish. The really bad thing is that in opening here it gives the impression, to people who don't know the situation, that it is supported by a lot of Greeks, which is not the case. It has hurt Greece, the Greek cause, and Greeks' reputation more than anything else."

Anti-racist activists outside the appeals court in Athens this month for the case involving Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty
Despite the resistance, the far-rightists have made concerted efforts to move elsewhere, with Golden Dawn supporters saying Toronto is next. But the biggest push by far to date has been in the US. As home to close to 3 million citizens of Greek heritage, America has the diaspora's largest community. At first, cadres worked undercover, organising clothes sales and other charitable events without stating their true affiliation. Stickers and posters then began to appear around the New York suburb of Astoria before the organisation opened a branch there.

But while Greek Americans have some of the strongest ties of any community to their homeland, senior figures have vehemently denounced the organisation for not only being incongruous with Greece's struggle against fascism, during one of Europe's most brutal Nazi occupations, but utterly alien to their own experience as immigrants.

"These people and their principles will never be accepted in our community. Their beliefs are alien to our beliefs and way of life," said Nikos Mouyiaris, co-founder of the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), whose mission is to promote human rights and democratic values.

The victims of often violent persecution at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan as well as wider discrimination (in Florida in the 1920s restaurant noticeboards declared "no dogs or Greeks allowed") Greek Americans proudly recount how, almost alone among ethnic minorities, they actively participated in the civil rights movement, their spiritual leader Archbishop Iakovos daring to march alongside Martin Luther King. "Our history as a diaspora in the US has been marked by our fight against racism," said Mouyiaris.

Many in the diaspora believe, like Endy Zemenides who heads HALC, that Golden Dawn has deluded itself into believing it is a permanent force because of its soaring popularity on the back of the economic crisis. "The reality is that it is a fleeting by-product of failed austerity measures and the social disruption this austerity has caused," he said.

In Greece, where Golden Dawn has begun to recruit in schools, there are fears of complacency. Drawing parallels with the 1930s Weimar period and the rise of Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' party, the historian Mark Mazower recently warned against underestimating the threat posed by a party whose use of violence was so disturbing. "Unfortunately, the Greek state does not seem to realise the urgency of the situation," he told an audience in Athens.

After spending almost 30 years following Golden Dawn, Psarras agrees. Only weeks ago, he claimed, Michaloliakos held talks in the Greek parliament with two German neo-Nazis posing as journalists. Golden Dawn rejected the claim as "old mud".

"It is an extremely dangerous phenomenon and do I think it will get worse? Yes I do," Psarras said, lamenting that, with living standards plummeting, the organisation was opening offices in traditional middle-class neighbourhoods. There remained a simple fact too big to ignore: in 2009 the party was a political pariah, gaining a mere 0.29 % of the vote; today it had global ambitions.

"Ten years ago, if you had said Golden Dawn would become the third biggest force in Greece, you'd be called crazy," said Psarras. "Now look where it is."

Prosecutors Point To Specific Direction In Karamanlis Assassination Attempt

By Hellas Frappe on 2.4.13


credit defencenet
The investigation of the satanic plot to destabilize Greece politically, economically and socially, as well as to get rid of all of those who displayed resistance -assassination attempt against former conservative leader Costas Karamanlis- is beginning to point to specific directions, and judging from all the press reports on Tuesday Greek Prosecutors are now convinced on the why... As well as the who.

So much so that in order to confirm the evidence that they already have in their hands the Prosecution on Tuesday submitted a request to the Athens Magistrates Council which aims to link the wire-tapping scandal (Vodafone-case prosecution 2010) with the assassination attempt against Mr. Karamanlis (2006-2008, via a report by the Hellenic National Intelligence Service in 2009).

According to the dead lift that was conducted on the wire-tapping case, it was discovered that the phone tapping continued well into 2007 and did not end in 2005 as already known.

The Magistrate Council is now expected to issue a decree that will either link these two cases together, or allow them to continue being investigated separately.

Specifically, and according to a report on defencenet which covered the story as well, the investigation is now going to focus on the phone tapping case. It is basically going to turn its complete attention to the period after the April, 2004 elections when half (!!!) of the New Democracy government fell victim to wire-tapping by agents (!!!) who were based at the American Embassy in Athens, and according to the same report the prosecution will continue investigating this case until the period when the assassination attempt against the former PM occurred (in the winter of 2008).

Not surprisingly the prosecution is also linking the tragic events of the historic "December riots" (which occurred in the same year) with the above major investigation. This was quite a relief to us here at HellasFrappe since we have believed from day one that the December riots were staged to destabilize Greece politically, economically and socially.

Prosecutor N.Ornerakis is already convinced (and has enough evidence) to prove that there was an organized murder attempt against Mr. Karamanlis. The evidence he has massed is based on intelligence from the Hellenic Intelligence Agency as well as data from Russian intelligence services.

So who, what (and why) is/are behind these two cases which are now set to become the biggest scandal to have every rocked this country?

The who, according to the reports are intelligence agents, and as to the why... Well begin looking at what happened after the Karamanlis government got toppled and you will begin putting the pieces of this puzzle together. But to give you a jump start, the wire-tapping case is narrowing in on several suspects (or US agents) and that these individuals have already been identified. In fact international arrest warrants might soon be issued for their arrest. As for the attempted assassination attempt, there is strong evidence showing that yet another intelligence agency is involved which is very US friendly. No further details by defencenet were given.

Clearly, if there are reports that the prosecution already has identified who and what is behind these tragic events then it has extremely strong evidence in its hands. The only reason we mention this is because until now those suspected of being involved during that tragic period were merely suspected of being involved, but circumstantial evidence and solid evidence are two different things. By revealing that the wire-tapping continued well into 2007 (something that was not known until today), as well as noting that intelligence agents were conducting this illegal phone-tapping (something that was suspected but could not 100 percent be proven), then the Greek prosecution definitely has the evidence it needs to prove it.

Something else that is quite interesting is a leak that was published by defencenet and which claims that -aside from intelligence information- there are also serious and substantial testimonies from witnesses that literally link the wire-tapping case with the assassination attempt against Karamanlis.

One of these testimonies is from the former Head of the National Intelligence Agency (as well as ex-MP of the LAOS party) John Korantis. According to defencenet he mentioned the name of Alex Rondos. This is the same name which was also mentioned by the Russian secret service (FSB) who had at the time claimed that he was the man who knew that there was a conspiracy to organize the murder of Costas Karamanlis!

(Just a reminder here, as well as another piece to the puzzle, Alex Rondos was a key adviser -and extremely close associate- to George Papandreou).

Another leak that is quite interesting, and unknown until today, concerns the details behind one of the assassination attempts against the former PM. According to the same report, a bomb was detonated by remote control on Alexandras Avenue. Some time later (exact period not indicated) a terrorist organization by the name of the "People's Will" claimed responsibility. Shockingly, the aforementioned organization had already been signalled out by Russian intelligence officials who claimed they were being "controlled" by Western intelligence agencies.

And after all this INCREDIBLE information we only have one word to say here at HellasFrappe - FINALLY!!!!

Editor's Note - The very first article on this blog was dedicated to Karamanlis and for well over two years now we have continued to maintain that his government fell victim to a satanic plot that aimed at destabilizing our country socially, politically and especially economically. We are very pleased that the Greek justice system is finally doing its job, and we pray that they take this till the end. We nonetheless are still getting the heebie jeebies with all this incredible information.

Please read the stories below for more details, as well as to reference the wire-tapping case, and find out who Mr. Rontos is.

PART l - Plot to assassinate Costas Karamanlis revealed (VIDEO)

PART II – Plot to assassinate Costas Karamanlis revealed (VIDEO)

Authorities launch formal investigation into assassination plot against Karamanlis

Assassination Attempt Against Karamanlis Makes Int.l Headlines VIDEOS

Ambassador Threatens Greek MP Over Energy Policy - Connected To Karamanlis Assassination Plot

Was Mossad, MI6 & CIA Behind Assassination Plot Of Karamanlis?

Papandreou, Rondos, Lazzard, Sorros equals to the Rothchilds

Does Papandreou agree with Rondos’ views about sharing the Aegean with Turkey?

Albania coalition party to quit before June 23 poll, PM says government will operate normally



TIRANA, Albania - Albania's prime minister has promised his conservative-led government will operate normally up until general elections on June 23, despite the expected departure of one of his coalition partners.

The left-wing Socialist Movement for Integration Party, or LSI, runs the foreign, economy and health ministries, but is seeking to distance itself from Prime Minister Sali Berisha's centre-right Democratic Party before the parliamentary poll.

Berisha said Tuesday opposition parties lack the number of votes required in parliament to oust him. The 68-year-old Berisha, who has dominated post-Communist politics in Albania, is seeking a third consecutive term as prime minister

Kusturica: All Serbs are unwanted in Kosovo, and so am I

BELGRADE -- Film director Emir Kusturica says that ethnic Albanians had declared all Serbs unwanted in Kosovo - so he was not surprised to be included.

Emir Kusturica (Tanjug, file)
Emir Kusturica (Tanjug, file)

Emir Kusturica (Tanjug, file)
"So, their request to make me a persona non grata is accepted. Since they already declared all Serbs personae non gratae, and after they desecrated our graves and tore down our monuments, now they are actually telling us we should not come to Kosovo. But that's nothing new," Kusturica said.

This reaction on Tuesday of the internationally renowned filmmaker came after head of the Kosovo Association of Film Artists Lirak Celaj said he wanted Kusturica declared a persona non grata because of his announcements he would make a film about organ trafficking in Kosovo.

The ethnic Albanian KLA has been accused of kidnapping Serb and other civilians in 1999 and 2000, and removing their vital organs to sell them in the international black market.

Now Celaj, who recently became head of the Prištiina office of Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, believes Kusturica's film continues anti-Albanian propaganda, and announced he would demand "reaction from the international community."

Kusturica commented by saying that the issue of organ trafficking was "unfortunately not used in the talks between Belgrade and Priština, although it is the most brutal event of this century."

"For that reason, the very mention of the subject caused them to come to the idea to declare me persona non grata," he stated.

Kusturica previously announced that his film would be made during the next three years "because it was a large project, demanding great preparation and investment."

He noted he would make the film in Russia, since he had already stated that he would do a project there, adding that he was "aware he would not be allowed to film in Kosovo."

Israeli Security Concerns and the Balkans

March 31, 2013
By Chris Deliso

Heading into April 2013, Israel is confronted with a complexity of issues in the greater Middle East. These include: chronic political disagreements at home; the Syrian conflict next door, with its possibility to affect Lebanon; volatile unrest in Egypt; the precarious condition of Cyprus and the effect of this on possible future joint energy projects; an intensified threat from Iran and Hezbollah, and strategizing how to handle Turkish diplomatic moves following the (US-brokered) rapprochement. These moves may include an emotive emphasis on the Palestinian issue, which would increase existing anti-Israeli prejudices in the larger Muslim world.

Space for the Balkans?

Given these distractions, nurturing the strategic relationships Israel has forged in the Balkans since the Turkish alliance deteriorated in 2010 would not seem a high priority for the new coalition. However, we do expect that Israel will continue to work with Balkan governments to monitor security vulnerabilities and threats (as it does elsewhere in the world), and possibly on a higher level than in the past. This will be due to both local developments and security issues on a more global level.

Even before the May 2010 Gaza Flotilla, Israel had enjoyed good relations with Balkan countries in diplomatic, economic and security cooperation. In some cases, these friendly ties went back to the early 1990s. However, in the aftermath of the Flotilla incident, the Turkish-Israeli falling out was so high-profile that many foreign media simply interpreted Israel’s expanding diplomatic relations in the Balkans as implicative of reactive diplomacy, an after-effect of the suspended alliance with Turkey.

Yet while Israeli officials did certainly have to acknowledge a unique new situation unfolding then, it is also clear that Israel’s growing regional presence had already been in development over many years, independent of any temporary problems with Turkey.

Nevertheless analysts will still want to follow how the revived Israel-Turkey relationship plays out, and also how both states’ approaches to the Balkans on the bilateral and regional levels will be affected by it. has monitored the fluctuations in Israeli-Turkish relations since the beginning; readers might thus enjoy, for some now historical context, our previous report from Israel, published in February 2011, when Egypt was on the edge of its turbulent transformation and Syria was still just a hazy conflict on the horizon.

A lot has happened since then. The following analytical survey draws upon interviews with numerous sources interviewed in recent weeks, including diplomats, high-level intelligence and military officials of regional states, informed journalists and other experts, as well as general field knowledge and secondary sources. It discusses current security issues for Israel in the Balkans and its relations with regional countries, in the larger context of the Iranian threat and the emerging rapprochement with Turkey.

Renewed, But Not Rethought, Interest in Terrorism in the Balkans

The 18 July 2012 Burgas terrorist attack that killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian national was unfortunate proof that terrorist attacks can indeed occur in the Balkans. This possibility had previously been considered doubtful by experts who view the Balkans as specifically a safe haven/logistics base for extremists- and as something altogether impossible by partisan supporters of local Muslim populations.

However, since the spectacle of an armed Islamist standoff at the US Embassy in Sarajevo on 28 October 2011, US security officials have started to take greater interest, though this has not resulted in overt policy changes (consonant with what predicted at the time).

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Kosovo dialogue continued with new round

BRUSSELS, BELGRADE -- The 8th round of the Kosovo dialogue between Belgrade and Priština with EU mediation is being held in Brussels on Tuesday.

Vučić, Ashton, and Dačić are seen in Brussels on Tuesday (EU)
Vučić, Ashton, and Dačić are seen in Brussels on Tuesday (EU)


Vučić, Ashton, and Dačić are seen in Brussels on Tuesday (EU)
The key question was expected to the formation of a community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo and its powers.

After their separate meetings with Catherine Ashton, Ivica Dačić, Hashim Thaci and their delegations at around 14:00 CET started a trilateral meeting the EU foreing policy chief, who acts as a mediator.

After a pause, Ashton at 18:00 CET began the second bilateral meeting of the day with the Serbian delegation.

Member of the Serbian team Aleksandar Vulin said earlier in the afternoon that no progress had been made yet, and described the talks as difficult.

The Serbian delegation arrived at the building where the negotiations are held first, but did not make any statements to the press. Hashim Thaci and his delegation arrived later, and Thaci addressed reporters to say that he would not accept anything "outside the Constitution of Kosovo", and added:

"We are ready for a dialogue, but there will be no change in our position. Kosovo us on the right path to integrations and as the leader of the Kosovo delegation I am ready for agreement in this meeting, if there is an opportunity to reach it."

Unofficially, before their separate meetings with Ashton, both teams should also hold separate meetings with U.S. State Department official Philip Reeker.

A tense atmosphere and uncertainty is surrounding today's round of talks, and our reporter in Brussels says that it is impossible to predict how long the negotiations would last.

Serbian leadership met in Belgrade yesterday and agreed on the minimum demands and the composition of the delegation, which will, in addition to Prime Minister Ivica Dačić, this time include his first deputy Aleksandar Vučić, and Deputy PM in charge of EU integration Suzana Grubješić.

The Serbian delegation arrived last night in Brussels.

In previous rounds of the dialogue, in addition to the trilateral meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also held separate talks with Dačić and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

Also, ahead of several earlier rounds Dačić and Thaci met separately with U.S. diplomat in charge of the Balkans Philip Reeker.

European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia Jelko Kacin said last night on his Twitter account that Priština's delegation, with Thaci and two of his deputies, had also arrived in Brussels.

Many believe that today's negotiations will be decisive, considering that the European Commission is due to present a progress report on Serbia's EU integration process in mid-April, which will also cover progress "in the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština."

President Tomislav Nikolić said yesterday that Serbia was "not seeking an ideal solution and was rejecting nothing in advance," but that anything less than the demand for the community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo to decide on the judiciary and the police was unaccaptable for Belgrade, and that this must be taking place "without the presence of the military".

Thaci, before leaving for Brussels, said that it would not be easy to reach agreement and reiterated that the community of Serb municipalities "will not be able to have any legislative or executive powers." According to Thaci, the price for the possible failure of the talks "will be paid by Belgrade," in the shape of delays in Serbia's EU integration process.

Ashton on Monday voiced her belief that an agreement between Belgrade and Priština was close at hand, but also cautioned that making a reaching will not be easy.

Other European officials expressed hope for a positive outcome of the dialogue and a compromise solution, but there was no information on whether Ashton would present the two sides with a different proposal than the "non-paper" which Belgrade rejected during the previous round as absolutely unacceptable.

When asked about the possibility of a new proposal, Ashton's spokesperson Maja Kocijancic recalled that "the EU acts as a mediator in the dialogue and that each proposal is based on proposals from Belgrade and Priština."

The U.S. State Department has expressed hope that the new round of dialogue will be successful.

Meanwhile, Serbs in northern Kosovo are already preparing a response in case an agreement is reached that does not suit them, announcing that they will "form an autonomy."

The local Serbs on Monday blocked the administrative line integrated crossing of Jarinje for a little less than an hour, saying they would not participate in the enforcement of any agreement between Belgrade and Priština that was unconstitutional and at the expense of the citizens in the north of the province.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hiking Beyond Borders in the Balkans

Chad Case for The New York Times
Clockwise from far left: Leaving Theth, Albania; Gusinje, Montenegro; looking out over Kosovo and Montenegro; people encountered during the trek. More Photos »
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The seasons were changing fast, and the warmth I’d taken for granted had vanished as night mustered in the hills. I gathered the blanket around my neck and listened to the dogs barking below. It was now long past midnight, with only a few hours until the morning call to prayer.

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Peter Grubb, the owner of an Idaho-based outfitter called ROW Adventures, sat in the corner flipping through maps under the lone working light bulb. We were in Room 305 of Hotel Rosi, a bright yellow block of a building in Gusinje, a predominately Muslim community in the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. South of here, a rocky trail climbed steadily into a vampiric maw of limestone peaks. Tomorrow we would follow that trail and slip virtually unnoticed into Albania.
That would have been among the stupidest things you could do had it been the 1980s, when Albania was the North Korea of Europe. From World War II until his death in 1985, the Communist leader Enver Hoxha hammered Albania into an oppressive hermit state. He extirpated dissent, outlawed religion and lowered the age for executions to 11. The “Great Teacher” hermetically sealed the borders and distanced himself from other Communists. “We have fought empty-bellied and barefooted but have never kowtowed to anybody!” he once howled at Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader.
Hoxha’s final heart attack and the eventual collapse of Communism hailed the beginning of the end of Albania’s isolation, and in recent years the once-tense border region separating Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo has become the kind of place you’d want to visit. Aid money, remittances and relative stability have helped create a middle class, and tourism in the region is beginning to boom. Guides take groups kayaking under stone bridges in Montenegro, hiking around Albanian archaeological sites and even skiing in Kosovo. New hotels are pumping fresh life into stale Communist hangouts, even if the water isn’t always hot.
“If you want luxury, sorry, go to Paris or New York,” Kela Qendro, a 33-year-old Albanian working for a small tourism company, told me later. “You come here to see the real stuff. The shepherd. The old woman picking pomegranates. You go up to villagers and they will invite you inside their home for the joy of meeting you.”
Mr. Grubb, who runs about seven trips a year to Croatia, had long been fascinated with this less-developed region of the Balkans. About a year ago he learned of an intriguing new way to explore it — on foot.
The Peaks of the Balkans Trail, a project coordinated by the German Agency for International Cooperation and involving dozens of other groups (including women’s associations, tourism offices and environmental nongovernmental organizations), formally opened last year as a 120-mile trek designed to foster tourism and teamwork among historically quarrelsome neighbors. The path literally links Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox enclaves, as well as Slavs and numerous Albanian tribes in three adjoining national parks, each showcasing the border region’s inestimable beauty. Towering rock walls scream for thousands of feet into an unimpeachable sky. Farmhouses gather like asters in valleys. Wolves and lynxes pad through landscapes soaked in green.
There would be no real roughing it, since locals have turned ancestral homes into rustic inns offering beds, homemade cheeses, meats and brandy. Even wandering across remote, unmanned borders is now legal, thanks to a new permit system introduced last summer. Mr. Grubb needed only some roll-with-it travelers willing to be his guinea pigs before offering the trip for real. Seven gregarious Texans and I signed up.
Now, sitting in the hotel room, Mr. Grubb put down the map and sighed. He seemed restless. We were about to head deep into the Albanian Alps, better known as the cursed mountains, some of Europe’s most glaciated peaks after the Swiss Alps and the highest summits of the Dinaric Alps. The whole trail could be hiked in about 10 days, but we had just 5 to do parts of it. Even so, there were big days and taxing climbs ahead. We would be among the first American-outfitted groups to wander into the maw, and in these parts, the order of things is more mystery than fact.
“This could be more cutting-edge than I thought,” Mr. Grubb said, and he switched off the light.
EARLIER THAT DAY I had met the Texans at the airport in Podgorica, Montenegro’s pint-size capital. Rainey Rogers, a former amateur boxing champion, was the youngest in the group at 49. Richard Dill, a retired pharmacy franchise mogul whom everyone called Dick, was the oldest at 73. Mark David, a real estate investor, had rallied the guys around the hike.
It was dark when we arrived in Gusinje, but the morning dawned bright and warm. Mount Rosi, the hotel’s 8,274-foot-high namesake, rose to the southeast, while the 8,838-foot-high pyramid of Mount Jezerca lorded over the south.
Around 9 a.m. Enes Dreskovic, the newly minted director of the Prokletije National Park, one of the three border parks, roared up in a hunter-orange Pinzgauer, a military transport vehicle, to take us to the trail head. The bench seats in the back were too small for all of us, so I stood on the rear bumper and clung to the roll bars as we bounced down country lanes. Women in head scarves snapped upright from their fields to watch us, while Rainey hurled Blow Pops to children who stared from the side of the road. A gentleman in a pinstripe vest steered a horse cart groaning with firewood.
We were alone when we ground to a halt in the Ropojana Valley, a fairy-tale scoop of swaying pines and scalloped ridges that even the Pinzgauer could not penetrate. The trail began in earnest here. An Albanian from Theth, our goal 12 miles away, had supposedly left the village at 3 a.m. with horses to carry our luggage, but there was no sign of him.
“Well, welcome to the ‘A’ in adventure travel,” Mr. Grubb said, scratching his red beard. He proposed the only logical Plan B: to stuff what we needed into our daypacks and rendezvous with our bags two days later. The Texans seemed less annoyed than antsy to get romping through the magnificent landscape.
“Let’s repack and get after it,” boomed Paul Pogue, a pilot.
Rocks as white as marble complained under our boots as we marched toward a broad meadow in the midst of a beech forest. A griffon vulture performed lazy 8’s overhead. Shards of silvery-gray limestone shot into the sky like missiles. Of all the images I’d had of the region, none were as beautiful as this.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Mark marveled.
By early afternoon we had crested the Peja Pass, a treeless scab of rock and wind with an elevation of about 5,000 feet. Ghostly stone barracks stood guard with tattered burlap billowing in the window frames. Inside I found a pair of size 9 dress shoes and rooms reeking of ungulates. Dome-shape bunkers with machine gun slits and roofs splintered like blooming onions fortified the high points. Fearing an invasion from all directions, Hoxha had built an estimated 700,000 of these death pods around a country smaller than Maryland.
“Welcome to Albania,” bellowed our 28-year-old Montenegrin guide, Semir Kardovic, mimicking gunfire.
The 2,600-vertical-foot climb to the pass had been difficult but the 4,000-vertical-foot descent into Theth was brutal. Down and down we plummeted along a series of knee-smashing switchbacks into an enormous glacial valley. By dusk, pointy houses with orange light seeping from the doorways winked through the forest. We made our way toward one, a medieval-looking guesthouse with squat windows and stone walls.
“Good evening,” said the keeper, Pavlin Polia, greeting us. He was in his early 30s, tall with midnight hair and a Roman nose. His Kosovan wife, Vlora, fetched some glasses while his brother, Nardi, shook our hands. We did our best to ignore his black eye. “Fight,” Nardi shamefully explained.
Inside the main room a slender stringed instrument called a cifteli hung on the wall above a barrel filled with bowling balls of cheese. Rainey limped in and lay his head down on a long wooden table while Dick collapsed onto one of the 15 beds upstairs. I slugged two shots of plum brandy, convinced we had wandered back in time.
Like many Albanians, Mr. Polia had fled the country as soon as he could. He worked in construction in Italy and still remembers his first Pepsi. He returned to his family home in Theth a decade later and converted it into a guesthouse that opened in 2009. Now 300 people a year stay with him, the equivalent of half the village, each paying about 25 euros, or about $31 at $1.25 to the euro, for a bed and meals.
“In Italy I had lots of opportunity to make money, but that was not my passion,” he told me over wild marjoram tea.
I headed upstairs to wash but Mr. Polia stopped me.
“Don’t forget your luggage,” he said.
“You have my bag?” I asked, incredulously.
“Of course,” he said. “I brought it with the horses.”
THAT NIGHT FATIGUE sloughed off my body into a pile of warm blankets and I awoke to the prickly scent of roasting peppers. After a breakfast of eggs, curds and jam, Mr. Polia bade farewell as we shouldered our packs and stomped off toward the village of Valbona, about eight and a half miles east. We passed a stone chapel set in a pasture. The area is so rugged that the Ottoman Turks, who were Muslims, were unable to control the region as they did most of the Balkans for 500 years. As a result, both Theth and Valbona are still Catholic.
Mount Arapit, a 7,274-foot peak with a southern face as sheer as Half Dome at Yosemite, seemed to size me up as I crossed a wooden bridge and began to climb through maple, ash and hornbeams. It was not yet 10 a.m. but already muggy. Less than two miles in I collapsed. We had gained 800 vertical feet. Only 3,000 more to go.
There had been debate the night before about how many horses to bring in case someone needed a ride. The men seemed too tough to admit to wanting any, but the Day 1 damage was clear. Rainey had pulled a hamstring. Dick had taken a tumble. In the end, Mr. Grubb hired one extra horse, which was fortunate when Richard Abernathy, a 60-year-old lawyer, began to hint that his heart was acting funny.
“I’m fine,” he countered. “Richard, get on the horse!” Paul barked, and Richard reluctantly climbed into the saddle atop a small, flea-bitten gray.
He wasn’t riding for long, though. Soon the trail fell some 2,500 feet into a broad alluvial basin. A van waited for us at the start of a rocky road that joined an asphalt street poured only a few weeks earlier. The effect was rattling. New Colorado-style lodges with exposed timber beams seemed to be going up everywhere.
“A lot of locals are moving back to the area, which is very encouraging,” Antonia Young, a British research fellow who has worked for more than a decade to create an international peace park in the region, told me later. “The danger now is that tourism gets too big before they can cope with it.”
Kol Gjoni Jubani had seen it all change so fast. He met us in the courtyard of his guesthouse, a concrete chalet built in 2005 next to a destroyed stone hut in which he had been born more than 50 years ago. Mr. Jubani looked like a Balkan cowboy with jeans and a glorious Sam Elliott mustache. His son, Ardit, 19, showed me upstairs to a room with five beds; I claimed the one with a Disney blanket in the corner.
“What do you think of Albania?” Ardit asked me after a dinner of chicken, lamb and spicy peppers.
“For such an old place, something about it feels refreshingly new,” I replied.
“Maybe that’s because it is new,” Ardit laughed. “We are still growing up.”
TO BE SURE, Albania has had some wobbly moments on its new capitalist legs. In 1997 Albanians lost $1.2 billion of their life savings in pyramid schemes that sparked a rebellion against the government and resulted in about 2,000 deaths. A 2012 report by Transparency International ranked corruption there on par with Niger, where soldiers in 2011 were arrested for plotting to murder the president, who had recently begun investigations into corruption. Even tourism, which has nearly tripled in six years from about 1 million foreign tourists to 2.7 million in 2012, according to Albanian figures, has been unable to escape certain prejudices.
“Albania is a great place to score plenty of illegal narcotics — a ‘must have’ for any Albanian holiday!” commented an anonymous reader of a June 11, 2012, Southeast European Times article about the country’s booming tourism trade. Another commented that Albanians themselves would rather flee to Greece or Italy than stick around.
“You cannot have an image problem if that problem is real,” said Ilir Mati, who in 1992 sold his Fiat, one of the first private cars allowed in the country, to buy a fax machine and start an adventure tourism company called Outdoor Albania. Mr. Mati was at the guesthouse with clients, and I sat up late chatting with him in French.
“You know, you were once my enemy,” he said, tugging on a cigarette. “My friends thought I was crazy to leave the military and go into tourism. But I had a dream that one day I would be sitting around a table like this talking to people like you.”
The discussion continued the next morning when our plan to hike from Valbona back into Montenegro was altered. After two days the trek was too much for our group — 16 hours at least — and the trail had been washed out. So instead we drove to a spot just above the village of Cerem, where we loaded our luggage onto fresh horses and headed out for an easy two-mile stroll. Along the way we passed the remains of an Opel Frontera that only a few months ago had struck a land mine.
“Don’t worry,” Semir said, demonstrating a wry sense of humor. “It was an anti-tank mine, so you have to be really heavy to trigger it.”
We leapt over a ditch and landed in Montenegro, and soon the Pinzgauer arrived. A white Land Rover with “Policija” emblazoned on the side accompanied it. I quietly panicked, hoping the new permit system was truly in place.
The officer showed zero interest in our paperwork. Instead, Inspector Gutic had come to offer us a more comfortable ride into the town of Plav, the largest town in a district of about 13,100 people, which felt like a thrumming metropolis after Albania. We sat in a cafe with Wi-Fi, bought chips and chocolate and explored an old stone tower where families once targeted in ancient blood feuds could better defend themselves at night.
We still had two days on the trail, and both of them blew by. On Day 4 we hiked six miles from huts outside Plav to a road that led to a one-lift ski area called Boga, an Albanian area in Kosovo that had been leveled in the 1999 war with Serbia and then rapidly rebuilt. We spent the night in new A-frame cabins at the base, and I discovered that in winter it cost just 1 euro to ride the lift. On the last day we climbed 7,880-foot Hajla peak and wandered along its long, narrow summit ridge, where I put one foot in Kosovo and the other in Montenegro. I could see the plains of Serbia far to the east and the Sharr Mountains framing Macedonia to the south. The cursed range rose to the west, looking no less formidable than it had from Gusinje.
We spent our last night as a group in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which we reached after a long bus ride from Rozaje, Montenegro. The old city was gorgeous — shiny ramparts against a shimmering sea — but there was nothing to discover. The streets were too polished, the menus too refined. I turned on the faucet in my hotel room and flinched when the water came out hot.
All told we hadn’t hiked more than 35 miles, but the Peaks of the Balkans Trail isn’t about distance so much as interaction, and with that one bus ride I’d crossed the most obvious border of the trip, the one between traveler and tourist. Despite wandering through a place of such hardship, the trail had introduced me to a rare part of Europe where the very idea of walking freely between worlds is still a gift as sweet and momentous as your first soft drink. A whole new Europe, a gracious and wild one, had presented itself, and to experience it I just needed to lace up my boots.
That all may one day disappear, too. And so the next morning after everyone left for Texas, I jumped in a taxi and drove south until we could drive no more. Then I hoisted my pack and walked back into Albania.
Getting There
The Peaks of the Balkans Trail has trail heads in Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. Flying into the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, allows you to rest pre- and post-trip along Lake Skadar, about a half-hour out of the city. Expect at least a two-hour drive to a trail head near Gusinje. Pristina, Kosovo, is the closest city to a trail head west of Peja — about 66 miles — but the smog makes it a less pleasing place to get your bearings. Getting to trail heads in Albania (Theth or Valbona) from Tirana, the capital, can be long and complicated, and you’ll miss some of the most spectacular hiking into those villages. Connecting flights land in Podgorica (airport code TGD) from Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt, London and Rome, among other European cities.
Getting Around
Hiring a guide is not obligatory but highly recommended, as trails, though mostly marked, can still confuse, and many locals speak minimal English. Guides can also arrange pack horses, accommodations and airport transfers, and assist with permit applications, which need to be submitted at least 15 days before the hike begins. The Peaks of the Balkans Web site ( lists guides who have been trained by the German Alpine Club and provides information on where to find maps, how to contact guesthouses and apply for permits, and what to expect on the trail each day.
ROW Adventures of Idaho is offering two departures, in June and September, for eight-day trips into Montenegro and Albania that combine kayaking on Lake Skadar, riding a scenic train and hiking portions of the trail around Theth and Valbona, two of the more spectacular areas in the Albanian Alps. ($2,090;; 800-451-6034)
Tim Neville, who lives in Oregon, writes frequently about the outdoors.