Court Decision to Halt Construction of HPP

You can down load the full text of the formal decision of the Administrative Court of Appeals, Tirana.  We’ll try to work on a translation, as the language is very very strong and . . . wonderful!

“Pranimin e kerkeses per marrjen e mases se sigurimit te padise duke urdheruar pezullimin e punimeve ne zbatim te aktit administrativ, vendimit te Keshillit Kombetar te Territorit Nr. 12 date 10.11.2017 “Per miratimin e shtyrjes se afatit te lejes se ndertimit per objektin: “Ndertim i Hidrocentralit “Dragobia”, Komuna Margegaj, Qarku Kukes”, deri ne perfundimin e gjykimit te ceshtjes.”

The Tide is Turning in the Fight to Save Valbona Valley NP

Last week (on 6 June, in an unpublicized closed-door hearing), a panel of 3 judges in the administrative appeals court of Tirana ruled to overturn the previous decision of the court, instead upholding the request of NGO TOKA and 27 inhabitants for a stop work injunction against the construction of the Dragobia Energy hydropower plants in Valbona Valley National Park.  The injunction was originally requested in January 2018, as part of a suit suing the National Territorial Council (KKT) of Albania over their decision in November 2017 to issue the projects with a new construction permit.  The plaintiffs argue that the new permit is clearly illegal, as the Law for Protected Areas was amended in June 2017 declaring hydro powers illegal in National Parks.  The projects’ initial construction permit expired in May 2017.  Under Albanian law, a stop work injunction should be granted in all cases where “irreversible environmental damage may occur during the period of the judicial process.”  It should remain in effect until the final resolution of the suit of TOKA & 27 vs. KKT, which could be some months or years depending on the appeals process.

At present, the plaintiffs are awaiting the court’s publication of the formal decision, at which time the injunction can be enforced.  Once the injunction is in effect, any continued construction on the part of the companies (Dragobia Energy or its parent owner Gener2) would constitute a criminal act in contempt of court, and any such constructions would be liable for removal at the companies’ expense.

VALBONA FLOWS IN SKANDERBEG SQUARE

On May 24, 2018, the Valbona River will flow to Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square, to “protest” against the hydropower constructions threatening 30km of its length. Under attack by a proposed 14 hydropower plants – three of which are already under construction – the Valbona River is one of Europe’s last remaining wild rivers and the heart of Northern Albania’s Valbona Valley National Park. The river protest is an appeal to decision-makers, and primarily to prime minister Edi Rama, to halt construction of hydropower plants in the National Park, to protect the river, the unique ecosystem it supports and the local community that lives within the park.

The concept of the river itself ‘flooding’ the square in protest is preceded by the countless protests organised in Valbona and Tirana to stop the construction of hydropower in the National Park. Also local community is involved in several legal struggles to protect the Park. It was only 10 years ago that the mountain villages in the park opened their isolated community to the world, and the Valbona Valley National Park is now considered to be one of the best outdoors destinations in Europe.

There is a lot at stake, and scientists confirm their concerns. A recent study revealed that 49 European freshwater species would either become extinct or lose 50 to 100% of their Balkan distribution due to cumulative hydropower projects in the region. The proliferation of hydropower should additionally consider climate change: South East Europe faced severe droughts last year, resulting in energy crises. Yet the number of small hydropower plants are constantly increasing, despite risks.

The project is coordinated by TOKA, the NGO leading the campaign against hydropower within the National Park, Catherine Bohne (acting president of the organisation), Andi Tepelena (representative of the independent cultural scene in Albania) and Adelina Stuparu. The project is made possible with financial support from Berlin-based Guerrilla Foundation, Lush UK, and many donors from the Netherlands who contribute financially to small grants administered by the XminY Foundation. Contemporary artist Klodian Dedja has designed a sound and visual installation that will transfer the river symbolically and holographically from the National Park into Skanderbeg Square, to the heart of Albania’s capital.

Come and experience Valbona river at Skandebeg Square! Stand for its protection!

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VALBONA DERGJET NE SHESHIN SKENDERBEJ!

Ne 24 Maj 2018, lumi Valbona do te rrjedhe ne Sheshin Skenderbej ne Tirane, per “te protestuar” kundra ndertimit te HEC-eve qe kercenojne 30 km pergjate tij. Nen sulmin e 14 HEC-eve te planifikuara – 3 prej te cilave jane tashme ne ndertim e siper – lumi Valbone eshte nder te fundit lumenj te eger te mbetur ne Europe, si dhe zemra e Parkut Kombetar te Lugines se Valbones ne veriun e Shqiperise. Protesta eshte nje apel ndaj vendimarresve, ne vecanti ndaj kryeministrit Edi Rama, per te ndalur ndertimin e HEC-eve ne Parkun Kombetar, per te mbrojtur lumin, dhe ekosistemin unik te tij, si dhe komunitetin e banoreve qe jeton aty.

Koncepti i lumit qe pushton sheshin ne shenje proteste eshte i pararendur nga protesta te panumerta te organizuara ne Valbone dhe Tirane per te ndalur HEC-et. Banoret vendas gjithashtu jane te perfshire ne nje sere betejash ligjore per te mbrojtur Parkun. Ishte vetem para 10 vjetesh qe fshatrat malore brenda Parkut u hapen ndaj botes, ndersa Parku Kombetar i Lugines se Valbones konsiderohet tashme si nje nga destinacionet outdoor kryesore ne Europe.

Ka shume elemente ne loje, dhe shkencetaret konfirmojne shqetesimet e tyre. Nje studim i fundit thote se 49 specie europiane qe jetojne ne uje te embel ose do te zhduken ose do te humbin me 50-100% shperndarjen e tyre ne Ballkan, si rezultat i aktivitetit te akumuluar te HEC-eve ne rajon. Shtimi i HEC-eve duhet te marre parasysh gjithashtu ndryshimin klimatik: Europa Jug-lindore u perball me nje sere thatesirash vitin e shkuar, qe rezultuan ne kriza energjitike. E me gjithe keto rreziqe, numri i HEC-eve te vogla po rritet ne menyre konstante.

Projekti i instalacionit koordinohet nga shoqata TOKA, ojf-ja qe po drejton fushaten kundra HEC-eve brenda Parkut Kombetar, nga Catherine Bohne (drejtoresha e organizates), Andi Tepelena (perfaqesues e skenes se pavarur kulturore ne Shqiperi) dhe Adelina Stuparu. Projekti eshte bere i mundur me mbeshtetjen financiare te Guerrilla Foundation te bazuar ne Berlin, Lush UK, dhe shume donatore te tjere nga Hollanda te cilet kontribojne financiarisht ne grantet e vogla te menaxhuara nga XminY Foundation. Artisti bashkekohor Klodian Dedja ka dizenjuar nje instalacion zanor dhe pamor i cili sjell simbolikisht Valbonen nga Parku Kombetar ne sheshin Skenderbej, ne zemren e kryeqytetit shqiptar.

Eja dhe prek lumin e Valbones ne sheshin Skenderbej! Qendro krahe mbrojtjes se tij!

We Won’t Stop – First Hearing in Gener2 vs TOKA

Gener 2 & Dragobia Energy vs. TOKA and Catherine Bohne “The American of Valbona”

First Hearing 2 May 2018

On 2nd May at midday, in the Gjykata e Rrethit Gjyqesor in Tirana (Civil Court), Judge Eneida Civici presided over the first procedural hearing in the case of Gener-2 and Dragobia Energy vs. NGO TOKA and Catherine Bohne, in which the companies are asking for an award of 20,000,000 Albanian lek to compensate for “damages done to their reputations” during the campaign against the hydropowers being constructed in Valbona Valley National Park.

Convinced more than ever in the cause, Ms. Bohne declared right after the first court hearing “TOKA, the locals and I will continue to fight.  Of course.  This lawsuit is a small threat, compared to the threat of destroying Valbona.  What does it matter if they take my house, dogs and sheep, compared to if they succeed in stealing the National Park belonging to all the Albanian People?”

The defendants argue that this is actually a case against freedom of speech.  With this level of public opposition, it is clear that the hydropowers are not viewed as a positive thing by most people, and it is completely unrealistic to think that people will not voice their fears and complaints, as publicly as they can.  As is the unalienable right of all Albanian people and activists.

Are the developers ready to sue hundreds and hundreds of citizens who have expressed their opposition against the hydropowers in the Valbona National Park through peaceful manifestations in the squares of Tropoja and Tirana or in online portals ? Don’t the actions of this company seem self-damaging and triggering indignation among the population? It seems yes, given the enourmous reactions of the supporters of Valbona National Park Valley.

This is not the fight of one family, this is the struggle of the whole Valbona Valley

In a country where the NGOs are often accused of lack of representation in the population, a consistent group of 50 inhabitants together with TOKA are currently in three  open judicial processes. What is more, in a small village such as Dragobia with around 230 inhabitans, an unprecedented case in Albania has been registered in late April this year.   As a result of the disappointment of the inhabitants, an emergency vote has taken place during which the people removed the old, Bashkia-appointed village head, Adem Metaliaj who in 2013 confirmed the public consultation approving the hydropowers.  This consultation is currently the subject of criminal charges for falsification of signatures in the Tropoja Prosecutor’s office.  The majority of villages voted to replace Mr. Metaliaj with Mr. Hysni Sokolaj, who pledged to “oppose the hydropowers and end the abuses being done in the name of the inhabitants and against their will.”

What is often claimed by hydropower supporters as the fight of only one family in Valbona with the aim of minimising the opposition, as a matter of fact is an unprecedented example of broad-based democracy, which is worth being taken as example everywhere in other communities where other exploitations are happening. What people are demanding is more representation, more democratic and transparent decision making, and that the voice of simple people is heard.

The case continues on 31 May at 12:00 with the first judicial hearing.

1st Community Forum Meeting & Sustainable Development Workshop

28 April 2018

TOKA offices, Bajram Curri

9:00 – 13:00

1st Community Forum Meeting & Sustainable Development Workshop

Visegrad Fund Project: A Voice for Tropoja

 

On Saturday, 28 April, 2018, thirteen participants gathered from around Tropoja representing 7 different villages to take part in our first monthly community forum and development workshop as sponsored by the Visegrad-funded project “Rural Community Development: A Voice for Tropoja.”  We were very happy to welcome the newly appointed project coordinator Ina Shkurti, an Albanian woman bringing considerable international experience in sustainable development to Tropoja, who led the meeting (with frequent interruptions from TOKA president and members, gracefully tolerated by Ms. Shkurti).

Within the design of the project, the ongoing monthly meetings should achieve two goals:  First, to continue the work of drafting a locally generated sustainable development plan as well as realizing immediate economic benefits to local communities, and second to “engage members of the Tropoja community to share ideas, vision and support each other on issues relevant for their sustainable development opportunities.”

We therefore divided the meeting into two sections.  First, for one hour we held the first “Forum” style meeting, in which participants were invited to present information deemed to be of value to their community.  Topics presented by those present included:  1) a proposal for a multifunctional festival to be held on 15 & 16 September in Valbona and Bajram Curri in collaboration with the Balkan Rivers Tour 2018 (TOKA),  2) a proposal from Kelmend region to work together to unite communities of Northern Albania in fighting hydropower, based on potential damage to archeological sites (Dardan Metaliaj),  3) an offer from German kayakers to provide training and 3 months of employment outside Albania for 2-3 Tropojans interested in learning how to guide for kayaking and rafting (TOKA)  4) a proposal to develop an asphalt road from Shkoder to Gjakova, first proposed in 1947, now being promoted by a group in Gjakova.  The idea is that the road would open the region to increased tourism.  (Gentjan Hajdarmataj),  5) an account was given of the recent success of participatory democracy in Dragobi, in which the community demanded the removal of the official Village Head (a representational office) and his replacement with a candidate of their choice (Dardan Metaliaj and Enerik Demiraj).

In each case, a working group was established in order to pursue and/or promote each issue independently.  Each issue was felt to be of potential interest or benefit to the Tropoja community.  Therefore a proposal was made that a monthly newsletter be produced, in order to share such news.  A working committee was also established for this.

After a quick coffee break (really!) the group re-convened to continue working on developing practical and easily realizable tools for improving economic wellbeing of community members.  A brief discussion of the concept of “Sustainable Development” resulted in the group accepting a definition that we should only interest ourselves in developments which improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the region, accepting no developments which improve one aspect at the cost of another.

We then reviewed some of the tools available to Tropoja to easily develop economically:  The new version of website JourneytoValbona.com, the JourneytoValbona tourism center and shop, and a newly created interactive online map made by Ina Shkurti.

We decided each month to explore a new way of using the website JourneytoValbona.com to promote local sustainable business initiatives.  This month we looked at the possibility to create “itineraries” and offer them online.  The itinerary function means that even people without a specific business or product can design a “program” which can be offered to tourists, with the designer of the tour operating effectively as a local tourism provider, offering just one activity.  Maybe a new hiking itinerary.  Maybe a theme-based itinerary (like the “Tour i Turpshem” – Tour of Shame – in which visitors are invited to witness first-hand threats to local well-being like un-sustainable developments, which visitors could obviously help locals to fight).  Such itineraries could also include things like “have lunch in a local community, and experience local life.”   Interest in developing itineraries was extremely enthusiastic, so that we proposed sending TOKA volunteers out once a week to help locals collect data to build such itineraries.

We next looked at the interactive map created by Ina Shkurti, which offers the possibility to “pin” profiles and services to an online interactive map, already live online.  We reviewed what a profile should look like, what kind of information can and should be included, and then broke into small paired groups in which participants were given 10 minutes to interview each other, collecting information for profiles.  We then reconvened and the interviewers “presented” the profile of their partners.  Profiles were collected, to be typed and uploaded asap.  We agreed that before the next meeting participants would review their online profiles, and work during the next month to “flesh them out” with mor or better photographs, more individual information, and thoughts on how to diversify offerings, etc.   It was interesting to notice that people were encouraged in discussion when “that person wants to do exactly what I want to do,” without necessarily understanding yet how to diversify offerings so they support each other.  At the same time, it was easy to identify people with original, constructive ideas (one community offered the opportunity to “play games with other children” – perfect for visiting families!) therefore cross-pollination of ideas was strong.

Finally, in terms of thinking about how to define and develop a tangible product (ie, something that could be sold in a tourism shop), we used the practical example of a jar of “Gjell e Domate” (tomato sauce) made by a woman in Dojan.  The jar was placed on the table, and the group was invited to think about “how do I sell this?”  They quickly determined that the ‘product’ needed labelling with a range of information, that it needed packaging, marketing, a selling point and a cost-profit model.  We discussed how the profiles created in the previous activity could be used to promote the products.  Issues of sustainable supply were also discussed.  It was agreed that we would return to the next meeting with more products to offer in TOKA partner JourneytoValbona’s tourism shop with complete ideas for marketing and packaging.  A sustainable packaging solution was suggested, to use “recycled” glass jars from restaurants in Valbona Valley NP, rather than buying new jars.

In the last 45 minutes, we returned to the question of development plans.  What are they, who uses them?  The example of the Municipality of Tropoja development plan was discussed.  We then did a quick SWOT analysis of Dojan, reinforcing the concept introduction done in the March workshop, but encouraging people to be more specific.   It became apparent that people had not grasped the “opportunities” concept:  ie, that there are tools or resources available, which must however be activated or utilized through determined local initiative.  Ie, “littering and trash are a weakness of Dojan for developing tourism.”  One opportunity for resolving this is to activate the municipality to deal with proper waste management – eyes were rolled at the idea of the municipality doing anything, but the point was made that the municipality is actually an existing opportunity which could be mobilized.

It was agreed that participants would return to the next meeting with a more detailed SWOT style analysis of their communities, to compile information to include in a development vision.

As in the previous workshop, enthusiasm and participation were excellent.  Challenges remain time management and lack of pre-existing capacity.   The meeting was evenly split between women and men.  Most (although not all) of the participants were younger than 30 years old.  Once again, an ambitious plan for the day was not possible to realize completely, but then again, given the extent to which completely new concepts and working models are being presented, progress towards familiarity with new concepts was excellent.  In closing, participants were invited to comment on the meeting.  All expressed happiness and excitement with some requests for “more seriousness” (probably addressing the tendency of people to joke with each other which – while spending time – also indicates a good comfort level) and “better respect of schedules.”

TOKA is both excited and . . . hesitantly concerned, about the extent to which this meeting created an exponential level of new work (working groups to manage, itinerary development field trips, a newsletter).  All of this however simply argues that the area is ripe for development projects, and that locals are ready to “flutterojne” (fly) with just a little external support.

TOKA & 27 Inhabitants vs. KKT

On Wednesday, 21 March at 13:30, there will be the final court hearing in TOKA & 27 inhabitants vs. KKT, the suit in which we challenge the government’s decision in November 2017 to issue a new construction permit for the Dragobia Energy Hydropower plant constructions.

The hearing on Wednesday will have the final formal presentation of the arguments, and should see debate going back and forth, so a good day for Valbona supporters to come to court and be present.  The final decision will probably not be presented on Wednesday, but it could be.

People attending previous hearings feel that so far “our side” has made really strong arguments which KKT wasn’t really able to answer.  So, if the system is functioning, it looks like there is a chance for a win for Valbona.

Tirana Administrative Court of First Instance is on Rruga Don Bosko.

Criminal Charges Filed Today Against the Falsification of Signatures of local inhabitants during public consultations in 2013

Today, thirty inhabitants of the village of Dragobi and The Organization to Conserve the Albanian Alps (TOKA) have signed and submitted criminal charges for falsification of the signatures of villagers of Dragobi in 2013.

The charge has been brought against Adem Metailaj, the head of village Dragobi, and against Artila Ulaj, as administrator of company DRAGOBIA ShPK, the two officials who personally guaranteed the validity of signatures of attendees of the purported public consultation. Criminal charges were submitted today on March 05, 2018 at 13:00 hours at the prosecution office in Judicial District Court of Tropoja.

The violation of the law happened on 03 April 2013 during a mandatory public consultation period where the representative of the company and the village leader seem to have falsified meeting minutes for a public consultation.  With so many signatures in question, there are serious doubts whether this meeting with inhabitants ever in fact took place.  The most conclusive violation of the law, however, is when signatures were guaranteed by the accused for two people that were dead at the time they were supposed to have signed.

Meeting minutes are ‘signed’ by the deceased Ram Aliaj, who died on 05 April 2010 and by the deceased Adem Demiri, who died on 12 May 2000. Both cases are verified with death certificates.

This is a serious violation of the law which can lead to a sentence of up to 4 years in prison.

In order to obtain a construction permit to build a hydropower plant, developers are obliged to secure an environmental permit and undertake an environmental impact assessment. According to the international convention signed by Albania in 1998 known as the Aarhus Convention, the public must has: the right to full information, the right to participation in decision making and the right to judicial recourse for all projects affecting their environment. This includes the right to an inclusive and transparent public consultation process.

Please help us by sharing the attached press releases and/or original documents:

Njoftim Pershytpje Shqip

Dragobi Delegation Visits the US Embassy, 1 Dec 2017

On Friday, 1 Dec 2017, a delegation of 8 local inhabitants of the Valbona Valley village Dragobia were welcomed to the US Embassy by Ambassador Donald Lu.  They requested the meeting in order to ask for the diplomatic community’s intervention in the ongoing situation in Valbona Valley National Park, where for as long as 4 months, many houses have been without drinking water or irrigation water for fields.

“Without water, how can we live?” they asked.  The potable spring water supplies used by over 30 houses (the majority of the village) have been deviated by the ongoing hydropower construction of the two Dragobia Energy plants owned by Gener-2.  For as many as 4 months, villagers have had no choice but to carry water from the river in buckets for all their needs. “Normally no one would drink this water – it has passed through villages already and is not clean – but what choice do we have?”  As the water is also downstream from the hydropower construction site, it is now potentially contaminated with concrete and other harmful substances released by construction.  In summer there is the additional problem that there is no water to irrigate the fields.  Most people in the village are still living from subsistence agriculture.

According the Albanian water use law, water must go first to people, second to agricultural irrigation, and thirdly any excess can be made available to industrial use.  In Dragobi this principle is being inverted by developer Gener-2.

In addition to Ambassador Lu, the delegates from Tropoja were met by the Dutch, German and OSCE ambassadors, as well as the Austrian Charge d’Affaires, UN chief Resident Coordinator, the German Deputy Head of Mission and a representative of the UN Delegation.

When asked by the diplomats whether the people affected had informed the police, local or national inspectorates, or their elected officials, the locals explained that they did not dare.  “The Police will not come.  Even when we have gone to complain about the cement trucks driving recklessly at 80 or 90kmph on the road in front of the school, they just told us to go home.  We have seen what happens when others have called the inspectorates to stop the hydropower from working without permits – the inspectors come, but they do not go to the construction site – they go to the houses of the people who complained, and fine them and threaten to destroy their houses.  As for the elected officials, the are working with the construction company.  Even our member of Parliament, Isuf Cela, works with Gener-2.  Is he going to help us, against his boss?”

The diplomats expressed concern and support.  A meeting  was immediately set up for the delegation with the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, where at 17:00 the same day they were met by MoE Chief of Cabinet Mr. Ardit Kamberi.  Stating that he was unaware of the situation, Mr. Kamberi invited the locals to prepare a list of “demands” which could be presented to Gener-2, and promised that the Ministry would work to negotiate solutions.

“Dragobi has been inhabited for 300 years,” said Idris Zhuja, the leader of the delegation.  “But if we have no water, we will have no choice but to leave.  But where will we go?  They are killing us.”

 

First Court Decision, 3 November 2017

One o’clock in the morning, after a very long day, I’m sitting at the computer trying to think of the message we should be sending out, after court today.  When thinking about truth and history, I reach for George Orwell, and find:

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

The first thing to make very clear is our reaction to the news as it seems to be being published in short:  That the court today ruled that the hydropower in Valbona are legal.  In fact, they did no such thing.

What really happened is this:  they declared the court formally open, and then announced that our lawsuit was denied, and then dismissed us.  What does this actually mean?

No statement was given by the court regarding any aspect of our arguments.  No explanation of their decision was given.  There was no statement made by the court regarding any considered opinion on any of the arguments that were made, not by us – the plaintiffs – nor “them” the defendants.  These opinions are to be delivered in written form by Monday.

Has justice been served?  I suppose so – in the same sense that someone receiving a plate full of offal might be told:  Here, we’ve fed you, why are you complaining?

Well, we do complain.  This curt dismissal is not what we deserved.  It’s not what the people of Albania should expect, nor yet what they should accept.  It’s not what the local people who have made expensive and exhausting 10 hour round trips 3 times in the past 7 days simply to attend court should have been served.  Do you know what it’s like to wake up at 3 am, to get in a car, to gather others, to drive 5 hours, to attend court for 10 minutes, to get back in the car, to drive back 5 hours, to start the day at 3 am, to get home at 12 pm, to not have eaten, because you can’t really afford the trip in the first place, to have left your work, undone, 3 long days out of seven, simply because the court summons you as if you had all the time in the world to dance to their tune, and possibly, for all the expectations seem to suggest, a private helicopter at your disposal?  The people of Valbona asked for their fair day in court, instead they got quite literally a meaningless run-around.

We presented concrete arguments based on the letter of the law.  We sued the government.  We asked the government to respond to our charges which consisted of pointed breaches of procedure regarding the granting of a concession, concession contract and the granting of certain permits including – but not limited to – the environmental, construction, development and water use permits.  Instead, the court allowed the developer (who we never sued) to take over the defense.  Now think about this for a moment:  We sued the government.  The body responsible for issuing these agreements, contracts and permits.  The developer had no part nor hand in this.  So please think very carefully about this:  How is it possible that the developer’s lawyer completely took over the defense?  Because this is what happened.  I don’t think anyone will ever bother to check the records, but if you did, you would find that the lawyers for the National Territorial Council and the Ministry of Energy sat largely silent through most of the proceedings.  The other sued Ministries and Agencies – The National Environmental Agency, the National Agency for Protected Areas, the Drin-Bune Water Board – didn’t even send a lawyer to the court.  Not for a single hearing of the 14 that we travelled to attend.  Instead the defense was 90% carried out by the developers’ lawyer.

What can the developer possibly have to say of concrete pertinence to the correct function of government, other than their anecdotal experience of being just as subjected as we the locals are, to the quixotic an unexacting function of government in Albania?  In a perfect world (which lord knows this isn’t, clearly) the developer would be baying at the government just as loudly as we the locals are:  What the hell did you sign us up for?

Instead, we sat through 14 hearings in which the developer’s lawyer took the lead in ignoring our actual arguments, focusing their ‘defense’ – on behalf of the government – on spurious claims that that local people have no right to information, no right to participation, and god forbid, no right to judicial recourse.  The tried to claim that we cannot argue as a community, since we are in fact “merely individuals, with individual interest.”  After wasting half the court’s time on these arguments, the developer offered long lists of lies, in which they actually stated that they are not even using explosives, despite the fact that in fact they have been exploding tunnels day and night since April 2017. They wasted two hearings requesting to submit evidence about how much money they’ve spent, as if this had any bearing on the actual legality of the concession and permitting processes.  They then proceeded to a thoroughly circular argument the basis of which was:  The plaintiffs claim we should not have been given concession, contract or permits.  But we were given these permits, so clearly they are valid.  But this is to ignore the whole basis of our argument:  That there are excellent legal reasons why they should not have been given. It makes no sense to answer “But we were – so go suck eggs.”

And meanwhile?  What is Valbona.  I have been asked this so often lately. What is Valbona, and why do you love it so?  I am very sorry my answer has not been quick enough.  It’s as if someone asked you “What are your children?  Who is your mother?  Why do you love them so?”  How could you explain this quickly?  And I get caught up, because you cannot ask me “What is Valbona?” without asking also, for me, What is Tropoja?  What is Albania?  Why do you love them so?  Oh my dear.  Valbona is a place from a dream.  A place so beautiful you couldn’t even imagine it – you couldn’t create it if you tried. But I don’t just love Valbona, this impossible place of beauty, where we poor humans can touch the hand of god, who we have to believe exists, if only to have created this.  I love Tropoja. I love the people who are so good and kind, and have so little, but their pride.  But that pride is so strong, that it makes them more generous than the richest princes.  To live in Tropoja is to live with kings.   And queens.  Until now, Tropoja had only two assets:  their land, and their isolation.  The isolation is gone now, blown to smithereens, and so the bulldozers move in.  Whether it’s hydropower, or chrome mining . . . or god knows what comes next.  But none of it is benefitting them, these kind good people who still live with 79% unemployment, public assistance amounting to 29euro per month for a family, and no hope of anything better.  And yet they give.  And I love Albania.  This country of kind people, these good people who deserve something better. This country which could be so rich and proud.  You have so much to be proud of Albania.  You have never been like other states – greedy and violent.  While you are the fiercest fighters in the world, you historically have never tried to take more than what is yours . . .

But I digress.

I believe in a better Albania.  And having been so lucky to be accepted here, I will fight to my last breath for this country which I love.  And so I think my friends here, the people of Tropoja, will allow me to say on their behalf, we will not stop.  It is wrong what is happening in Valbona, and it was wrong, what happened in Tirana today.  You have not fooled us, you have not distracted us. You have certainly not defeated us.  You have merely proven us right in our determination.  And: You were warned.