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Albania expels Gulenist teacher to Turkey

1 January 2020

Albania State Police said it has “expelled” Harun Celik, 42 years old teacher, who has been arrested five months ago while attempting to escape to Canada. The office of the Albanian Prime Minister told Albanian media “this is a matter of police”, while opposition commented “infringement of human rights is basic pattern of the corrupt and criminal government of Edi Rama”.

A twitter post showing the passport of Harun Celik and a car, who apparently transferred him to Tirana International Airport. Photo: Twitter

News Reports

Albania police confirmed for news website Reporter.al that a Turkish citizen apparently belonging to Gulen movement, has been “expelled from Albania”, apparently to Turkey, where President Recep Taip Erdogan has long sought to get his hands on members of the movement he accuses for masterminding the failed coup back in 2016.

Harun Celik, 42, has been arrested in Albania five months ago while attempting to escape to Canada using fake documents. He has apparently just finished to serve his sentence in Albania while claiming political asylum, but was instead sent immediately to Tirana International Airport, apparently on a plane to Turkey.

According to Reporter.al, State Police spokesperson Gentjan Mullai confirmed the news.

“This person has been in prison after being arrested by border police in Rinas [international airport] using fake papers. Based on the law “On Foreigners” he will be expelled,” Mullai told media.

The office of the Prime Minister Edi Rama also commented for Reporter, claiming the event is “a matter of legal procedures not related to the Prime Minister office”.

However, the opposition Democratic Party demanded clarifications questioning whether this event was compactable with Albanian law and its international obligations.

“It is of utmost priority for any democratic country, especially for the European Union integration processes, to respect these principles, rights and obligations” the opposition stated in Twitter. “The violation of these rights has been transformed into a normality for the corrupt and incriminated government of [the prime minister] Edi Rama,” DP added.

Ramona Strugariu, a Member of the European Parliament also criticized the decision to expell Celik in a Twitter post.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, Albania signed the CoE Convention on extradition. Moreover, you say Albania is ready for the EU. Then please follow art.19, al. 2 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and do not extradite #HarunÇelik to Turkey!@Europarl_EN @AlMissionEU— Ramona Strugariu MEP (@RamonaStrugariu) January 1, 2020

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    Last TV Shows Critical of Albanian Govt are Cancelled


    Vladimir Karaj
    , Tirana, BIRN

    Photo Courtesy: BIRN

    August 29, 2019Two TV shows known for their critical coverage of Prime Minister Edi Rama will not be broadcast next season, fuelling concerns about diminishing media freedoms in Albania.

    The two shows, ‘The Unexposed Ones’ and ‘Krasta/A Show’, which were both aired by the News 24 channel and were known for criticising Prime Minister Edi Rama, will not be broadcast in the new TV season starting in September, sparking allegations that government pressure was behind their cancellation.

    However, Irfan Hysenbelliu, the owner of News 24, a local station based in Tirana, denied he was pressured by the government, while Rama’s office called the allegations “fake news”.

    ‘The Unexposed Ones’ was a show hosted by Ylli Rakipi, who alleged that the cancellation was result of direct government pressure on the owner.

    “The show was closed due to the pressure. There has been always pressure directly by Edi Rama to close down the show,” Rakipi told BIRN.

    He said that the administration of the channel didn’t explain why they were cancelling his show.

    Rakipi’s show, on which Fatos Lubonja and Andi Bushati, two political commentators well known for criticism of Rama, regularly appeared, last December exposed a major fraud in which a company won a contract for public works using falsified documents, presenting itself as a major US contractor.

    Following the report, the government acknowledged that the company was indeed fake while prosecutors started a formal investigation. However, nine months later, no one has been arrested or faced charges.

    Since then, Rama had filled two defamation suits against Rakipi, claiming his reputation was damaged by derogatory language used by the TV host in some of his shows.

    ‘Krasta/A Show’, which was hosted by Adi Krasta, also known for criticising the government, will be cancelled in September. Krasta declined BIRN’s request for a comment.

    News 24’s owner Hysenbelliu said his decision to cancel the shows was because he was conducting an “internal reform”.

    “Nobody has dared to pressure me, not this government, nor the previous one,” Hysenbelliu said.

    “This is the reason why the media that I own enjoy a large audience and high trust in the market,” he added.

    He said that the channel planned a similar show to Rakipi’s with another presenter which he described as “well known” in the country, but didn’t give a name.

    Hysenbelliu also said that while Krasta’s show will be cancelled, he is still in negotiations with the presenter for a weekend slot on News 24.

    Rama’s press office described the allegations of pressure on News 24 to drop the critical shows as a “wave of defamations”, and warned that it could sue over the claims.

    “We have for some time now had a legal team that files claims in the court in cases of defamation. To my knowledge, this wave of defamations about which you are asking is being evaluated by the team,” Rama’s spokesperson Endri Fuga said in an emailed response to BIRN’s questions.

    News 24 is a small channel with about 7.5 per cent of the free-to-air television market measured by revenue.

    The market is dominated by Top Channel and TV Klan, who jointly control 64 per cent of the revenue, and are seen as more sympathetic to the government.

    Rama has been criticised for exerting pressure on media in various ways, from using derogatory language against critical journalists to issuing threats of lawsuits and pushing for laws that aim to curb freedom of speech.

    In January this year, Rama slammed US Congress-funded Voice of America as “garbage” after an investigation into alleged political hiring in the prison system.

    In June, he threatened German newspaper Bild with lawsuits following the publication of a series of intercepted conversations showing the collusion of Rama’s Socialist Party with various criminal gangs for the purpose of election rigging, vote-buying and putting pressure on voters.

    More recently, Rama has been criticised by Albanian and international rights organisations for attempting to create a media censorship system through proposed changes in the country’s audio-visual media laws.

    This article first appeared at Balkaninsight.com

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      Seeds of Street Art Sprout in Banjaluka

      28 July 2015

      Banjaluka’s street art scene is small and under pressure, but local artists are trying to make graffiti and murals more acceptable both to the authorities and the community.

      Sonja Terzic

      Stefan Mihajlovic from Banjaluka next to his grafiti presenting Bruce Lee | Photo courtesy of the author

      The artistic works of 24-year-old Stefan Mihajlovic in Banjaluka are a rare symbol of the city’s far from developed urban culture.

      In Haniste, a safe distance from the city centre, with the permission of his neighbours, he has been decorating walls for years with large-scale portraits of international and local stars.

      However, murals of the famous Yugoslav actor Bata Stojkovic, the reggae icon Bob Marley or the cartoon character Goofy are more the exception than the rule in the capital of Republika Srpska, the mainly Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

      The regulations against illegal graffiti are harsh. But Stefan doesn’t mind, saying he feels the need to express himself.

      Mihajlovic says the police came several times while he was working, and sometimes he had to pay fines, but things changed after he won over his neighbours.

      “Once, when the police came as I was working, a grandmother in the building shouted from the window: ‘Leave that child alone, don’t touch him!’” he recalled.

      “I don’t have any problems now,” he added.

      Things do not run so smoothly for street artists who lack Mihaljovic’s powers of persuasion.

      It is difficult to persuade the city authorities of the merits of murals being daubed on walls in the centre of town.

      Participants in the regional street art festival, Graffiti Jam, which has taken place in Banjaluka since 2011, worked on canvases for years before getting a green light last year to paint one wall in the city centre.

      As a result, the centre of Banjaluka got its first legal mural – and most locals have come to appreciate their new ornament, the creation of Artez from Belgrade and Lonac from Zagreb.

      The mural, called “Find Your Way to Fly Away,” was declared the best of its kind last November in the international selection on the website Streetartnews.

      This breakthrough suggests that urban culture is slowly but steadily infiltrating the Banjaluka mainstream.

      The beginnings of murals, graffiti and other types of street art in Banjaluka date back to the unfinished building of the Palace Hotel in the city centre.

      This is where Mihajlovic years ago learned his first moves with spray paint along with other youngsters, when he was a teen with dreadlocks.

      Although the hotel is unfinished to this day, its walls are now covered with graffiti invisible to passers-by.

      While many of the street artists since went on to explore new hobbies, Mihajlovic has remained true to his vocation.

      “It happened overnight that I started painting murals in Haniste. The walls were already covered with graffiti, so I thought – ‘Why not redecorate them?’” he recalled.

      “It is better to see some nice, concrete work with a particular topic than some nonsensical scribbles,” he explained.

      At first he had to deal with the animosity of his neighbours but they warmed to his choice of motifs in the end.

      “I paint international music stars but also local ones. I won the support of the older generation with the graffiti of Bata Stojkovic because while old women have not heard about Bob Marley, they certainly know who Bata Stojkovic is,” he explained.

      Today, Mihaljovic is more serious looking and a shaved head has replaced the old dreadlocks.

      But he still has the same urge to create. Apart from some minor fines that he had to pay when some neighbours reported him, problems with police disappeared long ago.

      “I work in a discreet way; I do not stand out compared to other people that deal with graffiti art in Banjaluka,” he said.

      “Even police officers compliment me on my work,” he added.

      Members of the art group called Flaster also say that they have never had problems over the messages their works expressed.

      Their art project has exerted enormous influence on public perceptions of street art.

      Their mural, “Find Your Way to Fly Away,” shows a surreal-looing balloon surrounded by motifs from nature – fish and a rooster on top. Two hands stretch out from the balloon and cross fingers in front, symbolizing a person thinking about something.

      The mural “Find your way to fly” in Banjaluka | Courtesy of Flaster
      The mural “Find your way to fly” in Banjaluka | Courtesy of Flaster

      The mural is what the artists from Flaster had hoped to create for a long time.

      The group, formed in 2010 by art graduates, decided to establish a street art festival.

      As they never got permission from the city to paint on the walls, the artists decorated canvases as well as the inner courtyard of the student campus.

      Graffiti Jam in Banjaluka
      Flaster Graffiti Jam was founded as a memorial event for the late Tamara Cvetkovic, pioneer of the street art in Banjaluka who tragically lost her life in an avalanche on Mt Jahorina in 2010.In her honour, the organizers gathered some of the best artists from the region to work together and have a good time at concerts within the festival.

      Visitors decided themselves how much they wanted to pay for the entrance fee and from that income the artists obtained materials for work.That was their only source of financing then and today it is not so different: the entire festival spends around 3,000 marks (1,500 euro). It is not nearly enough, but organizers do not let this stop them.

      In the meantime, with the support of the Museum of Contemporary Arts of Banjaluka, the authorities accepted the idea of a couple of artists painting a mural in the city centre which, besides the approval of citizens, would also get international recognition.

      “This cooperation opened up a new dimension for what we had fought for, to change the whole conception of ‘street art’ and give graffiti the etiquette of art work, which it already is,” Monika Ponjavic, a member of Flaster, said, explaining that this was how Banjaluka got its first legal public mural.

      Grafiti Jam, which was first organized in 2011, meanwhile became a platform for exchange between street artists, and joint work on various materials – from walls to canvases or boards.

      Change in the cultural climate:

      Members of Flaster founded the festival to popularize this art genre among the general audience, not only because of its importance to Banjaluka but also to introduce artists from the city and the region to a more international audience.

      “Proportionally, the city has too few artists compared to its size and the number of artists is falling,” Ponjavic said.

      She feels Banjaluka has fallen into a mood of lethargy and melancholy and that artists are not trying to create, or have simply disappeared.

      However, Ponjavic says the climate is changing for better with recent developments.

      “Street art in Banjaluka does not exist, or if it exists, it is art reduced to a level of an individual that can be found in traces in the city,” she explained.

      “Regrettably, Flaster is currently the only visible manifestation of this, while all the others shut down, if they ever existed.

      “Here we are talking exclusively about graffiti art. We cannot even talk about other kinds of street art,” she stressed.

      The sites of the grafitti created on the student campus by participants in the Graffiti Jam have became places where young couples, dancers, artists and photographers spend their time, members of Flaster say.

      Mirko Komljenović Mirkan, member of the “Anti–cultural Theatre Alija Sirotanovic”, says the city needs more graffiti like those in Borik and Haniste because they make the town look more beautiful and complete. But not every doodle on a wall can be considered art, he said.

      “I would like to see more graffiti with strong messages in Banjaluka but the city authorities have no understanding for this kind of art,” he complained.

      “I know that a discussion exists whether Banjaluka should finally get a wall for graffiti – but no such wall is even in sight,” he added.

      “I recently participated in drawing a provocative graffiti on the building of the ruling party. The police did not take that as art and reacted in record time and the façade was repainted,” Komljenovic recalled.

      Davorin Tomic, a journalist of the daily newspaper Press RS, agrees that Banjaluka should have more graffiti in the busy parts of town, noting the examples of other cities.

      “The mural in Borik is great and I think we should have more of that in the city,” he said.

      “I don’t know if the problem is that we don’t have enough activists who wish to express themselves in this way but what I know is that it is hard get a permit to paint legally on a public surface,” he added.

      “This attitude of the local authorities towards street art persuades young artists to give up, or work illegally, which is then more of vandalism than art,” Tomic continued.

      Following video presents excerpts from the third Grafiti Jam:

      Mihajlovic, from Haniste, says that by drawing graffiti he satisfies his own need to express himself and be recognized in his community.

      “People have started to know me for my work and this is satisfying. I have had offers to do political graffiti, and wartime generals, but I wasn’t interested in this,” he added.

      “That’s not art, and that kind of work also usually gets repainted. Not a single one of my of my works was ever painted over.”

      Mihaljovic spent time living in Greece, Spain and Canada, where he got an impression that street art is much more present and supported.

      “My wish is that a some kind of a community could be formed here in Banjaluka that draws and lives this kind of life, and I hope that the time will come when this art genre finally gets the place it deserves in our society,” Mihajlovic concluded.

      High art or vandalism?:

      Lana Pavlovic, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Republika Srpska, sees graffiti as form of true artistic expression and as a part of the urban culture of a city.

      Its effect on an audience can be equal to that of any other visual artwork because people reflect on its messages, she says.

      However, she says negative approaches towards this art has always existed among the authorities, “From Belgrade to New York, as well as in Banjaluka”.

      The reason for this, she says, is that graffiti are often connected to worthless doodles that are either offensive or personal, which she sees as vandalism.

      “The positive side of graffiti is that they can give new life to certain things, or a new perspective to the public surfaces.

      “In relation to that, graffiti and murals should be created as a means of decorating facades…of creativity, and of raising awareness among people about modern currents,” Pavlovic added.

      I the struggle over murals, which has existed since the Eighties, the real breakthrough was made by the Flaster group with their festival, she noted.

      “Local street artists are mostly painters and designers who really love their job, and whose art sends messages… That is why the Museum decided to support them in 2013,” she said.

      The exhibition of canvases painted by street artists, according to Pavlovic, made the public realize that these artists are not delinquents but skilled painters and designers.

      “In Banjaluka, just like in any city, good places can be found for quality graffiti. It can look very interesting in the sense that it decorates space and facades. Now we have several quality examples,” she concluded.

      This article is funded under the Invisible Art project, supported by the Prince Claus Fund.

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