Sunday, June 10, 2007

Albania welcomes Bush as a friend. Do you wonder why?




The first time I had ever heard of Albania was when National Geographic magazine visited it, in the early 1980s. It profiled a country that was, by and large, medieval. People went around in oxcarts, technology seemed to have passed it by, and it had what was, on the outside, a quaint insular appearance.

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Albania had no private cars and hence no traffic lights. It exported hydro electricity, from plants developed by the Chinese (internal demand for electricity was very low). Shops were open short hours and the range of consumer goods available was very limited. Whilst traditionally Muslim, religion had been banned in 1967. Mosques and the handful of churches were converted into secular buildings, like a basketball court, or museum. News media was very heavily censored, televisions rare, but none were allowed to listen to radio broadcasts from other countries. The University of Tirana (established in 1957) had no law school, because "there is no need for lawyers in a country run by the people". Possession of religious texts was a crime, as was art that didn't follow "socialist realism" and dancing "Western style". There were some notable achievements, literacy had dramatically increased as free compulsory education was introduced and law and order was little problem, the blood feuds that haunted rural Albania largely halted. The simple reason why is because a police state had been established. Albania was the poorest country in Europe, and the most hardline police state.

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That Albania eschewed relations with almost the entire world. The USA, UK were considered evil capitalist powers, and their allies little better (although there was a modicum of trade with Greece and Italy). Yugoslavia was a hated traitor of socialism, and Albania officially feared invasion constantly (shades of Orwell's 1984 for certain). The USSR and Warsaw Pact were also hated and feared. No diplomatic relations existed with Moscow, Belgrade or even Beijing by this time. Its Chinese ally had lost its way after Deng Xiaoping started opening up, so Albania was left having minimal ties with some Western countries (and flights were resumed with Belgrade, the only air route).

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Albanians remained almost totally isolated from the rest of the world, whilst a police state was maintained within. The predominantly rural society continued to stand still, whilst using its ample hydro electricity to broadcast high powered shortwave radio broadcasts worldwide in over a dozen languages - as Radio Tirana sought to be the last beacon of socialism in Europe and maybe even the world. Albanians could not travel internally without internal passports, besides even the infrastructure was hardly up to many people moving on dirt roads and railways patched together since their Soviet and Chinese friends had long departed.

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That Albania was the creation of Enver Hoxha, a ruthless communist who admired and followed Stalin's lead. That was why he repudiated Tito, then the USSR and China in turn. Hoxha died in 1985, but it took six years before his successor Ramiz Alia finally gave up the police state. The fall of communism in neighbouring countries, particular Romania gave courage for small groups of Albanians to start protesting and resisting. Radio Tirana had cut back its broadcasts dramatically (from once being the fifth largest shortwave broadcaster in the world).

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The road to freedom for Albanians was not easy. The vacuum left by the end of a hardline police state was easily filled by organised crime, and the pyramid savings schemes of the late 1990s saw many Albanians cheated of what little wealth they had.

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Albania is not the poorest country in Europe anymore. That title is unfortunately held by Moldova, which has been badly affected by the split of the Soviet Union denying it that guaranteed market, and the expansion of the EU, denying it alternative markets for its (primarily) agricultural products in eastern Europe (that beloved Common Agricultural Policy shafting the poor again). Albania has also enjoyed substantial foreign investment, with infrastructure improving remarkably, and new manufacturing industries appearing. Many have left, crime has certainly increased, and very sadly blood feuds have re-emerged. Albania has a long way to go. However, it is free.

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So having gone through Stalinism for over 40 years, Albanians look West, even though many are Muslims (now that religion is legal again). Albanians do not look to Islamists, and they do not look to Marxism. So as the Times reports they have welcomed GW Bush as leader of the free world, the world that most of them had shut out from their eyes.

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Oh and you probably have heard of the most famous Albanian. Mother Theresa of Calcutta (although born in what is now the state of "Macedonia" the former Yugoslav Republic). She allied herself with Enver Hoxha (among other mass murderers), which Christopher Hitchins reported on around ten years ago.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mother Teresa allied herself with Enver Hoxha???
Are you sure? M Teresa never set foot in Albania during 40 years of Hoxha's rule, and she was equally ignored by the Hoxha's govt. You yourself said that:
"Whilst traditionally Muslim, religion had been banned in 1967. Mosques and the handful of churches were converted into secular buildings, ... Possession of religious texts was a crime"

As an Albanian, I understand that is OK to bash Albanians, but at least get your facts straight while doing so.

libertyscott said...

It is no more OK to bash Albanians for being Albanian than it is to bash any other nationality. I have not the slightest desire to bash Albanians per se, you may wish to read the book by Christopher Hitchins "The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice". She laid a wreath at the grave of Hoxha in 1990 and embraced his widow (easily the equivalent of Mao's infamous widow Jiang Qing).

This indicates she was hardly a foe.

Libertarian said...

Perhaps to reason why the albanian goverment embrace Bushist neoconservatism was that they saw how it resembled their marxist pasts?

"Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and private property" was hardly the policy of George W. Bush, or any other American president in the last century or two. He increased the power of the state, both at home and aboard. And he loved using taxpayer money to wage illegal wars of aggresion. Not that the current president does anything differnet...