Remembering trains and the current state of Albanian railways

Albanian railway train ticket

Economist (2010): Correspondent’s diary, Day three: Albania’s long-suffering railways.

As a child I remember getting on the train with my parents to go to the beach (which took over 1 hour), then I remember going to the city of Fier several times to visit my aunt (which would take almost a whole day). Then, democracy came and I don’t remember ever getting on a train again!

However, I still carry those memories as a child. I even remember my parents lifting me up to get inside the train through the windows so I could get seats before other people. I also remember falling asleep in the train after a long day playing on the beach. I recall my parents telling me a story of how when they were still dating, the train derailed as they were getting closer to the village of Golem (in Durres) and thankfully got out safely.

Moreover, it is my conviction that trains do have their place in the memories of many an Albanian, but those memories have faded with the advent of personal cars and improved transportation means.

For those of you who would like to read a bit more about how Albanian trains some years ago then I suggest reading this very interesting article on the Economist (2010): Correspondent’s diary, Day three: Albania’s long-suffering railways.

Remembering trains and the current state of Albanian railways

Another view of these Albanian parliamentary elections

Albanian votersAlbanian parliamentary elections have always been a source of concern, manipulations and contestation. The parties in power have tried everything, and I mean everything, to get as many votes as they can. Meanwhile, the opposition has tried everything to do the same by exposing the other at the same time.

Albanians are still far away from any assurance that these elections will not be similar to those past.

Meanwhile, political parties have supercharged their electoral machines and put them to work in every and any direction that can produce results for them.

This time, like in the past, promises are just like toilet paper and hype is everything!

However, there is a growing concern and awareness among people that something needs to be done. Not everyone feels represented and there are those, myself included, who do not feel any type of representation!

Journalists and a substratum of people

The other day I read a reaction by the Union of Journalists (in Albania) that had criticized a decision of the Central Electoral Commission, CEC, which obliges TV stations to transmit tapes of campaign events, calling it a return to censorship. (read more here)

Another reaction that I saw online was that of a group of people who are suggesting that we put an X over our ballot paper as a sign of protest against the politocracy that has been established in Albania. One recent video that they had put together under the name #occupyalbania (the white vote).

Meanwhile, NGO’s and other such politically oriented organizations are calling on people to vote for change and also vote so that their vote does not count against them (such as when someone else votes in their stead)

Another view of these Albanian parliamentary elections

An “Olive Garden” Albanian style!

When I was going to university in the states, it was customary to try different places to eat. One of those places was a well-known chain of restaurants called the “Olive Garden”. The atmosphere was mainly geared toward married couples and average families with children, but most importantly a good place to eat.

Well, the other day, I discovered the Albanian version of the “Olive Garden” in Fushe-Dajti (on the foothills of mountain Dajti in Tirana). In reality, this restaurant was in no way similar to the type of restaurant I had found in the states, but very much like that in name and trees!

  • First, it had the very same Albanian name – Ullishtja (which translates as olive garden)
  • Second, it had real big olive trees J
  • Third, it was targeted mainly to families with children (outside games)
  • Fourth, there was sometime a queue before getting seated (on weekends only).

In fact, that was all I could think of comparatively as similar to the restaurants in the states.

In reality, it was more of a “picnic garden with olive trees”.

I cannot deny the fact that I enjoyed very much the ability to sit outside among the olive trees and general greenery. There were children playing everywhere and families eating on green plastic tables and chairs (much like a picnic).

Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (9)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (8)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (7)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (6)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (5)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (1)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (2)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (3)
Ullishtja in Fushe-Dajt (4)

Service and cuisine

I should disclaim that the food and service were rather unattractive.

  • First, the waiters would take a bit longer to serve you (though mainly due to service load)
  • Second, the cuisine was basic barbecue meats and general salads.
  • The meat was cooked rather quickly, thus slightly burned on the surface and hard to chew. However, it was bio, which did taste good.

In conclusion

The best thing about the place was the outside area where you could truly enjoy the  greenery and the olive trees.

For an alternative place to eat you can try the restaurant next door, which has been there years before this one, but rather closed and not very picnicy!

An “Olive Garden” Albanian style!

An author’s insight into the looming elections crisis in Albania

Albanian elections 2013Yesterday I was forwarded an article on Balkan Insight (BI) about some of the concerns over the upcoming parliamentary elections in Albania. The author was right on the money when describing the situation and also about the potential triggers that could cause trouble as the 23rd of June approaches.

I want to stay positive and hopeful about what will transpire in the coming days but if past elections are to be taken into account then something is to be expected! The issues presented in the BI article have been talked and discussed at length in the local media, but I wanted to point it out for the benefit of English language readers.

The author starts his article by saying that:

“Though Albania has a history of dubious elections, the upcoming polls are fraught with new tension pitting rule of law against the need to hold elections.

You can read the whole article here

An author’s insight into the looming elections crisis in Albania

Albanian PM admits defeat and resigns his post as head of DP!

berisha-salia-pdToday, the historic leader of the Democratic Party and PM of Albania, finally admitted defeat in these general parliamentary elections 2013 and at the same time resigned his post as head of the party choosing to return to being a normal citizen with limited responsibilities.

Wow, that was a first. It seemed that this guy would never give up till death parted him. In the past he has pulled a lot of tricks to stay in power and thus continue his autocratic rule of the DP and of the Albanian people.

Let’s hope that this was final!

Other sources:

Albanian PM admits defeat and resigns his post as head of DP!

Why Albanians fear their communist pasts

Enver Hoxha May First 1983One of the followers of Albanian Blogger, Vincent sent me an email the other day expressing his surprise at the lack of mention at historical sites and in general the lack of information provided to visitors about our recent past, referring to the communist regime.

He has given permission to post his email.

Hi Elvis,

Just got back from a great trip to Sarande and Gjirokaster and the surrounding areas. I have a question that maybe you can do a post on. I was unable to obtain an answer to this question. When visiting the castles and museums all the history seems to stop at the end of WWII and skips over to 1991 or later. I find this extremely odd and disturbing as it is almost as if the entire country is hoping that by not discussing it – what it didn’t happen? 

I have always contended that when people stop remembering about their history they are doomed to repeat it. One of my best examples of this is then General Dwight Eisenhower’s decision to release to the public the movies and pictures of the horrors of the German Holocaust. He did so, that no one would ever be able to say such a horror could not have happened. I might point out that others in the Allied Forces were not overly enthusiastic about this decision as they thought the public should be spared it. 

I found this somewhat confusing in a country that is so family orientated and makes an extreme effort to honor their deceased. That there is no mention of the abuses of their political prisoners during the Regime at all of the castles and sites that we visited so far. There is even resentment for us asking about it in places that we know these things took place in. 

As stated I am just beginning to explore Albania, but this is a point that I find to be in conflict with the general attitude of most of the Albanians that I have met. This may not be the case and the Albanians I have met are different than the general population. I do not know.

Sincerely yours,

Vincent

My response and thoughts were as follows:

Dear Vincent,

This is truly of great concern for me as well. Though I do not belong to an older generation and most of what I know is through my own study and reading, I am aware that Albanian’s seem to shy away from their past, but mostly because they are afraid that it may somehow come back to hunt their present.

By that I mean that they are “afraid” and on the other side that are told not to remember by the current political class which is deeply entrenched in the past and has many sins that weigh on their conscience.

Fatos Lubonja revisits the site of the Spac prison camp -- his home until the downfall of communism. (Photo: Barbara Haussmann; Copyright: Balkan Insight)

Fatos Lubonja revisits the site of the Spac prison camp — his home until the downfall of communism. (Photo: Barbara Haussmann; Copyright: Balkan Insight)

Albania is a country that forgot God and gave way to the fear of “man”. Today, it continues to live by that same fear. Fear of those who might still persecute them even today for trying to get to the truth. Thus it is fear, rather than lack of willingness to face the past.

The current political class has block on many occasions the law that would finally allow for the opening of the regime dossiers. Several judges and many other people who worked for the communist regime are still in power today, some of them in the same functions as in the past, but under different names or titles. They do not want the past to be known for fear of retaliation by a people who has known and continues to know only suffering!

At least that is my take on the whole issue.

Sincerely,

Elvis Plaku

Albanian Blogger

 

P.S. Vincent’s wife Bianca is the author of my newly favorite blogs “Discovering Albania“. Read up on their recent vacation in the south of Albania including “Gjirokastra“; “Porto Palermo“; “Butrinti” and more…

I would encourage you to read this article about Albania’s past seen through the eyes of an ex-prisoner now well known publicist & neighbor!

Why Albanians fear their communist pasts

What to do about etiquette in Albania?

Albanian post officeMy fellow blogger Bianca, at Discovering Albania, wrote recently about her not so enjoyable experience at the post office where people routinely cut in front of you in line, which in turn can become even more frustrating with the summer heat and general mobocracy of the whole operation.

In her view, and mine as well, she hinted at a greater issue which regards this greater mass of people I call my countrymen. It has to do with the lack of certain societal rules and behaviors, which should be shared in this communal and civilized group of people who, though often unwillingly, are forced to live together in the same space.

It has to do with our inability to differentiate between public and personal space, or lack thereof.

Personal_Space.svgIt has to do with our willingness to adjust and learn new rules.

It has to do with changing one’s frame of reference, so as to include the needs of others.

It has to do with kindness and respect.

It has to do with a range of things, which I cannot say I understand them all, but am nevertheless affected and concerned by.

Bianca’s view was that we need to learn to respect the personal/social space of people, and should say that I agree, but would love to get your feedback and comments about this issue as well, since it does affect us all.

What to do about etiquette in Albania?

Circumcision: an Albanian cultural tradition!

Michelangelo's David (Circumcision)

Michelangelo’s David (Circumcision)

As much as I dislike the experience, I found myself again at the children’s hospital, however, this time it was because our son was getting circumcised.

The practice of circumcision is both a culturally accepted norm and also a ‘cleanliness’ suggested surgical intervention for boys in Albania. My wife and I were both comfortable with the whole idea so we went ahead and did it.

Our son is only two and a half years old and we decided that this would be the best time for him as the older he gets the more conscious he will be about this experience which, judging form  mine (at seven), was not something I felt good about.

Culturally speaking

Culturally, Albanians have been circumcising their sons for decades. The Muslim religious background of many in the country has been a dominant reason for this practice. Though, historically this is a Jewish tradition in our country it has prevailed as a tradition through the Muslim parts of the population, where the Orthodox and Catholic traditions have not been as open.

However, during communism the practice was upheld mostly for health reasons related to general cleanliness and avoidance of potential infections. Today, it’s much the same reasons that lead many parents to have their sons circumcised.

Muslim tradition in Albania

For Muslim traditional families the circumcision of boys continues to be a major event in the life of the family. Often the occasion is accompanied with various festivities in the form of a lunch or dinner with the extended family and friends all gathering to celebrate. The “lucky boy” also gets some presents (generally cash) as he tries to endure the pain! However, this tradition is fading rapidly as communities are much more fluid now and many families live in locations where most people are not family related. But culturally it is an occasion for family ties to strengthen and people to celebrate.

In our case, my wife and I decided to go the slightly more modern way, where it was only a family matter with just grandparents coming to attend as both of us have to work. Though we did entertain some guests who came to know about it and wanted to pay their traditional ‘respect’.

Circumcision: an Albanian cultural tradition!

Can Albania and Greece operate on reciprocal basis?

The decision to evict the church from the building was based on a 2002 court order that had not been enforced for years. Nevertheless, the forceful eviction attracted the attention of the media and public as it was badly handled. In one of the scenes, one of the priests actually jumped on a policeman, which goes to show the feelings and gravity of the situation which was created by the event. The Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is in theory an autonomous Albanian Church. In practice, it is headed by Greek bishops, who are often perceived by the local public as acting in the interests of the Greek government.

However, I am not here to talk about this incident as I do not have knowledge of the veracity of the claims made by both parties, I just wanted to talk about the Albanian-Greek relations.

Double forked reaction of the Greek government

What caused a greater stir from this whole event, which was of interest to most Albanians, was the repeat involvement of the Greek government in our internal affairs. In short, the Greek government’s reaction came in the form of a protest note made by their ministry of embassy/ministry of foreign affairs and it even escalated to a complaint against Albania before the European Union.

The other reaction, which is most disturbing, came in the form of unfair treatment toward Albanian immigrants traveling between Albanian and Greece, in this case toward Greece. This is a recurring issue where the Greek border police regularly turn down Albanians for “irregularities” with their papers or lack of “something” which impedes them from traveling to Greece. The list of such “issues” is long, but the main problem is the fact that Greek border authorities have used this to literally persecute and discriminate Albanians on many different levels. They have even gone so far as to prevent Albanian journalists from entering Greece in retaliation for their reporting on such issues with their nationals.

The recent incident in Tepelene turned out to be another “justification” for discrimination and ill-treatment of Albanian immigrants and travelers. However, this time it was different!

The Albanian border authorities decided to start hindering Greek nationals from entering Albania for lack of proper documentation such as official invitation, hotel reservation, etc., which is what happens regularly on the Greek side of the border. This was the first time in recent history and brought about the quick normalization of the situation on the Greek side of the border.

However, the situation is much more complex than that and the hope is for the new Rama government will push harder for better relations between both countries.

Can Albania and Greece operate on reciprocal basis?