Young Albanians discuss future of country, EU membership

04-12-2004

Now for a trip beyond the borders of the ICE region - to Albania. Under Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania was Europe's heart of darkness. Then came the fall of Communism, and years of instability culminating in widespread looting and riots in 1997. All that's a very different picture from the Albania of today. The country is now trying to catch up with the rest of former Communist Europe.

I'm sitting in a revolving restaurant on top of one of Tirana's newest landmarks - the Sky Tower. The Sky Tower is in the heart of the fashionable Block neighbourhood. The Block was once home to Enver Hoxha, now it's awash with trendy bars and clubs, full of lots of very well-dressed and very prosperous looking young Albanians. Joining me are three of them - Migena Kapllani, Leida Memoci and Ened Janina.

The image of Albania is an overwhelmingly negative image, it's very unlike the life that we can see here all around us. It's a country seen as very poor, politically unstable and troubled by blood feuds, a country which seems to export only drugs and illegal immigrants. Is that image of your country fair?

Migena: I don't think so. Things are different. I've met many people who come here from abroad and when they are here they surprised. They're surprised at what they know, and what they see here.

Ened: I think the image is very exaggerated. You see Tirana, it's not very poor. The clubs are full. Everyone's outside, wearing good clothes, driving beautiful cars. It's not true that Albania is exporting drugs, because we don't produce drugs here. Drugs come from Afghanistan, they pass through Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, maybe Greece and then come to Albania. So Albania is not the problem.

Leida: No, the problem with Albania is not drugs or something like that. There are difficulties at the moment because we're in a transition period. But there aren't that many problems.

Nonetheless, other former Communist countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary have made far greater progress in the last decade than Albania. Why is Albania relatively so poor?

Migena: There have been many problems. Albania has lived in Communism for more than 50 years, and each country goes through this period of transition on its own.

But what has gone wrong with Albania's transition?

Ened: There's nothing wrong with the transition, the problem was with the nature of the Communist regime here. Communism in Albania was the worst form of Communism in Europe, maybe the world.

So it's because things here were far worse than in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland.

Ened: Albania didn't even have roads; Czechoslovakia had roads. We didn't have a lot of other things.

What about your country's prospects of joining the European Union? Do you think that will ever happen?

Migena: Well, yes. I have faith in this.

And when do you think that will happen?

Migena: I don't know. I can't say exactly.

Leida: I have faith too, because there are many countries that are worse than us, and they're on their way.

Ened: I think we'll go into the European Union, but not now. In fifty years, maybe more.

Migena & Leida: Fifty years?!

Leida: Fifteen maybe, but not fifty!

Ened: Knowing Albania, knowing Albanian politicians and knowing Albanian people, I think it will be fifty years.

04-12-2004

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