26 / 2 / 2014

The Unofficial View of Tirana (61)


Current EU Ambassador Ettore Sequi in traditional Albanian costume. Photo by Roland Tasho for the exhibition European Portraits.

Sometimes a photo just hits you in the face. Like this one. Ettore Sequi, the EU Ambassador to Albania is a man with an attitude. It’s a man that loves to hear himself talk. It’s a man who melts for press conferences. But it’s also a man who loves to dress up in costumes from eras long gone, from the times Lord Byron “discovered” Albania and wrote about its beautiful boys that “they […] have painted complexions like rouged dowagers, large black eyes & features perfectly regular. They are the prettiest little animals I ever saw” (Letters I, 231). If there is any photo that has captured both the obsession of the EU for its Balkan backyard, its neocolonial streak, its vanity and utter madness for some sense of old-fashioned pride, glamor, and veritable power outfits, this is it…
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The Unofficial View of Tirana (60)


Sample ballot paper, color coded by yours truly

Already some time ago I found online an example of the 2013 ballot paper to be used during the parliamentary elections of June 23. It was a model issued by the KQZ (Central Election Committee), which currently consists of 4 majority party members and 3 vacant seats with no solution in sight. I think even the internationals are a bit tired of it all… and we haven’t even started! So what I loved about this ballot paper is that the names on it are not entirely random. Clearly someone in the KQZ has been hammering away on a keyboard in an utmost attempt to block out any active knowledge of the current political system. Let’s see what happened:
In the far left corner we see (turned 90 degrees) the names of the different coalitions. Like in France, the main parties form their own coalitions, in this example the Koalicioni i Hfgostewq, the Koalicioni i Cvdfffff, the Koalicioni Indftresdfgj, and last the Koalicioni i Loest (lowest?). The process used here is the one of the monkey on the computer. Clusters like hfg, ewq, cv, tre, dftresdfgj are all close on the keyboard, alternating between left and right hand “randomization.” What is more interesting are the moments of lapse, of tiredness (fffff), or of the suggestion of a word (“Ind…ependent”).
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The Unofficial View of Tirana (59)


The King's Song… with new nationalist symbol

The last few days, finally on a short holiday in Istria (and my dear are these Croatians afraid to enter the EU on July 1!), I’ve been trying to think what to write about, or at least, where to start on reporting about the current Albanian pre-election situation. A small recap: about two weeks ago the left-wing LSI party announced to leave the coalition government with the PD and team up with opposition party PS for the upcoming June 23 elections. The LSI immediately vacated their ministerial positions, leaving basically a PD minority government in place. This also had an immediate effect on other governmental levels, as throughout the country PS and LSI starting voting together, thus shifting the political balance in the entire country.
In a countermove, the PD started a parliamentary procedure to remove the LSI nominated member in the Central Election Committee, which is supposedly politically neutral. In spite the fact that the electoral law does not give parliament the power to remove any of the CEC members, PD pushed the vote, managed to secure a majority for it (which I found surprising considering the fact that they are in the minority now), and put somebody else in the CEC (again this is legally impossible), upon which the two PS nominated members resigned. Although the electoral law demands a replacement of vacated CEC seats during election time within 48 hours, no new members have been nominated, leaving the CEC fully in the hands of the PD and its allies, with only 4 of 7 seats filled (two vacated, one contested). The idea to “restore political balance” in a supposedly apolitical and procedural body (no CEC member is supposed to have had any party affiliation in the last 5 years) has thus resulted in a wonderful clusterfuck with every single “international” panicking and the elections basically ready for yet another brilliant series of fraudulent and illegal moves. I am still surprised now and then at what PM Berisha is able to pull off, although this surprise is slowly starting to be accompanied by a profound sense of alarm. I have never seen such utter disrespect for the rule of law from up close, nor “lived” it. The overall mood is pessimistic; most of my friends expect a terrible post-election situation, no matter who wins.
Yet, that there is no way back to the politically “stable” backwaters of the Netherlands is now more clear to me than ever. As the country is readying itself for the crowning of the new King Willem-Alexander on April 30, the mediocrity of its general taste levels (and thus the mediocrity of the kingdom) is surfacing once again, this time in the form of a national (or “nationalist”) anthem thrown together by some cheap musical guy to celebrate the crowning ceremony (and this crown prince must have approved of this. woe the arts for the coming 50 years!), including a brain dissolving rap sequence. Here it is. Beware.

Some Dutch guy made a rough translation of the pathetic, incoherent, and moreover ungrammatical lyrics, from which I quote:

There you are
You’ve seen this moment often in your dreams
And here it is
The day that you knew who (sic) was coming is finally here
Are you ready?
Can one ever truly be?
There you are
Everyone has a calling in this life
You’ve done everything to prepare yourself
And here it is
You promise you’ll give it your all
Every step you took was leading to this
And look around you
We’re walking with you […]
One battle! Two lives!
We have each other’s back! Unbreakable!
One flag! Two lions!
Together, come rain or shine!
Side by side! Standing tall!
Proud as a peacock! This is our sound!
It doesn’t matter we’re small!
Our actions speak loud!
We won’t fall in an awkward manner!
For you, my child!
For my dad, for my mom!
For you, I’ll weather wind and rain!
And I’ll have your back!
I’ll wear a banner with your name!
I’ll believe in you, as long as we exist! (WTF!?)
I’ll build a dyke with my bare hands! (!)
And keep the water away from you!

I don’t think this text, or the “music” that goes with it needs any of my sarcasm for my point to be made. I invite the unwitting listener to compare this absolutely anti-intellectual polder-terror, sad excuse for a “song” with the timeless grandeur of the following nationalist Albanian songs, “Rrjedh në këngë e ligjerime” (Flows in songs and stories) by Vaçe Zela and “Për ty atdhe” (For you, fatherland) by Mentor Xhemali. Yes, the Albanian political system still has to develop (and it’s about to crash), but at least its national songs have taste. Even the Aleanca KuqeZi party anthem is a celebration of good taste compared with this Dutch fart. And as long as there is good taste, there is hope!


The Unofficial View of Tirana (58)


On Sunday I woke up around 11 am to the sound of the nationalist song “Xhamadani vija vija” (YouTube terror). Somebody was playing it loudly on a car stereo or maybe the wind brought it to my window from Skënderbeg Square where nationalist party Aleanca KuqeZi was holding their “peaceful” rally “against” Berisha. I had planned to go there to sniff up some of the atmosphere, but the incessant rains of the last few weeks still hadn’t stopped and moreover I had ruined my back the previous day carrying a garden table to my balcony. In other words I was too lazy/in pain to bother. But when I saw this picture of the rally on the Aleanca KuqeZi site, I felt I’d really missed something. In Holland I’ve seen quite some interesting people become nationalist figureheads. First a bald, gay professor of sociology who publicly chatted about his rendez-vous with Moroccan boys in gay saunas. An overweight, chain-smoking movie director. And now, already, for quite some time, this guy with the bleached Mozart hairdo and (immigrant) Hungarian wife.
But this picture, it hit me. The tragic plastic flowers above the Boulevard of the Martyrs still hanging there from the “Summer Day” celebrations of March 21, a summer that still doesn’t seem to come. Then the two banners repeating the AK election slogan “Zoti është i pari, Shqipëria mbi të gjitha” — “God is the first, Albania above everything.” It reminds me a bit of the PD slogan for the last municipal elections “Tirana is the first, you are the first ones.” It all sounds dreadful, not only in English. The first part of the slogan is in black, the second part in red. Because the way the image is cut, the slogan reads as “Albania above everything, God is the first.” They clearly didn’t think about how the parade would look through the lens of the average Albanian photographer. Because the line of mostly long-haired girls that is holding the banner on the left is seems to be slightly ahead of the banner on the right, it seems as of the red capitals of “Albania above everything” are even bigger. Don’t let the grammar fool you. This God part slightly baffles me. There is nothing about God in AK’s party program. It is true that he breaks something of a taboo by mentioned the Lord in a party slogan, but did he really think that sexing it up with a line of non-scarfed girls would bring him closer to the religious Muslim part of the population? Or maybe he is convinced that Lord+sexiness=victory? If I were a Muslim I would have preferred “Allahu është i pari,” so maybe he is aiming for the Catholics and Christian-Orthodox?
And then there is Kreshnik Spahiu himself. Quasi-filmically walking in front of all (above everything?), without umbrella. The crowd behind him shelters under a mass of umbrellas but not the great leader. He walks a bit off center, which gives the whole picture a weird asymmetric feel. The picture doesn’t capture him in a flattering pose. His glasses seem too thick and the shade of his Albanian flag cap makes it more difficult to read his expression, but he doesn’t seem happy. The corners of his mouth are hanging, his lips are not fully closed. His mouth in general seems rather weak. Did he talk to much? Why didn’t he wear the same cap as his girls? Maybe they were out of AK caps and he wanted to put something on his head last minute so his hairs wouldn’t get wet? Like his cap, his jacket seems entirely impromptu, he really didn’t expect this rain; the day before the weather was so lovely. The jacket is a bit sporty, not the thing you wear to a political rally. Maybe he was cold. It’s also not a jacket you wear your Albanian flag pin on, that’s more something for a suit jacket. He probably moved it last minute from his jumper to his jacket once it started raining. It’s also positioned too low, it would have looked better on his revers. Maybe it’s a bit overkill too. An Albanian flag cap and an Albanian flag pin? The jacket itself is too large. It hangs from his shoulders and his hands disappear in the sleeves. The entire ensemble, the flag cap and pin, the oversized jacket, the sad face, the glasses, it makes him look like boy whose birthday party just got ruined but still has to pose for a picture with all his friends.
But then still this boy decided to put it on his website, for all the world to see. Maybe he thought he looked good?

The Unofficial View of Tirana (57)


Social trust in Europe according to SOROS/European Social Survey. Albania on the far left with the lowest score.

To join a climbing gym has definitely been one of the better decisions I took so far this year. Not only is my fear of heights drastically decreasing (at least up to 5 meters), it also teaches me to trust my body, which for an anti-physically oriented person like me can be quite exhilarating. Yes there are blisters on my hands and the muscles in hips are dancing the samba without the rest of my body, but as long as my blog posts don’t suffer…
Now, as the election draws ever closer, a host of NGOs is coming out with new statistical research, independent questionnaires, and we’re (we who are following these things — there’s always free coffee) walzing from pre-electoral conference to pre-electoral conference. I would like to share with you some of my observations from two of these meetings. The political context in which they seem to be happening indicate a fundamental atmosphere of distrust that seems to characterize this tense pre-electoral period. Practically nothing is known yet in terms of representatives and programs, and it seems the goal is delay informing the public as long as possible. So all we get through the media are snippets in which one deputy is blackmailed by the other, the father of another one arrested by the police, threats and promises based on non-existent evidence unsupported by any economical calculation. All of this while the World Bank has warned the government recently for Greek situations and the Bank of Albania has already warned that the government is severely behind on paying its private contractors. The Ministry of Finance only responds to these warnings by taking more loans. This shouldn’t come as a surprise once we take into account that Minister of Finance Ridvan Bode is (since 2005) exactly the same Minister of Finance that “guided” Albania into total financial and political chaos in 1996-7. Perhaps he confuses not making the same mistake twice with ignoring the second mistake. Any government that will take power after June 23 will most probably fall into a financial hole deeper than the potholes in the mud road in front of my apartment (will it ever be fixed?), but that’s something for later posts…
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The Unofficial View of Tirana (56)


Yes, we're in that place again. Free euros and stars running in circles…

It has been a while since I posted for the last time about Albania, but now that finally the first rays of real spring sun are shining through the window of my study and the new washing machine has been installed, I feel ready for some political commentary. Two days ago when I was going for a raki and a plate of baked liver at one of my favorite bars, I found some postcards which apparently have been spread around Tirana, depicting on one side a 100 euro bill, and on the other side an enormous amount of bullcrap propaganda, starting in the center, then clockwise from upper left corner:
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The Unofficial View of Tirana (55)


Since its first edition, Kosovo 2.0 has been a groundbreaking, border-crossing, and taboo-transcending initiative. Not only is its website a platform for many young creators and writers, it is also one of the few initiatives that refuses the ever increasing nationalism in Kosova and Albania, and consistently publishes in the three official languages of Kosova: Albanian, Serbian, and English. From an Albanian perspective, we can only wish that such a wonderful initiative would sustainable here, as the thematically organized editions on matters such as Religion and Corruption, and now, Sex, are truly pushing forward in unknown territory. Read here the letter from the editor for the Sex issue.

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More Conservative Party Coprophilia: Britain’s New Budget


Yesterday the Conservative chancellor of Great Britain gave his Autumn Budget (yes, in winter). As the image here shows, Autumn is the leafy, golden one, with people picking apples, bottom right. Winter is the snowy, ice-hockey one, top right. chancellor osbourne (he doesn’t get capital letters) might need such nursery learning resources so that in the future, if he has one, he can deliver his budgets on time. As most of the country trudged through austerity, even the weather turned austere, with blizzards and ice confirming the prophecies of the picture above.

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The Unofficial View of Tirana (54)


Thus was the main event of Albania’s 100th independence day. A cake fight. Thousands of people had gathered at the central Skënderbeg square as Mayor Basha of Tirana cut the giant supercake (a world record) with an extended pizza knife and presented the first piece to Kosovar president Jahjaga. After several pieces of cake were presented — in the best (post-)communist tradition — to folkloristically dressed-up girls, the cake was utterly destroyed by the bystanders fighting to get a piece. No distribution had been put in place (typical for the huge disorganization that was characteristic for the entire day), nor was there any cuttlery that could be used to consume the cake properly. As a result the masses consumed the cake on the spot, children throwing pieces around, plastic boxes being filled by old ladies, and so on. Although much fun has been made of the scene already, I would like to point out that Black Friday on the other side of the ocean looks quite like it (or for that matter try to give away free stuff on a Dutch street…). Nevertheless, it definitely put a blemish on the celebrations.
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The Unofficial View of Tirana (53)


Wilson Square in Tirana

As promised an update on the independence day craze that is currently spreading throughout the capital, the country, and neighboring countries such as Kosovë. Let’s start with the fate of the 1000 sheep and 1000 lambs that were supposed to be slaughtered for the 28th. Although announced by the Prime Minister’s office, both Municipality and the Ministry of Culture, in charge with the organization of the festivities, deny any knowledge of the precise status of the slaughter. In the meantime, the Minister of Agriculture, Genc Ruli insists that his ministry has been able to locate “first-quality meat” in response to the “order placed by the Prime Minister.” As yet it is still unclear where and when the meat will be distributed among the hungry citizens of Tirana. As for the 4 “super-cakes” that have been ordered, it now seems to be the case that the Albanian government is aiming for a wold record, by having 150 volunteers working on the “biggest cake in the world.” According to patissier Alfred Marku, the cake contains 2397 kg flour, 38064 eggs, 1770 kg sugar, 20 kg vanilla, and 50 kg pomegranates. The center will be decorated with an eagle and the national colors, and olives symbolizing peace:

The cake is constructed in several layers. The first layer will start with ??? and doused with maple and grape syrup, it will be covered with pastry cream and pomegranate. The cake will have red and black Albanian flag symbols, pomegranate red color, but also contains its own symbol, as a symbol of rebirth and unity. It will be surrounded by olive leafs as a symbol of goodness, peace. The Independence Cake is dedicated to all Albanians.

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