2012 - Albania
short visit formed part of our cruise on Discovery to the eastern
Mediterranean and Black Sea taking in 10 countries: Croatia, Slovenia,
Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Russia, and
Albania was always known as a hard-line communist country and one largely closed to the West. It allied itself with China in 1961 until 1978, following a break with Russia over ideology.
was previously part of the Ottoman Empire and is a poor agricultural,
predominantly muslim country, one of the poorest in Europe. It has great
problems of corruption. In 2009 it joined NATO and it has made
application to become part of the EU. The population is 3.2m with 95%
Albanian population. It has suffered a population decline recently of
3% as people have emigrated. It is certainly the poorest country that
we visited on this cruise and one of the poorest in Europe. This is
such a contrast to some of the other countries in the area and shows at
least in part the cost of communism. What we saw was almost
universally drab and poor, although there were a few spectacular new
commercial buildings and some new houses. The average salary is only 250-350
euros per month. However, education is free.
docked at Durres
one of Albania's oldest cities, the country's main sea port, and the second
largest industrial centre after Tirana. In the 7th century BC it was
under Greek rule and then Roman from the 2nd century BC. It was then
under Byzantium for 1000 years before coming under Ottoman rule.
national hero is Skenderbej who resisted the Ottoman attacks and enabled
Albania to be free for just 25 years in the 15th century. He has real
hero status and there are many references to him and statues of him.
rule continued until 1912 when there was a declaration of independence.
There was a short period of monarchy and of republic status before the
country was annexed by Italy and by Germany in the war. There was a period
of communist isolationism from the 1960s until the death of the dictator
Enver Hoxha. Now Albania seeks to be part of the EU but to our eyes we
saw little that we have in common with this country. It is also
predominantly Muslim since the grant of tax benefits to Moslems in the 15th
guide told us that there had been no private ownership in communist times
and that along with government control came rationing and long food queues.
Churches and mosques were demolished and no religion permitted. TV and
radio were limited to national stations. A bad era of pyramid selling
following the death of Hoxha in 1985 led to social chaos and in 1997 there
was civil war. Then there was war with Serbia and Kosovo which had been part
is high unemployment (23%) and we noticed many people just standing around.
Many Albanians work abroad and send or bring back money to Albania.
we left the port we were told that 70% of the country is mountainous.
We noticed much quarrying as we headed for the city of Kruje.
There appeared a general sense of disorder. There are no planning laws
and we quickly noticed that a factory might be next to a house, a few cows,
a warehouse, a small area of maize and then a shop. Many times we saw
brand new offices next to a few grazing cows.
traffic laws that may exist are widely ignored. Our guide told us that
Albanians donít like obeying rules Ė a good omen for a future member of
objective in this town of 16,000 was the castle and in particular its
museum. This in fact was excellent. The castle was able to
withstand three major sieges and was very much associated with Skenderbej.
roads have been improved in the past 5 years and money has come from the EU
there was complete chaos in the centre of town as we returned to the coach,
with people double parked in the narrow streets.
moved on to Tirana
on the plain between the mountains and the sea. This city was much
more ordered and modern. Built by the Ottomans in the 17th century it
became the capital in 1920. There were yet more drab soviet style
blocks of flats, although some had recently been painted in bright colours
at the instigation of the mayor. It is perhaps ironic that a pyramid shaped
building in the centre of the city, built in memory of the dictator now lies
derelict and covered in graffiti. We went to visit this with Glennis,
the wife on Discovery's Security Officer.
had lunched near the pyramid in the Sky Tower in a restaurant on about the
12th floor and served by a tiny lift! Our trip then concluded with a
visit to the museum which our guide took us through quickly, but adequately,
our time being short.
interesting insight into yet another failed communist state of which we have
seen quite a number around the world.