A Travellerspoint blog

EXCITING IMAGES OF ALBANIA

Monastery

Monastery

This is an on-going project. I took over 3000 pictures in Albania in Ma/June 2016.
I am editing them and gradually posting them on my photographic blog:

City walls and a clock tower

City walls and a clock tower

I began this blog long before joining Travellerspoint,and have not got the time upload them all over again. So, please visit my Ipernity photo blog occasionally!

Beach at  Himara

Beach at Himara

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 06:37 Archived in Albania Comments (0)

PREPARED FOR AN ATTACK THAT NEVER HAPPENED

A vast 'cold war' bunker in Gjirokastër

The construction of the bunker under the Castle of Gjirokastër, which was designed to shelter up to two hundred people, began in 1970 and was completed in 1985. It was never used. Gradually, it filled up with water. In 2010, the tunnels were dried out, cleaned, and then opened for public viewing. Although some considerable restoration work was undertaken to make the tunnels safe, many original features were left just as they were found after re-opening the complex. Much of what remains from before its re-opening was rotting mildewed, or rusting, furniture.

Now join me on a tour:

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 05:39 Tagged bunker albania gjirokastër Comments (0)

ALBANIA NOW AND THEN

1984 and 2016 - same country, great differences

Albania’s eagle, its national symbol, has two heads. One looks left, the other right; or, maybe east and west; or past and future. In this book, I have looked not to the future, which is difficult to predict, but to Albania’s present and the past, which are inextricably intertwined.

On learning that I had visited the country in 1984, many people we met in Albania asked me if it had changed for the better. The answer is ‘yes’. In 1984, the country was as beautiful as it is now, but most people were living in dreadful conditions. Despite what people told us about the stability of life under the Communists and nostalgia for the ‘good old days’, this stability if it existed at all was fragile. One false move, whether intentional or more often unintentional, could send someone to a prison camp or worse, and bring great difficulties for his or her family.

Gjirokastër

Gjirokastër

Today, life for Albanians is filled with uncertainty; but they can worship the way they want; they can say what they think; write and read anything; they can travel where they wish; work abroad; and do not starve. The only constraint on today’s Albanians is economic. The country is still amongst the poorest in Europe, but no one is preventing enterprising Albanians from trying to improve their lot.
In 1984, the only Albanians with whom I could speak were the two Albturist guides and our coach driver, a well-educated member of the Albanian Communist Party. During our recent trip, my wife and I were free to speak with any Albanian who wished to converse with us, and no one we met was tongue-tied. Whatever language barriers there were between us and them, Albanians made a great effort to understand us and to make themselves understood. Almost without exception, people were warm and exceptionally kind to us. Albanians overflow with kindness and hospitality.

Albania shed the tyranny of dictatorship in late 1990. Its entry into the modern ‘free’ world was not easy. Difficulties included: complex internal politics; the Pyramid Schemes and the civil war that followed their collapse; the violent disintegration of their neighbour the former Yugoslavia; and then the Kosovo crisis. Many Kosovan refugees flooded into Albania at a time when the country was ill-prepared to look after them, but Albanian hospitality ensured that the Kosovans were not let down.

Today, Albania is modernising. Internet coverage is better than in some parts of the UK. Roads are being modernised. Much building work is being done. Every bar and café has at least one wide-screen television. Old towns are being brought up to date. We saw fine examples of that at Poliçan and in Përmet. Yet, all of this is happening in what might be described as the world’s largest archaeological site, namely the ruins of the era of Enver Hoxha. Wherever we went, we saw relics from this period: bunkers, factories, railways, mines, and monuments. Many of these are reminders of the notion that was in Hoxha’s mind: to modernise Albania, yet keep it truly self-sufficient and self-reliant without straying from his own brand of ‘Marxism-Leninism’. At least Hoxha, unlike the leaders of another isolationist nation North Korea, did not feel it necessary to become a threat to the outside world.

The Communist era monuments (‘lapidars’) were an unending source of fascination to me. Not only were they often interesting artistically, but also they reflected local attitudes to the not so distant past. Some monuments have been left to decay, others have been defaced with graffiti. However, many of them appear to have been well-maintained. These mementos record lives lost, local men and women who died during the struggle to rid Albania of its fascist invaders. They commemorated the loss of people fighting on the side of the Communists. Gradually, memorials are appearing to remind Albanians of their many fellow citizens who became victims of the Communists. The grisly exhibition in the National Museum in Tirana goes some way towards addressing this tragedy.

On both trips that I have made to Albania, I have been impressed by the country’s great beauty. In 1984, our tour group was taken where the government-controlled travel company dictated, and unsurprisingly we were shown beautiful places. On our recent trip, we went wherever we wished, and everywhere we visited was without exception very beautiful. It is amazing that such a small country as Albania can contain so much exceptionally wonderful and endlessly varying scenery. Yet, it does. And, this fantastic landscape is filled with wonders: historical, folkloric, and geological. We travelled through a land peopled with kind helpful folk, all of whom gave us a warm welcome.

Excerpt from REDISCOVERING ALBANIA, written by me, Adam Yamey

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 02:34 Comments (2)

MARX TO MERCEDES

Before and after Enver Hoxha

Between 1944 and late 1990, Albania was in the grips of a rigid Stalinist dictatorship, which was 'founded' by Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985. It was continued by his trusted successor Ramiz Alia brought about its downfall in late 1990. Under the ductatorship, Albania was as least as well isolated from the rest of the world as North Korea is today.

Statue of STALIN in Shkodër in 1984 Stalin. By 1984, Albania was the only country in Europe to revere Stalin.

Statue of STALIN in Shkodër in 1984 Stalin. By 1984, Albania was the only country in Europe to revere Stalin.

I visited Albania as a tourist in May/June 1984 on a guded tour organised by Regents Tours. We were shown only what Hoxha's regime wanted us to see. We were not permitted to speak with any Albanians except out three trusted minders. We were made to eat separated from, and out of sight of, Albanians. We had to be careful where we aimed our cameras. Some of my fellow tourists even had film removed from their cameras when they left them in their hotel bedrooms.

Although I realised that what we were seeing was selected by our hosts to give a good impression, I had no idea until rcently how carefully everything was staged-managed to give us what the Marxist-Leninist regime hoped would be a good impression. When I visited Albania in 2016, I was told that during the Communist period, wherever foreign visitors were going to visit were specially 'tidied up' several days in advance so that the visitors would get an ideal, rather than a realistic, view of the place.

We ate well in Albania in 1984. But no one else did. I have since learnt that in 1984, most people in Albania were at near starvation level because everything that was grown in the country was exported to obtain much needed foreign currency. The country was in a mess, but the state tourist company did its level best to disguise that from us, and succeeded.

I have called this blog "FROM MARX TO MERCEDES" because when I visited Albania in 1984 Marx and his ideas dominated the scene, but in 2016 Mercedes Benz dominate the roads.

In 1984, there were almost no cars in Albania. They were all owned by the state, and were mostly Volvos, Peugeots, and a very few Mercedes. Now, Albanian roads are full of privately owned cars, many of them are Mercedes Benz.

A Mercedes gives way to a horse-drawn vehicle in Korcë

A Mercedes gives way to a horse-drawn vehicle in Korcë

Today's visitor to Albania will be greeted by friendly, generous, and extremely hospitable people. You can visit wherever you want, speak with whomever you meet, and can expect to be delighted by the countries fascinating folk and varying landscape.

A ever growing collection of my pictures of Albania taken in 2016 may be seen at http://www.ipernity.com/doc/adam/album/901890

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 09:56 Archived in Albania Tagged balkan albania communism stalin albanian Comments (1)

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