Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Lexo ne shqip: Fjala e Lire

By Fatmir Terziu

My father, an engineer, was forced to volunteer outside his own work hours, in directing the building of modern houses for our Chinese friends, when we ourselves had no homes. I had forgotten his comforts; he only had the chance to speak to me when I was asleep.
I remember the time of 1970. In the last decade, my country, Albania had lost its big friend of socialist camp, Russia, and strongly was linked to another part of the East with Mao's China. The streets were occupied with flags of both countries and pamphlets and brochures. I was seven by then, but during that handful of years I witnessed the whole thing happen. 

Myself, my family, my generation, were born in a world of communist propaganda, a world of hard work and rationed food and fear of the West and its freedom. My friends and I were roaming the streets all day to meet Chinese workers just for them to give us a medal with the head of the Chinese leader Mao Tseng Dun and with slogans which said "Long live our friendship", or chewing gum. Most of the time we were collecting empty bottles and cans which the Chinese drank and we kept them as valuable things, because everything made in the West where banned from being sold to us at that time.

My father, an engineer, was forced to volunteer outside his own work hours, in directing the building of modern houses for our Chinese friends, when we ourselves had no homes. I had forgotten his comforts; he only had the chance to speak to me when I was asleep. I never forgot that day when my father bought a small plastic ball as a present for my birthday, but my happiness lasted just for few days because my ball ended at the tip of the knife. The bad story happened to my friends and me after we were playing emotionally in a street between our houses because there was nowhere else to play. A very angry neighbour popped the ball after it broke one of his flowers in his small garden. I cried that day but never told my parents because they told me not to play on the street. 

Two days later I felt worse. The council of education for the neighbourhood had publicly put up a notice board where it was said that (we) boys, who played football on the street were bad boys and had a concept of western life. There was a bad time for our family as well. This "incident" considered us as a grown criminal and not as a seven - year - old child. Accidentally these remained as my last days of childhood. My dad was forced to take me with him to work in building.

Straight after school finished I would go to work. Sometimes I filled water for the elder workers and sometimes I carried building materials at them. I was so tired that I would fell asleep on my feet. We walked; it was too expensive to travel by bus. 

That time now is like a legend to us. But I can remember that it really happened.


...I had fallen asleep with The Beatles song on my mind…

The documentary was transmitted in the time when Albania lost another big friend, China. While watching the documentary we heard " We build the Socialism with our forces" over a hundred times. What were those forces? It was laughable. Everything was rationed and poverty had occupied the entire country. The man in the documentary a goatherd and member of Communist Party of Albania had beaten the record of the amount of milk a goat made and had been selected, as an example of how all Albanians should be. Latter we heard that he was sent to prison because of his false declaration about the milk amount.
Iwas 13 years and almost two months old on September 13 1977. It was a day on which Albanian government had announced that VAT on electricity was to go up from 7% to 12%. A warrant had been issued for the arrest of new group "traitors" in Albania. The Central Comity of Enver Hodja's PPSH had pledged to continue in socialist way without support from outside countries, "especially from the capitalists and revisionists" as Hodja said. None of which weighed very heavily on my mind as I settled down with my family to watch the black and white television after main news at eight. It was a Tuesday night during the school term, so normally I would have been getting ready for bed at this time. This getting ready for bed had another reason; the lights had to be turned off at the time, because the costs of electricity had increased.
But there was a special programme showing this evening, something none of us wanted to miss. It was called "With blood boiling" (Me gjak te ndezur"), and although we had never heard of the man presenting it, it was the only Albanian National Television during that time and there was no doubt in our minds that it constituted essential viewing. It was a documentary about a goatherd from Tropoja a city in Northern Albania; the place where the Albanian Communist leader Enver Hodja visited in the 1960's after Albania had lost its friendship with Russia. The documentary was transmitted in the time when Albania lost another big friend, China. While watching the documentary we heard " We build the Socialism with our forces" over a hundred times. What were those forces? It was laughable. Everything was rationed and poverty had occupied the entire country. The man in the documentary a goatherd and member of Communist Party of Albania had beaten the record of the amount of milk a goat made and had been selected, as an example of how all Albanians should be. Latter we heard that he was sent to prison because of his false declaration about the milk amount. A secret police force found out that he added water to the milk and when he had become a member of Hodja's Party nobody inspected him. What did we expect from this programme? We expected to be frightened, I imagine to have been scared from the forces of Hodja's regime and to forget the poverty and other problems of the nation. 
At the same time my neighbour had turned his TV off and was listening to music from The Beatles from his radio with a low volume. But as low as the volume was, it the silence of the night the music travelled to my ears. Without knowing it I had fallen asleep with The Beatles song on my mind…


Benjamin Franklin once said: “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes”. Well, I have another two certainty’s to add to the list: Japanese tourists are everywhere, and cab drivers are scum bags worldwide. But rather than complain, I want to tell you the stories I heard for this enigmatic country.

I have just spent three days (and two nights) visiting Albania. Whilst I was only there for a short time, I was satisfied in what I learnt, and absolutely fascinated. I stayed in Saranda, which is a port-city at the south of the country, near the Greek border. It is opposite the Greek island of Corfu. I stayed in an area called “exsamilia” which means ’six miles’ - the six mile stretch of land under Saranda, which ends where Corfu starts. Deep rural territory! The south of the country is very Greek influenced, and I had to rely on my Greek for the entire time of my trip. Not only has Greek always been popular in the South, but some one-million plus Albanians (and that is a conservative estimate) have lived in Greece for some period of time. The people I stayed with, fled the country when the Iron curtain finally fell in 1990, and like so many others, recently returned to begin a new life.
Albania is one of the world’s most misunderstood countries - and I emphasis the mis-understanding of its people. Until 1990, it was a communist country run by the iron-fist of Hoxha (pronounced”Hodja”), as first-secretary (pronounced “dictator”). Access to the outside world was completely shut off, and Hoxha created a country that was so similar to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that it sent a shiver up my spine. His death in 1985, which is still being lamented, led to the country becoming the last domino to tumble in Eastern Europe’s communist downfall.
Under Hoxha’s rule, organised religion was banned. The entire population was spread out into small villages, with freedom of movement prohibited, even to the next town. Agriculture was collectivised. People were paid a daily wage of 200 Lekke, with no one in the country receiving more than 500. Young men served in the military, for I think three-years, and had to do nine-days annually again to retrain them with new weapons and methods. The country was turned literally into a military state, as there was a constant fear that Albania’s neighbours would invade. Cinema’s were available, but forget about love stories: the only movies shown were ones that where with the party line, namely being war. Television was first introduced in 1970, as an outlet for the governments propaganda.

A tunnel Network connects the entire country, with small-domed bunkers dotting the country side for entry/exit into the tunnel networks. You would see these bunkers in the most remote, unpredictable areas.
If you criticised the regime, you were done for. If you forcefully pushed a woman in any sort of form, good-bye you. There was no crime, no criticism. Everyone lived like one big family. People felt safe; however they would wet their pants when I would ask about the Secret Police. It seems old habits die hard - such was the fear in the country.
Despite what people think, there was democracy. Polling booths opened at 6 and closed at 6.30. You could vote for anyone you wanted, as long as they were a legally recognised political party: which for all that time, was only the communist party. Election results for the communists always turned out to support it 99.98 per cent of the time. The other 0.02% were grandmothers who dropped their glasses. Although even if there were opposition candidates, I would not be surprised if, by their own free will, a majority would vote communist. They had been convinced to be happy with what they had.
As I said earlier, a daily wage consisted of 200 Leke. With 300 Lekke, you could buy 15 kg of bread, to give you an idea of the cost of living. To pay off your debt to the government for living in an apartment, you simply had to work one day a month. Theoretically people worked eight hours a day, starting at 7am, although most would doze off, clocking a few hours and spending the rest of the day chatting. They worked seven days a week. There were opportunities for entertainment, and there were no restrictions on procreation! But with such work hours, no one stayed out late. In fact, if you were seen out past 12am, you were in trouble. You would be criticised as being lazy and against the country, and you would be put in the prisons. To this day, no one knows what happened in those prisons.
When foreigners would come into the country, or Albanians studied abroad to help with a skill shortage, they had to get their story right before they came in. They were told to tell everyone that the outside world is a mess. There is no electricity, clean water, pure lawlessness. They were told to say Albania was one of the luckiest countries in the world. Given that Albanians had no contact with the outside world, is it any surprise Hoxha is treated like a god?
In 1990, the communists were ousted. The country basically turned into a barbaric society of lawlessness. In 1997, over 70 per cent of the population lost their savings in pyramid schemes, which resulted in nationwide uproar. Groups broke into the military barracks, and guns were stolen. There was open street warfare on the roads. People would shoot at someone, just for the sake of target practice. As such, in 1990 and 1997, you saw a large majority of the population spread to neighbouring countries. One guy I met left with his friends in the winter, and trekked through the mountains to get to Greece. It snows a lot in winter in Northern Greece. But they were desperate.
Having been to Greece several times since 1990, I grew up with the Greek racism. That they were cunning, thieves, and no-good people. I believed that to the day I got into Albania. Even though I don’t like to think of people as unequal, I just always had this perception that Albanians were scum. How wrong was I! And how wrong is racial tension in the rest of the Balkans, where Albanians are shunned.
I have never in my life been treated with more respect and hospitality. Although I had a negative experience with a taxi driver when the bus dropped me off at the border, that was only because he over-charged me - but this was more a case of my inexperience as a first time traveller rather than him being a bad person.
Everywhere I went, people would shout me drinks. Even my taxi drivers!

On my way out of the country, I had to catch a bus for Korca to Progradec. During that one hour or so, I sat next to a middle aged Albanian man. He did not speak English or Greek; I did not speak Albanian. So we had a conversation purely with sign language. He knew ten words in English which helped, however four of those consisted of “I don’t speak English”. Once we got off the bus, he insisted I go to his house for a coffee. There his son, who spoke English, could translate. They then told me, after ten minutes in the house, that they would drive me to the Macedonian border in the wife’s brother’s taxi, free of charge!! I saved about 10 Euros, as well as the hassle of trying to find transport to the border. Who would do that in Sydney?
At no stage, did I ever feel unsafe, or disrespected. In fact, everyone took a genuine interest in looking after me. The people I stayed with literally treated me like their son. The people I met along the way, were extremely worried about the next stage of my journey without their help. They would go out of their way to help me. The only thing I was worried about, was trying to work out the right-fare for a cab fare, but I only had to worry about that once, at the beginning. The cost of living is incredibly cheap there - I was told I was ‘ripped off’ by this restaurant at Saranda: I paid the equivalent to five euros, and was absolutely stuffed!
A lot of the young hate communism. But the old, or rather people 35+, think of the old days with nostalgia. There are two reasons for this: poverty, and security.
For people born in the communist state, that knew of a country with complete security, harmony, and equality. When capitalism and democracy came in, they saw lawlessness and inequality. Young girls who previously could walk around the country in perfect security, have been poached for prostitution around the Balkans. People are living in extreme poverty, and are being forced to fend for themselves. We may find it absurd how people like them prefer communism and totalitarianism over capitalism and democracy, and yet we need to see it though their eyes: their experience in being ‘free’ has turned their country in an anarchy. What so free about not being able to feed and protect your family?
Albania has got the cleanest water I have ever swum in. It also has the most beautiful inland landscape I have ever seen. My bus trip took me along roads I didn’t think roads could go, along mountains. Imagine two mountain ranges, separated by a valley 100 metres wide. And in that valley, a stream and sometimes river would run, with the ground completely covered in farm land. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take great pictures because the bus was moving, and when I realised I should take a picture, we had already passed the best bits. It really was breathtaking.
I think Albania has got massive potential. Not just as a tourist destination however. During communism, religion was banned. Organised religion is one of the biggest set backs of modern society, because it was a form of control imposed by empires 2000 years ago. The traditions, hatred and history constrain us to this day. As an Orthodox Christian, if I was to marry a Catholic Christian, my family would despair. In Albania however, if you are a Muslim, and you find a person you are happy with who is Christian, you have the full blessings of everyone. Whilst spirituality is an important part of the human dimension, organised religion should not be separating us. Despite Albanian’s economic problems, and inexperience in democracy, I think they are an advanced society, whereby all citizens are genuinely equal. In fifty years time, we will be seeing them as a model.
The elections next month are on everyone’s minds. Whoever wins, people are predicting that it will be a hung parliament. The feeling with people is that the centre-right New Democracy party needs to win, to give the country stop steps forward, rather than backwards, as the communist party is doing. These elections will be the crucial thing to see whether it take 5 or 50 years for Albania to get itself together.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


By Fatmir Terziu

Roehampton University
Media & Cultural Studies

Sir Norman Wisdom and Oliver Reed together in films

Around 50 years ago Sir Norman Wisdom was very happy to work together with Oliver Reed, the actor who dead during shooting the Gladiator in Malta. The Square Peg was an 89-minute Rank comedy where Wisdom, a short tall man was a big contrast to Reed. But the play was enjoyable and the laugh they produced was fantastic. Starting off as an extra in films in the late 1950s (Reed had no acting training or theatrical experience). Oliver Reed appeared unaccredited in an early Norman Wisdom classic, "The Square Peg" 1958. And again with Norman Wisdom in another of his classic comedy films, The Bulldog Breed 1960,where Reed played a leader of a gang of teddy boys roughing up Norman in a cinema. Most interesting about his role in this film, was that Reeds scene with Wisdom was played out with another future star of cinema, also in an unaccredited role as a sailor, none other than Michael Caine. Reed and Wisdom did not worked again together, as Reed and Wisdom moved to different genre in cinematography. Reed started his collaboration In Life is a Circus, when he found himself dressed as a cowboy being chased down Windsor High Street by the Crazy Gang. Sir Norman Wisdom was in another similar scene with cowboy scene, when he made a laugh for all.
In this British comedy set during WW II, a street labourer bears a remarkable resemblance to a stern Nazi officer. The little street fixer likes to harass the British soldiers and ends up drafted into becoming part of the British army labour regiment where he is supposed to mend military roads. Unfortunately a mix-up occurs and he ends up being parachuted behind Nazi lines and getting captured. Fortunately, he is able to use his resemblance to the high-ranking enemy officer to full advantage and save the lives of several other prisoners. ~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide
The weak story in The Bulldog Breed is an excuse to tie together a long series of funny episodes, slapstick incidents, and absurd situations. What does bring everything into a certain unity is the comic character type created by Norman Wisdom, an inept, likeable loser whose efforts to succeed against all odds somehow bumbles through to final triumph. Playing Norman Puckle in this romp, he is heartbroken after being scorned by an unattainable blond and fails at a suicide attempt, only to end up in the Navy. Bungling most of his work there, he is surprised to discover that he has been chosen by the admiral to be the first man the Navy sends into space. This time, Norman's losing streak is up against a formidable phalanx of expertise -- what could possibly go wrong? ~ Eleanor Mannikka, All Movie Guide.
As Sir Norman Wisdom is publicly well known Klown Hero of Albania and Reed is a very respectable figure in the country from his roles in the films with historical context. Reed starred as Athos, terrific performance in another role he was born to play. In three films based on Alexandre Dumas's novels, first in 1973's The Three Musketeers, followed by The Four Musketeers in 1974, and fifteen years later with The Return of the Musketeers. All these films of this series has been allowed by dictator to be shown by Albanians during that period. So Reed is another pleased cinematographic figure of Britain that has brought joy and pleasure to people of Albania.

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