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Tirana Diary 16 June 1999

Tirana 16 June 1999

Today I went where I should have gone to in the beginning of my stay, the time I had overslept, the only morning I did so far. For those who can't remember: I went to Burrel, some 91 km north of Tirana. Part of the road from Tirana to Burrel is similar to the road from Tirana to Kukes, just after Kruja the road split. Because of that the first 40 kilometer or so took us a lot longer than normal, as the streets are full of people travelling up north. Completely against all the expectations of about a week ago, the refugees are starting to go home in large numbers. Especially since the UNHCR has declared just now that although it is not advisible to go back now, nobody can stop anybody, as that would be against the international conventions.

It's not as if there were thousands of them, but one thousand I have surely seen in the time that we were driving on that road, which has now been declared the "Copper Track" (specially for slow moving verhicles (tractors) and small cars) - apart from this one there is the "Golden Track" (for trucks and busses) and the "Lead Track" (for trains and buses). The people who designed this have probably known the "Diamant road" in Bosnia, it's been planned in the same way anyway, but whether refugees will adopt it too is fully unclear. At this time it's mostly those from the small villages who are moving, they'd like to go back now. It is as if they were running away from Albania.

Anyway we overtook the first tractors and Yugos, packed full on their way to Kukes. And these are just the first. I have seen how this goes after the Serbs started to run away from sector west in 1995 after Operation Storm. The first days 20 or 30 and then suddenly everybody is on the bandwagon. Now the same thing is happening. From Kruja to Burrel the road is empty again, this road will take you to Macedonia in the end. It goes through one of the nicest-looking Albanian landscapes I have seen so far. It is already the beginning of the mountains and the road winds itself through a beautiful canyon. There, between two enourmous rocks, at the narrowest point of the canyon, a dam is built for hydro power. A tunnel which the road goes through is simply carved through one of the rocks. Not much has been done here, it is just a hole through the mountain, the asphalt must have been gone for ages. On the other side the valley is filled with a big lake, which goes on for almost 20 or more kilometer. Beautiful, our driver is speeding, which puts me in the paradoxical position of looking and enjoying the landscape and being afraid that we end up in the water below (there's no barrier on the road side whatsoever) at the same time, we wouldn't be the first ones, considering the small monuments on the roadside (which you find almost everywhere in the country, at about each second kilometer, all dated after ´91, not because since then religion etcetera is free but because since then cars are free, I mean after '91 the first private cars started to drive here).

During the drive the translator had a huge discussion with me about politics, BJ, my friend, sitting in front of the car is a bit bored by it, but still. This translator is an orthodox from the south and a convinced Democratic Party member. He is totally against the ruling Socialist party and tries to prove to me that the European Community and the USA helped the socialist party to get into power. The OCSE is responsible for the mess after 1997 he said, since they accepted the election results at the time. He argues that the OCSE didn't accept the poll about Albania being a kingdom or a republic in 1997. And that leaders of the Socialist Party now in power were also leaders of the "revolts" in 1997 and should be in prison. And that the Greek and Jewish lobby in the USA are making the foreign politics of the USA towards Albania. And that all the big leaders of the pyramid schemes have been airlifted out in 1997 by the Americans. That Greece is dictating the internal Albanian politics, they declared that special schools were needed for the orthodox minority in the north, and actually they'd like to have the southern part of Albania. And that the world never should have accepted the vote over the new constitution, since the Democratic Party boycotted that vote (they weren't against the constitution, they only boycotted it because they didn't write it). It is hard to follow all his facts, politics in Albania is a complicated game, in which the world reality is seen from a very strange angle, in which the whole world fights with other words over Albania, and the Albanians with each other. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. For example the normally not so non-violent Democratic Party is now supporting the non-violent fraction of the Kosov@ government, because the Socialist Party has more or less supported the UCK, by giving them more or less permission to make training camps in Albania.

The landscape we go through is a mixture of the Scottish highlands, the Norwegian mountains, the central Spanish plains and the Grand Canyon, sometimes the landscape is even totally empty, I mean no factory, or other destroyed complex to see, even no other houses. Maybe a shepherd with his goats or sheep. The country is really beautiful. We come to Burrel, a former mining town, built in the socialist way, a few hundred blocks of houses put in mathematical order, a townhall and palace of culture (theatre, cinema, youth club, all in one), in the middle of the town there's a big square, with a huge monument and a small park in the middle. The mines are closed now in Burrel, and so is the sports center, being a football field and a swimming pool, I only recognize the swimming pool since I saw something standing in the middle of a waste dump which looks like a diving tower and the football field is for the cows nowadays.

We drive through the town and continue along the road, the refugee camp is near the only factory that is still working in the area, a production plant for ferro-chrome, some 6 or 7 km outside of town. The huge plant is indeed still working, but that is a real miracle, it looks more like a factory ruin, smoke comes out of all the broken windows and roofs, the four chimneys throw dark black clouds in the air, which you can see for miles, the smell from coal is in the air, and huge piles of waste from the factory (the left overs from the ovens) are laying on both sides of the road and actually on the road itself too, it is like driving over Mars or the moon or something, a strange landscape of black-burnt stones and rocks in the strangest formations. In between some people who are collecting the biggest pieces in order to build houses or walls, or whatever.

Than we come to the camp. A complex with about ten large halls, about 60 by 30 meters each, of which six halls are now in use. Four have already been redone by IRC (International Rescue Committee), they built smaller rooms of five by five meter in the large halls in order to secure a bit of privacy for each family. The camp is run by people from ICS (Italian Consortium for Solidarity, in which the Italian SCI (Service Civil International), say our Italian Sunflower partner, is also involved). But it is a bit hard to run a big refugee camp hosting almost 2000 people properly with only two or three people. You can organise whatever you want, the people will do it the way they want. For example one hall is rebuilt so that it can be used as kitchen, it was planned that a couple of big stoves would be installed here, and IRC already installed the vegetable washing places, with special plumbing. For one or another reason the refugees like this place to live, so now the kitchen is full with people and the vegetable washing places are used as personal storage places..

The vegetables are now washed in the place which was planned for clothes washing, result is the pipes are almost all the time jammed up by old beans, rests of carrots, what ever, these pipes weren't planned for it. Besides the mentality of the refugees is also that they will leave soon for Kosov@ anyway, although this is a winterized camp and most likely to secure places for those who will stay longer, anyway they are not really taking care about the place. Why clean it up if we are going to leave soon anyway. It is burning hot, although dark thunder clouds can be seen coming over the mountains in this direction. The people are sleeping in their barracks or halls. Children are playing in the dirty water that comes out of the washing place. And BJ and I walking through the camp immediately creates a kind of small demonstration, at least 50 kids are following us, nothing really happens here, so looking what these strangers are doing here is a big event.

We go back to Burrel town, since BJ has to discuss the last details with the constructor, although the refugees are thinking of going back, IRC is still building to get the last four halls done. It is a strange world at this moment. We hear on the radio that refugees are now leaving Albania with a rate of 1000 per hour, meaning that if this continues it takes two more months before all are back in Kosov@. There is a traffic jam of over 15 km at the Kukes border going out (by the way nothing, really nothing is reported here from what is happening in Macedonia at this moment). The first two Kosovars were already killed today by a mine. And some people who went back returned to Kukes telling about how nothing, really nothing is left over from their house. Nevertheless people would like to go back to Kosov@. Most likely new refugee camps have to build up there. Better in a tent in Kosov@ than in Albania, it seems...

wam :-)