O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana 18 Mai 1999

Tirana 18 Mai 1999

Surely the whole world knows it by know and have seen it on television, but Tony Blair came to Tirana today. This came clear to me this morning when I went with Blerta (one of our "locals") and Gerry to the office of the Albanina NGO forum (a cooperation of almost 200 Albanian NGO's). When we came on one of the main road the were flags hanging over the roads, the Albanian one and the Britsh one. The funny things of the flags was, that it shows that there are not that many British flags in town (the realtionship Albania-UK hasn't been that good over the last 50 years, the UK still has the Albanian gold and doesn't want to give it back).
In the last days however somebody(s) has produced at least a hunderd UK flags with some spraycans, you could clearly see it, it was all made by hand. Also the Albanian flags were made that way, probably not to offend the UK and have real flags hanging between hand made ones. Also the culture center (the opera house) on the main sqaure (Skenderbeg square) was changed over night, rather than the huge NATO and Albanian flag and the words "Nato ne Kosova" (Nato behind Kosova), the Albanian and UK flag were put up and saying "Welcome Tony Blair". After this early morning walk to the other side of town, Gerry and Blerta are going to the part of town I was on saturday to continue preparing the people there that the Balkan Sunflowers are coming to that part of town I decided to go with George (another local helper) to visit the socalled "lake Camp". I have heard a lot of it and it is described as one of the best camps in Albania, with the most help.
If that is the one of the best camps, than we really have a huge problem here. The camp is within the (former) swimming pool of Tirana and in one word "horrible". Although all this NGOs are helping there it is still not really comparable with one of the worst camps in Croatia in 1992. Almost 2000 people stay in tents, which are put very close to eachother (in case of fire I wonder what can happen) in around the old empty swimming bassins. In the indoor swimming pool there are another 1500, and the rest also around 1500 are hosted in relative good pre-fabs next to the swimming pool. OK they have food and material enough (after every rainfall some of the tents are leaking, allthough UNHCR provides then with special rain covers which are over the tents (the tents self showed not to be water proof, they are donated by a country were rain is not often falling, so in a corner of the camp a hug pile of matrasses are laying since they were too wet to be used), it still is not were you want to be, if you want at all to be in a refugee camp.
In every tent a family or two were sitting making some coffee, on a small gasburner and talked with eachother. Besides that UNICEF and Soros have build up some activities in special camps, we looked in the 2 or 3 tents were very young children were, specially put up for some kind of informal education, but even that looks depressing. This is by far not what UNICEF means by children friendly spaces.
I have to admit that a lot of organisations have done a lot to help the people here. But still, it looks all improvised and build in no-time. The Albanian soldiers, (not with guns this time, but with plastic sticks, who more or less take care about the security, what ever that means, nobody asked me for any indetification), are not really to been overseen. They stand macho-alike at the entrance and play with their plastic stick in a very intimidating way. Around the camp Albanians put all kind of improvised shops and even a coffee bar, runned by somebody from Kukes (don't think too much about this, it is basically to all levels. The guy who did it hang a plastic sheet and under that he built from thrown away wood part some place to sleep. his whole equipment are 10 coffee cups, about the same amount of glasses and a small gas burner.
On the way out a high official of Albanian goverment came in, their cars nearly run over me, they came in with at least 70 Km per hour. Earlier that morning I was nearly run over by a similar dutch official convoy of cars, which drove through the only red light in Tirana for which normally cars are stopping and with a speed which was likely to be 3 times faster than any car drives normally in Tirana.
Anyway on our way back home we passed an orthodox church, that means on this place stood ones an orthodox church, in Enver Hoxha days it was taken apart and a restaurant was build there. Now the restuarant is church again. The orthodox church is strong in Albania. Crises situations always drives people back in the churches and mosques. We passed a military practising ground, for the special militairs who have to defend the prime minster. And looking at this place, the situation for refugees is almost similar to the sitaution of drafted military.
At the next street I was again nearly run over by cars at full speed driving in streets which some police cups tried to close, since Tony Blair will pass by the next block. We followed huge groups of students and schoolpupils, and it didn't look if all going there because they wanted to see Toni Blair, it looked more that they were happy that they could leave the class room.
All this people gathered in front of the president office, and watching the crowd, this were at least for 90% youngsters. The people in the first line recieved some english, america, albanian or Albanian flag and furtheron some banners saying like "Toni Blear don't negotiate with criminals", "Tony Blair we want to go back now". And more of these things. It didn't look like a spontanous thing in many ways. This kind of organised spontounius actions are almost the same as for 10 years. On that level the country hasn't change so much. In the mean time this waiting for Toni blocked one of the main roads from Tirana, creating the biggest traffic jam and chaos in the last months, almost everybody in Tirana must have noticed that Toni Blair was in town, maybe not directly, but since even 10 blocs further the traffic was more disorganised than it normally already is.
In the afternoon I had meetings with the psycho-social department of IRC , which was very interesting especially in the idea to make mobile creative units, visiting refugee camps. He will look into the question if IRC maybe can finance the transport part of it (at least from a first pilot project, since to serve this country well you need at least 10 or more units). From there I went with Wolf McKay, head of the UNICEF mission, who are promoting child friendly places, they are especially hard on the rumours (eye witness stories) that young kosov@ girls get dragged out of the camps and cars, when they move through the country with their families. After the UNHCR briefing yesterday I gave him our ideas and he likes the community type of activities and promised that he, UNICEF, at least will supply all the goods (toys, books, etc) which are needed, besides the materials what we ourselfs bring through our volunteers. But furtheron we want to sit down in the near future, when everything gets more settled down and see how Balkan Sunflowers volunteers can be put into this childfriendly space in the bigger camps. All in all good news.
By now we have the cooperation starting with UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR, ICR, CRS, ICMC, and a whole bunch more. And besides that with a long list from local NGO's, which I think is even more valuable. One of this local NGO's is the Albanian Youth Council, which in principle is a council of 12 youth NGO's and 6 youth centers, spreading out over the whole country. They had already heard from us and wanted to meet us as much as we them. One of the good things of this group is that they already started a kind of voluntary project, have a list of over 300 potential local volunteers, mostly social work, sociology and psychology students. And they help refugee youth from Kosov@ by establishing a new Kosova Youth Council, with also at least 300 till 400 youngsters involved who like to help with the work. Together with the Balkan Sunflower volunteers this is an enourmous potential. Most important however is the training of all people, basically to train some people here in Albania who can train others. I sincerly hope that all those groups who helped us with ARK in Croatia will help us also this time, it is needed.
The best thing from this meeting, we went later with a huge group to a cafe near by, we are young, not so formal, was that this group this rather in almost the same line as the Balkan Sunflowers, from the question of what kind of activities, non-voilence approach, not political site taking, the promotion of the equal role of women in a modern Alabania/Kosov@, they hope on international teams (already established Albanian/Kosovarian teams) but didn't know how to approach internationals. And so one and one came together and formed hopefully a nice flower which will blossom over the this part of the Balkans for a while.
At this moment a small group from the Albanian Youth Council are helping in Kukes, they go 4 or 5 days and return back here, in order to rest and tank new energy. I asked what they had done on de-briefing and they said that they hadn't done anything so far and wanted to know what I meant. I explained that people returning from Kukes should be able to talk to somebody in order to get the stress and stories they heard out of the minds a bit before they get trauma problems themselfs. The guy sitting in front of me immediatly understood it, he has been 3 times in Kukes (basically being there helping foreign organisations (journalist) with translation, since they often forget that this people speak another language until they arrive there, and in the beginning they "used" refugee for that translation work, which is not really helping those people, they who went through all the misery have to translate the misery of others) and started to tell some stories he heard and some stories he has seen, his girlfriend looked at him and asked him why he never told them before. His answer was clear, you only understand them to their real impact if you have been there or in a similar situation and I didn't want to make you afraid with my horrible stories. This showed the need for de-briefing sessions on the fly, the next days we will work out something together how that can be done, since the problem is already there.
Very late in the night I went to bed, I was talking to Stefan very long about the simularities and differences between Bosnia and Albania. There is a lot to write about, but as said it is late, and I am sleepy, far away I heard a familiar sound, a gun shot, only one.

Peacefull greetings from Tirana,

wam :-)

ps some potential Balkan Sunflower volunteers were scared of by my diary entries, please Tirana is safe, it is not that dangerous as it may sound, it is just different from your hometown, but always remember over 1 million people are living here. If you adopt the local "rules" nothing will happen to you. I just wanted to make clear this is not "Disneyland".