O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 23 May 1999

Tirana 23 Mai 1999

It was the mosque which wake me up this morning and not like in big parts of the world the church bells. This is in this country just a sunday like all other sundays. And sundays are almost just days like all others. So no special thing for withsuntide (or what is it called?), maybe in two weeks when the orthodox have their feast (mostly they are 2 weeks behind). Never the less in the rest of the world lots of people will think about the holy spirit. I should have made a speech today in Germany, about local peace activities, called it "Salt of the Earth", instead I am here, not really local. But I know that friends of mine are there in Belzig and that our Bosnian refugees are in good hands.
It is strange how less the local television in Tirana is actually broadcasting about the war in Yugoslavia and the refugees in Albania. If you watch Albanian state television or one of the different private broadcasters you got the feeling that folkloristic and agriculture programmes are the big hit around here. Either you see a group of old men singing, on the back some people playing a kind of turkish looking instrument with only to strings. Or they are discussing how grapes can be grown best. For the rest you see american films translated in Italian. OK every evening there is a special Kosovo show with the latest news and the YWCA broadcast a commercial spot every now and then in order to raise money for the refugees. Or reports from Albanian tanks divisions going up north, don't think to big about this, Albania doesn't have that many tanks, and beside some new ones the old ones are in very bad condition. But most information we get from the Italian television. They are sometimes even faster than the local radio.
Yesterday evening late I picked up the news that a huge group of male refugees was release from kind of prison camps in Kosov@ and have been arriving in Kukes during the day. They reported to be in special prison camps the last weeks, where they got beaten up all day. Their part most likely will be returning to Kosov@ as UCK fighters in the nearest future. The rest will first need a time to rest to get over their traumas. "There are all ill in their head", George told me. Today the town is full again with those fighters coming down for the weekend, having a day off from war. I remember this from Zagreb, but it is still strange for me. I don't know how many of this strong looking soldiers have been in actual combat, I estimate that most are still in training. But you can really tell if you haven't been talking to them or looked them in their eyes, that would be in fact already enough mostly.
The UCK guys on the street are looking a lot better dressed in their camouflage uniforms than the local Albanian army, there is a huge difference between the two. So the local girls show a bit more attention to this mini-rambos than to their own brave soldiers. Hope that wouldn't put a bit more tension in the air.
Tracing of refugees is another big thing, lot's of organisations are talking about. Especially since it became more and more clear that the ICRC (International Red Cross Committee) hasn't the capacity to do it. Tens of bigger and smaller initiatives are put up. Tirana radio has a programme were people can say their names and for who they are looking (but most refugees don't have a radio (so Unicef is busy to suply wind-up ones)), on Tirana TV the names and telephone numbers of refugees are broadcasted as a kind of subtitles, but thats only working for refugees with television and telephone (who also have to watch television all day), so those in host families. Then Polaroid donated some ID cards portable sets for the refugee camp in Korca, runned by an USA organisation.
On top of this all of course Microsoft signed a contract with UNHCR for biggest and most extrem registartion and tracing exercise ever been done. But the whole thing wouldn't stand or fall by the hard or software (besides this I have heard a dozen of other good examples), but by the human resources. All people have to be traced down through out the whole country. And more over to make the tracing succesfull they should not move too much through the area. But maybe in the coming weeks this movements will stop. I don't know how Microsoft will do, it turns at least nice smiles on people faces when UNHCR says that all this other initiatives should not be put to much effort in, since Microsoft has it all under control and will finish the software in a few days. The refugees have their own way, some families drive through the country from camp to camp and others are sitting in the park behind Skenderbeg and wait till their friends pass by. We will see what works the best.
In the two weeks that I am here now I have been hearing over and over again that Kukes gets evacuated, mostly they say within the next coming two or three days. Slowly more and more camps around the country get ready to be able to host all those people from Kukes elsewhere, so maybe it will happen soon. Anyway you hear strange stories from up there, how some campmanagers thought about cutting off the water so that people start to move south, or only supplying food to those people who promise to leave the place. And that the local bakeries want to have more money otherwise they stop producing bread.
Another strange thing in this country is that some people are extremely rich, due to drugs and other traffic, like being millionair with 23 years, and others are extremely poor. On the street you notice more and more people begging, now also some of the refugees have started going around for money in the shops. The most of them however are the gypsies, especially their little kids, they grap you by the hand, start kissing you and follow you a few hunderd meters that way. If you don't give anything they start to shout on you. It is hard to not give them anything, but if you start giving one something you will be soon surrounded by more and more. But each time it is like you loose part of your soul by not reacting on it. For the rest you see regular people going through the waste containers in the hope they can find something usefull or eatable. They have to be fast with this before the rats eat the eatable stuff and the useable stuff gets burned, walking through the town you will often see these containers burning (smoking), which fill the air with the "nice" odor of melting plastic bottles.
Gerry returned late yesterday evening explaining how great the communication system is from the WFP, they have to check in every 20 minutes, otherwise people start looking for them, and through their special satallite system they can communicate with the whole world. Also every car of them is having email. When they can go into Kosov@ they are able to install a country wide network (by satalite) within a day. To day they had to install not a mobile unit but a central bases in Durres in order to coordinat the food distribution there. Of course every thing went wrong, the needed 30 computers were only 25, the supposed 15" screens, were 14" and most of the cables were missing. When they finally went to Durres and started to put up the system there, they found out that there weren't any keyboards in the boxes. Nobody had checked on that one, they just took it for normal. Since they couldn't do anything without keyboards they still don't know if their super system works or not. But in principle it should work they told Gerry. A problem which they have is that when UNHCR starts to work with Microsoft they have to change part of their system, in order to become compatible.... The big difference between big and small organisations, is that small organisation only produce limited chaos and the big ones .....
For a big part of the day it was raining again, changing the center of Tirana, and probably the rest of the country into a big mudhole, with huge rivers going down the streets (not as big as in Switzerland the last days, but still). It means you can't do much, since due to the rain you can't really move through the town without a car. Furtheron the already bad electricity system get's breaking down, not a wonder if you have seen all this (illegal) cabels hanging and the ways how electricity cables are connected with each other, and for telephone the same (this is the first country were I was were you have to have a code to dial outside the city, if you open your phone for inter-national and -local calls you have to close it directly after you call, since people seem to be able to use your phoneline to dail out, without even coming into your appartment, so if you don't close your line again you can get very large telephone bills afterwards.
But the worst it is for the refugees in tents, especially in those tents which are not really made to protect you from the rain. The tents get wet from the inside and there is no place to go to to sit dry and warm. I am glad that we have a kind of electric heather in our place, which works when the power is on. Shortly after the rain I went up to big refugee camps in and near the Tirana swimming pool, only 10 minutes walk from our home, to see how the sitaution was there. And it was as I expected, mud and wet everywhere, rather than that the mothers were able to dry the clothes they still had, they give new dry ones out, out of the big piles which are laying there from the different humanitarian aid deleviries to this camp. You always can see from which countries this aid comes, today they used aid coming from an Israelian organisation and a dutch organisation (the stuff from Isreal was new, all the same t-shirts, the stuff from the netherlands was obvious second hand, I saw all kind of commercials for dutch companies walking around).
The rain from yesterday and today broke down some of the bigger tents, in other places (camps) it was worse, journalists told me, the rain from yesterday was really like a tropical storm. In the swimming pool camp there were about 5 camera teams running around filming the mess after the rain this afternoon. The albanian army sent a special truck which could produce warm water, using a wood burner to heat it. I have never seen such a truck (it was chinese I think, lot's of the old trucks and bikes are coming from China). The women in the camp really were happy, at last enough hot water, mostly you see them standing hours in line for the showers when you are coming here. And they have sometimes hot showers, that is different in other places, as said this is one of the best in the country.
In the evening the national television was bringing the normal programme again, this time also some shots from a culture festival from Kosovarian what has taken place today in the opera (cultural palace) building on Skenderbeg square. A shot of 6 nice young girls, dressed up in black t-shirts and camouflage pants singing the national anthem from Albania (which is now fully adopted by the Kosovarians as their national anthem also). George translated it for me, that is not a national anthem, but a war song. Having lines in it that they kill all treators, and the fight till the end and so on. The deeper I come into the culture the more I start to understand why this country is the way it is. The more I start also to understand from youngsters who are in a way ashamed of their own history and telling that they hope that Albania will become a modern state in the future.
Like in Croatia, the braindrain is horrible in this country, almost all young Albanians have one big hope, namely to leave the country as soon as possible. They don't really believe in it anymore. They say that they know that the first step in the direction from a bit of modern education is going abroad, when you look at the school and university buildings this becomes clear without any words. Yesterday I had a short look in the school building next to our volunteers house in the centre of Tirana (the children still wear a kind of black school uniforms), the class rooms are poorly equiped, the school more or less rotting away under and around them (some of the schools build up in the refugee tent camps are much better than any regular school in Albania). The state of Albania is bankrupt and has surely no money to repair the roads and the ulitity buildings (schools, governmental building, hospitals, etc.)
Today there was also a manifestation from former workers on the airport, they all got sacked when NATO came here. Since then they haven't got any money anymore. NATO has taken over the control and running of most of the national Albanian airport. They explained that they can't use local workers in their military operations. But this is not really the way you make local people happy. In a country where so many people have to struggle to stay alive, sending a few hunderd workers home makes very bad PR. And the fact that since NATO is here the road to the airport has been totally destroyed and not rebuild yet makes it not much better.

Radio Tirana over and out.....

wam :-)

ps. I have heard that a few people have tried to reach out to Vice-President Al Gore to tell him that the diary is back on the net again and that we need some help. So far he hasn't reacted.

Getting money to run our offices and the infrastructure needed to do volunteer work here is giving me more and more grey hair. Lot's of people are fed up with this war, they have given their money already (to big organisations) and nothing has changed, it is still a crisis. Lot's of the big organisations are in really money problems, since the cost to cover this crisis is much higher than expected (UNHCR is already saying for days that they are like bankrupt). So the strange thing is happening, we have the structure in place, the project in camps almost 100% financed, volunteers mobilised, but probably can't do it anyway since we can't find the finances for the infra structure. Rather an odd situation.