Tirana 24 Mai 1999
Some days are bad, some days are good, today it was good day. I was more or
less just out of bed and Jojo, who was one of the Balkan Sunflowers
pathfinders in Macedonia called me, he kept me on the telephone for more
than 15 minutes. So finally I found my way to the coffee bar I normally
going to get my morning capuccino. And just 100 meters from that place I was
confronted with the sound of a machine gun and the sound of a car which
stopped very suddenly. I knew that sound, it was the same sound as in
Croatia and Bosnia. The rattling sound of a Kalashnikov hitting a car, the
impact in the iron and the glass. Just in front of the coffee bar a driver
of a small landrover was shot. The driver was dead immedialty, and two
people sitting on the place I would have sit, if Jojo didn't phone, were
Later on the day I heard that it was a payoff of a vendatta . When I passed
by the driver was hanging full of blood over his steering wheel. The place
looked as I a know it from a war zone. To be honest it put me a bit out of
myself also. But my Albanian helpers told me that this is not normal
anymore here in the centre of Tirana and it is not happening regularly. Still
it put me a bit in a situation reacting on every small sound I heard for
the first hour.
When you read all this and about the robbery, you may think that the whole
of Albania is full with robbers, killers, drugdealers, pimps, or what ever,
but that is by far not the case. It is just a small part of the population
involved, but their influence is of course heavy. On all sides people like
to change it, but as long as the maffia makes more, a lot more, money as
people who stay honest and it is hard to survive on an honest income it will
be hard to beat it.
Actually I was on my way to see the prefect of Tirana, to get some thing
organised, during on of the last UNHCR briefings the authorities told that
every NGO has to report their planned actions to the prefect, so I tried.
It didn't work, allthough we made an apppoitment last week, she was busy
with other things. So we waited about half an hour and went, to make an
appointment for another day was impossible the lady behind the desk said,
we should just come and wait untill the prefect has time. I start to
understand that not many organisations have the time to sit there and wait,
my helper said that this normally takes a few hours.
Then I went up to the pyramide to have job interviews with about 25
Kosovarians who worked for the OCSE in Kosovo before. That was not easy for
3 1/2 hours I was listening to stories how they escaped from Kosovo, what has
happened on their way to the border, how they were taken by the Serbian
para-military (Arkan's men) and beaten up. How families were taken apart
and people were sure from eachother that they wouldn't see each other
again. Some posotive things, like that they found relatives back in Kukes,
but basically again and again stories, which I so well know from Bosnia and
which time after time makes it impossible to continue with the interview,
since you are just afraid to ask the wrong things and it doesn't matter
anymore what you want to ask after hearing those stories. All of them
looked if they haven't been sleeping for a long time, tired, the eyes deep
in their faces. Not sleeping is not only coming from their bad experiences,
but also since a lot are living in big collective centers, like old
sporthalls and factory halls. With 300 or 400 people in one room you
wouldn't get much sleep, there is noise all the time. Also in hostfamilies
people are living with 5 till 10 people on one room and in the tentcenters
it is not much better.
Most of the people I interviewed only wanted to work with foreigners, they
were afraid to work with their own people, "we have been so close to dead,
we have seen so many killing and murdered people that we can't stand the
stories from other people any more. We don't like to talk about it the
whole day, as is happening now in the refugee camp were we are staying.
People are telling it over and over again and somehow their stories are
getting my stories as well, so now I have double, triple or even more
stories in my head, from which I can't sleep". I know the feeling, often I
had the same problem, you start to see the pictures in your mind and
somebodies others experience become your own one.
It is not easy to do something in such a situation. They all were so eager to
work for us, with this little wage they hope to improve their situation.
Which is hard for them, most of the people I talked to came out of the
bigger cities in Kosov@, they were social workers, teachers, students in
their last semesters. I asked those students if they would study here in
Tirana, but they said that they already visit the university to find out,
but that they are on far higher educational level as what they ever can
learn here. Most want to go abroad to continue their study, but they know
it wouldn't be easy.
Furtheron every single person had something else to ask, most of them are
hosted under very bad conditions, needed some extra help, some medicines,
some vitamines for their children. Or a matrass for their mother, which is
old and has rheuma and is sleeping on a very thin matrass on cold floor.
She can't get up without any help in the morning. I feel useless hearing
this all knowing that I can't help them all, I can't even give them all a
small job, how hard I would try.
After all those talks I had to make a short break, something totally
different so I went to the NGO council meeting, but that didn't work out
one of the local volunteers from the NGO information center went home at
5.00 o'clock forgetting about the meeting, and there we stood about 40
people from different NGO´s for a closed door. Among them a Dutch guy from
the Dutch Embassy, I recognised his accent. Started to talk with him and
see he was also an old SuncoKret volunteer, the place is full with people
who made their first experiences in the Balkan through SuncoKret and the
Pakrac project. He promised me to put his contacts in Netherlands on our
trail, as far as they haven't been so far, and offered his help. The Dutch
embassy is a kind of emergency embassy, since the Netherlands didn't had an
embassy here, only a consulate, but is now also overrunned by refugees. He
looks also tired, taking in about 200 or so requests per day for visa to
After that we went to the UNHCR weekly briefing. I will keep it short,
there are now 441 registrated camps in Albania, with more than 100
refugees each, the bigger ones hosting 5000 till 10.000. Since the beginning of
April the population of Albania has went up by this influx of refugees with
15%. They are now planning winterinsulation, taking into consideration that
almost 150.000 refugees are now in tentcenters, which can't be used after
October. But it is going not as fast as they hope, the scenarios are going
from the worst case 750.000 refugees in the winter, till the most positive
case 350.000 refugees (meaning that at least 250.000 can return to Kosov@
before the winter). Security of the camps is now the big issue, the
european police forces has started a training programme for local police,
but it will take some weeks before they have been able to train enough.
They stress that for camp security NGOs should not hire local private
security agencies, since some bad experiences are made with them.
Last but not least they stress to drive carefully in this country, a lot of
accidents happened with international drivers in the last months. The head
of security put it like "If you are injured or dead you are no use to the
people you came to help here, so drive carefully, rather come to late than
not at all".
It is been said that Berlin is the biggest construction side of Europe,
those people never have been in Tirana or in Albania for that matter. I
think that there is even more under construction in this country than in
Bosnia. On almost every second house you see somebody or some group
working, rebuilding it, repairing it, building a new high house, what ever,
the town is full with hunderds of bigger flats under construction. George
said that people in Albania don't believe in money at the bank, money has
to move, so they are investing in building houses, since if you own a few
houses your future is secured, you can live from the rent. But with this
amount of houses under construction I really wonder were all those
Albanians will come from who suppose to life in it in the future. Anyway
the population of this town will continue raising, it tripled itself in the
last 8 years. This of course will put more problems on the town (since the
whole utility system is for 350.000 people).
There is of course also a lot of illegal building going on. Like on the
streets people build kiosks, the parks they build restaurants on empty
spaces they build houses, all without any permission or any ownership of
the land. I found out about this since I was wondering why bulldozers were
removing kiosks from some streets. And than I was told that although this
kiosks maybe stood there for years the town council decided now to clean
them up. This of course with all the noise and so you can think of.
The biggest building site is a big hole behind the culture palace, here the
man who brought the pyramid schemes to Albania wanted to build the biggest
and most expensive hotel (Hilton Albania). He collected almost $8.000.000
from people here and started to dig his hole and run off. This year however
the guy paid back all the people who invested in this Hotel. Even a bit of
interest on it. He was found in Switzerland by interpol. So you see some
positive news from Albania....