Another sticky situation
05.06.2015 - 07.06.2015 31 °C
I’m in a sticky situation with Flypaper again. As we recently waited in Gatwick airport I picked up magazine that informed me the Albanian Mafia - known as the Mafia Shqiptare – were causing particular concern throughout Europe, the US and numerous other crime sensitive parts of the world. It seems they have become the most brutal of all gangs and are even feared by traditional rivals. This was particularly interesting as we were waiting to board a plane for, of all places, Albania. The same article recommended not eating minced meat in some places as it was recently proved some ‘losers’ have become ‘beef substitute’. No meatballs or patties for the next 3 weeks. Pity, I understand some of the Albanian burger recipes are very tasty. Perhaps this explains why there are more Albanians living outside their country than within and why there is negative population growth.
Possibly the most famous Albanian in history is Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (you may know her as Mother Terasa) although one of the ‘Blues Brothers’ (John Belushi) had an Albanian father and is better known. Of greater significance and most encouraging is the fact that this country is one of only 3 European nations that has no McDonalds restaurants. Perhaps they have no reliable meat patty supplier. Albania has never won an Olympic medal and a few years ago the residents of Shkoodra demonstrated their propensity to be difficult by refusing to pay a ‘Traffic Light Tax’ on the grounds their city had no traffic lights. Another example of their attitude is the incident when King Zod who ruled between 1928 and 1939 became the only modern national leader to return fire during an assassination attempt. Tetchy eh.
However, of most concern was finding out that, like a surprising number of other countries, nodding ones head means no, shaking means yes. The article about the Mafia made we concerned this was more important than usual.
The capital Tirana, is demonstrable proof that a 2 lane road can also be 4 lane if drivers simply decide that is so. I am encouraged in many ‘emerging’ countries around the world that traffic congestion is manageable without any expense or interference from the transport ‘orthoritys’. The principle used is to mind your own business and drive where you can see a gap that continues the direction you wish to proceed. If you fill someone else’s gap then they are required to make another decision and visa versa. Its simple and it works 99.9% of the time. That’s pretty good odds. A visitor can extend those odds by driving really slowly and suffering horn abuse. Personally, I find that both intolerable and unacceptable. According to the Albanian Ministry of Health (sounds like a dodgy entity to me), traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death. ‘One of the causes’? So is old age and winking at the Mafia Bosses girlfriend. They go on to say accident victims are the main users of hospital emergency services and are a developing problem – currently 3.5% higher than other Eastern and Central European countries. Big deal. I’d like to see them compared to China and Egypt. My observation last Saturday evening was that its unfair to blame cars for the problem. Football and Raki have a significant part to play. Cars are tool used to strengthen the gene pool.
Prior to 1991 only 600 cars existed in Albania – all were used by Party officials. The available roads were also few and poor. Donkey carts didn’t need much in the way of tar sealed surface and no-one travelled more than a couple of kilometers. Today, only 24 years later, the country is overrun with cars, trucks and buses. Most are imported second hand from Europe. A significant percentage were acquired in Europe without payment and its thought that the German and French Insurance companies are the largest ‘sponsors’ of the Albanian automotive industry. The growing number of new car sales is lease financed by banks. (Albanians are borrowing like crazy) There are a few new highways but most roads remain challenging and shouldn’t be chanced after dark. In the cities most of the manhole covers and drainage grates have been stolen leaving gaping holes that would swallow a motorcycle and rip the wheel off anything larger.
The police force is one of the largest per head of population in the world. They stand in pairs on almost every intersection in larger cities and the most ambitious ones can be seen marching around alone looking for new opportunities to supplement their income. I understand the ‘retainer’ paid by the ‘guvmint’ is very low but the average police income is very high. I’ve yet to experience this tax system here but am sure it will happen.
You may be thinking, “That’s corruption”. You are right, but that’s the example set by the politicians’ so everyone has a go. Discussion with our guides regarding the political scene makes my head hurt. The ‘guvmint’ is called a Parliamentary
Democracy. Some commentators refer to it as an ‘emerging democracy’. Its obvious that all MP’s buy their votes. This is a worldwide phenomena in western ‘civilized’ countries too – but here its more blatant. In addition to all the silly election promises that actually stymie good government, the Albanian poli’s throw parties buy gifts, pave streets, build illegal structures, pay off officials - all from their own pockets. The ‘investment’ is worth it. That could part explain why there are 63 political parties in Albania. (Population 2.8 million) It’s a very profitable business.
During the mid 90’s family Albanians suffered the loss of US$1.2 billion through 26 Pyramid Schemes. They were ‘Ponzi schemes. The first was started by a guy who was the economic advisor to the Prime Minister. His scheme involved the construction of a huge hotel which became known as ‘Hajdin’s hole’. After he fled to Switzerland with many millions the local council filled in the hole and turned the area into a park – which was quickly taken over by the local prostitutes who made him their ‘defacto patron in exile’ of their collective. Things went downhill from there.
Some of the pramid ‘businesses’ had no bank accounts and accepted only cash. People sold their houses to invest. One was established by a gypsy woman who had worked in a shoe factory, others were the initiative of 3 former State Security Executives. One of these guys eventually fled the country in a US military helicopter. It all ended in 1997 by an uprising by the population which descended into civil disorder in which 2,000 people were killed and the ‘guvmint’ toppled. It’s a fascinating story. The results of this tragedy based on greed and corruption can still be seen all over the country and there remains an abiding sense of desperation among some communities that are trying to rebuild their lives and lost fortunes. Stealing manhole covers is one way of doing it, intimidation and creative taxation are a couple more.