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Lights Out

Balkan Shinners

First, he rejected Yugoslavia, then the Soviet Union, then China. Tito had been a disappointment from the start. Stalin and Mao showed promise, but their successors abandoned the faith. In the end Enver Hoxha and the Albanian communist party stood alone – the world’s only true communists. Like their Irish counterparts, these Balkan Shinners believed that they alone lived by the true faith, maintaining it in all its purity. So they chose to journey along the path to communism alone.

Naturally, maintaining this ideological purity was not without its difficulties. Dependence on others always risked the possibility of compromise so, as far as possible, Hoxha tried to make Albania self-sufficient.

Red Green

Energy was obviously key to the plan and despite an unfortunate lack of coal, oil or gas, the communists decide to utilise something Albania does have – mountains and lakes. Hoxha went hydro.

Sadly, following the collapse of communism, someone forgot to service the electricity generating system. So, as Albania’s economy and its demand for electricity grew – with a minor blip for the total collapse of the country in 1997 – the system began to creak. Old infrastructure was not maintained. New infrastructure was never built.

And so today, like most days for the last few weeks the city has been without power for 12 to 15 hours. Of course, we are sheltered from the effects of this with our generator and water storage tank. But for most of the population the power goes off at 7.30am and comes on again at 4.00pm. Even then it is not continuous with two hour rolling power cuts across the city. Meanwhile, in some parts of the country power is out for up to 18 hours a day.

Pulling The Plug

Needless to say the old government has blamed the new government and the new government has blamed the old government. In this land of conspiracy the most outrageous – but nonetheless believable – accusation is that outgoing government deliberately drained the main lake supplying water for the system in order to create a crisis for the new government.

In the meantime, our indian summer has passed. It has turned wet and cold and the ordinary people of Tirana are living in poorly built houses that hold little of the heat that they manage to generate in the few hours that the electricity is on. And, despite the rain, they have little or no water since the pumps stop working when the power goes off.

In the local shops and cafes owners struggle to keep going. Candles provide light for some. Others have bought generators – but these are expensive, increasingly so, as is the fuel for them. Grocery stores with refrigeration units are a real hazard since chilled produce warms and chills, re-warms and re-chills to the rhythm of the power cuts. We avoid those shops that have no generators; the locals have fewer choices. Pity especially the little bakeries. No power – no bread. No bread – no business.

Meanwhile the government spends what little money Albania has frantically buying up electricity from neighbouring countries and, most recently, from as far away as Ukraine - the very antithesis of what Hoxha envisioned. Certainly the government is culpable – as are all the previous governments. But I can’t help wondering what all the international organisations and their advisors have been doing. Tirana has the full set of agencies – international, national and NGO. Many are supposed to be experts on development. You might think that they would have seen this coming even if the Albanian government didn’t. Apparently not.

So when you are taking your next hot shower and leaving lights on all over the house, say a little prayer for the good folks of Tirana.


ITS said…
Hello there,

Just stumbled upon your blog and thought to drop my two cents.

Having left most of my family behind it truly pains me to see the energy crisis that has engulfed Albania.

I am not so much befuddled with the political spinsters, as very similar blame games go on all over the world. What bothers me is the lack of vision for resolving this problem. I really hope that they come together. Albanians are real survivors and resourceful people, and I still have faith that this problem will be solved soon.

Lastly, I wanted to answer your question about the so-called "foreign experts". The marauding droves of foreign organizations that have been flocking the country since the fall of communism have not done anything to help with this difficult transition era. They have taken advantage of the ignorance of Albanian politicians and tried to make a quick buck for the most part at the expense of their country's taxpayers.

I actually wrote the perfect by the book, "foreign expert" scam-artist story on my blog and here is the link:

If there is going to be a solution to the energy crisis it's going to be from within. History has proven time and again that nobody gives two shits about Albania besides the Albanians themselves.


P.S. I will be back to check on you. Keep up the reporting, and the great photos.

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