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Showing posts from December, 2005

Albania's WMD

There are somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 bunkers scattered across Albania. They were built during the 1970's and 1980's at the height of Enver Hoxha's paranoia about potential invasion from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. As well as providing a defence against invasion, the bunkers also proved a useful job creation scheme following Albania's split with China when Chinese money and investment dried up. Soldiers, too, helped build the bunkers. One local man who was a soldier during that era told me that his men carried cement, steel, and water to the tops of mountains and built the bunkers by hand. Another local told me that Hoxha's Minister of Defence instructed the chief engineer in charge of the project to go and sit in one of the bunkers. He then ordered a soldier to drive his tank over it. Both bunker and engineer survived and the Minister was satisfied. Following the collapse of the communist regime the bunkers have fallen into disrepair. These days, the

In Rinia Park

One of the better spots in Tirana to sit and watch the world go by is Rinia Park in the centre of the city. It wasn't always that way. During the free for all of the post-communist era the park disappeared under dozens of illegally constructed restaurants, cafes and clubs. It was only in 1999-2000 that the municipality reclaimed the park, demolished the buildings and redeveloped the site. As well as re-establishing the green spaces and the pathways, and installing a complex of fountains the municipality allowed part of the site to be used for restaurant and entertainment complex called Tajvan (that's Taiwan for us English speakers, but don't ask me why). The complex houses a nice Italian restaurant - Casa di Pasta - a cafe, a bowling alley and a casino - complete with 'No Handguns' signs. The novelty of having an attractive park downtown has given rise to a new business opportunity for some of Tirana's entrepreneurs. Photographers patrol the area ready to take

Gëzuar Krishtlindjen!

From Albania Happy Christmas to everyone - friends and strangers alike. Skenderbeg Square by Night

You're a Gangster - You're a Charlatan

The new government of Albania has committed itself to a policy of decentralisation. Local government in the 65 Albanian municipalities will be given new powers and new responsibilities to manage local services under the strategic direction of the central government. Given this, it came as a surprise to read this recent press release from the Council of Europe . Following a meeting with Edi Rama, Mayor of Tirana and Congress member, Congress President Giovanni Di Stasi on 16 December 2005 told the Congress Bureau of his “serious concerns regarding the deadlock between Tirana municipal council and central government about public works in the capital.” “ The Congress was first informed about this difficult situation a few weeks ago,” said Mr Di Stasi, “but we hoped that the deadlock would be overcome. Now it has to be said that this regrettable state of affairs is still continuing and is seriously upsetting the smooth operation of local self-government in Tirana.” “ We remain recept


This is Berat, a 2,500 year old city about 3 hours south of Tirana. The castle pictured here dates from the 13th century and was built by the Turks on a hilltop overlooking the city. The city is hoping to be named as a UNESCO world heritage site soon. The castle contains the remains of many Orthodox churches. One of these now contains a museum which displays a wide range of icons painted by Albania's most famous painter of icons, Onufri. There is a good website here . (You'll need Flash and it won't work on Firefox - shame on them).

Another TLA

I thought I had heard of most international organisations but here in Tirana I have discovered a new one – the International Organisation for Migration. Set up in 1951 to manage the movement of peoples in the aftermath of the war, IOM now works worldwide in close cooperation with the UN to help manage migration for the benefit of all. They have been in Albania since 1992 and have worked with the government here to develop a national strategy on migration and a educational programme on human trafficking. One of their recent projects resulted in a proposal for the development of a sustainable social housing programme for vulnerable people. The housing stock in Albania is generally in very poor condition, yet often the new apartment buildings are beyond the budget of many ordinary Albanians. A sixth floor apartment in a building currently under construction that I saw recently is selling for 30,000 Euro. That may not sound like much to most of us, but it is a huge amount of money for peo

Swedish Garbage - Norwegian Cement

Here in the car crime capital of Europe it seems that some of the local gangs are no longer satisfied with Italian registered BMW’s and German registered M-B’s. Recently, a Swedish bin lorry was sighted in the country. Someone stole this vehicle from Sweden and drove it across at least five countries before arriving in Albania . Assuming the Swedish municipality whose bin lorry was stolen noticed that it was missing and informed the appropriate authorities, it is a little worrying to think that something as big and distinctive as a bin lorry managed to cross Europe without the various customs officials and Euro Knackers spotting it. Meanwhile, other enterprising thieves – or perhaps the same ones – recently visited Norway . While there they stole a concrete mixer. Once more, they drove this vehicle across Europe – at least six other countries this time – without detection. When its presence was eventually noticed and reported the Norwegians decided that they wanted their lorry bac

The Dogs in the Street

Walking through the park the other day I came across a pack of dogs – nine of them – lying in the sun. These are street dogs. When they are not lying in the park they are wandering the streets. Two of these dogs hang around near our house and I noticed that one of them had a tag in its ear. As far as I know this is the story. Every so often the city tries to control the street dogs by shooting them. A bounty is offered for each animal killed as long as proof is provided – the proof being the ears. Before one of the recent culls a couple of English women who run a school in Tirana offered to pay for some of the dogs to be treated by vets, neutered, tagged and released back onto the streets. The theory would seem to be that no bounty will be forthcoming if the ears supplied are tagged – or presumably show signs of having had tags removed. In some ways it is quite sad – some of the dogs seem to be good natured animals, and will often play with the kids on the football pitches across fro