Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Anniversary Albania!

Today is the 100th Anniversary of Albania's independence from the Ottoman Empire.  Countries like the United States, who reached this milestone long before Albania's independence, can be considered the matriarchs of the world while and others, such as Croatia, Slovenia, and other former Yugoslav Republics who just passed their twenty-year birthdays are mere babies.  At 100, Albania lies somewhere in between but what a varied and tumultuous century it has been.

Independent of the Ottomans, Albania still spent the next several decades occupied at various times by the Greeks, Bulgarians, and Serbs and then spent close to a decade as the Kingdom of Albania.  World War II brought about toying with Fascism, and an occupation by Italy followed by the slide into Communism and the beginning of Enver Hoxha's forty plus year reign as this tiny country's leader.  Under Hoxha, Albania was allied at various times with the U.S.S.R., China, and finally no one as they entered into an extended period of self-imposed isolationism.  Albania might geographically be located in Europe but by closing her borders to the rest of the world, time passed this country by.

When Albania finally rejoined the rest of the western world in the spring of 1991, she had decades of lost time to make up for.  Socially, developmentally, and physically Albania lagged far behind her Eastern European and even Balkan counterparts.  (Some would argue that there just isn't a country that is comparable to Albania).  Like any emerging democracy, Albania has experienced her own share of growing pains over the past twenty years; failed pyramid schemes, intensifying partisan politics, failing infrastructure, rampant corruption, and a lack of rule of law have hindered Albania's modernization all while making this unique country what it is today.  This is truly a wild place where some days I love being here and others I find myself counting down until I can leave.  For me, this is definitely a place of extremes.  Throughout all of this, however, individual Albanians have an intense sense of national pride that has only been intensified over the past few months.

Tirana International Hotel
Albania has been gearing up for this celebration all year but things have really taken off over the past few weeks. New patriotic monuments have popped up in parks and squares, Albanian flags wave from every window and moving vehicle, and red and black swags cover every electrical wire and telephone pole in sight.  The Parliament Building and Tirana International Hotel (the original Communist hotel in Albania) are both draped in building sized flags which given their massive sizes, is no small feat.  Concerts, traditional dance exhibitions, celebratory receptions, and a grand parade down the main boulevard are all a part of the planned festivities--as is a Guinness Book of World Record's attempt at constructing the largest outdoor cake.  And of course this wouldn't be an Albanian celebration without a lot of fireworks.  In a country where national pride runs deep every day of the year, today is an over the top celebration.  The less is more concept has escaped Albania but they do after all, have a lot of celebrate. In many ways, this is truly a once in a lifetime celebration.  And all of this, exemplifies what Albania is today.

Skenderbeg Square- Tirana

Patriotic youth

Pride in the countryside

Flags a flying

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