Albania

Published on October 31st, 2011 | by Simon

Big Black Mercs

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from Albania. I guess I had the view that it would be rather backward and full of donkey carts. Well, I’ve seen precisely three donkey carts and about 300 big black Mercs…

But Tirana is fascinating. No big monuments or anything but a really interesting culture.
Still plenty of echoes of a totally repressive communist era – mostly in the shape of big and exceptionally ugly monuments (in the case of Tirana, most of them designed by the ex Presidents daughter who got the chance to put her architecture course into practice). And just one old mosque which was preserved as a historic monument.

And a very large square with a statue of the national hero, which is currently being totally rebuilt (the square, not the statue) by armies of seemingly disorganised workers. Financial help is being offered by Kuwait, keen to help a fellow moslem country I guess.

 

I happened upon a local market which has practically overwhelmed the railway station. Not really too surprising considering there are now only about 8 trains a day and they have a guy at the side gate calling out any imminent departure. The prices really do show how poor people still are here. And they look at you in total disbelief if you tip. The fetta cheese is priced in Leks which are quite simple given there are roughly 100 to a US dollar. So a kilo of cheese will run you about $4.50 and a kilo of apples just 80cents.
 

So, back to the Mercs. I see the President got a bit of stick for buying a $500,000 armoured Merc, and I got a bit for taking a photo of the Presidential residence – some things don’t change from the communist era…

The culture in the richer part of the capital is quite reminiscent of the Lebanese guy culture in Sydney – namely lots of young guys who think they are as hot as… sporting designer beard jobs, shaved heads, and very big (inevitably black) Mercs and SUV’s. And I’ve seen more of those here than even in NYC, with one Bentley thrown in for good measure.
And about two blocks from me is an area approx 4 blocks square that is totally wall to wall clubs and restaurants. Mostly with people out all hours sitting and drinking coffees through the day – and shots at night. And this is not at all poor country stuff. These clubs have had a ton of money thrown at them. And of course, the Mercs and Range Rovers are parked two deep outside with tough looking guys hanging around.
I reckon crime and corruption is very alive and thriving in the new post-communist Albania. But then, they proudly fly the flag of the European Union – even though their application for membership is still under review, and (the first time I think I have seen this flown anywhere), the flag of NATO, of which they are now members!
This from Wikipedia:
The typical structure of the Albanian Mafia is hierarchical. Concerning “loyalty”, “honor” and family (blood relations and marriage being very important) most of the Albanian networks seem to be “old-fashioned”. Infiltration into these groups is thus very difficult. Albanian Mafia families or clans are usually made up of groups of fewer than 100 members, constituting an extended family residing all along the Balkan drug route from eastern Turkey, to Western Europe, and North America.
According to Ioannis Michaletos, the family structure is characterized by a strong inner discipline, which is achieved by a means of punishment for every deviation from the internal rules, so that the fear should guarantee an unconditional loyalty to the family, with the provisions of the official laws considered to be secondary, not important and non-binding. Due to the fact that the Mafia families are based on the blood ties, which is a factor that restricts the number of the clan members, the bonds between them are very strong, which makes getting close to and infiltrating into them almost impossible. An FBI investigator said of their presence in the USA: “While Italian gangsters may be three or four generations removed from the old country, the Albanians grew up under brutal communist regimes, engaging in protracted blood feuds with rival clans, and subscribing to a strict code of silence that makes the Italian credo of omertà seem playful.”

And interestingly, a few of the Mercs actually sport US licence plates…

 

 

 

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