One Week in Albania
I am now on my way back to Chisinau after one week in Albania. (Am blogging from the Budapest Airport. There is a 30 minute mismatch between the Tirana flight and the Chisinau flight so I am now waiting for the evening flight six hours later. Guess few travels between these countries – most probably head inwards the EU.) It has been a long but interesting week, during which we have explored the possibility of financing a project there. (It is less vague than it sounds.) I am trying to sort among my impressions of the country, but I am not really sure where to start. Perhaps from the beginning.
When crossing the boarder on our way from Skopje last week, I was struck by the difference between Albania and Macedonia. During our drive through the beautiful mountains areas that exist in both countries, the environment and the villages along the road changed. The infrastructure was less maintained and in more need of reparation, and the villages seemed much poorer. At the same time, I could see the signs of the country’s large migration flows and of the remittances coming in, with abandoned agricultural areas and enormous new houses under construction here and there, sticking out amongst the small traditional houses in the villages. The national incomes of the two countries confirm this divide. Whereas Macedonia’s per capita GDP (PPP) is US$ 8,400 per year, that of Albania is only US$ 5,800 (CIA World Factbook, 2007 estimates).
This can also be compared with Moldova’s annual per capita income of US$ 2,300 – a difference that was evident when I arrived in Tirana. Buildings and parks are better maintained, streets renovated, and there is just much more of everything that a city has to offer than we have in Chisinau. Tirana in itself is difficult to describe. On the surface, it does not look like any place I have been to before, and despite some Italian remains from Mussolini, it for sure does not look very European. As all of you probably know, I want to see structures, logics and patterns in just about everything, but I have to admit that I got puzzled by Tirana. But it might be because I have not been so much in Turkey or in the other non-EU countries around the Mediterranean. Anyway, the city life seemed more influenced by southern Europe, with sidewalk cafes and restaurants, good food and locally produced wine, and excellent coffee. Actually, both Macedonia and Albania have adopted the Italian coffee, and even when in meetings at Government authorities in Skopje, they offered double espressos and macchiatos. (Yes, I am not too much for excessive luxury, but I really do think these small things add to quality of life!) And just like in Skopje, the EU flag could be seen everywhere in government buildings –Albania hopes for candidacy status around next year.
Wednesday, my team leader and I, along with two others from my team went out in the field to talk to farmers. It is always equally interesting to hear their views on the business climate, access to markets, and investment opportunities. It is not easy for many of them to make a living and for their businesses to grow, but some of them have managed to make it happen. And just like in Moldova, several of the entrepreneurs that we met were return migrants who had decided to return to Albania and create a future for themselves there. It is not easy, and I am impressed with those who decide to take the step. I hope that I will be able to contribute with something that makes this a little easier, but that is perhaps too ambitious to even think. Well, I’ll hold on to that thought a bit longer anyway…
I will hopefully go back to Albania many more times, and these impressions that I have now will probably change equally many times. And I am looking forward to it!
A remain from previous paranoid regimes is bunkers all over the country
On the way from one meeting to another in central Tirana