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Monday, 13 September 2010

Albania

Ismail Kadare’s Albania makes his country’s mystery every mystery. In our age, where most enchantment’s made by us, the land just across the Corfu strait especially when seen from the summit of mount Pantokrator in such stillness you hear a stone shuffled and great clearness after a morning of rain, emanates enchantment. Kadare’s weather - rain falling on ashen landscapes from a sky that only a few miles from us turns leaden, sends shivers, like the tiny charge of fear peering over a precipice, or into water that rather than being, as you first thought, murky is of immeasurable depth. Albania remains mysterious; more so I suspect, than we'd find arriving there.
A few weeks back, in Scotland over tea at Brin Croft, I'd met a retired senior policeman - friend of a friend of my mother's who does rescue work on seams, darning damaged tweed. He’d been posted to Albania, invited against his judgement to go there by the Home Office pressed by the EU anxious about Albania, soon seeking membership. This was more than a decade ago. His job, with other public professionals from the main EU countries, was to advise on the recovery of the rule of law in a place that had become a haven for money laundering, people trafficking, gun running, continued feuding and drug smuggling to the rest of the Continent and beyond. Gun ownership, always normal in Albania,  – “not just farmer's weapons either” - had proliferated; rife even among children despite amnesties encouraging surrender. "They build AK47s into the walls of their houses. Chip them out again when they need them." He spoke soberly of intractable problems. Criminals put aside a percentage of their profits to cover the cost of buying officials. The sums are enormous; and with less income for officials, bribes more difficult to resist than in the UK, with people competing for such rewarding jobs via patronage. He'd returned from his posting in despair. The honest are confounded, yet amid this mess there will be people who's kindness and hospitality will be second to none, and while some landscapes may be ravaged by unplanned development, isolated parts of it untouched by much desired investment in connective infrastructure will be small versions of Eden before the Fall.

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