Dear Alan,

You ask me why, I, as a successful professional   with a good  job and  a  husband who works for a successful company living in   a small but comfortable flat, want to leave Albania.

I’m looking at my   young son who  is  happily drawing.

He’s an intelligent little boy who likes to help people. He has  an enquiring mind but  His enquiring mind gets him into trouble with teachers who see his  questions as a challenge to their authority.  I  want him to be able to learn from a stable educational system, which teaches him the skills of crucial analysis that makes him competitive to his peers in developed countries. I want him to grow kind and helpful without their being seen as a weakness to be laughed at. In our culture, men shouldn’t be kind. They learn this in the playground.

He works hard, but this is not enough. Some of his teachers expect some sort of monetary recompense at exam time otherwise he stands no chance of passing.  The teacher herself  possibly received the job through payment to the headmaster and  who knows whether the headmaster paid the Education director for his.  These days,  it seems that the teaching   profession has attracted many of  who are not interested in being teachers and who do not want to teach. This is an insult to those teachers who genuinely want to.

It’s not the worst thing.  What really matters to me   is that the values of honesty or decency are not  taught. On the contrary, they are seen as a barrier to survival in our country.  The parents of his friends realise this and indulge their children’s every whim and   train them to fight to get what they want, regardless of anybody else around them.

My child  turns on the television and  see politicians – his role models – calling each other names and behaving like spoilt children who cannot get their own way.  And he will meet the children of many of these people driving fast cars and avoiding police fines or receiving university diplomas and jobs through the simple expedient of paying bribes or using the name of their father. If  these ‘role models’ have managed to accumulate material goods without working for them honestly,  how can my son appreciate hard work, either as a means to an end or for its own sake? Knowing this teaches children to grow up with a sense of hopelessness and apathy.  They think the only thing left for them is to drink coffee,  gossip about each other and recycling the same news which is usually from a media controlled by one of the main parties and which continue the name-calling and insults. I don’t want my child to grow up in this environment.

He, like me will get a job, possibly even a good one. But he, like me, is super-conscientious. This means he will focus on getting the job done even if that means doing other people’s work because they are too lazy to do it themselves (possibly because they got the job through a ‘friend’ so they know their  job is safe). Then so be it. He must be prepared, like I am,  to be treated as naive for working so hard. He will suppress his natural intelligence lest the boss sees him as a threat.

I  want him to live in a country where he pays his taxes and knows that the taxes will be used for the country rather than into  a speedboat, a villa or  a fast car for somebody’s son. I want him to know that the taxes go to paying decent wages so that he doesn’t have to bribe the doctor or the policeman. I prefer his taxes to go into a kidney machine to save the life of his grandmother or to mend the  hole in the main road so that his father’s car doesn’t get damaged: it’s better than paying   for a Rolex watch or a smart suit for somebody who doesn’t deserve it. I want him to know that if he has a dispute in court, the judge will make a decision based on the merits of the opposing cases rather than on the number of zeros  in the opposing bank notes.

I  wanted  to stay and change the system from inside but I cannot do it alone. I know that many of my fellow Albanians have a tendency to vote for the politician who promises them a job, bribes them or threatens them. Maybe I cannot blame them for doing it: they have to live.  I can certainly blame those politician who sees government jobs, not  as  positions of responsibility that are given to the most deserving candidate but rather as favours to be  dispensed to repay moral debts in the way that kings bestowed titles to friends in sixteenth century Europe or as despotic minister give jobs in 21st century Africa. And as new people with no experience are given responsible jobs after every election and as new rules are made simply because the old rules ‘were made by the previous government’, the whole system is paralysed and stagnant.

I know that foreign governments who could help us will not interfere because they respect the right of our leaders to misrule and the right of the electorate to mis-vote for them. The fact that so many of us want to leave might suggest that we want   foreigners’   moral code to intrude on our sovereignty, although, of course, our politicians do not.

So as the international community won’t come to me, I‘ll try to  go to them. We’ve had 25 years of pseudo-democracy that has overseen a decline in morality and, given the current educational system, there is no reason to believe there won’t be another 25 years of it.

While I may be able to grit my teeth and live through it, I don’t want my child to.

Alan, that’s why I want to leave!

Article reproduced with kind permission of The Tirana Times
Photo reproduced with kind permission of  Citizens’ Channel   
Alan Andoni is the author of ‘Shqiptaret Para Pasqyres‘ published by Media Print, Tirana and the ‘Xenophobe’s Guide® to Albania‘, London.
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A graduate in Politics, international business and teaching, Alan Andoni has spent a career writing on Eastern European affairs and working in international marketing with Eastern Europe. He has spent the last 6 years teaching, presenting and writing on Albania, producing the ironic ‘The Xenophobe’s guide to the Albanians’ which is currently the best-selling book in English in Albania. The Albanian version ‘Shqipataret para Pasqyres’ (Albanians in the Mirror) is becoming talked about for its look at Albanian behaviour, customs and attitudes. He currently writes Op-Eds and articles for the Tirana Times and with their kind permission, we offer some of these for our readers.
  • Blerta Meta

    Dear Alan,

    I do not remember since I have cried as a child
    when I read your post: “Letter from Albania: Why I want to leave”

    Thank you for sharing

  • A Concerned Albanian Citizen

    Frankly, I understand how you are frustrated but is so plainly tainted by personal interest. If you really cared about Albania you would talk about how common it is to see beggars in the streets, how often you hear of children with disabilities abandoned in orphanages, how miserable living conditions are outside of Albania, how people struggle to put bread on the table. That would be something to talk about. The children who live in orphanages that have given up crying because nobody ever hears them! That is something to feel heartbroken about. Not your privileged middle class expectations not being met! If you truly cared about your child, you would take charge and spend time supplementing his education. This is just a cry for pity. The truth is we all need to grit our teeth and work our asses off to make this country a better place. Other countries that we so often admire, have reached the successes that they have because they understood something that Albanians did not: to never give up. And that starts here. You know for those 172 articles on ‘issues’ you should have 344 articles on ‘solutions’. You call yourself an Albanian, but you should be ashamed of yourself.

    • Teuta

      good and bad things are limitless and of course there is always worse. but this does not mean we should comfort ourselves with ‘there is worse elewhere’ keyword. There is more to life than having a piece of bread on the table. There is nothing wrong to ask for the best, ask for more as long as other people are not damaged.

    • ThatGirl

      I could not agree more!

    • HungrySaxophone

      That was the point, ya know! This blogger is trying to say that even a pretty good life in Albania is barely mediocre at best. Ofc we all hate the conditions in orphanages and hospitals, and the miserable state some are living in. But choose your battles, this isn’t undermining them.
      Also, true we should adopt a more work-oriented mentality, but some of us (including myself here) work a ton, and it honestly seems like we’ve peaked in terms of “where is this taking me?”. All that work isn’t helping the general state. Our work environment is still toxic, we’re still using public facilities such as hospitals and post offices, which we all know are disastrous… I don’t know what’s required to get outta this situation but frankly this isn’t a cry for pity. This is someone who’s saying we’re stuck.
      Not disagreeing overall, I just think you could’ve seen how this is actually constructive.

      • A Concerned Albanian Citizen

        True. I see your point. Thanks for sharing.

    • Happyalbaniancitizen

      I totally agree with you. This is just a cry for pity indeed.

      And it is not true we are stuck here @hungrysaxophone:disqus , you can go whenever you want if you think this is the solution. I do not know where you live but saying (agreeing) that ” even a pretty good life in Albania is barely mediocre at best” is not true at all, and for sure is not constructive…
      There are people out there working hard to make this country a better place, and articles like this doesn’t help.

      • HungrySaxophone

        Obviously there are people who work to make this country a better place, may their actions have minor or major effect. Also true, maybe the article it’s not constructive in itself but it leads to constructive criticism, and I do think that helps. When you said a “pretty good life in Albania” is not mediocre, you meant it’s better or worse than that? Cus no matter how upper middle class these people are, they simply don’t have access to modern education, modern medicine, modern technology, modern infrastructure and all the other industries we’re struggling with. And I only used modern since we entered the Global Monopoly game 25+ years ago. And I live in Tirana e Re, in a great new building with “rich” people and “pretty good lives”

    • Mike

      Beggars in the streets are generally roma or gypsy minority and they are not so common as you are saying.

      Children with physical problems are in general raised by the parents in Albania and hundreds thousands of people struggle in the west for food.

  • Rman

    Well thought out and well written – the sad part is it is true.

  • My person asked
    physicians from the mother Theresa hospital, already in 2013 and I said:
    emigrate, because of the families, because the politicians, justice are
    all stupid criminals. The oldest investor over 20 years in Albania, with very good Albanians as employees who already have their children abroad

  • Alenrob

    This is very sad! Even sadder is the fact that all these kids, the future of this country, are growing up in such environment. The worst part is that Albanians think that only them have suffered, only them were under Ottoman Empire for 500 years, they were part of WW1 and 2, they had Enver Hoxha. Guess what, other countries had their own wars and issues, but they choose to move forward. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in 6 different European countries (yes, legally – studying and working, Albanians can do that too, with patience and hope that we’ll be part of EU soon), and got to know these countries better. One of them was Finland, which celebrated it’s 100th Independence Day one year ago. Well, they have been constantly under Swedish and Russian sovereignty for their entire life, but 101 years ago, like Albania in 1912, they decided to take their fate into their hands. It wasn’t always as it is today, but they saw that education is the key to success, and I’m not talking about becoming financially rich, but rich in knowledge. The education system in Albania doesn’t even exist. Every year there is smth different, the majority of teachers, as explained in the article, are a joke – literally, they don’t even have the adequate education and some of them even illiterate. I’m not joking, all the students who fail to pursue their parents’ dream major and have a GPA 4.50, they all end up attending majors such as maths, biology, geography, literature, languages (foreign and Albanian) you name it, every possible subject taught in primary, secondary and high school. They deep the last few real teachers (not only them, all in fact) on paper work as if their only reason to be in school is to fill these forms… teaching, that is a strange word. And because the media is teaching the kids already by repeating the same f**king terrible news every second, and when there is no news, telenovelas, which don’t have anything else but how to hurt a person, how to do smth illegal, or you name it. Basically, Albanians are listening, 24/7, to the bullshit politicians are saying and the rest, the bullshit Turkish or Brazilian telenovelas about illegal plots on each other’s backs. (Before lecturing me on how everyone is free to watch whatever they want, stop – not everyone can afford to have a weekend getaway, there exists only one park in Tirana and you better have a face mask otherwise you won’t be able to breathe with all that air pollution going on there these years). Anyway, to go back to Finnish case, look at them now – Finland is one of the best countries in the world regarding the education system, and not only that. To get a degree in education there is much harder than getting a degree in engineering, because you have the fate of the future of the country in hands. You get the degree in education, on a specific subject you are going to teach, but you also get intensive training on how to deal with kids of different ages, if you don’t pass this, you don’t teach. You don’t change a country by doing corruption, you change it by educating people first and the rest follows. Education is the key!
    I might be wrong, this is only my 2 cents.

  • Max

    “So as the international community won’t come to me…” As an American, among many of Americans, a part of a large network of foreign aid to Albania that live in Albania amongst the Albanian people in both cities and rural towns, we are there with you. We are frustrated with you. But the problem isn’t just with everyone else around you, the teachers, the politicians, their sons, it is also with you.

    Complain and blame, that’s what I’ve heard. We are here, in Albania, with opportunities and open hearts to help, the international community is there and oftentimes underutilized, it’s up to you whether you want to use and socially support them or not.