Musings on post-communist society

Before moving to the country of Albania, I could not have given you the answer to this question. My intended audience is very likely to be a group of students who are similar to who I was at the age of 16 to 18. I personally had not lived in another country, and hadn’t actually traveled outside of the country until the age of 18 when I went on the Germany trip with Frau Horton. So post-communism environment was a far away idea that I had little to no concept of.  I am by no means an expert, I merely have my perceptions to draw from. 

“Meqënëse gjithçka zotërohek bashkërisht, asnjëri nuk ishte vertet ne komandë, asnjeri nuk ishte e interesuar. Çdo individ ishte çliruar nga përgjegjësitë sepse ai ose ajo ia përcillte niveleve me te larta, institucionale.”

“Since everything was collectively owned, no one was really responsible; no one was in charge, no one cared. Every individual was absolved [translated to exonerated] of responsibility because he or she delegated it to a higher level, that of an institution.” 
– Café europa, life after communism, by Slavenka Drakulić

Might as well delve right into it, what makes working in this country difficult and why Peace Corps is placed here. When speaking to the situations that are faced, I am drawing from my own experiences and reflections after having lived here for 9 months or so. Serving with the komuna, the local municipality of the Village of Ksamil, I have a counterpart who I work with in order to build up his capacity of work productivity. A typical work day in Ksamil consists largely of being at work but not necessarily being productive. Often I see people spending a large amount of time at coffees discussing the issues of the area which are frequent power outages, corruption, half destroyed buildings created by the government, lack of economic development in the off season, etc. (To be discussed in different posts). 

The quote I begin with is by an author who was generally writing about the situation of post-communist countries. She herself was from Croatia. In Albanian society there was the added issue that the country was completely exclusionary. Such as North Korea is now, borders were closed and people were not allowed to leave the country. Enver Hoxha, the dictator, created a system of fear in the people. He instilled in them the belief that they were the best in the world and must protect themselves from the influence of Western culture. It’s estimated up to 750,000 concrete bunkers (extremely debatable, presumably one for every many) were constructed around the country to perpetuate this concept of immediate attack. Of course looking at the history of Albania, a centrally located country, this was something instilled in the people for decades as it was constantly besieged and taken over in the past. Along with visible restrictions of the people, people lived in a constant fear of one another as potential secret spies.

So referring back to my original quote. What this means to be working in this society is that there is this perpetual system of what is now corruption in order to continue functioning in a manner that was previously acceptable. It begins in the stages of elementary students. Here the children are passed through despite their grades because the school’s standing is in jeopardy if there are lowering passing students. The system then is incorporated into their entire lives. Knowing that their teachers will be forced to give them a passing grade, students do not take a personal initiative to be successful and they  rely upon higher positions to hand down what is needed. As it was during communism time, you relied upon the higher beings to hand down to your assignments and to regulate your progress. And in a perfect society this works, but most evidently did not as supplies dwindled and people struggled to rely upon their governing bodies to give their necessities. 

So following this teaching of the infrastructure many students still attend university where corruption is rampant, it is very commonly well known even. I’ve known volunteers who have worked in the universities and have had their best students grades changed to be lowered and vice versa. Even, (oh ya btw Mom and Dad) I was dating an Albanian man for a time being who openly discussed with me the cost for his payoff to his professors. You pay the school for the course, as is normal, then sometimes you need to pay off your professor, and pay for a passing grade on your exams. 

The obvious effects of this being an incompetent work force. Positions in jobs are granted through who you know and who you owe and lack of educated and qualified personnel in higher positions is prevalent. As working in government is what I’m particularly doing, and planning is what I’m educated in, I can see that the most obvious effects is the need of improved understanding of application of long term planning/any planning at all. Village improvements are at the whim of the governing body. Every 4 years a new mayor of the municipality is installed and rewards those that got him to this position with jobs, whether or not they are qualified. Then practices of scapegoating, lack of personal responsibility for work, little to no interest in statistically proven inventive programming. 

Whew, that is quite a bit, I know. But the system that perpetuates this needs a re-haul at all stages, this is just a small section of course. The entire being of corruption in this post-communist society goes much deeper into the federal government level, which I’m not as educated on. 

How one goes about solving these problems is also up for attack. On one hand imposing Western ideals is not a solution, but yet it is what is currently desired by the people.  I was never very much of an American patriot, I could write blog after blog about the lack of servicing of the needs of the American people. But living here has further opened up my eyes to the Western mentality which is that there is a reason why the United States is one of the most powerful nations in the world. As we are raised we in general are held to a very high level of expectancy. America is a culture of protestant work ethic citizens that have the experience of large scale efficient processes and reliance on methods, statistics, and productivity. 

It is easy to point the finger and say, “hey Albania, get your shit together”, and believe me I do too often. But this is coming from me American girl taught I can be what ever I want to be. Here, the outlook can be bleak at times. Besides corruption, what does one do if your language is only spoken by about 6 million people worldwide? Can you adequately seek the resources of often Western English speaking countries to assist yourself? Do you work with your own corrupt government system? 

By no means do I describe everyone. I merely am describing reflections on the system I am observing. Of course, this is the reason for placing volunteers here. We are here to build capacity, teach Western work ethic, deny the use of corruption, employ our understanding of English to educate other, and well.. try to help do something some how.

One shining light in all this is a student organization created and conducted by Peace Corps volunteers to empower students to the potential of a better tomorrow. My own involvement with clubs at a young age furthered a passion and anxiousness to do something more with my life. Growing up in the land of the plenty, these opportunities to do something for me were obvious. But here in Albania, the need for encouragement is monumental for youth who face what can sometimes feel like impossible odds.

I hope that this post explains more. It can’t be quite understand without seeing it first hand but educating one self is the first step to understanding. I felt helpless to what I was taught about the struggles of so many other countries around the world. Perhaps some day you’ll consider Peace Corps or some other program to give some of the gift of well.. luck one has of being raised in a secure environment. 
If you are interested in learning more about the Outdoor Ambassador program and perhaps in some small way wish to start to make a difference do please check out our newest drive for our upcoming Youth Leadership TrainingThe youth of Albania are the future for this country, a new generation outside of communist regimes and lifestyles and this club is hoping to be a part of the creation of a morally conscious, active, positive, hopeful era of leaders. 
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