SEE books - Part 2

posted by sabine Ballata on 2005/09/21 02:17

[ SEE books ]

Balkan Academic News Book Review 9/2005 published Antonia Young’s review of Clarissa De Waal’s „Albania Today: a Portrait of Post-Communist Turbulence.“(I.B.Tauris/The Centre for Albanian Studies, London, 2005):

"De Waal justifies her decade-long studies of Albania's rapid
transformations against James Clifford's accusation of 'salvage
ethnography', asserting that this will serve to supplement other records
and thus help to provide a full picture of a particular moment in history.
In spite of discussion on the difficulty of her choice of a suitable
village in which to undertake research, and subsequent descriptions of many
villages studied, an essential map is missing.

The author covers Albania 's remarkably bloodless break with Communism
(1991-2), and Sali Berisha's dramatic early success with the Democratic
Party. She gives a uniquely clear analysis of the further dramatic changes
that led up to the eruption into anarchy 1996-7; a six-month period when
around 2,000 people were killed by mostly random shooting as a result of
the opening up of the country's armouries. De Waal notes that under
Berisha, the extent of the laissez-faire attitude (which set few guidelines
through governmental action) affected all aspects of life. She points out
that two of the greatest (related) setbacks preventing individuals from
being able to contribute to the development of Albania, were the lack of
any policies on both unemployment and emigration (both abroad and for
poverty stricken mountain dwellers migrating to the lowlands where former
sparsely populated state land seemed to offer opportunity). She explains
how the desperate search for work, forced Albania's exodus (most of whom
became illegal immigrants elsewhere) to be the greatest, per capita, of all
the former European Communist countries. At times as much as one tenth of
Albania's population was residing in Greece . Quite apart from the extreme
dangers they suffered from their illegal exploits, these immigrants were
also not eligible for social service benefits, and if they managed to
return to Albania with savings, there were no banks or safe investments
into which they could deposit their earnings. Furthermore Berisha exempted
the fraudulent pyramid schemes from a banking law which would have
regulated them. Thus these schemes lasted longer than those in other
transforming Communist countries, so that more and more people were
convinced by the returns they saw being received, and were also lured into
the trap whereby an estimated one third of the population lost substantial
savings and in many cases everything, including their homes [pp. 245-6].

In general, lesser Communist managers are found to have come out best
following Communism's fall. However those who had worked for the state in
more lowly positions, when they were fortunate enough not to lose their
jobs, found that the pay, when it was honoured, became miniscule as
inflation mounted, forced many to leave in search of work elsewhere.
Teachers had been highly respected under Communism, but from the 1990s
teachers could no longer survive on their pay. By 1993, 5,000 teachers had
left the country. Meanwhile many children could no longer attend school, in
rural areas it was often considered too dangerous to travel (usually on
foot) to school; additionally their labour was needed at home, many were
kept out of school due to ongoing blood feuds.

De Waal was interested to find that 6th Grade Albanian education books on
civic education discuss the Kanun (oral traditional law practised for
several centuries and recorded by Shtjefen Gjecov a century ago). Although
even discussion of it under Communism, was forbidden, as also were all
forms of religious practise, both survived. The author found further
support for the Kanun's laws regarding arranged marriages, among young
women in Mirdite.

The greatest post-Communist problem concerns land distribution. Under the
pro-natal government policies whereby a mother of 10 gained an award of
high honour, the population trebled during the 40 years of the Communist
regime. Although in 1991, the government declared that land was to be
privatised, there was never any clarification of exactly which land should
be distributed, and how to share the majority of buildings constructed
while the land was still state owned. Corruption became endemic in all
spheres of life, but De Waal found that the worst feuding developed
especially within families. Police usually avoided these situations, partly
for fear of becoming involved themselves.

In the early transformation of Albanian society there was fury vented
against anything considered to belong to the state. Destruction was
country-wide: of all co-operatives, of government buildings, schools,
factories, mines, olive groves, vineyards, the massive greenhouses which
had produced tomatoes for export, and other produce and even mills.

De Waal's comments on religion show her to be rather sceptical of the usual
claim that the country is 70% Muslim, 20% Orthodox and 10% Catholic. All
her evidence proves that much religious practice is based on superstition
and that preference for one religion over another is not very strongly
felt, and furthermore that a very large section of society claim to have no
interest at all in religion. Of much greater influence than religion, is
that of the Kanun, although many are found to confuse the two.

The book's format is often muddly, repetitious and with occasional lapses
in writing style. The chapter headings are unhelpful and the chapters
themselves appear to have been written as conference papers all on a
similar topic. The bibliography is extraordinarily short for a study
covering a whole decade. The six very interesting photographs included,
probably the author's, are marred by very poor reproduction.

Despite imperfections, there is a wealth of information and unique
observation which responds to De Waal's goal of recording for posterity how
she experienced through the people of Albania, the decade after its fall
from Communism."

Other interesting links about the author of this review, Antonia Young, and the books she’s written:

Books by Antonia Young. I found the book „Women who become Men: Albanian Sworn Virgins“ very interesting, since that topic is very fascinating and is mentioned in many different texts – from travel reports to gender studies. For more info on this book, see Isa Blumi’s review

Young also co-edited (with Robert Elsie) Berit Backer’s „Behind stone walls:
Changing household organization among the Albanians of Kosova.“
, a social anthropological study of traditional Albanian society, published in 2003 by Dukagjini in Peja.

Other reviews and articles by Antonia Young can be found here: Review of Albert Sonnichsen’s „Confessions of a Macedonian Bandit: A Californian in the Balkan Wars“.

Focusing on the Other Europe, a bit more about Young’s life and work, with pictures.

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This is a part of the collage 'The Black File' by Croatian artist Sanja Ivekovic, who will be represented at documenta 12 (16/6-23/9) in Kassel this year.

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