SEE and-in the media - Part 9

posted by sab on 2006/08/09 13:48

[ SEE and-in the media ]

I had been planning to blog about the role of British media in depicting the image of Albanians for quite a while, and AA Gill has now finally caused me to look into that topic again.

His article is by far not an isolated phenomenon; there are various examples for Albania(ns)-bashing in the British media. Dr. Gëzim Alpion (University of Birmingham) has done some research on that:

He is an editor of the Albanian Journal of Politics, where he published an article under the title Western Media and the European “Other”: Images of
Albania in the British Press in the New Millennium
(download .pdf here). In this article, he uses Orientalist theories as an approach for an analyses of the recent and present media representations:

Edward W. Said’s Orientalism invigorated as never before the
debate on the biased representation of the Orient in the West. In
the first part of the article, after highlighting the significance of
Said’s work, the author then identifies some weaknesses and
limitations of the Saidian approach arguing that, like the Near and
the Middle East, other countries and regions around the world
have an unsavoury image in the West as a result of an ongoing
academic and media demonology. Concentrating on the coverage
that the Balkans, especially Albania, have received in the West as
from the start of the nineteenth century onwards, in the second
part of the essay the author argues that the West has traditionally
denigrated the European ‘other’ no less than the non-Europeans
thus resulting in a cultural, historical and political fragmentation
of the European continent which continues to have negative
implications for Albania and the neighbouring countries as much
as for the European Union. In the third part of the paper, through
content-analysis of several articles that have appeared in the
British press during the 2001-2005 period, the focus is on the
disturbing tendency to denigrate the Albanian nation, a tendency
which reveals a Euro-centric, post-imperial approach apparent in
the Western media towards ‘estranged’ Europeans like the

This is maybe my favourite part of the article, and it seems to me that AA Gill has some sort of prequel in the article Alpion quotes – although Shrimsley’s satirical ‚letter’ was not nearly as offensive and vulgar as AA Gill’s:

On 23 February 2005, for instance, the Albanian daily Biznesi
reported that the Albanian government has asked the McKinsey & Company to
contribute in improving the country’s image in order to attract more foreign
investment. According to Ulrich Frincke, McKinsey’s Regional Director for the
South East European countries, the cooperation between his management
consulting firm and Albania is expected to bring the country more than US$ 300
million a year.

The Albanian government’s decision to seek advice from such a leading global
strategic management consulting firm was met with derision by the reporter Robert
Shrimsley. His article ‘Tirana saw us’, which appeared in the Financial Times on 3
March 2005, is rather long but I have quoted it in its entirety because I believe it
reiterates some of the issues about biased, and in this case hostile, coverage that
Albania often receives in the British press:

The Albanian government has asked McKinsey to develop a
strategy to improve the country's image and attractiveness to
foreign investors.

To: Albanian cabinet
From: McKinsey, Zagreb Office
Subject: Image refurbishment

Further to our discussions last month we present our preliminary
thoughts on upgrading Albania’s image to overseas investors.
You are already aware that structural changes are needed. Image
makeovers rarely succeed if they are not underpinned by a genuine
rethink. The bribery of tax and licensing officials may very well be
a proud tradition in your country but it does rather cut against the
reform and modernisation drive. You may be aware of the old
German joke urging businessmen to ‘fly to Albania; your car’s
already there’. Charming as this is, it is probably not the image you
want to project. A requirement for all Mercedes to display a valid
receipt in the window would work wonders.

Once these measures are in place however, some cosmetic
changes would go a long way towards signalling the birth of a new
and modern Albania.

For a start we recommend you consider a name change. Albania
is so last century – it seems to date back to the year Zog. Something
that suggests a more technologically advanced, even cool, nation.
After consultations with branding experts, we recommend aPod.
This conjures up a far more buzzing image, especially if U2 could
be prevailed on to write your new national anthem.

Finally we find nothing spurs on investors quite so much as a
peaceful revolution, preferably one with a colour or material in it.
The publicity value of one, if you could organise it, would be
immense. Orange, rose, velvet and cedar have already gone but
salmon pink is nice and has happy associations with business.

Thanks to the widespread global ignorance of Albanian politics,
there is probably no need even to oust the existing administration as
long as it all takes place so suddenly as to sweep you into power
before any foreign press can make it to Tirana. A new
communications supremo would also help. Alastair Campbell will
be available from May. He’s a little brutal by Albanian standards
but the great thing is his proven track record of securing such good
coverage for reforms that it can be years before people realise they
do not quite live up to expectations.

Gill’s text lies somewhere in between what could be defended as ‚sense of humor’ or wit of Shrimsley but tends more to the crude stereotyping that is characteristic for the yellow press – here another text Alpion quotes, which continues to leave me searching for words and wondering how this could have been ever published:

A couple of years earlier another British
journalist Charles Rae was frustrated with ‘[a] few humourless killjoys’ who ‘did
not see the funny side of The Sun’s Mr Men spoof’, which the tabloid ran on 21
January 2003. ‘We invented seven characters in the style of kids’ favourites Mr
Men and Little Misses,’ the self-appointed Mr Comedienne Rae explains, ‘to
reflect life in modern Britain’.
Two of these ‘favourites’ are foreigners: Mr
Asylum Seeker and Mr Albanian Gangster. This is how The Sun portrays the latter:

Mr Albanian Gangster

Mr Albania Gangster didn’t like it in Albania so now he lives in
Britain. He hangs out with Mr Drug Dealer and Mr Asylum
Seeker. He often likes to do the same things as them. But Mr
Albanian Gangster has a kind side – he invited all of his friends’
sisters to stay. He even gave them a job. He put all his friends’
sisters in a house together and then invited lots of men to come
and see them so they would never get lonely. The men had such
a good time they even paid Mr Albanian Gangster to visit the
house. Unfortunately the poor girls saw none of the money. Mr
Albanian Gangster pocketed the lot.

Gëzim Alpion also looked at the other side of image-building in the media, and on a conference in 2004 of ALPSA, the Albanian Political Science Association, presented a paper on The Role of the Albanian Media in Enhancing the Image of Albania in the West: Failures
and Hopes
(abstract can also be downloaded as .pdf here:

The collapse of communism in the early 1990s marked a new stage for the Albanian
media. The process of democratization, however, proved more complicated than it was
initially thought, partly because the Albanians, like other East Europeans, had some
rather naive views about 'democracy' and ‘free speech’, and partly because, in spite of the
positive steps made to integrate Albania into the EU, the process seems to be more
complicated than it was anticipated.
The Albanian media, I argue, could and should have played a more effective role
in promoting a more positive image of Albania in the West over the last fifteen years.
The paper identifies some of the reasons - political, financial, cultural - why the Albanian
media is still unable to advertise Albania abroad in a new light.
Albania continues to be portrayed in the European press (especially in the British
broadsheets and tabloids) as a bandit country where drug-trafficking and social unrest are
the norm.
In spite of its apparent 'slow' progress, Albania deserves a fairer presentation in
the West. In general, Western correspondents do not seem to be interested in writing
about the positive aspects of Albania. Some of their reporting is biased, unfair and in
many cases of a sensationalist nature.
Albania cannot depend only on its diplomats to improve its image. Indeed, from
direct contacts I have made with many press offices at the Balkan embassies in London, it
is obvious that the methods diplomats follow to promote their countries in the West
remain limited, ineffective and old-fashioned.
The Albanian media could play a crucial role in advertising the achievements of
the 1989-2004 period by establishing more direct contacts with press agencies in the
West, and more importantly by training young and devoted reporters abroad.

Among Dr. Alpions other publications, another one caught my interest - also because (and all this is now a note on the side, readers with strict ‚academic only’ policy may stop reading here...) my ‚how to convince my son that reading is great’-efforts eventually sparked my interest in Harry Potter. After ignoring the wizard boy for so many years, my son noticed that the first two films were approved for six-year-olds, we watched them, I started reading all the spoilers on Wikipedia and will now – finally – read the books, too. (I know, it should all happen the other way round. A guy actually killed himself after reading the spoiler by accident – his life had no more meaning. Sorry for my blasphemic attitude...)
And voilà, Dr. Alpion delivers the justification for reading Harry Potter right to my doorstep: Images of Albania and Albanians in English Literature from Edith Durham’s High Albania to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter . (download the .pdf here)

And why Harry Potter, you may ask? Well, Albania is the hideout of evil Lord Voldemort. But I think I still have to reflect upon how grave I find this stereotypical use of an unfamiliar Balkan country for the image of the country in question...I guess I might just drop the issue. After all, I guess my (half-Albanian) son will find it rather ‚cool’ that Voldemort chose Albania for hiding there...and other media/literature (ab)uses of stereotypes seem far more serious and have worse consequences. Even though it is also true that Harry Potter is/will be more influental for this generation of kids than all the worlds biggest newspapers together....

Anyway, two more things: Dr. Alpion’s latest publication on Mother Teresa,Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity?, has been published by Routledge, and here is an article on the topic from the Guardian in 2003.

And Harry Potter has also been translated in Albanian (I read somewhere, I think in Wikipedia, that Harry Potter comes second only after the bible in number of languages in which it has been translated...that might not be such a big deal for old Potter-fans, but sorry, I am new to all this Potter-fever.). The Albanian version is available here and, cheaper, here.



The imagineSEE-weblog is a space about ideas, images, (re)inventions and (re)constructions of and about the Balkans, from outside and within SEE.

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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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