During three months, from september to december, I will share with you my trip to Tirana. Pictures, video, point of view...As a citizen, and not as an expert, I will present you my experiences and understanding.
Pendant trois mois, de septembre à décembre, je partagerai sur ce blog mon voyage à Tirana. Photos, vidéos, points de vue...Comme un citoyen, et pas expert en la matière, je vous présenterai mes expérience et apprentissages.
Ecriture sur un clavier sans accent, retour a la case decryptage pour les lecteurs francophones. Version francaise juste apres les photos.
Before to visit anything, it's needed to find your marks. If I am used to intentionally get lost - and don't find my way back unintentionally- it's still useful to know the main axes.
Our flat is literally located at the crossing point between the ring and a long and straight main boulevard. From this highly contrasted street you can reach Skanderberg, the center of the capital, which unless is, unless its greyness, quite contrasted too.
Two of the main arteries of the capital with universities, casinos, banks, some fancy bars, many shops...Those ways, seem to be like amplifiers of Tirana's paradox -and maybe Albanian's- on architectural, social and even religious level.
In the present article I will present you the few things I got from my different walks, talks and researchs.
Regarding to the architectural side, the contrast is easy to get. According to BBC News, Tirana' population passed from 200 000 and 800 000 in the 90's in a certain anarchy.
Following the fall of the communist dictature and due to an economical and demographical development Tirana had to build a lot of towers - a bit like during the 60'-70' in France- and not to care so much about the old buildings from the communist period (or even previous) which will, at a point, be destroyed to create new residential or business buildings.
But, one the other hand, if no plan or architectural specifications seem to be respected, the mayor, Edi Rama, put order and life in his city. Since he is mayor, 10 years ago, he destroyed many illegal shops or buildings to create parks, plant trees (around 1800 according to Wikipedia...I know BBC is much more serious), and even painted many buildings in bright colors to give a new aspect to his city.
But he didn't solved the drinkable water, electricity access, and traffic problems, so for some opponents it would be tied to his former artist background. The city is looking better, but the life standards can still be considered as lower than in Western Europe. But, looking at the post obituaries on utility poles, we realize that Albanians have the same Life Expectancy at Birth than the Americans (around 78 years).
The other significant paradox is social. Between those who benefit and those, like for examples Roma people, who don't benefit at all from economical development it's not a gap, nor a fracture, it's a canyon. During the communist period, even if everyone was employed (to build the hundreds of thousands bunkers at the border line) and was living from low wages and few rations...the life level was low for the majority of the population.
From this contrast, or this canyon, I would remind those boulevard, frequented by beggars (children or not), street sellers...trying to earn some Lek from people who can now enjoy their purchasing power to spend time and money in coffees, fashionable clothes or various equipment.
Recent establishment of social services can't yet equalize the situation and NGOs still seem to be needed. The canyon will still be a reality for a few years. But, you can say, that's not a breaking new on this planet. Living in an Albanian shanty town or a french one is equally the same.
Then, the last contrast I'll develop today, requires much more attention and discussions. It's the religious aspect. Religion is such a hard topic in Balkan as it defined the conflicts and actual map of the region. And in Albania, it takes place in Skanderberg, the city center.
Even if the, still recent, explosion of Yugoslavia began during the huge bankrupt of the early 90's which ruined the former federal state, those events are mostly presented as religious or ethnical conflicts (orthodox Serbia against the Muslim Kosovo, Vojvodina, or Bosnia and Herzegovina or catholic Croatia).
The conflicts between Greece and Albania are too often presented as orthodox-muslim conflicts. But the religion appears to just be a symbol in an old and complicated History between those two countries. There is no holy war or Jihad.
First, even if religious practice was forbidden during the communist period, Albania was a peaceful mix of cultures and religions until the 90's when Western missionaries took advantage of the new political system to enter Albania. With those new missionniries, and the Balkan crisis, the religion became tied with political, ethnical and territorial issues.
In Albania, a "70% Muslim country" (according to more than 40years old statistics) the recent erection of a massive orthodox cathedral is, somehow, considered as a provocation. Just in front of the main, but medium, mosque of Tirana this new building is dressed in white, blue and golden yellow.
Low level of pray practice, alcohol (I don't mean alcoholism), food habits, dress code...Tirana, can not be consider as a practicing Muslim city. So if people care about this orthodox church it' much more because the colors remind of Greece than any religious aspect. The architect of this new cathedral is Steven Papadatos, a greek-american. And there, in Albania, Albanian Orthodox are often named "Greeks". But in Western Europe, how do we talk about people with arab or african roots? As citizens with various cultural background, or as muslim? How do we appreciate mosques constructions? Any look to Balkan, or precisely Albania and Tirana, from above wouldn't be justified.
So, unless the high (and old) rates, Albania is not a muslim country. If the politicians -and a part of the population- is phobic it's not religious. We can talk about an "Hellenic-phobia", which is given back by Greeks who are also, for a part, suffering of "Albanian-phobia".
Through this walk along the main boulevards, I so found some marks in the city as in the society, even if both are full of paradoxes and shades.
Without being a specialist, it appears one more time that a city and its streets, buildings, and people can be considered as a huge opened learning area.
And, still, being in an other country always make you reconsider your own marks in your own (former) country.
Some colors in the greyness / Un peu de couleurs dans la grisaille
Version française, plus bas
Tirana is a big city, so you can miss some details, nice streets, or some important monuments. But if there is something you can't miss...it's the traffic. We, me and my room mates, don't miss it. Leaving on the "ring", from morning to evening, in my flat or outside, we always have to deal with this traffic. It's a part of our life.
Tirana, according to a french embassy' presentation, was empty of cars until 1985 because of the political and economical situation. For sure, someone who came 25 years ago wouldn't recognize at all the Albanian capital. The previous and recently built infrastructures don't seem to be adapted to this new influx.
It's a huge, chaotic, and so noisy, jam. At least on the main avenues and boulevard going across the city. As I told you earlier, a blind person would, from our flat, be able to discover the "dynamism" and the life of the city. But he would, for sure, need some assistance to go across the city. The priority has been given to cars and there is not even clear passages to cross the streets.
I was asking to a friend how many pedestrians die every year from traffic. Surprise, one died last year and it became a focus point for the newspapers and the politics. The circulation was even worst after what, because of policemen trying to "regulate" the traffic. Like they did when I just arrived to Tirana: they stopped all the cars for 10 minutes on a round about -a crossing point between 4 main avenues-, running and whistling as much as they could. An "official" had to pass through Tirana. He passed. And then, to reorganize the traffic, the policemen just left to let the huge chaos go back to a normal chaos.
But the good thing is, as long as you don't need an ambulance, that the traffic is quite slow when it's not paralyzed. That's probably why there is not so much mortal accidents.
Anyway, after a few days you just get used, and become a "hole-in-the-traffic" hunter. You stare at the cars, find the hole, run a bit, find your way, reach the other -holy- side alive, and try to look like the most normal as you can.
You just have to got used to your new high and permanent adrenalin level.
Tirana est une ville important,avec environ 800 000 habitants. On peut donc manquer quelques détails, quelques petites rues ou quelques monuments importants. Mais si il y a bien quelque chose que l'on ne peut pas manquer, c'est...le trafic. Nous, moi et mes colocataires, on ne rate pas. Jamais. Vivant sur le périphérique, du matin au soir, à l'intérieur ou l'extérieur de l'appartement, le trafic est une partie de notre vie.
Tirana, selon une présentation de l'ambassade francaise, était vide de tout véhicule jusqu'en 1985. Pour sûr, quelqu'un qui aurait visité la capitale albanaise il y a vingt cinq de cela ne le reconnaîtrait pas du tout. Les anciennes comme les récentes infrastructures ne semblent pas adaptées à ce nouveau flot de véhicule.
C'est un immense, chaotique, et donc bruyant, embouteillage. Tout du moins sur les principales avenues et principaux boulevards.
Comme j'en parlais plus tôt sur ce blog, une personne aveugle n'aurait aucun mal à découvrir le "dynamisme" et la vie Tiranaise depuis notre appartement. Mais il aurait sûrement besoin d'aide pour traverser la ville. La priorité semble clairement avoir été donnée aux véhicules et vous ne trouverez nulle part un passage piéton.
Je demandais récemment à un ami combien de piétons décédaient du trafic tous les ans? Surprise...une seule personne aurait été victime d'un accident mortel l'année dernière. Tellement surprenant, que les médias mais aussi les politiques s'étaient emparés de l'affaire. La circulation en était devenue pire. Les agents de police dépêchés sur place chargés de "réguler" la circulation peuvent parfois avoir l'effet inverse.
Comme par exemple, le jour où je suis arrivé à Tirana. Deux policiers arrêtaient tous les véhicules sur l'un des principaux rond points, faisant la jonction en quatre artères principales, en raison du déplacement d'un "officiel". Après un blocage de dix minutes, pour réorganiser la circulation, les policiers sont justes...partis. Laissant l'immense chaos redevenir un chaos de taille normale.
Mais le bon côté, du moment que vous n'avez pas besoin d'une ambulance, c'est que la paralysie chronique de la circulation évite probablement les accidents mortels.
Peu importe, après quelques jours, vous vous habituez et devenez un véritable "chasseur-de-trou-dans-le-trafic". Vous observez les voitures, trouvez un trou, courrez un peu, faites votre chemin, atteignez l'autre -et saint- côté de la rue. Vivant, vous essayez de reprendre une démarche normale. (voir vidéo ci-dessus).
Vous avez juste à vous habituer à votre nouveau, permanent et élevé, taux d'adrénaline.