Tourists and traffic: a response to lazy journalism – Exit
I will admit to being frustrated again with recent articles in the British press.
On the one hand, amazing Albania is being discovered by people from all walks of life: this land is no longer the sole domain of the intrepid explorer. All in all, it’s a good thing for this land of beautiful but mischievous mountains and sublime but often battered sands.
An increase in popularity with foreign tourists will drive investment; we can expect, in infrastructure, a significant commitment to the protection of natural ecosystems, education and health care. Of course, tourism can bring its pitfalls – many of which are already beset by Albania in its desire to welcome, to grow, to be recognized, which also frustrates me – and which is often overlooked in opinions and reports from those who visit for a few days at a time.
On the other hand, you may have noticed an increase in flagging of the nationality of many of those who are either trying to claim asylum or gain access to life in the UK for economic reasons. It is not the first time that I have seen an avalanche of articles accusing seemingly every Albanian who tries to reach the UK of having left with nefarious intentions to profit from the drug trade or even the trafficking of Human being.
Yet there is now a new element to this lazy reporting: how can Albanians want to leave their country when so many foreigners declare it to be a jewel, a jewel in the declining crown of European tourism?
I will not give the articles the merit of quoting them, their caricatures of Albanians belonging well to the past. However, their argument is simple: if it’s good enough for tourists, why isn’t it good enough to live in?
I am not here to dispute the number of Albanians trying to get to the UK, illegally or legally; I am not here to dispute the number of Albanians currently in British prisons, nor the number who were most recently deported as a result of the recent agreement devised and delivered by the Home Secretary with the Albanian government. I am here to challenge the idea that if a country is an idyllic holiday for a tourist, then it must be a paradise in which to live.
Imagine suggesting to someone living in a housing estate in London, fearful of how to feed their family today and heat their home in the days to come, that their fear is misplaced and misguided because of the number of tourists who have returned to the post-pandemic restrictions on shiny capital? Your fears are wrong as the crowds descending on the Tower of London, Westfield, Hyde Park and the West End tell us that London is indeed a glorious place!
I visited, lived and worked in Albania for 16 years, and more recently spent more time in Tirana than in London. It is a dynamic, passionate and beautiful country with a lot to offer Europe and the world. But it is naïve to think that my experience as a foreigner is the same as that of an Albanian living in a suburb of the capital, a city beyond investment or a remote village. Sure, a tourist from the UK, Germany or the Netherlands has a great time here – they earn considerably more than the average monthly income of €350 (figures vary) in Albanians.
A large majority of Albanians I spoke to (interestingly, except those who have spent a lot of time abroad) would leave if given the chance. Even the most patriotic ones I’ve spoken to concede that they expect their lives to be easier abroad. The ‘brain drain’, particularly as Albania continues its path towards EU membership, is a constant concern: the grass, for many young Albanians in particular, is greener elsewhere.
More recently, I visited south-central Albania with my husband, staying in a village just outside the small town of Përmet. We had a wonderful time – Chri Chri Guesthouse was awesome, from the food to the finishing touches; however I do not live and I have not lived daily in this village. Captivating for my iPhone camera, but hardly sparse – the village consisted of all but apparently a handful of properties that were tight. It hit 43 degrees Celsius when we visited, and there were no air-conditioned villas here. My experience as a guest in this village is quite incomparable to those who have built their lives there.
A country is not the sum of its tourism experiences, nor the sum of its difficulties. Presenting one as opposed to the other only creates a tension that cannot be resolved; he senses anger against those who have sought economic security elsewhere (admittedly, sometimes illegally) and he protects those who remain.
It is entirely possible that Albania is a beautiful country to visit, explore and love, while understanding that for many Albanians it is a source of difficulty, complexity and mixed feelings.
Lazy, intentionally incendiary journalism will never grasp this; it does not want. So please read between the lines: Albania is bigger and more complicated than you think. Come and experience it, if I may be bold enough to extend an invitation myself as a long-term guest, but do so with humility – maintaining the tensions that every country has to deal with in a way or another.
You can follow Luke’s Substack here.
Analysis: Albania is prey to right-wing British media and politicians