TELEVISION / All sold out of stocks of hope: Gerard Gilbert on the weekend's programmes

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The Independent Culture
WITH Sarajevo claiming the international headlines last week, it was a good weekend for catching up with events in other corners of the former Eastern bloc. The World this Week (C4, Saturday) had an interview with Todor Zhivkov, the former Bulgarian dictator, who is now standing trial in Sofia, and a report from Nagorno Karabakh, where Azaris are busy attempting a little ethnic cleansing of their own against the long-suffering Armenians. As Sheena McDonald, presenter of this consistently excellent programme, pointed out: with 80 new nations and 120 nationalities emerging from the former Soviet Union, all the viciousness and brutality of Yugoslavia looks set to repeat itself many times over.

The latest contribution to Video Diaries, 'The Man who Loves Gary Lineker' (BBC2, Saturday) was actually filmed last winter, but, given the dearth of reportage coming out of Albania, might as well have been made last week. The man with the cam this time around was Dr Ylli Hasani, a big- hearted Albanian country GP with a nice line in bone-dry irony. Having just remarked on the extortionate prices charged by Albania's new breed of free- marketeers, Hasani remarks: 'Thank God we still have our state run shops with goods at very reasonable prices.' Cut to row upon row of empty shelves.

It's just as well that Dr Hasani has such fine sense of the ridiculous, because a more emotive sort of outrage would have made this film unbearable. The scenes of desolation, poverty, illness and futility were quite hellish. 'After the execution of 100,000 dissidents and 50 years of struggle we have developed from a backward and poor country into being a backward and very poor country,' says the good doctor. 'This is the tomorrow they promised us yesterday.'

Inspired and enboldened by his BBC camera, Dr Hasani takes a trip round his country for the first time, a landscape punctuated by over one million mushroom-like bunkers, Enver Hoxha's first-line of defence against the rest of the world. 'Poor Enver Hoxha, he didn't realise the rest of the world did not give a damn about Albania.' And still doesn't, he might have added. Hasani's journey of discovery leaves him depressed ('town in the tumps,' as he puts it) and desiring to leave for Italy, where he has contacts. He can no longer support his seven-strong family on a pounds 10-a-month wage.

Where does Gary Lineker come into all this? During the Hoxha years, Dr Hasani risked imprisonment by listening in to the BBC World Service, and along the way became a great fan of the former Tottenham striker. Over in England to edit his film, Hasani watches England play Brazil at Wembley and is granted a brief interview with his hero. 'And how is your little son?' he asks Lineker solicitously. The miracle is that such generosity of spirit has survived the meanness of Albania.

Watching Court TV: America on Trial (C4, Saturday), edited highlights of real-life US criminal trials (cameras are allowed in to US courts), you can't help wondering why the female prosecutor isn't going to burst into tears Grace Van Owen-like; or why we aren't suddenly cutting away to Arnie Becker humping one of his clients. But once you accept that life isn't like LA Law, the show becomes quite gripping in itself. The participants seem too engrossed in their own dramas to be affected by the presence of the cameras (the most common argument against filming in court), but just when you are thinking how tastefully and discreetly everything had been handled, along comes presenter Cynthia McFadden to apologise for not bringing us the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow custody battle. She promises to do better in future.

Meanwhile some young people had obviously approached the BBC Community Programme Unit and complained about lack of access for young people, and how so-called 'youth programmes' failed to portray young people accurately - and how everything was run by grey, middle- aged men in suits. Instead of telling them 'that's life, kids, you'll be grey and middle-aged yourselves before you know what's happened,' executive producer Sue Davidson took the coward's way out and told them to go off and make a programme about it. Hence TVYP: Viewers with Attitude (BBC2, Saturday), an unfocussed rag-bag of concerns which borrowed so much of its language from the despised 'youth programmes' that Janet Street-Porter could issue a maternity suit. Just when you thought you would scream when the next young person uttered the words 'young people', up popped that grey middle- aged misanthrope Dennis Potter: 'I hate the young,' said Dirty Den. ' I can't think of a worse business to enter so I'll give them a helping hand.'

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