Goon show that brings paranoia at every turn

TIRANA DAYS

"I hate to tell you this," said my driver friend, "but I think we are being followed." We were driving north on the road out of Tirana and, as I saw for myself, a large white jeep was trailing not far behind with two large swarthy men inside.

"What makes you think that?" I asked.

"They've been on our tail since we got out of town and it's pretty surprising a thing that powerful hasn't overtaken us."

A familiar feeling began to grab me in the guts: Albanian paranoia. I didn't relish having government goons on my tail, and I didn't like to think what they might do if they cornered us. I've had enough friends threatened, beaten up and hounded out of the country to know I don't want it to happen to me.

We drove on in silence until we couldn't stand it any more and stopped for coffee by the side of the road. The jeep drove straight past without so much as a glance in our direction. "Well that seems to be that," I said.

"Unless they've decided to follow us by driving on ahead," retorted my friend. "It's an old communist tactic."

As it turned out, we never saw the jeep again. But it is so easy to be paranoid in Albania it is almost part of the landscape. This is a country where nothing is knowable for sure, where violence seems to erupt out of nowhere, where conspiracy theories take on an air of credibility with unnerving ease.

Friends and enemies alike seem to know what you are doing before you really know it yourself. After a few days you really do start wondering about spies working for President Sali Berisha, for the United States government, for the Greeks, for the Turks, and god knows who else. The temptation to assume you are the centre of everyone's attention, riding on the very brink of danger at every turn, is almost irresistible.

When I arrived in Tirana, paranoia led me to check into the biggest international hotel in town because it is monitored 24 hours a day by armed guards. The next morning, paranoia led me to check out again as I began wondering about tapped phones and spies among the hotel staff. "You know those women at the reception desk? At any given time, two of the three on duty will be government agents," I was told, and I was tempted to believe it.

In one restaurant, two unsavoury looking men sat down at the next table and I spent quite a bit of time and energy trying to work out if they were tailing me or my lunch partner. When I met a political contact for a drink in a bar in Tirana, she announced that we had to leave, immediately. "Berisha's men came in here yesterday and dragged a friend of mine out at gunpoint," she said. "He hasn't been seen since."

That information might have unnerved me for days if I hadn't heard the full story a few hours later. The man in question, an Albanian American called Zef Mirakaj with a reputation for denigrating Mr Berisha in public, had been sitting down with a beer when a group of the president's guards, a little the worse for drink, sauntered over from the next table and shouted: "You're the pus ball who caused all that trouble in Vlora aren't you?" Before he had a chance to answer, they had dragged him out into the street.

"You must have got me muddled up with someone else," he protested. "I haven't been to Vlora for months." The guards looked at him, decided they had the wrong man, and let him go.

A few minutes later, though, they started at him again. "You may not be a pus ball from Vlora but you're Zef Mirakaj, aren't you? That's even worse!" And they dragged him out again, this time at gunpoint. He didn't so much disappear as slink off in embarrassment.

Sometimes, Albanians don't know whether to be shocked or burst out laughing. Repression is a far more haphazard business than one might imagine. One joke doing the rounds in Tirana has two friends heading home 15 minutes before curfew. A policeman approaches, draws his revolver and shoots one dead. "What did you do that for?" asks the other. "Curfew doesn't start for another quarter of an hour."

"True," answers the policeman, "but I know where he lives and he would never have made it back on time."

Suggested Topics
Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
The reindeer pen at the attraction
lifeLaurence Llewelyn-Bowen's 'Magical Journey' and other winter blunderlands
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'