Letter: Albanian divide not so simple

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The Independent Online
Sir: Andrew Gumbel is doing the long-suffering population of northern Albania a disservice ("Tribal tension splits Albania in two", 6 March) in labelling them supporters of President Berisha and tarring them with the same brush as a handful of loyalists from the president's birthplace.

As a social anthropologist who has been working in northern Albania since 1992, I am worried by this misleading article from your hitherto admirably reliable correspondent. In the present context, a north-south divide is an erroneous reading of political reality.

Resentment against Sali Berisha is as pronounced in the north as in the south. Northerners, most of whom are even poorer than southerners, have suffered no less from the collapse of the pyramid schemes (whose immense popularity was partly due to Albania's hopelessly inadequate financial infrastructure). Unemployment is massive in the north due to the closing down of most of the mining industry. Villagers have far less, and much more infertile land than southerners.

Resentment against government indifference to unemployment, against its corrupt and autocratic behaviour, has been evident since the 1995 referendum resulted in the rejection of the proposed constitution. The independent newspaper Kaka Jone, so critical of the government that its offices have now been burnt down, was largely run by journalists from Lezhe in the traditionally Catholic north. There are no straightforward divides in Albania.

It is true that Tiranians of all political colours (and plenty of Democrat supporters are of southern origin) are worried by the influx of mountain villagers from the north. The myth has been circulated that these mountain villagers are favoured proteges of the president, who comes from the northern province of Tropoja, though the majority of the migrants come from the provinces of Kukes and Puka.

The majority of Albanians are desperate to get rid of what they see as an EU yes-man in charge of the country.


Department of Social Anthropology

University of Cambridge