Where the streets (and towns) have no name: Albania

Askold Krushelnycky
Sunday 24 October 2004 00:00
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Albania is facing an unusual, if elusive, stumbling block to ever joining the European Union: very few people there seem to know where they live.

Albania is facing an unusual, if elusive, stumbling block to ever joining the European Union: very few people there seem to know where they live.

The problem came to light because Brussels would like to know how many Albanians there are. A census, however, can't be organised because the Albanians lack addresses, many towns and villages simply do not have street names.

One official has estimated that 40 per cent of Albanians have no address recognisable to a postman. A resident of the capital, Tirana, says his street literally has no name. "I live in a green building," is the nearest he comes to pinning down the whereabouts of his home. Another gives his address as "the house which faces the bridge", and another as "that big brown building behind the bakery".

A Tirana doctor, Servete Lohja, said: "Most of the inhabitants of big Albanian towns don't know where they live." She said that critically ill patients often suffer or die because emergency services cannot locate them. Under Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania from the Second World War until his death in 1985, the country was almost completely sealed off from the outside world. No post came in and few people sent letters as they knew they would be monitored by the secret police. Many of the streets did have names, mostly from a limited pantheon of Communist heroes, most prominent of which was the loathed Hoxha himself. Those have been removed, but the notoriously argumentative Albanians cannot decide what to replace them with.

And these are people who take their arguments very seriously. In the late 1990s the country was plunged into armed conflict and anarchy because hundreds of thousands of people lost all their savings in an obviously crooked pyramid banking scam. In the central town of Lushnja, where during the post-pyramid collapse angry Albanians dropped a piano from a window onto a group of policemen, a recent council discussion about street names ended in a fight that left three councillors injured after they were battered with chairs.

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