Communist Albania of Hoxha was a fortress state, seeing enemies everywhere. There were regular purges, the death penalty was applied, and there were a large number of political prisoners. There were thousands of executions of political enemies and of enemies of communism. Albanians did not have the right to a passport until May 1990.
Two decades later Albania has undergone a dramatic transformation. And yet, few countries in Europe are less understood than this Adriatic republic. Gratuitous violence, organised crime, human trafficking, blood feuds and grinding poverty are the images that first come to mind when the country is mentioned. This is not all due to the particular ferocity of Enver Hoxha's communism. The first post-communist decade has also produced its fair share of dark images, culminating in the anarchy of 1997. It is this dark and difficult legacy which makes the story of Albania's recent transformation all the more remarkable.
At the centre of this film are ordinary people who have found their own solutions, in the mountains of Northern Albania, in the new suburbs of Tirana, or as miners suffering from terrible work conditions. The film also tells the story of MJAFT ("Enough"), a youth movement set up in 2002 that quickly became one of the country's most trusted institutions. Mjaft sought to shake Albanian apathy and to rehabilitate a culture of peaceful protest and civic engagement. In this it succeeded to a striking extent.
If you would like to watch the complete film please go to www.standard.at/balkanexpress (due to copyright restrictions this will not work outside of Europe)
"By Christmas 2002, we were all home for the holidays. We met at a café catching up with each-other after years away. At some point, we couldn't avoid the million dollar question: 'What the hell is wrong with this place? Why is it lost in transition and led by incompetent politicians'? Our relatives would argue that the 500 years of Ottoman rule were to blame, or others would blame the communists. Yet, we couldn't help but realize that in few years we'd most likely have our own children, and we couldn't blame their broken schools and hospitals on the Turks and the communists any more. We had to find better answers. There had to be something we could do."
"Protest in Albania was associated with requesting either a change of regime, or of government. It was often violent. Protesting was also 'totalitarian', people went out only in extremely large numbers, requesting complete solutions to their problems. MJAFT! has influenced the change of that mentality: towards peaceful, often funny or sarcastic protests focused on a specific issue. The importance of the message replaced the importance of numbers."
Mjaft activists in Tirana