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Arbjan and Marinela Lika
Arbjan Mazniku and Marinela Lika

Arbjan Mazniku is one of MJAFT's founders and was in charge at its policy department until September 2007.

"I believe MJAFT has been very successful in redefining the concept of protesting in Albanian society. Protest in Albania was closely associated with requesting either a change of regime, or of government, and as such, was often violent. Protesting was also quite 'totalitarian' as people usually went out only in extremely large numbers, requesting holistic solutions to their problems."

Arbjan recalls the fall of the regime in 1991:

"At the time I was 12. I remember people from the regime talking about 'dark forces' at work to destroy the system. I had these mixed feelings of awe and admiration for these 'dark forces'. Sometimes I pictured them in hoods as thieves that would break into our houses, then as glorious fighters that would change Albania into something similar to the world I saw on Italian television.

The day the statue of Hoxha was toppled, we did not go to school. My dad returned early from work, which was unusual. We learned what was happening from people in the neighbourhood, as TV and radio gave no news of the events.

I sneaked out of the house and went to the rally in the centre of town. There were tens of thousands of people and a sense of liberation gripped the crowd. I ran after the statue that was dragged to the student city.

I was in real trouble when I returned home. I have never seen my father angrier and more scared than on that day."

The year 1997 was another turning point.

"It was a period that seemed like a miracle. Everyone had plenty of money in their hands. People were selling their cars, businesses, houses, or anything they could, to invest the money in "the firms" in the hope that this would allow them to buy better ones latter. The 'firms' turned out to be pyramids and collapsed, taking down with them everything people had. There was no public order and for a few weeks we were in a total state of anarchy. Millions of weapons were in people's hands and I remember with grief the nights where the sky would light up from millions of bullets shot into the sky. It was as if we were at war only without an enemy."

"The '97 crises not only hurt the economy and the state it hurt the Albanian's self-esteem. When the Kosovar exodus began, Albanians went out of their way to help their fellows. I remember talking to some of the relief agencies staffers who were saying that the refugee camps they were building were remaining half empty. All over the country, families of four turned overnight into families of seventeen. People were helping with everything from food, clothing and shelter to blood for the wounded. The public reaction to the crisis not only helped the Kosovars, it helped Albanians believe that good things could come out of their common effort."

Arbi studied at the University of Tirana's School of Journalism. He ran the National Debate Association, together with Marinela Lika (another of MJAFT's founders). Arbjen and Marinela (Ina) Lika later became husband and wife.

When the idea for a MJAFT campaign was born, Arbjan and his fellow founders approached the Dutch embassy which had just funded a small tournament within his debate program. They were stunned when they heard  their new much more ambitious proposal  had been approved.

Arbjan describes the motivation behind MJAFT:

"After you travel a bit around the world and you return to Albania your perspective on things at home changes. People can get used to a lack of electricity, water, pot holes, and even what they expect from doctors and police. We knew that if we wanted to build a future in Albania we had to change that. We needed a way to somehow change what people expected from their everyday life.

Even in our wildest dreams at that time we did not think we were starting a movement. We thought we would just run a campaign, send a strong message, give people a pill or reality check. We picked a quote from Amartya Sen:

'The insecure sharecropper, the exploited landless laborer, the overworked domestic servant, the subordinate housewife, may all come to terms with their predicament in such a way that grievance and discontent are submerged in cheerful endurance by the necessity of uneventful survival. The hopeless underdog loses the courage to desire a better deal and learns to take pleasure in small mercies. '"

Like MJAFT's other founders, Arbjan stepped down in 2007. He is confident about Albania's future:

"Albanians are energetic and creative people. The country has gone through a series of misfortunes that have left it lagging in comparison to our neighbours. In the last ten years, Albanian society has been changing and has made colossal steps towards Europeanization. MJAFT would not have been able to exist had it not found a receptive and supportive environment all across Albania."

May 2008

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