Rinas – Nënë (Mother) Tereza – Tirana International Airport

Tirana International Airport - Albania

Tirana International Airport – Albania

Tirana International Airport is officially known as Nënë Tereza but is still referred to locally as Rinas, the name of the nearest village.

The airport is small and not particularly busy making the experience of arriving or departing from there not that unpleasant. Although very close to the city centre as airports go it’s worth bearing in mind that the traffic virtually grinds to a halt at certain times of the day (especially the miss-named morning and evening ‘rush hours’) so take that into consideration if you need to travel at those times.

On the other hand if you travel when it’s quiet you race through. Leaving my hotel, not far from Skënderbeu Square, I got into my taxi at 04.00 on the dot for an early morning flight and was in the departure lounge at 04.21, and that was after checking in luggage, going through security and passport control.

Finding consistency at security controls worldwide is an impossible task. The only requirement that was new to me at Rinas was the fact that my computer notebook not only had to be separate from the rest of my luggage but it had to be open. Why? I haven’t a clue – and that might have changed by the time anyone reading this goes through the process. However, it’s worth saying that Albanian immigration/customs have been some of the easiest and most straightforward I have come across in the last few years, this in all the possible means of entry, by road, sea or air. In comparison, try getting away from or into the UK at Liverpool, that’s something else.

There is no longer any entry tax.

There are a number of ATM’s, after clearing immigration and customs, situated in the Arrivals and Check-in Halls for Albanian currency.

There are no left luggage facilities at the airport.

Rinas is not a busy airport and will close after the last flight has departed/arrived, whichever is the later. If you want to avoid paying taxi prices then think of other ways of getting to or away from the airport in the night-time (or plan for a possible 3-4 hours out in the cold).

Getting to/from the airport and Tirana city centre.

Taxi: 07.00 – 21.00, €18, 2500 leke (€20, 2800 leke, outside these times)

Bus: On the hour, from both the centre of Tirana and the airport, from 06.00 – 18.00. In Tirana the bus leaves from behind the National Museum in Skanderbeu Square, at the same place the international buses leave, in front of the Tourist Information Office. Cost: 300 leke.

For more information, for arrivals/departures, airlines and general information about what’s on offer go to the official airport website (in English).

 

The English Cemetery in Tirana Park

English Cemetery, Tirana Park

English Cemetery, Tirana Park

On Sunday 11th November 2012 the British Embassy organised a Remembrance service at the English Cemetery in Tirana Park, behind the State University, in the centre of the city. There were few people in attendance, as the English community in Tirana is relatively small, but included the British Ambassador and the Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Berisha.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in countries which fought against Fascism in the 1930s and 40s but in Tirana such an event is loaded with a political significance that goes beyond commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of young men.

Albania was never a significant theatre of war for the British armed forces, although for the intelligence community the country was important from the very beginning of the war and they were always looking for a way to influence the eventual outcome of the conflict. This primarily, until the German Nazis were on the point of being thrown out of the country, meant war supplies being air dropped into the country under the auspices of the SOE (the Special Operations Executive). After the war it was officially dissolved but its operational expertise was absorbed by MI6 in its anti-Communist activity during the Cold War.

A total of 53 British troops lost their lives in Albania and the headstones in this tiny part of Tirana park commemorate 46 of them. (To put matters into perspective an estimated 30,000 Albanians died during the struggle against Fascism, out of a population at that time of little over a million.)

However, this war grave has only existed since 1995. As the Commonwealth War Graves Commission states the ‘political situation’ at the end of hostilities (and continuing until the early 1990s) prevented any representations for such a memorial being received favourably by the Albanian government.

Berisha’s presence at this service was not merely, or even nominally, prompted by respect for those who fell in the fight against Fascism. The country only recently (in 2009) joined NATO and when I was travelling around the country earlier this year I came across more British soldiers than I normally do walking around most towns in the UK. Also Albania has applied for membership of the EU (a vain hope, I would surmise) so it pays to keep in well with his masters. I sometimes think that Berisha is so far up the fundament of the west that you can barely see his shoes. His promotion of the return of the remains of the dictator and collaborator, who made the country no more than a vassal state to Italian Fascism in the 1920s and 30s, Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli (King Zog I) certainly doesn’t mark Berisha down as a staunch anti-Fascist. The ‘celebration’ of this return to the homeland was to take place less than a week later.

But there is one aspect of the this British War Grave that is different, I would suggest, from any other similar place in the world. I alluded to this situation in my earlier post on the present location of Enver Hoxha’s remains.

And this revolves around the red marble memorial stone which is the centrepiece of the cemetery.

Enver Hoxha’s tomb was originally to the left of the huge Mother Albania statue in the Martyrs Cemetery which overlooks Tirana, a short distance from the city centre on the road to Elbasin. His remains were exhumed in 1992 and he was reburied in the city’s main cemetery on the western outskirts of the capital.

Now I’ve read in a couple of places of the ‘grandiose’ nature of his tomb. Now one person’s grandiose is another’s modest. Have a look at this image taken before 1992.

Enver Hoxha's tomb in Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery

Enver Hoxha’s tomb in Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery

Now have a look at this picture of the British memorial stone.

Main Memorial Stone, English Cemetery

Main Memorial Stone, English Cemetery

Anything look familiar?

What about this close up?

What are those holes in the memorial stone?

What are those holes in the memorial stone?

Notice the little holes above the grey slate with the Albanian writing? (If you are wondering the Albanian translates into: ‘In memory of those in the English military who fell in Albania during the Second World War.’)

This is Enver Hoxha’s original tomb stone, the holes being where his name would have been originally! Now I’m all for recycling but this is the first time I’m aware of such conscientious re-use of a slab of marble. This is even more so the case in a country where the Albanian for recycling is ‘throw any rubbish wherever you like, preferably a water course’.

Why was this piece of stone used in this way? Did, or even does, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission know about this? They don’t say anything on their website. Was it something like the Catholic Church’s use of Christian religious symbols in their destruction of indigenous religions in countries like Peru, the so-called ‘extirpation of idolatry’? Was it to demonstrate to the British Government that after all their attempts to destroy the Socialist society from 1946 onwards that they had finally succeeded? Was it because the country was so strapped for cash that they had to look for a second-hand memorial stone? Is it meant to be a sign of respect towards the British dead? Or not?

This just seems to me to be a little bit bizarre.

The Albanian: ‘Ne kujtim te ushtarakeve Angleze te rene ne Shqiperi gjate luftes se dyte boterore’ translates as: ‘In memory of the British military who fell in Albania during World War II’

 

Independence for Catalonia!?

Nationalists in Tarragona bull ring

Catalan Nationalists banner in Tarragona

As a referendum about Scottish Independence approaches I thought it would be useful to hear about another region of Europe that wants the same thing, Catalonia wanting to separate from Spain. Here are the ideas of a Catalan from Barcelona.

Michael, here you have my opinion about this issue you asked for after the recent elections of November 25th.

In Madrid the official centralist mass media says that independence is now not possible as CiU (Convergència i Unió, the party of Artur Mas) doesn’t have an absolute majority, but they forget that ¾ of the new Catalan Parliament belong to political parties who support the call for a referendum on self-determination.

ECONOMIC REASONS

The reason why CiU saw its support fall on November 25th is simply because the Catalan people didn’t like the Messiah-like campaign which Artur Mas implemented. And also, of course, because of the very important economic reasons working people have for being angry with the ruling class.

A CERTAIN ‘END-TIMES’ FEELING

The monthly magazine Catalonia Today, in its latest issue of December, says:

“… an end-times feeling has become a common one for many families in Catalonia. Thousands have lost jobs and homes, and what is worse, the hope of replacing their losses in the near future. During the year, the media have been full of financial horror stories about high risk premiums and devaluation by rating agencies, while the financial problems of banks and administrations have become the daily bread of a society increasingly concerned about its future. The great demonstration and general strike on November 14 is just the latest proof of a growing discontent…” (1)

Nowadays, the savage, neo-liberal measures, put in place by the Spanish government of President Mariano Rajoy (PP, Popular Party) have been even reinforced and deeply worsened by the Catalan government of Artur Mas, with the consent of the so-called Catalan socialists (PSC, Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya).

FIRST CUTS MADE BY ZAPATERO

This PSC, which is federated with the PSOE, is being more discredited now than ever, because everybody knows it has also been responsible for the aggressive cuts initiated by Zapatero years ago. These cuts, being now even greater with the policies of the PP government, allow us to say that the high degree of desperation afflicting the Catalan and Spanish working class is not only due to the global crisis but also – and above all – to the savage and oppressive measures used by the ruling class to confront this crisis.

CiU IS BLATANTLY RULING CLASS

And the CiU is a political party of the ruling class. A very conservative one, using the nationalist feelings of Catalan people in favour of the economic interests of the Catalan capitalists. We must also take into account that the heirs of that Catalan capitalism, which very much helped General Franco during the Civil War of 1936-39, are not all inside the Spanish nationalist right-wing of the PP; they are also inside the Catalan nationalist right-wing of the CiU.

THE POWER OF THE CATALAN MASS MEDIA

Today the power of the media depending in one way or another from the Generalitat (Catalan government) is bigger than ever before… and they are completely biassed and manipulated. The only image of Spain they are selling now in Catalonia is centralism, aggressiveness against Catalonia and not at all sympathetic. Any other Spain, different from this, doesn’t exist in the eyes of the CiU.

For example, the fact that, some weeks ago, the 3rd Spanish political party in terms of numbers of votes, IU (Izquierda Unida – United Left) voted in the Spanish Parliament in favour of self-determination for Catalonia, has been totally ignored by the Catalan media dominated by the CiU. This media are simply clubbish and this Catalan nationalist right-wing is deeply anti-left; they don’t want to even talk about changing proportions in the laws regulating polls, which now are clearly in favour of giving much more advantage to the right-wing parties. So the Catalan left is scarcely represented in the Catalan Parliament and, in any case, less represented than the Spanish left in the Spanish Parliament.

… MAYBE BACK TO SPAIN

In the face of that nightmare very few intellectuals dare to push in the right direction. Professor Vicenç Navarro of the University of Barcelona is one of them. Some of the ideas expressed in this article are also his.

However there are moments of hope, like during the big demonstration on November 14th or some days ago, when the Financial Times considered – on an economic level – an independent Catalonia is possible.

As long as Spaniards don’t treat us, the Catalan people, like brothers and sisters independentist feelings will grow even more and they won’t be able to stop them.

I would propose that, in a near future, if Spain again becomes a People’s Republic of the Workers, established on a basis of freedom and justice for all, then we must call for another referendum, in order to go back again to this new Spain. I feel I’ve more in common with a single jornalero from Andalucia, or an industrial worker from Bilbao, or a fisherman from Galicia than with all the Catalan bankers and bosses together!

Francesc Arnau i Arias, Barcelona, 13/12/2012

To read more about Francesc’s ideas click on the link below (in Catalan)

Des de la finestra

(1) Catalonia Today, No. 0359, December 2012, Annus horribilis, by the editor Marcela Topor.

Although slightly dated (it was written in the 1970s when the issue wasn’t independence but devolution) here is a pamphlet written in opposition to dividing the working class on issues of nationality.

Unity not Devolution