Not Flat, but Variegated: Albania Rising

            I’ve always been bothered by Thomas Friedman’s thesis that the “world is flat.” Friedman generally ignores ongoing (growing) structural inequities associated with globalization. And he exaggerates the positive potential of market reforms to “lift all boats” (to use another common metaphor). As one wag put it, in a frighteningly apt analysis in these post-tsunami days, in a rising tide the only boats that stay afloat are the ones that aren’t anchored to something. The rest get swamped.

            So I’ve been wondering about anchors and migration here in Albania.  Albania is a very “anchored” place.  Its history goes back millennia.  Not all of it is rosy.  The region flourished for 500 years under reasonably benevolent Ottoman rule, but its independence since 1912 has been a rocky road.  Italian Fascists took over during World War II.  And a ruthless Communist regime prevailed for much of the post-war period, down to 1999—producing economic devastation.  It’s hard to imagine exactly what Albanians will celebrate on the centennial of Independence in 2012. 

But the last decade has been promising.  In a talk last night at Epoka University, the rector characterized the twentieth-century as one in which we “lost too many people.”  He then hoped that the twenty-first might be a century in which “we don’t lose people any more.”  He anticipated a century when “information circulates freely, and people flourish.”

My sense of Albania is that it is a center of migration these days, and that it is rising.  At the International School, the students were a variegated mix.  Albanian and  American, Turkish and German, Kazakh and Argentine, Kosovar and Serb.  It is this variegated dynamic, rather than a “flat” world, that appears promising to me. 

Albania is 70% Muslim, 30% Christian—more or less. The Muslim presence is Sunni, but with strong influence from Bektashi Islam—a Sufi variant I’ll write more about later.  With an increasingly open economy, beautiful Mediterranean climate, abundant (green) resources, Albania seems poised to rise—with benefits for the entire Balkan region.  The place of religion in that rising is crucial—and about that, more shortly.