Geert Lovink on Sun, 11 May 1997 17:38:19 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Report from Edi Muka/Tirana

from: tel/fax 355 42 38524

[this is a edited version of a report by Edi Muka from Tirana/Albania,
which arrived by fax last friday. Edi is an artist and is an assistant
professor at the Academy of Visual Arts in Tirana. There is an
interview I did with him on nettime (29 Sept. 1996). Concerned about
his situation after the chaos broke out in Albania in march, we tried
to contact him by fax and finally by hand delivered letter. We had
asked Edi to write a piece for nettime. In a personal letter he writes:
"I'm a bit better now and we started the school again. The situation in
Albania is still confusing and we are not very clear about how it will
go." It is nearly impossible for him to leave the country because all
Western embassies refuse to issue visas, for example, he says of his
experience with the German embassy: "They take all documents in and in
three days inform you that you can't have a visa. They don't give any
explanation at all in these regards. Tell me if this is not
discrimination." In april he was refused entry to Great Brittain to
attend the LEAF conference in Liverpool. But we do not give up and try
to get Edi to Ljubljana and/or Kassel. - geert]

Media situation and the general atmosphere in arts in Albania
By Eduard Muka, Tirana, May 1997

Following the elections of May 26, 1996 -- widely denounced as iregular
by the international community and the national independant media --
the situation in Albania deteriorated very quickly. Seeking political
benefit, the government of the Democratic Party (the 'DP', which
illegitimately won about 90% of the seats in the Parliament) allowed
the rise of strange structures called "charity foundations". These
structures were get-rich-quick schemes, initially little more than
money laundering. The political euphoria spread very quickly to all
levels of Albanian society, and in a few months time almost everybody
was putting money (mainly their savings) into these get-rich-quick
schemes. Promising fabulous returns (three times more than the original
investment), the schemes swallowed almost all the savings of the
Albanian people -- building a sort of castle in the air where everybody
could have money without working. Trying to maximise their benefit, the
DP avoided any information about the functioning of such structures --
in the beginning they ignored, and later forced the governor of the
Albanian National Bank to stop warning about the dangers of such
structures. Of course the danger was eminent. After a while the first
scheme started to fall and became bankrupt. In a couple of months
almost all schemes had fallen, swallowing the money of the Albanian
people. Having been assured in advance by the government and the
President about the legitimacy of the schemes, people's anger towards
the government and the DP started to rise. With the fall of one of the
important schemes involving the south of Albania, the revolt burst out
and sparked the political and social crisis.

Despite Albania being an underveloped country there are still media
structures: only one TV channel covers the entire Albanian territory,
and this channel is controlled by the state (i.e. government, ruling
party); recently several local TV stations were set up which cover the
city or its surroundings; there is only one national radio station,
controlled by the same structures as above; and a couple of (relatively
recent) independant radio stations that can be received on FM
frequencies located in Tirana. There is no law at all concerning
electronic media. For this reason most of the independant structures do
not give any news, information, comments, or analysis at all,
especially if it is has any political content. There are several
independant and political newspapers, the distribution of which only
covers the main and secondary cities and leaves out the villages, where
over 60% of the population live. There is an e-mail system in Albania
but there is no free access and it can only be made use of if one
belongs to an institution. Most people use the UNDP server to get into
the system.

The relationship of the Albanian people towards the electronic media is
typical of ex-communist countries. For 50 years all media structures
were mere propaganda which was received in three different ways. Not
having capitalist structures, the middle class did not exist. The
society was and is still divided into three main groups (not related to
the economy but to the favorable or otherwise conditions of living).
The first one includes people living in more culturally developed
centres, the second are people living in secondary cities, and the
third are those in the villages. The attitude of the first group
towards the media was one of absolute rejection. Rather than the
propaganda coming from the TV screen, they searched for other sources
of information such as western radio-stations and TV channels (those
few that could be received secretly). The second group, that generally
had both possibilies, was indifferent to both of them but submitted to
the psychological effect of the propaganda. The third and largest group
received and understood only the national media and was totally under
its influence.

The overthrow of the communist regime in 1991 was supposed to change
this situation totally, and in the years to come improve the change.
But expectations fell short. The media infrastructure didn't change at
all and its management worsened. For strictly political reasons the
alternative spaces and ways of thinking were marginalised, and the
opposite viewpoint was almost physically eliminated. The only space
that allowed the breathing of free thinking was the independant
newspaper "Koha Jone".  The electronic media controlled by the DP
continued their propaganda, totally ignoring the opposition and the
alternatives. Strangely enough this was supported by European
politicians who seemed to have two very distinct ways of looking at
democracy. The attitude of the Albanian people towards the electronic
media became even more rejective due to the rise of some independant
papers, and BBC and Voice of America radio programs in the Albanian
language. And last but not least is the e-mail system.

The first to warn about the upcoming crisis were the independant
newspapers. Parallel to their continuous critique of DP policies, they
began to analyse the so-called "pyramid schemes", and publish the
warning by the IMF to the Albanian government. Their publishers and
journalists received the first serious threats. But this was not enough
to stop people from putting their money into the schemes. Only when the
first scheme collapsed did people begin to demand their money back.
Being unable to do this, one scheme after another started to crumble.
The civil protest began to rise. But the TV channel, still in the hands
of the DP, remained indifferent to these protests and called the
hundreds and then the thousands of protesters all over Albania
"communists and terrorists". This increased the already large gap
between the television and the people. In this period the role of the
foreign radio stations became crucial. They reported real events and
analysed the causes of the crisis. International TV broadcasters also
began to show an interest, and Euronews and CNN started to broadcast
stories about Albania. Since it was possible to get these two news
satellite stations in the main towns, people could compare those images
with the ones being broadcast on Albanian TV. The hate against state TV

The situation worsened and the DP, instead of calling for new
elections, declared the state of emergency. With this, they completely
isolated Albania from the rest of the world. They decided to ban the
frequencies of the radio-stations, close all newspapers and take over
all the previously mentioned local TV stations. Fortunately, the
closure of the satellite frequencies lasted only 48 hours, but it was
not the same for the radio-stations. People started to look for them on
the shortwave frequencies, which cannot be banned. But the newspapers
remained closed for more than one month and the office of the biggest
independant newspaper "Koha Jone" was burned down by the secret police.
During this time, e-mail remained one of the most important sources of
information, unfortunately with very little access.

The only existing server in the country, UNDP, was part of an
experimental program meant to give NGOs and universities access.
Independent persons cannot make use this from their homes. Few
institutions make use of an AOL account, which is very expensive as
they have to make an international call to Switzerland. In the early
nineties the telephone system was in a disasterous state, but the
joint venture with the Italian Telecom brought some improvements. One
Italian company offered to build a net, but that was rejected as it was
thought better to let Albanian Telecom do it. On the political side,
net systems are a possibility to escape the control of the DP and
that's why they did not allow such a thing to grow, or to make a law
for the electronic media. It is believed that outgoing e-mail from the
UNDP server is monitored.

E-mail was one of the important news sources during the first days of
the state of emergency. All persons who could make use of it passed
the information to others, who passed it on and so forth. Because of
the fear of control there was more information coming in from outside
of the country than information going out.

With the spread of weapons the situation quickly escalated and the DP
decided to back down just a little. There is now the Government of
National Reconcilliation, which the DP constructs many obstacles for.
The ban on the press was lifted, and schools were re-opened by the end
of April in most parts of the country.

The situation in the arts and culture continues to be sad, as most
intellectuals and artists -- old and young -- have fled Albania. It is
difficult to start the school again, not only because it's difficult
to talk to students about art now, but also the lack of equipment is
more evident than ever.

Anyhow, we are trying to bring the students together again, to create
the necessary atmosphere for them to work. It is an effort similar to
that of a doctor trying to bring life to a patient in coma. Of course
we will succeed some day, but it is hard for the moment.
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