Observations on Albania and Australia in Eurovision

Eurovision Albanian Chinchilla

Return to Tirana

Last weekend I was back in Tirana for my second OSCAL, an awesome little open source conference that has a massively diverse audience and punches well above it’s weight. Whilst in Albania I was conducting some interviews and research for a forthcoming article on the Albanian (likely also including Kosovo) startup and tech scene(s), but more of that later.

When I visited Albania last year it was my first trip to a Balkan country and since then I have visited Serbia (twice) and Croatia. Last year, everything was new and novel, this trip I was seeing beyond that into things I might have missed.

I guess I should start by saying that despite improvements over the past few years, Albania is a poor country. It isn’t in the EU (yet), suffers from corruption at many levels, and has been wracked by wars and dictatorships over the past 100 years. So you know, give it some leeway.

It’s also important to point out that when I visit places I am often associating with a more privileged section of the population (tech employees / students). These are people who are often better educated, have better paying jobs, speak more languages, and likely have opinions counter to many of those in the mainstream population.

In summary, I may not always receive a balanced view of places I visit. I do meet ‘locals’, but maybe not ‘normal’ people.

Finally, some of these comments are going to sound negative (and they are). But they are purely observations, i still love visiting the country and love the people I have met in Tirana.

With that out the way, let me share some observations.

Dogs as Ghosts

Visitors to Albania are often struck by the amount (estimated at 7,000) of abandoned dogs wandering the streets, and I don’t know how I didn’t notice last year, as this is not a new phenomenon. Walk pretty much any street in Tirana and you will see dogs morosely wandering the streets, mostly ignored, but sometimes abused or hurt (intentionally or unintentionally by cars).

The situation has started to change, with the charity, ‘Four Paws’ starting a tagging and vaccination program last year.

The Stolen Cars of Europe

Whilst I was in Tirana I saw cars with number plates from Germany, Italy, Belgium and the UK. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t driven by natives of those countries. It’s also hard not to miss the amount of high end European cars (Mercedes, BMW etc) driven around in a country where the average monthly wage is €330. Again, these stories are nothing new, here’s one from 1998, and even a Government minister was caught driving a stolen car back in 2008. The situation is likely to start improving (I guess that depends which side you sit on) as Albania became part of the EU car registration system at the end of 2014.

Missed Opportunities

I will getting into far more detail about Albanian startup culture in my other article, but I’d like to talk briefly here about tourism, and some obvious places Tirana misses on some easy opportunities. It’s interesting as like many less developed tourist areas, it’s easy to find semi-legitimate ways to spend your tourist money (unofficial tour guides, street ‘merchandise’ etc), un yet Tirana misses many legitimate ways to get tourists to part with their cash. For example, we visited the national museum, and after an informative guided tour, were invited to ‘exit via the gift shop’. Which had next to nothing in it, few books in languages apart from Albanian, few postcards, and consisted mainly of items of ‘authentic’ clothing. I was itching to buy a book covering more of Albanian’s history, but there was nothing available.

Next we visited the National Art Gallery (who’s website doesn’t seem to work right now), and saw an amazing exhibition of Communist era movie posters. Most of us were raving about how good the posters were and how we would love to buy a print or postcard of several of them. You guessed it, nothing available. Hopefully one of my enterprising Albanian friends will plug that gap.

Australia in Eurovision

I am half Australian and quickly learnt that Australian love Eurovision, more so than most Europeans. When Australia was allowed to enter the competition last year as part of the 60th anniversary, that was kind of fun, but being allowed for second time was maybe a sign teh Eurovision has ‘jumped the shark’, if that’s even possible for Eurovision! it’s crasy enough that several countries on the extreme periphery of Europ get to enter, but at least they are vaguely close, Australia may be full of Europeans, but is absolutely nowhere near the continent. There’s also the question of if Australia would be allowed to host if it won, which it nearly did this year. Some say it would go to the UK, some say to the runner up (apparently the competition has to take place in Europe), neither of which are ‘right’, but neither is expecting Europeans to fork out a lot of money to attend an event actually in Australia. Despite our political (and ethical) wrongs most Europeans ignore those and their opinion of Australia is of a giant paradise with dangerous animals. In short, we can do little wrong, have no political issues with most of Europe, and having actually fielded two reasonably good entries (comparatively speaking).

Thanks for the fun of the last two years, but maybe it’s best Eurovision doesn’t let Australia enter next year before things get (even more) ridiculous?

Chinch Out xx