The Unofficial View of Tirana (77)


by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

A new government also brings new protests. Now that the “Democratic” Party is in the opposition, it has tried at several moments in the past few months to use the momentum of seemingly unorganized and seemingly spontaneous protests to fire up a large popular movement against the recently installed government, to no avail, however. In spite of its constant insistence on popular uprising and waves of popular anger, the majority seems for the moment to give the “Socialist” government the benefit of the doubt (I use quote marks to indicate that the ideological difference between the two parties does not lie along the lines that the words socialist and democratic seem to demarcate; both are happy to implement an IMF-driven neoliberal agenda. The main difference currently seems to be merely in terms of minimal sense of decency).

What is curious, however, about the disjunct protestettes that the official but politically handicapped PD-leader Basha hopes to embrace (in stark contrast with his padrone, Sali Berisha, the poor guy tends to lose his voice at large public gatherings, see a particularly cringeworthy example here), is that no matter which protest the PD is ready to support, they all feature large placards printed in the font Impact, which comes standard with the Windows operating system. Impact was designed in 1965 by Geoffrey Lee and has found its way mainly into headlines, and is currently used most notably in internet memes. Whenever I see these placards in one of these ultraserious outbursts of popular resentment, I have to smirk and imagine my favorite British shorthair cat. It makes one wonder, is there some kind of plancard factory in Tirana working for the PD, with a typographer who is particularly fond of cheezburger letters?

Let’s review a bit of evidence:

February 20, 2014. Protest of the PD


March 8, 2014. Democratic Women’s League.


March 20, 2014. Civil servants who been removed from office.

On all three occasions, an abundance of Impact signs. Now let’s see a protest that wasn’t hijacked by the PD (although they tried), the protest against the import of chemical weapons from Syria from November 2013:


November 13, 2013: Popular protest against chemical weapons.

However, one woman seems to stand out in the protest of environmentalists, with her white top, long black hairs and impeccably shining black leather boots, holding up her own sign right in the middle… you got it, she’s from the PD:


November 13, 2013: Popular protest against chemical weapons with lost Democrat.

And now for the final evidence, the parallel protest organized by the PD, this time with a large banner in… Impact:


November 14, 2013. PD’s parallel protest against chemical weapons.

But now that I’m looking into this (when will anyone research the contemporary politics of Albanian typography?), I’m finding also Impact as the headline font of PD tabloid Rilindja Demokratike:

March 18, 2014: Frontpage Rilindja Demokratike “Explosions Beyond Control Police”

And calls to action:

Call to protest on April 1, 2014 National Consumers’ Day (which exists, apparently).

But where does the Democrats’ love for Impact come from? Is the rather large x-height that makes it typographically ideal for big writing on little surface? Or is it perhaps because the majority of its supporters hail from the less educated strata (we could do an entire post on spelling mistakes in protests – note above  “ASSAD CHILD’S KILLER”). Or, and this is purely hypothetical, is the act of handwriting protest signs itself considered to be anti-Democratic?

Perhaps. During the Albanian Cultural Revolution, which followed the Chinese one, the Albanian government imported the means of “big character posters” (大字报, dàzìbào) as fletë-rrufe, literally “lightning flyer” (in Dutch there is the beautiful, but somewhat archaic vlugschrift). Ardian Vehbiu is one of the few scholars who written about this phenomenon, and points out that the appearance of the fletë-rrufe marks the entry of writing by non-intellectuals in Albanian public discourse. In other words, they rendered the voice of the masses visible for the first time. In this sense, the fletë-rrufe is a direct predecessor of the modern protest sign.

Thus I would like to tentatively suggest that this non-intellectual, or perhaps even counter-intellectual tradition of handwriting denunciations and calls to action is actively, albeit probably unconsciously, suppressed by the staunchly anti-Communist Democrats (even though Berisha is well-known to have buddies with Enver Hoxha’s family members) in systematically advocating typeset and printed protest signs, as if handwriting them would remind them too much of the cultural policies that furnished them with a tradition. And it seems that until now the only impact they have, is their typography.

About the Author:

Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei is a Dutch philosopher, writer and conceptual artist.