The Unofficial View of Tirana (78)


“European Love,” dominated by the Council of Europe

by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

Albania is inching forward to the third attempt to gain EU candidate status in June. After the country was denied this status for the second time last December owing to a Dutch veto, it is making considerable efforts to meet the “standards” yet again. This is a slightly perverse project, as Albania had in reality already fulfilled all key points for gaining candidate status, as recommended by the European Commission, and the entire thing was ostensibly only pushed forward to see how the new Rama government would handle an opposition filled with thoroughly frustrated ex-ministers led by a threesome of incapacitated and fraudulently elected mayor of Tirana, über-rich ex-PM, and an invisible minority “leader.” As I speculated elsewhere (in Dutch), there must have been electoral tactics going on as well from the side of the Netherlands and other countries who supported the veto, as their governments were all facing the heat from the extreme-right side of the political spectrum. However, the tentative coalition between Dutch PVV, French Front National, Italian Lega Nord, and a few other unsavory parties fortunately doesn’t appear to be all that stable, so let’s hope that after the European parliamentary elections around May 22 the air will be judged “cleared” to embrace the next target for European xenophobia and fear mongering.

All the while, there seems to be surprisingly little sensibilization inside Albania about what a candidate status to the EU may actually mean. Whereas the previous government spread around fake 100 euro bills to emphasize their commitment to suck all EU subsidies into a bottomless inside pocket, Rama has made very little publicity around the upcoming deadline. Even in December, he downplayed the favorable evaluation of the EC and the subsequent disappointment after the parliamentary rejection with the statement that his government will just continue its reforms; he could blame the rejection fully on the disastruous policies of Berisha, whereas getting the status in June would be a confirmation of his own, and supply him with the much needed ammunition to shut up his opponents.

Nevertheless, I recently encountered a marvellous piece of propaganda that I would like to discuss briefly in this post, if only because it reveals one of the layers on which “Europe” is operative in Albania. It is an “educational series” entitled “Dashuri Europiane” (European Love),consisting of twelve episodes, produced by Info Media Albania at the initiative of the Independent Forum for the Albanian Woman. The series, which is currently being broadcast on the Albanian state television RTSH, follows the adventures of a (straight) couple on their way to European integration. Already the opening animation is slightly confusing as regards the concept of Europe the series appeals to, as the lower half, below the headline “Dashuri Europiane,” is dominated by the Council of Europe bunker in Strasbourg, whereas the European Parliament building in Brussels only barely peeks out above the capital E. In front of all this archictural violence, Skënderbeg himself, the horse-riding national pride of Albania, is reduced to a flat vector image in two tones of green, as if Tirana had no iconic building to be a match for the Colosseum, Pantheon, or the Eiffel Tower (in fact, it does: when are they going to restore that marvellous Pyramid?!?).

“One heterosexual marriage certificate, please!”

The aim of the series is to inform the Albanian public about the country’s integration into Europe. Just to give you some idea of how this propaganda campaign is anchored into freshly minted policy ideas, the female lead character states in the trailer (above): “Integration through art is the best way to present yourself to the world.” But this is not all, a littlebit later, when she and her fiancé want to get married, she explicitly tells the (supposedly) civil servant: “We have come here to take the documents for a civil heterosexual marriage.” What on earth does that even mean? Is she implying that in the EU you always have to state your sexual orientation because otherwise you might confuse the state? Or perhaps she is implying that in the EU there is already this “other” marriage and she wants to educate the Albanian audience that what they call “marriage” is in fact called “heterosexual marriage”? Is that what they mean with European love?

Let’s have a closer look at the first episode. We find Linda in her room. It’s springtime and she writes on a fresh page of her diary, describing the colors, noises, and people of her hometown, Tirana. Both she and her boyfriend Vini have been born there, and like every Albanian, they are full of joy and optimism about the future. The soft focus lens emphasizes this important point. Oh, the adventures they will have together! In Europe! Cut to a plane from Belle Air lifting off. Belle Air is bankrupt, as is the company that tried to take over, Blue Panorama. I remember the hundreds of angry, duped customers gathering in front of their offices, which were in the same building as the Council of Europe, where I used to work. Yet, here it is, proudly lifting off toward Europe as if financial disaster had been averted! Next scene, the airport. Vini and Linda check in, the ground stewardess wishes them a nice trip, but fails to give them their tickets. This doesn’t upset the young couple, and they go for a coffee. Accidentally they meet Anjeza Shahini, the first singer to represent Albania at the Eurovision song festival, one of the several “European” cultural elements Albania has already been integrated into.

The meeting with Anjeza allows for a conversation that gives us some background info about our globetrotters as well as some fresh propaganda. Linda is going to the Book Fair in Paris, whereas Vini is going to Utrecht for his PhD. Anjeza is on her way to Germany to record a song that will be aired in Albania as well as several European countries. She can hardly wait! And there we find Linda’s line from the trailer: “Integration through art is the best way to present yourself to the world.” In fact, Linda qualifies Anjeza’s Eurovision song as “a passport to Europe for other Albanian singers.” And Anjeza goes on: “Art is the only way in which we unify states and colors. It’s an incredible feeling.” – “Also we are going toward the unification of Europe,” Linda adds. And Vini: “Art is number one.” Cue Hans Ulrich Obrist!

Linda and Vini then meet another “weird” guy called Sulo, who comically explains the border procedures of fortress Europe (“haha they wanted to deport me hahaha”). Linda says: “Our parents, during the system, could never imagine the day visa liberalization would come,” etc. But this: “During the system” (she means the communist period), is that how we educate our young Europeans about our own own history? The system?!? (So many exclamation marks in this post, sorry.) The episode ends with a dangerous luggage trolly (watch those wheels!) smacking Vini to the ground. Will he make it to his flight to Utrecht…? I’m going to stop here. One last question: if art is so important that in the first episode of the only nationally distributed propaganda series on EU integration, on state television, it is mentioned several times over as the first and foremost tool for European unification, how come arts and culture are allocated only a miserable 0.3% of the annual state budget?

About the Author:

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