Bruna Koci [L] and Nikki Zeqiri
Letter from Albania
Young Albanians, Seeking Independence, Caught Between Old Ways - and the New
TIRANA, Albania – During the few nights I spent in this capital city I noticed the cafes and bars in my neighborhood packed with young adults.
On the sidewalks, the women, many of them scantily and provocatively dressed to offset the late summer heat and attract the attention of testosterone-charged chaps, walked arm-in-arm in groups of three and four. The men, mostly wearing jeans and tee shirts, eagerly gawked at the women. They displayed the typical Mediterranean male traits of arrogance and cockiness but not necessarily in an unkind manner. Just boys being boys.
Albania is a developing nation only 30 years removed from a crushing form of communist rule, so traditional family rules mostly still apply. Unlike progressive parts of Europe and in the West, these singles were not shopping for one-night stands. Rather, they were stepping out for a fun evening with their friends and maybe spark the beginning of a long-term relationship. [That’s my dime store analysis of the situation having spent considerable time in similar countries.]
Knowing that one in five young Albanians were not working, I was curious to know how they funded these presumably costly evenings.
So, I did what any intrepid reporter would do. I connected with two young adults, both women, to find out what was happening in their world.
I met Brunilda [Bruna] Koci, 32, and 23-year-old Niki Zeqiri at a mid-town pub. Neither are married, although Niki lives with a guy she called her partner, a very ‘20s thing to say even in Albania.
I started with Bruna. She grew up in the Adriatic port city of Durres. With a population of over 100,000, it’s not a small town. She came to Tirana, the capitol, at 18 to attend college, where she studied economics. When she graduated in 2011, her father told her return home. The assumption was she’d find a suitable man, marry and start a family.
Bruna had little interest in that gameplan, especially after spending four years in this lively city four times the size of her town.
“Duress is too quiet,” she said. “And I wanted to be independent.”
She is employed in sales and marketing with a construction company, a job she enjoys and that provides her with a decent wage, none of which she would have been able to do back home. Bruna rents an apartment, which she shares with a friend.
Niki’s path has been different than Bruna’s, as are her goals. Her family moved to Italy in 1990, where she was born, and later returned to Albania. She studied art and design before joining Euronews, where she works in social media.
Bruna and Niki’s age difference is reflected in a number of ways, such as the lifestyles of their friends.
Bruna: “Many of the women I know are married with children. Some of them still live with their parents even though they have their own family.”
Nikki: “My friends are mostly single. They live at home. They work so they have money but use it for fun and to travel. Some of them have opened businesses on line, or they work on line. My partner works for a Swiss company and it’s on line.”
Nikki has answered my question about the status of her age group filling the bars and cafes. I decided to go deeper. Albania’s population is around three million. But as many as 10 million live outside the country, an exodus that began immediately after the communists were booted – and continues, although to a lesser extent. Many of the departed have been young adults who feel they have no future in Albania.
I asked where they stood on this issue. Again, their age difference meant different views.
Nikki: “I have a desire to stay. I love the country. But I feel limited here. I’m torn. I might want to leave.”
Bruna: “I wanted to leave when I was Nikki’s age. But I don’t want to go now. I would have to start all over and I already have a good job here. I have a good social circle of friends here, so I’m good. At least for now.”
We broadened the discussion to the current situation in Albania and how it impacts them. One topic emerged that I’ve heard from others during my visit – the state of the country’s health care and education systems. The former socialist regime universally receives high marks in this area but that has not been the case with subsequent, more democratic governments. Both women are outspoken on this topic.
Nicki: “If we need medical treatment most of us go to private clinics, where we have to pay, rather than public hospitals, which are free. But neither are very good. No one trusts young doctors because we know the medical schools aren’t very good.”
Bruna: “I studied economics and thought it was good for me. But it was all theory with no practical application. When I started working, I realized I needed more.”
The education issue has had a significant impact on Albanians migrating elsewhere. Monied families are sending their children to Europe for schooling. Once there, they are reluctant to return.
For those left behind, the question is: How can a poorly educated population lead a developing nation to a more promising future? It’s an important topic at the moment as Albania has applied for admission into the European Union – a political and economic entity of 27 mostly European nations – which would be a significant boost to the country on multiple levels.
Also troubling to young adults like Nikki and Bruna is the country’s political system, which calls itself a fledging democracy but has several parties littered with old communists and their younger cronies.
All these issues can be overwhelming to a generation trying to shed the remnants of a past they know little about. Yet these women recognize they live in a country blessed with a magnificent coastline and majestic peaks, fertile land and a population of young people hoping to rise above.
Still, concerning the future, Nikki and Bruna are divided in their optimism.
Nikki: “This country needs to heal because people don’t actually trust it can change.”
Bruna: “It will be difficult, and there are a lot of challenges but I have faith the younger generation can lead this country.”
With that I left my new friends and headed back to my hotel. Along the way I passed more bars and cafes, all of them filled with young men and women who one day, as Bruna said, will guide Albania in a yet-to-be-determined direction. In the meantime, their current attitude appears to be: Party on!
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Editor’s note: Last in a series of articles from a reporting trip to Albania Aug. 10-13, 2021.