It’s very strange to go from obscurity to the center of attention.
Just last month most people in the international community probably had no idea where Albania was on the map. But now it’s name is plastered all over television news thanks to the pending decision of sending Syria’s chemical weapons here to be destroyed.
So today I want to share an important opinion with you all. Not my own, but rather that of the Albanian people. Okay not all the Albanians, because that would be impossible (everyone has their own opinion and all), but the Albanians that I deal with on a daily basis and have the pleasure of debates these hot topics with.
All week long at my school we’ve been talking about this issue, and no one can seem to agree. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to reach consensus at the UN when there are even more opinions in the room. Regardless, in general, how do most Albanians feel about all this? Very badly.
In 2007 Albania was the first country to uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention by destroying 18 tons of Mustard Gas from its communist past. But one year later in 2008 a munitions depot outside the capital wasn’t monitored well and exploded, killing 26 people and wounding 300. So why would you choose a country riddled with security issues, corruption, and no infrastructure to destroy these chemical weapons? Okay we did just fine with 18 tons because the US invested $45 million to help us do it, but 1,300 tons?? And yes, that’s the projected number that’s incoming. To most of my students and fellow teachers it’s terrifying. They think their government is just in it for the money and is disregarding their livelihood and future wellbeing. They think the government is just sucking up to the US and to the EU. Yes, they want to seem like a reputable part of the international community, but not at the risk of their own health and the health of their environment. Pretty reasonable if you ask me. But what do I know.
My kids did have some great solutions though. So all you UN representatives and ambassadors who read my blog, take notes! First up, let’s put them on a boat in the middle of the ocean and destroy them there. Or better yet, how about the Sahara dessert or Siberia? My personal favorite, why don’t we build a rocket and send them into outer space. All sincere attempts to fix the problem, but every time asked them, “okay but do the animals deserve to get hurt anymore than we do? Do those countries deserve this anymore than Albanians do?” They were all speechless. Wouldn’t it be better if chemical weapons didn’t exist at all? Resounding yes.
Meanwhile Macedonians, Italians, Kosovars and all the rest of our neighbors are protesting over the chemical weapons coming so close to their homes. Where is Albania in all of this? It’s their doorstep! Despite the outrage that poured from every voice when we talked about this, when I asked if they were going to protest the response always seemed to be “but I have a math test and I have to study, so only if I have time.”
Albanians are not stupid people. They are not ignorant and they are not dispassionate. But they do have a problem speaking up for themselves sometimes, which is why it was so cool to see my students and friends taking to the streets and “protesting” for real this time. I don’t really care what they are protesting about, which may seem weird to you. But honestly, it’s like watching the kid who gets picked on every day in class finally stand up for himself and punch the bully in the face. Not that you can condone that kind of behavior because you’re a teacher and role model. So secretly you hide your smile and the pride in your heart. That’s me today. Watching people march in the streets and take control of their country after decades of hopelessness and apathy. It’s a beautiful thing.
Especially since Albanians are probably the calmest and quietest protesters I’ve ever seen. At least in Shkoder. First, a woman spoke over a megaphone while everyone listened. Then they took turns being interviewed by the tv crews while everyone watched. Then we walked down the street holding our signs and quietly carrying on conversation. A few times people tried to start chanting “I want Albania clean” but it never really caught on. Peaceful, calm, and quiet. But the sheer number of people spoke volumes.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”