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Saturday, 6 October 2012


It was a long drive from Korçë back to Tirana. We passed countless domed concrete bunkers and a stream of political slogans. Some of these, which were as widely distributed throughout the country as were the bunkers, were on hoardings by the roadside. Others were spelled out in enormous letters on hillsides and mountain tops and could be seen for miles around. The letters forming these gigantic propaganda messages were made up of innumerable white pebbles painstakingly gathered together by children and other ‘volunteers’. This is well illustrated in “Slogans”, a film by an Albanian director made in 2001.

The film depicts a school in a small Albanian village during the late 1970s. The director has had news that an important party member is planning to visit the area. The teachers take their young pupils out onto a mountainside and day after day they collect stones and frantically prepare a giant political slogan. Meanwhile, other preparations are being made to welcome the dignitary. The great day finally arrives, and the villagers line up along the village street, waiting excitedly. The car carrying the celebrity roars right through the village at high speed without stopping. The party member being transported does not even look up from the papers that he was perusing as he was driven past the people so eagerly awaiting his visit.

The roadside propaganda was so successful that a number of the messages remained firmly etched in my brain. There were many slogans plastered all over the country, but little variety in the messages that they conveyed. “Work, Disciple, Vigilance” written in Albanian, was a common roadside exhortation. Many a mountainside was adorned with “Parti Enver” (‘Party of Enver’) or “Laudi PPSH”, which those who have learnt Latin will recognise as meaning ‘Praise the PPSH’ (PPSH being an abbreviation for ‘Partia e Punës e Shqipërisë’ - the Albanian Workers' Party. And, the words “Rroftë shoku Enver!” that translate as ‘Long live Comrade Enver’ praised the country’s only party’s leader.

In 2001, long after my trip to Albania, I began working in a dental practice in west London. Many of my patients were and still are refugees from the places in the world, which are stricken by military and political conflicts. Algerians, Iraqis, Afghans, Kurds, Palestinians, Eritreans, and many other others who have fled their far-off disturbed homes sit in my surgery and reveal the ravages that life has inflicted on their teeth. During the terrible conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, many of my patients hailed from Kosovo, and usually spoke poor English in addition to their native Albanian. Many was the smile I elicited from them when I quoted the old party slogans, and wished them ‘Mir u pafshim’ instead of ‘Goodbye’.

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