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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Free: A Child and A Country at the End of History” by Lea Ypi, published in 2021.
According to the book (which appears to be credible although it lacks Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), Albania’s monarchist government and business leaders threw in with their Italian invaders in 1939. In 1944, the Italians retreated and Albania’s occupation by the Soviets resulted in one-Party rule. The practice of organized, monotheistic religions was banned, but Albanians worshiped a real person– a founding-father and WWII military hero named “Uncle Enver.” He severed Albania’s diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia after the war.
The Albanian author, born in September 1979, was indoctrinated to believe that her country was one of the freest on earth. Never mind that the common people had to stand in line for hours and hours daily or sometimes longer (they were allowed placeholders) to obtain such basic necessities as milk, cheese, kerosene, etc. through a voucher system. In addition, her childhood was fraught with lies about her great-grandfather and others in her family’s social circles.
Ironically, just as pedigree among the wealthy in the United States denotes social status, so the “biography” among ordinary Albanians determined whether one would be allowed to join the socialist (political) Party, and determined one’s reputation, and thus one’s work and social activities in daily life. It was guilt by association; one was guilty just by having politically unpopular ancestors, as had the author. Albanians were required, however, to attend meetings at their local civic associations.
In December 1990, there occurred a major political turning point in Albania’s history: free and fair multi-party elections; a turning point in its economics too, as its government heeded bad financial advice it received from Western powers, that invited corruption similar to that of Bolivia’s (See this blog’s post, “Jeffrey Sachs”). In the early 1990’s, for the first time (!), the author found out about or experienced: air conditioning, bananas, traffic lights, jeans, chewing gum, Mickey Mouse, AIDS, anorexia and plenty of other cultural givens the democratic peoples of the world took for granted.
Read the book to learn of the trials and tribulations specific to Albania’s people when they saw how the other half lived (hint: World Bank meddling, a civil war, education shenanigans and more).