'After over 20 years of a strong international NGO presence, nearly everyone in Albania was familiar with the language of development'

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'After over 20 years of a strong international NGO presence, nearly everyone in Albania was familiar with the language of development'


Frank remembers finishing work for Trocaire in Kosovo.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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During my time in Kosovo I frequently travelled to Skopje at weekends. I enjoyed long quiet walks along the banks of the Vardar River. Sometimes on a Saturday morning I sat for hours at an outdoor cafミᄅ in the centre of the city, drinking coffee and chatting with Blerinda, who worked for CRS in Skopje. Blerinda grew up in Tirana during the final years of the Hoxha dictatorship and the years of chaos that followed. I was very interested in what she had to say about living in Tirana at that time. I did not get the hardship story that I had expected. Her family lived in a large house, with six or seven bedrooms, and employed servants to help with the housework. She remembers her school days as a pleasant time, with no great worries. It was some years later that she became aware of how isolated from the rest of Europe Albania had become under Hoxha. As protection against a foreign invasion Enver Hoxha had concrete dome bunkers built all over Albania, to be used as look - outs and places for keeping guns - 750,000 one - man concrete bunkers across a country of three million inhabitants. Hoxha died in 1985. Two decades of democracy, following the death of Hoxha and the collapse of communism, brought more chaos than prosperity to Albania. It was this chaos that Blerinda talked about most. In 1996 there was a prolonged outbreak of violence and lawlessness following the collapse of government backed fraudulent pyramid schemes. One reason why the Kosovo refugees rushed back home in July 1999 was to get away from the lawlessness of Albania. Blerinda said that anyone who had the opportunity to do so had left Tirana. With that background information I was looking forward to my first visit to Tirana. Tirana is the capital city of Albania and has a population of 600,000. Evidence from tools found in a nearby quarry suggests that Tirana has been populated for the last 30,000 years. On my first visit I found a safe friendly city that was gradually getting back on its feet. Skanderberg Square, in the centre of the city, was chaotic. Pedestrians and cars seemed to totally ignore each other's presence. A majority of the cars were Mercedes Benz. Many buildings around the Square were of Italian archeticture. During the following couple of years a youthful and enthusiastic City Mayor set about beautifying the city: illegal structures were removed from the Lana River banks; the facades of buildings on the main streets were painted in bright colours; open spaces were cleaned up and made more user friendly for both residents and visitors. The Albanian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) was one of Trocaire's main partners in Tirana. With a focus on Human Rights Education (HRE) this partnership succeeded in establishing HRE modules for trainee teachers in the education departments of five universities in Albania. The founding director of ACHR was Kozara, a forceful lady and the driving force behind ACHR. When visiting Tirana I always met with Kozara. One evening we drove into the hills surrounding Tirana to a restaurant with a good view of the city below us. After some time Kozara relaxed and started talking about living in Hoxha's Albania. Her father was a diplomat. While he was in that role life was good for her family. Then Hoxha accused her father of being a spy, detained him, and had his whole family, including Kozara, moved to a remote rural village. Others who had fallen out of favour with Hoxha were also sent to this village, where staying alive was a priority. Her father was put through a hard time, including time spent in a closed coffin. Kozara was one year married when her father was accused of spying. Her young husband decided that he did not want to be associated with a spy and left. As Kozara recalled these events tears flowed freely. After over 20 years of a strong international NGO presence nearly everyone in Albania was familiar with the language of development. Good progress was made but party politics prevented Albania from moving forward at a faster pace. Kosovo felt much better when I was free from CRS. During my first visit I met with some of my former Albanian colleagues. When they learned that I was now working with Serbs in Belgrade their enthusiasm for meeting with me seemed to fade. A few academics that I was friendly with during my time in Kosovo had formed their own NGO, and called it Kosovo Education Centre (KEC). By 2003 it was the strongest NGO in the field of education in Kosovo, and was able to generate funds from a number of donors. I succeeded in forming a partnership with KEC for a project that was aimed at supporting Children's Rights (CR) in primary schools throughout Kosovo. KEC staff members worked hard, and were a pleasure to work with. By 2006 there was a great buzz and a great feeling of achievement in this CR project. Attitudes and relationships among teachers and pupils had changed, and there was a firm belief that there would be no going back. The question of the future status of Kosovo has dominated thinking and influenced decision - making in both Albanian and Serb communities since 1999. For a number of years progress was at a standstill as UNMIK pursued a policy of 'Standards before Status'. An outburst of violence in March 2004 resulted in a new policy of 'Standards and Status', and led to talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. As part of a new geographical focus Trocaire decided to phase out of The Balkans in 2006 as all current projects reached their end dates.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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