Albania, Bahrain, and Autocratic Popular Geography

The Black Hole of Tirana The Albanian capital of Tirana will never be able to fully purge itself of totalitarian urban planning.  The city centre was designed by the Fascists during the Italian occupation of Albania in the 1930s, and they installed wide streets and open squares, perfect venues for holding military parades.  After the war, during the Communist period, this design was augmented with angular Stalinist constructions (the Palace of Culture and the National Museum) in the centre and high-rise concrete residence blocks in the outskirts.  Enver Hoxha [pronuncation] was a man who understood the propagandist potential of space: … Continue reading Albania, Bahrain, and Autocratic Popular Geography

Adventures in the Unnamed Country

In this installment of the increasingly irregular summary of my now distant Balkan tour, we turn to the (Former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia.  No article about Macedonia could be complete without addressing what Wikipedia, in its unbiased wisdom, calls the Macedonia Naming Dispute. When Yugoslavia broke apart in 1991, Macedonia was the Republic Which Got Away.  Its separation from Belgrade was painless, and the Yugoslavs were glad to move their army out – they were going to need it in Croatia.  But almost immediately, a rather large problem arose: the Greeks, to the south, didn’t like the name of the new country because they already had … Continue reading Adventures in the Unnamed Country

A Brief History of Modern Albania

Of all the countries we visited on this trip in which we spent enough time for me to feel I can judge them properly, Albania was the one I liked the most.  This is probably because I’ve been obsessed with Albania for years on a level comparable only with Georgia, and for largely similar reasons.  I was therefore absolutely convinced that I would enjoy Albania, so enjoy it I did. Albania’s recent past is one of the more absurd bits of European post-war history, so I’ll run you through it quickly. After the Second World War, Yugoslavia’s head of state … Continue reading A Brief History of Modern Albania

Croatia and Montenegro

CROATIA: Our journey from Mostar to Dubrovnik can be best described as circuitous.  Dubrovnik is a coastal exclave, isolated from the rest of Croatia by the city of Neum, which is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s only coastline.  In 1699, when Dubrovnik was its own nation-state, it voluntarily gave up control over Neum to the Ottomans, mostly in order to form a powerful buffer between themselves and the Republic of Venice which lay to the north.  The anomaly has remained ever since. The area around Dubrovnik is mountainous, so it is best to approach along the coast.  To do this from Mostar, … Continue reading Croatia and Montenegro

The Other Side of Bosnia

Mostar is, in many ways, another Sarajevo: another divided, destroyed city.  Another city where your political surroundings can change very quickly just by crossing the street.  Another city buried in a valley, surrounded by vantage points from which its enemies could hurl down shells – the Ottomans have a lot answer for. But Mostar comes from the forgotten side of the Bosnian Wars, that period in 1992 when the Bosniaks were under attack not only by the Serbs but also by the Croats.  Much of southern Bosnia towards the coast has traditionally been the preserve of the Croats; it was … Continue reading The Other Side of Bosnia

Bosnia, or Everybody Hates Dayton

Sarajevo is the capital of a country which has no government.  It isn’t in a state of anarchy or chaos.  It simply feels like the government got up one day and left, and life carried on as normal, with everyone hoping that the government would come back at some point before too much could fall apart.  That day was back in 1995, and the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are still waiting. We only hear of Bosnia today in connection with the capture or sentence of a former war criminal is a distressing indication of how completely the West has … Continue reading Bosnia, or Everybody Hates Dayton


As you may know, I find the psychology of autocracy totally fascinating.  Last week, I spoke about Lisa Wedeen’s book The Ambiguities of Domination, which raised the question: “What is the point of a cult of personality which nobody believes?” In other words, how is it that a government with an ideology that most people know is false can use that same ideology to control people? Here are four explorations of what that sort of situation does to someone and why that makes it effective. (1) It makes people very aware of their own situation and their role.  For a … Continue reading Meta-Domination