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

Hafez al-Asad and the Propaganda of Guilt

This week we’re back to my favourite subject: dictatorship, and more specifically, how does it work? I’ve started reading Lisa Wedeen’s excellent book The Ambiguities of Domination, which is based on fieldwork she did during the 80s and 90s in Syria concerning the cult of Hafez al-Asad.  I am about halfway through and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  It is well-written, intelligent, and casually readable as well as academic.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in dictatorship or Syria. Wedeen’s extensive interviews and conversations with Syrians form the basis for her argument, which is that although it would seem … Continue reading Hafez al-Asad and the Propaganda of Guilt

Lit-Bel 6: Into the Government’s Arms

There is absolutely no reason to go to Borisov.  It is the Guildford of Belarus: about an hour from the capital, has a nice cathedral, but it has nothing else to recommend it.  It is plainly not a tourist destination; even the normally unflappable lady at the train station looked a little perplexed when we asked for tickets there.   It appears in precisely zero guide books.  This is exactly why we wanted to go – to get a glimpse of real Belarus. It all sounds like the most dreadful clichéd pretension.  But this is not ‘off-the-beaten-path’ mania.  In a place … Continue reading Lit-Bel 6: Into the Government’s Arms