Albania’s communist regime was so strict that, looking back, Aleks Gole compares the country of his birth to North Korea.
But, he says: “I was a child. I couldn’t understand the system was so bad. I have very good memories. It was very poor and very simple. Everybody was at the same level. Everybody shared. I enjoyed it and I was happy.”
Now a 35-year-old resident of Great Barrington in USA, he grew up in the village of Saraqinisht: “55 houses, maybe 350 people.”
Greece was close. Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro were other neighbors with strife and civil war in the 1990s after communism collapsed in Eastern Europe.
Albania’s international isolation ended in 1991 when the “socialist people’s republic” became a democracy and ultimately even a NATO-member and American ally, and a candidate member of the European Union. But as in so many countries in that region, it was not a smooth transition.
“In 1997, it was a very chaotic situation,” Gole says.
He’s searching for words to describe how pretty much all civilians armed themselves with weapons and ammunition looted from military depots. Large-scale Ponzi schemes had ruined the financial system and economy. Violence was everywhere.
“Everybody, children, they had every kind of weapon and they kill each other in accidents and, I don’t know, everything …”
Gole was 15 years old.
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