Corruption is a huge problem. Albania consistently ranks very low in indexes of corruption — in 2007, Transparency International ranked them #105 in the world, below Mongolia and Lebanon and in a tie with Burkina Faso and Djibouti. Inequality is very high, with perhaps 10% of Albania’s population living well and the rest sunk in poverty. And in terms of human development — education levels, life expectancy, things like that — Kosovo, Albania and the Albanian part of Macedonia are all near the bottom of the European charts.
…but that is changing fast. On the other hand, Albania has seen sustained economic growth in the 5%-6% range for a decade now. Macedonia has been growing more slowly, but was richer to begin with, and managed to avoid war and civil chaos.
The number of high school and university graduates is rising rapidly. Foreign investment is flowing in. Tirana and Shkoder buzz with new construction funded by German, Greek and Italian money, some clean, some not. Albania has a surprisingly strong SME (small and medium enterprise) sector, and many of these small firms are seedbeds for investment and human development. And while large numbers of young Albanians are leaving, many are also coming back — bringing degrees and skills from abroad.
Here are some initial thoughts after less than half a week in Moscow, Russia:
- The traffic is horrendous. It makes LA and NYC traffic look like the autobahn. By all means use the metro.
- The service at various establishments (at least in my experience) is better than expected.
- People don’t make eye contact or smile much on metro, shopping areas, etc.
- Everyone smokes everywhere.
- Free wifi is virtually accessible everywhere in the city.
- No Apple Moscow but everyone owns multiple iPads.
- Young and old alike are glued to their cell phone screens.
- Russians do love to use English words converted into Russian on a majority of advertisements (e.g. “гипермаркет” (hypermarket) кофэ брейк (coffee break) ланч (lunch) кофэ хаус (coffee house) таун хаус (town house) колледж (college) менеджмент (management).
- One facility shared by multiple churches is not uncommon.
- Social projects and sporting events are a big hit with the youth.