Friday, February 01, 2008

Smoke Free Albania?

Here's a good post from Elvis the Albanian Blogger about the no-smoking legislation that was put into (no)effect last Spring. It was so disappointing when only after a month or so of putting the no-smoking signs up in every restaurant and bar, the management of the places started to once again place ash trays on the tables. The law itself is not the problem, it's the enforcement of the law, or rather the non-enforcement. We have a friend who owns a lovely restaurant here in Tirana and he told us how one of the government ministers was sitting in the dining room and lit up a cigarette. For me that says everything about what is wrong in Albania. But there's more to the story. It was close to midnight and when someone said something to the minister they apparently relpied "But it's midnight. There won't be anyone around to enforce the law now!"

It's pathetic. As Elvis says "it is always interesting to observe how we as Albanians want so much for things to change, but seem to be incapable of becoming ourselves that change". Let me be very honest. The foreigners who are living here (and there are quite a few), are here to help Albania change, but they often comment on how the society is functioning at about the level of a 10 year old. There are laws, put in place for the good of all the people, but when "Mom or Dad" are not looking, the children enjoy breaking the laws.

It's not only the smoking issue, driving is also uncontrolled. Yes, there are police on almost every street corner, but their function is merely to keep traffic moving. Rarely do they enforce traffic laws. People seem to take great pleasure out of "getting away with it". Pedestrians never stop at a red light, and even if you are crossing on the green you risk your life every time you cross the road.

But I digress- back to the no-smoking thing.

I know ONE restaurant that enforces the law. ONE. Plus ONE cafe. ONE. And even in that cafe which has been non-smoking for years, I had to tell a woman this week that smoking was prohibited after she lit up. Plus it's almost impossible to get a table in that cafe because it is so popular because it has the no-smoking policy.

Two years ago, the government decided to enforce a law that made it illegal to have dark/tinted windows in your car. How long did they enforce that law? As far as I know- ONE day. ONE.

Yes I know we are guests in your country, and some of us are mercenaries, and some of us are missionaries. But you have to not only mouth the words, YOU also have to be the change. You don't obey the law just because the authorities are not looking. NO. You obey it because it is better for EVERYONE. I don't obey moral laws because I am afraid of God's punishment. NO. I obey them because it makes my world a far more beautiful place to live- for everyone.

Ah, but I am preaching... forgive me :)


Lynda said...

The smoking issue is a huge one for me - I can't stand it. But then I choose to move to Egypt and it is just a fact of life here. So far I have surrounded myself with people that don't smoke.. I won't allow it in my house and I avoid places where it will make me feel sick... but it is everywhere. Thought you might be interested to read this link about a blogger here that was jailed for making political statements... scary stuff. We are not alone...

Lynda said...

Actually that was the wrong link.. try this one:

Jul said...

I feel for you! I can't imagine how frustrating that would be - even in Italy we watched a well-respected smoking ban go into force. (And then we moved to very smoky Zurich, and all but stopped going out to restaurants and bars; but now we live in smoke-free Munich and are so thankful again.)

swenglishexpat said...

This issue is truly fascinating. Most developed countries seem to have introduced laws to prevent some egotists to poison others with their air pollution. But is it just window dressing or what? Some of the national characteristics and deep-rooted traditions come into focus. The Albanian minister absolutely takes the biscuit!

An Albanian in NoVA said...

I completely agree with what you wrote and those are exactly some of the things that bother me the most whenever I'm back in Albania. However, I found this comment quite condescending:
[quote]Let me be very honest. The foreigners who are living here (and there are quite a few), are here to help Albania change, but they often comment on how the society is functioning at about the level of a 10 year old.[/quote]

Foreigners are in Albania because it's beneficial to them too one way or the other. Let's not kid ourselves. They're not (at least the majority) in Albania purely for humanitarian reasons. And yes, regardless of how wrong they might be, cultural differences do exist. The same way that you find some Albanian practices unthinkable, Albanians might feel the same way about some foreign practices.

Now, please don't take this the wrong way. It's not my intention to attack you because I have read enough of your posts and know how you really feel about Albania, and I'm also guilty myself of criticizing Albanians in an almost patronizing manner. I just wanted to point how those comments sounded to me.

Miss Kim said...

I guess it does sound condescending. Now I'm trying to analyse what I wrote :) I think I put the phrase "Let me be very honest" in the wrong place in my sentence. I meant it to go with the second half. I have honestly heard foreigners make this comment. Some have said there have been studies that support this statement, but I have not read them myself (nor seen them).

And of course, we are all here because it benefits us somehow. However, Albania is a developing country still in the beginning stages and as far as I can tell most foreigners here are here with NGO's and other humanitarian reasons. Relatively few are here for lucrative reasons.

There are certainly cultural differences at play in my personal observations, and it would be interesting to read about how Albanians view the behaviour of the foreigners here. I'm sure we come across as quite odd creatures!

Anyhow.... don't worry. I haven't taken offense at all. It is valuable to discuss these ideas with each other. Cheers!

Albanian Blogger said...

I'm glad that this issue is of concern to many of you. Thanks Traveler One, for posting about this issue on you blog as well.

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Unknown said...

Smoke free albania can't be achieved by passing any law. It can be achieved only by making people aware about it.

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