It has been a busy day, enduring the pelting rain in the Albanian capital.
My purpose was to meet with various public figures and discuss ideas about investment. The first port of call was The President of the Republic. As the traffic in the crowded streets of Tirana began to delay us, I got out of the inevitable Mercedes and strode out, in order to meet my appointment on time.
I was-just- on time, but President Moisiu has a military sense of timing. I was reminded that "punctuality is the politeness of Kings", as I arrived in his office about five minutes later than 11.00. Nevertheless it was interesting to see way that such a man engages with the new Albania. As a general in the Albanian army he was given the job of building the famous "bunkers"- three million pill boxes- that the Dictator decreed. Although Hoxha was a megalomaniac, even he must have been surprised by the effectiveness of the army in completing the task. President Moisiu is known as conciliator, and I reflected on the strange twists of fate in the life of this man. Behind the President's desk I noticed the insignia of the Order of St. Michael and St. George- the British diplomatic order, originally founded during British rule over neighbouring Corfu in 1817.
A later meeting was with the fiery Prime Minister, Sali Berisha. My Albanian hosts were astonished to discover that the PM devoted as much as 45 minutes to a one-on-one meeting. Yet we had much to discuss. I was prepared to find a professional controversialist. In fact I found a man still engaged with ideas, and angry that the legacy of the dictatorship was slowing him down. As he outlined Albanian plans for a flat tax and a whole raft of reforms, I must admit I grew more and more impressed. Despite his pugnacious form of expression, I sensed a determined leader- albeit one challenged from every side.
Albania is still a backward and neglected country- and one with low levels of social capital and major corruption problems. Despite all of this, it has been transformed from the ghost town of my first acquaintance into a country that has achieved many things, but hopes for so much more.
As the rain hits the windows of my hotel bedroom, I gaze across the city. The low levels of water in the rivers is causing problems in the power system, which is almost entirely hydro powered. Lights across the city flicker, and sometimes grow dark. Yet as the rain comes down I reflect that the dams must be filling up. Though the politics remain poisonous and personal, though power generation is now at crisis levels, yet the Albanians remain indomitable in the face of these problems.
Albania this December is a surprisingly hopeful place.