Eastern economist looks west

January 27, 1995

Albanian communism was the most repressive and the most isolated of the various systems in force in central and eastern Europe. Albania initially had links with the Soviet Union, and subsequently China, but in the end it stood alone.

"Bunker mentality" could hardly be a more apt description in this case -- all but the most remote parts of the country were covered in concrete pillboxes to ward off foreign aggressors.

Isolation had a devastating effect on the country, which, with a population of only three million, could hardly be expected to be self-sufficient, either economically or culturally.

In the circumstances, the university system did remarkably well, though the regime's regulation of thought made academic life a cruel farce for anyone working in the more ideologically-charged spheres.

Gramoz Pashko is one of a number of prominent politicians who were academics under the old system. A leading economist, he was deputy prime minister in the "stability government" that followed the collapse of communism and a key architect of its free-market reform programme. For him, working under the previous system was a constant struggle: "When I was teaching the history of economic thought the only thing I could do was just to describe the doctrines. I was severely criticised most of the time for not being partisan and criticising the doctrines," he said.

Such a posture was risky at the time and it is painfully ironic that, since leaving the governing Democratic Party in 1992 to co-found a new party, the Democratic Alliance, Pashko has been the subject of police harassment.

These days he is a visiting professor at Strathclyde University and his articles are published in the West (there are no outlets at home).

He is under no illusions about the difficulties involved in getting the university system on its feet. He believes a complete volte face is necessary to eradicate the old habits of thought.

Asked whether Marxism, which has played such a significant role in western social and cultural studies, could have any sort of life in the Albanian university of the future, he says: "You can teach Marxism as a doctrine, the problem is how to disinfect other sciences from Marxist methodology. I fully agree that in the history of doctrines for instance, or in philosophy or even in history, you can explain what Marxism taught. But we must clean our sciences totally of Marxist ideology.

"Ensuring that economics is understood from another point of view -- that's the difficulty at the moment."

Pashko believes that too many Albanian students are doing research in other countries and argues that little of their work is relevant enough to Albanian problems.

"My philosophy is much more radical: we must try to limit this moving back and forth of people and ask the European donor countries to give scholarships for people to study here. It would not cost too much money for the European Union countries to give Albania, say, 500 scholarships a year. That way we could build a new intelligensia."

Practical problems are undermining the efforts of the pitifully paid academics to push the education system forward. Pashko identifies three areas presenting the most pressing problems -- rewriting the curricula, paying teachers enough to make it worth their while, and publishing text books and academic journals.

Either way, he is convinced that it is imperative to start from scratch. "In the end we can say that all our education or all our research, even if it was abundant during the Communist period, is worthless for the present situation."

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