I’ve had an interest in Albania ever since the day, years ago, that an evangelical member of the Communist Party of Canada: Marxist-Leninist (aka CPC-ML) tried to convert me to his faith by using Albania as his example of a virtuous polity. At the time, Albania was the Ozarks of the Bolshevik portion of the world, but it was also a country on the outs with nearly every nation on the planet save Maoist China, which supported it not because it had any fundamental interest in it, but simply to annoy the Soviets. China itself was then in the paroxysms of its cultural revolution, and the excesses had become so stinky and visible that even offshore commies like the CPC-ML were trying to pretend it wasn’t there.
No doubt that accounted for the razzle-dazzle name the CPC-ML adopted, along with its espousal of Albania as the paragon of socialist virtue, but it didn’t really fool anybody. The CPC-ML were Maoists. They believed in authoritarian central planning just like all the other post-Bolshevik factions, but they put a special bonus on revolution imposed by bureaucracy—the sort that Stalin killed 20 million people with, and which Mao was inflicting on China. Like the Chinese communists, the CPC-ML got off on verbal bullying and weren’t averse to violence. And like all communists, they most often directed their violence at fellow leftists, and thus had a local reputation for going at other left splinter groups with 2x4s. The Marxist-Leninist part of the self-identification, in other words, really ought to have read Stalinist-Maoist—or “let’s club to death anyone we don’t like.”
Few people in those days knew much about Albania—sort of like today. All I knew about Albania was that it was sparsely populated, mountainous, close to Yugoslavia, and that Mozart had tagged Albanians whenever his operas needed villains. I listened to the CPC-ML missionary’s enumeration of Albanian virtues, and noticed that they were one and the same with Enver Hoxha, the—stop me if this is depressingly familiar—Glorious Leader of the Revolution there. To me, it all sounded as if a bluegrass version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution had been playing since 1945. Not surprisingly, I did not convert to the CPC-ML faith. But I did put a watching brief on Albania.
Albania is actually Ilyria—the thereabouts of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and once ruled, according to Shakespeare, by a noble duke, in nature as in name. Well, not lately it hasn’t. It is a country of about 28,000 square kilometers (about half the size of Nova Scotia) and has a population of 3 something million, 70% of whom are Muslim. It possesses some exploitable natural resources (including oil and natural gas); a lot of mountains; some arable land (most of it not under cultivation); 30-50% unemployment, and a struggling post-Soviet democracy.
It has never been a fun place, Shakespeare notwithstanding. Centuries of brutal Ottoman rule, crazy Serbs to the north, murderously hot summers, frequent droughts and famines, clans trying to eradicate one another and occasionally succeeding. When Hoxha gained power after the Second World War he modeled himself after Stalin, unleashing a terror that included collectivization of everything in sight and killing anyone who disagreed or failed to genuflect appropriately in his presence. Like Stalin, he eventually murdered his most talented administrators, along with everyone else who possessed a shred of energy or imagination. When the Soviet Union began to grow senile in the 1970s, Hoxha took his already-xenophobic regime deep enough into the darkness to attract leftist Utopian lunatics like the CPC-ML. When he died in 1985, things had become so crazed that the succession was settled by a knife-fight in the presidential palace.
The regime came apart along with all the other Soviet satellites after 1989, and by 1992 Albanians were trying to figure out how to live with the triumph of capitalism just like the other liberated-to-kleptocracy Soviet republics, albeit with even fewer social and economic resources to work with. It wasn’t much of a surprise when, in the late 1990s, the country’s developing capitalist economy collapsed after a country-wide pyramid banking scheme fell apart. For most of the world, that simply confirmed the prevailing view that Albania was the village idiot of Southeastern Europe. Since Southeastern Europe itself was considered the village idiot of Greater Europe, Albania landed too far down the scale to rate much attention in the post-Soviet reconstruction.
A few days ago, I spotted a Reuters story in one of the local papers that provides a fairly revealing glimpse of what life must be like in Albania today. The story concerned an attack on a small town in the northern part of the country by a pack of 200 “stray mountain dogs”. According to the story, “Headed by a clearly identifiable leader, the snarling pack overran the main street of the small town”, attacking nine people and more or less shredding two women caught in the open.
I’m not sure what “stray mountain dogs” look like, but it’s pretty certain this wasn’t a pack of pugs and poodles. What the pack leader must have in his canine tool-kit–along with vitality and intelligence–to form and lead a pack of 200 feral dogs beggars imagination. I’m just hoping the American Pitbull Benevolent Society hasn’t heard about this dog, because they’ll be over there tracking him in order to improve their breed. That ain’t exactly what Albania needs.
But what does any of this have to do with George W. Bush? Well, it’s this: the logical outcome of George W. Bush’s social and moral vision is that pack of 200 dogs.
Can’t see it? Well, think about the conditions needed to produce a pack of dogs that large. There were dogs roaming the ruined cities of Germany at the end of World War II, but nothing like this—packs of ten, maybe fifteen. In the worst cities, twenty? Where I grew up in northern B.C. there were real wolves that ran in packs of eight or ten, but the biggest feral dog accumulation I ever heard of was six. A gang of delinquent, oversized mutts cornered several hundred sheep in a fenced field and had slaughtered nearly a hundred before a game warden arrived and put an end to their fun with a high-powered rifle.
But a pack of 200 dogs is something that takes virtual post-nuke conditions to create, and what those conditions are is worth examining. The first condition is garbage—lots of it, carelessly produced, and indifferently disposed of. The second condition is a lot of people who feel they need to protect themselves from others—large dogs being the most benign expression of that need. The third condition required is the breakdown of the bases of what most people call civilization: physical security, civility and a nominal balance between public authority and individual responsibility. These involve a complex set of attentions, and include minor tangibles like caring for your dog once acquired, and having the physical means to do so. But it also includes some tricky intangibles: a certain level of responsiveness to what’s around you that includes the urge to keep some sort of order to things and the ability to act so as to connect with those things and with the people around oneself. In the Albanian outback where this happened, these are attentions that a sizable percentage of the population evidently no longer hold. If 200 dogs can get together without anyone noticing or caring, the general level of social and personal vigilance has to be in a serious state of disrepair.
I’d argue that a pack of feral dogs as large as the one in Albania is likely unprecedented in human history, recorded or otherwise. That it appeared in Albania is probably no accident. This is a country that has been subjected for more than a half century to the nastiest and most heartless versions of Bolshevik dictatorship and capitalist kleptocracy the 20th century produced. This pack of dogs may be more frightening, if you understand its implications, than what’s going on in Gaza, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, where at least people are shooting at one another because they believe that the world ought to be run one way and not another. The dog pack in Albania signals that a whole lot of people there can’t cope with the human condition at its most simple and practical level.
The regime of George W. Bush has imposed a demoralizing kleptocracy within the richest and most powerful country in the world. If he is re-elected and maintains this kleptocratic course, which is that of arrogating both resources and decision-making power to the service of a cluster of oil and weapons corporations and their operators, the dog packs will sooner or later arrive in Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq, and slightly later, they’ll appear in the United States. That’s because, like it or not, the power of the United States has made it the guardian of whatever kind of order is organizing the world. If the U.S. sets good standards and acts on them, the world will get better. If they set low and venal standards—as George Bush has—the world will act accordingly.
John Winthrop, in the early days of the Massachusetts colony, imagined that America would become a city on a hill that all would see and emulate. For better or worse, the human species, collectively, is now sitting at the margins of that hill, gazing upward. And behind them, in the rubble and the new wilderness, the dog packs are forming.
1580 w. October 23rd, 2004