Travels to Albania

The first question my professor posed at my first lecture at Lauder was straightforward, but daunting: “Where does Europe end?” Defining Europe’s boundaries is harder than defining those of just about any other continent. Geographically, perhaps it’s the Ural Mountains in Russia. Politically, it might be the European Community or the European Union. Culturally, further-flung Kazakhstan and Israel play soccer in the European Football Association. Azerbaijan’s currency, the manat, was modeled on the euro and even includes a small map of Europe on it, the boundaries of which, naturally, extend to Azerbaijan.

Being part of Europe – geographically, politically, or otherwise – connotes a sense of advancement and economic integrations that many ex-Communist governments hunger for. To some, it represents legitimacy and arrival on the global stage. I explored this theme during a weeklong visit to Albania after my summer immersion in Paris ended and before Wharton preterm started.

I arrived in late July at a consequential time in Albania’s strides toward integration into Europe on the same that the country’s major telecom operators launched 4G service throughout the country.
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German-owned T-Mobile and British-owned Vodafone marked the occasion with an intense advertising war. While Vodafone covered the capital, Tirana, with banners and placed large 3D letters reading 4G on the city’s central Skanderbeg Square, T-Mobile opted for symbolism directly related to European integration. T-Mobile proclaimed in its print advertisements, “Rrjeti që na bashkon në Evropë,” meaning T-Mobile’s network brings Albania closer to Europe. Using the image of a bridge, under which the T-Mobile “T” logo serves as a pillar, the highlands of Albania on the left cross a river joining the landmarks of Europe on the opposite embankment.

Not to be modest, T-Mobile also threw a large free concert on Tirana’s Mother Teresa Square complete with fireworks and small-scale replicas of some of Europe’s most famous landmarks: Big Ben, the Brandenburg Gate, and Budapest’s Chain Bridge. I showed up just in time for the concert’s main number, Kuq e Zi by Elvana Gjata (meaning Red and Black, Albania’s national colors), veritably Albania’s song of the summer and a fervently patriotic ode to the country’s soccer team. I took video of the performance and uploaded it within seconds to my Facebook account over the country’s new 4G network (despite being at a T-Mobile event, my Vodafone sim card did the job just fine). The point of T-Mobile’s marketing efforts was clear: Albania is now firmly connected with the rest of Europe.

By: Stephen Snyder, Lauder/Wharton ’17, French Program.

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