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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
The mayor who brought colour to Albania
By Jacky Rowland
BBC correspondent in Tirana

Edi Rama
Edi Rama: Mayor on the move
Albania was once the most isolated country in Europe and its capital, Tirana, was blighted by socialist architecture and decaying infrastructure.

After the fall of Communism, there was a free-for-all. New buildings went up in an unchecked manner but no-one bothered to fix the roads, the power cables and the sewage system.

Now, however, Tirana has had a facelift.

The new Mayor, Edi Rama, was first elected into office in 2000 and has cleaned up scruffy avenues and repaired roads and public buildings. But the mayor's unconventional approach and his strong personality have ruffled more than a few feathers.

Mr Rama is a former artist, basketball player and culture minister.

The programme of a mayor should not be the colour of the city. It's the life of the city, the life of this community, and not the colour of the buildings
Spartak Ngjela, Democratic Party
He is a big man with big ideas, and has made colour his trademark: paintbrush-wielding teams have turned grim concrete facades into a blaze of colour and abstract designs.

"I'm not sure I am a politician," the mayor told me, standing on a balcony overlooking the main square of Tirana.

"I would say that I am still an artist and I'm trying to use politics as an instrument for change."


But not everyone's impressed with the changes.

Spartak Ngjela of the Democratic Party took me to a viewpoint on one of the hills surrounding the city. He ran against Mr Rama in local elections last year. He says the mayor is all style and no content.

Painted building, Tirana
Colourful, abstract designs now adorn Tirana's buildings
"Aesthetically you can see change or transformation, but the quality of life is the same," Mr Ngela told me.

"The programme of a mayor should not be the colour of the city. It's the life of the city, the life of this community, and not the colour of the buildings."

The mayor takes this kind of criticism in his stride: after all, he won the election with a comfortable majority.

I followed him as he toured the city, checking road-building and projects to clean up open spaces, and it quickly became clear that people either love him or hate him.

An elderly woman embraced him, while moments later an old man harangued him.

Tirana street scene
Roads and buildings have been repaired since Edi Rama came to power
"It's always a problem of choices," Mr Rama said. "I strongly believe in political activity that has to do with choices - and not consensus that sometimes covers problems and doesn't resolve them."

The mayor has persuaded the private sector to get involved in the regeneration of the city, often without any payment.

When he wanted to remove illegal buildings that were littering the riverside, he got some local constructions companies to do the work for him, as a favour.

The trouble with favours is that they have to be repaid - and some people have questioned the way municipal contracts are handed out. After all, corruption was the name of the game under Communism.

But the mayor says bribes are a thing of the past.

'Nobody's perfect'

Edi Rama is always on the move, with his mobile phone glued to his ear. He comes across as a man who gets things done through the force of his own personality. His detractors accuse him of arrogance.

"Things can change only through strong personalities," he said.

"I am not very good at supporting ignorance and mediocrity, so maybe this leads to arrogant gestures and arrogant responses. So, nobody's perfect."

With that, the mayor of Tirana left me and drove off into the dusk.

This larger-than-life character looks set to outgrow his current job. Before long, he may start looking for a larger canvas to work on.

Albania tries image makeover
18 Aug 02  |  Europe
Country profile: Albania
12 May 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Albania
08 Feb 04  |  Country profiles



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