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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 01:15 GMT
Tirana: Where the streets have no name
By Rob Cameron
BBC News, Tirana

Finding one's way around the Albanian capital Tirana is a challenging task - hundreds of streets in the capital have no names, rendering maps useless and leaving visitors staring at unfamiliar buildings and scratching their heads.

Skenderbeg square in Tirana, Albania
Which way now? Landmarks act as compasses in Albania's capital
But the problem is far more serious for the local population.

The lack of street names means unreliable postal delivery and potentially life-threatening delays in answering emergency calls.

The problem dates from 1991 and the collapse of Albania's communist regime.

The old communist-era street names were torn down, but little progress has been made towards replacing them - many street signs are still scratched out or missing completely.

The problem has been compounded by the huge demographic changes in Albanian society since the fall of communism.

People in rural areas have abandoned the countryside and flocked to the cities in search of work and a better standard of living.


Entire neighbourhoods, especially in the suburbs of Tirana, have sprung up to house the new arrivals - often built without official permission.

The population of Tirana has swelled with the arrival of thousands of people from the impoverished north.

Few streets in these new neighbourhoods have names.

A group of experts is currently trawling through Albanian history for poets, writers, scientists and heroes to grace the country's streets and squares
Albanians overcome the problem by giving a series of treasure hunt clues designed to locate the building in question.

So the BBC bureau was described to me not by its postal address, but by the words "the big green building opposite the photo developers in the street facing the Sky Tower".

The system is far from perfect, however.

Attempts to find a nearby office using a similar set of instructions ended in a series of frustrating phone calls.

The person I was supposed to meet had absolutely no idea where I was, even though the name of the street in which I was standing was identical to the one given on his business card.

Anonymous avenues

In the end he was forced to send out a colleague to find me.

But while the lack of street names adds an extra sense of adventure for intrepid visitors, for Albanians it can be the source of intense frustration.

Skenderbeg square in Tirana, Albania
Many Albanians find the lack of street names frustrating
Pity the Albanian postman - new recruits must grope their way along anonymous avenues and alleyways.

Understandably, postal delivery in Albania is patchy.

Ambulance drivers face similar problems, with of course far more serious consequences.

After years of delay, the authorities claim they are now making headway in resolving the issue.

In July, parliament approved a new law on regulating addresses and defining the procedures for naming streets where new buildings have appeared.

A group of experts is currently trawling through Albanian history for poets, writers, scientists and heroes to grace the country's streets and squares.

"First we have to name the streets and second we have to make these street names clear," said Sajmir Lacej, from the Registry Office of Albania.

"But even supposing we managed to name all the streets, will it be possible for a citizen to remember 2,000 - 3,000 street names?

"The local authorities throughout Albania will have to issue maps with the street names, so people can find their way around," he added.

Missing names

Mr Lacej and other officials are under substantial pressure; Prime Minister Fatos Nano has promised that Albania will have new addresses by February 2005.

A street whose names have been scrubbed out
Many old communist-era names were torn down
Mr Nano, in turn, is under pressure from bodies such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE has highlighted incomplete voter lists as a potential stumbling block to free and fair parliamentary elections, to be held in June next year.

But it is virtually impossible to compile accurate voting lists without proper addresses.

In the past, the issue has been the subject of fierce conflict between rival political parties.

The opposition claims thousands of voters were prevented from casting their ballots at the last elections because their names were missing.

Providing Albania with proper addresses will not only help ensure letters get delivered on time. It is also a vital step towards improving the country's democratic credentials.

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