Albania, the small Mediterranean country that once was ruled by the Medici and itself apparently ruled Egypt under the Ottomans, has legalized bitcoin this summer with it to be treated as a digital asset.
Despite now 30 years of capitalism and some profitable companies, Albania has no stock exchange at all, but it does have a legal framework to regulate crypto exchanges with licensing requirements.
“To make the most of the benefits of this technology, but also to address a number of potential risks, such as the creation of fraudulent schemes, or unauthorized schemes to provide virtual assets, the risk of using virtual assets to money laundering, as well as market manipulation, a complete legal framework is needed in order for this activity to be regulated,” the Albanian government said while the law was passed last year.
Kosovo in contrast has not passed a legal framework, but it has recently announced a new policy to prohibit bitcoin mining with this move appearing to be an extension of tensions with Serbia which two decades on has still not normalized relations with Kosovo.
With Albania, Serbia recently signed an agreement together with North Macedonia in what is being called the Open Balkan, a free trade area. With Kosovo however there were border clashes recently in tits for tats.
Albania and Kosovo can potentially be seen as East and West Germany in as far as these are one peoples that were partitioned during the fall of the Ottoman Empire almost precisely a century ago.
The fall of the Russian Soviet Union was followed by a more bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia that led to Kosovo’s independence.
Serbia continues to refuse the acknowledgment of that independence, and Serbian minorities in the north of Kosovo where it borders Serbia itself, are apparently refusing to pay electricity, at a cost to Kosovo of €12 million a year, in protest of Kosovo being independent as they do not recognize their own government.
There were reports of some in that region bragging they were mining with free electricity. Hence this move by Kosovo can be seen more as due to special specific circumstances rather than an actual policy on bitcoin.
Albania in contrast is very stable. A NATO member next to Greece and Italy, its security is guaranteed beyond its own mighty bunkers and vast mountains.
It has a bitcoin ATM, as does Kosovo, and its Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke last month about blockchaining the land registry.
Albania has some coders. Its once torn down schools have been renovated with their outwards appearance now European, but they do lack actual computers although coding is part of the high school curriculum, as is English from 5th grade.
There are some coding and design studios that tend to export to its far bigger neighbor, Italy, where an estimated 800,000 Albanians live. Albania’s own population being about 3 million.
The somewhat chaotic shift from communism to capitalism in the 90s, and its still very low median wages of about $250 a month, has led to almost all towns and cities in Albania, except Tirana and Durres, decreasing in population.
Talented men and women have left, some not quite using their talents in their new lands, with whole villages now empty. Only ancient houses so continuing to tell their story:
Many of these villages however are close to running rivers and other water sources. The one above in particular is not far off from a fairly beautiful scenery:
The infrastructure is a bit atrocious once you get out of the city or town and into the mountains. Some driving roads are not even paved at all, with a gradual worsening of the infrastructure following you as you go up the mountains. But the view can be enjoyable:
In contrast, cities and their connections tend to have European roads, all nicely and newly paved with it hardly discernible that you’re in Albania rather than Britain where the roads are concerned.
This lack of infrastructure on the hills and mountains most likely means Albania’s hydro resources have not been fully utilized.
In addition Albania is the sunniest country in Europe, with it raining in Albania just as often as full clear skies appear in UK, that is to say a clear blue sky is often the day.
It thus has much potential for self-resourced mining through private energy either from hydro or from solar panels.
Land is cheap to potentially free in remote areas since much has been abandoned. You’d have to deal with the infrastructure, but curious enough there tends to be wi-fi internet, even at the very top of the mountain.
If you have to rely on the energy grid instead, there are very occasional five minute blackouts, indicating it’s a scarce resource which may attract backlash, but if you’re contributing to energy infrastructure, there isn’t much reason why the government shouldn’t even support bitcoin mining considering the much needed direct and indirect investment, tech and commerce that it may bring.
The Forgotten Greece?
Albania happens to be at a pretty important geographic location. Some speculate based on genetic analysis that the early bronze age may have been invented there, with a speculated exodus occurring at the time to Germany as that Bronze age collapsed.
Pompey fought Cesar in Durraco, now called Durres, and the term a Pyrrhic victory comes from here as the then Principal Pyrrhic kept winning against the Romans, but each win weakened the far smaller Principat.
It is through Albania that the then Byzantium, and now Istanbul, was connected to Rome through via Egnatia, an ancient trade route that has somewhat been preserved in some places in Albania, with it going through the beautiful seashores of Greece to eventually end at the great City.
All this makes Albania a fairly unique melting of cultures. Mostly white to oliv-ish and European with some blond, you have the Turkish mustache, the far rarer Arab beard, the preacher with the Bible, and you can never easily tell just which bible it is with the great churches of many denominations and the great mosques just footsteps away.
There’s also the even greater wine if you can get your hands on it, usually home made and for private consumption.
The still exotic and pretty expensive fig has made its way to UK, but it is rarely as delicious as from the tree when it is most ripe. Another common fruit, locally called mana, white berries, are even more delicious and have not quite yet made it to UK as far as we are aware.
That trade gap is probably in part due to the Albanian liberal faction losing to the then Russian backed communists during the second world war, which limited trade to eventually bread lines in the late 80s and very early 90s, creating a regional gap that potentially opens new opportunities now that Albania is European.
The Brits Are Coming?
Prior to its beaches becoming more known, Albania was probably best known for welcoming George Bush when he was pretty unpopular.
That speaks to a wide culture of staunchly pro US and Europe, in great part because pretty much every Albanian household has family members in America or Western Europe, and because they’re held to a high esteem in regards to the rule of law and much else.
Some of Albania’s neighbors however are a bit more in flux because Europe’s failure to integrate the region causes problems due to a lack of an alternative solution to the Balkanization of the Balkans.
There is however no alternative for Albania because the only way a lot of these problems can go is to have open and free trade as well as free movement. The European solution.
Yet that looks unlikely for the whole region any time soon, in part because Bulgaria is vetoing North Macedonia’s access on matters of identity itself. The EU has tied Albania to North Macedonia, so Bulgaria is effectively vetoing Albania too, creating a stalemate in their very own neighbourhood.
As such, UK appears to see an opportunity. “Britain’s newest ally in the battle against Xi and Putin? Albania,” says The Times, although Albania has normal relations with China.
“Britain has started to court Rama, hoping to boost investment in Albania, a Nato member, and to reinforce a relationship between the countries that began a century ago,” it says.
Times are very different now than a century ago when Albania had the same standing in the Ottoman empire some decades before it collapsed as UK now does to USA.
More recently Turkey gave Edi Rama a very grand welcoming as he seemingly mediated negotiations between Turkey and Greece during some significant tensions.
Greece hosts about half a million Albanians and Greeks in general appear to be very friendly towards Albanians. There is still no open border and trade between Tirana and Athens however, one being in the EU, and the other still not.
Yet Albania is gradually becoming a relevant actor. A new gas pipeline to Italy and wider Europe from Azerbaijan now goes through Albania with regional pipelines then flowing from it.
In Albania itself however gas is hardly used because the infrastructure isn’t there, household heating so being wood stoves or electricity.
But that is beginning to change with newer apartments having internal gas powered radiators. Yet a lot more can be done, with the good news being that a lot of it also seems quite easy to do.
A New Monaco?
Dubai is investing some €2 billion (10% of Albania’s GDP) to build 12,000 homes in a 14 km area called the Durres Yacht & Marina. Emaar is to construct it.
The area looks like pretty much any Western European country with the usual order, amenities, and services, including schools and hospitals, all on warm beaches.
But you won’t be able to easily go from Durres to Saranda down below near Greece, except by boat or road, because there are pretty much no trains in Albania.
There used to be one between Tirana and Durres, which is about 20 miles in distance, but even that has gone.
One of the most productive investment in Albania therefore would be to get a modern train line from Tirana and Durres down to Saranda and then to Athens as well as ideally one through the Egnatia road to Istanbul.
Then upwards from Tirana/Durres to Shkoder, which can connect through Montenegro to Croatia where the already established trains take you to Milan, Berlin or Warsaw.
That would be our priority if we were in charge of the country because plenty may make those train journeys just for the scenery, but more importantly because it would supercharge goods trade.
The work needed is far less than from scratch because a lot is already there, although it does need modernizing. It’s just the country connection points whether to Greece or Montenegro were cut off during the isolation of communism.
Croatia and Albania, at least where the peoples are concerned, appear to be very friendly. At a diplomatic level however it appears only recently some work has began towards more cooperation with talks of opening a port line between the two.
To supercharge trade also through rail would make Montenegro important for both countries, and so the least EU can do is integrate Montenegro, but it isn’t very clear just what Germany is thinking as they’re building a rail-line through the less aligned Serbia and down to Greece.
Britain however may change calculations for Albania. They’re good train-builders, and they do have a mistake to repay in backing the communists instead of the liberals.
Another interesting fact is that Polish people seem to love Albania. They holiday there and are generally very welcomed. Even Serbs are welcomed, with Albanians in Albania far less prejudiced against their neighbors as some of their neighbors appear to be.
That makes this all a very interesting triangle. From Turkey to Greece to maybe Croatia but certainly to Poland and to UK. Italy… well has been a bit absent for its own self so, but is just a good leadership away and may be underway of seeing its regional responsibilities again.
With these new friends, which includes Dubai, it isn’t hard to foresee that Albania can be turned into a more affordable Monaco within even ten years.
Because there is little that is difficult to be done, and any investment would be safe for decades or foreseeability as it is extremely difficult to see Albania move even a bit away from being fully European because it is pretty much totally integrated through family ties.
As such, it isn’t too difficult to see why Britain sees opportunities, and as far as Albanians are concerned they’d probably like to sell them even more figs, or nowadays potentially bitcoin as beyond a mini Monaco, the modernization of Albania’s finances with stocks and the rest and a more regional outlook to it, near-ish Turkey and so on, can potentially within a generation make it a finance pit-stop at least.
With some wit, one can even look further to Algeria where their population is more disadvantaged to the point they look up to Albania, in part because it is ostensibly muslim although it is very secular and 40% are actually Christian.
And through there perhaps even Egypt to give this small Mediterranean country a fairly big regional outlook that its geography maybe requires as it did prior to the 20th century.