Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Shoe? Meet Other Foot.

In early 2000 I volunteered to be an election monitor for the OSCE in Albania as part of the international effort to help the Albanian government ensure a free and fair democratic election. It was an interesting job, took me to some remote places in the North, and allowed me a glimpse into some of the cultural factors which influence development and governance here.

An example?

In one voting center, I commented on the chaotic method of matching a voter's ID with the list of registered voters. Why should it take several minutes of argument and searching to look up a name on a list, match it to the ID document, and check the voter off? The local election commission member smiled when he heard the translation, and waved me over to show me.

In this small village south of Kukes, almost 75% of the voters have the same last name. To add to the confusion, the sons of "Bob Smith" take their father's first name as a middle name. This leads to Jim Bob Smith, Tim Bob Smith, Tom Bob Smith, and Joe Bob Smith all showing up to vote on the same day. Times ten! What a goatrope. Anyway, the OSCE rated the elections somewhat fair and Albania continued down the road to democracy.

(Cultural note: technically it's not a "middle" name. It's literally "father's name". It applies to girls too, so the birth certificate or ID document will read Jane Bob Smith!)

Flash forward four years and it's election time again in the U.S. of A. After the Florida fiasco in 2000, the shoe was on the other foot. Many countries actually sent observers to monitor voting in the States. I met a few who had come in from Albania and were going down to Florida to see if the insanity would repeat. They joked about how turnabout is fair play and how they never imagined it would come to this. Albania helping the U.S. ensure transparent elections!

I thought I had forgotten all that until today. I was at lunch with some Albanian friends and the talk turned to the economic meltdown in the U.S. We engaged in good-natured debate and inevitably the comparison was made between the U.S. now and Albania in 1997. Can you say "pyramid scheme?" One Albanian smart-aleck at the table turned and asked, "When the rioting starts, where should we send our peacekeepers?"

We all laughed and I made a mental note to check my ammunition supply when I go home next month.

1 comment:

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