By Chet Yarbrough
Free (A Child and a Country at the End of History)
By: Lea Ypi
Narrated by: Rachel Babbage, Lea Ypi
Lea Ypi (Author, Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics.)
Eleven months after the Berlin Wall came down, the historian Francis Fukuyama called it a symbol of the “end of history”.
As a citizen of Albania, the fall of the Berlin Wall shows Lea Ypi what the “end of history” meant to her.
Albania became an independent country in 1912, after the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan Wars. Lea Ypi is a descendant of royalty in what was known in the 19th century as the Ypi dynasty.
Ypi Dynasty (Ruled Egypt for 150 Years.)
“Free” is partly a story Lea Ypi’s realization of her family’s history. More fundamentally, her story is of the inner conflict of Albanian experience with monarchy, socialism, communism, and democracy. Ypi artfully reflects that conflict in the history of her immediate family. She grows up in a well-educated, multilingual family that extolls the virtue of the French revolution, socialism, and democracy while expressing ambivalence about each. None are fans of communism but waiver between authoritarianism and democracy. Both parents, a grandmother, and their daughter (the author) critique capitalism as a form of exploitation, particularly of the poor.
Ypi explores the history of Albania that transitions from monarchy to socialism to communism to democracy. Each transition shows a country in search of itself. As a monarchy, its self-identified King fails to sustain independence. Albania falls under the control of Mussolini’s fascism. As a socialist, and later communist, country–long waits-in-line for consumer goods belies much of Albanian citizen’s belief in “common good”. As socialism evolves into communism, discontent leads to revolution in 1989/1990.
The insight Ypi offers to Albanian history is that democracy is no panacea. Having political representation in governance does not eliminate human nature’s failings.
Citizens popularly elected as representatives of the people is no guarantee of peace or prosperity. The lure of money, power, and prestige can corrupt democracy just as it does any form of government, whether autocratic or democratic.
In 2009 Albania joined NATO. In June of 2014 it became a candidate for the European Union. In a brief visit to Albania in 2017, we met local Albanians, had lunch on a private farm, and traveled through the country on a private tour. What came as a surprise is the industriousness and growing modernization of the country. To an outsider, Albania is prospering as a democracy. Ypi offers a guarded appreciation of democracy but implies concern over excesses of capitalism in democracy.
One presumes that skepticism comes from her memories of a socialist desire for common good. Democratic capitalism is no guarantee of common good as evidenced by the growing gap between rich and poor. Her story of her father’s rise as an industrial manager exemplifies her concern. Ownership orders her father to cut overhead by eliminating workers. Her father resists because he knows those workers have families to feed and lives to live. In contrast, her mother suggests people who are lazy or who do not work hard at their jobs, deserve their lot in life.
Ypi’s book should be read/listened to before traveling to Albania. Ypi offers insight to how children of her generation feel about government. The author is an entertaining writer worth one’s time whether planning a visit to Albania or not.