‘Free’ Coming of age at the End of History: A book about a child during Albania’s transition into democracy

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Lea Ypi, Professor of Political Theory at the Government Department of the London School of Economics and adjunct Associate Professor in Philosophy and Social Science Research at the Australian National University, introduced her book titled “Free – Coming of age at the End of History” during Euronews Albania’s nightly show Ilva Now.

Defined by the author as a semi-autobiography, semi-philosophical essay, ‘Free’ talks about freedom and what it means to be free and have responsabilites, for an individual living and growing up at a time of one regime transitioning into another, namely communism to democracy.

“The book speaks about a child growing up at the end of the 1980s in communist Albania. It is a novel about upbringing and a novel about growing up, where the main character grows up and crosses from childhood to adolescence, while the country is living through the same transformation.

So, it’s a child looking for freedom in a country that is too looking for freedom,” says Mrs. Ypi.

Conceptualized as an episode actually lived and felt by the writer, the traumatic passage described in the book is the impression of a child that is stepping into adolescence, realizing that she has been living a lie and what she has been learning in school and in her family were two completely opposing worlds.

“In the book, I write about a very normal child, growing up in an abnormal and extraordinary world.

…On the one hand, are the moral lessons being taught in school and on the other, lie the secret and censored conversations in the family. This is the traumatic passage being described in the book, of a child that is transitioning to adolescence, understanding that the school and the family led her to two different directions. Meanwhile, the country was undergoing the same trauma. Something that also comes to mind is a kind of collective confusion the Albanian society was going through,” recounted Lea Ypi.

Professor Nora is another very important character in the book, who according to Lea was one of the main sources of her upbringing at the time.

“She was the teacher of ‘moral education’ and she was the one teaching you the basic concepts needed in a socialist society that had yet to achieve communism, which was seen as the utopia we all had to aim for. A trauma, was when finding out my teacher had lied to me, telling me that I lived in a society that was free.

Those we considered enemies of the working class; were the ones I had been living with every day. Because of censorship, my own family couldn’t speak openly about the fact that we were persecuted. While I was being educated to become a model socialist citizen, my parents weren’t doing anything to prevent this,” tells professor and writer Lea Ypi.

The book cover, showing an empty can of Coca-Cola holding a rose, is another truly interesting moment. The author says that it portrays the fact that even in a repressive regime, human relations can flourish.

“The Coke Can and rose are described in one of the chapters in the book, where I write about a quarrel that aroused between a neighbor and my mother, who had both bought a can but one of them disappeared and this caused an argument.

It was a family we shared a close relationship with and a sort of reciprocal trust that was broken the moment this can of coke came in between.

And with the rose, I believe the Polish graphic artist who created the cover, wanted to say that even in a repressive regime, human relations can still flourish, and [these relationships] have in fact served to keep the system but they have also made it possible for many families to survive within the system.  It was a very interesting combination; to trust others completely and to not trust them at all. And even in that society, where the empty can represented status, a society could still flourish,” tells the writer of ‘Free’.

 

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