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Migrant Lives

Albania, The Brutal Demographics Of A Neverending Exodus

Since the fall of communism in 1991, the small Balkan state has been slowly but inexorably emptying itself, at the pace of incessant waves of emigration. With an aging and declining population and a birth rate in free fall, it is facing all kinds of challenges.

MEMALIAJ — It is 1 p.m. on a summer Saturday, and only the barking of a dog breaks the silence in the street of this small Albanian town. The sun illuminating Minatori Square doesn’t change a thing: there’s not a soul to be seen in this former mining town in Southern Albania. On the steps leading up to the cultural “palace," there is no one. Behind the drawn curtain of the old kepuce italiane ("Italian shoe") store, no one. In the red-brick buildings that threaten to crumble into ruin: no one.

“There’s nothing here anymore. No work, no money, no bread. Everyone left after the end of the dictatorship," says Stefan Arian, a 60-year-old man who speaks rusty Greek, sitting at the Café Qazimi, one of the few businesses still open. It’s hard to picture that, not so long ago, this abandoned town was one of Communist Albania’s great working-class centers. Built from scratch in 1946 to exploit the nearby coal mine, the city counted up to 12,000 inhabitants in its heyday. Barely more than 1,000 remain.

Memaliaj isn't the only one: Kukës, Zogaj, Përmet, Narta — there are dozens of such towns and villages in Albania. From North to South, the small Balkan state is criss-crossed by semi-ghost towns, with few or no inhabitants. It is the mark of a unique demographic phenomenon: since the fall of the communist regime 30 years ago, the country has been slowly but inexorably emptying itself through incessant waves of emigration.

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This Happened — August 26: Mother Teresa Is Born

Mother Teresa was born on this day in 1910.

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Albanian Abandon

After six decades of good old film photography, I decided a couple of years ago that it was time to switch to a digital camera. One of the first series with my new gear was in Albania — this particular photograph under the watchful eye of Albanian soldiers.

Gendercide: Aborting Female Fetuses Occurs In Europe Too

Abort until a son is born.

Having a girl is bad news in China and India, where female fetuses are too often aborted on purpose. But, according to a new German documentary, even Europe is not free of the horrid practice sometimes called "gendercide."

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Eurovision 2015 Contestants: Albania

The 60th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, that annual European musical event that no one really understands, will take place on May 23 in Vienna, Austria. This year, 40 countries will participate, including, for the first time that country down in the extreme southeastern corner of Europe: Australia. (organizers cite “strong cultural ties” to explain their qualification).

We will use this space to introduce the 40 contestants this year, one-by-one.

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Albanian Newlywed Drama

Getting married is hard work. This Albanian couple was taking a break from their wedding photo shoot in the ancient Roman theater of Butrint. Located in the very southern tip of modern-day Albania, this archeological site was known as Bouthroton in Ancient Greece and later as the Roman city of Buthrotum.

This is one of the very first pictures I took with my new camera. Still getting used to it...

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