Politics Requires Pillars

Women / July 28, 2014

Ky postim ekziston gjithashtu në Vesionin Shqip

This woman is crystal-clear in what she thinks, in what she stands for. She is new to politics, yet she seems born for it. She was spotted out by for- mer Prime Minister Berisha, who offered her a job in the government upon watching her appearance in televised debates. Grida Duma is the strong female voice of the Democratic Party of Albania. She says that nobody can prove one’s attachment to the country other than by doing politics geared towards improving everyone’s economy.

What is your take on politics in Albania? Let’s take a wide angle so as to avoid talking about petty details.

To me, what you called “petty details” make up our daily chaos. Petty skirmishes escalate into personal clashes, on personal matters, with particular names. We are overwhelmed by petty details all the time; through them, political debates are channelled into issues of little or no importance to the lives of most of us.
In fact, our petty details are the iron lid on the top of that deep manhole that leads into what really vexes us. We live today in a situation of anomy.
Every time one turns one’s head, one is sure to spot names rather than issues. The rules of the game are missing. Sound principles are lost to us. Politics needs them both. It needs clarity and ideological differences between what are left, centre and right, between differing opinions on what is right and wrong.
We miss that. People vote based on their personal acquaintances, they vote based on their immediate interest or on their expectations to run a profit, big or small, sooner rather than later. That happens because in terms of political identity nothing makes a difference any more. Politics is sick, people are sick of it. Meritocracy has been lagging behind politics for some time now.
If one compares Albania’s first pluralist parliament with today’s Assembly, the difference is really striking. The overall level of educational and social attainment of most of today’s MPs is visibly lower, compared to say, ten or twenty years ago.
Recently I read an article written by one of the brightest minds of the left wing.
Sadly, the article justified campaign lies; it did so by using some rather inept comparisons with the U.S.; it argued that “leaders lie over there as well”. This way of excusing immorality shows the depth of the problem: it shows our entrenched inability to move politics from mere politicking to a development agenda.
We should be able to see clearer: who represents what, what is left-wing politics, what is right-wing ideology, what is the added value of centrist ideologies to development; what are the alternatives to bring Albania back to the track of economic growth. These should be what we would like to hear in everyday discussions instead of what you termed “petty details”.
You know, if all of us are a bit better off, it’s much easier for most to push away politicking and appreciate real policy-making.

What is your prognosis on the economy for the four years to come?

The best way a politician can prove her or his attachment to the country is by actually doing something for the economy. Increasing our per capita income will enable us to overcome Albania’s everlasting dark side – an entrenched, all- embracing poverty, in terms of financial and human resources.
Of course, by a better economic situation I do not mean absolute growth, which is quickly eroded by inflation more than in the early nineties.
The surge of public debt, the burgeoning taxation of the middle class, the division of the business sector in “left” and “right wing contributors”, the massive firings in the public sector and the massive replacements through party militants, triggers nothing but depression.
If we are serious about improving the situation, we should be able to engage in a fight with the “demon” that blocks the engine of the economy.
Regretfully, I have no positive prognosis to make. Uncertainty runs high; crime has recently preyed upon people with a high profile in the country’s business scene. This makes my current reading of the situation not optimistic.

What is your opinion on the women in politics? Do you see advancement or regress?

Women’s representation is a complex thing. On the one hand, there are too few women newcomers, to the point that the legal gender quota of 30% can’t be fulfilled. To me, those who claim that women actually sit in the parliament because of the quota, squarely miss the problem.
If we were to really aim at the application of the quota, then we would have it fulfilled by now. If we were serious about gender equality, women would not relinquish their parliamentary seats to be replaced by the next best man in the party list. The legal framework in force is a formal, ineffective arrangement that doesn’t help women’s participation.
Of course, in addition to the gender quota, more women may be co-opted into politics just as another facade. Both phenomena aren’t helpful to the cause of gender equality.
Nonetheless I maintain that women MPs are rather competitive in the parliament, and in many cases superior to most of their male colleagues. Just to sum up, I don’t believe we have reached a substantial progress in this matter. There remains much more to do, both in terms of numbers and in terms of quality of women’s representation.

How did you get involved into politics? How were you invited to join and why do you believe in your political party?

A public invitation to join a political movement is the formal part that easily springs to the eye. Real political engagement is a vocation. Politics is a total investment. It takes many tough choices to make that investment; you need to identify resources within and outside yourself – and try to commit them. You need to give up on plenty of things, regardless of whether you are in opposition or not. I maintain that I have what it takes to engage in politics. I believe in the strength of the individual first, then in the strength of the organised community.
Let me explain this: I think that personal well-being comes first. If one is fine with oneself, one may be able to do something good for the fellow man. I believe in the strength of those who believe in what they do every day. No-one can distribute or redistribute wealth if one doesn’t generate it first. To distribute you need to accumulate.
Under the Communist regime, Albanians were forced to relinquish the natural mode of production for many years. They were forced to abandon private property. They were cut off from their own creativity in business matters, in the name of the benefit for the community, in the name of “us”, as set against “mine”.
What we now lack is a prolonged period of economic well-being. Ten or twenty years of higher per capita income cannot make up for generations of severe hardship. Once you reach a certain level of well-being you get the strength to decide upon your own fate. My beliefs are very much anchored in the right-wing ideology: I maintain that there can be no Marx if there were no Adam Smith.
Whoever ignores one of them ignores the whole picture. As to your question, on who invited me to enter the realm of politics, the answer is simple: former Prime Minister Berisha. He spotted me out in televised debates. He invited me to join his government.

Overall, people think you’re quite a capable person. How hard is it to find one’s place in life?

Thank you for saying that this is an overall perception. It’s hard to find one’s place in life; one is never really done trying to do that. It gets tougher every day. I started work as a very young girl, as I tried to help my parents make both ends meet. I got a job immediately after high school, in parallel with my university studies. I tried to apply for scholarships abroad. Then I started to participate in international students’ debates. I got more and more on my plate and it never became less.

What is your take on the right way of conducting a political debate?

I tend to agree with anything that is not influenced by prejudice or political bias. I try to spot my mistakes and to address them.
There are many reasons why somebody manages to dominate a political debate. First, if you have a good argument, people might be more willing to listen. People won’t always agree with you, but at least they will listen. There are many things that block one’s message, including prejudice, social and gender stereotypes. I know all too well those stereotypes, especially when applied to women speaking in public.
There is quite a difference in the public perception of women versus men. Every time a woman wants to make herself heard, she runs the risk of being perceived as contentious, rather than strong. In an identical situation, a man is just considered to be a successful public speaker.
At any rate, I have made my way into the public debates, so I don’t worry very much if they consider me contentious or call me the usual names.

Do politicians benefit from good looks?

The outer appearance, the physical fitness, the good heath, the good looks and everything that relates to our shining outer shell tend to provide more self- confidence to each of us. I would tend to say that my looks did help me – most of the time. It is a fair observation that most of those who really care about their lives take good care of themselves, and that includes the outer appearance. This is some sort of biological wisdom.
Of course I dismiss those who attribute to good looks merits that actually lie elsewhere.
One cannot be attractive to the public if good looks are coupled with interior ugliness: this can bring more trouble to the good-lookers than one can think. It is easy to be jealous of one who looks good; so, it’s much easier to attack him or her, and even more so if you’ve got a good argument.

Men against women, men who fear women, sexists… How do you deal with these issues?

I would not say that politics is made up of men fighting women, or the other way around. In many cases, women get precious support from men – and vice- versa. Yet, men, socially speaking, have been around for many centuries more than women in the public sphere. Globally, women are just entering their first century of active participation in politics. Men are still more of a political animal than women.
At times they look better after another. They are better at accepting a given reality and following a decision. On the other hand, men feel the dualism of a capable woman who cannot rely on peers as men often do. In many cases, women fail to lobby for women. Maybe inside themselves, many women see in another woman a fiercer competitor than in a man.

Why do women often fail to be more effective in this regard?

Maybe our negotiation skills, taken as a global average, aren’t that mature yet. Women may negotiate effectively up to a certain point, but then they may give up, because of missing self-confidence and lack of peer support. They might be afraid to lose everything. Women have a good perception of alternatives – and lack thereof. This might hamper their determination in pursuing legitimate goals.

Who is Grida Duma actually?

I try to put my education to good use, for a good project, for a good cause. Time is too short to be superficial. I have a passion for moving things forward; I believe that one has to decide within oneself whether to build or to destroy. I try not to waste energy in whining about problems when solutions are within reach.

Some years ago you won the prize as the best debater in the Civic Education Forum for Central and Eastern Europe. What is your recollection of that event?

I still remember noticing one Russian student who had obviously made extensive use of the opportunity to read most of the texts we were debating about in their original languages. That reality made a lasting and powerful impression on me. Albanian students came from a closed system; all we had were our notes from the lessons, and most of the translations were inaccurate.
I simply could not believe that this Russian guy had the original texts of de Tocqueville, Machiavelli and Foucault right there, in his hand, right when we debated the question of power. On top of them, he had his hands full with contemporary authors and articles. At that time, I understood the extent to which we had been cut off from the rest of the world. Yet, that gave me more reason to try to catch up, to read as much as I could, mostly in English, even though I didn’t master it fully at that time.

Is the ability to debate something you learn or is it rather a gift?

There is some natural inclination, and there’s of course some effort in it. One can be a natural, yet if one doesn’t build up one’s capacities, all one can spit out are senseless words. On the other hand there are plenty of people who can be very charming speakers in the absence of cameras, away from live audiences and large crowds.
Still, in order to be a good public debater, you need to have a grasp and a clear head on the issue at hand. You have fractions of seconds to decide what to say and how to respond to the colleague on the other side of the table. You must have the needs of the audience in mind, and you need to follow a mental map that guides the debate towards the message you want to give.
If you have nothing to give to the audience, then it will quickly understand that what you’re hurling at them are just a bunch of words. Overcoming an opponent in a debate is not an end in itself; it’s just a means to advance your cause.

As a former Head of the Sociology Department at the Tirana University, what is your take on the ambitions of today’s students?

In my opinion, today’s students show less patience, less trust and less optimism. Of course, the same phenomenon is visible in Western Europe, yet I rather selfishly maintain that our own burden of pessimism is heavier. Today’s generation can’t really count on meritocracy as an alternative. It is tougher for today’s students to answer the question: “What should we study for?”
It’s hard to argue that “knowledge makes a better person out of you”, if they can’t figure out what is “better”. At times I try to use statistics to make my point. I argue that the ones who completed a university education have better chances in life. I always try to motivate them to attend my courses.
Yet, I sense a lack of genuine drive towards studying, towards reading. Of course, part of the blame lies with the professors. Often, students face inexperienced, untalented professors, who lack the qualifications to teach in a university.

You were the Deputy Minister of European Integration for almost two years. How does it feel to have a woman boss? Do women manage to get along?

Women can get along perfectly well in top positions. They can also totally fail to get along. It’s a matter of choice; it’s a matter of personality. It is not related to being a woman or a man.

What was the most interesting moment in that position?

The Ministry of European Integration was a goldmine in terms of information. It enabled me to get to know almost everything that was going on in the other ministries, and what is more, it helped me consider them from a European perspective. Few people know the real importance of that ministry. Its mandate was shaped in various ways according to the differing perspectives different people had on it.
The Ministry of European Integration has a unique role to play – co-ordination. Co-ordination in the Albanian or Balkan context, especially in our institutional culture, is a very hard job. Every minister tries to look after his or her turf; the ascendancy over one’s sector is jealously protected, even though everybody knows that no sector can be covered by one ministry alone: things are complicated, things are intertwined. In this context, I learned a lot during my term of office.

Your son Darien is 9 years old now, and Ilir, your husband, is your life-time companion. How do you manage to find time for yourself, your family, and your work engagements?

True, work takes its toll on my family time. At times I feel left out from it. Often I have to deal with this with an “I must”, and then I go on as I can. I think I may be quite a boring person for my family at times.

What does your daily routine look like?

It’s a typical day of an average person and average mother; just add it up to more and more work. I normally eat lunch in the office; seldom I can go out for a lunch. My working day rarely ends before 7 or 8 pm.

You have published two books; you have run a whole university… is there some top achievement you’re aiming at?

I try to do my best every day, for that day. I accept the fact that a human being is conditioned by one’s circumstances. We are conditioned and also shaped by our circumstances. Therefore all we can do is to carve a part of them in our favour.
I am conscious of the fact that only a part of our reality can be improved or changed. So I first try to deal with what I have within my reach. At the end of the day, I need to feel that I have done everything that could be done.

Empowering Women in Politics

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Rezarta Delisula
Rezarta Delisula
Rezarta Delisula punon si gazetare që prej vitit 1998. Ajo ka punuar në Gazetën Shqiptare nga viti 1998 deri në vitin 2005. Pas kësaj eksperience, ka punuar në Gazetën Panorama deri ne vitin 2007 kur u rikthye përsëri në Gazetën Shqiptare duke ushtruar detyrën e zëvendës-kryeredaktores.

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Politika Ka Nevoje Per Kolona

This post also exists in English Është jashtëzakonisht e qartë dhe e sigurt në atë që thotë dhe në atë që mbron....

July 28, 2014