Albanialand

a commentary for broadcast nationally and, via satellite, internationally on Marketplace
in August 1997
(c)1997 by Fred Flaxman

HOST: The recent election in Albania brought in a new socialist government to try to solve the country's many pressing problems. The new president has not asked commentator Fred Flaxman for his advice, but he's going to get it anyway.

FLAXMAN: Remember the old movie "The Mouse That Roared?" In that film a European principality, which I feel certain was modeled on Albania, finds itself in a huge mess. In desperation it decides that the solution to its problems is to declare war on the United States. Their hope is to LOSE so that the U.S. will treat them the way it traditionally takes care of the countries it defeats and pour in aid to get them back on their feet.

But that movie was made before the war in Vietnam. Vietnam hasn't received a tremendous amount of U.S. aid. Then too, they made the mistake of winning. And the film was made before the U.S. ran out of money. In addition, our new "smart" weapons pinpoint specific buildings, minimizing destruction and greatly lowering the costs of rebuilding afterwards. So, all in all, I don't think war with the United States will do anything to solve the current crisis in Albania.

A mouse that doesn't roar might well be the answer now: none other than Mickey Mouse himself. So here's my advice for the Albanians: Don't declare war on the U.S., don't even look to the U.S. government for help. Skip the middlemen and begin direct negotiations with the real power behind the American economy -- the Walt Disney Corporation.

Albania -- sell yourself to Disney. Turn the entire country into "Albanialand," a European theme park, a Continental Williamsburg, a place where people can return to the past and see what life was like a century ago. Albania as Albanialand would be cleaned up in no time at all. Adjustment for the natives would be easy. Albanians are used to autocratic management. Disney's would fit right in. And they already have many years of experience waiting in line.

Border crossings are already in place where visitors could pay for their admission and receive a "passport" for the day, week, or month. With its tall mountains, pristine valleys, unspoiled beaches, horse-drawn carriages, picturesque peasants and photogenic villages, Albanialand could become the greatest tourist attraction in Europe.

For all those who have had enough of look-alike Hiltons and Holiday Inns, Albanialand could offer visitors huts, shacks, shanties and organically air-cooled caves. No construction necessary.

The new theme park would give Europeans a choice. They could go to EuroDisneyland outside Paris to see a fake Magic Kingdom, modelled on an actual medieval castle in Eastern Europe, or they could go to Albanialand and see the real thing.

And the whole shebang could attract American tourists as well. I can just picture the ads now: "Visit Albanialand -- your time capsule to the past. Next from Disney. At a continent near you."

This is Fred Flaxman for "Marketplace."

HOST: Fred Flaxman, who has never been to the mountains of southern Albania, lives in the hills of southern Oregon. He comes to us through Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon.