Letter Re: Societal Collapse: The Albanian Experience (Circa 1997)

Mr. Rawles,
I’m a new SurvivalBlog reader, and your blog goes along a lot with many of my own thoughts and precautions; things many people these days consider ridiculous, but that an old instructor of mine (from a gov’t agency that shall go unnamed) would probably call “maintaining a healthy level of paranoia”.

In browsing your blog and its archives, I have been surprised to find no mention of the Albanian crisis in 1997. I believe that it offers a strong example of how quickly and unexpectedly a (relatively) advanced society can descend into chaos, and how drastic the consequences can be.

For your readers (should you see fit to post this), I’ll sum up. This is very basic information on the subject, and those readers who want to learn more can easily find more detailed info online.

Coming out from under the Iron Curtain, Albania was a fairly well-ordered nation. Obviously it was much less developed than the Western European nations, but it wasn’t sub-Saharan Africa either. With the fall of communism, new ways of conducting business opened up, and new means of finance came about as well. Over a few years the economy became dominated by Ponzi schemes, and when these collapsed, the nation descended into complete chaos.

That’s the quick and easy version. There are a few relevant things to learn here.

1. The people were taken in by a form of finance that they did not fully understand, or that had implications that they didn’t grasp the magnitude of:
Ponzi schemes are a classic form of financial shenanigans, but don’t dismiss the mistake of the Albanians as hopeless naivete. Ponzi schemes and related “investments” are alive and well today, and while we do have some safeguards against them now, many legal forms of investment can also have severely disruptive effects. Everyone knows about the problems stemming from failure among even the “experts” to grasp the problems in the American financial system, and anyone who thinks that the system is going to become significantly more stable and easily understood in the near future is deluding themselves.

2. The resulting collapse came quickly and was severe:
I believe that from the first indications of collapse to the complete breakdown of society took about a month. When society collapsed, it went really bad, really fast. The most vivid memory in my mind (from news broadcasts, I wasn’t there myself) is of an 11 or 12 year old child leading his younger brother by the hand, with an AK type rifle over his shoulder for defense (or possibly predation). That’s the kind of chaos we’re talking about here. About 2,000 people out of a population of 3 million were killed in the chaos. That’s a fairly small percentage, but it all happened over a month or two. Assuming two months, that’s about a 0.4% fatality rate, if it were annualized (if I’m committing a mathematical or statistical fallacy here please feel free to correct me).

3. The chaos was for a limited time, and order was restored:
Those who survived the initial period of turmoil were able to rebuild. However, before someone looks at examples like these to plan how long they should prepare to hold out for, bear in mind that this was a relatively disarmed society, very small, located near many larger stable nations, and the recipient of an international (UN) stabilizing/peace keeping operation. In a nation like the US, a complete collapse could be more severe, harder for the world to halt or repair, and could in addition cause such severe economic disruption worldwide that no one would be able to help. The point I want to make here is, even if you can’t move full time to the countryside and become self sufficient, you can still make preparations to survive a lot of situations in the short-term. And all things come to an end. There will be bad times to weather, and just as surely they will be followed by less bad times in which to prosper.

Hope this provides helpful food for thought.

May God bless you all, and keep you and yours, – JJ in North Carolina

JWR Replies: I appreciate you reminding our readers of the Albanian Crisis. This did, indeed come very close to a full-scale societal collapse death spiral. In my estimation, the reasons why it didn’t get more prominent attention in the western media was because it took place in what could best be called a “backwater” region, and happened at the same time as the Kosovo crisis, which was considered the “bigger” story. (Read: The news camera crews were busy elsewhere, interviewing people that speak English. It is just human nature for journalists to prefer staying in a nice hotel in Belgrade, rather than some dump in Tirana.) Nor did journalists descend on Albania after the fact, to try to document what had happened. No, they were busy droning on and on about the death of Princess Diana, and the then-pending British handover of Hong Kong.

This timeline and these photos are indicative of what the media failed to properly cover.