By: Telnis Skuqi
Lazarati is very well known in Albania. During the communist dictatorship, the village was known as a balli kombëtar (literally the National Front) village; during democracy as a bastion of the Democratic Party; and recently as a center for the cultivation of narcotics. The above are all questionable, but there is an unquestionable fact that would suffice to make Lazarati a famous village, and this its size. With nearly 5200 inhabitants and 2000 immigrants, Lazarati is the largest village in Albania.
Adrian Ll, born in Elbasani, was employed three months ago in the cannabis plantations in Lazarati, the village located only 5 km from the city of Gjirokastra. When the sun is still rising, Adrian goes to the “Omonia” city square to get the bus to Lazarati. “There is a job for everyone in Lazarati, if you are strong enough to work and have the desire to make money”, Adrian said. He added that this year the hashish cultivation is going very well. We work to reach a daily rate, but the profit is good. “If you have the strength to work all day, no one can stop you”, Adrian continued. According to him, August is the time for the most crucial process in the cannabis production. The narcotic substance in Lazarati is of a high quality and a huge production is expected this year.
“In the western part of the village, there are thousands of plants. So far, hashish has reached two meters of height, and the harvest is expected to happen in September”, Adrian, the only brother of five sisters said. Adrian explained that he earns 3 thousand of the new Albanian lek, which makes nearly 80 thousand per month. “There is no day off at this time. You would be silly not to work”, Adrian said and added that he sends home half of the money he earns in Lazarati.
Adrian told us that there are over 700 persons currently employed in Lazarati, the majority of which come from central Albania. “Lazarati is as a working station for all those who want a job. You can take the money you earn every day, and the producers are indeed good people. They take care of everything, but they don’t forgive you if they find out you have somehow betrayed them”, Adrian emphasized.
He told us that there is a group of people monitoring everyone that enters in Lazarati. “These people are all “filed”. Undesirable persons are identified on time and then forcibly expelled from the Lazarati village. There were times that “the unwanted” were sent away after being beaten or threatened with Kalashnikovs”, Adrian said.
About a week ago, three investigative journalists, one French and two Albanians, were threatened with death, because they tried to film the Lazarati village. Their lives were put at risk, when a “Ford” vehicle with Lazarati car plates blocked their way. They were lucky to survive what would have otherwise been a tragedy. Fortunately, there were no victims.
During the three-day investigation, the reporters noticed a perfect organization of the “Green Line”. Even the Albanian state would envy such a perfect organization. They know how to guard and secure Lazarati boundaries better than the state police”, Camille Le Pomellec, the French journalist, said.
Camille said that Lazarati hashish is already known throughout Europe for its quality. “No one compares with the Lazarati hashish. Many European consumers are willing to pay a high price for this narcotic”, Camille specified. According to him, the state has unconditionally surrendered in the Lazarati case. In fact, the highest leaders of the state police confirmed this statement two days ago. 4.5 billion Euros is the total cost of the Lazarati hashish trade.
Stefano Bastoni, director of the “Guardia di Finanza” Aviation Department, considers the value enormous, but the inhabitants of the village think the opposite. “4.5 billion Euros? That is too much! I am not saying the value is not high, but let us lower it a bit, because we do not want to compete with the state”, R. A., an inhabitant of the Lazarati village, who preferred to remain anonymous, told us joking.
R. A is a narcotic plant grower. He said that this year, production and profit are expected to double, and that the parliamentary elections affected in this as well. “A year ago, the police were around the village, whereas, this year they simply disappeared. We did not see them at all”, the cultivator said. “I am not a violent person. I just want to live without financial hardship. That is why I will defend my production at all costs”, R. A. added.
At the end of the month of July, the head of the Lazarati Commune, Dashnor Aliko, declared for the French television, TV6, that not all the
Dashnor Aliko, head of the Lazarati Commune
residents of the village break the law. In his interview, he accepted the fact that Lazarati is the village where hashish is produced, but he claimed it is not an excessive production, as stated randomly in the media. “I am not an expert to estimate the narcotics market, but I feel bad when someone tries to describe Lazarati as a mega cultivator of hashish”, Aliko said, while emphasizing that hashish is produced countrywide, not only in Lazarati.
In fact, the production of hashish in Lazarati had a direct impact on poverty reduction in this commune. According to the statistics issued by the Gjirokastra Prefecture, the Lazarati Commune is the sole local unit with only 10 people that receive financial aid. Income from the hashish trade has affected the domestic market, as well as the reduction of poverty. Many persons from Lazarati possess now luxurious cars, as well as apartments all over the country.
The biggest consumers of marijuana are in Gjirokastra. Due to the hashish production, millions of Euros have been circulated as expenses for the cheap labor. “For the cultivation of a single hashish plant are needed about 30 Euros, and 50 Euros go directly to the cultivator’s pocket”, stated a forensic expert at the Gjirokastra Police Directorate.
The same official emphasized the fact that the hashish produced in Lazarati is of a high quality, therefore the demand in the international market is high as well. “It is the same as with olives, they can be cultivated everywhere, but anywhere better than in Berati”, the expert said and continued saying that the Lazarati hashish is distinguished among others. The forensic expert reminded us about the case of hashish seizure nearly a year ago in Kakavija, when the border police found 3.7 tons of narcotics hidden in a tank truck. “I remember it as it is happening now. The hashish did not belong to the trademark “Made in Lazarati”, but was a product of Northern Albania (Malësi e Madhe). However, regardless of how much dedication and care you put on cultivating hashish, you can forget to produce something similar to the Lazarati one”, explained the expert.
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