SpotlightTeacher Tell-allProfessor Tell-all Interview: Professor Mirela Bogdani

On early life, career, and the state of Albanian Politics.
Kejsi Beqiraj2 months ago4119 min

As Margaret Thatcher once said, “Being powerful is like being a lady.” Our esteemed teacher of Politics, Professor Mirela Bogdani, looks much like the lady Margaret envisioned. She is a woman of strong opinions and immense confidence, whom we have had in our radar since the day she step foot on campus last semester.

The confidence and intellect she exudes are backed up by some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Having studied at five prestigious colleges, including Oxford University and Boston University, Professor Mirela believes that her success is no accident. On the contrary, it is product of the work ethic that the infamous Communist dictatorship cultivated in her.

Professor Mirela: I have been lucky enough to conduct my college studies in two very different political systems. I finished my undergraduate studies in Albania when the Communist dictatorship was still standing strong. The Albanian education system at that time was heavily based on that of Russia and France. As such, while it was characterized by extreme rigor, hierarchy, and meritocracy, the influence of related politics and ideologies was also reflected quite heavily. I must say, however, that the academic system back then was far better than the one we have today, which, in my opinion, has totally degraded. Having finished my undergraduate studies in Albania, I conducted 5 post-graduate studies in the United States and the United Kingdom. I studied at some of the best universities in the U.K., namely University College London, Cardiff University, and of course, the “crème de la crème”, Oxford University. Being able to study at Oxford University has been the highlight of my life, not only because of its academic benefits but also because of the social and emotional advantages that are related to being part of such an esteemed campus. Being surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the world was extremely inspirational and a huge daily motivation. The prestige of this institution was reflected everywhere: from open lectures by presidents, vice-presidents, and leaders of the European Union, to the traditional 12th century architecture and the incredibly low student-teacher ratio, which made it easier to interact with the professor and absorb as much as possible. My experience at Oxford University has very much shaped me and who I am.

Transitioning between such different cultures, it is only right to think that getting used to the environment must have been harder than succeeding academically. Well, almost:

Professor Mirela: It was hard primarily due to the fact that I had studied previously in a different academic system under complete isolation with the western culture. Nonetheless, the principles of meritocracy, rigor, and hard work that were deeply rooted within me were a huge help. I outperformed students from developed countries such as France and Germany, as they were not used to studying for long hours and maintaining strict consistency. In that sense, attaining good results was a feat that I managed to accomplish eventually. Going back to the first question, the current academic system of Albania does not prepare students for such challenging academic environments. During that time, I came across dozens of Albanian students that maintained their excellent grades at Oxford and other prestigious institutions around the world. Nowadays, it is extremely hard for top students from our country to keep up with their courses at such institutions, let alone perform at the top of their classes. In my opinion, it is due to the disparities in the current education system in Albania.

One of such disparities in our education system is being able to equip students with the tools necessary to understand what they are passionate about and how to cultivate that passion at a young age. Professor Mirela is just one of the uncountable students our system has failed, as she tells me that Politics was not on her radar for a long time.

Professor Mirela: Up until my studies at University College London, I was focused on Medicine. As both of my parents were doctors, I was used to being at the hospital often. Our home library was full of Human Anatomy atlases, Hippocrates’ books, and most of the conversations revolved around patients and medications. As such, when I entered elementary school, my goal was to be able to study Medicine. Under the dictatorship, Medicine was reserved for gold medalists and was considered an elite area of study. Having won a gold medal upon competition of high school, I was able to enroll in Medicine. Several years after graduation, I was at University College London when Albania erupted into civil war. I remember gathering in front of the TV with my Albanian peers anxious to learn about the situation and the latest developments in Albania. That is when I realized there was a part of me that fiercely loved Politics. It was then that I decided to pursue a formal education in Political Science at Cardiff University where I obtained a Master of Science degree in European Public Policy, as I became the first Albanian researcher to present a dissertation on Albania’s integration in the European Union.

After that publication, Professor Mirela went on to publish 2 more books in the area of European Union enlargement, namely “Turkey and the Dilemma of EU Accession: When Religion meets Politics” and “Albania and the EU: The Tumultuous Journey Towards Integration and Accession.” As an expert in European Union studies, Professor Mirela believes that March may be bad news for Albania.

Professor Mirela: When the process of Stabilization and Association started in 2000, Albania was widely regarded as one of the top potential countries to gain association. 20 years later, it is disheartening to see that Albania is still struggling to satisfy requirements that guarantee basic human and social rights, while our Western Balkan counterparts are way ahead of the curve. In this sense, I am extremely skeptical of whether or not the negotiations are going to be opened. In the rare occasion that they do, it will not be based on merit and progress, as Albania is still facing challenges in corruption, organized crime, law enforcement, etc.

While I do agree with Professor Mirela, I believe being part of the European Union would facilitate the process of taking the steps necessary to make improvements and solve the current political crisis in Albania. She is very much on the same wavelength, but she believes that foreign intervention might not be necessary.

Professor Mirela: I am disappointed to see that our politicians, even after thirty tumultuous years of transition, have not gained the honesty and integrity required to govern our country in a way that benefits all citizens. A small country of three million people would have been consolidated long ago if the right people were to govern it. It is by the same politicians that even when the right people, Albanian bright minds with immerse intellectual capability who have studied in some of the most prestigious institutions around the world, try to break into this outdated cast of politicians, they are defamed and forced out of their homeland. In this sense, I believe the political crisis in Albania will not resolve if we, the people, do not stop giving offices to those who are responsible for destroying them at the first place for the last thirty years.

According to many, one such politician may be Donald Trump, who was recently acquitted by the Senate of the United States. As a professor of American Government and Politics, I had to bring Professor Mirela into the conversation.

Professor Mirela: I admire patriot leaders, such as Churchill and Thatcher, who put their country above all. Trump is much like that; he puts the interest of America before that of the Republican Party. He is committed to getting done things that may cause controversy and short-term social unrest, but that are extremely beneficial for the country as a whole. For example, immigration is known to be a “hot potato”. Despite that, he was courageous enough to initiate public conversations about introducing policies that put an end to illegal immigration. Second of all, I admire the way he has decided to deal with the media. Trump has had faced an unprecedented smear campaign since he first announced his candidacy. Knowing that the media is generally far to the left and would launch an attack on him every time they get the chance, he utilized Twitter as a way to communicate directly with American citizens and speak the truth. Based on the facts and evidence, the truth is that since he got the presidency from Barack Obama, who let the country go downhill, the economy of the U.S. has improved significantly. Taking all of that into consideration, I am rooting for him in the 2020 election.

As demonstrated by the last answer, one characteristic that stands out about Professor Mirela is the ability to speak truthfully, without constrains or filters, that on which she believes. Perhaps, the right person to weigh in on one of the most important topics of discussion for our society: LGBTQ+ rights.

Professor Mirela: I am liberal in nature, and that includes supporting the rights of women, people of color, children, and, of course, the LGBTQ+ community. I am incredibly happy that the rights of the LGBTQ+ community have gained widespread recognition. Having a lot of gay friends, I can tell you from my own experience that they are some of the most wonderful people with whom I get along famously. Most of the prejudice in Albania is based on ignorance. One does not choose to be gay or lesbian, they are born as such. And even if they did, every single person should be accepted just the way they are. I want to congratulate UNYT-Insider for encouraging this discussion.

Being accepted might get one closer to the “ultimate goal”, as she calls it: happiness. Professor Mirela tells me that there are no two persons for whom the definition of happiness is the same. And how does she define it, you ask? Here you have it.

Professor Mirela: Right now, happiness for me is doing things I love around people I enjoy being with. That includes watching a Netflix movie or a good documentary, reading a book, traveling, or going out for dinner with friends and family.

Nevertheless, you will not be seeing her at any of the hot clubs in the city, as she is not particularly fond of house, techno, and other types of contemporary music. “I do not like the new stuff,” she tells me. “In general, most of the ‘70s –‘80s artists, such as George Michael, Renato Zero, Claudio Baglioni, Ricardo Fogli, etc., are my go-to,”

Kejsi Beqiraj

Kejsi is a sophomore at University of New York in Tirana. His “a-ha!” lightbulb moment in life was the second he realized that words carry the vibration needed to serve as a source of inspiration, encouragement, and life-changing revelations. As such, he utilizes the power of storytelling to connect with people on a deeper level of humanity. At Insider, he is Editor-in-Chief for the 1st Managerial Board. He seeks to bring into spotlight social issues that have long been the cause of injustice and inequality in our society.