Alice Taylor is a British born writer, journalist and activist. She lived in Malta for ten years before moving to Albania by accident, where she now lives with her partner and daughter. She writes for The Shift News and exit.al amongst others, with a focus on corruption and media freedom.
Alice was born in Cornwall, and grew up in a farmhouse miles from anyone else.
After completing her studies in Bristol she visited Malta for what should have been a brief vacation (her family owned a holiday home there) but ended up being a 10-year stay, during which she became a weekly columnist for the Malta Independent, discussing subjects like women’s rights, equality, and abortion – all issues, she points out, “that drive large parts of the Maltese population mental”.
However it all came to a halt on the 16th of October, 2017 when a car bomb went off in Bidnija, killing Malta’s pre-eminent journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“When Daphne was murdered I stopped writing. It scared the hell out of me”, Alice says, her tone darkens discernibly as we chat over a Skype call. She explains how Daphne had been an inspiration of hers for years, how she looked up to Daphne as an example of how to deal with the hate and abuse that comes with being a woman, particularly online these days.
“I’d had rape and death threats before,” she assures me, almost wearily. “Especially when I was writing about women’s rights. Even my mother had had rape threats. But when Daphne was murdered I had to reassess everything”.
Alice ended up leaving the island to do some soul searching. After a short stint in Cyprus to stay with a friend, she did the equivalent of spinning a globe and randomly picking a country on the map to explore (although the “globe” was actually Skyscanner, and it was actually rather less random, and rather more dictated by cheap flights).
Alice didn’t know anything about Albania when she landed, but she says she immediately felt more at home there than she had in any other country she’d lived in before.
How so? I wonder aloud to her.
She explains that when she visited the UK five years ago she felt like a complete outsider, with no connection there.
According to Alice, Malta is no longer what it used to be. She remembers it as once having been charming. Quaint. Rough around the edges “but in an endearing way”. She explains that once upon a time you could have had that “idyllic” Mediterranean lifestyle. It’s not that any more.
“In the last year and a half most, if not all, my expat friends have left or are about to leave – these are people who have lived there for a decade. “
And perhaps part of why they’re leaving, she adds, is because in Malta ultimately you’re always a foreigner. It’s always “go back to your own country’. You’re always known as a “barrani” (a pejorative term to refer to an outsider).
So it is that Alice has set up a life in Albania, starting a family and her blog The Balkanista – which garners 20 – 30,000 visitors a month, celebrating elements of her new-found home and covering a vast array of subjects, be it politics, fashion, art, music, travel or feminism.
Yet it was not long before Alice’s work drew the attention of both Caroline Muscat, editor and founder of The Shift News in Malta, and Neritan Sejamini the editor of exit.al in Albania. Both reached out to Alice to write for them, and so it was that Alice developed into an investigative reporter, bridging the two countries.
How do Malta and Albania compare?
At this point I can’t help but ask about how the two countries compare. Alice laughs, “Peter Omzigt [a Dutch Christian Democrat and Special Rapporteur on Rule of Law in Malta] said to me the other day ‘so you lived in Malta and you’ve moved to Albania, do you just follow corruption around?’ “
Both Albania and Malta are facing increasing scrutiny on the international stage for human rights abuses and criminal elements in government, and Alice can trace similarities between the two. She points out that the two socialist parties are anything but socialist.
According to Alice they’re both inherently corrupt, fuelled by money, dodgy deals, corrupt development and allegations of money laundering. They share in common a predilection for clientelism, nepotism, favouritism and absolutely no meritocracy.
The only manner in which they differ, she says, is in how politicians in Albania have been directly linked to trafficking of Cocaine, Heroin and Cannabis, and also in Albania’s vote-buying and rigged elections.
She suggests there are historical similarities between the countries as well. The current Malta Labour party is a direct descendant, she explains, of Dom Mintoff – who was a strong man authoritarian with one foot in the communist world (he aligned himself with Ghaddafi and China, almost in opposition to the West). Likewise Albania is a former communist state with former communist party members still in government.
Albania tries to revoke Alice’s visa
On the 16th of February, 2019 the Opposition party in Albania started protesting against the government because some prosecution wire taps were leaked to the media. These recordings clearly showed incumbent members of the socialist party colluding with criminal gangs talking about rigging the elections by buying votes and intimidating voters.
Alice was contacted by several Media bodies to give comment on the ensuing protests, among which was RT. While Alice naturally stuck to the facts in her reporting, the government took the opportunity to publicly label her a Russian spy in pro-government media and a “traitor” (this was later ruled by the Albanian media council as inciting violence).
At this Alice giggles a mix of incredulity and exasperation “A Russian spy? I mean, I grew up on a farm in rural Cornwall” she laughs.
However they’ve used this as a pre-text to revoke her residence permit, which has started a legal battle closely monitored by Reporters Without Borders, CPJ and the Ombudsman. They’ve also targeted her partner, calling him a militant and claiming that he was wanted by police. Alice was 6 months pregnant at the time.
What happens next? I wonder.
“If the courts in Albania refuse to follow Albanian law, then we will go to the European Court of Human Rights, where it is a clear-cut win”, Alice says confidently.
The State of Journalism Today
“There is a serious lack of solidarity between journalists here (Albania), in Malta, and everywhere that I can see. Journalists are not working together, they’re not supporting each other enough. I mean Caroline (Muscat, of The Shift News) does a great job of supporting various press freedom efforts, but this isn’t prevalent.”
I mention the Daphne Project as an example of cross-border collaboration between journalists, wondering if that’s the sort of thing Alice is referring to.
She’s quick to point out it’s about more than working together. She describes a culture of support, where journalists reach out to each other when one of them is targeted, when fellow journalists run stories about other journalists being targeted and run with those stories doggedly instead of dropping them.
Advice to aspiring journalists and writers
- “Don’t reply to trolls”, she says. Fight your arguments through articles rather than social media comments.
- Don’t be scared. As long as you know what you’re doing is right, is honest, is true – stick to it.
- If you’re feeling bored or unhappy with your current work, you are really the only person who can change that. Get up off your arse and do something about it.
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