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Albanian firsts

Peter Humphrey provides a fascinating account of the career of the late Marko Bello, who reported for Reuters first from Bucharest and then from Tirana in the mid-1990s. Bello was not, however, the first homegrown Albanian to report for Reuters from his country. That honour goes to Ilir Ikonomi, who worked for state-controlled Radio Tirana until, as he reminded me recently, I handed him a wad of cash in the Hotel Tirana (probably dollars or Deutsche Marks) as his first payment from the Baron. That was in early 1991, during the country's first multi-party elections for almost seven decades. 


Ikonimi, who now lives in the United States, was one of two sources who gave Reuters a huge scoop in December 1990, allowing us to beat Albanian state media and everyone else to the news that the central committee of the communist party had allowed opposition parties to form. One of Ikonimi's first bylined Reuters articles from Tirana, in October 1991, told of a wave of public interest in gambling, recently made legal again after decades underground. Betting fever may have had something to do with the national passion for the government-run pyramid scheme Humphrey describes in his obituary. Bello, as I recall, was branded a traitor for his courageous reporting of the collapse of the scheme and the armed uprising that it triggered. Reuters had him evacuated for his safety. ■