France has blocked accession negotiations between Albania and the EU. A French journalist, Colette Delacroix, goes to Tirana to interview the Albanian prime minister about the veto. Intent on revenge, the latter turns up late in his sports clothes and gives flippant answers to her questions. But once the cameras have been packed away, he gets properly dressed and invites her to repeat the interview… (JB)
Would you mind waiting ten minutes while your colleagues pack away their things? I won’t be long, the prime minister said to Madame Delacroix. Please, Madame, there’s something I’d like to give you to take home, I’ll be right back.
Fifteen minutes later he returned in an elegant, dark-blue Versace suit, light-blue shirt, Oxford alumni tie (which he’d bought years ago at Old Spitalfields Market in London for a pound – a bargain!) and a cloud of Jean Patou D’Artagnan, an expensive aftershave with pronounced musk notes, which he regularly had sent from Paris. To round it all off, handcrafted shoes from Budapest, of course.
Please take a seat, he said, and Madame Delacroix, at a total loss, sat opposite him as if on remote control.
I’d be very happy to repeat the interview now, the prime minister said, and I’ll give you honest answers.
But the cameras have been packed away, and the sound – she looked around; the crew were ready to leave with their bags.
Oh, that’s a real shame! Look, what you broadcast is twaddle, empty phrases, and when it comes to the truth the first thing you say is: The furniture’s not right, the optics, we’ve got to change it all. Then you say: We’ve packed everything away. But, whatever – your president is a far-sighted man, he’ll understand the footage you bring him. And he’ll wonder if it really was such a smart decision to force Albania to align itself with China rather than Brussels. Think about our copper mines. Europe’s largest copper deposits are in Albania.
Colette Delacroix indicated to her crew to unpack the cameras again; she waved her hands around: Quick, quick!
Do you know what’s funny, Madame? We give the Chinese the mining rights, but the EU pays for the necessary infrastructure because we’re still a candidate country and so we get the corresponding subsidies.
Fais vite! Vite! she urged the cameraman and sound technician, gesturing frantically.
Your president is a man with vision! Surely he must realise why we’re selling Tirana International Airport to China, but before we do we’re getting the EU to pay for a second terminal, which is good for the price and thus our budget.
Now I’ll tell you something quite simple on a practical political level, something your far-sighted president will, of course, understand: Albania will join the EU. Either Albania will come into the EU or the Albanians will come. As care workers, as illegal workers, as – let me put it delicately – as families with certain interests. Either way.
We’re ready, Madame! Sound? Sound on!
The prime minister got to his feet. Thanks for the stimulating conversation, he said, offering her his hand. She took it, wincing as if it were infested with a virus.
by Robert Menasse
Translated by Jamie Bulloch
From Die Erweiterung (‘The Enlargement’)
by Robert Menasse
Introduced and translated by Jamie Bulloch
Published by Suhrkamp Verlag (2022)
Shortlisted for the Austrian Book Prize 2022.Translation funding guaranteed via New Books in German
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Robert Menasse, born in Vienna, is a novelist and essayist. His non-fiction output has focused on cultural theory, Austrian identity and, more recently, the European Union. In 2017 he published Die Hauptstadt (The Capital, 2019), a novel exploring the dynamics of the European Commission and the characters running it. Die Haupstadt won the German Book Prize that same year and a follow-up novel, Die Erweiterung, appeared in 2022 and won the Bruno Kreisky Award for a political book.
Jamie Bulloch is the translator of almost fifty books from German including works by Daniela Krien, Timur Vermes, Robert Menasse, Arno Geiger, Romy Hausmann and Sebastian Fitzek. His translation of Birgit Venderbeke’s The Mussel Feast won the 2014 Schlegel-Tieck Prize. He is also the author of Karl Renner: Austria. Jamie lives in London with his wife and three daughters.