by Marina Lazëri
Growing up inAlbania, I often felt what it meant to be trapped. Despite the impression that I had no true liberties of expression due to the rigidity of educational institutions and societal construction (generally a patriarchal society, despite the openness of my family), I also noticed the immense poverty of whole segments of society and how this affected the simplest of fundamental freedoms. I welcomed the prospect of studying abroad as an opportunity that would provide me with the means of satisfying my needs and desires, as well as creating my own freedoms. I thought I would move away from the rigid institutional structures of Albania and that this would facilitate my discovery of the world.
Although one could claim that UCU students don’t actually live in Dutch society, we do have our own version of constricting societal interaction. As time went by, I discovered more and more forms of entrapment, which made me doubt the concept of freedom itself. Here on campus we have to adhere to particular societal norms and though the repercussions for not observing them are not necessarily formal, they are most certainly institutionalized in our interaction with each other. The issue, though, is not why we feel trapped as human beings. The issue is the realization that human beings can feel trapped, anywhere, anytime, regardless of the material and even spiritual and intellectual properties of their lives.
A few Saturdays ago, I met a Dutch high school girl, who, despite being generally happy with her life, thought that she was under stimulated, misunderstood and somewhat repressed. At that moment, it came to me that societies will always create barriers for their members, though some less than others.
Many say that Sigmund Freud’s contribution to humanity at large is his work on the means of discovering what limits us internally and how these limitations are connected to the influence of society. The focal point of this article springs precisely from that idea: no matter how ideologically free a society is, it always creates internal norms and regulations that one has to follow so as to not be ostracized. Of course, in an ideologically more liberal environment, these norms are less rigid, even when formal institutions are more so. Yet, no matter the extent of formal freedom, individuals will always strive for more, precisely because they are aware of the existence of different degrees of limitations. In that sense, society will always be a constraining force. Just by virtue of offering certain liberties, society asks for what could be expressed as a ‘tribute.’
My new Dutch friend feels trapped because she knows she could outdo herself, she knows that society potentially offers more opportunities, but she feels frustrated because in her social environment, only particular opportunities fit the institutionalized norms and values. Nevertheless, there is a final remark to be made. While writing this article, I’m listening to popular Albanian songs from communist times. Noting the YouTube comment of a presumably middle aged lady that ‘these are unforgettable songs; every time that I listen to them I remember our youth, which did not have this freedom that today’s youth has,’ I must say all of us currently reading this are lucky. Lucky because we can claim the freedom of knowledge and use it to be self-sufficient.