Besmir Billa, a resident of Kukes, Albania, reflects on the town’s transformation since the fall of communism in 1991. With half of its population gone and a quietness unlike before, the draw of emigrating for better opportunities abroad is apparent, especially with social media platforms like TikTok showcasing curated lifestyles from successful emigrants. However, the reality isn’t always as glamorous, with many Albanians becoming trapped in crime, debt, and exploitative situations in the U.K., especially in the illegal marijuana trade. These challenges contrast the luxurious lifestyles shown on social media, with people like Billa worried about the younger generation’s perceptions and aspirations.
- Kukes, once bustling, has seen half its population leave since 1991, with many young people migrating to England in search of better opportunities.
- TikTok stars like Dijonis Biba and Aleks Vishaj, who have attained success abroad, influence local perceptions with their luxurious lifestyles, which contrasts with the challenges faced in Kukes.
- However, not all stories are of success; many Albanians, seeking a better life, end up trapped in the U.K.’s shadow economy and criminal gangs involved in marijuana cultivation.
- The role of TikTok has been significant, not just for showcasing luxurious lifestyles but also for advertising illegal and cheap passages to the U.K., tapping into the desperation of the locals.
- While some Albanians find modest success in the U.K., many are exploited, threatened, and trapped in crime and debt, leading to a cycle of silence and perpetuating false narratives of success.