Lea Ypi: ‘Hope is a moral duty’

The Albanian author and academic on what she misses most about her homeland and how a communist childhood steeped in lies sparked her interest in philosophy

Lea Ypi grew up in the last Stalinist outpost in Europe: Albania. She had no idea that Xhafer Ypi, former prime minister of Albania, a man she had to pay lip service to despising, was her great-grandfather, nor that her parents were anything but enthusiastic about the communist regime. In her award-winning memoir, Free, she recalls that in 1991, when communism in Albania came to an end, her parents revealed the truth and told her the country had been an “open- air prison for almost half a century”. She goes on to write about her harrowing experience of civil war in 1997. Ypi is a professor of political theory at the London School of Economics.

You explain that “biography” was a fraught concept in communist Albania. Was this irony in your mind as you embarked on your memoir?
I didn’t set out to write a memoir – I was going to write a philosophical book but then Covid-19 happened. I was in Berlin sheltering from my kids who were always chasing me around the house. They felt that if we were all in the house, it couldn’t be that some people were working, everyone should be playing and it was always Sunday. So I was hiding in this cupboard and the book became more and more personal because it was about this very experience of physical restriction surrounded by great uncertainty about what freedom meant in a liberal society. I’d been in a lockdown in Albania, in 1997, and although completely different and terrifying because there was a war outside, there was a sense of deja vu.

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