Northern Echo article
Peace walker finds fame in Albania
A NORTH-EAST lord on a 3,500-mile truce walk has found himself as popular as Norman Wisdom in Albania.
Lord Michael Bates is 700 miles and two months into his walk from the site of the ancient Olympic Games, in Greece, to London, for the start of the 2012 games to raise awareness of the Olympic truce.
Lord Bates, the former MP for Langbaurgh who hails from Gateshead and lives in Durham City, was praised last week at Prime Minister’s Questions by David Cameron who inadvertently punned: “The whole House will want to congratulate Lord Bates on his great feat – I am sorry about that, it was accidental.
“We will promote a fresh resolution at the United Nations calling for the continued observance of the Olympic truce for the 2012 games. We wish to make the most of that historic opportunity.”
Speaking from Tirana, the capital of Albania, Lord Bates said: “It’s the first time the PM has said publicly that the truce is an historic opportunity and that he’s going to implement it. I’m very encouraged.”
In ancient times, a “sacred truce” enabled competitors and spectators to travel safely to the Olympics. In modern times, the UN passes regulations calling for the spirit of the truce to be adhered to, but few practical efforts are made.
Through raising awareness, Lord Bates hopes “humanitarian windows” will open.
“There are a dozen conflicts around the world where fighting is so intense that aid workers cannot get in to deliver aid or vaccinate children,” he said, referring to places such as Somalia, Congo, southern Sudan, the Yemen and the Afghan/Pakistan border.
“The idea is that we fund that aid if they agree to a ceasefire during the Olympics.”
He continued: “There was not a huge amount of interest in Greece because they have got so many other major problems, but I’ve been very surprised in Albania there’s been this upsurge of interest.”
He has made it onto the front page of newspapers, is pipped at by passing cars and has appeared on the most popular late-night chatshow watched by two-thirds of the three million population. This led to an audience with the Albanian PM, who promised that the 300 Albanians in Afghanistan would improve women’s educational facilities during the truce.
“Albanians like to laugh,” said Lord Bates who, as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party was in charge of the 2010 election campaign in the region, “and they find my dry North-East sense of humour tremendously funny.
Norman Wisdom’s a hero here because his were the only films that the dictator Enver Hoxha allowed them to watch.”
Lord Bates starts walking at 6am.
“It’s 35 to 37 degrees most days and carrying 40lb rucksack is pretty hard going for someone of my years,” he said. “At 11am I try to find a local taverna and ask around about rooms – I’ve only got a budget of £35 to £40-a-day.
“I have stayed in everything from a five-star hotel, which my parents paid for for my 50th birthday in Lamia, in Greece, to church floors. I even spent one night on a bench.”
This week, he is heading into Kosovo and Montenegro, where he has ministerial appointments, and onto Sarajevo.