Maksude Kadëna captured local and international news headlines in early 1997 as a “gypsy” fortune-teller who “claimed to look into a crystal ball” (Andrews 1997). As the other pyramid firms followed into Sude’s steps of bankruptcy, Kadëna became an icon of the fraudulent magic associated with the fajde phenomenon (fenomeni fajde). In 1997, the racialized and gendered depictions of Kadëna—propagated by locals and internationals alike (see, for instance, Zogaj 1998: 139-145)—provided additional fodder for the claims that the pyramid firms in Albania were an instance of a “misreading of capitalism” in a country “new” to free-market institutions (New York Times 1997:18). To mainstream economists and IMF policymakers, such depictions of Kadëna as a gypsy fortuneteller preempted harder questions about the benefits and/or shortcomings of shock-therapy reforms implemented in Albania and across the postsocialist world during the early nineties. These representations continue to be replayed in local political and public debate to this day; they often serve as a metaphor for state sanctioned fraud and derailment from sound economic policy. As such these representations continue to play an important role in drawing the line between legitimate and illegitimate forms of finance.
In my conversations about Sude a decade after its collapse (2008-2009), kreditorë repeatedly emphasized Kadëna’s Roma identity. For instance, while talking about the reputation of the different firms, one of the kreditorë noted: ‘and then there was Sude, ran by an arixhofkë’ [Interview, Tirana, Albania March 2008] the latter being a derogatory term for Roma or gypsy. This characterization of Sude foregrounded this firm’s illegitimacy and fraudulent nature in Kadëna’s ethnicity and gender. These indictments tapped onto a specific set of stereotypes of the Roma women as simultaneously having supernatural powers of divination and magic and being prone to committing cosmological and financial fraud. These representations of Kadëna as a gypsy woman, however, overshadowed earlier representations of this “queen of fajde” that centered around her prior experience as a llotari (lottery/rotating credit association) organizer.
As journalist Jonila Godole explained, ‘[Kadëna’s] first clients were kin, neighbors from her apartment building and workers at the shoe factory’ (Godole 1996, 9). In fact some of these early investors who had been participants in the llotari came to Kadëna’s defense during the early weeks of her closing. These former kreditorë related the story of Sude to that of the privatization and subsequent closing of the shoe factory. As many other formerly state-owned factories, the shoe factory was privatized in the early nineties only to be closed down soon after, leading many of the workers initially to unemployed then to Sude:
In June 1994, when the Italian firm threw us into the street, Sude began its activities. Initially it was like a llotari, within the factory, but in January of last year  it received a license. After us [the factory workers] our kin began to deposit at Sude and then other residents [of Tirana]. Sude fed 1400 workers of the factory owned and eventually closed down by the Italian firm, Filanto. We can’t renounce [Sude]!’ (Babaramo 1996, 9).
These continuities between llotari and fajde contributed to Sude’s credibility and legitimacy prior to its collapse. The factory workers recalled Kadëna’s good record at managing the llotari.
The use of gendered or ethnicized rhetoric as a way of delegitimizing certain financial practices in times of crisis has a long history that parallels that of global capitalism. For instance, literary theorists and feminist historians have noted the use of gender metaphors, especially that of hysteria, to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate forms of finance (Ingrassia 1998; de Goede 2005). De Goede notes that the feminization of credit and the use of the rhetoric of ‘delusion and hysteria as the most salient and durable metaphors of crisis’ (2005: 40). This binary discourse, she further explains, serves a political purpose: ‘the argument that situates financial crisis in the realm of delusion and madness simultaneously produces a domain of “normal” market operations’ (42). In other words, such binary representations draw boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate forms of finance.
Indeed, a similar act of delegitimation through gendered and ethnicized representations is evident in the shifting public discourse around fajde in Albania. The feminized and racialized depictions of fajde after their collapse contrast with their masculine representations during the time of their boom (1993-1996). This shift in public representations of fajde through the figure of Kadëna and, further, underscoring the latter’s untrustworthiness by way of her ethnicity and gender, has gone unnoticed in scholarship or public debate about the firms.
[Excerpts from Chapter 1: Capitalist Firms of Ponzi Schemes?: Gendered Notions of Finance]
Andrews, Edmund L. 1997. “Behind the Scams: Desperate People, Easily Duped.” The New York Times, January 29.
Babaramo, Ilir. 1996d, December 4. Paratë e Sudes shkonin në Bankë Arabe: Punonjësit e fabrikës së këpucëve nisin fushatë për mbrojtjen e fajdexheshës.
de Goede, Marieke. 2005. Virtue, Fortune, and Faith: A Genealogy of Finance. 1sted. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.
Ingrassia, Catherine. 1998. Authorship, Commerce, and Gender in Early Eighteenth-Century England: A Culture of Paper Credit. Cambridge University Press.
The New York Times. 2012. “Eastern Europe’s Wild Capitalism.” Accessed February 21.
Zogaj, Preç. 1998. Uncivil War (Lufte Jocivile). Tirana, Albania.