Musine Kokalari, an Albanian feminist example

Musine Kokalari, an Albanian feminist example

TIRANA, Feb. 10- The first Albanian writer, and probably the first Albanian feminist, Musine Kokalari, had her 102nd anniversary of birth this Feb. 10. She gave a major contribution to literature and paid an extensive attention especially to the Albanian

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Skanderbeg Square is finalist for EU architectural prize

Skanderbeg Square is finalist for EU architectural prize

TIRANA, Feb. 12- Member of European Parliament, Xavier Rubert de Ventos, proposed to the parliament an idea to create a Prize that would serve to recognize and commend excellence in European architecture. On Apr. 28, 1987, then European Commissioner Carlo

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“A Mediterranean Tale” resounds Metropol Theatre’s stage

“A Mediterranean Tale” resounds Metropol Theatre’s stage

TIRANA, Feb. 11- Tirana’s Metropol Theatre has launched the Metro Sounds- A Mediterranean Tale, a musical festival to take place during Feb.. Renowned musicians from Italy, Turkey, Greece, and also Albania will play at Metropol’s stage for the public of

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Tirana celebrates 99th anniversary

Tirana celebrates 99th anniversary

TIRANA, Feb. 11- If the declaration of Albanian independence was signed on Nov. 28, 1912 in Vlore by Ismail Bej Qemali and other delegates, the country declared its freedom in Tirana and Elbasan first in Nov. 26. Especially Tirana having

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An “Eternal Femininity” through paintings

An “Eternal Femininity” through paintings

TIRANA, Feb. 7- Renowned artist Artan Shabani has curated an exhibition with women and femininity as its subject. “L’eterno femminino” (eternal femininity) is being exhibited at the residency of the Italian Ambassador. Paintings, photographs, sculptures of 36 visual artists of

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Tirana celebrates Chinese New Year

Tirana celebrates Chinese New Year

TIRANA, Feb. 5- The Skanderbeg square at Tirana was succumbed by lights, shiny dragons and numerous traditional characters of Chinese culture on Feb. 1. In a special occasion, Tirana started the celebrations of the Chinese New Year for the first

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UN sustainable goals for development set off journey in Albania

UN sustainable goals for development set off journey in Albania

TIRANA, Feb. 1- The UN General Assembly decided on Sept. 2015 to establish a collection of 17 global goals, titled the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are projected in an “Agenda 2030,” a plan which seeks to have the goals

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An Institute of Thought seeking to improve society

An Institute of Thought seeking to improve society

By Sonja Methoxha  An interview with Dr. Ardian Muhaj Prof. Dr. Ardian Muhaj is the newly appointed director of the Albanian Institute of the Islamic Thought and Civilization (AIITC). The institute was opened by visionary Dr. Ramiz Zekaj in 1996.

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The Albanian heritage of saving Jews during the Holocaust

The Albanian heritage of saving Jews during the Holocaust

Sonja Methoxha   January 27 is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day is a commemoration of the Holocaust genocide, in which Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered approximately six million European Jews during WWII. In addition to the

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Kadare’s communist-era Tirana apartment to turn into house museum

Kadare’s communist-era Tirana apartment to turn into house museum

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – The downtown Tirana apartment where Albania’s internationally renowned writer Ismail Kadare spent two of his most creative decades under communist oppression is set to become a house museum and a new tourist attraction in Albania’s capital

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 10- The first Albanian writer, and probably the first Albanian feminist, Musine Kokalari, had her 102nd anniversary of birth this Feb. 10. She gave a major contribution to literature and paid an extensive attention especially to the Albanian woman. Her writings have a moral character, a civic tension is noticed, and mainly prevailing is the democratic thought which she preserved it until the end of her life, regardless of the communist persecution. 

“I don’t need to be a communist to love my country. I love my country even though I am not a communist. I want its progress. Even though you have won the war, even though you have won the elections, you cannot persecute those who have different political beliefs than yourselves.”

These are some words she spoke during her trial before her imprisonment from the communist regime of Enver Hoxha. She was imprisoned for 16 years, and then she was sent into internment in Rreshen until she departed in Aug. 13, 1983. At the camp she was physically and psychologically tortured, and was left in isolation during a time while she was ill. 

Kokalari was raised in a family of intellectuals in Gjirokaster. She was surrounded by folk books, fairytales, history books, and a phonograph on which she heard traditional music. She studied at the “Motrat Qiriazi” (sisters Qiriazi) institute, graduated at “Nena Mbretneshe” (Mother Queen) high school, and continued her studies at the Literature Faculty of Italy’s La Sapienza. 

The social emancipation and awareness of the Albanian woman was her main concern, which is also noticed in her writings. She wrote in verse, short stories, tales inspired by Tosk folklore. Her poetical verses are compressed in the 1937 collection “Kolla e Vdekjes” (Death Cough). “Sec me thote nena plake” (As my old mother tells me), is a collection of ten youthful prose tales published in 1941 inspired by Tosk folklore which talks of the everyday day struggles of Gjirokaster women, and is considered the first book written by an Albanian female writer. Other short story collections of Kokalari are  “Sa u tund jeta” (How life swayed) and “Rreth vatres” (around the hearth), both published in 1944.

But beside literary creations, Kokalari was supervisor of the “Zeri i Lirise” (Voice of freedom) newspaper. She also wrote for the newspaper along with other contributors about democracy and liberal political beliefs. Youth distributed the newspaper around Albania, and through it a different kind of thinking. 

Around the time she was looking after the newspaper, she also started her political activities by establishing in 1943 together with Mit’hat Araniti and other friends the Social Democratic Party. Studies conducted by scholars Fiona Todhri and Eris Dhamo, point out that Kokalari had a lot of contacts with other Albanian groups that shared similar political interests and ambitions for the country’s prosperity, such as the National Front, The Monarchists, and The Resistance Front (which was named by Kokalari herself). 

The SDP had a few key points in its program, such as (1) ensuring an independent Albania with its ethnic borders, (2) new social reforms with preserving the good traditions and customs of the people, (3) economic reforms, (4) establishing a constabulary for sustaining public order, (5) declaring Albania’s neutrality guaranteed by the Great Powers, (6) a western democratic administration, (7) freedom of beliefs, speech, thought, press, etc., (8) ensuring the equality of citizen rights. 

The scholars note that Kokalari’s main focus were women and the youth, and she tried to engage them in party meetings for its enlargement and public representation growth. She aimed the incitement of the opposition spirit in the country and its parliamentary chair. But the key words to her whole political activities surrounded patriotism, ethnic issues, freedom of speech and press, social justice, democracy. 

“Watching the development of the process, I see it reasonable to say that the whole activity of that small Social Democrat group wasn’t anything more than a note directed to western allies for holding the votes when the government recognized the right of opposition. A step like this doesn’t mean the current power’s subversion by force, and that us, 37 defendants at the bank of accused are not members of an organization but members of different currents [...] with different political and social concepts,” said Kokalari during her trial regarding her political activities, pointing out her honesty, transparency, and lack of fear.

The views and the whole of Kokalari’s individual and party activities, were in collision with the new emerging communist party. Her brothers were executed without trial in 1944, and that hunted her fate. She was of the first 30 writers arrested by Hoxha’s regime and all her collaborators were arrested as well. Some were executed, but Kokalari was imprisoned and put into internment. She was forbidden to write. 

“I think differently from you, but I love my country! You are punishing me for my ideas. I won’t apologize, because I am not guilty!” (words said by Kokalari during her trial by the regime).

For her literary, academic and political contribution, Kokalari isn’t just the first Albanian female writer, but also a great patriot, feminist and inspirer of freedom for the people of this country.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 12- Member of European Parliament, Xavier Rubert de Ventos, proposed to the parliament an idea to create a Prize that would serve to recognize and commend excellence in European architecture. On Apr. 28, 1987, then European Commissioner Carlo Ripa di Meana and Barcelona Mayor Pasqual Maragall, signed an agreement to launch the launch the “Mies van der Rohe Award of the European Communities.”

The first biennial edition being held in 1988 as the “Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture.” After a proposal from the Fundació Mies van der Rohe to the European Commision, this award became the official ‘European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture’ in 2001.

For the 2019 edition of the EU architectural prize are declared five finalists, among which is Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square. The four other finalists that our main square is competing, are PC Caritas, a psychiatric center in Belgium, Plasencia Auditorium and Congress Centre in Spain, Terracehouse Berlin in Germany, and Transformation of 530 dwellings at Grand Parc Bordeaux in France. The winner will be announced at the end of April after the jury will visit all five locations, and the ceremony will take place on May 7th at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona.

The official website for the Prize writes that Skanderbeg Square “inspired a sense of awe, and possessed a certain indefinition that created a feeling of openness.” Even though preceding communism, the new design “organizes the vast space in a simple yet radical manner, opening it up to new ways of reading.”

The Square was constructed on 1968 from the former regime. When current Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was mayor of Tirana, in 2010, he undertook a project to Europeanise the square, trying to transform it into a pedestrian and public transport only. However, that plan fell through and new one was undertaken on 2011 after Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha became mayor following the new elections. He allowed the road to be used by all motor vehicles, but he narrowed the road, extended the green field, built bicycle lanes, and planted more trees.

The current look that the square has was a massive transformation project undertaken on 2016 by current mayor Erion Veliaj. He reintroduced Rama’s 2010 project with some changes. He expanded the green spaces by bringing various flora from around Albania for the gardens, and in the same manner he brought various stones from all-over the country for serving as grounding tiles. He made it a pedestrians-only area, linking it with the Europe park located behind the Culture Palace. Veliaj has followed an open space concept for the square, allowing a showcase of the surrounding buildings, and by also organizing various events throughout the year. The renovation of the Square won it the European Prize for Urban Public Space in summer of 2018.

Regarding the EU architectural prize, for each edition, the Jury selects from among nominations submitted by the member associations of the Architects' Council of Europe and the other European architects' associations, a group of experts and the Advisory Committee, a single work to be granted the Prize and a single work to be granted the Special Mention, both for their excellence in conceptual, technical and constructive terms. 

The selection of the Jury for each edition has included private homes and public housing; museums and cultural installations; educational, health and sports facilities; as well large-scale infrastructure projects and transport systems. The common denominator is that these works all contribute to the construction of the European city. In this sense, the Prize aspires to be a platform for investigation, development and implementation of sustainable architectural practice that promotes the social, cultural and economic benefits of sustainable growth.

 

(Photo credits to Filip Dujardin)
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 11- Tirana’s Metropol Theatre has launched the Metro Sounds- A Mediterranean Tale, a musical festival to take place during Feb.. Renowned musicians from Italy, Turkey, Greece, and also Albania will play at Metropol’s stage for the public of Tirana. An artistic program is built to put us in contact with our Mediterranean identity and belonging. Thus the festival takes the aforementioned undertitle. As such, the program will be bringing pieces of culture from our closest neighbors as a form of cultural evaluation and dialogue through music.

The festival started on Feb. 9 with renowned cello player Redi Hasa, accompanied by Rachele Andrioli in drums and Rocco Nigro in accordion. Hasa has been living and working in Italy, but his activities extend to Londoner and American stages. The festival will last until Mar. 9th, and each weekend a new concert will take place. 

The second musical event will introduce Italian artist Mario Mariani, who is a composer, a pianist, and an interpreter renowned for his unusual sounds. His style elapses from contemporary music to theatrical shows, or film soundtracks, such as in Cannes, Venice, New York and Berlin. Mariani’s artistic core is rooted in the improvised music, who oftenwise perform with other musicians, artists, actors or entertainers. 

Following, the third week is dedicated to Turkey. A group of artists, among which Enver Muhamedi, an Albanian from Mitrovica, will give a jazzy sounding concert at Metropol. Pianist Etibar Asadli, together with Ekin Cengizkan and Muhamedi, touch jazz music with ethnic sound motifs from Albania, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Asadli creates compositions and rearrangements of folk sounds from the three countries. Rhythms and melodies from the three countries are intertwined under the shadow of the mosques of the former eastern world metropolis of 15 centuries. Cultures are merged and interacted in a new sound, Metro Sound Oriental.

The fourth week the stage will introduce the Alcedo Folk Band, from Greece. This emerging folk band brings new sounds and bold suggestions in familiar and unfamiliar songs, with musical colors like the wings of an Alkyon, and tracks always straight from Vasilis Tsitsanis to Johann Sebastian Bach. The Greek Culture Now writes that “where the Ottoman Lunga meets the medieval cantatas, Alcedo will meet their friends singing a warm, different Winter.”

The Metro Sounds festival will be enclosed by two concerts held from the Tirana Ensemble. Along the festival, the Metropol Theatre will also organize the “Scriptum n’Sonus” poetic nights each Thursday. These evenings will bring pieces from the best Mediterranean poets and authors. Along the verses of the literature, these evenings will be accompanied by sounds and projections. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 11- If the declaration of Albanian independence was signed on Nov. 28, 1912 in Vlore by Ismail Bej Qemali and other delegates, the country declared its freedom in Tirana and Elbasan first in Nov. 26. Especially Tirana having a geographical position at the very heart of the country, it was expected that the Serbian army ousting the Ottomans off Balkans would arrive there first, thus it was important that Independence was declared in these cities first.

Tirana however, remained the grand village that it was, with its bazaar, until 1920 at the Congress of Lushnje. There was a need for a more geographically suitable city to serve as the capital of the newly formed country. A city that would have a close access to maritime, and that would also be a connecting point to both the North and the South. 

Vlora remained the capital for a while with the provisional government Qemali set up. However, it was quite far from the North, and was under an Italian influence. Thus, another city had to be chosen. According to records from the National Archive, Durres, Shkodra, Tirana and Elbasan were some of the candidates picked by the Congress of Lushnje. Just like Vlora, Durres had an Italian influence, whereas Shkodra was too near Montenegro, which would make it easily attackable from the Slavs. Elbasan, on the other hand, was under the negative influence of Shefqet Verlaci, an enemy of the Congress. 

Tirana was left as the most favorable option. It was out of any foreign military intervention, like Italian or Slavian, and had a suitable geographical position. The argument was that the city had a location at the center of the country with Dajti mountain as a shield, and had a short distance from the Adriatic sea. It was also added that the city was on the crossing of national trails. Such trails are Dalmatia Road, linking Ulcinj, Shkodra, Lezha, passing through Tirana, and then to Elbasan. Then it is the Egnatia Road, linking central Albanian cities with the south, up to Manastir (Bitola today), Thessaloniki and Istanbul. Two other roads passing through Tirana, linked the north with the seaside, and Kavaja with Great Dibra and Macedonia. 

Sami Frasheri,- the father of the Albanian National Awakening,- would write that “the bosom of Albania, meaning the general capital, will be one of the cities that is located at the middle of Albania, and in which the Albanian language is spoken… in a healthy and beautiful place, with large and straight roads, with good house, squares, and whatever else needed.”

Even though Tirana was decided as the capital on Feb. 11, 1920 with a decision by the members of the Congress of Lushnja, and also announced as the capital on Feb. 13 by then Interior Minister Ahmet Zogu (later King Zog I) to all Albanian prefectures, the city officially became the capital in Jan. 1925. It took two years of intensive public and official debates from 1923 until late 1924 to come up with the decision. 

What faced difficulties was building and establishing the state institutions, as buildings, offices and suitable persons for the new Albanian administration were missing. Nevertheless, the people of Tirana showed themselves committed in helping to establish the new Albanian government. All the already existing buildings and hotels were made available for the National Council members, until the real governmental edifices were built.

The first architectural plan followed that gave a shape to Tirana until 1923, were made by Austrian architects. The governmental residency was placed next to the offices of the Muslim Community, where the National Library is located today. The High Council was placed at the building where the Academy of Sciences is today, and later on the National Council, or Parliament, would conduct its businesses. 

The actual architectural scenery that Tirana has preserved until today, was attained by two Italian architects working under Mussolini. Florestano Di Fausto and Armando Brasini are the designers of the governmental buildings surrounding the Skanderbeg Square in the capital. 

The governance and administering of Tirana was established on legal grounds from 1922. In Jan. of that year the National Council approved a law about the election of municipality councils, which came to power after the High Council’s consent. The first mayor of Tirana from the 1922 elections was Ali Bega. When the city became the official capital, Fuat Toptani was chosen as mayor in Dec. 1925. 

Tirana as the political center of Albania forwarded the most significant events of the country. It faced great political encounters and changes, experienced authoritarian and dictatorial governments, the fascist invasion and the liberation from it. The governance nature, tastes and concepts of past regimes are reflected and encrypted in the ground and memory of Albania’s bosom. At the last decade of the past century, contributions from everyone, for better or worse, were given to this city so we can have the Tirana we have today. 

And post-90s Tirana has become the metropolis of the Albanian world having undergone many changes in different directions. It is now the home of one million people with an intensive political, economic, cultural, educational and scientific life. By losing the monotony imposed by the monist regime, Tirana won a dynamics which brought major changes in lifestyle, social stratification, and in the intensity of city life itself. However, it also brought negative phenomenons in the political, economic and social sphere, with organized and vulgar criminality, informality and environmental pollution, and many other worrisome issues.  

Yet, Tirana is the largest city of Albania, where a third of the country’s population lives there, thus is management is hard. Nevertheless, the city is transforming into an admirable European capital in its style and substance, with an added hope to live and work towards a European future. 

All this information has been transcribed and gathered in multiple documents, and it is now made available to the public at “Kalaja e Tiranes” (Tirana Castle). The Municipality of Tirana together with the National Archive have set up an exhibition there with photos and documents that narrate the history of this city. In documents from this exhibition, one can find that Tirana was a grand city during Skanderbeg’s era, which was demolished around 350-400 years ago from the Ottomans. 

This information was also pointed out at the annual “Sofra Tiranase,” a traditional cultural-artistic festival which seeks to display the highest values of the lifelong culture and tradition of Central Albania’s songs and dances. At the festival it was pointed out how the successes and challenges faced by Tirana throughout a century had affected the welfare of the entire country. 

“Sofra Tiranase 2019” took place at the Palace of Congresses on Feb. 11. The activity was opened by Albanian President Ilir Meta, who greeted the public, congratulated the organizers, and appraised the history and weight of Tirana. He described the decision taken by the Congress of Lushnja as visionary, as the former modest city has now turned into an ambitious metropolis, and the country’s main administrative, economic, social, cultural and mediatic center. 

“Tirana’s traditions such as generosity, hospitality and human solidarity were factors that united the Albanians from all regions into a diversified and harmonic cultural environment. In this 99th anniversary we bow in humility with gratitude to the contribution, history, hospitality, and cultural heritage of the Tirana community,” said Meta at the event.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 7- Renowned artist Artan Shabani has curated an exhibition with women and femininity as its subject. “L’eterno femminino” (eternal femininity) is being exhibited at the residency of the Italian Ambassador. Paintings, photographs, sculptures of 36 visual artists of different art genres and periods are displaying the female figure in her beauty, fierceness, intelligence, and dramatism through portraits, nudes and compositions. 

Three periods which are put more importance to in this exhibition. It starts with 1920s expressionism, moves to the self-censorship imposed by the socialist realism during Enver Hoxha’s regime, and ends with the freedom of expression corresponding to the contemporary times after 1990s. 

The woman as a subject is largely treated in Albanian art, regarding her roles in society and their symbolic meaning. The image of the Albanian female, from mother to daughter, from bigadeer to innovator, from arts models to life partner, is represented through simple sketches to more complex figures, up to the “Mother Albania” nomenclature. 

The first works with feminine subjects are found at Pjeter Marubi, Ndoc Martini, Kol Idromeno, Simon Rrota, Zef Kolombi, Spiro Xega, Sofia Zengo, Androniqi Antoniu etc. “Motra Tone” (sister Tone) is an emblematic painting on the Albanian female portrait, full of beauty and elegance, a frugal work from master Idromeno, who is famous not only as a painter, but also as an architect, urbanist, photographer and scenographer. This painting is one of the first and most significant of Albanian secular art.

The exhibition is introduced with a portrait painting by lyrical poet Lasgush Poradeci, made from 1923. Poradeci was a romantic writer of Albanian national awakening period. Other painters, both renowned and new are Arben Bajo, Llambi Blido, Pëllumb Bylyku, Adrian Çene, Kristanja Çene, Greta Dhaskal Lami, Mumtaz Dhrami, Ibrahim Kodra, Guri Madhi, Flutura Maçi, Lasgush Poradeci, Robert Përmeti, Qamil Prizreni, Sofia Zengo Papadhimitri, Simon Rrota, Albana Shoshi, Zef Shoshi, Suzana Varvarica, Vilson Kilicia, etc..

Shabani writes that the methods of the figure’s presentation have started changing “the artistic yeast variable” on her, as in artistic techniques, in differing the aesthetic tastes and ethical refractions of the various art movements, but by retaining the essence of the functions of her manners and societal roles. 

“The artist is in opposition to society and asks to be accepted, but he/she is not always accepted. Culture is a profound sensation, and I think that it is the biggest investment that a parent can make on the child,” said Shabani. 

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                    [post_title] => An “Eternal Femininity” through paintings
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 5- The Skanderbeg square at Tirana was succumbed by lights, shiny dragons and numerous traditional characters of Chinese culture on Feb. 1. In a special occasion, Tirana started the celebrations of the Chinese New Year for the first time since the establishment of a friendship between Albania and China. 2019 also corresponds to the 70th anniversary of those relations.

The Chinese New Year 2019 is on Feb. 5. Traditionally preparations should start ahead from that day, for this year beginning since Jan. 28. The New Year lasts until the new full moon, which will be on Feb. 19. The New Year is enclosed by the traditional Lantern Festival, which symbolizes unions, and is a time of socializing and freedom. 

The Chinese New Year is known as the Spring Festival and celebrates a new beginning. In the long celebrations, each day has different specific activities and traditions to celebrate, with its own superstitions. The Spring Festival is a period reserved to families, likewise in Albania. There is the reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, visits to in-laws on the second day and neighbors after that. 

Hundreds of people crowded the Skanderbeg square in Tirana on Feb. 1, Albanians, tourists, and Chinese citizens that live and work in Tirana. The New Year celebration was hosted by the Municipality of Tirana in collaboration with the Chinese Embassy. Both Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj and the Chinese Ambassador Zhou Ding gave their greetings to the event participants.

There is an estimated 300 Chinese citizens living in Tirana conducting their activities. Veliaj said that Albania has had around 20 thousand Chinese tourists visiting Albania this past year. This has incited an opening of Chinese language courses and students learning the language so they can provide tour guides for the tourists. 

Albania is also part of the One Belt, One Road initiative undertaken by the president of People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping. He calls it “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future,” and it seeks to connect countries from Asia, Europe and Africa through maritime or ground in a series of infrastructure development and other economic investments. 

In the framework of this initiative, the Chinese Embassy is going to assist the municipality of Tirana in the urban infrastructure of the city. A co-financing project to renovate the park and inter-city bus station behind the Palace of Culture at the center of Tirana is being undertaken. 

Tirana will be closing the Chinese New Year with the traditional Lantern Festival. Mayor Veliaj said that the Square will be organizing a multitude of activities, both to celebrate the national holidays of the 100 nationalities that Tirana houses, but also the local ones. It is uncertain what is the next activity that the municipality will host on the square. 

“Dear friends, this place today is showing the world an open, inclusive and hospitable Tirana, and we will also see the view of a beautiful Tirana as an international metropolis, where multi-cultures coexist. The Chinese Embassy can’t wait to have more collaborations with Tirana, to present the beauty and vitality of the city more powerfully, the land of eagles, Albania. Happy New Year Tirana!,” said Ambassad Zhao Ding. 

viti-i-ri-kinez
                    [post_title] => Tirana celebrates Chinese New Year 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 1- The UN General Assembly decided on Sept. 2015 to establish a collection of 17 global goals, titled the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are projected in an “Agenda 2030,” a plan which seeks to have the goals globally achieved by that year. Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.

In Albania this project was initiated by the Martin & Mirash Ivanaj Foundation. On Friday Feb. 1 evening at the Martin & Mirash Ivanaj Institute, a group of volunteers gathered to discuss and challenge each other about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are established for the International Volunteer Day.

This journey specifically started on Dec. 5, 2018, when the International Volunteer Day was celebrated by the Foundation and a group of volunteers. With the assistance of professional guest speakers, they started learning about the crucial need to go through all of the goals and learn about them.

sdg3

The Volunteer Hub of the foundation have been working during these months for a variety of different projects, and for this special occasion they have created a plan called “The ABC Program- Act, Built, Change.” The main objective of this introductory session was to engage the M&M Ivanaj Foundation volunteers in organizing events, activities, and for better understanding the UN Sustainable Goals.

“The main idea of the program is to dedicate an entire month, to each one of the goals, giving them the importance and the significance that they hold. Every member of the group of volunteers, will have the free will to step further and to develop their ideas, by organizing events or outdoor activities according to the goal chosen,” said Jona Siliqi, the Volunteer’s Hub Coordinator at MMIF.

The month of February will be dedicated to the very first Goal, which accords to No Poverty. It was unanimously picked by the volunteers in the group, and also faced the full assistance of the dedicated staff. At the end of each month the group will share the results achieved by the project, and will decide on next month’s goal.

Eradicating poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice and the key to unlocking an enormous human potential. The first goal of the group, but also of the 17 SDGs, is to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere.

This enthusiastic group of volunteers from the M & M Foundation may not fully solve the poverty issue tackling the country of Albania, but these young people seem determined to make an effort to give their contribution, and deal with the problem in their own, special way.

The first step to set off a chain of reaction is to Act, and that’s exactly what this unique group of volunteers are doing, by scattering the apathy of the disregarded society where we live, shaking consciousness among people and youth.

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.The Agenda wants to give solutions and ending to interdependent issues that developing countries are facing. Such issues include poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, social justice, global warming, environment, water, sanitation, energy and urbanization.

global-goals-full-icons.png__2318x1180_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscale

 

The SDGs also explicitly include disability and persons with disabilities 11 times. Disability is referenced in multiple parts of the goals, specifically in the parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and the monitoring. Although not directly cited in all goals, the goals are indeed relevant to ensure the inclusion and development of persons with disabilities, and especially in Albania this is relevant as the local organization rely on foreign funding as the government doesn’t provide sufficient assistance.

The Martin and Mirash Ivanaj Foundation of New York, U.S.A., and the M. & M. Ivanaj Foundation Institute of Tirana, Albania, ​are sister Foundations that share a common mission. Both are registered non-profit organizations in their respective countries and combine their work and efforts in order to best meet their started goals and objectives.

The Foundation’s mission is to promote and advance the public interest in Albanian culture and education, within the country and abroad. It seeks to encourage the dissemination of knowledge in Albania’s intellectual, juristic, and scientific traditions; to nurture young innovative, entrepreneurial ideas into meaningful projects and eventual partnerships. It wants to nourish the education of the Albanian people by documenting its valiant history, and propagate knowledge for the advancement of Albania in the free world.

 
                    [post_title] => UN sustainable goals for development set off journey in Albania
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                    [post_date] => 2019-02-02 11:14:10
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                    [post_content] => By Sonja Methoxha 

An interview with Dr. Ardian Muhaj

Prof. Dr. Ardian Muhaj is the newly appointed director of the Albanian Institute of the Islamic Thought and Civilization (AIITC). The institute was opened by visionary Dr. Ramiz Zekaj in 1996. The institute seeks to organize academic activities that study and display the islamic culture, civilization, art, tradition and customs in Albanians.

“There is only one thought, and that is the human thought. Religion, culture, tradition, customs, they all contribute in creating the human civilization,” said Muhaj.

He agreed that the one major thing that unites people is civilization. Regardless of our religions or ideologies, we all still consume products of this civilization. But the Islamic heritage and tradition had to be rebuild from ground zero. 

According to Muhaj, thanks to the vision of Dr. Zekaj, the Institute has proved itself exemplary and successful, with a stability in pursuing its mission.

It all started at zero level due to the radical ideology implemented during the 50-year-long communist regime of Enver Hoxha, as he sought to eradicate a great deal of national heritage which ended up almost being lost. These doesn’t amount only to religious traditions and intellectualism, but also to architectural sights from centuries. 

With traces of sadness in his speech, Muhaj talks in disappointment of how a group of people gave themselves the rights to judge hundreds of years of accumulated tradition. Hundreds of generations in centuries, their contribution, they gave themselves the right to put history the seat of the accused, and then it was wiped. 

“Egocentrism and presentism, the idea that we can judge in the name of the following generations, to undo what others have done with vigor, this is one of the greatest damages done to civilization,” said the historian, stressing on the irreparable damages done to the our national heritage by the cruel regime. 

Churches, mosques, serays, buildings, bazaars, all destroyed. He draws a comparison with the Romans with Cartagena, who, after invading it destroyed it, but also with all previously invaded civilizations by the conquerors. Following suit, so did communists destroy the bazaar of Shkodra (an example), which then was the biggest bazaar in the Balkans. 

“Ideology doesn’t want beauty,’’ pointed Muhaj. 

This was especially sad, because as the professor explained, this bazaar wasn’t built by Ottomans or muslims, but by the merchants themselves. Up to 90 percent of the conducts and trade were made with Trieste and other European countries, so this bazaar carried a heft significance in itself and its activities. 

These losses could never be salvaged, thus, an aim of the Institute would be to create a portrayal, an attempt to bring the best of those periods to our attention, but with slight focus on the Islamic civilization. This would be in terms of its values and contribution to the functioning of the society in general. 

The staff of the Institute comprises of doctors, professors and academics of various disciplines, both from Albania and Kosovo, but also Macedonia too. This has brought a reliability, but also accounting that the approach to this subject matter has been quite academic and scholarly. Their researches are both announced through activities, such as conferences or symposiums, but also published in their academic journal, Univers. The articles published in the scholarly magazine are from the staff, but also from contributors. A bigger incentive is given to young PhD students who wish to publish their articles or parts of their dissertations.

There are various annual awards given to the authors and their works. For instance the Best Book of the Year Award, for the corresponding year; the Best Creative Work for young ages, and the Best Painting concerning the annual leitmotif announced by the Institute. For 2018, Dr. Muhaj proudly said that there was a high submission, and the winner for the Best Painting was former Albanian president Rexhep Meidani with a picture of nationalist times, for Best Book 2018 was a professor from Kosovo, and for creative pieces there were various incredible pieces, as Muhaj admitted. 

This whole process of awarding is in terms of appreciation of the works, attracting young scholars and motivating them to work, but also keeping alive the “flame of knowledge,” as he claimed. 
There is also an activity called “Popuj dhe Kultura” (people and culture), which is a periodical activity developed under a certain thematic, for instance from concerning Arberesh, to Muslims in Europe; the cognition of Albanians in Arab countries, which are called Arnaut, as in Slavic countries they are called Arbanas, or in Greece Arvanitas, etc.. After some activities and travels of the professor Ramizi in Calabria, the final activity brought to attention was “The Contribution of Muslims in Europe, understanding is progress.”

Topics like these always arise some sort of interest and academic attention. However, Muhaj said it is important to notice how will these topics be approached and presented, what you will present to the public, and its overall contribution. These sort of activities allow the advance of knowledge and serve as contacts with people through the ideas and the discontinuation of geography. The Institute is profiled towards the pan-Albanian Islamic culture and civilization. 

Due to its mission and activity this Institute has managed to work. Its uniqueness, academic activities, and approaches to ideas has proved more successful than other Institutions which followed similar missions, but which failed due to the in-exploitation of expanses. He draws an example with the Albanian Academy of Sciences which is going through difficulties in its practices and existence, in terms of funds, academic staff and research activities.

Dr. Muhaj tells how the examples of private institutes such as AIITC, or AIIS (Albanian Institute of International Studies), with their independent functioning and research, show how necessary these academies are for society and how there should be more added. That is because these academies and institutes add to the overall societal knowledge, and knowledge, as Dr. Muhaj agrees, should be increased and not lessened. If knowledge is lessened, then the society will remain behind. 

He has specialized in Economic History for the pre-industrial period, more precisely for Europe of 14th and 15th centuries. He did his research in London, while being registered at the University of Lisbona. He finished both his Masters and PhD there.  

The main topic of research Dr. Muhaj focused on was the effects of war in economy. His arguments were that war and conflict harm the economy. A decade-long scientific research to prove that every time a nation goes through war, they always return to ground zero. He focused on the French-English wars during the 14th and 15th centuries where he showed that these extended conflicts led also to an extended societal crisis. 

Muhaj studied and constructed a map that showed the confictual and non-conflictual areas of 15th century Europe. Through the research and map studies he concluded that in conflictual areas crisis prevailed, whereas in peaceful areas, there was economic development. He draws the example of Portugal, then the most peaceful country in the world, started a development of nautical trade, and the economic map started shifting through maritime. Thus as Portugal and Spain started having flourishing economy, they submitted to travels and explorations, and gave the world new continents. 

Following a sense, Muhaj said that the heritage is a treasure that one generation leaves to its descending generation. We don’t know whether that treasure is beautiful or not, and we can’t definitely play judge. It is not important, we could only appreciate it. It may not look beautiful to us, but it may enlight a sense of aesthetics to following generations. 

“That is not our patent, it is the patent of the descending generations. It is not our duty to judge and destroy according to our tastes, but preserve and create something based on out taste and inherit it to others,’’ admitted Muhaj, with an apparent ire towards towards the heritage demolitions that the former communist regime costed the Albanian culture. 

He stressed on the judgement. He appears to have a deep dislike in judgement as a vice of the human nature which leads to destruction and separation. He wished people didn’t judge, as not others, neither the heritage, but instead he points to enjoyment and appreciation. An example he makes regarding future generations, was that someone would enjoy the tall, bleak towers and urban chaos, whereas someone would like to enjoy churches, mosques, and bazaars. Our duty is to provide all these to our children. 

These losses and destructions come due to the radicalization. The previous generation was quite radicalized as it managed to adopt the cultural heritage as its own, and thought it had a right to in deciding upon the fate of this legacy, but also to judge the history. This radical ideology didn’t only have this flaw that it destroyed history and culture, but a more grave one: it restricts innovation and constricts the worldview. 

This has led to a deterioration of the Albanian archeological sites. Dr. Muhaj said that Albania is the only country with the least archeological sites in the world. This was induced by this very “Ottoman-looking inheritance eradication policy” that the previous regime used. From the perspective of an historical economy, the professor said that the older civilizations were wise in the sense of economical construction: they would built on already existing foundations. Like all the European roads are built on trails made by the Romans. 

That is, a bridge built in Ottoman era, was most probably built on foundations of a previous medieval bridge, which was built on foundations of a Byzantine bridge, that might lead all back to Illyrian heritage. But, because of the radicalization, we have those proofs and treasure lost, as the bridge is now destroyed. 

He draws a parallel with what is happening to the Academy of Sciences today. He says that the Academy has its own issues, but shouldn’t be closed, as it holds an Albanian academic inheritance that add up to our overall knowledge as a nation. Guided by the past, it is not wise to destroy this institute and build something new in its ruins, but a reformation with updated policies and plan would be more effective. 

The problem of the cultural heritage is linked to the economic development. The not-so industrialized countries, not only Albania, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean countries of Eastern Europe, but also those belonging to the Western Europe, like Italy, Spain, or Portugal, Malta, they live with those ruins. 

“That is because people of more industrialised countries come precisely to watch those ruins, that together with the sea, the sun, they create this magical cocktail that attracts them,” said Muhaj.  

Our few archeological sites have been attracting tourists throughout the years, but not as much as it would if we would have preserved our three millennia-old heritage, since the Illyrians, which were sadly destroyed. If it wouldn’t be enough, even today we still have unexploited treasures, such as the navy. Dr. Muhaj said how Albania doesn’t have private or public cruising, but even more concerning that we don’t have a Marine. This would both generate profits, but also allow a development to culture and heritage. Adding to that there is a lot of underwater remains that could be used as a nautical museum, but that is still left unexplored and unexploited. 

The historian said there is a far larger contribution of the Albanian influence to the development of the world. Through some research he found traces of Albanians up to China, and not just Europe. However, all this information perhaps cannot be known, as there are both not many historical resources, and perhaps not many human resources to dig into those existing historical data. This arises both from nonexistent data in Albania or destruction of those historical facts. 

Muhaj said that this is an underestimation of the self. A nation which has destroyed its own cultural heritage. If the religious communities aren’t up to their right position is due to this depreciation. 

This link to religiosity has influenced some of its radicalization. Since the previous regime had destroyed most cult properties, such as churches and mosques, in order for them to be rebuilt, the religious institutions started receiving funds from outside. This of course, made the outside influence inevitable. A number of religious entities have suffered due to these fundings. However, we personally didn’t possess neither the economic means nor the cultural heritage to keep ourselves independent. 

In order to rebuild the religious traditions in Albania, these foreign sources that provided funding for the rebuilding of the cult monuments, also sent some body support, such as clerics (be it Islamic or Catholic). However, this caused conflicts, perhaps not much in terms of ideology, than in the first barrier being language, as Muhaj agreed. Since these clerics didn’t understand Albania, it was really difficult for them to understand the Albanian customs, the worldview, and details of living. Thus, they sometimes did more harm than helped, because they didn’t understand.

The religious tolerance were natural characteristics of Albanians throughout centuries. We had an instinctual co-existence among the various religions and ethnicities. These long back to the inherited customs of hospitality and neighbourly conducts. This could be noticed both by the good relations among neighbours, glorified in a family level, but in more visible view, three religious cult monuments sharing the same foundations. For example in Berat, the Mosque and the Churches are only less than 50 meters apart. 

But, throughout the years there is a phenomenon that has happened with Albanias, that we have started pretending this is not where we belong. There is this desire and overestimation of everything European, American, foreign in general. 

“I call these allocentric societies; societies which are fascinated and admire anything external, they view it as something wonderful,” explained Muhaj. 

However, we have forgotten our own potentials. He tells Nastradin’ anecdote, that “center of the world is where I am at.” Muhaj said that wherever one is, he can always find the treasure where he stands. 

This has also added to this massive emigration of Albanian citizens. However, Muhaj seemed concerned, that as everyone is induced by this allocentric trend, the first generation to leave, is a lost generation. There are these people that sacrifice everything, sell all they have so they can go to this “better place” induced by this illusion that everything non-Albanian is better. This has a negative effect, as those people are still going to lead a tough life trying to immerse themselves in that community, but also has negative effects on the country they live.

In Albania there has been a increase of village contraction and demographic aging. This is a feature of developed countries due to better living conditions, in Albania it has aroused as youth is leaving. However, what is noticed in this trend, is that a great deal of youth is leaving without even trying to “hunt the treasure,” as Dr. Muhaj said. Another feature is an emergent leave, not with full status emigrants, but as refugees or illegal aliens, which also adds up to that ‘burnt generation’ notion.

This has led to the draining of the societal bank. Billions of euros are destroyed in dysfunctional projects due to the knowledge and informational limitations. For instance the bunkers, which are turned into art pieces, which Dr. Muhaj equates it with absurdity. He calls it an adoration of stupidity which is leading to furthering this tendency for eradication. 

“This is both a disaster and anti-humanism,” admitted the professor in resentment.

Dr. Muhaj agrees that this is all linked with the returning of the multiculturalism, in respect to multi-religiousness, with the acknowledging of the risk of the ideological radicalization. Any sort of ideology, taste, anything, has a value when used rationally. The moment when one tries to adopt everything, that is when it becomes damaging. Our multiculturalism and religious tolerance has impressed Europe and the world. We also have an ethnic and language tolerance, however, we who had these characteristics in our society, said Dr. Muhaj, are the ones who are losing, whereas Europe is the one appropriating these features and rejoicing its positive effects.

Back to the neighbourly cult, a very significant characteristic of the Albanian society, which is being lost. The past regime left a scar in the Albanian mentality which led to neighbours against one another, and this vivid uniformization of tastes. Suddenly people that wear and think differently are seen as committing something bad, which on the contrary, that is something that should be appraised. This magic that we used to own, is now being lost, because we have this elites who are inspired by the mono-cultural civilizations of the west and not from the local people’s wisdom. 

This lack of coordination of the government has also led to the poverty of the society. However, these Academic Institutions with the right governmental support could do something positive in the betterment of the local Albanian civilization and its intellectualism. Yet, what Dr. Muhaj also urges, is a civil engagement towards these scholarly institutions and their activities, so we can have a fuller participation in the intellectual evolution of the 21st century, which he calls the most peaceful century.

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                    [post_content] => Sonja Methoxha 

 

January 27 is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day is a commemoration of the Holocaust genocide, in which Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered approximately six million European Jews during WWII. 

In addition to the Jews, victims also account for Soviets, Poles, Slavs, Romani, physically impaired people, homosexuals, freemasons, Jehovah’s witnesses, Slovenes and Spanish Republicans. 

Some thousand Jewish managed to survive the camps, or escape as refugees either to North and South Americas, or other European countries. 

One of those countries that sheltered Jewish refugees in Europe was Albania.

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Albania was under the Ottoman invasion for about five centuries. It was declared independent in Nov. 28. 1912. Prior to WWII the country had something to 200 Jewish Albanian citizens living in its borders. A similar number were also living in Kosovo, a higher number in Greece and Serbia.

When Hitler decided upon the persecution and extermination of the Jewish people, a number of them that couldn’t manage to escape to the Americas or Israel, eventually came to Albania. Albania is of the few countries in the world that had more Jewish people living in its borders after the WWII, than prior to it.  

Approximately two thousand Jewish refugees were sheltered in Albania during WWII. They mainly came from Germany, Austria, Greece, Serbia and Yugoslavia. This number however, doesn’t account to those transiting to other countries through Albania. 

For instance, an article by Lawrence Marzouk for Balkan Insight which talks of a documentary about the Jewish people saved by Albania, it also mentions how Albert Einstein transited through Albania to the US, since then-King Zog I issued a liberal visa policy in aid of as many persecuted Jews as possible. 

King Zog also aided many with Albanian passports, and a way Albanians used to help Jewish people seeking shelter, was by providing fake Albanian identities to keep them hidden and safe from the Germans. With these identities, the refugees were able to find jobs in factories, agriculture, shops, etc.. 

Those who didn’t manage to receive fake documentation first found shelters in cities in Albanian people’s home, and when the German danger premise was approaching, they moved to more remote areas. Albanians of different social status and economy, as well as both Muslims and Catholics helped the Jewish people with a room in their houses and food. 

According to a Times of Israel article by Cnaan Liphshiz, Albania has 75 Righteous recognized by Yad Vashem, a Holocaust research institute. These are people who saved their lives to save those of the Jewish people they had under their protectorate. All this information were made available to Yad Vashem through rescued and rescuer testimonies, and after the fall of the communist regime in Albania. 

But what made the Albanians help the Jewish people seeking refuge in this country, and risk their lives to helping them?

The main reason is Besa, the code of honor as old as the people themselves. It is a deeply rooted ethical tradition to Albanians’ culture which transliterated it means “to keep the promise.” As Yad Vashem writes in its website “one who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family.” 

In a paragraph below it also adds “the help afforded to Jews and non-Jews alike should be understood as a matter of national honor. The Albanians went out of their way to provide assistance; moreover, they competed with each other for the privilege of saving Jews. These acts originated from compassion, loving-kindness and a desire to help those in need, even those of another faith or origin.”

Albania saving Jewish people is only recently emerging in view for the world. Because of the little knowledge on the topic, sometimes it seems to have been forgotten in Albania too. But Jewish themselves won’t forget, and those who gave a hand in helping these unfortunate people. 

A more recent exhibition is taking place now in South Africa by photographer Norman H. Gershman. The display titled Besa: A Code of Honour tells the personal stories of this unknown part of Europe through Gershman’s pictures. One such story is that of Jakov and Sandra Batino, siblings aged 18 and 16 respectively, housed in Kavaje at Beshim and Aishe Kadiu’s. They had a daughter, Merushe, which became close friends with the two siblings.

“We all lived in the same bedroom. I remember we cut a hole in the bars of our rear bedroom window so they could escape if the Germans discovered that they were hiding with us. We were constantly watching for German patrols,” told Merushe to Gershman.

Her father took the two kids to a more remote area to keep them protected when the Germans were approaching. The family supplied them with food and clothing, until the liberation. Then, they left for Tirana, from which they departed to Israel. 

A really striking story shown is that of Arsllan Rezniqi from Kosovo. Rezniqi was a merchant in Decan, who hid in his home more than 40 families. With his various connections he then managed to clandestinely send them to Albania.

[caption id="attachment_140375" align="aligncenter" width="940"]NewImage1 Arsllan Rezniqi[/caption]

 

Besa is a code of honor which owns to a neighbourly conduct. This conduct glorifies the neighbour and especially the guest to the level of family and self. This sort of hospitality and tolerance was intertwined with the religious tolerance as well. If someone knocked on an Albanian door, they were welcomed to stay as long as it was safe, they would be treated and be protected as family, under the laws of besa and conduct. 

“Not only the police knew, but all the neighbors knew as well. There was a circle of silence. It’s something connected to our culture. You don’t betray your guest, and you certainly don’t betray your neighbor,” said Rexhep Hoxha, who’s father Rifat saved a Jewish family, the Aladjems. 

Rexhep tells the story of the Aladjems and how his father saved them in a 2012 documentary film called Besa: The Promise. It follows Rexhep as he returns three Jewish prayer books back in Israel to the Aladjem family, as a promise. The documentary also depicts a religious tolerance through Rexhep’s grandfather, a Muslim cleric, who made his room available for the guest family. 

It has to be noted that during the war Albania was under the Italian occupation. Both Albania and Kosovo were asked to hand over their lists of the Jewish people living within their borders, or that entered recently. None of them handed any lists, claiming there were no Jewish people living in the country.

As Nazi accomplices during WWII, the Italians of course did impose some anti-Hebrew rules, however, these weren’t as strong norms as in Italy itself. On some confessions as well it was acknowledged that Italians didn’t make many detail searches for Jewish families, and they were easily corruptible. Some of these rulings urged Jewish people to leave Albania, urged Albanians not to issue documentation, shelter them, or marry them.

And as Albanians totally disregarded these rulings, until the Germans came. Then the partisans came into aid to Albanian families protecting the Jewish people. As some left for Israel, a number of them also chose to live in Albania after the end of the war, creating a community here. 

At the annual conference held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington DC on March 2018, was also invited to attend the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. He talked of the international relations between Israel and Albania, tourism and cultural prospects, but also to the help Albania provided to Jewish people during WWII.

He told the 18 thousand attendees how Albania recognized the Hebrew community and its religion in 1932. How they were sheltered both by Muslims and Catholics, and how some Catholic clerics baptised a number of Jewish people so they could change identities and escape the Germans. 

He told them about nazi Hermann Neubacher came to Albania in 1943 and asked all the four religious leaders in the country to hand over the Jewish people’s list and the gold list. They handed over the list of gold, but as also mentioned above, they didn’t submit any list of Jewish citizens living in Albania. 

“It is incredible how not one Hebrew were handed over to the Germans, be it from Muslims or Catholics. We should do everything we can for this treasure to remain protected and serve as inspiration,” said Rama at the conference.

 
                    [post_title] => The Albanian heritage of saving Jews during the Holocaust
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_140350" align="alignright" width="300"]Kadare's communist era Tirana apartment. Photos: Municipality of Tirana Kadare's communist era Tirana apartment. Photos: Municipality of Tirana[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – The downtown Tirana apartment where Albania’s internationally renowned writer Ismail Kadare spent two of his most creative decades under communist oppression is set to become a house museum and a new tourist attraction in Albania’s capital city, featuring Kadare’s life under communism until 1990 when he escaped Albania to seek political asylum in France, a country that later became his second home.

Kadare’s communist era apartment is situated close to the Tirana city center in an apartment block designed in 1972 by Maks Velo, an Albanian architect and artist who was sentenced to 10 years in a notorious forced labour prison camp for his modernist cubist design project with a chimney that run against Socialist realism principles and propaganda. Late Albanian writer Dritero Agolli lived in the same apartment block until he passed away in February 2017. His widow still lives there and his apartment is also set to turn into a house museum.

Works on the reconstruction of Kadare’s apartment kicked off this week on the writer’s 83rd birthday as a project by the municipality of Tirana and an Italian architect in a bid to add new tourist attractions in the Albanian capital city with a focus on life under communism.

The house museum will be the second featuring Kadare’s life. His 17th century house in his hometown of Gjirokastra, a UNESCO World Heritage site in southern Albania, opened as a museum in January 2016, when the perennial Albanian candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature marked his 80th birthday which Albania celebrated as the Kadare Year with a series of events.

Kadare’s Tirana house museum adds to the “House of Leaves” museum of the notorious “Sigurimi” police surveillance in downtown Tirana and two Cold War bunkers outside the capital city and in the city center that the former communist elite had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack.  Both the Bunk’Art and the “House of Leaves” museums have opened up as new tourist attractions in the past five years.

The communist past is what fascinates most tourists about Albania which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

"Kadare is probably the most internationally renowned Albanian and I believe that a lot of tourists who come to Tirana and visit the ‘Bunker’ and the ‘House of Leaves’ will also find another wonderful stop here at Ismail Kadare's house," Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj said this week launching the restoration works at the upcoming Kadare house museum.

Italian architect Elisabetta Terragni, who also led works to restore the notorious communist surveillance “House of Leaves” into a museum few years ago, says the new Kadare house museum will provide a picture of the writer’s life for about two decades under communism but also life in general under communism.

"I think it will be important for the younger generation, for children, but also Albania and foreigners visiting Albania. People can come here and learn more on Kadare and his life and conduct thorough research on life in Tirana at that time," says Terragni.

An internationally renowned poet, novelist and essayist, Ismail Kadare has been a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature. His international acclaim for his works peaked in 2005 when he won the Man Booker International Prize. His works have been translated into 45 languages.

A decade ago, Kadare was honored with Spain's Prince of Asturia Award for representing “the pinnacle of Albanian literature and crossing frontiers to rise up as a universal voice against totalitarianism.” In 2015, he was named Jerusalem Prize winner for his works expressing and promoting the idea of the “freedom of the individual in society.”

 

‘Normal literature in an abnormal country’

In an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper in 2017, Kadare said he repented of no book he wrote under the socialist realism period and continues upholding the formula that “I wrote normal literature in an abnormal country.”

“I didn’t become popular after the collapse of communism when you could describe its gloom without risking anything. I would like to add that I didn’t write my works in any Switzerland lake area, i.e. outside tyrannical Albania, but inside the country,” Kadare has said.

“In 1960 I was a very popular writer in Stalinist Albania. Meanwhile, in 1970 something uncommon happened. After the translation of a book in Paris, in a short time I gained global popularity, which at that time meant Western recognition. The shock was quite evident for such a case. For the writer himself, his readers, the communist country where he lives. The paranoid Albanian government found themselves unprepared. There was silence and secret files against me… but nothing was said in public,” he added.

Kadare left Albania in 1990 just before the almost five-decade long communist regime was collapsing to seek political asylum in France, a country that became his second home in the post-1990s period.

In 2016, he was promoted to the rank of Commander in the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration, as a reward for outstanding merit in a civilian capacity in France where he has been spending most of his time during the past three decades.
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 10- The first Albanian writer, and probably the first Albanian feminist, Musine Kokalari, had her 102nd anniversary of birth this Feb. 10. She gave a major contribution to literature and paid an extensive attention especially to the Albanian woman. Her writings have a moral character, a civic tension is noticed, and mainly prevailing is the democratic thought which she preserved it until the end of her life, regardless of the communist persecution. 

“I don’t need to be a communist to love my country. I love my country even though I am not a communist. I want its progress. Even though you have won the war, even though you have won the elections, you cannot persecute those who have different political beliefs than yourselves.”

These are some words she spoke during her trial before her imprisonment from the communist regime of Enver Hoxha. She was imprisoned for 16 years, and then she was sent into internment in Rreshen until she departed in Aug. 13, 1983. At the camp she was physically and psychologically tortured, and was left in isolation during a time while she was ill. 

Kokalari was raised in a family of intellectuals in Gjirokaster. She was surrounded by folk books, fairytales, history books, and a phonograph on which she heard traditional music. She studied at the “Motrat Qiriazi” (sisters Qiriazi) institute, graduated at “Nena Mbretneshe” (Mother Queen) high school, and continued her studies at the Literature Faculty of Italy’s La Sapienza. 

The social emancipation and awareness of the Albanian woman was her main concern, which is also noticed in her writings. She wrote in verse, short stories, tales inspired by Tosk folklore. Her poetical verses are compressed in the 1937 collection “Kolla e Vdekjes” (Death Cough). “Sec me thote nena plake” (As my old mother tells me), is a collection of ten youthful prose tales published in 1941 inspired by Tosk folklore which talks of the everyday day struggles of Gjirokaster women, and is considered the first book written by an Albanian female writer. Other short story collections of Kokalari are  “Sa u tund jeta” (How life swayed) and “Rreth vatres” (around the hearth), both published in 1944.

But beside literary creations, Kokalari was supervisor of the “Zeri i Lirise” (Voice of freedom) newspaper. She also wrote for the newspaper along with other contributors about democracy and liberal political beliefs. Youth distributed the newspaper around Albania, and through it a different kind of thinking. 

Around the time she was looking after the newspaper, she also started her political activities by establishing in 1943 together with Mit’hat Araniti and other friends the Social Democratic Party. Studies conducted by scholars Fiona Todhri and Eris Dhamo, point out that Kokalari had a lot of contacts with other Albanian groups that shared similar political interests and ambitions for the country’s prosperity, such as the National Front, The Monarchists, and The Resistance Front (which was named by Kokalari herself). 

The SDP had a few key points in its program, such as (1) ensuring an independent Albania with its ethnic borders, (2) new social reforms with preserving the good traditions and customs of the people, (3) economic reforms, (4) establishing a constabulary for sustaining public order, (5) declaring Albania’s neutrality guaranteed by the Great Powers, (6) a western democratic administration, (7) freedom of beliefs, speech, thought, press, etc., (8) ensuring the equality of citizen rights. 

The scholars note that Kokalari’s main focus were women and the youth, and she tried to engage them in party meetings for its enlargement and public representation growth. She aimed the incitement of the opposition spirit in the country and its parliamentary chair. But the key words to her whole political activities surrounded patriotism, ethnic issues, freedom of speech and press, social justice, democracy. 

“Watching the development of the process, I see it reasonable to say that the whole activity of that small Social Democrat group wasn’t anything more than a note directed to western allies for holding the votes when the government recognized the right of opposition. A step like this doesn’t mean the current power’s subversion by force, and that us, 37 defendants at the bank of accused are not members of an organization but members of different currents [...] with different political and social concepts,” said Kokalari during her trial regarding her political activities, pointing out her honesty, transparency, and lack of fear.

The views and the whole of Kokalari’s individual and party activities, were in collision with the new emerging communist party. Her brothers were executed without trial in 1944, and that hunted her fate. She was of the first 30 writers arrested by Hoxha’s regime and all her collaborators were arrested as well. Some were executed, but Kokalari was imprisoned and put into internment. She was forbidden to write. 

“I think differently from you, but I love my country! You are punishing me for my ideas. I won’t apologize, because I am not guilty!” (words said by Kokalari during her trial by the regime).

For her literary, academic and political contribution, Kokalari isn’t just the first Albanian female writer, but also a great patriot, feminist and inspirer of freedom for the people of this country.

 
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