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Initiative to ban communist-era movies meets strong opposition

Initiative to ban communist-era movies meets strong opposition

TIRANA, March 21 – An initiative by the state-funded Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes to ban the screening of communist era movies on public and private-run TVs because of their propaganda serving the country’s former hardline Stalinist regime

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Mal Berisha’s story of Bernstein – a model for humanity worldwide

Mal Berisha’s story of Bernstein – a model for humanity worldwide

Jonathan Brent, Ph.D., the Executive Director and CEO of The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, underlined in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times that the story of the first U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Herman Bernstein, told by the Albanian diplomat and scholar,

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Showcasing Albania – Natasha Korn

Showcasing Albania – Natasha Korn

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Permet gets historic center status in bid to promote tourism

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CNN rates Albania among top 2017 destinations

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Albania steps up efforts to get UNESCO protection for Lake Ohrid

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131687" align="alignright" width="300"]kapedani Kapedani (The Captain), Directed by Fehmi Hoshafi and Muharrem Fejzo, 1972 Photo: Albanian Cinema Project[/caption]

TIRANA, March 21 - An initiative by the state-funded Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes to ban the screening of communist era movies on public and private-run TVs because of their propaganda serving the country's former hardline Stalinist regime has sparked a public debate in Albania on whether such a step should be undertaken 25 years after the collapse of the regime and whether the ban will have the adverse effect of increasing interest on these movies which can be easily accessed via the internet.

Writer Agron Tufa, the head of the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania, journalism professor Anila Godole and Erald Kapri of the Audiovisual Media Authority are among the few public figures that have come out to back the idea of banning or curbing communist era films on TVs because of having a negative impact on the younger generation.

Meanwhile, film directors, researchers and an apparent major part of the public strongly oppose the censorship idea, arguing tha vital legacy is lost with their censorship.

Agron Tufa

“I don't know what kind of educational role can have the propaganda movies sparking hatred among Albanians, promoting genocide with the class war, religion and the most important post World War II poets, films that invent saboteurs and pay tribute to the party-run trials, that fling mud on the bourgeoisie, Europe and the U.S.,” says Agron Tufa, the initiator of the idea.

[caption id="attachment_131688" align="alignright" width="300"]Writer Agron Tufa Writer Agron Tufa[/caption]

A report by the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes has unveiled the 45-year communist regime that collapsed in the early 1990s imprisoned or interned for politically motivated reasons more than 90,000 people, of whom about 7,000 were killed or died of tortures.

“Are we trying to educate children and younger generations with the democratic spirit of freedom in order to be decent citizens of the country and Europe? Then, the free food with the genocidal and propaganda movies is not the right way,” says Tufa, who suggests the movies could screen at late hours with a short introduction.

“The proposed approach does not erase everything. We have stressed that the movies should be shortlisted in order to have a selection considering artistic/aesthetic criteria and based on these values, even though there could still be propaganda, the movies should be allowed to air in the late hours, preceding their screening with a five-minute talk. This talk, parenthesis or short speech, should explain that the movie should be understood in the era's ideological context and be aired thanks to its arts values (performing/directorial). A commission composed of cinema, literature, visual arts experts should be set up,” Tufa has told Albanian media in an interview.

According to him, the movies that have less propaganda can be aired with a notification orienting unprepared viewers. “Of course, this is a repertoire serving the former Albanian Labour Party for whoever doesn't know! That's why the late screening hours and the explanations should be compulsory,” he adds.

Tufa says such practice is also being followed in other former communist countries.

“The movies don't disappear. They remain in archives and are open to study, but there should be no free airing as currently happens in more than 30 TV channels. This cinematographic product should be included in the copyright law, because it belongs to their authors and creators. Such a solution has already been made in former communist countries such as East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and even Bulgaria. This means introducing rules in the jungle, otherwise if you offer viewers today such genocidal movies or documentaries, they will for sure keep alive and activate the nostalgic communism channel,” he adds, stressing the need for legal action to support the initiative.

“This should be proposed to the Albanian Parliament to include it under a special law.  A small number likes these movies, but we should act by a law banning propaganda, nostalgia and recidivism, if we have to clearly distance ourselves from our Stalinist dictatorship past as the former ‘people's democracies’ have earlier acted. At least this should come to an end on Albanian TVs. Of course, if you ask filmmakers of that era, they will not accept this at all. But they will also benefit from their copyright because their works are stolen with these transmission methods. If someone wants to watch let them surf on youtube as long as they can,” says Tufa.

Asked if his proposal damages a whole community of creators, directors, and actors, Tufa says "their right goes as far as it does not infringe our right. We are not at the peak of communism. There is no such precedent in the EU member countries, once satellites of the communist camp. When compared to them, like everything else in the field of culture, our cinema is 10-fold more compromised.”

Jonila Godole

[caption id="attachment_131689" align="alignright" width="300"]Jonila Godole Jonila Godole[/caption]

Jonila Godole, a journalism professor with the public University of Tirana who also runs a media and culture NGO, also support the idea of curbing communist era movie propaganda on TV, saying "maybe a single movie would pose no danger, but a thousand ones do.”

"Because these propagandist movies have only caused damage year after year, invented imaginary enemies, unfairly flung mud on social groups, created fake realities, typified the new Socialist man, whose evil model we have not yet removed from our skin, created seemingly historical myths based on nonsense, playing with the emotions of a downtrodden people suffering the need for freedom and independence without being based at all on these facts, if you consider the propagandistic documentaries of the socialist success that still air on TV with no accompanying explanation,” Godole has written on social networks.

The professor says the damage that this propagandist machinery of Albanian movies caused to the Albanians' cultural subconscience has been immeasurable in the past 70 years.

“I don't believe that those who today yell out the opposite are pushed by anybody rather than being the sheer argument of the consequence these movies have left on their individual memory. Why should the younger generation be served dangerous products for their mental and aesthetic health?! Let the respective experts decide on the movie/propaganda product despite their side effects and make decisions based on the cases in point. But first of all, remove them from the TV screens. Whoever is nostalgic, let them watch wherever they want or satisfy their appetite on Facebook, it is permitted."

 Erald Kapri

Erald Kapri a member of the Complaints Council of the Audiovisual Media Authority, AMA, also supports the idea of banning or curbing the screening of communist era movies on TV.

“As a member of AMA's Council of Complaints I will initiate institutional steps on a decision-making on their full ban or their screening in a predetermined hours. Children and youngsters do not have to watch mediocre movies that promote ‘the new man’,” he says.

“In no Eastern Europe country, furthermore in Germany and Italy are former dictatorship films or documentaries screened. This should also apply for Albania. Personally, as a researcher of war and establishment of dictatorship, I have followed with interest every film of documentary of the former communist dictatorship in Albania and almost each of them can be accessed on youtube. Everybody who is interested can find them online but their screening on TV is not legitimate at all,” he says.

 

Against the ban

Regina Longo

[caption id="attachment_131690" align="alignright" width="300"]Regina Longo Regina Longo[/caption]

Regina Longo, an American film and media archivist who heads the Albanian Cinema Project, an organization dedicated to preserving, restoring, and promoting film heritage under communism, is against the initiative to ban communist era movies.

In its four years of operation, the Albanians Cinema Project has already restored five films dating from 1967 to 1982 including Tomka dhe Shoket e Tij (Tomka and his friends) and the Nentori i Dyte (Second November), screening them in Albania and abroad.

“Put in short, according to me, these films bear values and it's worth restoring them and making them livelier even though we have to punish the regime of the era they were created. When we understand the story of how they were produced and how many people worked in the field of cinema in the Kinostudio era and how many studied filmmaking abroad etc. we will notice that not everything was closed down in Albania. There was always an open window. The cinema reflects the culture of the era when these movies were produced, but also a desired image,” Longo says in a letter addressed to director Piro Milkani published on local Albanian media.

“There are so many Albanian movies important from the point of view of artistic value and both historically and politically. As an archivist, my job involves saving and conserving as much as I can with the available tools and make possible the opening of these discussions, be they even tough ones, because in my opinion when we reach the crossroads, we have the opportunity to elaborate on these arguments and understand the past and the present better. If we don't watch them, we cannot discuss their goal and this can take to nowhere,” she adds.

Piro Milkani

[caption id="attachment_131691" align="alignright" width="300"]Piro Milkani Piro Milkani[/caption]

“I have the answer on the tip of my tongue and I am not at all hesitant about it. I have said as many times as I have been asked even when this debate was not open. I don't know yet if it was a good or bad thing but at a time when Hitler's Mein Kampf is published in Albania and banned in Germany there is no room for discussion,” says Piro Milkani, one of the country's best directors who studied filmmaking in Prague in the 1960s.

“Are Albanian movies so dangerous? I think this is a rather exaggerated debate despite the great respect toward those who in contrast to us were persecuted and suffered a lot under communism,” says Milkani, who has directed some of the country’s best movies films both under communism and during the past 25 years of transition.

Citing late Macedonian-Albanian politician Arben Xheferi, Milkani says the films produced at that time were not made for 3 million Albanians, but 10 million Albanians wherever they live.

"That is why I think that those who try to censor these movies, should bear in mind once and for all. They want to censor not 3 million, but 10 million Albanians,” he adds.

Elvira Diamanti

[caption id="attachment_131692" align="alignright" width="300"]Elvira Diamanti stars in 1987 Perralle nga e Kaluara (Tale from the past) movie Elvira Diamanti stars in the Perralle nga e Kaluara (Tale from the past) 1987 movie[/caption]

“As the director of the State Central Film Archive I want to tell you that we possess invaluable film heritage involving 8.5 million meters of film and that must be preserved with every means because we are not only Albania's archive, but also part of regional and world heritage,” says actress Elvira Diamanti.

She says launching this idea on the absolute TV ban of pre-1990s movies is in the best case something hurried and rancor that this piece of heritage does not deserve.

“A small and poor country such as Albania has one of the Balkan region's richest archives, even because of the passion Enver Hoxha's dictatorship had to document everything. What's going to happen after this? Should we ban all pre-90s literature, sculptures and everything created in those years,” says Diamanti, famous for her roles in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“Today in the internet and information boom era, how is it possible for youngsters to be damaged by the propaganda of these movies. This is impossible and underestimation for the Albanian society's intelligence. I think that in the end, only the passing of time will select the Socialist realism works and make it possible for their directors, actors and composers to get what they deserve.”

 BBC Radio

[caption id="attachment_131693" align="alignright" width="300"]Thomas Logoreci Thomas Logoreci[/caption]

The debate has also caught the attention of BBC radio who interviewed these days Thomas Logoreci, an Albanian-American filmmaker based in Tirana and one of the founders of the Albanian Cinema Project, created to protect the endangered Albanian film archive.

"Not elaborating on the aesthetic part which is different depending on viewpoints, I think these movies represent great historical values, because we have fiction, documentary animated films that were created under a period of great repression from 1944 to 1990,” said Logoreci.

"These movies also tackle social issues and this was recently researched by Juljan Bejko and I think these movies convey everything about that period even the regime's absurd aspect,” added the filmmaker, describing the initiative as politically motivated and an action that can have a bad impact on future movies.

Julian Bejko, a sociology professor with University of Tirana who has been researching into the history of the Albanian cinema for six years, says the communist-era movies serve to better understand the past and present.

“Albania today suffers from a more sophisticated type of amnesia in which discourse is fragmented into easy narratives that fit the political agendas of both right and left. Only through a nuanced understanding of communist modes of representation, rather than a facile dismissal of these tactics as an instrument of propaganda, can we begin to understand Albania’s complex and fractured development over the past two decades. It is this silence that ultimately harms memory and it is vital to undertake research to better realize the present visible within our cinematic past,” Bejko has written.

 Communist nostalgia remains strong

[caption id="attachment_131694" align="alignright" width="300"]Protesters in Tirana topple the statue of dictator Enver Hoxha in February 1991 Protesters in Tirana topple the statue of dictator Enver Hoxha in February 1991[/caption]

Albania has changed drastically since the death of the country’s communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, 31 years ago. But Hoxha, the leader of a brutal communist regime that murdered thousands of innocent Albanians, crushed all opposition and left the country in dire poverty in the late 1980s, is now seen in a positive light by a surprising large number of Albanians, a late 2016 survey supported by the OSCE Presence in Albania found.

According to a survey report on the Understanding and Perception of Citizens of the Communist Past in Albania, almost half of the population of Albania sees Enver Hoxha’s role in the history of the country as positive. The study found that 55 percent of citizens in the regions of southern and southwestern Albania that were interviewed, had the most positive view of Albania’s former communist dictator.

Almost half of the people surveyed think that Communism in Albania was “a good idea, poorly implemented.” Over a third of respondents think that Communism was simply “a bad idea.”

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131652" align="alignright" width="300"]Amb. Mal Barisha, Simon Schama, Jonathan Brent at YIVO's London Salon in 2014 Ambassador Mal Berisha, Simon Schama, Jonathan Brent at YIVO's London Salon in 2014[/caption]

Jonathan Brent, Ph.D., the Executive Director and CEO of The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, underlined in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times that the story of the first U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Herman Bernstein, told by the Albanian diplomat and scholar, Mr. Mal Berisha, at YIVO Institute in 2014 represented a wonderful opportunity for YIVO to demonstrate the depth and the purpose of its archives and why these old documents can inspire people around the world today.

“It was a signal event and I wish we could have another like before too long,” Brent said about the first lecture on Albanian-Jewish Relations, held in this Institute by the Albanian diplomat of career.

The 68-year old American academic, author, and publisher said that his feeling is that not enough of Albanian-Jewish history is known to the general public and that soon another event is held to go deeper on that issue. He said that since in the early years of communism, he was impressed by the humanness, speech and behavior of the Albanians.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word "Albania"?

Many years ago, my first associations with the word “Albania” would have been with the regime of Enver Hoxha and the ultra-Stalinist state over which he presided, but as my interests in Eastern Europe and Russia developed, and because of my position in the 1990s as Editorial Director of Yale University Press, I got to host a group of publishing colleagues from newly established, post-communist Albania.  I did not discover strident and ideologically driven individuals.  Rather, I was impressed with their knowledge of the world, their commitment to scholarship, and most of all the humanness of their bearing, speech, and behavior.  The three editors with whom I met possessed a mildness of manner and speech that struck me as very special and I wanted, through them, to learn more about Albanian history and culture.  Yet it took my coming to YIVO to learn more about the deep humanity of Albanian society and its extraordinary history during the Holocaust.  My feeling is that not enough of this history is known to the general public.

What is the place Albania holds at YIVO Institute? Do you think Albania could be a model for other countries to follow?

Through the extensive archive of Herman Bernstein, which is part of YIVO’s core collection, Albania has very special place at YIVO.  It represents a rare confluence of American, East European and Balkan Jewish history.  Bernstein was born in Lithuania but grew up in the United State of America; then, as a diplomat, he was posted to Albania where his work on behalf of the Jewish people and the American government flourished.  The story that Ambassador Mal Berisha has told of Bernstein’s activity is truly inspiring and should be a model for humanity worldwide.  It is a story to encourage all people of goodwill in dark times.

 December 14, 2014. His Excellency, Ambassador of Albania in the UK, Mal Berisha held a lecture at YIVO Institute on Albanian-Jewish Relations while he keeps promoting this topic in different events.  What do you remember from that evening? In your view, how did this event contribute to the world enlightening about Albania’s key role in the Holocaust times?

I was delighted to introduce Ambassador Berisha at this lecture.  I remember his affability, his knowledge, his desire to demonstrate the inherent humanity of Albanian society and the Albanian people; but most of all I remember that the story he told was virtually unknown to almost everyone in the audience.  The evening represented a wonderful opportunity for YIVO to demonstrate the depth and the purpose of its archives and why these old documents can inspire people around the world today.  It was a signal event and I wish we could have another like before too long.

How do you see the role of Jewish communities in US or different parts of the world?

This is a difficult question because the Jews of the Diaspora are inherently bound up in the political and social life of the nations to which they belong; whereas, the Jews of Israel are bound up in the immediate problems facing Israel today.  Furthermore, there is no ONE Jewish community.  There are many: The German, the Sephardic, the Ashkenazi, the Italian, etc. and within these communities there are the religious, the ultra-religious, the secular, and the indifferent.  There are many reasons to acknowledge the bonds that tie Jewish communities together—bonds of memory, religion, history, language—but there are many other reasons to see Jews as individuals who are not necessarily bearing the values or attitudes of larger communities.  My grandfather, every Pesach, would say a prayer: “I pray that God grant me a beautiful soul.”  I can think of nothing better to aspire to.

 What are your thoughts on the current state of the U.S.-Israel relationship and strategic partnership?

I think that the U.S. can and should continue to play a stabilizing and moderating role in Israeli foreign policy and domestic life.  It is a vital strategic partnership for world peace, but it is also essential for the continuity of the Jewish people.  But what does continuity mean?  Too often we think solely in terms of physical security and not enough about the moral and spiritual life of the people.

 What is the next exciting project of YIVO? Something on Albania?

I wish I could say that YIVO’s next exciting project involves Albania and the Balkans; however, we are now concentrating our efforts to preserve, conserve and digitize all of YIVO’s pre-War collections that were miraculously saved from destruction in World War II by the Nazis.  Among these materials there may well be some documents pertaining to life in Albania.  After this, we hope to launch a new project to build an YIVO Online Museum.  In this Online Museum there will be a special gallery for Albania.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Alan Andoni

tasha 2Natasha Korn lives in Albania. She is a designer but to say that does her little justice.

To put it concisely, Natasha Korn is one of Albania’s foremost ambassadors, an ambassador, that is, of ‘meaningful creativity.’  Much of her designs are based on interpretations of Albania: they represent  striking elements of ancient and modern Albanian folk art: Gjirokaster, Gorani, Bukoroshja e Durresit (The beauty of  Durres), Butrint Mosaics, Xhubleta and Edi Rama’s splash of wall paintings, along with others in an ever-expanding repertoire.

Natasha’s own background is no less exotic than her art. Now an American citizen but with a cultural background that is firmly Russian, with a Jewish mother, Natasha’s family origins lie in the cosmopolitan city-port of Odessa, now in southern Ukraine although she was born in land-locked Uzbekistan. Natasha studied Ship Building Engineering at the University of Leningrad, now St Petersburg, and the former capital of Imperial Russia. However, she did not get to designing ships but turned her attention to focusing on interiors and clothing, a calling she felt was in her genes.

“Luckily I didn’t know about famous designers and brands. I believed that every dress should be unique. I loved and still love to take an old dress, or embroidery, or scarf and convert them in something new that I was proud to wear,” says Natasha.

Her love of Albania began when Lowell, her husband, was posted to Tirana to work with the American Peace Corps in 2003. They spent their weekends “hunting” for new Edi Rama’s buildings. Ohers laughed at their endeavors, but they continued to photograph the painted walls. As Natasha put it, “Even if these designs eventually fade away into historical obscurity, we have preserved them for the future.”  Lowell’s pictures made it to the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana in 2005, along with Natasha’s bikini designs prompting an observer to comment, “Tirana in your pictures looks so beautiful that it makes me look at real Tirana in a different way.”

Natasha set about putting Lowell’s photographs into symmetrical and harmonious patterns, playing about with the designs until she came up with the final versions suitable for printing. She then   embarked on the very complicated journey of commissioning a company to print them onto silk to make them into scarves and ties.

‘That was difficult. We sent out enquiries for printing a small quantities of silk scarves and ties, and we got a reply from a Chinese company who gave us an offer and we have been working with them ever since. China was an appropriate choice as it is the birthplace of silk fabric, going back over five and a half thousand years.’

tasha 3In addition, each scarf and tie is sold in special packaging which gives the story behind the designs. As Natasha explains, ‘this enables the wearer to explain the significance of the pattern, the history and the symbolism to other people who admire the designs. By giving the wearer the opportunity to explain the design in depth, people tell me that it makes them feel good and unique. In fact, they are the favorite gifts of Albanian officials to their foreign colleagues.”

Working with her husband and her son, Natasha’s designs encompass a whole range of themes. As well as the expanding number of patterns in the silk road to Albania collection, the ‘travel’ theme also includes designs from many cities from around the world. There are also designs based on the signs of the zodiac, pets, flowers and a nature theme. Customers can also commission their own, special designs.

Nowadays, Natasha’s ties and scarves are recognized and appreciated around the world. Design centers and art galleries, including the British Museum, have expressed an interest in them, with the Albanian themes being eagerly sought after.

Albania has not been forgotten. Natasha’s scarves and ties have been sold at Coin, Le Futur in the Bllok and in KorÇa, at Nënë Teresa airport, in the Sheraton Tirana souvenir shop. In the meantime, Natasha Korn has become a well-known face in Albanian cultural circles, but her success is resonating around the world and, along with it, the face of Albania at its best.

You can visit Natasha’s website at http://www.triqita.com/
                    [post_title] => Showcasing Albania – Natasha Korn
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 23 - The southern Albanian port of Saranda is poised to register a strong boost in its emerging cruise ship tourism as some major ships have placed Turkey off the itinerary on security grounds and replaced it with alternative Albanian and Greek destinations.

"Viking Sky" opened this year's season, bringing to the southernmost Albanian city along the Riviera some 1,000 tourists, most of whom Americans. 

The Butrint archeological park, a UNESCO World heritage site that has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric is the main attraction for tourists visiting Saranda. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development.

Saranda port officials say this year is set to register a 3-fold increase in the number of cruise ships and yachts visiting the city and its surroundings.

"Some 56 ships with a capacity of 1,000 to 3,500 tourists have already made reservations while dozens of other smaller ships are expected to anchor," Sotir Davella, the director of Saranda Port has told VoA in the local Albanian service.

Port authorities say MSC Cruises, one of the leading cruise companies in the Mediterranean, is set to make Saranda a weekly destination starting next April. 

MSC Cruises is already advertising Saranda offering city tours, visits to the UNESCO neighbouring city of Gjirokastra, the ancient ruins of Butrint, the Blue Eye Spring and the Albanian Riviera and its villages.

Back in 2014, USA Today news portal placed Saranda among the world's ten great cruise ports.

Known as the pearl of Albanian Riviera, the southernmost Albanian district of Saranda is a top destination in Albania during summer, offering tourists a combination of rocky and sandy beaches as well as cultural heritage attractions such as the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and the Blue Eye spring. Situated just next to the Greek island of Corfu with regular ferry lines, Saranda remains one of Albania’s top destinations despite the boom of uncontrolled constructions somehow spoiling the beauty of Albania’s southernmost coastal town.

Saranda, known for its beautiful pure Ionian waters, has been earlier named by the United States Price of Travel portal as the third cheapest beach destination in Europe.

“The town of Saranda in the south is arguably the highlight of the Albanian Riviera, and part of its appeal is that it’s just across the channel from the (also modestly priced) Greek island of Corfu. Perhaps one day it will be competing for the mass market cheap holidaymaker, so it could be a good choice for those who like to go to those places first so they can complain about the development later,” says the portal.

The Saranda Port handled about some 251,000 passengers in 2015, including tourists on 22 cruise ships and 657 yachts.

The country’s key port of Durres could also see a hike in cruise ship tourism as some international companies are skipping Turkish ports over fears of terrorist attacks. 

The Durres Port handled 25 cruise ships with thousands of tourists on board and some 218 yachts in 2016.

In their single-day visit to Albania, cruise ship tourists, visit Durres, the neighboring historic town of Kruja and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Berat.

“In Roman times, the city of Durres was an important port perched on the head of a long beach. These days, the city has spread south, adding a sprinkling of monuments, shopping boulevards and sprawling suburbs to the mix. Things still centre on the coastline – the sands here roll out for an impressive 10 kilometres,” says U.K.-based Thomson company about its Durres itinerary.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131303" align="alignright" width="300"]Vjosa River scenery. Photo: Goran Šafarek Vjosa River scenery. Photo: Goran Šafarek[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 23 - Local government units along the Vjosa River in southern Albania have come together in an appeal to the Albanian government over saving one of Europe’s last wild waterways which is threatened by a big hydropower plant that has received the final okay to start construction works, defying calls by local residents, environmentalists, civil society activists and even members of the European Parliament to protect what they call a unique ecosystem and the “Blue Heart of Europe.”

In an open letter to Prime Minister Edi Rama and Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta, the mayors of Permet, Tepelene, Memaliaj, Mallakaster and Selenice nominated by both the ruling majority and the opposition Democrats in the February 2015 local elections, call on the central government to suspend concession contracts on hydropower plants threatening to dam Vjosa River and destroy sustainable tourism in one of Europe’s last wild rivers.

“This river is closely related to the everyday life of local residents, offering chances for the development of agriculture, fishing and tourism as the main source of economic development in the future," say the mayors in their open letter, concerned that neither the local government units, nor the local residents were engaged in public hearings during the decision-making.

The appeal comes as the Albanian government concluded last November contracts negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a 100 MW Poçem hydropower plant under a 35-year concession contract, in what is expected to be one of the country’s biggest HPPs.

“At a time when the whole Vjosa Valley is facing the threat of turning into a huge hydroelectricity park not based on serious all-inclusive studies, but political guiding, and being urged by concerns of residents whom we represent and stances by local and international stakeholders regarding the threat posed to the Valley's values as a result of hydropower projects, we, the locally elected representatives of the Vjosa River and its tributaries, demand the Albanian government to reconsider the HPP projects along the Vjosa river and its tributaries and undertake initiatives to suspend the concession contracts on the HPP construction as well as guarantee the participation of the local community in decision-making,” the mayors say in their joint letter.

Vjosa is one of Europe’s last intact waterways, famous for its Canyons drawing kayakers from all over the world. It flows freely from the Pindus Mountains in Greece to the Adriatic Sea over a course of 270 kilometers. Scientifically, the river remains largely unexplored.

“Our local government units have not been officially informed of plans to build the Poçem hydropower plant and residents affected by this HPP were not engaged in public hearings," says Agron Kapllanaj, the Mayor of Mallakastra, as quoted by EcoAlbania environmental NGO that has been leading efforts to stop hydropower plant construction in Albania through an awareness campaign dubbed "Saving Europe's Blue Heart."

[caption id="attachment_131304" align="alignright" width="300"]Thermal springs along the Langarica attract hundreds of tourists each year. Photo: Ulrich Eichelmann  Thermal springs along the Langarica attract hundreds of tourists each year. Photo: Ulrich Eichelmann[/caption]

Tepelena Mayor Termet Peçi says "we have other plans on the valley's development and tourism there. The construction of the hydropower plants endangers this potential. Tepelena boasts dozens of natural and historic treasures which should be promoted and sustainably developed."

The Mayors also demand full transparency by the Greek government on interstate river deals considering that Vjosa's source in northwestern Greece, some 50 miles off the Albanian border.

"The case of Vjosa is an issue that concerns rule of law and democracy in the country. The valley residents are the first ones who should be part of the decision-making on projects directly affecting their lives and future," says Olsi Nika, an EcoAlbania representative and coordinator of “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign that has brought together environmentalists and kayakers from all over Europe in protests to protect the Vjosa River.

Activists say the project’s dam threatens to destroy the Vjosa's unique ecosystem.

“It is a miracle that a river like this still exists – it constitutes a huge chance for Albania and all of Europe. To block this river would be a crime on nature and evidence of the incapacity of European nature protection”, says Ulrich Eichelmann from Vienna-based Riverwatch and coordinator of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign.

In a recent resolution on the 2016 European Commission report, the European Parliament advises the Albanian government to abandon plans for new hydropower plants along the Vjosa River and its tributaries, warning that the impact of HPPs is often not properly assessed to ensure compliance with international standards and relevant EU nature legislation.

The February 15 report also advises the Albanian government to consider the establishment of a Vjosa national park along the whole length of the river.

Turkey’s Kovlu Energji, a joint venture between Turkey’s Çinar-San Hafriyat and Ayen Enerji Anonim Sirketi is set to invest about 101 million euros in the next three years and produce an annual 305 million kWh. The Albanian government will benefit a concession fee of 2.2 percent equal to 6 million kWh in annual electricity production during the plant’s 35 years of operation until it shifts under government ownership.

The Turkish consortium, which had been awarded a bonus for its unsolicited bid in mid-2015, was the sole bidder in the tender on the Poçem HPP held in March 2016.

Private and concession hydropower plants have increased their share in the country’s wholly hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation to about a third.

 

Legal battle

[caption id="attachment_131305" align="alignright" width="300"]Rafting along the Vjosa. Photo: Albanian Rafting Federation Rafting along the Vjosa. Photo: Albanian Rafting Federation[/caption]

Nature conservation organizations including Vienna-based Riverwatch, Germany's EuroNatur and EcoAlbania as well as 38 affected local residents are challenging the Albanian government's decision at court, demanding the suspension of any decisions and permits that pave the way to the start of works, citing environmental concern and failure to involve the local community in the decision-making.

Activists say the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) accepted by Albanian authorities is utterly inadequate with more than 60 percent of it simply copied word-for-word from other projects while flora and fauna was not even assessed at all as authors of the assessment reached a positive conclusion for the project.

“I have never seen such a poor EIA, the text is a farce. The EIA must be repeated and carried out according to international standards,” says Prof. Friedrich Schiemer from Vienna, who analyzed the EIA together with colleagues from Albania, Germany and Austria.

Activists also claim the fact that affected residents were not informed is another basis for the lawsuit.

"In the village of Kutë (Mallakaster), a majority of fields and olive plantations would drown in the 2,400 hectare reservoir and 90 individuals would have to be relocated. Nevertheless, nobody from the village was informed to date. A legally required resident information event did indeed take place, however, it was set an hour’s drive away and did not include residents actually affected by the project,” says the  Riverwatch organization.

The lawsuit is considered not only imperative for the future of the Vjosa and its residents, but also for nature protection and the administration of justice in Albania in general.

“Albanian laws are not poor, but they are too often ignored by investors, authorities and politicians. This disregard must stop or we will destroy our entire country.  The Poçem case is thus a legal touchstone for the rule of law in Albania,” attorney Vladimir Meçi, who prepared the lawsuit, is quoted as saying.

The Albanian government has earlier reacted to environmental concerns, saying that the Poçem and Kalivac are the only HPPs that will be built on the Vjosa River and the rest of the river will be declared a national park, making it the first natural river in Europe to obtain such protected status.

Concession contracts to build hydropower plants in the Vjosa and Valbona rivers have sparked protests among local residents and environmentalists who fear the emerging tourism industry and the unique ecosystems will suffer a severe setback.

Construction on the first of 14 proposed hydro-power plants has already started in the Valbona Valley, despite protests by local residents and environmentalists who say they will destroy tourism in the pristine area in northeastern Albania.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 15 – It is now the Italians who are looking for a job in Albania, Italian media have noted in the past few years as the neighbouring country’s economy, also host to some 500,000 Albanian migrants, continues to struggle with the crisis effects.

With a youth unemployment rate of 40 percent and minimum pensions not enough to make ends meet, more and more Italians youngsters and pensioners are discovering Albania as a land of hope and low cost.

Back in his native Rome, 25-year-old Fabio managed to earn about €1,000 euros but spent €800 on his house rent compared to only €270 in Albania where €60 are enough for entertainment and food for about a week.

He is one of an estimated thousands of Italians who live, work or study in Albania.

“Even though I am far away from home, I am always there with my heart. I had a job in Rome but I was made redundant because the company went bankrupt. I tried to find another job in Rome but it wasn't easy,” Fabio, who works in Tirana at an Italian-run call center company offering marketing services for Italy-based companies, tells Italy’s Mediaset.

Alex from Palermo, southern Italy, is another Italian youngster who has chosen to work in Tirana at the same company.

Call centers have emerged as the key employer for Albanian young men and women in the past few years including newly graduates whose university degrees do not match labor market needs, employing about 25,000 people.

"We have 20,000 customers who trust their online growth to us. There are 150 youngsters who work here with the average age at 23,” says Katerina Bojaxhiu, a product manager at Italian-run LocalWeb company.

“Considering the average cost of living in Albania we pay pretty well, at an average of €500 month, without including bonuses if operators achieve their monthly targets,” she adds.

Students, mainly studying medicine at an Italian-run university in Tirana, business managers, entrepreneurs and pensioners make up the rest of the Italian community in Albania.

The Albanian government says there is community of some 20,000 Italians in Albania but Italy’s La Repubblica has earlier estimated there are some 3,000 Italians living in Albania, of whom 500 are resident workers and around 1,000 are students mostly studying medicine at the Zoja e Keshillit te Mire University which has a twinning deal with the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

In a recent article, La Repubblica dubbed Tirana as the “Las Vegas of Call Centers.”

The expansion of the booming call center industry in Albania, mainly providing services for neighbouring Italy, has recently received a blow after the Italian Parliament approved last December some changes making the supply of services from non-EU countries such as Albania tighter.

Pensioners 

pensionIt is also Italian pensioners who have decided to spend the rest of their lives in Albania. A RAI TV documentary has shown dozens of Italian pensioners have settled in Tirana and Durres because of considerably lower prices.

“Now the land of eagles has turned into a land of hope for Italians and a symbol of living at a low cost. Carmine, Giuseppe, Giancarlo and Vincenzo are some of the Italian pensioners who live between Tirana and Durres,” the documentary noted.

Comparing the cost of living the Italian journalist said “in Albania a coffee costs only 40 cents while the house rent is at only €150. If you also put the average electricity and water supply bills at about €50, this is an extra reason for Italians to come and live in Albania.”

“This way a minimum pension of €500 that can hardly make ends meet in Italy, becomes a small treasure that you can manage without worrying too much in Albania,” said the Italian reporter.

 ‘Separated by the sea, united through mentality’

In the early 1990s when the communist regime collapsed it was the Albanians who left the country in a mass exodus to Italy. Twenty years on, a wave of Italians is coming to Albania as Italy faces its worst recession since World War II.

“The country which twenty years ago sparked despair, is now hosting Italian immigrants. At the beginning there were entrepreneurs thirsty for low-cost labor force, but today there are also workers, craftsmen, electricians, plumbers, welders, mechanics, marble workers but even lawyers, doctors, architects and students,” says Italian daily La Repubblica in a 2013 article titled “Italians in Albania: We are the migrants now.”

Italy is the country's main trading partner and one of the top investors in Albania with key enterprises mainly operating in the banking, energy and the 'garment and 'footwear sectors but also in the booming call center industry.

Italian companies, mostly focused on the services sector, dominate the list of foreign companies operating in Albania with an estimated 2,750 at the end of 2015, according to state statistical institute, INSTAT.

More and more Albanians who have been living for a long time in Italy have decided to permanently return home and invest their savings in Albania following the 2009 recession.

The neighboring country across the Adriatic can be reached daily through only a one-hour flight or six-hour trip through sea by several operators.

Italian photographers often post clear pictures of Albanian snow-capped peaks viewed from southern Italy through the Otranto Strait which is only 45 miles from Albania.

Italian coach Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a historic first ever major competition debut such as the Euro 2016 and turned into a national hero, recently said upon receiving an Italian presidential order of merit, he was proud to have created a linking bridge between the two countries “separated by the sea, but united through the same mentality.”

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130824" align="alignright" width="300"]The Benja thermal springs  The Benja thermal springs[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 24 – The southern Albanian town of Permet, nicknamed as the city of flowers, has been declared a historic center, paving the way to restoration projects in a bid to make it more attractive to tourists who are already discovering the town through rafting on the Vjosa River canyons.

“The Albanian government paves the way to restoration projects in the historic center in the City of Flowers. The revitalization project of the Permet City Stone is ready to kick off,” says Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro.

“Permet should not only be a town of flowers, the gliko jam, raki traditional alcoholic drink and Laver Bariu’s famous kaba instrumental music, but also a town of cultural and historical heritage. The historic centers project as a driver of growth also spans in Permet which should no longer be a sleeping beauty, but a lively and not to be missed tourist and cultural destination,” the minister has said.

The proposed Permet historic center lies on the mountain foot and includes all existing buildings mainly in the Shenkoll (St. Nicholas) and the Teqja (Bektashi Tekka) neighborhoods, which considering the composition of buildings and the cobbled streets are the areas featuring the town’s eldest traces, says the culture ministry.

There are two religious buildings within the historic center, the 1776 St. Premte church, a first-category cultural monument, and the 19th century St. Nicholas church. There are indications the cobbled streets and narrow paths date back to the early 19th century.

Permet boasts characteristic buildings although transformed, arched front doors and centuries-old cypress trees.

The Varrosh neighborhood houses, mostly two-storey ones, stand next to each other, with small front gardens surrounded by stone walls and wooden front doors.

“Permet features some early 20th century buildings within the historic center bearing special values that deserve the monument of culture status. The majority of buildings belong to the post-War II period,” say culture heritage experts.

Most of the protected area involves a green area mostly situated in the Bolenga hill, an area of huge archaeological potential which also includes the Bolenge castle and some later era buildings complementing the historic center and creating a soft transition to some other parts destined for new buildings.

The government had earlier announced a protected historic center Permet’s Benja village, an area of historic and cultural values, also known for its thermal waters.

The declaration of Permet as a historic town also comes as the World Bank has awarded a $71 million loan to boost tourism in four key southern Albania destinations, including Permet, the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Gjirokastra and Berat and the coastal southernmost Albanian town of Saranda. The project activities include urban upgrading and infrastructure improvement, tourism sites upgrading, heritage and cultural sites’ restoration, and tourism market and product development.

Permet is also known for its traditional summer multicultural festival bringing together Albanian and regional folklore musicians and dancers, celebrating the country’s cultural diversity.

Already preparing to host the 15th festival edition, Permet has been selected as a host because of its diversity as a town where different cultures and ethnicities coexist and as the hometown of Albanian folk music showcased by late maestro Laver Bariu. The festival also serves to promote tourism in a region also famous for its cultural heritage and rafting on Vjosa River and the Lengarica Canyon.

Laver Bariu, Albania’s most popular and greatest clarinetist passed away in 2014 at the age of 81 in his hometown of Permet which he promoted in Albania and abroad with his wonderful local folk tunes. Laver Bariu is arguably the best known Albanian clarinetist of the last half century and an important figure in the development of urban folk music in the south-eastern Albanian Tosk region. His iso-polyphony tunes have been placed under UNESCO protection as “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”

A town of some 12,000 residents, situated some 224 km south of Tirana, Permet has been inhabited for centuries, and is the hometown of the famous 19th century Frasheri brothers who had a key contribution to Albanian Renaissance movement ahead of the country’s declaration of independence in 1912 after almost five centuries under Ottoman rule.

The Permet district is known for its Benja thermal waters, the Hotova fir national park, the Trebeshinë – Dhëmbel – Nëmëreçkë mountain chain and the Kelcyra Gorge.

Back in 2015, Permet also hosted Albania’s first flower festival, bringing together flower and greenery traders and lovers in the town known for its famous canyons.

“Përmet is the city of flowers, of roses, of unparalleled songs, of purity and tranquility, known in antiquity as “Tryfilia”, inhabited by Illyrian tribes,” says the Visit Albania portal.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 11 - Albania has been rated as one  of the top seventeen global destinations to visit in 2017 by the prestigious CNN news portal amid other renowned destinations such as the U.S., Canada, France, Denmark, China and Australia.

[caption id="attachment_130644" align="alignright" width="300"]Alb Albania - Sunny, cheap and with mile after mile of beaches (such as this one in Durres), this tiny Mediterranean country has been Europe's best kept secret for the better part of two decades.[/caption]

“The tiny Mediterranean country -- once one of the Cold War's most forbidding Stalinist redoubts -- has been Europe's best-kept secret for the better part of two decades. Sunny, cheap and with mile after mile of pristine beaches and unspoiled wilderness, Albania has made much of what it has after it emerged blinking into the daylight of freedom in the '90s,” writes the CNN.

The American media giant says Albania is finding a second life for thousands of Cold War era bunkers that dot the country such as the Bunk'Art on the outskirts of capital Tirana, where former dictator Enver Hoxha's underground complex has been transformed into a cultural center.

In mid-2016, the National Geographic portal also rated Albania among the top 10 destinations that deserve more tourists.

"A burgeoning tourist industry—centered around its meticulously preserved UNESCO-listed Ottoman towns, including Berat and Gjirokastra, and the stretch of land now known somewhat archly as the Albanian Riviera—now brings in almost 3.5 million tourists a year," wrote the National Geographic.

Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past few years being nicknamed as “A New Mediterranean Love” and “Europe’s Last Secret.”

The 2015 opening of the Sazan Island, a former military base some 20 kilometers from the coastal town of Vlora, to local and foreign tourists for the first time in 70 years, and a Cold War secret bunker outside Tirana that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack, also attracted a lot of interest among international media and visitors.

In late 2015, prestigious French newspaper Le Figaro placed Albania as one of the top five global destinations for 2016. Featuring a picture of the ancient Rozafa castle in the northern city of Shkodra, Le Fiagaro said Albania will surprise everybody just like it did with its first-ever qualification in a major football competition such as France 2016.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 21 - Albania's part of lake Ohrid could join that of neighboring Macedonia as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the next couple of years as authorities have stepped up efforts to protect the Pogradec Lake in southeastern Albania.

Sinisa Sosum, a UNESCO Venice official, is optimistic the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Albanian part could be granted UNESCO's protection by 2019 as the country has made progress by demolishing dozens of buildings by the lake.

Since 2014, Albania has been part of an EU-funded project with Macedonia aimed at improving the transboundary cooperation and management effectiveness for the protection of the natural and cultural heritage in Lake Ohrid.

“Albania is strongly headed to this project and would not have joined this project if it doesn't want to protect Lake Ohrid on their territory,” Sinisa Sesum said at a recent event held in Struga.

However, Oliver Avramoski, a project officer with the Protected Areas at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, warned the extension of the road following the demolition of buildings in the Lin-Pogradec area still poses a threat to the lake's protection.

Back in 2012, an advisory scoping mission identified unplanned urban development, waste water and solid waste disposal, natural habitat alteration, destruction and depletion of natural resources as the key threats to extending Albania's part of Lake Ohrid under UESCO protection.

The Lake Ohrid region is home to one of the world’s oldest lakes and is one of the most unique sources of biodiversity in Europe. The convergence of distinctive natural values with the quality and diversity of its cultural, material and spiritual heritage makes this region truly unique.

Two-thirds of Lake Ohrid located in Macedonia has already been inscribed on the World Heritage List but the integrity of this World Heritage property would be significantly reinforced by extending it to the remaining one-third of Lake Ohrid located in Albania, says UNESCO.

"The Lake Ohrid region is home to nearly 160,000 people, with more than 52,000 residing in Albania. The Ohrid Lake is extraordinary with the values it has. It is one of the oldest lakes in the world. It is isolated by hills and mountains and has a very rich fauna and flora,” Holta Copani, the head of Albania's National Agency of Protected Areas (NAPA), says in a UNESCO video.

Alexandra Fiebig, a UNESCO project officer, says a project is currently supporting the national authorities of Albania to prepare an extension file to also inscribe the Albanian part on the World Heritage List.

“Overall the project promotes an integrated approach, but sustainable tourism certainly plays a major role in this,” she says.

The UNESCO inscription leading to increased number of tourists would benefit both local guesthouse owners and farmers.

“I live in Tushemisht, Pogradec and I run a family business. We have four rooms that we rent during the summer vacations and in winter for different vacationers. If there is regional development for tourism, it would positively influence our family business,” says Elvira Taci, a guesthouse owner in Tueshemisht.

Ilir Hoxhallari, a farmer in Alarup village says “If tourism expands, we will have more opportunities to sell many more of the products that we cultivate in our agricultural land. For that reason, I think that tourism should be a priority for all of us. Not just for hotels and restaurants, but also for us as farmers.”

“If we will have cooperation among Ohrid, Struga and Pogradec and cooperation between local and central governments and with private entrepreneurship and foreign foundations, then I think we can make something good and attractive,” says Manushaqe Kromollaria of the Ohrid Development Association.

Albanian part of Lake Ohrid

Situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid, the town of Pogradec, southeastern Albania, is a city with an ancient history and numerous cultural, geological and natural values. Based on archaeological findings (ceramics) an Illyrian settlement existed on the hill in north-west of the city in the 5th century BC and was then fortified in the 4th century BC, the Albanian government said in its 2011 bid for Lake Ohrid’s extension.

The city of Pogradec and its historic-cultural region are located in a natural setting of exceptional beauty, while its historical centre represents an example of 19th-20th century Albanian vernacular architecture. Even though with a small area, its old typical streets and houses bear the values of Albanian vernacular architecture and urban setting, revealing the particular atmosphere of this period. The existence in this region of the ruins of the paleochristian church of Lin together with its exceptionally beautiful floor mosaics reveals the presence of Christianity as well as the importance of this area in the period. Traces of the Roman road Via Egnatia found in the region of Pogradec near the shores of Lake Ohrid are evidence of this important passage route in this part of Albania, authorities say.
                    [post_title] => Albania steps up efforts to get UNESCO protection for Lake Ohrid
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                    [post_content] => By Jerina Zaloshnja

At seven in the morning, on the third Tuesday in September of the year 2003, weighed down with some bags and all kinds of suitcases, I placed my foot on the threshold of our new apartment in R. for the first time. ‘The little captain’ weighed down more than me, in a worse state than me, entered behind me. In the dark, narrow corridor of the apartment, which we had rented only one week ago, we carelessly dropped everything we had and then we too dropped to the ground, completely exhausted among all the bags. In the first room on the right, at the end of the corridor, on a long queen size bed which creaked from want of oiling, right there, we lay down, both of us, just as we were, road weary, perspiring, dusty from all that stuff, belts and bags.

We should have arrived at our new apartment the day before but a last-minute mechanical problem in the front of the ferry we were taking caused us to leave at least four hours late.

If you could just see the people on the ship, pushing, waiting to set off. They laid their blankets on the ground, carefully lined up their shoes on the edge of their blankets as if to say, “Hey careful this is my territory -- that over there is yours.” They gladly but also with some annoyance opened some food they had packed – bread, cheese and boiled eggs.

Half an hour after the announcement over the loudspeaker, “Patience folks, a small defect, we’ll be delayed,” every deck of the ship was covered with these cotton blankets of every color and design. They were so multi-flowered and multi-colored that if seen from afar the cotton blankets would look like a spring garden and the people on them like flower seeds.

“Why don’t we sit like them?” -- asked ‘the little captain’ with a kind of annoyance and curiosity.

“Well, we’re not refugees,” I answered, “We’re different!”

True! We were different! We were not desperate refugees, unable to pay for a cabin, or a simple cot bed like the people on the blankets.

We had booked a ‘superior luxury’ cabin (although to be honest it was so stuffy it was hard to breath in there) while below there was a car filled to the brim with bags.

In the ‘superior luxury’ cabin I was set free from the burden of the bags, but it was pointless to shut ourselves in there so early.

“I’m hungry,” said ‘the little captain,’ so we headed for the restaurant. We passed by the blankets like a flower garden on the second, third and fourth floors. Would you believe if I told you we didn’t even look right or left in these areas. The restaurant had hot and ready meals, which many people were eating, and, with a quick head count, seemed to be populated with fewer people than the areas with those on the blankets. Would you believe that ‘the little captain’ first and I behind, we went directly to the VIP zone to the a la carte restaurant? Didn’t I tell you that we were a special case, that we were not refugees like all the others?

Half an hour after that cold supper that in fact was barely eatable under the situation, ‘little captain’ and I went out on the deck, next to the bow, I with a glass of red wine and he with a bottle of Coca Cola. It must have been awfully damp that early fall night, because it made your eyes water and you couldn’t keep them open and ‘captain's’ soft skin was damp as if water had poured on it. Nearby, the port lights dimmed, a little further the fading lights of the town. I rejoiced! Something new was waiting to happen to us, a beginning, a change. But for the moment nothing was moving with this ship. Could this be a signal, a sign, an invitation to turn back, to where they were waiting for us with open arms, our wonderful status quo.

“Look, we are moving”- ‘the little captain’ spoke.

Slowly, so slowly, with just one slide, our ferry slid, cast off, shaking a little back and forth. Soon the port lights started to get smaller, dimmer, more and more until they were quite lost.

“That’s it! it’s over!” I said to myself. In that moment, at that launching, in that loss of light and in the darkness, I understood that I and ‘the little captain’ were no longer as we were a little while ago. Why were we leaving? Had we not been fine?

The next day, the arrival in our new apartment in R. the following day until Sunday, practically all week, I cleaned, organized suitcases and all the stuff we had with us. I went out only to accompany ‘little captain’ to school, to shop, to drink a coffee at Roza’s bar. But I was happy with this new life full of housework and tiredness but without the worry and concern that had weighed down my spirit my whole life. I began to go to language courses and other courses, to take dance lessons once a week with the girls from the dance group at the church, to enjoy details, the little joys that life brings.

“Buona Domenica Signiora,” they say continually at ‘Roza’s bar!’

“Buona Domenica,” I answer with such a sweet disposition, relief! It’s the first time I hear such a greeting for Sundays. The first time I am so free, so uncluttered, enough about me.

But ‘the little captain?’ Well … ‘the little Captain’ bloomed as he deserved. In two years, he blossomed so wonderfully, like a flower turned toward the sun. I noticed the difference every day as I waited for him after school, with that happy childish face.

“Hey ‘captain’ what marks did you get?”

“An A,” he said, all lit up.

In every class after that he always showed up first, so that, when one of the students had to answer in class the teacher said, “Well let’s hear first what ‘prime minister’ has to say!” Who was prime minister you might ask. Well ‘the captain’ who else, my ‘little captain’ whom the school had nicknamed ‘prime minister’ because he was so wise.

In the following years we moved house three times. Not because we were not happy with the previous one, the neighborhood or the people but because we had to. ‘The captain’ was growing up and changing schools and in the larger towns you had to move, to run, to save time and the cost of transport.

Can you guess now how tired I was from all that moving, from all those bags. Sometimes I saw myself as a maid. Life is passing me by as I carry around items, clothes and things, some of which, to tell the truth I’ve seen only two or three times. My mom’s glossy bag when she came for a visit, my dad’s grey tie, some handkerchiefs, the little radio, the beige raincoat, the black telephone, a bunch of photographs, notebooks and dairies. Would you understand if I said that carrying things around has become a habit even when I go out for a little while?

“Eh, as if her arms have lengthened, as if she’s been to the gym,” whistles ‘the little captain.’ He’s right.

If you see a lady walking making a click clack sound, pulling a suitcase at night in our road, it’s me and those are our suitcases. Sometimes, especially uphill their weight seems unbearable, so much so that I feel like throwing them away and be done with it! I feel my heart pounding, as if it will burst from all that burden, from all those memories. Then I stop and rest a while and call ‘the captain.’

“Take them,” I say, “These suitcases, up to the house.” ‘The captain’ obeys immediately. He knows very well that without these suitcases, we wouldn’t be what we are.

 
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131687" align="alignright" width="300"]kapedani Kapedani (The Captain), Directed by Fehmi Hoshafi and Muharrem Fejzo, 1972 Photo: Albanian Cinema Project[/caption]

TIRANA, March 21 - An initiative by the state-funded Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes to ban the screening of communist era movies on public and private-run TVs because of their propaganda serving the country's former hardline Stalinist regime has sparked a public debate in Albania on whether such a step should be undertaken 25 years after the collapse of the regime and whether the ban will have the adverse effect of increasing interest on these movies which can be easily accessed via the internet.

Writer Agron Tufa, the head of the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania, journalism professor Anila Godole and Erald Kapri of the Audiovisual Media Authority are among the few public figures that have come out to back the idea of banning or curbing communist era films on TVs because of having a negative impact on the younger generation.

Meanwhile, film directors, researchers and an apparent major part of the public strongly oppose the censorship idea, arguing tha vital legacy is lost with their censorship.

Agron Tufa

“I don't know what kind of educational role can have the propaganda movies sparking hatred among Albanians, promoting genocide with the class war, religion and the most important post World War II poets, films that invent saboteurs and pay tribute to the party-run trials, that fling mud on the bourgeoisie, Europe and the U.S.,” says Agron Tufa, the initiator of the idea.

[caption id="attachment_131688" align="alignright" width="300"]Writer Agron Tufa Writer Agron Tufa[/caption]

A report by the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes has unveiled the 45-year communist regime that collapsed in the early 1990s imprisoned or interned for politically motivated reasons more than 90,000 people, of whom about 7,000 were killed or died of tortures.

“Are we trying to educate children and younger generations with the democratic spirit of freedom in order to be decent citizens of the country and Europe? Then, the free food with the genocidal and propaganda movies is not the right way,” says Tufa, who suggests the movies could screen at late hours with a short introduction.

“The proposed approach does not erase everything. We have stressed that the movies should be shortlisted in order to have a selection considering artistic/aesthetic criteria and based on these values, even though there could still be propaganda, the movies should be allowed to air in the late hours, preceding their screening with a five-minute talk. This talk, parenthesis or short speech, should explain that the movie should be understood in the era's ideological context and be aired thanks to its arts values (performing/directorial). A commission composed of cinema, literature, visual arts experts should be set up,” Tufa has told Albanian media in an interview.

According to him, the movies that have less propaganda can be aired with a notification orienting unprepared viewers. “Of course, this is a repertoire serving the former Albanian Labour Party for whoever doesn't know! That's why the late screening hours and the explanations should be compulsory,” he adds.

Tufa says such practice is also being followed in other former communist countries.

“The movies don't disappear. They remain in archives and are open to study, but there should be no free airing as currently happens in more than 30 TV channels. This cinematographic product should be included in the copyright law, because it belongs to their authors and creators. Such a solution has already been made in former communist countries such as East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and even Bulgaria. This means introducing rules in the jungle, otherwise if you offer viewers today such genocidal movies or documentaries, they will for sure keep alive and activate the nostalgic communism channel,” he adds, stressing the need for legal action to support the initiative.

“This should be proposed to the Albanian Parliament to include it under a special law.  A small number likes these movies, but we should act by a law banning propaganda, nostalgia and recidivism, if we have to clearly distance ourselves from our Stalinist dictatorship past as the former ‘people's democracies’ have earlier acted. At least this should come to an end on Albanian TVs. Of course, if you ask filmmakers of that era, they will not accept this at all. But they will also benefit from their copyright because their works are stolen with these transmission methods. If someone wants to watch let them surf on youtube as long as they can,” says Tufa.

Asked if his proposal damages a whole community of creators, directors, and actors, Tufa says "their right goes as far as it does not infringe our right. We are not at the peak of communism. There is no such precedent in the EU member countries, once satellites of the communist camp. When compared to them, like everything else in the field of culture, our cinema is 10-fold more compromised.”

Jonila Godole

[caption id="attachment_131689" align="alignright" width="300"]Jonila Godole Jonila Godole[/caption]

Jonila Godole, a journalism professor with the public University of Tirana who also runs a media and culture NGO, also support the idea of curbing communist era movie propaganda on TV, saying "maybe a single movie would pose no danger, but a thousand ones do.”

"Because these propagandist movies have only caused damage year after year, invented imaginary enemies, unfairly flung mud on social groups, created fake realities, typified the new Socialist man, whose evil model we have not yet removed from our skin, created seemingly historical myths based on nonsense, playing with the emotions of a downtrodden people suffering the need for freedom and independence without being based at all on these facts, if you consider the propagandistic documentaries of the socialist success that still air on TV with no accompanying explanation,” Godole has written on social networks.

The professor says the damage that this propagandist machinery of Albanian movies caused to the Albanians' cultural subconscience has been immeasurable in the past 70 years.

“I don't believe that those who today yell out the opposite are pushed by anybody rather than being the sheer argument of the consequence these movies have left on their individual memory. Why should the younger generation be served dangerous products for their mental and aesthetic health?! Let the respective experts decide on the movie/propaganda product despite their side effects and make decisions based on the cases in point. But first of all, remove them from the TV screens. Whoever is nostalgic, let them watch wherever they want or satisfy their appetite on Facebook, it is permitted."

 Erald Kapri

Erald Kapri a member of the Complaints Council of the Audiovisual Media Authority, AMA, also supports the idea of banning or curbing the screening of communist era movies on TV.

“As a member of AMA's Council of Complaints I will initiate institutional steps on a decision-making on their full ban or their screening in a predetermined hours. Children and youngsters do not have to watch mediocre movies that promote ‘the new man’,” he says.

“In no Eastern Europe country, furthermore in Germany and Italy are former dictatorship films or documentaries screened. This should also apply for Albania. Personally, as a researcher of war and establishment of dictatorship, I have followed with interest every film of documentary of the former communist dictatorship in Albania and almost each of them can be accessed on youtube. Everybody who is interested can find them online but their screening on TV is not legitimate at all,” he says.

 

Against the ban

Regina Longo

[caption id="attachment_131690" align="alignright" width="300"]Regina Longo Regina Longo[/caption]

Regina Longo, an American film and media archivist who heads the Albanian Cinema Project, an organization dedicated to preserving, restoring, and promoting film heritage under communism, is against the initiative to ban communist era movies.

In its four years of operation, the Albanians Cinema Project has already restored five films dating from 1967 to 1982 including Tomka dhe Shoket e Tij (Tomka and his friends) and the Nentori i Dyte (Second November), screening them in Albania and abroad.

“Put in short, according to me, these films bear values and it's worth restoring them and making them livelier even though we have to punish the regime of the era they were created. When we understand the story of how they were produced and how many people worked in the field of cinema in the Kinostudio era and how many studied filmmaking abroad etc. we will notice that not everything was closed down in Albania. There was always an open window. The cinema reflects the culture of the era when these movies were produced, but also a desired image,” Longo says in a letter addressed to director Piro Milkani published on local Albanian media.

“There are so many Albanian movies important from the point of view of artistic value and both historically and politically. As an archivist, my job involves saving and conserving as much as I can with the available tools and make possible the opening of these discussions, be they even tough ones, because in my opinion when we reach the crossroads, we have the opportunity to elaborate on these arguments and understand the past and the present better. If we don't watch them, we cannot discuss their goal and this can take to nowhere,” she adds.

Piro Milkani

[caption id="attachment_131691" align="alignright" width="300"]Piro Milkani Piro Milkani[/caption]

“I have the answer on the tip of my tongue and I am not at all hesitant about it. I have said as many times as I have been asked even when this debate was not open. I don't know yet if it was a good or bad thing but at a time when Hitler's Mein Kampf is published in Albania and banned in Germany there is no room for discussion,” says Piro Milkani, one of the country's best directors who studied filmmaking in Prague in the 1960s.

“Are Albanian movies so dangerous? I think this is a rather exaggerated debate despite the great respect toward those who in contrast to us were persecuted and suffered a lot under communism,” says Milkani, who has directed some of the country’s best movies films both under communism and during the past 25 years of transition.

Citing late Macedonian-Albanian politician Arben Xheferi, Milkani says the films produced at that time were not made for 3 million Albanians, but 10 million Albanians wherever they live.

"That is why I think that those who try to censor these movies, should bear in mind once and for all. They want to censor not 3 million, but 10 million Albanians,” he adds.

Elvira Diamanti

[caption id="attachment_131692" align="alignright" width="300"]Elvira Diamanti stars in 1987 Perralle nga e Kaluara (Tale from the past) movie Elvira Diamanti stars in the Perralle nga e Kaluara (Tale from the past) 1987 movie[/caption]

“As the director of the State Central Film Archive I want to tell you that we possess invaluable film heritage involving 8.5 million meters of film and that must be preserved with every means because we are not only Albania's archive, but also part of regional and world heritage,” says actress Elvira Diamanti.

She says launching this idea on the absolute TV ban of pre-1990s movies is in the best case something hurried and rancor that this piece of heritage does not deserve.

“A small and poor country such as Albania has one of the Balkan region's richest archives, even because of the passion Enver Hoxha's dictatorship had to document everything. What's going to happen after this? Should we ban all pre-90s literature, sculptures and everything created in those years,” says Diamanti, famous for her roles in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“Today in the internet and information boom era, how is it possible for youngsters to be damaged by the propaganda of these movies. This is impossible and underestimation for the Albanian society's intelligence. I think that in the end, only the passing of time will select the Socialist realism works and make it possible for their directors, actors and composers to get what they deserve.”

 BBC Radio

[caption id="attachment_131693" align="alignright" width="300"]Thomas Logoreci Thomas Logoreci[/caption]

The debate has also caught the attention of BBC radio who interviewed these days Thomas Logoreci, an Albanian-American filmmaker based in Tirana and one of the founders of the Albanian Cinema Project, created to protect the endangered Albanian film archive.

"Not elaborating on the aesthetic part which is different depending on viewpoints, I think these movies represent great historical values, because we have fiction, documentary animated films that were created under a period of great repression from 1944 to 1990,” said Logoreci.

"These movies also tackle social issues and this was recently researched by Juljan Bejko and I think these movies convey everything about that period even the regime's absurd aspect,” added the filmmaker, describing the initiative as politically motivated and an action that can have a bad impact on future movies.

Julian Bejko, a sociology professor with University of Tirana who has been researching into the history of the Albanian cinema for six years, says the communist-era movies serve to better understand the past and present.

“Albania today suffers from a more sophisticated type of amnesia in which discourse is fragmented into easy narratives that fit the political agendas of both right and left. Only through a nuanced understanding of communist modes of representation, rather than a facile dismissal of these tactics as an instrument of propaganda, can we begin to understand Albania’s complex and fractured development over the past two decades. It is this silence that ultimately harms memory and it is vital to undertake research to better realize the present visible within our cinematic past,” Bejko has written.

 Communist nostalgia remains strong

[caption id="attachment_131694" align="alignright" width="300"]Protesters in Tirana topple the statue of dictator Enver Hoxha in February 1991 Protesters in Tirana topple the statue of dictator Enver Hoxha in February 1991[/caption]

Albania has changed drastically since the death of the country’s communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, 31 years ago. But Hoxha, the leader of a brutal communist regime that murdered thousands of innocent Albanians, crushed all opposition and left the country in dire poverty in the late 1980s, is now seen in a positive light by a surprising large number of Albanians, a late 2016 survey supported by the OSCE Presence in Albania found.

According to a survey report on the Understanding and Perception of Citizens of the Communist Past in Albania, almost half of the population of Albania sees Enver Hoxha’s role in the history of the country as positive. The study found that 55 percent of citizens in the regions of southern and southwestern Albania that were interviewed, had the most positive view of Albania’s former communist dictator.

Almost half of the people surveyed think that Communism in Albania was “a good idea, poorly implemented.” Over a third of respondents think that Communism was simply “a bad idea.”

 
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