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Margriet de Moor launches second book in Albanian

TIRANA, Book Fair, 9th Ed. – The prominent Dutch writer, Margriet de Moor was present at the launching of her second book in Albanian, as part of the activities of the 9th edition of the Book Fair. The event was

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Ambassador Vacek: OSCE’s Political Mediation Role as Important as Ever

Last week, the efforts of the OSCE Presence in Albania to mediate between the government and the opposition for electoral reform ran into strong opposition by some of the main players of the opposition camp. While the majority supported the

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Rome, 1941. Another component of the manouvres to create the facade of the preservation of the independence of Albania following the Italian invasion, was also the integration of the Albanian Armed Forces within the Italian forces. In

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan lame Tirana, 1941. Llesh Topallaj, had returned towards the end of the twenties’. He was one of the closest associates of King Zog, who, on the complicated Albanian political scene, tried his best to secure his own wellbeing,

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Give me a Break

- “Seeing I’ll be in Tirana for a week, please send me your address because I would like to pay a visit to the offices of your newspaper,” wrote, BP in an e-mail, a well known Danish anthropologist, very interested

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Corrupt tradition of packing civil service with political clients forces scores of graduates to emigrate

By Karolina Risto Laura Xhaxho is leaving Albania. She says she has thought long and hard about it but has no choice. Educated in political sciences, with a diploma in international relations, the 27-year-old came back from Moscow with high

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Rethinking Albania’s informal economy

By Ridvan Bode Over the past few years there has been growing public anxiety over the damage caused by the informal section of the economy, parallel to a re-dimensioning of this section of the economy and its mounting pressure on

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A trip through the Valbona Valley

During this Summer, more than one thousand foreign tourists set up camp in the valley of the Valbona River, in Tropoja, 225 kilometers North East of Tirana. Never before have the “Cursed Alps”, known only to a small number of

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Time to give thanks and to reflect

TT: Mr. Szab

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame 1940-1943. The Game with the Crowns. In October 1940, the Italo-Greek War broke out, which lasted for roughly eight months and Mussolini only managed to win it thanks to the intervention of the Germans. The Greeks, who

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Book Fair, 9th Ed. - The prominent Dutch writer, Margriet de Moor was present at the launching of her second book in Albanian, as part of the activities of the 9th edition of the Book Fair. The event was organized this week in Tirana's Cultural Center "Arbnori". De Moor's book "The Kreutzer Sonata" was translated into Albanian by Edit Dibra and published by one of the biggest publishing houses, "Dituria". 
Well-known figures of Albanian intellectual elite were present at the launching event. Petrit Ymeri, head of "Dituria", opened the event by commenting on the successful collaboration of the house with the writer, which has brought her work to the Albanian reader. The translator of De Moor's first book, "First grey, then white and then blue", Virgjil Kule spoke about the pleasures and the challenges of this enterprise. Albanian scholar, Moikom Zeqo, contextualized the work of De Moor in the larger Western European tradition of art. The Netherlands' ambassador in Albania, Sweder van Voorst tot Voorst, greeted the meeting as one of the successful collaboration efforts to exchange cultural traditions and novelties between the two countries.
Commenting about the specific book, Translation professor Mirela Kumbaro characterized it "an intelligent love story." The writer herself expressed the deep gratitude to her translators for the care and the delicacy wit which they had worked upon her books. De Moor said that a book is like a musical act in a strange language and the translator is like the orchestra director which brings it to the diverse audience. Shifting between arts, organizing a stafeta (relay race) with both literature and music is according to de Moor a metaphor not only for her book but also for her professional life, which is split between her two passions.

TT- Is this your first time in Albania?
MM - Yes, the first. But not my first book. For 8 years another book of mine was published here so I consider that as being in Albania before because of my book.

TT - What are your impressions so far? 
MM - Everywhere they are working, on houses, on roads, they are building, doing things and that's a very good sign. To me it all seems one burst out of energy.

TT - How would Margriet de Moor introduce herself?
MM - No, I couldn't do that. I am only there for the audience by means of my books. As my books are very different, all the time with my books I take on a very different theme I must be a personality with very many images, that is if you want to connect me with all my books. I like to write. I don't write autobiographically. I am not a type of writer who is writing out of her own autobiography but I like to take themes that are strange for me and in my books they become close to me. My book "The Kreutzer sonata" is a book about a very classical European theme. It is in a way a thriller. A musical motif is able to destroy a love affair, not completely; in the end the love affair seems to have won the game. But there is a musical theme in the musical piece The Kreutzer Sonata, not the well-known piece of Beethoven, but of a string quartet of the Czech composer Jan⩥k, is doing the bed job. Although I am a musician and I love music in this book music is able to infiltrate in a rather naughty way in human relations. So that is special about this book. Another book of mine that was also published here in Albania, "First grey, then white, then blue", is about a woman who is leaving her home, her husband, her village and dwelling around the world for two years. She comes back and then refuses tot ell where she was and that becomes and enormous negative and very powerful, unbearable thing for everyone around her and in the end she is killed. So that is a book about a silent voice and the consequence of being silent, of refusing to tell, to talk. It's a thing that is very human; if you refuse to do that you turn yourself into a stranger and a very dangerous one. In the end she becomes a total stranger because she is dead and can't talk. 
TT - Since you are also a musician, when would you say the writer in you was born?
MM - It happened all very suddenly. Maybe the writer was always in me but I simply did not get the idea of starting writing my books. And only one day I just wanted to write a story, a short story. I was already in my forties and I was always a very passionate reader. And I was very content of being just a reader therefore I didn't come to the idea to be a writer myself. But one day, and I still don't know why, I just started to write this short story and from that moment I never stopped again. It was 18 years ago and since that moment I don't take holidays, I don't take weekends, I am always working. Except when I am traveling around like I am now. 

TT - Do you travel around a lot?
MM - For my books only. As I said I never take holidays. Why should I? Because of my books I can go to very interesting places, like now in Albania. I am only for three days here but yesterday my publisher took me to the castle of Skanderbeg (in Kruja) and we had lunch there and it was really idyllic and really so beautiful. It was late lunch and already the sun was going down. We were so high up in the country and that is very special for me. I come from a country which is completely flat. So we were in the midst of the mountains and it was really great. And that was only for a few hours for these few days so why should I go on holidays? 

TT - Are you familiar with the literature of writers form the Balkans and especially from Albania?
MM - I know very well your great writer Kadare. I consider him as one of the greatest writer s we have nowadays in the world. I love his work. I used to read him long before I had an Albanian publisher myself. And in fact the work that comes from the Balkans and of all East European writers appeal much more to me than the Anglo American lit. I like the East European and Balkan writers because of their great themes. The history of the Balkans is an enormous, complicated and dramatic history but rather close to us. Western Europe is not that far so it belongs a bit also to my own territory but it is all so different and much more dramatic. That's one and the other thing is that they not only have these wonderful themes, this passion in their stories but they have also an artistic way of making their books. The story is not only about how and when things happened. For that you can as well read the paper. They make real pieces of art out of it. They are very interested in the form and for me as a musician I think abstract. For a musician everything is form and movement and composition. So I look for that always in my own work. I try to make my books like that. I recognize immediately a book which has the same atmosphere. And that is what I love about the East European and Balkan writers. They are true artists. 

TT  - Do you think there is something special about being a woman writer and if you were to stand now in front of an aspiring woman writer what would be your first advice?
MM - Thinking not of yourself as a woman writer.  No it doesn't say very much to me being a woman writer. Because when you look at what is inspiring you, the world of course and everything in your life but more than all that its literature, and literature is still a territory much made by men. It's a fact. So what is inspiring me from all sides it's not typically the feministic thinking. So my advice would be for women writers: Don't stare at yourself as a woman writer! Stare only at yourself as a writer!

TT - I also have something I would call a slightly provocative question. Many people think that in societies when most of things go in the right way, with no major social, economic or political problems, there is a lack of exciting topics to write about. The best writers and the best novels come form the most problematic regions because there the fire of the inspiration is more intense. You come form the Netherlands, which here in Albania, perhaps mistakenly, we would consider a place where things more or less go in the right way. How would you comment on this phenomenon? Do you think that in your country there is a difficulty in finding interesting topics to write about?
MM - That's a very complicated question. In a way its true what you said that we in Western Europe and especially the Netherlands we are such a neat country. Everything is well and there is no huge corruption, we are very free as concerns freedom of speech. The funny thing is the Dutch always used to be a reading country; there is a lot of reading. When people read they also write. Everyone is amazed because we have a lot of writers and they are not bad at all. I myself as a duct writer I am not very much interested in my own fellow writers because they are Dutch and I know just too well the environment.  It is really true what you say. Therefore I don't like very much the Anglo-American literature. They have very good writers but the themes don't interest me they are very much concentrating on psychological themes. And I hate that kind of literature and therefore I feel so well in the Eastern European and Balkan and Russian and south American literature. I like literature with great passion themes. It is not very true that those spoiled countries, if we could call them like that, can't bring forward good writers.

TT - We maybe in Albania are not very familiar with Dutch writers. Whom would you recommend to Albanian readers to start with, contemporary writers? Any of your favorites?
MM - HmmƁs I said I have very few names form my own literature. The ones I have are older writers, Louis Marie-Anne Couperus and Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker). They are 19th century writers. Perhaps you should not take my word for that because writers often don't like their contemporaries of their own country.

TT - Which is your absolute favorite writer then?
MM - Oh no. I really can't say that. I am an addicted reader. I always read. I have to read. I have so many books I love. Now I think of one of the most beautiful books of Ivo Andric's "The Bridge over the Drina." You know it?

TT- Yes and I like it very much.
MM - You see the region it comes from. When I think about literary masterpieces it comes very quickly to my mind. This a book I love and adore.

TT - Finally as a curiosity. You titled your book the same as one of Tolstoy's best known. Do you think that was an obstacle to the book or something that brought some good luck?
MM - Of course I know Tolstoy's book. But when I was writing I was pretending really hard that that book did not exist. The Sonata is form Beethoven who in his turn was inspired by the Russian writer. My book is inspired from the Sonata of Jan⩥k who of course got his artistic inspiration from these predecessors. I hope my book is just another link in an endless artistic chain that has to go on.
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                    [post_content] => Last week, the efforts of the OSCE Presence in Albania to mediate between the government and the opposition for electoral reform ran into strong opposition by some of the main players of the opposition camp. While the majority supported the efforts of the OSCE, some opposition leaders questioned even the need for the Presence in Tirana. To talk about these issues and the role of the OSCE in the future, Tirana Times talked to Ambassador Pavel Vacek.

TT: Mr. Vacek, the OSCE Presence in Albania has been a constant actor in the Albanian public scene for years. Could you give us a resume of the main concerns of the Presence throughout the years and if they have evolved in any way?
The situation in Albania has evolved over the years and so have the mandate and work of the Presence. Thanks to the overall progress made since 1998, security in the country is much less of an issue for us. Under the reduced mandate of 2003, we have focused more on good governance and capacity-building of institutions in the niches where we are able to contribute.  We have also tried to channel more financial and material resources through our projects.  On this, we have gone from tens of thousands Euro in early 2000s to the order of millions per year now thanks to the support from willing donors. Of course, we keep pursuing the principal elements of the mandate: human rights, rule of law, legislative and other sectoral reforms, border police support and the list goes on.  However, in my two years here, I have looked for the Presence to take a lesser role in political mediation, especially in the area of electoral reform.  However,  the need does not seem to recede, contrary to what I would hope.
 
TT: The Presence started working at a time when the levels of confidence between different political groups in Albania were very low. In the meantime, it has tried hard to reestablish trust and communication between the different political parties. Do you think that it has been successful in this regard? More generally, are Albanian politicians more capable of consensus on questions of basic national interest than they were ten or fifteen years ago?
I cannot make such direct comparison first-hand Šand it would not be appropriate. The difficulty remains how to translate the consensus on a few key, strategic issues, which Albania seems to have, into a more constructive relationship between the Majority and the Opposition in dealing with operational issues of governance. How to overcome the tendency to turn every other legislative or governance issue into a casus belli, and a cause for obstruction, boycott or even street protests. This, of course, requires that rational arguments of the Opposition are listened to and reflected - and not ignored by the Majority. When such process is exhausted, the difference of political programmes usually lead up to a vote and then decisions taken by the majority have to be respected  by the minority. It is not the end of the world but it's the end of the particular debate on a particular decision. Simply because the voters so decided in the last elections and that should hold until the next elections. This may all sound like a lot of 'textbook wisdom' from me, but to achieve such state of mind and affairs is perhaps the most strategic issue Albania faces.

TT: There seem to be different expectations on the role OSCE should play in Albanian politics. Some see it as an arbitrator, others simply as a discreet backdoor facilitator, while others still want a more active role for the OSCE to put forward concrete proposals for breaking logjams. Could you please clarify the mandate of the OSCE during the various 'political crises' that revisit the Albanian political scene?
We are mandated to assist with several key reforms and this has historically involved facilitation of political processes. I have looked to reduce the Presence's involvement in such facilitation and sincerely hoped that the agreements on the electoral reform and the zones of 2004/early 2005 would be the last. Therefore, the need for the agreement of 30 August itself was a failure of the political class.  However, I hope there is still a chance to remedy the failure to deliver on that Agreement. 
 
TT: Lately, there have been loud criticisms mainly by opposition politicians of the OSCE for its position on electoral reform. What was OSCE's position and what is your answer to such criticism? 
We do not take public positions in the domestic political debate over electoral reform Ưr on any other issue for that matter.  We simply follow the set of general recommendations made by international observation missions and sometimes offer more specific legislative and technical advice. That advice is very often based not only on the proverbial standards, on practices and yes even common sense. This is a sovereign country and so our Albanian partners are of course free not to accept our advice. I can always live with that.  Let us just hope that on such occasions the politicians' decisions are informed and considered in political and technical terms, with the full knowledge of consequences, both domestically and internationally.  
What I have a difficulty with is when slogans replace facts, pretexts replace issues and where the messengers are attacked while the message is ignored.  The question is what have all the political class concretely achieved for the reform to take place?  Issues also change in time.  For example, if you had had   a thorough and lengthy debate over the number of election commission members one year ahead of the actual elections then of course you could have looked to go from 35.000 to 50 or 60,000 in election administration - that would be the effect of going for 11-member commissions.   Whether this is actually achievable with just two months before the legal date for local elections is another question - especially when we know that the CEC was already concerned about such added load last spring.  When we raise such issues we mean to provide input into a rational debate that should take place between domestic political actors and less so with the international community.  And the insults ...? They are not worth responding to. 

TT: In your opinion, is Albania on track for the upcoming local elections in terms of electoral code reform and election infrastructure?
Albania is definitely not on the right track for better municipal elections. The reform, at least the reform relevant for the municipal elections which should have taken place, has not been agreed and the technical preparations are delayed due to political and legislative manoeuvring. And, of course, the weather which you usually have within the legal window for the municipal elections will not make it any easier to conduct smoothly all election routines, at least in some parts of the country.  However, this last problem has been well known to all.  Was it not already well known during the last reform? Hasn't there been enough time for debating and agreeing on all key issues since September 2005?  

TT: What is your vision for the OSCE Presence in Albania after the elections? 
I can hope the elections will be considerably better than those in the past but the chances of that happening are reduced with each and every day which passes without the reform debate concluded and technical preparations done. Otherwise, we have our standard plans prepared for the 2007, including the budget, consulted with the government being discussed in Vienna and we will follow those. There is always life after electionsō

TT: Anything else?
So how about this one: "You dont need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows... "(Bob Dylan said that... I guess in the first song on his first "electric" album of 1965,...)
_________________________________________________
Curriculum Vitae - Ambassador Pavel Vacek

Born in August 1962 in the Czech Republic, Ambassador Vacek was appointed Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania as of 6 October 2004. During his career, he has served in a variety of international positions related to security and co-operation in the OSCE region.
At the Prague School of Economics, Mr. Vacek studied foreign trade and joined the Czechoslovak Foreign Service upon graduation. From 1989 to 1990, he was a member of the Czechoslovak delegation to the confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) talks in Vienna. Subsequently, he served as Assistant to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In 1993, he became Director of the Security Policy Department of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then Head of the Czech Delegation to the CSCE Committee of Senior Officials. He also represented the Czech Republic in the talks on the EU/OSCE Pact on stability.
Ambassador Vacek moved to Brussels in 1995, where he became Deputy Head of the Czech Embassy. In 1997, he was appointed Head of the Mission of the Czech Republic to NATO and to the Western European Union. He returned to Prague as Director General for Integration and then Director General for Multilateral Affairs at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 1999, he was appointed Head of the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the UN, the OSCE and other international organizations in Vienna. He has chaired several groups, including the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation and the UN Commissions on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and on Narcotic Drugs.
Ambassador Vacek is fluent in English, French and Russian.
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Rome, 1941. Another component of the manouvres to create the facade of the preservation of the independence of Albania following the Italian invasion, was also the integration of the Albanian Armed Forces within the Italian forces. In this context, in the ranks of the Royal Italian Guard, the Regiment of the Royal Albanian Guard was also created, which had presentation and ceremonial functions. The Royal Italian Guard (today the Presidential Guard), was made up of the Tank Regiments, which have the same uniforms to this day, very majestic and quite striking. For the Albanians to integrate totally into this Guard from an appearances point of view, a ceremonial unifrom was designed specially for them based on the Albanian national costumes, in two types: one with thick woollen fabric leggings and the other based on the fustanella. The Royal Guard discharged duties in Albania, the principle government buildings ( Military HQ, the Royal Palace and the Prime Minister's Building). At given days of the year, the Albanians were also on service at the Royal Palace in Rome. This Reginment existed up until 1943, to later on be dismantled together with the Italian Army in September of the same year.
Thhe photograph shows two soldiers of the Regiment of the Royal Albanian Guard, on ceremonial guard duty in front of the main Porte of the Royal Palace in Rome. Quirinale, at that time the Seat of the Monarch of Italy, who was also Albania's Monarch, in 1946 became the seat of the President of teh Italian Republic. The two Albanian guards, standing in front of the Guard Boxes are wearing ceremonial uniform with the woollen leggings and are armed with Italian rifles, mod.19. A little further inside the gate, you can see an Italian  Police Officer dressed in parade uniform, probably to duplicate the Albanians who were not readily trusted. 
Nothing has changed at this location. The Palace is the same, but now, for the last few months, the last Italian President from Naples has been in office. The Guard boxes are still the same, except that the Albanian guards have now been replaced by Italians. Whoever has been to Rome would immediately recognise this picture, which precisely in its overall unchanging form, has helped to give Rome its name of, "The Eternal City."
Whereas all we have left is the memory of a moment in history when we were not received at teh back door of some EU office, but we stood to attention, armed, at the porte of the highest authority of the country.
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                    [post_content] => By Artan lame
Tirana, 1941. Llesh Topallaj, had returned towards the end of the twenties'. He was one of the closest associates of King Zog, who, on the complicated Albanian political scene, tried his best to secure his own wellbeing, always surrounding himself with his own, loyal companions. Llesh Topallaj, the offspring of a well known Catholic family of the North, had embarked on a military career, the levels of which he ascended swiftly(In 1925 he was made a Captain and by 1927 he had become a Major), solely due to his blind faithfulness to Zog.
In 1931, whilst accompanying the King to Vienna, where he had gone for medical treatment, he was killed in the famous assassination attempt on Zog's life there. The assassins, who did not know Zog well physically, approached the vehicle and opened fire against Topallaj, as ne appeared to be the most important person there, who had the more moles on his face and straps of rank on his shoulder pads.However, on that particular day it wazs Major Topallaj who was dressed in ceremonial military uniform whil escorting the King who was dressed in civillian attire. Zog escaped, Llesh, however, did not. 
All the honors possible were bestowed on him and in Tirana a monument was erected with his bust, which used to be at the entrance to Durres Road, where that huge yawning hole is today, adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce. Following the Italian occupation, seeing they had no real reason to honour the Major who had been a faithful of the Albanian King, whom they overthrew, they did not move the monument, but they did lessen whatever value it had by tucking it away in a corner among shops. After liberation, the ones who came to office then had absolutely no scruples whe n it came to those who had been faithful to King Zog, and the monument dissapeared without trace, the bronze was probably melted to mould  busts of the faithfuls to the new Commander.
The photo shows the work going on to build the shops around the bust of Llesh Topallaj. The building in the central background of the photo is the vila where the Embassy of the Vatican is located today.
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_content] => - "Seeing I'll be in Tirana for a week, please send me your address because I would like to pay a visit to the offices of your newspaper," wrote, BP in an e-mail, a well known Danish anthropologist, very interested in Albania and the Albanians and a collaborator of Tirana Times. 
-Address, what address, I almost said out loud, but contained myself. -Do you know the zone called "The Bloc?"
-Of course-BP replies with a shade of sarcasm in his lines.
-Right, well our offices are directly opposite the former residence of Mehmet Shehu (former Albanian Prime Minister in the 70-80ties).
-What's that? - BP asks anxiously.
-Just my luck, I say to myself. BP knows about Albania's history, but unfortunately, he doesn't know details like for example, where the residence of the former PM of Albania is located, the house where Shehu lived out the last years of his life.
-Forget about it thenŭ
-No, no, hang on, what do you mean forget about it? - came the surprised reply of my Danish friend. -Give me different bearings, another pointer.-
-O.K. Do you know where the residence of our former dictator Enver Hoxha is?-
-I believe so, but still, maybe not, - he said in his most evasive tone possible.
-Well, if you did know, then our offices are no more than 500 meters awayō
-Well, I'm not sureō
Then I recalled that the building that houses the Tirana Times offices stands out like a sore thumb due to the amazing color scheme applied when it was painted, a figment of the imagination of Tirana's Mayor. Without doubt this building has been for foreigner visitors to the city, like a blazing lighthouse. I often notice them from the office window as they pause and tilt their heads back like birds to gaze upwards at the incredible fa袤e. Not even our anthropologist from Denmark can have missed this kaleidoscope of fantasies.
-I wonder if you've noticed the predominantly bright orange building where the Manhattan Coffee Bar is.? 
-Of course,-the answer shoots back.
-That is exactly the building the offices are in.
So it was no big surprise that he found us. BP arrived at the door of our editorial office on the third Friday of October, at 14:00 hours on the dot, as we had arranged.   
It's strange how insignificant events bring to mind some simple truths, but unfortunately never really thought of and utterly out of the usual. One of these things is the following. Tirana, the capital of Albania is a city without addresses. The principle arteries crisscrossing the centre of the city bear names, predominantly the names of distinguished figures of world, history, politics and only a handful of names of Albanian figures of renown. But no-one uses these names. No-one knows them. Instead of streetsnames and numbers, generation after generation of Tirana citizens have used as directions, the names of a handful of individuals who are far removed from them, their history, glory, traditions, art and culture. The names the city uses to reach locations are linked either to money or former state spies. For example, when anyone asks where I used to live, I promptly reply - in the bloc, opposite the apartment of Sulo Gradeci. - BP would of course be justified in asking who Gradeci is, just as any other foreign visitor who does not know the details of the history of Tirana. Is he perhaps a kind of Janosh Huniad of the Albanians, perhaps a hero, a martyr, distinguished political expert? No I must answer this question, myself. Sulo Gradeci, across from whom I lived for thirty years, is nothing other than a police officer or a bodyguard. But not the usual run of bodyguard. He was the most trusted bodyguard who headed the personal security detail of our great leader E.Hoxha during the last twenty years of his life. In other words, nothing but a simple police officer from a shepherd's backgroundō
But there is even more to the Albanian wonder. If BP were ever inclined to ask me where my new apartment is, I would again be compelled to offer a similar answer and say, opposite the home of Ramiz Alia, the former Albanian President before the ninetiesơdjacent to the Twin Towers.
And BP could well be surprised and say, "Wow, there are Twin Towers in Tirana too?!"
Then I would have to explain that they're nothing like the former Twin Towers of Manhattan, but that they are "twin towers" because of their owners, two very wealthy brothers from Lushnja (Central Albania), who turned up in Tirana one fine day. Short and stocky, with big bellies, the twins suddenly began opening up the foundations of a new apartment bloc in the middle of the back yard of our apartment bloc, which was once a pleasant recreation area for us. We were astonished by the resemblance between the twins, but even more so by the speed with which that building of theirs went up. Without the slightest hesitation, we began describing our location as being, "the zone next to the twins' building." 
I'm certain that other Tirana residents have similar absurd points of reference for addresses. I would not be surprised if even foreigners who live and work in Tirana, for example, you, our readers, were to give me similar, strange directions instead of your addresses. For example, "I live next to the "Pinguli" building. (Pinguli is a successful builder whose apartments are in the top price brackets, in other words among the most sought after in Tirana). 
You're somewhat more fortunate if you live in one of the "Dulaku" apartment blocs. Dulaku is an even more successful builder than the first one. He is also the best of them if you happen to live in "his building in Fieri!"  You next question could well be, "Well, who is he?" No one seems to know. He is merely a businessman from Fieri (Central Albania), no one even seems to know his full name. This businessman constructed a huge bloc of apartments in one of the most popular residential zones of Tirana known as "The Bloc." He astounded everyone with the amount of capital he had. So in the old buildings surrounding it you can hear such directions being given as "to the right of the building of the man from Fieri." How's that for a solution?
By giving directions or addresses in this manner, to a certain degree you are indicating the social level, the financial status of a family of Tirana. For example, if someone says they live in the "Dulaku buildings," then undoubtedly, they are part of the newly created wealthy stratum of Albania, members of Albania's Nouveau Riche, people who have made several millions of dollars or euro over these last twenty years. Whoever says that they live, for example, in or in close proximity to the apartment bloc of Enver Hoxha's former bodyguard (close to my old flat), are, nine times out of ten, members of the "nobility" of the past, who now no longer have the titles and even less the money. Whoever gives you directions to reach them in the "Davidoff Building" or the "Quo Vadis" Tower, are either our Nouveau Riche or foreigners employed in international organizations.  Naturally others will give you directions for Bathore and again there is no need for further commentō
This is the strange way that a city and a society create their system of values. Up to this point there is probably nothing new here for anyone who knows Albania and the Albanians. The strangeness lies elsewhere. 10 days ago, the most astounding news flashed across the TV screens. "For the first time in all its history, Albania finally had its own Zip Code..!" Zip CodeƯr Zip Kud! Wonders will never cease! But what is the use of a zip code in a country that has no addresses, or with the direction/addresses we described above. This is like building a house beginning from its roof. The question is simple. What kind of technology builds a house starting from its roof?!
                    [post_title] =>  Give me a Break 
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                    [post_content] => By Karolina Risto 
Laura Xhaxho is leaving Albania. She says she has thought long and hard about it but has no choice. 
Educated in political sciences, with a diploma in international relations, the 27-year-old came back from Moscow with high hopes in March 2005. 
Her good curriculum got her a job almost immediately with Albania's Central Election Commission, CEC, and within a few months the chairman, Ilirjan Celibashi, had offered her the post of his assistant. 
But in April 2006, after general elections saw the Democratic Party replace the Socialists in power, her career came to a full stop.
After a candidate of the new ruling party replaced Celibashi, in July, Xhaxho was also fired. Officially this was because her post had been opened up to competition.

Unofficially, she feels other factors were at work. According to her, the new boss had said she had worked too closely with the ex-chairman. 
Months later, she remains jobless. After deciding her position is hopeless she is leaving again, this time for the Czech Republic, where for three years she will study for a doctorate. 
Xhaxho is not the only highly educated Albanian leaving the country. One year after the elections, the new government's pledge to introduce a "small but efficient government" is cutting a swathe through the public administration, leaving many who were hired under the Socialists jobless and feeling as if they are on a black list.
The Socialists claimed that only weeks after the polls, the new authorities dismissed more than a thousand people because they used to work for them. 
An investigative parliamentary commission is still looking at these figures. In the meantime, out-of-work civil servants have the choice of finding a job in the private sector, waiting until the government changes again, or leaving. 
Erjon Velia, of the human rights NGO Mjaft, which means "Stop", said the sackings were forcing too many of the countries brightest and best to quit the country. 
"Many of my friends came back after finishing studies in the best universities to work and live in this country," he said. "After the change of power, they are jobless and have left again." 
The problem has been raised by the Ombudsman. He has reminded the new government that they complained of the practice of removing civil servants for political reasons when the Socialists were in power. Now they are doing the same.

It is a tradition in Albania. Each time the two main parties change power, the winner fills the administration with political allies. The sacked workers know they will have to wait a long time to get their posts back, so they leave the country. 
The brain drain is widely seen as one of the biggest problems in Albania, though no one knows exactly how many educated Albanians have left in the last year.
Unemployment is obviously the main reason. In 2005, some 14 per cent of the workforce were without jobs, meaning 154,000 people.

The jobless rate has remained fairly stable for some years, though some economists hope it will fall as the economy grows steadily. 
One good sign is that at least everybody admits the brain drain is a problem. A few days after marking one year as prime minister, Sali Berisha announced an initiative to lure some of the exiles back home. 
On September 29, Berisha declared his programme would tackle three main categories of involuntary exiles - academics, public administrators and businessmen. 
Whether his initiative will have results is unclear. So far, it involves little more than promises to improve the access of young people to work experience and practical-training programmes. 
But such schemes already exist, permitting certain students, for example, to follow the daily round of the prime minister's office. 
The problem is that work-experience programmes do not necessarily lead to employment. After the courses finish, the youngsters have to get out and find a job by themselves. Who fails to do so is destined to leave the country. 
The pattern of migration is set up at high school. Once the most talented teenagers finish high school, they usually insist on going abroad. 
Take Jonilda Bozo who gained the highest marks out of the high school students of 2006 in Albania. 
The ministry of education gave her a laptop for coming first. But her only request, addressed to the minister, was for a scholarship to study abroad. 
She is still awaiting an answer. But her interest will have been stimulated by the premier's pledge, made on the same day as the initiative to stop the brain drain, to draw up a deal with Harvard University "to enable our greatest students to study there". 
In reality, the problem of emigration is not just a matter of young intellectuals. 
Ever since the country's doors opened in 1990, people of all qualifications and none have poured out for the simple reason that if they go abroad they can expect to get paid far more than if they stayed. 
Now Laura Xhaxho, who wanted to find a job in Albania, is about to join them. 
Whether she returns after finishing her doctorate is uncertain. "If someone offered me a job, I would not leave, but no job means no future," she said. 
(Balkan Insight, 18 Oct 06)
                    [post_title] =>  Corrupt tradition of packing civil service with political clients forces scores of graduates to emigrate 
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                    [post_content] => By Ridvan Bode
Over the past few years there has been growing public anxiety over the damage caused by the informal section of the economy, parallel to a re-dimensioning of this section of the economy and its mounting pressure on the rest of the economy. Some of the aberrant phenomena that have accompanied economic developments in our country during this period are linked with and conditioned by the proportions of the informal economy and the factors that have favoured it within these proportions. 
The definitions of informal economy differ in many aspects, but, in every case they are linked, first and foremost, with phenomena of fiscal evasion and illegal labour. They comprise the entirety of economic activities that shirk payment of legal obligations, hence neglecting and by-passing any respect to meet legal obligations, in an all-out effort to secure illegal, immediate and unfair profits, at all times detrimental to the State. 
In Albania, signs of an informal economy first appeared during the initial phase of the country's transition to a market economy, when the rates of the development of an institutional, fiscal and regulating legal framework fell well behind the development of the sector of private business. Later on, it became a structural part of the economy and its most dynamic sector, because interests of politics, subjected to corruption that overcomes every segment of the state, found in informality the instrument through which they had access to immediate and colossal sums of money as well as the means to selectively ruin rivals or dynamic parts of the economy. International institutions that have assisted the country during this period, such as the European Commission (2003), the World Bank (2004), the OECD (study of the compact of investments, 2004), etc., have provided findings of such an analysis too. 
The informal economy and the criminal economy, frequently described as the grey and black economies, are not one and the same thing, however, in the conditions of our country, where, for no mean length of time organized crime did become a structural part of the government, the informal part of the economy was used to justify the super profits gained from criminal activities.
The war against the informal economy, as the most successful index of the domination over the phenomena of corruption and fiscal evasion, constitutes one of the cardinal priorities of our Government's program. The drafting of an adequate and successful action platform requires in-depth knowledge of all the factors and components of this economic informality. Of course the existence of a clear political will to fight the above mentioned phenomena is vital, but not sufficient if programmed and institutional action is not taken against them.
Among the defining factors of the dominating level of the informal economy, or of the illegal part of the economy, is, first of all, the huge dissemination of corruption, this disease which like an epidemic, infected the entire pyramid of government and which created feelings of a national fate. The loss of confidence and trust in the government, its administration, accompanied by inconsistent and arbitrary laws and sub-statutory legislation, massively enhanced the pull towards informality. In the face of businesses of the state officials and those linked to them, legitimate businesses often found themselves facing the one alternative of concealing parts of their businesses in exchange for a bribe, selling out their freedom once and for all to the small time tax collectors of the government officials.
Another factor that has stimulated informality has to do with the multiplied bureaucratic procedures of the administration, the increased number of clerical windows, all the permits and licenses a businessman needs before he is granted the right to exercise economic activity. 
High levels of taxes in general, high levels of direct taxes, income taxes, incite both employers and employees, in circumstances of low retribution risk because of the wide-spread corruption, to try and steer a part of their business towards informality. The growth of informality as a result of higher taxes, leads, in these conditions, to the insufficiency of public financial sources to correctly discharge the natural functions of the government, committed to the state budget, and this is why it incites political decision-making towards a new growth of taxes. This is a vicious circle, where high taxes encourage informality and high level informality leads to a further growth of taxes, to subsequently produce because of this, new and an even higher degree of informality. Due to this vicious circle, within six years, the legal burden of income taxes went up 24 percentage points above the GDP and the fiscal income moved up only 3 percentage points above the GDP. 
Other factors that encourage the growth of the informal part of our economy and facilitate exercising it, are related to structural aspects of our economy, such as the existence of predominant family businesses and small businesses, more than 90 per cent; no clear definition of ownership rights for such a very long time; the absence of a standard that provides final and accurate identification of citizens, which would decrease possibilities of operating activities under false identities, or transforming businesses with bad legal track records to other individuals; a regulating reform of the market has still not been implemented in our country and so on.
Due to the simultaneous and intense operation of either one or all the above mentioned factors, the level of the informal economy in Albania is the most wide-spread out of all the countries of the region and there is an upwards trend. If in the year 2002, Schneider believed that the level of informality in our economy stood at 33 per cent of the GDP, the OECD Report of 2004 quotes this level at up to 60 per cent of the GDP, which means that the informal part is 1.4 times greater than the part that operates within legal standards. This trend differs a great deal from the experience of our neighbouring countries (apart from Bosnia Hercogovina), which are placing under the control of the law the also very large parts of their economies that were informal too. 
It is now broadly accepted that, irrespective of the fact that not the entire informal part of the economy is a loss of national assets of a country, the informal economy does play a tangible regressive role on the development rates and capacities of countries. Voices justifying economic informality have not been lacking in public debate on the subject in our country as well, however, following a long term of hesitation on the part of previous governments, the program of the current government embodies its final choice: to overcome informality at all costs as a synthesis of corruption and fiscal evasion.
Observations of our country too reveal that there is a full correlation between the growth of the informal economy and the insufficiency of public revenue and the growth of taxes. It is these two indices that are at the roots of the suffocating environment for business and of the growth of the public debt, which lead to the overall freezing of credits for private businesses. In the face of the high level of taxes and the lower level of fiscal performance, our country has been a unique example for low level crediting of the economy-only 7 per cent of the GDP (Croatia 55% of the GDP, less in Macedonia with 25% of the GDP). In less than one year and due to the growth of fiscal performance, the level of crediting private business trebled in relation to the GDP.  
Informality of the economy, has not only gravely damaged competition on the market and has lowered its transparency to the same degree, but it has blocked re-allocation of funds and sources of capital in conformity with the advantages the country offers in the context of the regional economy and further a-field.
The structure of our economy tends to expand towards sectors based on informality (building industry), towards products that are unmarketable. This is accompanied by the growth of the country's trade deficit and a deep-going distortion of the labour market. Due to this spreading informality a decline in the rates of the economic development of the country is being noted, and, according to many expert observations and research, there are gowning doubts as to whether or not high development rates for a medium-term period can be guaranteed.
Specific programs drafted by the Government to fight informality place the Ministry of Finance in the centre as the focal point, which, within the course of one year had made profound changes in terms of legislation. Legislation has been greatly improved; the legal framework has been totally reviewed to make it consistent and to minimize administrative arbitrariness. Time required to register a business has been cut back to 8 days and procedures have been liberalized on a great deal of licenses and patents that were previously required. The level of taxes has been reduced by $US320 million per annum, reducing the fiscal barriers by one fifth, allowing the entrance onto the market of those businesses which could not compete previously because the high level of taxes excluded them from any possible economic benefit. All these reductions have been made on direct taxes, where the corporative tax, within one year, has been reduced 15 per cent (from 23 to 25 per cent), labour tax 30 per cent( from 29 to 20 per cent),  tax on small business has been halved and customs tax has been lifted on machinery, equipment and raw materials imported.
The results in the reduction of the informal economy are more than visible and there are indices that testify to this. Irrespective of the reduction of the levels of taxes, during 2006 alone, fiscal income in the budget rose 1.5 percentage points above the GDP (during 20012005 it rose only 0.9 percentage points in five years). The number of businesses registered has increased by 20,000 and the number of employed, on social welfare schemes has risen by 40,000 persons.
The initial results are only an encouragement. The total overcoming of the phenomenon remains a challenge of the government and this is why an adequate and coordinated program is required.
First it is a challange because the proportions of the phenomenon are extraordinary and beyond all comparison with similar experiences.
It is a challange, because the war on informality is waged together with government programs for the regulating of the state, for the liberalisation of procedures and licenses, for the improvement of the climate of business, for the growth of budget revenue. It is a challange because, in this process, the operation of the law and its penalizing force must be guaranteed.
The will of the government, its political decisiveness and the existence of a broad opinion opposing the factors and the centres that encouraged this informality, the growth of the technical capacity of the administration, constitute today arguments of the success called for in the fight against informality.
                    [post_title] =>  Rethinking Albania's informal economy 
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                    [post_content] => During this Summer, more than one thousand foreign tourists set up camp in the valley of the Valbona River, in Tropoja, 225 kilometers North East of Tirana. Never before have the "Cursed Alps", known only to a small number of Albanians, been such an attraction to tourists from Czechoslovakia, Germany or Kosovo. For those foreigners who have always been curious to explore zones that have rarely been traversed by man, Valbona is a genuine miracle, well worth the sacrifice of the long journey to get there, often on very rough roads. Although it is located a mere 25 kilometers from the town of Bajram Curri, it takes about two hours to travel over an entirely degraded road to reach Valbona. In fact, if it were not for the magic that Nature weaves with the stunning scenery it offers the travellor, the journey to Valbona would be exceptionally arduous.  
The moment you drive around the Canyon of Shoshani, you have the feeling that you are winding through endless gorges and up the faces of mountains, one after the other. Nowhere else in Albania can you come cross such steep mountain slopes and vallies as in Klisyra, Dragobia, Quka and Dunisha. And when you're finally convinced that this alpine meandering will go on forever, the biggest village in the zone, Dragobia suddenly confronts you.
The village is entirely desserted adn the greater part of its inhabitants have abandoned the 200 year solid stone houses, in search of a better life in London or Tirana. As soon as you exist this village, on the right hand side of the Valbona River, at the foot of a huge rock face which you can barely distinguish through the foilage of the dense forest, is the mouth to the Cave of Bajram Curri, as it is known. Bajram Curri was an outstanding Albanian warrior and hero 1910-1920). Legend has it that the remains of the Hero from Tropoja have been laid to rest there, but there is no record among the locals of anyone having seen this. After leaving Dragobia behind, one of Albania's most wonderful waterfalls comes into sight: the Valbona Waterfall. The locals believe that this location has been blessed by the wood fairies(semi-Godlike creatures of Albanian mythology), who every evening would bathe in these crystal waters. After the waterfall, the mountains of Jezerca to the North, Zhaborr Ridge and of the Open Gorges to the South, all form a glacial plateau, on which the village of Valbona is located, with a population of about 300. And from this glacial field, where tourism died back in the eighties', you can see the eternal snow fields high up on the steep slopes of the mountains of Kollata, of the White Circle. Just a little further on is the Rragami waterfall located near the village that bears the same name. 

Instead of hotels-there are houses-like minature stone fortresses, easily 200 years old.
In Valbona, in this village with its 300 inhabitants, there are no hotels as normally conceived, but there are several traditional fortress-houses which have been adapted and renovated into inns for tourists, along the lines of local tradition. The locals have never hesitated to welcome visitors into their homes. In these 200 year old traditional fortress-houses, tourists have been warmly welcomed and looked after, particularly from Italy. Czech and German tourists have preferred camping in their own tents and spending their days exploring the Albanian Alps.
In fact, apart from the sheer beauty of its scenery Valbona has nothing else to offer. Irespective of this, more than one thousand tourists thought it well worth their while to spend several nights in this valley, during the tourist season that has just drawn to a close. "There have been many tourists up here this year, chiefly Czech and Kosovans and they stayed for days," says Dritan Selimaj, whose eatery and bar is the only place in the whole zone where you can try the local cooking. In this eatery, in the centre of the village, the meat is roasted on a huge split outdoors and it is served with local diary products and vegetables. This is the sole investment that has been made in the area for tourists. With the profits he made during this tourist season, Dritan says he will build a breeding area for the local magnificent rainbow trout. Dritan is not the only one who has benefitted from the tourist season in Valbona however. Many of the locals in Valbona have been only to eager to rent out their fortress-houses to tourists for very reasonable prices. "We have rented out well equipped rooms for 10 Euro a night, but this is far better than nothing," says Dritan, who during the Summer rented out the three floors of his home, turnign it into an inn. Other locals in Valbona have done the same. Whilst the main hotel of Valbona, built in 1987 functioned up until three years ago. Today, the building has been reduced to a pile of rubble tainitng the beauty of the scenery arouind it. The Commune Mayor says that tourism has been privatized, the regulation of which would attract more than a thousand tourists to Valbona to Valbona. 

Poverty
For 20 years, the Albanian state has not spent a single penny on Albania's most spectacular alpine zone. In the eighties,' tourism flourished locally, while today, 300 inhabitants live and subsist on remittance money and revenue from their alpine pastures. Even the local village school was rennovated by funds provided by the US. We inaugarated the school building a week ago, before that lessons were conducted in deplorable conditions. At least a road should be put in, during the Winter we are entirely cut off from the rest of the country," a local says for Tirana Times. Living here in the village is exceptionally dfificult. There is only life here in the Summer months, in the Winter everything is covered in snow. Apart from the four teachers and the local nurse in Valbona, only ten other locals are employed. The only private investment in the zone is a water processing plant installed by a local businessman. The owner says he invested 350 thousand to launch Valbona drinking water on the market.

Valbona Valley National Park
The Valbona Valley has been proclaimed a National Park. Apart from the name however, it does not benefit anything else from investments made by the Albanian state. The valley has a surface area of about eight thouand hectares and is located 25-30 kilometers North East of the city of Bajram Curri. The Valley lies in the northern most part of the country, east of the alpine massif which falls within the district of Tropoja. The Valbona Valley begins from the Valbona Gorge, to the West and ends in the Drini Valley to the South West, very close to the dam of the Fierza Hydropower Scheme. Its length from the Valbona Gorge to the River Drin is 50.6 kilometers. The Valley stretches at the feet of towering mountains and displays an incredibly beautiful selection of colours, in every season, creating the image of a valley full of labarynths and surprises. Its scientific, touristic and health values are combined with a biodiversity of national and international importance. The rocky peaks, the forests, the mountain streams and the Valbona River, seen from above, create the image of a giant and breath-taking crater. The natural conditions of this park are very favourable for all kinds of tourist attractions; wonderful fresh water trout fishing; relaxation; alpinism and a broad range of sports. Deep in the interior of the Park there are some very interesting caves. The Dragobia Cave is the most famous, where the remains of Bajram Curri are purported to be.
                    [post_title] =>  A trip through the Valbona Valley 
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                    [post_content] => TT: Mr. Szab
                    [post_title] =>  Time to give thanks and to reflect 
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
1940-1943. The Game with the Crowns. In October 1940, the Italo-Greek War broke out, which lasted for roughly eight months and Mussolini only managed to win it thanks to the intervention of the Germans. The Greeks, who felt betrayed and attacked in their own country, put up a strong resistance to the Italian Armed Forces, mobilizing all the forces and means at their disposal. In the domain of propaganda, dozens of cartoons appeared in the Greek newspapers during those months, where all means available were used to take the Mickey out of the Italians. In the first cartoon you can see Mussolini (characteristic features: sagging belly and bald head), offering King Viktor Emanuel III the Crown of the Greek Monarchy too. The Greek Monarch, (also short due to a genetic defect at birth), can be seen in parade dress, with three crowns on his head; the Crown of the King of Italy, the Crown of the Emperor of Ethiopia and the Crown of the King of Albania, which were his three official titles. At the tips of the three crowns, you can make out the goat horns of Skenderbeg's Coat of Arms, which symbolically played the role of the Crown of Albania, a Crown which the Constitutional Assembly of Tirana had offered the King of Italy in April 1939, after having snatched it from the head of King Zog. Grand gesture of patriotism! 
Four and a half years after this offer and precisely three years after the publication of this cartoon, in October 1943, another Constitutional Assembly, urgently summoned in Tirana following Italy's capitulation, decided to no longer recognize unity with Italy. Subsequently, the Crown of Albania slipped off the head of Viktor-Emanuel III, to return to Albania. 
The second cartoon was published in the Albanian press of the time and echoes exactly the same event. A young Albanian lad dressed in Albanian folk costume is seen, back turned on the King, walking away, carrying Skenderbeg's helmet on a ceremonial cushion. Viktor-Emanuel can be seen bent over, sitting on the Royal Throne, on the back of which, the Royal Monogram "VE" is stamped. Poor old Viktor seems furious, because nobody consulted with him either when he was given the crown or when it was removed from him.  
Look carefully at the shape of the throne. This chair, which plays the role of the Royal Throne, exists to this day and can be found in the Palace of Brigades, in the Grand Reception Hall. During the work done in 2004, on the re-arrangement of several pieces of equipment, when the Palace was opened to the public, I discovered it in the corridors of the cellars and intervened to have it returned to the place where it is today. The King should actually be very grateful to me that even though I didn't manage to save his crown, at least I saved his throne. In Albania, it is only the second item that is of value.
Anyhow, irrespective of the ups and downs the Crown of Albania went through on and off the heads of different historical characters during the years of the war, it is just as well that the original is a long way from our grasp, secure and resting in the Museum of Vienna. No one knows where it would have ended up if it had been left in our midst. Today we would have been saying with our traditional pride, "Its true that the helmet is lost to us for ever, but the memory of it lives on in our hearts."
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Book Fair, 9th Ed. - The prominent Dutch writer, Margriet de Moor was present at the launching of her second book in Albanian, as part of the activities of the 9th edition of the Book Fair. The event was organized this week in Tirana's Cultural Center "Arbnori". De Moor's book "The Kreutzer Sonata" was translated into Albanian by Edit Dibra and published by one of the biggest publishing houses, "Dituria". 
Well-known figures of Albanian intellectual elite were present at the launching event. Petrit Ymeri, head of "Dituria", opened the event by commenting on the successful collaboration of the house with the writer, which has brought her work to the Albanian reader. The translator of De Moor's first book, "First grey, then white and then blue", Virgjil Kule spoke about the pleasures and the challenges of this enterprise. Albanian scholar, Moikom Zeqo, contextualized the work of De Moor in the larger Western European tradition of art. The Netherlands' ambassador in Albania, Sweder van Voorst tot Voorst, greeted the meeting as one of the successful collaboration efforts to exchange cultural traditions and novelties between the two countries.
Commenting about the specific book, Translation professor Mirela Kumbaro characterized it "an intelligent love story." The writer herself expressed the deep gratitude to her translators for the care and the delicacy wit which they had worked upon her books. De Moor said that a book is like a musical act in a strange language and the translator is like the orchestra director which brings it to the diverse audience. Shifting between arts, organizing a stafeta (relay race) with both literature and music is according to de Moor a metaphor not only for her book but also for her professional life, which is split between her two passions.

TT- Is this your first time in Albania?
MM - Yes, the first. But not my first book. For 8 years another book of mine was published here so I consider that as being in Albania before because of my book.

TT - What are your impressions so far? 
MM - Everywhere they are working, on houses, on roads, they are building, doing things and that's a very good sign. To me it all seems one burst out of energy.

TT - How would Margriet de Moor introduce herself?
MM - No, I couldn't do that. I am only there for the audience by means of my books. As my books are very different, all the time with my books I take on a very different theme I must be a personality with very many images, that is if you want to connect me with all my books. I like to write. I don't write autobiographically. I am not a type of writer who is writing out of her own autobiography but I like to take themes that are strange for me and in my books they become close to me. My book "The Kreutzer sonata" is a book about a very classical European theme. It is in a way a thriller. A musical motif is able to destroy a love affair, not completely; in the end the love affair seems to have won the game. But there is a musical theme in the musical piece The Kreutzer Sonata, not the well-known piece of Beethoven, but of a string quartet of the Czech composer Jan⩥k, is doing the bed job. Although I am a musician and I love music in this book music is able to infiltrate in a rather naughty way in human relations. So that is special about this book. Another book of mine that was also published here in Albania, "First grey, then white, then blue", is about a woman who is leaving her home, her husband, her village and dwelling around the world for two years. She comes back and then refuses tot ell where she was and that becomes and enormous negative and very powerful, unbearable thing for everyone around her and in the end she is killed. So that is a book about a silent voice and the consequence of being silent, of refusing to tell, to talk. It's a thing that is very human; if you refuse to do that you turn yourself into a stranger and a very dangerous one. In the end she becomes a total stranger because she is dead and can't talk. 
TT - Since you are also a musician, when would you say the writer in you was born?
MM - It happened all very suddenly. Maybe the writer was always in me but I simply did not get the idea of starting writing my books. And only one day I just wanted to write a story, a short story. I was already in my forties and I was always a very passionate reader. And I was very content of being just a reader therefore I didn't come to the idea to be a writer myself. But one day, and I still don't know why, I just started to write this short story and from that moment I never stopped again. It was 18 years ago and since that moment I don't take holidays, I don't take weekends, I am always working. Except when I am traveling around like I am now. 

TT - Do you travel around a lot?
MM - For my books only. As I said I never take holidays. Why should I? Because of my books I can go to very interesting places, like now in Albania. I am only for three days here but yesterday my publisher took me to the castle of Skanderbeg (in Kruja) and we had lunch there and it was really idyllic and really so beautiful. It was late lunch and already the sun was going down. We were so high up in the country and that is very special for me. I come from a country which is completely flat. So we were in the midst of the mountains and it was really great. And that was only for a few hours for these few days so why should I go on holidays? 

TT - Are you familiar with the literature of writers form the Balkans and especially from Albania?
MM - I know very well your great writer Kadare. I consider him as one of the greatest writer s we have nowadays in the world. I love his work. I used to read him long before I had an Albanian publisher myself. And in fact the work that comes from the Balkans and of all East European writers appeal much more to me than the Anglo American lit. I like the East European and Balkan writers because of their great themes. The history of the Balkans is an enormous, complicated and dramatic history but rather close to us. Western Europe is not that far so it belongs a bit also to my own territory but it is all so different and much more dramatic. That's one and the other thing is that they not only have these wonderful themes, this passion in their stories but they have also an artistic way of making their books. The story is not only about how and when things happened. For that you can as well read the paper. They make real pieces of art out of it. They are very interested in the form and for me as a musician I think abstract. For a musician everything is form and movement and composition. So I look for that always in my own work. I try to make my books like that. I recognize immediately a book which has the same atmosphere. And that is what I love about the East European and Balkan writers. They are true artists. 

TT  - Do you think there is something special about being a woman writer and if you were to stand now in front of an aspiring woman writer what would be your first advice?
MM - Thinking not of yourself as a woman writer.  No it doesn't say very much to me being a woman writer. Because when you look at what is inspiring you, the world of course and everything in your life but more than all that its literature, and literature is still a territory much made by men. It's a fact. So what is inspiring me from all sides it's not typically the feministic thinking. So my advice would be for women writers: Don't stare at yourself as a woman writer! Stare only at yourself as a writer!

TT - I also have something I would call a slightly provocative question. Many people think that in societies when most of things go in the right way, with no major social, economic or political problems, there is a lack of exciting topics to write about. The best writers and the best novels come form the most problematic regions because there the fire of the inspiration is more intense. You come form the Netherlands, which here in Albania, perhaps mistakenly, we would consider a place where things more or less go in the right way. How would you comment on this phenomenon? Do you think that in your country there is a difficulty in finding interesting topics to write about?
MM - That's a very complicated question. In a way its true what you said that we in Western Europe and especially the Netherlands we are such a neat country. Everything is well and there is no huge corruption, we are very free as concerns freedom of speech. The funny thing is the Dutch always used to be a reading country; there is a lot of reading. When people read they also write. Everyone is amazed because we have a lot of writers and they are not bad at all. I myself as a duct writer I am not very much interested in my own fellow writers because they are Dutch and I know just too well the environment.  It is really true what you say. Therefore I don't like very much the Anglo-American literature. They have very good writers but the themes don't interest me they are very much concentrating on psychological themes. And I hate that kind of literature and therefore I feel so well in the Eastern European and Balkan and Russian and south American literature. I like literature with great passion themes. It is not very true that those spoiled countries, if we could call them like that, can't bring forward good writers.

TT - We maybe in Albania are not very familiar with Dutch writers. Whom would you recommend to Albanian readers to start with, contemporary writers? Any of your favorites?
MM - HmmƁs I said I have very few names form my own literature. The ones I have are older writers, Louis Marie-Anne Couperus and Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker). They are 19th century writers. Perhaps you should not take my word for that because writers often don't like their contemporaries of their own country.

TT - Which is your absolute favorite writer then?
MM - Oh no. I really can't say that. I am an addicted reader. I always read. I have to read. I have so many books I love. Now I think of one of the most beautiful books of Ivo Andric's "The Bridge over the Drina." You know it?

TT- Yes and I like it very much.
MM - You see the region it comes from. When I think about literary masterpieces it comes very quickly to my mind. This a book I love and adore.

TT - Finally as a curiosity. You titled your book the same as one of Tolstoy's best known. Do you think that was an obstacle to the book or something that brought some good luck?
MM - Of course I know Tolstoy's book. But when I was writing I was pretending really hard that that book did not exist. The Sonata is form Beethoven who in his turn was inspired by the Russian writer. My book is inspired from the Sonata of Jan⩥k who of course got his artistic inspiration from these predecessors. I hope my book is just another link in an endless artistic chain that has to go on.
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