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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana, 1965. Comrade Enver Hoxha, glorious leader of the Party and people, together with top officials of our State and People’s Amy. From the left: Sadik Bekteshi, Spiro Moisiu, Kadri Hazbiu, Beqir Balluku, Enver Hoxha, Mehmet Shehu,

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Postscript

Cultural life a one well knows is largely a monopoly of capital cities. True, with globalization in full swing, it has become quite usual for art festivals and other interesting cultural venues to be distributed in small towns or even

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame On the road again. As if I haven’t got enough troubles of my own without having to shoulder all the messages I receive in reply to what I write. I received an e-mail on the last edition,

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame On the roads of Albania, in the Forties’ Legend has it that the first vehicle arrived in Albania in the time of Prince Vid. Just how true this is, I do not know, because in this country,

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Postscript

By J.Z And so we sat there, all of us, with our eyes turned upwards towards the sky. What else could we do except sit there and look hopefully upwards? Emil, our aged parrot had decided to leave us, and

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Celebrating the Summer Day!

By Alba ȥla Albanians celebrate Summer Day on the 14th of March. It’s an official holiday that gives the opportunity to thousands of people to fill up the parks, have picnics and enjoy a relaxed day in the reliable Mediterranean

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BOOKS: ALBANIA VENETA- Swiss historian dwells upon Albanian medieval History

By Ardian Klosi* “Albania Veneta 1392-1479″ (Alb. Arb쳩a venedike 1392-1479) was translated into Albanian by the well-known scholar, Ardian Klosi. Swiss born historian Oliver Jens Schmitt, currently working as a professor of the History of Southeastern Europe in the Vienna

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Shkodra, April 1913. This photograph is of a postcard produced and distributed in Montenegro, to promote the moment of the symbolic handing over of the City. The caption it has is in Serbo-Croatian and French. “ESAT PASHA

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Today it is the anniversary of the creation of the Albanian Police Force in 1913. In honour of this date, I would like to dedicate this edition to this subject, but making one thing very clear: The

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When little things go wrong

By Alba Cela Little drops of water Little grains of sand Make the mighty ocean And the pleasant land. Thus the little minutes Humble though they be Make the mighty age Of eternity. Ebenezer C. Brewer It is 5 pm

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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, 1965. Comrade Enver Hoxha, glorious leader of the Party and people, together with top officials of our State and People's Amy. From the left: Sadik Bekteshi, Spiro Moisiu, Kadri Hazbiu, Beqir Balluku, Enver Hoxha, Mehmet Shehu, Petrit Dume, Mihallaq Zi誳ti, Aranit ȥla. Note the steel like unity that predominates between them. You can see how their eyes shine with the utmost faith in one another, in Comrade Enver and in the Party.
Major General Sadik Bekteshi, partisan, founding member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Political Director of the People's Army. At the end he was an enemy of the Party and people. During the war he had been imprisoned and exiled as a political prisoner, first of all in Naples and later on in Ventotene. True he managed to get out of the prison of the fascists after one year, but he did not escape being thrown into the prison of the Commander, where he was interned for twenty years, but at least he survived those years and died a free man in a democratic society in the making, two years ago.
Major General Spiro Moisiu (1900-1980), Career officer of the Army since the time of Ahmet Zog, then in Italy and later on in the Party. A General, Deputy, Chief of the General Staff. Although the victim of several knock-backs time after time, he managed to survive Enver Hoxha, dying from old age, only one year prior to the uncovering of the plot of Poly-agent Mehmet Shehu, during which the Commander would have found some kind of excuse to have had him backed up against the wall before a firing squad.
Kadri Hazbiu (1922-1983), partisan, Brigade Commander, general, Minister of the Interior for more than 20 years, MP, Minister of Defence and last but not least a sworn enemy of the Party and People. He was executed before a firing squad following a grueling eleven months of investigation conducted by the Prosecutor's Office which the Commander knew how to do so well.
Colonel General Beqir Balluku (1917-1974), partisan, Brigade Commander, Division Commander, Three star General (the only one to reach this rank), Chief of Staff, MP, 22 years Minister of Defence, Deputy Prime Minister  and finally sworn enemy of the Party and people. Executed by firing squad.
Mehmet Shehu (1913-1981), volunteer in the Civil War of Spain, Brigade Commander, General, Hero of the People, MP, Minister of Defence and for 27 years on end Prime Minister (held this post the longest). Only to be branded a spy on the pay rolls of many Secret Services and a sworn enemy of the Party and people. No one ever got to the bottom of whether he committed suicide or was shot, but I recall the version his son Bashkim delivered to the public back then of how his father died. He said, "Mehmet Shehu was forced to self inflict death."
Lieutenant General Petrit Dume. Partisan, Brigade Commander, Division Commander, Hero of the People, MP, Graduate of two Soviet Academies, Chief of Staff for more than 10 years and last but not least, sworn enemy of the Party and people, and, to top it off, he was charged  with "high treason." Executed by firing squad in 1975.
Major General Mihallaq Zi誳hti, partisan, General, Deputy Minister of the Interior. In 1982, his brother Llambi Zi誳hti, Minister of Health was executed by firing squad and naturally Llambi was also imprisoned as an enemy.
One after the other, sentence was passed on all of these individuals by Aranit ȥla, who in the capacity of Chairman of the High Court, presided over their Court hearings. And how were they to know that this man, in civilian dress who sat, withdrawn at the end of the row would be the one to send them all to their deaths. Only the Commander went unscathed, and he lent more emphasis to his presence by hanging his own portrait above his head. It is quite a blessing that these gentlemen did not realize they were enemies because they may have joined forces and I dread to think what mischief they could have done to the Commander, who in the photo is alone amidst a pack of wolves. And the people, mind blown by the emergence of all these enemies, happily and blissfully sang, "Mehmet Shehu would have led us to the slaughter/ Saved by Enver and the Party, may they live for ever more."
And this was going on in Europe, the Champion of Liberty, Prosperity and Civilization of the seventies and eighties, in the middle of Europe of the Treaties and Conventions on the Rights of Animals, and here were we still dragging Ministers and General before firing squads. Truly a tolerant people with traditions, you cannot deny it!!!
Whilst we are on the subject of tradition and so as not to upset tradition, Aranit Cela, who did not manage to serve time when his own party ruled the roost in Albania, did serve time in the time of the party of Sali Berisha.
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                    [post_content] => Cultural life a one well knows is largely a monopoly of capital cities. True, with globalization in full swing, it has become quite usual for art festivals and other interesting cultural venues to be distributed in small towns or even villages hosting traditional annual events. Still in a capital city the rhythm of cultural life is more regular, performances more frequent and novelties reach there first. 
In describing the latest trends of cultural life in this big chaotic and yet loveable city let me make use of a comparison, perhaps not the best one, with Budapest. While a student there I would go to a cultural event every single evening: jazz festivals, movie festivals, modern dance performances, novel acting premiers combined with video projecting or even the good old classical music performance in an imperial theater setting. 
In Tirana, oh well, one finds these things more rarely. The important thing is though that they are sprouting more and more steadily. 
What lacks is access and proper publicity. Their audience is limited and exclusive, almost guarding this exclusivity with the typical sophisticated jealousy of elites. The information about a certain performance reaches a limited amount of people. Otherwise, I cannot explain the absence of students in cultural events.  One could argue that there is alack of willingness, yet with the high number of young people living in this city indifference can not be the only explaining factor in the list. 
In a friendly conversation with students, I was informed that professors do not encourage students enough to diversify their learning experience with attendance in cultural events. I regard this as a particularly concerning handicap of the education system. What better illustration of social problems for social work students than a documentary on poverty, children trafficking and immigration? Literature students learn a lot on the contemporary literary trends by attending theater plays. Students writing papers on cultural diversity should be particularly attentive to foreign art.
Money could also be the issue. Students do not usually have a generous budget to afford all tickets to these events. To address the financial problem the Ministry of Culture could promote alternative pricing models with students getting discounts. Such an initiative was recently launched by The Youth Council with the "under 26" card which will offer discounts to all young people for certain cultural events.  What impressed me from the range of actives that I wrote about is that half of them were free to the large public. Yet they were poorly followed. 
Thus, I believe that the real problem stands in the accessibility of information and poor promoting strategies. When I set out to write my impressions of the latest performances, those that I have been lucky to know about, I wanted to give a chance to readers to know that there is an emerging universe of art in this city, with contemporary trends. In an interview with the lovely lady Griffin, patron of arts here, she confessed me her biggest worry was the insufficient exposure of Albanian art toward new global trends. It seems though that the trend is changing. What we need is an eager informed public that is willing to be subject of that global artistic exposure.

Entries from a cultural diary
Albane ou les yeux mauves, modern dance
A wonderful show combining Albanian traditional folk music with powerful aggressive dance and amazing video projections. Attended by and large by the francophone community though quite understandable even for us who unfortunately do not speak la langue noblesse.
The festival of Human Rights Documentaries
Located in the altogether too far periphery of Kinostudio, at the wonderful acting school Marubi. Not attended by ay government officials responsible for social policies, ant discrimination laws and the similes. Not supported by domestic authors. The head of the enterprise, well-known movie director Kujtim Cashku did not get tired of repeating these complaints to the largely foreign audience after each movie projection. Free entrance yet not attended by people who do not posses a car, thus lower middle class art lovers.
The dream of the hippopotamus , theatre 
Attended by an aggravating audience which was more appreciative of coarse jokes involving physiological processes then of the complex intertwining of comic and tragic elements of socio-psychological depth.
Nights without sleeping, Egyptian movie. 
Free entrance again. The cinema was almost empty. The event is part of the francophone week.  Charming exploration of couple related problems with the necessary psychological depth. Colorful display of Oriental culture and music.
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
On the road again. As if I haven't got enough troubles of my own without having to shoulder all the messages I receive in reply to what I write. I received an e-mail on the last edition, the essence of which is an allegation that I sling mud against my own people, raising aloft an invader and so on and so forth. Just as well I also receive messages saying that I do not belittle my own people and that I do not praise invaders because otherwise I would have abandoned this work. So, in view of the fact that I have apparently praised Italy, I will continue to present photographs on the same subject.
The larger photograph shows an Italian soldier working in a military workshop on the preparation of road signs. The signs appear to be somewhat primitive, but, in the final account, they are a great deal for Albania of those times. They were made of hardboard and painted blue with white lettering. Look closely and you can see that above the direction, for example, "TO TIRANA", you can see the letters MdS in small print (Milizia della Strada). Later on after the Albanian Traffic Militia was set up, the letters "MSR" these signs had the letters "MSR." Further along, there are several "NO GO" signs, and below this, for those who do not understand the symbols, (of whom I am sure there are not a few), there were explanatory tables in three lines, "Directory of Tourism/ Entry Prohibited." The Directory of Tourism is mentioned because this was the institution charged with issuing licenses and caring for the road infrastructure, apart from tourism, hotel management etc.
The post card presented in the next photograph, is a promotional publication of the same Directory and helps the Albanians become acquainted with road signage. The majority of these signs, with a few minor alterations, remain almost the same today. There is also a sign for railway crossings. It is obvious that the signage copy the Italian models, because on the sign that reads, "Telephone service," the telephone number has four digits. In fact, in 1940, the telephone exchange in the capital was still three digital.  There is even a sign that indicates traffic must give way to buses on an incline. Who knows what the buses of Italy wanted on the mountainous roads of Albania. Naturally, we should review the image we have formed of that time, because the roads not only served as arteries of the country along which you could ambush a blood thirsty enemy, but also for vehicles to travel along and to respect road signage.
In a corner of the larger, coloured photograph there is the insignia of the Traffic Militia of the time. In the other corner there is a sign of a bus station of those years. In the centre you can see the name of the company that administers the Bus Line of Tirana: Societa Albanese Transporti Automobilistici," SATA, initials which were impressed on the memories of the Albanians so firmly that even in the seventies the elderly still called the local buses "Sata." The Italians were also careful to use black and white as the colours of bus station signs so that the nationalist sentiments of the Albanians were not offended, otherwise the Albanians may have gone back to using their mules if the signs were not black and red. 
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
On the roads of Albania, in the Forties' Legend has it that the first vehicle arrived in Albania in the time of Prince Vid. Just how true this is, I do not know, because in this country, the very turn of the Century itself was legend material, but this was most likely the case because eagles did not use vehicles. Anyway, during the time of King Zog and in the time of Italy, a huge amount of work was done all over the country to build a network of roads, a network which is still in use today in many zones of Albania. However what makes an impression on us, and obviously on our photographers too, is the relationship the Albanians, who broke away from the epoch of cart wheels and the mud of the highland tracks, created towards the means of the modern world that spun past them swiftly.
In the first photo, a police patrol has stopped a truck and is checking the papers of the driver. Our Albanian, compelled to observe the law, is visibly offended that anyone could possibly ask him for his documents and spoil his journey. With his typical posture of permanent self-importance, he sits there with his hands in his pockets and his woolen cap mischievously tilted to one side, to indicate to his friends on the back of the truck that he couldn't care less about the Peppino. The traffic officer seems not to be impressed at all by all this cockiness and continues to discharge his duty. You can see above what the officer is busy leafing through, a driver's license of the time. You can see the motorbike of the traffic officer in the background with the number plate MdS 735 (Militia della Strada). Further away you can see a Police Officer, and a part of the road block. From his posture, it looks as though he has just come out from behind the nearest bush. Our fearless white capped Albanian is wearing military boots, probably smuggled wares or stolen because War Time Rules strictly prohibited the trafficking of military apparel. You can see how heavily mud-caked his boots are sighing as they gaze down on the shiny black leather boots of the traffic officer. Occupation is so painful.
The other photo is without doubt a masterpiece of surrealism. A modern vehicle (for that time), which is traveling quite fast down the hilly road, (Just why it is going so fast down that sort of a road is anyone's guess), and a traffic officer guiding the traffic! on the top of that summit. And to complete the picture, is the eternal Albanian, who with his back firmly turned on the modern times and the haste and bustle of this time, is staring vacantly away to the horizon, with not a care in the world. I bet if we go back to that little hill today I can assure you that the vehicle and the traffic officer will be long gone, but you will find the eternal Albanian there, with his eyes fixed on the horizon, gazing off towards the vision of the future with his backside firmly set into the mud and dust of today. 
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                    [post_content] => By J.Z
And so we sat there, all of us, with our eyes turned upwards towards the sky. What else could we do except sit there and look hopefully upwards? Emil, our aged parrot had decided to leave us, and it looked like a departure without any hope of return. Everyone present in this event (for us, Emil's abrupt decision to leave was truly an event, and a grave event at that), - could probably accurately relate what had happened, step by step, during the last fifteen minutes of the bird's existence in the cage. But no one could imagine why the bird had decided to fly away.
Emil was an aging, female parrot, but no one ever had the opportunity to see whether she could lay eggs or not, and many others seriously doubted her reproductive capacities. Her wings always had an unpleasant smell, so JJ would squirt a few drops of his Co Co Channel on his wings at least twice a day and in general the bird had an entirely dazed appearance. But these shortcomings did not stop JJ, John Junior and myself from falling in love immediately with this creature at first sight, dirty and squawky, his beak smeared in droppings (you do know that parrots, like the bulk of the breeds of birds also eat their own droppings).
Why did I choose this aging and dirty parrot Emil out of all the brightly coloured and preened canaries, red throats with their sweet warbling?
Thinking back, I find the answer to that question in another one of my events of a long, long time ago, fifteen years ago, when together with BB I spent one year of my life on the Island of Malta. Our house just happened to be opposite a pet bird shop. Every morning when I left home I would look into the shop and see a soft grey coloured parrot which I immediately called "Little Ass", I ended up buying him and I immediately promoted him to the third member of the family. BB, Little Ass and I would always go out together, we would play with him and hurl swear words at him and this would probably have gone on for as long as possible, if Customs had not stopped us from bringing the parrot into the country on our return.
Why did my two young boys, JJ and John Junior choose the exact same parrot that I chose in the bird's shop? I have no idea, perhaps it is because they both have my blood, my impulses.
We came home and bought a large and beautiful cage like a Sultan's Harem, we filled it with thin slices of apple and pieces of lettuce, so much that we had to move the lettuce out of the way to see the parrot, we put tiny troughs in the cage filled with a selection of sun flower and other seeds and water and we would let him out of the cage every afternoon so he could fly around the room.  
On day two of being in the family, Emil landed on JJ's arm and he would perch for hours on end on his back. He would peck his cheeks and the lobe of his left ear. In fact Emil changed a lot of things for us in the family. We began to mellow under her funny, jerky glances; in the somewhat hollow dialogue of the family, terminology began to creep in to our conversations about raising the bird probably; JJ and John Junior established a more regular and friendlier relationship, forgetting the wresting and fighting, the mutual insults (this may have frightened the bird), weekly visits to the vet were added to the family budget and what was even more rewarding-not a single complaint from BB about the increased expenses.  But something even more important happened as time went by. JJ who became more and more attached to the bird with each passing day, began to imitate him and there was a surprising resemblance between the two. His cheeks got plumper, his skim became a little lighter and two rosy dimples were formed. Emil and JJ smelt the same and you could see them together everywhere, the bird and the boy, whistling to one another in meaningless phrases of attachment.
But why did he leaveŠand how? Why did he decide to go precisely on the first anniversary of his joining our family. The fact that the bird flew away precisely on this day is more than just a literary discovery. It dawned a day like any other day of the week-my boys said that they had been at home and, as was their habit, they had put the cage out on the balcony so the bird got some fresh air. Nothing abnormal about that! They had heard Emil's usual cackle out on the balcony, then about five minutes silence. John Junior had run out onto the balcony to see why the bird had fallen silent- but all he saw was the door of the cage wide open and the bird was not inside. It had gone!!
And now, we are all sitting here looking up towards the sky. And old expert advised us to sit and wait, looking up to the sky, leave the cage in an obvious position on the balcony with the door wide open. - There have been cases when pet birds have come home- he tells us. His words actually give us a strong feeling of hope, especially John Junior who still sheds tears over this loss. But JJ, who was more attached to the bird than any of us does not have any strong sentiments of regret. I already told you about his resemblance to the bird, to the extent that when you spoke to him at times he would reply in whistles. But from his mellow and soft glance, void of any real wisdom, I sincerely think I know what has happened. I think JJ himself must have opened the cage door and allowed the parrot to fly away.

                    [post_title] =>  Postscript 
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                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2007-03-16 01:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2007-03-16 01:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla
Albanians celebrate Summer Day on the 14th of March. It's an official holiday that gives the opportunity to thousands of people to fill up the parks, have picnics and enjoy a relaxed day in the reliable Mediterranean spring sun. This origin of this celebratory day goes back to the ancient reverence towards nature, the pre-religious beliefs that the rebirth of mother earth experienced in spring is attributed to the benevolent gods of nature. Actually Summer Day is celebrated mainly in the city of Elbasan, where traditionally the festivity has trademarked the city. The municipality organizes the Summer Festival with cultural and folkloristic activities filling up the streets. Many people from the surrounding cities travel to Elbasan to get a traditional fare as well a try the ballokume , the tasty traditional cookies prepared especially for the day.
I traveled to Elbasan to see for the first time from up close the atmosphere of the holiday. The minibuses have doubled the fare given the incredible demand. The city expects almost one million visitors on this day. The streets were filled with people, mostly of a young age, Roma musicians and dancers, ballokume vendors and large families sitting in restaurants that were reserved long ago. Actually if you come here without a plan you might run the risk of not finding a place where to sit. The hills around the city hosted a large number of families that have left the cacophony of the city's plaza and chose a quiet picnic in nature to celebrate. 
"Elbasani people love to have fun and dance to the sounds of folk music," Marenglen our local host explains to me. " This day is more important to us than even New Years Eve. I have family visiting form all over and it's a two days long party in our house." He has brought ballokume for us respecting the tradition of hospitality. The big concert with famous Albanian singers has been held the night before where the main square was filled with people welcoming spring around bonfires. The morning of the 14th has lured the ones who made it to wake up early into a carnival parade as a well as a spring fair. 
Both in Elbasan and in Tirana the main boulevards were closed to traffic in order to give people a chance to stroll by and enjoy the holiday. Music and laughter are the best welcoming tokens to spring along with a generous lunch. The concerts and activities planed beforehand from the respective local authorities add up to the festive atmosphere. The holiday has definitely shifted form being a local one, mainly for the central Albanian towns (Elbasan, Fier, Berat) to a national one culminating in the activities organized in Tirana.  For the first time this year, a private company Re Bull recruited Czech airplanes to give a special show for the festivities. 
Elbasan is not the only city that gets a special treatment during March 14. As a child I grew up in Berat, further down in the south. Elbasan and Berat share the same magnificent mountain of Tomorri. I remember that my grandmother made me go through a long ritual of traditions on March 14.  The logic was that everything that happens in this day conditions the entire upcoming year. Thus I had to get up early and hold on to an iron door knob. This would make me feel healthy and strong. I had to put a bit of pomegranate juice on my cheeks so that they would always be rosy. The main door of our garden would be decorated with flowers and grass blades to welcome the beauty of spring. 
When I asked in Elbasan the told me the flowers had to be gathered one day earlier and left in water al night. The next morning the youngest child of the family had to splash some of this water on the face in order to procure year long health. Only after the privileged youngest had completed the ritual the rest of the family could do the same. 
My grandmother would have baked the traditional pie with one coin inside. Whoever got the coin would be the luckiest one in the family. There were also packages with sweet and boiled eggs to be delivered to relatives and neighbors as a sign of harmony and well-being. The boiled eggs had to be died in all rainbow colors to symbolize blossoming spring.  Children would boast about their multicolored collection of eggs. The most traditional thing of the Summer Day preparations was the thread bracelet made out of a red and a white thread that we used to put in our wrists. The verore (the name of this bracelet) would be attached to the body until one saw the migratory birds. There is still a controversy in my head whether these would be storks or swallows.
The habit has also survived in the Arberesh communities in Italy who put in their doorsteps a little piece of soil with fresh grass blades. 
The tradition of the Summer Day, as I would later happily discover, is a regional one. As a student in Bulgaria I annually got the same bracelets this time called martenitsa-s with the same wish for health and happiness. Giving out martenitsa-s was a sign of friendship and benevolence. I still get some every year and put them on with superstitious determination. 
The beginning of spring is a traditional celebration for Moldova, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Except for Albania, all the other countries celebrate the beginning of spring on March 1. In Moldova and Romania, on this day men give women a little talisman in a red and white ribbon that represents a powerful and healthy new year. The word "Martisor" is the dimunitive for the month of March and is something similar to little March. Martisor is not a religious holiday, but a celebration of mother nature that is believed to have started when the region was invaded by the pagan Romans. 
Throughout the Balkans Summer or Spring Day is an occassion to come together and welcome the season of beauty and rebirth, an occasion to relax, celebrate together with friends and family, respect ancient traditions and look forward to the year with optimism and a sweet tooth. 

Recipe for Ballokume
'Ballokume' is the traditional dish made on 14th March, Summer's Day.
Ingredients: 1 kg sugar, 0.5 kg butter, 1 kg corn flour (sifted), one handful of wheat flour, 8 eggs, 1 cup of milk; one big whitened copper or glass vessel.
Preparation: Beat the butter together with the sugar until it forms a white mass. This is best done by hand to reach a consistency that is thread-like. Mix the eggs with milk and then slowly added to the beaten sugar, while mixing continuously.   Still stirring, add the flour slowly. Be careful while adding the flour as too much flour can make the 'ballokume' too hard. This is why after the pre-determined quantity of flour has been added, leave the dough untouched for 15 minutes even if it looks quite wet. This time is enough for the flour particles to absorb the moisture of the soggy dough. Afterwards, if necessary, if the dough remains soggy, another handful of flour may be added. 
Baking: Sprinkle the baking tray with flour and put on it balls of the dough about the size of a fist. Bake them for about 40 minutes at 170у until a crust is formed on the top (not until they redden). Remove the baking tray and leave the 'ballokume' to cool down so they can be easily detached. 

                    [post_title] =>  Celebrating the Summer Day! 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-03-09 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Ardian Klosi*

"Albania Veneta 1392-1479" (Alb. Arb쳩a venedike 1392-1479) was translated into Albanian by the well-known scholar, Ardian Klosi. Swiss born historian Oliver Jens Schmitt, currently working as a professor of the History of Southeastern Europe in the Vienna University comes thus to the Albanian reader with an impressive, well-researched scholarly work. The book examines the history of Albanian lands in the late medieval period covering sources reporting on places as far as Tivar in the north and Epirus in the south. Schmitt's work tries to follow the path on neutral scholars who challenge nationalistic historiography such as Sufflay, Jirecek, Ippen, etc. Preparatory work for the book has included archive research as well as a comprehensive literature review of Albanian, Slavic, French and German sources.
Oliver Schmitt was born in Basel in 1973. He started his work on Albanian history as a dissertation tutored by the well known scholar of albanology,  Peter Bartl in Munich. His work developed into a 700 page transcript of diverse aspects of life in Albanian territories at the time. The German edition of the book came out in 2001.
Currently the department for which Schmitt is working has in its possession the archive called "Albanien-Bibliothek", which automatically makes it a center for studies related to Albanian history. The author is researching his new project for a monograph of the Albanian national hero, Gjergj Kastriot - Sk쯤erbeu. He visited Albania last week in order to promote his book in the cities of Tirana and Shkodra. He was interviewed about his books and plans for upcoming ones by his translator Ardian Klosi. In his interview Schmitt reveals interesting information about the work needed to complete his book and tells about plans regarding his future works.  
The author claims it took him three years of work, mainly in the state archives in Venice. He started in 1997 with the cursory examination of all published works he could lay his hands on. This took one complete year. He started writing in July 1999. One of the hardest parts, as with every historio-graphical work, was to compile the index. 
Asked about the interest he took about such a specific topic, Schmitt recollects a similar interest since his high school times when he read the works of Milan von Sufflay and Konstantin Jirecek. In his first semester in the University of Vienna he attended a seminar by Max Demeter Peyfuss, who had previously researched and published material about the area of Voskopoja and its rich historical account. Another foundation of his work was to study Byzantine history with Johannes Koder, a co-author of a book on medieval southern Arberia. Schmitt was lucky to have unlimited access to the library of Bavaria and other unique sources made available after the publication of the Shkodra statuses in collaboration with Lucia Nadin, Gherardo Ortalli and P쭬umb Xhufi.
Scmitt used also many Albanian works such as Luan Malltezi's 1988 edition of an extensive history of urban centers under the Venetian rule. He looked for material in the archives of Dubrovnik and Kotor. The real factual basis of the book is the 25 volumes of Acta Albaniae Veneta, from the Jesuit father Giuseppe Valentini. The thousands documents and manuscripts had to be classified thematically. 
Schmitt argues that such work needs passion. The first book is very crucial. He realized the fact when he started working on his second book on Istanbul and Izmir of the nineteenth century.
Schmitt does not claim that he has extinguished all the material regarding the history of the Venetian rule in Albania. Historical work is always subject to interpretation, criticism and there is always room for elaboration and improvement. New material becomes available with time and more work is needed especially for the period just before the siege of Shkodra in 1479. Other archives also are said to contain important information as the author discovered later with the documents belonging to Gjergj Strazimirovic Balsha (end of 14th century) which he found in Zadar in 2006. While extensive research has been made in the north Italian archives more work is needed in the small parochial sources in the south of the Apennines. Sometimes casual discoveries of documents are the most interesting ones. Schmitt brings the example of finding by chance a document that proved Skenderbej had a house in the Croatian island of Hvar. Other new material becomes available also with archeological discoveries. In this context the work being done in Lezha is very systematic and thus promising. 
According to Schmitt it is important that young scholars of history undertake projects of research. He mentions in this context a program of research grants near the University of Vienna which usually employs historians from Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.   
Asked about the novelties that his work on Skenderbej might bring given the vast existing scholarship on the issue, Schmitt reveals that he is trying to go beyond the narrative chronological structure that is overwhelming in the previous work. He is trying to continue his work based on the examination of multiple sources and especially archive materials from Italian and Austrian fonts. The book tries to bring in a new topical analysis of features such as the accompanying group of the hero, the importance of social aspects such as loyalty and treason, the projected image of the leader, etc. It will pose serious questions over the importance of the Lezha Agreement; taken for granted up until now to be the foundation of Skenderbej's political power. The book will also concentrate on economic issues, the financial transactions and deals made by Skenderbej, the customs policies, the import of war technology form the West, the help received form the papal power and the Venetians in their anti-Ottoman alliance. 
Sometimes one can ask very simple yet unanswered questions such as what was the real value of one dukat (Venetian coin) for an ordinary Albanian mountaineer living by animal farming in the highlands. Even if primary data is not available one can get an educated guess by comparative analysis with areas that displayed a similar economic and social composure such as the Dalmatian cost in that period. Data from there show that one shepherd could earn as much as one ducat in his entire work year. Thus if Skenderbej received 1400 dukats to pay his army this meant a considerable assistance. It would cover the annual salary for a lot of his soldiers. 
Another interesting topic to explore is the account of Marin Barleti which has proven to be quite reliable as he used narrative models without many exaggeration patterns, relying thus on 15th century Italian renaissance literary tradition. However, he does combine some heroic idealized images from the Epirus epical tradition. All these combined factors shed some light on the popularity that Skenderbej had throughout the Balkans.
Finally Klosi asks an opinion about contemporary Albanian historians and overcoming settled patterns of nationalistic history. It is a very relevant topic in the discussions of academia and its role in perpetuating given models of historical analysis. According to Schmitt, the tradition of nationalistic history in communist scholarship is similar in several countries and by no means unique to Albania. 
Contemporary conditions for academic work are not that easy. An important dialogue series is being coordinated by the History Institution of Tirana, the Science and Arts academy in Prishtina, the Balkans commissions of Austria and the University of Vienna, regarding proper historical investigation and scholarship. A preparatory conference preceded the series in Vienna in December of last year where famous foreign scholars of Albanian history such as Nathalie Clayer, Peter Bartl, Noel Malcolm, Conrad Clewing, Bernd Fischer summarized the actual situation of studies and gave a list of topics to be kept under the limelight of upcoming projects. Their contribution was recently made available in Albanian and given to Albanian scholars so that as a second phase they get a chance to respond. A large congress of historians will dwell upon the summary of the results. For that Schmitt expressed his gratitude to the supportive representative of the History Institution of Tirana Marenglen Verli and the Science and Arts academy of Kosova representative Rexhep Ismajli. 
Schmitt's book on Albanian medieval history is available to students of history and all Albanian readers curious to shed some light into one of the least researched and definitely most interesting periods. 
* Edited by TT Staff
                    [post_title] =>  BOOKS: ALBANIA VENETA- Swiss historian dwells upon Albanian medieval History 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-03-09 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Shkodra, April 1913. This photograph is of a postcard produced and distributed in Montenegro, to promote the moment of the symbolic handing over of the City. The caption it has is in Serbo-Croatian and French. "ESAT PASHA COMMANDER OF SHKODRA, HANDS OVER THE KEYS OF THE FORTRESS TO HIS MAJESTY THE CROWN PRINCE OF MONTENEGRO." The postcard shows, in the foreground, Esat Pasha Toptani (Commander of the Turkish Garrison of Shkodra), shaking hands with the Montenegrin Crown Prince (also Commander of the Montenegrin Forces of the encirclement). From his stance, Esat seems to be slightly more humble however, he showed he was capable of benefiting from such a humiliation, even declaiming this as a kind of success!
In November 1912, the Montenegrins encircled Shkodra that was defended by a Turkish garrison under the command of Hasan Riza from Bagdad, Esat Pasha Toptani was Vice Commander of the Garrison and Commander of the Reservist Troops. Shkodra defended itself for months on end from the vicious attacks of the Montenegrin forces, who, after they occupied the city, tried to make it the capital of their state, instead of Cetinja, away up in the mountains. Esat Pasha realized that in the meantime the Albanian scene was becoming particularly interesting, the whole of the Balkans was changing, new vistas were opening everywhere, the new state created boundless opportunities, but in the meantime he was rotting in a battle that had absolutely no hope of bringing any benefits in this northern corner of the Balkans theatre. He decided to march South with his troops, straight towards that theatre of actions and intrigues of author and actor, a part of which he had been for a long time now. He organizes the murder of Hasan Riza Pasha, opens negotiations with the Montenegrins, and hands over the city to them on the condition that he is allowed to withdraw with his garrison and armaments. Brilliant plan, perfect intrigue, but after everything is completed something goes wrong. The Albanians no longer applaud his abilities; they begin to turn their backs on him. What had happened?
Esat Pasha is one of the most interesting of figures of the end and beginning of the 19th -20th Centuries, branded for life as a traitor and this is probably why an analysis has never been made of this historical figure. The offspring of a family of the Nobility connected to the top of the Imperial Administration, he spent all his life swimming upstream against the currents of Ottoman-Byzantine politics of the tri-continental Empire, always keeping his head above water. This kind of politics called for individuals without principles, ideals, and scruples, persons who had a very keen sense of cunningness, egocentric and cosmopolitan. These were precisely the qualities, some inherited and others worked to perfection over many years that dominated the brain of this man, which subsequently lifted him to the summits of power.
He would join one side, then he would be swearing allegiance to the Sultan, then he joined the Turks to overthrow Abdyl-Haimiti. Today he was deep into an intrigue with the Italians, while, on the morrow, he would be sending word to the Austrians to raise market value; he defended Shkodra, but had its Commander murdered; accepted a ministerial portfolio from Ismail Qemali and later on from Prince Vid, but also worked behind his back to bring him down; he negotiated an agreement with Haxhi Qamili in Shijak and recruited gendarmes for France in Thessalonica. A brilliant player of "real politics", first of all on the enormous stage of the immeasurable Turkish Empire and later on in he smaller theatres of all the continental European powers; he was the embodiment if the new Albanian generation of fortune-hunter, who were springing up everywhere, on all different sides, in compliance with the very complicated and intricate strings of power. And during almost three decades of this adventure-seeking policy, every act he had undertaken had been hailed as a rare quality, songs had been composed in honour of his astuteness and everyone wondered at and admired his special gift.
Suddenly, during the second decade of the Century something overturned. The Empire fell, and in this corner of the Balkans a new State was formed which they called Shqiperia, and together with it new terminologies and sentiments began to be created that had never existed before. Betrayal and patriotism were born, the oath to the Homeland and national belonging, a new morale was born and began to be moulded, at the foundations of which lay, "Ambition that runs counter to the interests of the Homeland, is called treason." Up to his neck in intrigues and snares, Pasha Toptani never understood this. He continued to do what he had always done, to operate as he had always done, but now these acts no longer secured him admirers and worshippers, but enemies and scorn. "What is your problem," I can imagine him saying, "am I not the same man? Am I not doing what I have always done? Am I pulling the wool over your eyes? Am I not doing you all in for the sake of ambition? Yes, of course I am. But there is a difference. Now, Albania had been born. Now there is morality. And together with them, there is now treason." Up until the day he died, Esat continued playing the games he had always played, without being capable of grasping the new reality. And precisely, in the midst of all these Machiavellian games, he was hit by the bullets fired from the gun of the 20 year old Avni Rustemi, who was formed in the new Albania that was in the process of being born.
Esat departed from this world, without understanding the change of times, and I believe he probably regrets this fact now, up there wherever he is, stamping his feet indignantly, that for the fault of this failure to understand, not only did he not go down as a real gem in the Great Volume of History, as many others had done before him, but on the contrary he went down and has been fixed in the history of the Albanians as a nugget of coal which blackens you no matter where you touch it.
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Today it is the anniversary of the creation of the Albanian Police Force in 1913. In honour of this date, I would like to dedicate this edition to this subject, but making one thing very clear: The Police Force of the new State really was founded in this year, 1913, however, it should not be forgotten that under Turkey too, the State had a Police Force. 
The end of the XIX Century, with the ceaseless eruption of national uprisings throughout the entire area of the Balkans, remains one of the most difficult moments of the Ottoman Empire. Snuffing out these national movements sapped the core military strength of the Empire, subsequently resulting in the weakening of public order. During that period, this was noticed particularly in the basin including the Albanian regions, Macedonia and as far as the outlying areas of Thessalonica. 
According to traditions thousands of years old, whenever the inhabitants of the mountains felt that the strength of central government was one the wane, they would begin to emerge from the mists of their God forsaken localities where for many years they had lain in wait for such moments in history and would surge down from the mountains to the lowlands and the towns, looting and pillaging, slaying and razing to the ground everything that appeared before them. This continued up until the government in office managed to rally the strength and forces and the men of the mountains would withdraw once again into the folds of the mist, deep behind their mountain ridges, to hibernate for years and years, with unending patience, until the next descent.
This ritual has continued in these lands as early as back in the IV-V Century, the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, and later on into the XII-XIII Centuries, the time of the withdrawal of Byzantine, it was repeated several times during the XX Century, when different powers flourished and weakened one after the other. The traces of the last eruption are still fresh, because this occurred only a decade ago in 1997, when we thought the world had come to an end, but, in fact it was just another one of those performances by the age old actors, repeating an age old drama.
Let's get back to the photograph. It shows a group of Turkish police officers posing around the body of a slain bandit. The body has been bound to fence posts so it is in an upright position and it is only the lifeless eyes that give him away. The deceased is wearing a short fustanella  ( short, pleated skirt for men), of a dark colour. Outlaws from the south of the country wore dark and not white fustanellas for camouflage in the forests (although it's hard to believe that they would remain white anyway in the muddy surroundings). This is also a shorter fustanella than the normal model so as not to impede rapid movement, as the folk song says, "Fustanella of the thief falls above the knee." In general Albanians did not grow beards, but if you were on the run from the law, a bandit, and outlaw, then you had a beard, because these men did not have the amenities in the forests and caves to shave. The deceased has lost his shoes known as 'opinga', among the first items to be stolen from a cadaver, being so very useful to the living. His shirt and fustanella are smeared in bees wax for protection against the penetration of dampness and the rain. It is easy to discern who the police officers are, not so much from their faces (which do not differ so much from the face of the bandit), but from their uniforms, also irregular. They are holding Martini-Henry rifles of English make which are fondly recalled to this day by the bards of folklore as "pushke Martini" (Martini rifles). Proceeding from the make of the rifle which was used by the Turkish army in the years 1880-1890, the photograph can also be dated as belonging to this period. In Albania, the people used these rifles up into the twenties' of the XX Century, for no better reason than because of their large caliber (12mm) they made a deafening noise when they were fired, and the Albanians love loud noises. Alongside the police officers are several civilians, who appear to have helped in the operation. This often occurred because the lowlands suffered a great deal from the plunder. 
Over the fence you can see the heads of a villager and several children, one of whom, with a look that only the sons of Laberia can conjure up, poses directly above the deceased. It is obvious that the cadaver does not make much of an impression on him, being more interested, as he is, in striking up a pose for the camera. UNICEF had not been created at that time so that it could deal with the education of the children and the public display of killed criminals was the only way of teaching the children something.
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-03-02 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Cela
Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
Thus the little minutes
Humble though they be
Make the mighty age
Of eternity.
Ebenezer C. Brewer

It is 5 pm and everyone trapped in the office world knows this is the most blessed hour of the working week days. It's coffee time. Coffee is a magic liquid that revives the tired soul and the tired eyes. The ritual of coffee for me entails dragging one of my office mates to a quiet little place where I can sit sipping from the cup in contemplation of all the little charming things I could have done instead of staring hysterically at the computer screen. 
Little things are usually the most significant message bearers in life. 
Sometimes the messages are mixed and one gets confused. Little things should not be underestimated. When it comes to drawing a general conclusion they can be elusive. 
In our coffee place my friend gets up to visit the rest room. I can see her twisted face perplexed at something unusual when she comes back. "You know what? Little things in this country are upside down," she says. "Like in the bathroom there is this big sign in nervous capital letters that's says 'DO not throw anything in the toilet!' Now you might think this is the greatest problem this toilet has. Careless irresponsible people that throw toilet paper in it! But when you look around the toilet is broken, it smells awful, the sink has no running water and the door does not close properly. Yet no one takes care to fix these things. They put up that sign. That is their concern." Thus the little sign tells my friend the blame rests upon the owners, thus upon the few who should change the structural impediments to having a clean and proper toilet. 
Another similar episode happens while taking an evening stroll with another friend. We go through a newly restored park, in the area where a big hole left over from an ambiguous building project used to make the scenery ugly. It was always littered. Now in its place stands a simple park. As we walk through my friend complains about the park that has not escaped the curse of litter. According to him it's the municipality which does not work properly, which does not send in the caretakers to clean it up. I hesitate. I blame the people. Yet as my friend eloquently puts it, one cannot aspire to unrealistic things.
Back to the coffee place, just on another day. The music is blasting out form the boxes and it is loud. It is also much uncoordinated. Turbo folk rhythms blend in with consecutive retro and some weird mixture of house. It is causing me a headache. From the faces of my friends who listen in stupor with raised eyebrows and twisted lips I see the headache can spread out like wildfire. Collective pain caused by bad music. Very common if you look around. Music that does not fit the nature of the place. The nature of the particular hour of the day. Lunch break with reggeaton.  Coffee with the 80's.
I am wondering what kind of DJs these places employ. Why don't they check the mixes tat they put on. It would help to create a much more friendly and meaningful atmosphere. Yet, the owner might think that a bad mix (which to him does not sound anything bad or good) is suitable for the popular music taste.
I am not always so attentive to little things. I believe very few people are. Overwhelmed by the big picture, the overwhelming chaos, the feeling of hopelessness at the face of cacophony, one is likely to miss the details. 
And yet so often it's exactly little things who act as he most important messengers in life. At the end of the day the little things tell us that something is wrong with the way we adjust our free rider instincts. There is something wrong about blaming the few and the many. Something that should be changed. Starting with little steps, from little things.
                    [post_title] =>  When little things go wrong 
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            [post_date] => 2007-03-30 02:00:00
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            [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, 1965. Comrade Enver Hoxha, glorious leader of the Party and people, together with top officials of our State and People's Amy. From the left: Sadik Bekteshi, Spiro Moisiu, Kadri Hazbiu, Beqir Balluku, Enver Hoxha, Mehmet Shehu, Petrit Dume, Mihallaq Zi誳ti, Aranit ȥla. Note the steel like unity that predominates between them. You can see how their eyes shine with the utmost faith in one another, in Comrade Enver and in the Party.
Major General Sadik Bekteshi, partisan, founding member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Political Director of the People's Army. At the end he was an enemy of the Party and people. During the war he had been imprisoned and exiled as a political prisoner, first of all in Naples and later on in Ventotene. True he managed to get out of the prison of the fascists after one year, but he did not escape being thrown into the prison of the Commander, where he was interned for twenty years, but at least he survived those years and died a free man in a democratic society in the making, two years ago.
Major General Spiro Moisiu (1900-1980), Career officer of the Army since the time of Ahmet Zog, then in Italy and later on in the Party. A General, Deputy, Chief of the General Staff. Although the victim of several knock-backs time after time, he managed to survive Enver Hoxha, dying from old age, only one year prior to the uncovering of the plot of Poly-agent Mehmet Shehu, during which the Commander would have found some kind of excuse to have had him backed up against the wall before a firing squad.
Kadri Hazbiu (1922-1983), partisan, Brigade Commander, general, Minister of the Interior for more than 20 years, MP, Minister of Defence and last but not least a sworn enemy of the Party and People. He was executed before a firing squad following a grueling eleven months of investigation conducted by the Prosecutor's Office which the Commander knew how to do so well.
Colonel General Beqir Balluku (1917-1974), partisan, Brigade Commander, Division Commander, Three star General (the only one to reach this rank), Chief of Staff, MP, 22 years Minister of Defence, Deputy Prime Minister  and finally sworn enemy of the Party and people. Executed by firing squad.
Mehmet Shehu (1913-1981), volunteer in the Civil War of Spain, Brigade Commander, General, Hero of the People, MP, Minister of Defence and for 27 years on end Prime Minister (held this post the longest). Only to be branded a spy on the pay rolls of many Secret Services and a sworn enemy of the Party and people. No one ever got to the bottom of whether he committed suicide or was shot, but I recall the version his son Bashkim delivered to the public back then of how his father died. He said, "Mehmet Shehu was forced to self inflict death."
Lieutenant General Petrit Dume. Partisan, Brigade Commander, Division Commander, Hero of the People, MP, Graduate of two Soviet Academies, Chief of Staff for more than 10 years and last but not least, sworn enemy of the Party and people, and, to top it off, he was charged  with "high treason." Executed by firing squad in 1975.
Major General Mihallaq Zi誳hti, partisan, General, Deputy Minister of the Interior. In 1982, his brother Llambi Zi誳hti, Minister of Health was executed by firing squad and naturally Llambi was also imprisoned as an enemy.
One after the other, sentence was passed on all of these individuals by Aranit ȥla, who in the capacity of Chairman of the High Court, presided over their Court hearings. And how were they to know that this man, in civilian dress who sat, withdrawn at the end of the row would be the one to send them all to their deaths. Only the Commander went unscathed, and he lent more emphasis to his presence by hanging his own portrait above his head. It is quite a blessing that these gentlemen did not realize they were enemies because they may have joined forces and I dread to think what mischief they could have done to the Commander, who in the photo is alone amidst a pack of wolves. And the people, mind blown by the emergence of all these enemies, happily and blissfully sang, "Mehmet Shehu would have led us to the slaughter/ Saved by Enver and the Party, may they live for ever more."
And this was going on in Europe, the Champion of Liberty, Prosperity and Civilization of the seventies and eighties, in the middle of Europe of the Treaties and Conventions on the Rights of Animals, and here were we still dragging Ministers and General before firing squads. Truly a tolerant people with traditions, you cannot deny it!!!
Whilst we are on the subject of tradition and so as not to upset tradition, Aranit Cela, who did not manage to serve time when his own party ruled the roost in Albania, did serve time in the time of the party of Sali Berisha.
            [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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