Imagine a country where citizens are not allowed to leave and discover how people live outside their habitat. A nation in which it is not possible to listen to the radio, watch international television or read news from around the world. A place where imagining is forbidden because it might be considered a form of cultural and silent resistance.
This country was Albania during the dictatorship. In fact, in 1946, while other countries experienced the conversion of ancient regimes into democracies, Albania was going through its worst nightmare: the takeover of the power of Hoxha, the icon of authoritarianism, and a sequence of several economic cracks and food rationing measures.
The dictatorship ended in 1991 when Albania held its first democratic elections and citizens broke the ranks, assaulting merchant ships and boats trying to reach their aspired American dream: Italy and other European countries.
Nowadays, 25 years after the downfall of the regime, the nightmare is only a bad memory as the republic is finally enjoying its renaissance, fully immersed in the renovation of the ancient structure, investing in its milestones, culture and tourism.
A result of these efforts is its participation in the Biennale of Venice for the third consecutive edition. The 2016 international exposition, entitled Reporting from the Front hosts I Have Left You the Mountains by Simone Battisti, Leah Whitman-Salin and Abake and represents the Albanian collective space of polyphonic melodies dedicated to the theme of migration and displacement.
The inauguration of the project, which took place on 18th June, saw the participation of Mirela Kumbaro, the Albanian Minister of culture, and represented a great occasion to discuss the recurring theme of the Albanian diaspora and of its need to enforce union between migrants and its homeland.
On this occasion, the Baltic Review interviewed the Minister making a full immersion into the controversial past and towards the bright future of this gem of the Balkans.
Minister, why has Albania dedicated its 2016 Biennale pavilion to the migration issue?
Because migration is a recurrent issue in my country and it’s a process which has no temporal or geographic limits. In Albania we have had 3 generations of migrants: those of the twenties, those who escaped after the second world war and those who migrated after the end of the dictatorship. Currently, Albania suffers from a high percentage of migration. On average, as 10 million Albanians are displaced in the world, Albania counts more citizens abroad than those who remain in the country. 10 million people who have become world and European citizens.
European citizens even if Albania is not part of Europe?
Of course we are in Europe. Europe is not only a geographical or political issue but, instead it is a cultural theme. Being at one of the most important expositions such as the Biennale with a pavilion, means that we are a part of this continent. Finally, it has to be said that we speak the same language, the one of culture. But, if you mean at political level, I can affirm that politics make no sense, it’s only a temporal dimension. The true heritage of a country is made up of culture.
Minister, I am Italian, a citizen of a country which still maintians l the same image of Albania as 1991. Every time I say I’m going to Albania on holiday, people react saying, “What are you going to do over there? There is nothing more than criminality”. What kind of measures should be taken to promote the real image of the country to the world?
This task is up to Albanians. My country has to work as much as possible to give a new image of the nation. Nowadays, we don’t send out only criminality and, to be honest, it has to be said that we didn’t invent it. We export important cultural products, we are candidates for European Union membership and we receive 4 million tourists every year. Also international events, including the Festival of Cannes, foment interest in the country of eagles. So, again, culture is the recipe and not only for my country but also for the European Union. At international level, the European Union has concentrated its policies on politics, on the creation of a European army, but not on the development of a European culture, where national cultures exchange their values in order to promote solidarity and knowledge. I have reflected a lot about that, especially in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and I arrived at the conclusion that those people, terrorists, don’t come from Mars, but are part of the second or third generation of Europeans who have no cultural roots. Albania, on the contrary, is an example of religious and co-existence and could play a key role in enforcing the peacekeeping process and stability in the Balkan area. And all those values will help the country to change the image that stereotypes conferred in the first years of the aftermath of the dictatorship’s downfall.
Minister, today you are representing your country at the Biennale, in an international context, released to talk and to promote Albania, something that was not possible as long as the regime endured. Did you ever dream of doing that during the tyranny?
Not at all. Dreams were interdicted, because thoughts could become words, words transform into expressions and expressions were dangerous. The dictatorship endured so long that it seemed to be a never ending story: imagining a different future was unthinkable.
As, finally, dreams are allowed in 2016, I would like to ask you what kind of future you wish for Albania and how you see the country in 30 years.
I imagine the country as my daughter and my son. Citizens of the world who are able to speak several languages, who perceive themselves as part of the world and who are permitted to take part in international exchanges such as Erasmus and, finally, who speak the language of culture.