An analysis of the first Albanian feature film – Fëmijët e saj (Her Children, 1957) – produced by “Kinostudio Shqipëria e Re”, directed and written by Hysen Hakani. Published at Lumbardhi’s platform BLLOGU (link: https://bllogu.lumbardhi.org/en/2021/01/26/the-cinematic-vaccine-of-albanian-socialist-realism/ ).
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
Aesthetics of Existence. The hegemonic discourse of neoliberal institutions have managed to extrapolate, decontextualize and domesticate Foucauldian or Deleuzian concepts and turn them in catchy slogans through which are filtered cultural industry productions of post-industrial societies. In this manner, processes of de-subjectivisation, de-individualisation or de-institutionalization are transformed, through dispositifs of political power, in prolific processes of ego production, which, in the case of Statovci’s narrator’s voice of Tiranan Sydän, regard a post-bourgeois class made of former homoeroticized migrants in Finnish contemporary society.
Tiranan Sydän‘s lack of novelty in terms of discourse as well as in linguistic terms attracts the attention on the absolute lack of resistance of the narrator’s voice, which seems as a fish in water, floating unperturbed the dispositif of power of narrative discourse, this last intended as a genre or metagenre (Bakhtin). There is no fugue outside of this discourse. There is no authentic transgression or desire of narrator’s voice. If there is any, it is through a hermetic, unsolved relationship with animals and myth intended as otherness or a supposed provocative homoerotisation of a relationship between two Albanian youngsters of the Nineties:
[H]e would be a respected brain surgeon who would save orphaned children, women, and the elderly, and I would do something else, I would assist him or get a job of my own unblocking drains, pipes, and sinks or building highways. (142)
which are teleologically already reality and easily achievable in Finland:
I imagine that if I had grown up in a country like this, I would have read so many books that I wouldn’t have been able to keep my eyes open, I would have gotten myself a university education and joined a respected profession, I would have lived the best life possible and made those closest to me positively burst with pride. (p.198)
Therefore, the I or the narrator’s voice, as a subject, is produced within the territory of the other, yet not through a process of subjectivization, opening a new discursive or linguistic territory to widen the existing one, but through a process of subjectification, wearing an already existing and recognizable mask of the territory of the other (migrant from former Eastern Blok/Orient/Balkan, belonging to Islamic religion, lgbtiq …etc.).
This production of subjectivity through self-subjectification in the territory of the other in contemporary Albanian literature as well as art is very common. The most famous in literature is the psychotic case of Ismail Kadare, the writer par excellence of the past state socialist regime, which beyond the 180 degree change of weltanschauung as consequence of the change of regime, has opportunistically re-written several passages of the past publications to tune in the same wavelength of the narrative discourse in power (Ke, Jing, “The four others in I. Kadare’s works : a study of the Albanian national identity.” link accessed on 06/01/2021).
However, in Statovci’s Tiranan Sydän towards the end the subjectification or giving to the other what the other expects becomes suspect because of its obviousness:
I sit down at the front of the church, pull my new pendant bearing the cross from my beg, and place it around my neck, and when a priest greets me by nodding in my direction with the subtlest of gestures, like a barely perceptible brushstroke, I feel as though I understand something essential about Finland: people here are not impolite, they are lovely, they like to be left in peace, and they don’t need anything extravagant around them. (p.202)
Coup de Théâtre. In two occasions I was almost, literally, throwing away Tiranan Sydän. The first was when I red something like “Poverty is a state of mind.” (p.150) which regarded Tirana of 1991; and the second “The drunks are a spectacle to behold. [U]npleasant, disgusting, and unforgivable.” (p.197) which regarded the Finnish context. Yet, the intentional stimulation of this kind of reader’s reaction (the theatrical gesture of throwing a book away), through banalities, clichés, prejudice, – which to me reminded Thomas Bernhard – demonstrates always a merit of the writer revealing its capacity to manage the dispositif of narrative discourse.
Statovci’s intentional abundant use of banalities, clichés, prejudice throughout Crossing is demonstrated by their dispersive function towards the Coup de Théâtre at quasi the end of the novel, when the main character/narrator, because of an opportunity to reach fast success and fame through participation in a talent show aired on a national TV station, re-invents ethnographically, without hesitation, its identity by changing the origins from a person belonging to a sexual minority group born in Albania to a similar categorized person born in Turkey, which, as contexts, for the general opinion of a Western neoliberal post-industrial society can be considered, if not the same, interchangeable.
At this point the whole narration is revealed as a theater within theater with three characteristics which effect the (birth of the) reader.
The first one regards the structure of the novel: the text ends with a rapprochement (familial or domestic pacification?) between the son and the mother (the other) as well as the re-appearance in the final scene of an animal/horse (the otherness). This final solution debilitates the effect of the rapid mutation of the main character’s identity revealing a sarcastic theatricality of the writer playing with the reader.
The second characteristic is the almost monological narrative discourse as a tool of reality creation of contexts where the main character/narrator is involved. Through this discourse the narrator is transformed in the main character, which creates for the reader fictional and semiotized realities (in Tirana, Rome, New York, Germany, etc.), where several characters are directly engaged confirming and completing the truthfulness of the fictional realities created by the narrator/main character.
The last characteristic, to conclude with these texts regarding Pajtim Statovci’s Tiranan Sydän, is the psychic and sociological effect on the reader, which empathizes, throughout the reading, with the narrator, the other characters or, as in my case, with the cultural or mythological aspects of life ridiculed by the narrator. In each empathetic case at stake for the reader are 1) the honor of belonging to a social category, status, construct or 2) its contrary, feeling imprisoned within these lasts, as well as 3) the truthfulness of the fictional reality. Statovci’s main preoccupation are the readers which empathize with the honor of belonging to something and somewhere and readers which feel imprisoned in any prefixed category rather then the readers which care about the qualitative aspects of the narrative discourse.
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
Oriental-CommunistBlok-Balkan-Albanianism. After My Cat Yugoslavia, unsurprisingly Tirana of 1990-’91, after the collapse of the state socialism, in Statovci’s Crossing, is a completely invented context. Therefore, it is clear that the first person narrator’s voice surfs the hegemonic discursive waves of Orientalism as intended by Edward Said, and similarly one can add CommunistBlokism (see some terminological issues which came out by an exchange between me and Raino Isto link), Balkanism (see in Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans, 1997), and Albanianism.
The concept of Orientalism in narrator’s hegemonic discourse, from an Albanian perspective, is historically as well as culturally even more stratified that the orientalism defined by Edward W. Said. This last has, in its East-West dichotomy, as a background the Arab world and Islam seen in British and French, and later US, colonial as well as post-colonial practices. Instead, the discourse of Orientalism in Crossing, among other strata lacks to fully evidence, as part of its background, the division of Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches and Roman Empire and, consequently, the idea of their re-unification and restoration (as it was before year 395) represented by the historical figure of Scanderbeg, which Statovci highlights generally through touristic location or gadgets such as Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square, Skanderbeg liquor (Crossing, p.15), etc. So the dichotomy “orient-occident” within Orientalist or Occidentalist discourses, intended in Said’s terms, is even deeper in an Albanian perspective and belongs not only to their relation with actual imperialist forces, but also to their relation with secular as well as religious imperial forces of the past, where the Albanians propose the own solution: Skanderbeg as a leading figure.
The concept of CommunistBlokism, one can be considered as part of the Western Euro-American Cold War propaganda. The Communist State or Blok do not exist in any official document in the history of the world, appearing only in propagandistic definitions related with the imperialistic, colonial and Euro-American-centric vision of the world. Thus, from an Albanian perspective, the discourse related with this concept presents among others, as a hidden and unarticulated strata of narrator’s hegemonic discourse of Crossing, the specific and distinct history of an independent State called Popular Socialist Republic of Albania, which defers a lot from the rest of the Communist Blok. For example, to understand and deal better with the deep complexity of the context one should know that Albania withdraw officially from the Warsaw Treaty in 1968 after the invasion of Prague by Soviet troupes; or another important fact such as the interruption of any relation with China in 1979 after the Chinese support to Pol Pot against Vietnam. So beyond the dogmatic definition Communist as well as Blok there is a whole history of the Albanians and Albania and their specific relation and solution given to the state socialism which is not evidenced or ignored in Crossing.
The concept of Balkanism, according Maria Todorova, is part of an European imperialist discourse (the discourse of the Great Powers) which starts developing mainly during the disintegration of Ottoman Empire and first decades of XX Century, and continues in the ’90 (disintegration of Yugoslavia), the period partially narrated in Crossing. Yet, what lacks in Crossing, from an Albanian perspective, is the essence of the “imperialist mission” of the Great Powers to “civilize the world” and the Balkans as well as Albania of the Nineties. Lacks for example that, in 1990-91 there were of course social conflicts and massive economic emigration (is famous the lapidary expression of the Prime Minister Ylli Bufi “We have bread only for six days!”), but not yet the plague of the female prostitution and trafficking (“And we were all complicit in their [disappeared girls] fate: I was guilty of it, Agim too, because we accepted the world around us as it was, unchanged, and we didn’t lift a finger to change it for the better.” p. 184). This came massively only after the 1997-’98, with the civil war exploded after the pyramidal or Ponzi scheme tricks came to an end after years and years of publicity on mass-media during which the Great Powers of the time (Monetary Fund, EU and US representatives) were sleeping. Moreover, in 1998, the constitution was changed and blessed by the above-mentioned Great Powers. So the Popular Socialist Republic proprieties were privatized by individuals (what was before propriety of the people, being apartments or factories, became propriety of the people living in those apartments of workers working in those factories), who, for ridiculous prices, sold everything to those who had cash in their hands (former hierarchs and Party’s leaders, newborn mafia and small oligarchs, foreigners, etc.). In this manner, the shock therapy opened the way of “imperialist mission” and “civilized world” with massive human, drug, weapon trafficking, which, altogether, in this case can be considered as the Albania’s own solution to capitalism and free market.
Even the concept of Albanianism, or Albanianhood, the quality of being Albanian, can be considered slightly different from other nationalisms. In Crossing this concept is treated as something aberrant and abhorrent (“I would not be an Albanian, not in any way, but someone else, anyone else.” p. 6). Yet, strangely and inexplicably attractive through the mythological stories of Bujar’s father, which, through their scarce elaboration throughout the novel, hide, in my opinion, the chauvinism that other nationalisms can barely equalize.
Eagle and eaglet. The scarce or superficial elaboration of the myth within the stories narrated throughout Crossing, opens, from one part, space to symbolic, anthropological and ethnological interpretations. Yet, from the other part, this superficiality, considering the absence of in-depth studies regarding this mythological and cultural aspect, becomes not an agency but a stimulus for a real chauvinism and speculative political interpretation which is deep-rooted in the last two centuries of the Albanian nationalism.
There is a specific story narrated in Crossing which can help understanding of this approach. The moment in which the narrator’s voice asks to his father “why the Albanian word for ‘Albania’ is shqipëtar [sic], the son of the eagle, and why the Albania is called Shqipëria, the land of the eagle, and why was a two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag”.
The story is about a little boy haunting in the mountains, which saves an eaglet “just before” the viper’s “fangs could sink into eaglet’s back”. The viper (killed with an arrow) was left in the nest by the eagle to feed her eaglet, thinking that the snake was already dead. Then, the boy takes the eaglet with him and when the eagle returns he doesn’t want to give her eaglet back. “Your child is my child now [because] I saved him from the snake, which you didn’t manage to kill, so I can take better care of him” says the boy. Then the eagle wants to make a deal. “Give back my child and you shall have everything I own, my ability to fly, and the power of my vision. You will become invincible, and from then on you shall bear my name.” The boy agreed and the eaglet “remained faithful[…], keeping an eye on him and watching his back”. So, the “boy grew into a man, and with his bow on one shoulder and the eagle on the other, he truly became invincible”.
The story can be interpreted from a cultural, anthropological and ethnographic point of view, meaning culture as cultivation of the nature/otherness, and eventually becoming other and otherness. But there is also a political interpretation, which is very vivid for an Albanian ear and rimes with the nationalistic rhetorical discourse of the Nineteenth century not coming out from the elliptic and suggestive approach of Crossing. More specifically this interpretation rimes with the discourse of the work of Vaso Pasha and especially his poem O moj Shqypni e mjera Shqypni/ Oh Albania, poor Albania, where Albania is a mother without children/men, which are too corrupted to save her, so there is anything left except for the women lament. It is a strange nationalism this one, for its times and compered to other countries, centering and promoting in its discourse “the Albanianhood” as the “religion of the Albanian” (Feja e shqyptarit asht shqyptaria). So, in the middle of the Orietalist–Occidentalist as well as Islamic-Catholic-Orthodox conflictual discourses within the Ottoman sphere, the Albanianhood or Albanianism it is claimed with its own, unique, and unitary romantic and romanticized vision. The poem of Vaso Pasha in this manner also, and again, evokes, without mentioning it, the figure of Scanderbeg through the dead Albanians of the past. So, it demands to the living Albanians to re-unite, through the idea and imperialistic discourse, which foresees the necessary historical and mythological “rapacity” of the Albanian to guarantee unitary rule, order and security (Vaso Pasha was himself an Ottoman administrator). And the Albanians of the times, should be evidenced, had decisive the roles within the Ottoman empire, where famous political and military figures were time to time pro and against Ottoman Empire (Ali Pashë Tepelena, Omer Vrioni, Marko Boçari, Muhamed Aliu, etc). In this manner, it is clear that the symbolic political interpretation of the Albanian that becomes the son the eagle, because the eagle it is not able to take care of her eaglet, is, in this perspective, still a reactionary vision to guarantee imperialistic rule, order, and security.
To conclude, it is important to mention that Feja e shqyptarit asht shqyptaria (The religion of the Albanian is Albanianhood), which, per se, sounds like a verse that overcomes not only the imperialistic rhetoric but also the mere nationalism, is followed by an Albanian reterritorialization – from Bar to Preveza – and, after connecting historically with the ancestors or parents and family, it reconciles with religion/God.
Qysh prej Tivarit deri n’Prevezë,
Gjithkund lshon dielli vap’edhe rrezë,
Asht tok’ e jona, prind na e kanë lanë
Kush mos na e preki, se desim t’tanë
Të desim si burrat qe vdiqne motit
Edhe mos marrohna përpara zotit.
From the city of Bar down to Preveza
Everywhere spends its warmth and rays the sun,
This is our land, left us by our ancestors
Let no one touch her, for her we will all die
Let us all die as once our old men did
Upon itself before God none shame will bring.
… continues with Part IV …
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
HOMOEROTICEXILE. My Cat Yugoslavia was characterized by the same simplicity in terms of writing, which reminded Hemingway for its descriptive immediacy, but overcharged academically, bringing in mind the creative writing courses/classes, where, for his misfortune, the American author is the real mainstream.
The architecture of the novel – to maintain the Hemingway’s terminology – was a spatial-temporal ping pong over the main story. This last was supported by a double first person narration, made of the voices of a homoeroticized son and the mother. The background story was narrated by the mother – starting in 1980, in Kosova and finishing in 2009, in present days’ Finland – woven with a compilation of costumes, legends and myth of the Albanian tradition (not very elaborated; just thrown there as baits). The present story was narrated by the son (2009, in Finland). The intersected first person narration voices produced a sort of final zoom out showing a big picture with a double focus: one on the lonely mother and her cat and the other on her son starting a new same sex relationship with Sami (the name brings in mind the indigenous people in Finland).
The book wasn’t more than a writing exercise of clichés, including the sexual minorities and feminist mainstream soundtrack made of names such as Tina Turner, Cher, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga. To make the book more tasty here and there words in Albanian popped up, for me like moldy mushrooms, but, I guess, as white truffle for the palate of literary tourists or institutionalized experts.
Cats and snakes with related illusive literary tropes, to me, more than Kafka, reminded Poe, for their suggestive but under-developed symbolic elaboration and quasi-hermeticism (but maybe I am influenced by reading the text in English and not in original). Referring at times to the lack of meaning or to obvious sexual symbols they are something in between Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey monolith and Kusturica’s Crna mačka, beli mačor cats.
Nationality and immigration were challenged with the same arrogant superficiality as in the first pages of Crossing, showing off a list of well-known nervous tics of Finnish and migrant characters caused by conflicting rituals, cultures as well as contexts. In addition, this superficiality contrasted with the quasi-total lack of historic research. For example, it was not highlighted the exile experience specificity of the main characters’ family: Albanians living in Kosova, under the Yugoslav Confederation, without having same rights, in terms of political representation, as Croats, Serbs, Slovenians, etc., which in everyday Yugoslavian life demonstrated better the colonial effects as well as aspects, such as prejudice and racism (i.e. Šiptar was a derogatory term which ridiculed the name Albanians called themselves Shqiptarë); and the connection of this background with the Finnish context.
Yet, in short, the book was well-packaged, matching all the different boxes of “fighting nationalism”, “promoting integration of migrants”, “enhancing gender equality”, “supporting sexual minority rights” and bla, bla, bla, for the taste of the literary status quo, which awarded and promoted the book nationally as well as throughout global mass media.
Considering the wide-spread neoliberal ideology in Finland, I imagined as if the book was written by a youngster, following the requirements of an open call, such as one I found last year at Migration Institute of Finland (link), which infantilized young refugees as if they did have problems of functional literacy:
“We work with art therapists and visual artists to help young refugees create objects and images about relational wellbeing. We do this in three ways – first, by asking them to show us what relational wellbeing looks like in their day to day life with others in the present. Then we ask them to imagine how it might look in the future.
Finally, we ask them to remember it in their lives before they left their country of origin. Then we put their stories, images and objects together to see how relational wellbeing in the past, present and future is similar or different over time. The journey from volatility to vitality is often a long one for refugee youth. We hope to show pictures and stories of how life flows after the drama of asylum, in the quiet, unremarkable moments when they and others are drawn together and as they become part of a nation’s diversity and wealth over time (link).“
It is the same procedure followed by Statovci in My Cat Yugoslavia. His quit, unremarkable moment, with the other is, as Il Venerdì della Repubblica defines it, on the cover of the Italian edition of the book, full of sensual realism, as if we were in front of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
But what is this sensual realism? Here it is, in a glimpse:
“He wore a bespoke suit, a tie, and leather shoes, and I felt like asking him to stop so that I could look at him from head to toe and admire myself standing next to him in the mirror. I wanted to be envious of myself, of this moment. Of the fact that I had found a man like this, my very own bank manager with whom I could come to any agreement whatsoever.” (My Cat Yugoslavia, p.224).
In other words, according the narrator, this sensual realism consists in a superficial and immediate reproduction of self-image framed by a mirror, which incentivizes the ego masturbation to reach its maximal apotheosis, where love is a bank and beloved a bank manager. The perfect speculation! This last intended as an image as well as financial profit.
Before Crossing back. It isn’t strange, at all, that Pajtovci’s first work was awarded and appreciated for its homoerotic-immigrant-Finnish mythology, considering the neoliberal ideology of the country as well as the ideology of its art and culture, public and private, institutions. The book was all about ego-masturbation, veiled by a post/petty-bourgeois superficial self critique of the culture and societies of provenience as well as reception. Yet, with some differences: from the first were challenged, beyond the culture as a whole, the costumes, myth and legends, while from the second, there were no indications, as if the Finnish myth and legends did not exist, did not influence or not exploited for the generation of contemporary ones (Just to make an example: I live in Haukilahti, Espoo and the two nearest big shopping centers are Ainoa, recalling the traditional myth of Kalevala , and Iso Omena/Big Apple recalling the contemporary myth of the well-known global metropolis. Both of them are not only similar with each other, but do not have any difference with shopping centers in New York or Tirana).
This arrogance, refusal and prejudice towards ones’ own cultural, traditional, national, ethnic belonging accompanied with an unscrupulous and ostentatious positivity towards consumerism, brings in mind the problems of acculturation highlighted by Pasolini in Italy, during the industrial and economic booming, in an open letter addressed to the Executive Directors of the National TV RAI, published at Corriere della Sera on December 9th, 1973. In that letter were highlighted the processes of erasure – unimaginable even under fascism – and how the youth with a peasant, proletarian and sub-proletarian background started to refuse their roots for a petty bourgeois consumerist model promoted by mass-media and TV. But this time, through the first person narrator voices of My Cat Yugoslavia, we are in front of several overlapping acculturation problems. Here we are in front of the youth refusing not only the peasant, proletarian and sub-proletarian background but also the national, ethnic, familial as well as culture heritage, tradition, costumes, values; refusing one system (based on collectivism and interdependence such as in former-Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) for another (based more on individualism such as the contemporary Finnish bourgeois democracy). And all this not in a Fordist industrial but post-industrial booming context.
Furthermore, considering the prices, awards and appreciations collected of Statovci’s first work, the strange thing was noticing the lack of novelty and transgression, in terms of diversity. Of course, the voice of the author can be considered as different, intended as a Kosovar, positioned as belonging to sexual minorities, coming from a culture supposed patriarchal by the general Finnish institutionalized imaginary, but not diverse. Diversity is something else. It is etymologically di(s)+vèrtere, di(s)=da is a suffix which indicates leaving a place, distancing, and vèrtere means verge, overthrow, overturn, turning towards another way, and also another verse (poetically intended). So, from this point of view, there is nothing diverse in My Cat Yugoslavia. At least, there is not a single thing that the neoliberal ideology, through its public and private, artistic and cultural, as well as political institutions and mass-media, doesn’t already promote. And coming from Albania, it reminds me the good, old times of socialist realism in literature, in its particular Albanian style, which is something different from the one criticized by Roland Barthes in Le degré zéro de l’écriture.
Thus, before restart reading Crossing I thought about Mark Fisher’s questions, “how long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?” (Capitalist Realism: Is there No Alternative? O Books, 2009, p. 3.). And, considering that I already knew the initial approach of Crossing, I expected the author, after contesting his traditional Kosovar costumes, culture, myth, legends, to continue provoking deeper, with the same superficiality, Kosova’s Albanian roots.
At this point, considering the lack of all these multidimensional problematic strata in Statovci’s work and its critical reception, I couldn’t help but think also about Jean-Léon Gérôme’s The Snake Charmer embellishing the cover of Edward W. Said’s book Orientalism; think about homoerotisation of immigrants and intentional confusing the concept of exile with the concept of nomadism as a good neoliberal strategy to fight the well-known neo-conservative image of immigrant serial-rapists of immaculate white, liberal, Euro-American pure women; as well as think about image of the Albanian as paradigmatic within the concept of “orientalism”, starting from numerous Arnaouts’ of Gérôme or Lord Byron’s Child Harold’s Pilgrimage.
… to be continued with the Third Part!
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
Crossing-cut. Few weeks ago I was reading at Peizazhe.com a post of the Albanian author Ardian Vehbiu regarding Milan Kundera’s biography, Český život a doba, written by Jan Novak, which questioned Kundera’s “obsessive need to control his image […] in part from a desire to whitewash some very dark chapters of his personal history“. All what I was thinking during the reading was that in Albania, this obsessive need to control the immaculate, intact personal image is beyond past or recent socio-political experiences of the individual. It is religion, culture, myth, art.
The same obsessive treatment of the personal image (fytyrë=face) I found in the work of Pajtim Statovci, whose “immigrant-homoerotic-Finnish mythology” – words of Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize’s jury awarding Statovci’s first work My Cat Yugoslavia in 2014 – intrigued me, especially for his becoming a sort of Finnish-worldwide-viral literary phenomenon.
Even more intriguing were the online key words of his second novel, Tiranan Sydän (Tirana’s Heart or Tirana’s Core, translated as Crossing, in English): “death of Enver Hoxha”, “ruins of Communist Albania”, “sexual identity”, “migration”, “heritage of Albanian myth and legend”, “human need to be seen”. In addition, from the reviews, the book seemed the narration of my life: family origins from Yugoslavia (the main character’s father from Kosova, mine from Bosnia and Herzegovina); life as teenager in Albania in 1990-’91; migratory experience in Italy and now in Finland; all written by someone born in 1990 and residing in Finland from 1992, when he was only two. Moreover, it seemed not just a book about me, but also written by my daughter (she’s almost three now and lives in Finland from last year). With these in mind, I decided to start reading Crossing.
Crossing-X-ray of reader’s gestation. The first chapter is entitled religiously God’s Rib, and is related with the sensitivity of the narrator regarding gender equality (for a deeper understanding of the meaning of which, vaguely developed in Crossing, I would suggest the reader to have fun with the work of Ziony Zevit and os baculum).
The narration, in the first person, starts with “When I think about my own death, the moment it happens is always the same” (Crossing, translated by David Hackston, Pushkin Press, 2016, p.3), a sentence suggesting Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author; author, which, reduced in narrator’s voice, a character of the novel, theoretically, seems to open space to welcome the birth of the reader, or at lest this is my reading approach. So, this text is a sort of embryonic X-ray to document my gestation, up to birth, as a reader after reading Statovci’s work.
The second sentence, “I am wearing a plain, colored shirt and a matching pair of paints, cut from a thin material that’s easy to put on”, immediately refers to the image, to the character’s sober (plain), accurate (matching) and functional (easy) look. This sobriety, accuracy and ease characterizes the description of the gradual disruption of functioning of the organs (bringing in mind The Body Without Organs concept of Antonin Artaud) and the process of dying “as easy as a gentle downhill stroll”.
For me, as a reader, the first pages of the book were simple and easy to read. Yet, the tone of the narration sounded arrogant, transpiring cultural prejudices probably as symptoms of a latent complex of inferiority. But this appears natural for a contemporary neoliberal system and its status quo, where one seems unable to be gay without being macho, feminist without being fascist, diverse without being different; where everything is a carnival without carne/meat (in Latin); where being immigrant or Finnish or any other nationality as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, in short, all communities from lgbtq to all the letters of the alphabets of the world mean pride only for the duration of a ride … generally in a boulevard.
The forced, not only philosophical but also literary, intellectualism and the book’s façade construction were ambitious. While Proust wrote about “possess[ing] other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is” (La Prisonnière/À la recherche du temps perdu), the narrator’s voice in Crossing echoed to “put in a set of blue contact lenses to be born again” (p.4), highlighting the artificiality not only of the outside image (blue contact lenses), but also of the sight (seeing through those blue contact lenses and thinking oneself as being reborn, having new a sight).
Moreover, sounded uncanny, considering the fake blue/other eyes, to read about all that moralistic impetus of the narrator on the façade – “you have to prepare yourself. To live so many lives, you have to cover up the lies you’ve already told with new lies to avoid being caught up in the maelstrom that ensues when your lies are uncovered” (p. 6) – and still notice its persistence of prejudices – “people in my country grow old beyond their years and die so young precisely because of their lies. They hide their faces the way a mother shields her newly born child and avoid being seen in an unflattering light with almost military precision: there is no falsehood, no story they won’t tell about themselves to maintain the façade and ensure that their dignity and honor remain intact and untarnished until they are in their graves” (p. 6). All these asserted not only without apparent explanation, ignoring the complex cultural background of those behaviors and/or rituals the narrator wanted to stigmatize.
Crossing lines after lines. The reading became to me an exercise to measure the limits of irritation.
Referred to his Albanian parents, the thoughts of the main character – “I would never […] invite neighbors for dinner simply to feed them with food I could never afford for myself.” (p. 6) – seemed to ignore the archaicity of tht culture, the works of Lévi-Strauss or Mauss on archaic societies and cultures, or at least Pier Paolo Pasolini’s concept of sub-proletariat and petty bourgeois acculturation.
Without any composure, there were other conceited phrases such as “[t]he people [in Albania] were poor, they smelled bad and talked incessantly, nobody seemed to have a job or anything in particular to do, everybody had yellow teeth and damp stains beneath their armpits” (p.56) but few pages later “the Swedish [like English and French] looked so pure” (p.65), which sounded like phrases written by a member of Suomen Vastarintaliike with ethnic complexes of inferiority and clear unelaborated homosexual repressed tendencies.
And the things got worse when I red something like “people queuing at the gates of the city’s churches and mosques in the hope of food aid” (p. 64). Churches and Mosques in Tirana at that time!? In 1990!? Everyone through a fast online research can easily find that during the Popular Socialist Republic churches and mosques were destroyed, transformed in toilets, basketball halls, museums or other imaginative functionalities or simply closed, and the first mass celebration dates November 4th, 1990 in a graveyard near Shkodra. And it is for this reason that churches and mosques could start helping people only after 1991 or 1992, when were officially permitted to re-open (1991).
Yet, I remembered that even in the first pages the description of Tirana was somewhat insecure. Thus, without being sure if this was a pure fantasy or scarce research of the author, a mish-mash of the author and scarce editing of the publisher, or something else, and to understand better, I decided to quit reading Crossing and start reading the first Statovci’s work, Kissani Jugoslavia, translated as My Cat Yugoslavia, and read about his immigrant-homoerotic-Finnish mythology (I red the edition of Pushkin Press, translated by David Hackston, 2017).
The idea of Jörn Donner. On September 16th, 2020 Globe Art Point organized a Morning Coffee (meeting) where Helsinki’s Municipality new Director of Culture, Mari Männistö, presented the Vision for Art and Culture in Helsinki 2030 (pdf). This last was proposed on August 18th (video), by an independent committee. The initiative to leave the Vision in the hands of an independent committee, according to Mari, was proposed by the former Municipality’s Council Member Jörn Donner. The Donner’s proposal represents a clear tendency of Helsinki’s Municipality to involve the community on the decision making process, starting from the Vision, or, in other words, from its basic conceptual and methodological framework.
Involving community and artists in power. In this blog is documented (in Albanian) the same tendency to open the decision making process and involve the community several times, for several years, but especially in 2016, where the Municipality of Tirana invited the starchitect and green-washing master Stefano Boeri (actually, according Boeri, was the Albanian Artist Prime Minister to invite him) to work on city’s Masterplan (no competition needed in Albania as one can imagine, because the global political leaders of the village know everything!). As a façade, covering the lack of transparency, covering the corruption as well as money laundering, the Municipality organized an open public event, but the “openness” consisted in inviting only Municipality’s departmental directors and employees and one independent representative of cultural scene personally related with the Mayor and his entourage. Of course, through all this long introduction, the intention is not to compare Helsinki with Tirana, because first of all the writer of these lines lives in Finland from 2019 and has not sufficient knowledge regarding the context and, secondly, it is hard to imagine that in Finland, not only for the art and culture vision 2030 where the amount of money on the plate reduces the conflict, but also for Helsinki’s Urban Plan for example where the amount of money it is tempting to speculators, people will be treated like in Albania: thrown out of their houses in the middle of the night, handcuffed and imprisoned, their houses bulldozed by Municipality and Police, all these in front of children eyes (link). So, this is only a warning: these things can happen, not only when the artists’ community is involved in decision making, but also when artists are the decision makers such as in the case of Albania and its artist Prime Minister. Thus, it is important to prevent that arts, culture as well as artists and cultural operators serve intentionally or unintentionally the mob, oligarchs, or particular group of interests or even the established political and financial powers. Therefore, this text, following the natural essence of art, as resistance, and culture, as cultivation of arts, intends to highlight the necessity of maintaining a sort of distance from certain illusions, such as the involvement of community or leaving in hands on artists and cultural operators the decision making process.
De-institutionalizing and overcoming political representivity. Thus, with in mind the necessary doze of disillusion, the first thing that can be evidenced regarding the Donner’s idea is the way in which this very good tendency to involve the community, starting from the Vision, initiated by the Municipality of Helsinki, is somewhat blocked at a level of institutional representation, considering the participants of the independent committee, all coming from established institutions:
chairman Aleksi Malmberg (General Manager of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra) and the members Leif Jakobsson (Emeritus Director of the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland), Gita Kadambi (General Director of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet), Elina Knihtilä (Professor at the University of the Arts Helsinki), Emmi Komlosi (Planner-teacher at the Helsinki Adult Education Centre), Sonya Lindfors (Choreographer and Artistic Director at UrbanApa), Teemu Mäki (Artist, Doctor of Fine Arts and Chair of The Artists’ Association of Finland), Eeka Mäkynen (Managing Director of Finnish Metal Events Oy), Sara Norberg (Managing Director of Cinematic), Veli-Markus Tapio (Senior Advisor at the Finnish Cultural Foundation).
The independent committee, considering the provenience of the members and the lack of questioning of their status, starting from the Vision, shows two faces of a same problem: institutional and representational (political as well as artistic and cultural), which contradict the tendency of Donner’s proposal and Municipality’s initiative.
Firstly, the Donner’s idea regards de-institutionalization, from the institution of Municipality Council to a non institutional independent committee. How does the independent committee build on this aspect of Donner’s idea and pushes further de-institutionalization in the Vision remains unknown.
Secondly, the Municipality’s initiative is a clear tendency to overcome the problem of political representation of majority of parties (which are represented by the members of the Municipality Council) by involving a wider community, represented by the independent committee and, through them, involving the public, the electorate, part of which are also the minorities not represented in the Municipality Council. How does the independent committee build on this tendency of overcoming the representivity and how each member problematizes and pushes further this aspects remain also unknown.
It is exactly this tendency to de-institutionalize and overcome the political and consequently artistic and cultural representative and representational problem, which must be fundamental or the basis on which the independent committee should build and push further the Vision for Arts and Culture of Helsinki 2030. Without pushing further this tendency, the Vision will confirm the status quo, which no artist or cultural operator can represent better than a career politician or a Municipality Council. Consequently, this exceptional occasion where an independent committee designs the Vision will be a lost occasion like tens, hundreds or thousands others happened not only in Helsinki, but also in Finland and other parts of the world.
Yet, let see now how the Vision is further articulated (the reference is English version).
Vision with metaphors from industrial and anthropocentric thesaurus.
The first chapter and sentence of the Vision is a proclamation: “Helsinki holds art and culture at the hart of good living and city development”. The “good living”, although not very clear (do Helsinki’s citizens share a common understanding on “good living”? any reference?), seems a metaphor regarding the psycho-physical conditions of Helsinki’s citizens. The meaning of “city development” is clearer. It regards urban development. Development as a concept belongs to the logic of industrial development, being this last clearly related with the bourgeois industrial capitalism (and infinite consumption of superfluous goods would have said Pier Paolo Pasolini, to whom I refer regarding “development”‘s genesis: “Uno ‘sviluppo’, però, la cui figura si è ormai formata e fissata nel contesto dell’industrializzazione borghese.” Scritti corsari). Therefore, “city development” regards the urban densification and its built space enlargement.
At this point, if the reader follows the Vision‘s metaphor, art and culture at the hart of the citizen and industrial urban development, it is clear that art and culture function as pacemakers. Art and culture seem perfect technologically reproducible mechanisms (Walter Benjamin echoes!) supporting the rhythm or regulating the heart beating of the citizen and the way city is developing and will develop in 2030. Considering this ambitious approach, it is interesting to see how art and culture will regulate the rhythm of industrial circulation and consumption of goods as well as how, through consumption of goods, achieve the “good living”, which is basically the fundamental idea of industrial capitalism.
The first paragraph of Vision‘s first chapter, presents the challenges: “the environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology“. These are finely seen as “customary mindsets and practices“, through which the specialists of pacemakers – artists and cultural operators – are supposed to face 2030.
The other paragraph, presents one of these pacemakers, the art, as instrument of knowledge and imagination for “alternative worlds and build paths to the future”.
The next one, defines “the hart of Helsinki”, made by “[t]he people […] and their diversifying (sic!) cultures”, which “is important engage in a dialogue” with each other and create the “common spirit of Helsinki”. In other words, the cultures – as pacemakers or industrial mechanisms – jump from physical to metaphysical sphere. Yet, a question rises: despite the fact that there are pure and impure spirits, wasn’t better instead of unifying, concentrating or homologating all citizens under one spirit to use spirituality, which seems a wider and not fully defined term?
Proceeding further, Helsinki 2030, apart from heart and spirit, demonstrates also to have consciousness:
Helsinki knows how to use the skills and thinking of artists to help in building a good city: in enhancing the well-being and health of the people of Helsinki, in ecological reconstruction and in recognising new opportunities.
It is interesting to know from the independent committee how Helsinki can “use the skills and thinking” of artists to enhance “the well-being and health of the people”, where the art can be beyond good and evil (Nietzsche), or beyond the pleasure principle (Freud). Therefore, the concept of well-being, like the one of good-living, is not clear or at least is limitative, especially when considered at an artistic level. To make an example: is it too harsh to affirm that the last thing which comes in mind to someone in front of Picasso’s Guernica, hearing Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, reading Franz Kafka or Virginia Wolf, seeing one of Kaurismäki’s film, or experiencing Aalto’s Finlandia Talo (beyond the architect’s intention), is well-being or good-living?
“[T]he ecological reconstruction” seems a confirmation of the above-mentioned idea of “city development” and sounds like referring to the last urban plan and more precisely to “Boulevardisation of Helsinki”, which, consisting in transformation of “motorway-like routes in boulevards”, are more or less human-centric, but are still to be proved as ecological (there is no published comparative study which supports the idea of transforming motorway-like routes in boulevards with more buildings as ecological). So, it can be said that “the skills and thinking of artists” will be “used” to change from an industrial-Fordist city (motorway-like routes are its classical distinctive features) to a post-industrial(?) city, where the “recognized new opportunities” consist in industrialization of artists creativity.
Finally, the chapter closes with “[a]rt and culture open[ing] the way to a creative [industry? industrial?] Helsinki, where all can experience joy and hope in their lives”.
Blurring Vision. Taking in consideration the Vision from a managerial point of view, beyond the metaphors – which would be nice if the independent committee clarifies in their concrete meaning offering a minimal syllabarium to understand it better -, after the highlighted challenges such as “environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology” it was expected to see DESIGNED priorities to cope with each one of these challenges. In addition, after the priorities it was expected to see designed TAYLORED objectives for each priority (During the presentation of the Vision on YouTube several times were mentioned, without any specification, the objectives, but in English pdf file version there is no clear objective evidenced). Moreover, after each objective, it was expected to see the measures, which permit the achievement of each objective.
But, the Vision, unfortunately, continues with other proclamations, which are somewhat related, yet not clearly focused on the challenges.
Of course, the articulation of the Vision has its own logic and a sort of consequentiality, but does not maintain fully its consistency connecting the idea of Jörn Donner (de-institutionalization, overcoming the problem of political representation), priorities/challenges (environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology), as well as aims (promoting environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology challenges as virtuous customary mindsets and practices). In general, the text can make sense for those who participated in its writing, but, beyond a metaphorical interpretation, without a syllabarium it is difficult for someone to understand it fully. And this is not a problem only for the present, but could also present a problem for the future, because if someone wants to build over this Vision after 2030 will find the same problems of de-codification.
The only consistency of the text, seen from a managerial structure perspective, is represented by the chapter “The proposed measures to achieve the vision”. But, even in this case, the “measures” present questionable qualitative and quantitative measurability, do not present parameters, numbers, transparency, and, being limited in proclamations, can be easily open to different interpretations. And, by the way, the experiences of the writer of these lines, especially in Tirana, Albania and Bergamo, Italy, teaches that a foggy vision with terminological and conceptual vagueness represent the perfect scenario for political representative bureaucrats to easily promote and disseminate as achievements reports plenty of smiley faces, colored green-washed and art-washed pictures followed by rhetorical and logorrheic emptiness.
Towards a syllabarium.
Creativity. When the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze tried to define an art work he started from its basic creative act. For him, a creative act is an act of resistance and an act of resistance is a creative act (link). Therefore, there is nothing wrong, on contrary, it is perfectly coherent the statement of the Vision “art and culture open the way to a creative Helsinki”.
But what is resistance in creative Helsinki of 2030?
Resistance is a Latin word: “re”= means “back” or “before” and confers the idea of opposition; and “sistere” is made of “si” a morphological particle which defines the doubling (reinforcement) of the radix “stare” which means “stay”, thus “sistere” = means “stay firmly”.
Thus what is concretely the firm step back of Helsinki 2030?
For an answer it is necessary to start again from the beginning. What are the challenges of Helsinki 2030? Once more: “the environment crisis, the demographic changes and technology”. Therefore, the challenges of environment crisis, demographic changes and technology need a resistance intended as a solid, firm and immovable step back.
Environmental Crisis. Considering that the Vision was conceived during a global pandemic situation, the independent committee could have easily clarify the idea of this resistance and connect it with the causes of the environment crisis – bourgeois industrial capitalism based on infinite consumption of superfluous goods – without being dispersive and without intending it in generic terms. Today is easier than ever to highlight, demonstrate and understand that the problem is the way human societies developed and/or are still developing. COVID19 exploded in China, caused by intensive, antagonistic and positivity-driven consumerism combined with urban densification. In other words, humans pressuring other species and natural space: less space for animals (bats are the wild animals from which the spillover occurred causing the pandemic exploded initially in a market of Wuhan); more space for humans or humanized space or anthropocentric space (Helsinki with a heart, spirit and consciousness!!!). Considering that the Vision suggests the environmental crisis as customary mind set and processes, and to make it more concrete and less generic for the context, by changing only the name of the bird, from bats to mallards, and the name of the city, from Wuhan to Helsinki, what is the difference in terms of intending the urban development model? Helsinki, same as Wuhan, is going towards densification, maybe using ecological material such as wood in high buildings of Kalasatama, Tripla or Länsibulevardi, but this will enlarge or diminish the space for mallards? Does a member of independent committee ask this question? Does the institution of provenience of each member ask this question? How creative are they in terms of resisting firmly by stepping back, so not only reducing impact but making space for animals, for the nature, for the otherness par excellence? It is complex, especially for a not so complex context such as Helsinki and Finland in general, but the world is complex and as pandemic teaches daily no one anywhere has the luxury to feel safe and enjoy a romanticized simple life plenty of well-being and good-living. So, are Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Swedish Cultural Foundation, Finnish National Opera and Ballet, Helsinki University of Arts, Helsinki Adult Education Center, UrbanApa, Artists’ Association of Finland, Finnish Metal Events, Cinematic, Finnish Cultural Foundation, Helsinki Cultural Service dealing concretely with this question? How? Is the response appropriate? Is it enough?
Demographic Changes. There is also another challenge which cannot be understood vaguely and in generic terms: the demographic changes. What are we talking about?
What does demographic changes mean in Helsinki? Means that the Finnish citizen of Helsinki are making more children? Isn’t better to face the problem and say that there is an IMMIGRATION challenge from now to 2030? Why in 32 pages of the Vision the word immigration is mentioned only ONCE/1? And again, considering that the Vision suggests the demographic changes as customary mind set and processes, what does it mean in creative terms, in terms of resisting by firmly stepping back, for the independent committee and their institutions of provenience? How do they concretely respond to this challenge? Is it appropriate? Is it enough involving one Albanian, Afghan, Somali, or Chinese responding to the challenge of demographic changes? Or it’s again a problem of making space without predetermined definitions, not for the animal and the otherness, as in the case of environment crisis, but firmly stepping back to make space for the human and the other? Isn’t it about welcoming and not only hospitality of the other and otherness? (The first measure of the independent committee’s Vision, “Helsinki will support distinctive, resident-initiated culture in residential areas”, sounds hospitable and welcoming towards the other like an automatic e mail from MIGRI office!)
Technology. To avoid questioning rhetorically once more the members of independent committee how they and their institutions of provenience (could) approach the technology challenge and turn it into a customary mindset and process it would be easier to remind that for Aristotle art is technê. In other words art and technology as well as artists and technologues/technologist are indivisible and indiscernible. Moreover, technology is basically projection of human body/organs (brain included) in space (Ernst Kapp, Elements of a Philosophy of Technology). Therefore, an artist using technology as part of its art work, without having its own corporeal (physical/mental) knowledge on the used technology, is not producing art work, but reproducing passively an alien and alienating technology as a consumable aestheticized good. This good, of course, can have an elementary intelligence and produce and reproduce by accelerating, as a pacemaker, pleasure intended as cultural identity enjoyment of a homogenizing ego (Roland Barthes), but cannot bring (to) “joy” (a perfect word used in the Vision), which is strictly connected with jouissance and beyond pleasure principal, with transgression of limits and de-territorialization, bringing the spirit towards the unknown and, in this manner, enriching its spirituality. Is it clear therefore what kind of creativity intended as resistance or firmly stepping back is needed for Helsinki 2030 in terms of technology challenge, especially knowing that this last is strictly interlinked to the environmental crisis (the otherness) and demographic changes (the other) challenges? Is it clear that art/technology cannot be limited in industrial gamming, with its losing-winning logic, but should be intended as industrial playing, involving and stimulating the plentitude of the human potentialities to explore the otherness and the other?
Last but not least. There is a last specification to highlight in this (by no means exhaustive) text regarding the Vision. It regards the distinction between “different” and “diverse”, which is somewhat given for granted in the Vision and, as conceptual and terminological definitions, are sometimes used in an obscure manner (e.g.: The city’s art sphere comprises a diverse set of different operators and the connections between them). In general it can be said that “different” it is about distinctions from the host, from the city of Helsinki 2030 in this case (human/animal; Finnish/non-Finnish; citizen/non-citizen; resident/non-resident); “diverse” is about change and not being hostage of the logic of the host, because the “diverse” has and uses another verse, code, rhythm, regime of doing and processing things. Trying to follow Donner’s idea of de-institutionalization and overcoming political representative and artistic representational aspect and maintaining the focus on environmental crisis, demographic changes, technology challenges as well as making them customary mindsets and processes, for the creative Helsinki 2030 wouldn’t be more consistent to change the mentality from a city which tolerates and accepts differences to a city which stimulates the potentialities of diversity? Of course for the bourgeois industrial capitalist mentality, focused on the accumulation of the value and financial profit, it is hard to sustain this change of mentality. And it is exactly the sustainability of a diversity-driven Vision in terms of accumulation of value and financial profit which seems insurmountable even for the artists and cultural operators. But someone, somewhere has to dare and, considering the privilege of scarce financial conflictuality and complexity, compared to other global situations, Helsinki seems an appropriate context.
Skllavi nuk kërkon tjetër veçse dikë me të cilin të qahet. Ai as dëshiron e as është i aftë për gjë. Një ditë, takoi një njeri të zgjuar.
“Zotëri!”, e thirri gjithë ngashërim, me lotët që i rridhnin rrëke prej syve. “Ti e di që nuk jetoj si njeri. Një vakt në ditë, e ha a s’e ha. Edhe ai vakt i shkretë është një kothere e gurtë që squll, së cilës nuk i afrohen as qentë e as derrat; e për më tepër nuk del as sa një gjysëm racioni …”
“Më vjen keq, vërtetë”, tha i zgjuari gjithë dhimbje.
“Pse, a s’kam të drejtë?”, ia ktheu skllavi, i lehtësuar.
“Dhe punoj ditë e natë pa pushim: agimi më gjen duke mbushur ujë, kur ngryset jam duke gatuar, në mëngjes vrapoj ngado, mbrëmjeve drithrat bluaj, me kohë të mirë laj teshat, kur bie shi mbaj çadrën, gjatë dimërit ndez oxhakun, verës tund freskoren. Kur bie nata pjek kërpudha, duke pritur e shpresuar pronari në kumar të ketë fituar; por kacidhen nuk e shoh ama dhe, ndonjëherë, kërrbaçin ha pas shpine …”
“Ah!”, psherëtiu i zgjuari, dhe sytë iu skuqën, thuaj se ish gati për të qarë.
“Zotëri!” Nuk di më nga t’ja mbaj. Më duhet një rrugëdalje. Por cila?…”
“Kam besim se gjërat, në fund, do të të shkojnë më mirë …”
“Vërtetë thua? E shpresoj me gjithë shpirt. Madje tani që t’i thashë vuajtjet e hallet, zorëri, dhe më dhatë dhembshuri e zemër, ndihem vërtetë shumë më mirë. Kjo do të thotë që në këtë botë drejtësia egziston …”
Por pas disa ditësh, ende nuk kish gjetur paqe, dhe po kërkonte sërish dikë për t’u ankuar.
“Zotëri!” thirri njërin, dhe lotët iu varën faqeve. “Ti e di. Ku jetoj unë, është më keq se ku rrinë derrat. Pronari nuk më sheh si njeri: trajton një mijë herë më mirë qenushin e tij pekinez …”
“Ndyrësira!” bërtiti aq fort tjetri sa trembi skllavin. Ky tjetri ishte budalla.
“Zotëri, banoj në një haurë të rrënuar, të lagësht, të ftohtë, plot pleshta që, sapo më zë gjumi, më hanë e më grijnë si t’u dojë qejfi. Aty qelbet një erë mbytëse, pa asnjë dritare …”
“Nuk mund t’i kërkosh pronarit të të hapë një dritare?”
“E si të mundem?”
“Epo, lermë një herë ta shoh!”
Kur mbërritën në dhomën e skllavit, budallai filloi të godasë murin e qerpiçtë.
“Ç’bën? Zotëri!” thirri tjetri i tmerruar.
“Jam duke të të hapur një dritare …”
“Jo, kështu nuk bën! Pronari do të xhindoset!”
“E ç’rëndësi ka për ty!” Dhe budallai vazhdoi të godiste.
“Ndihmë, o njerëz. Një bandit po kërkon të na shembë shtëpinë! Ejani, shpejt! Nëse nuk nxitoni, do të hapë një vrimë!”… E duke qarë e bërtitur përpëlitej i tëri përtokë.
Një turmë skllevërish i erdhi në ndihmë dhe përzunë budallanë. Kur dëgjoi britmat, nga kati i fundit nxorri kokën pronari.
“Një bandit donte të na shembte shtëpinë, por unë fillova të bërtas dhe, të gjithë sëbashku, e përzumë”, tha gjithë respekt e me zë triumfues skllavi.
“Mirë bëre.” Pronari e lavdëroi.
Atë ditë erdhën shumë njerëz për vizitë dhe, midis tyre, edhe i zgjuari.
“Zotëri, kisha meritat e mia prandaj më lëvdoi edhe pronari. Edhe ty, kur më the që gjërat do të më shkonin më mirë, të doli fjala …” tha i lumturuar e plot shpresë skllavi.
“Posi jo, …” iu përgjigj duke u treguar i lumtur edhe i zgjuari.
26 dhjetor 1925
“Barishtet e erga” – Lu Xun.
During the last COVID19 lock-down night, on May 17th, around 04.00 AM, the activists, artists and citizens, that occupied and resisted for almost two years inside the building of The National Theatre of Albania, were beaten and violated by the “Department of Eagles“, which has nothing to do with contemporary art, but with “Shqiponjat” / “Eagles” is the exact name of police quick intervention squad, which intervened without identification numbers like “die Sturmabteilung” or “le Camicie Nere” of 2020, remembering Albanians the times they live in.
On May 17th 2020, the bulldozers of the Albanian government erased The National Theatre although the pan-European cultural heritage organization Europa Nostra weeks earlier had selected it as one of the European cultural heritage monuments at risk. Actually, the building thanks to the support of EU institutions had very good possibilities to be restored and renovated with EU funds. However, the government of Edi Rama and mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, decided to accelerate the money laundry machine, erasing The Theatre and opening in this manner a new 200 million euros construction site for “modern” towers.
The very next day, the activists, artists, and citizens protested for several days in Tirana and started a tour of protests in several cities of Albania during which they distributed a petition, collecting signatures, for the re-building of The National Theatre “where it was and how it was” (sign the petition if you agree / link).
According my opinion, rebuilding “The National Theatre where it was and how it was” is a sort of symptomatic reaction which denotes the drift of the authoritarian governmentality of these last 100 hundred years in Albania.
The National Theatre, at the time known as “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg” was a product of fascist colonial practices carried out by Mussolini to impress “the indigenous” (Albanians of the time) with its Italian architectural rationalism, this last a sort of “misunderstanding of the modern” (at least, this was the opinion of the critic Bruno Zevi on Italian architectural rationalism). Thus, “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg” was a building which spectacularized the fascist politics and colonialism as well as the figure of the authoritarian leader, being Scanderbeg or Mussolini itself. It had nothing to do, from an architectonic and/or urban point of view, with the Albanian context of the time (it was constructed few months before the invasion or the “annexation” of Albania by Italian troupes in 1939). The only integration with the context was through the “zipper axes” boulevard (“asse cerniera”) constructed by Italians urban planners, which, as an alien urban dispositif, divided the retrograded, ottoman, old Tirana and modern, Western, “new Tirana” / Tirana e Re (this is the name, still today, through which is known the quarter of the western part of the Boulevard).
All the constructions in Albania, including the Boulevard as well as “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg“, were financially managed by SVEA, an Italian-Albanian financial institution, which, knowing the impossibility of the Albanians to repay the debts, granted large sums in the form of loans to the highly corrupted self-proclaimed King Ahmet Zogu and his government. Through this lack of repayment Mussolini justified in front of the Italian Parliament the invasion or “annexation” of Albania, as he liked to consider it, justified by a large part of Albanian collaborationist intelligentsia.
Ahmet Zogu, the former Prime Minister who had proclaimed himself King of Albanians in 1928, a day before Italian invasion, on April 6th 1939 abandoned Albania passing the Greek border with his family and a large quantity of gold.
On May 21st, 2020, four days after the erasure of The National Theatre, Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Tirana, apparently forgetting the possibility to restore The Theatre with EU funds without taxing the Albanians, send an official request to the Prime Minister Edi Rama, asking the permission to apply for 30 million euro loan at European Bank of Investment – “with very favorable financial conditions” – for the construction of the new Theatre, which will be placed on 30% of the territory of the former Theatre, leaving the rest to Fusha Family affairs.
I guess, through this elementary information, the circle of governmentality is completely evident. In other words, in Albania there is an ongoing process of return to the roots: of violence, erasure, corruption, financial speculation and political spectacularization through architectonic monumental constructions which characterized the beginnings of fascism.
To jump out of the circle, the rebuilding of “The Theatre where it was and how it was” does not indicate the right direction. Knowing somewhat the Albanian context, generally speaking, therefore including but not limiting the discourse on the case of The National Theatre, I tend to prefer neither to erase nor erect buildings nor monuments. If buildings and monuments are erased or erected, I guess it is preferable to deal with them or what remains of them, to cultivate a relation with their presence or absence. This does not means that the resistance against the mafia in government, when it erases or erects, was and is not necessary. On contrary. The resistance should be intensified. However, the context needs sobriety. Needs less, not more. Less buildings, not more buildings.
In the case of The National Theatre or what remains of it, the resistance should continue on “The Empty Space” of The Theatre, to quote Peter Brooks and maybe witness the materialization of its vision. In this space, to escape the circular symptom of “Il circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg”, should be preserved the erasure and evidenced its foundations, literally, as a sort of Chris Burden installation, making clear the concrete profits of the last 100 years.
The Albanian National Theatre is erased by the government of Edi Rama and the Tirana’s Mayor Erion Veliaj.
This erasure was expected, from 2014, when the government of Edi Rama, after the selection of a puppet National Theatre director, separated the workers from their working place (Dear Karl Marx, what would you do to explain, to a former marxist-leninist country, what does it mean!?!?!?), by changing their contracts from unlimited in time to fixed-term contracts (from 3 up to 18 months). In this manner, through precarization, the workers (not only actors) were easy pray of Prime Minister’s extortion. The result is that defending The Theatre, on May 17th 2020, beyond the citizen volunteers and activists, was only one of the actual contracted actors of the national institution, Neritan Liçaj (I am not sure if Mehdi Malkaj, the other actor actively involved against the demolition, is still under contract with the institution).
This blog is full of this kind of materials. In Albanian language, unfortunately, for lazy art researchers from abroad, or luckily, for those who know Albanian and can copy for free and sell it as their own research in different languages. Anyway, although the smartest ones will deliberately continue to copy without quoting, here it is a translated sample from AKSREVISTA of June 12th 2014 (link):
“Last week the actors of the National Theatre, unlike those of the Opera and Ballet, signed the “contemporary” contracts of the Ministry of Culture. Ndriçim Xhepa, Yllka Mujo, Rajmonda Bulku, Bujar Asqeriu, Fadil Kujofsa, Vangjel Toçe, Mehdi Malkaj, Marjeta Ljarja, Sokol Angjeli, Eva Alikaj, Vasjan Lami, Artan Imami, Dritan Boriçi, Dritan Boriçi, Helidon Fino, Anila Bisha Çisha, Indrit , Olta Daku, Neritan Liçaj, Arben Derhemi, Marjana Kondi, Alfred Bualioti, Anil Frashёri, Ermela Teli, Lulzim Zeqja, Genti Deçka, Gerti Ferraj are the current members of the troupe of the National Theater, that signed the new contracs limited in time, as proposed by the Ministry of Culture. I want to make public their names, because these actors – for their weakness, deliberate malice, or ignorance – deserves to enter the contemporary Albanian history as signatories of the demolition of the first public Albanian cultural and artistic institution.
The controversy that occurred years ago, between Edi Rama and the actors of this institution, for the demolition of the building of National Theatre finished with a concrete ‘nothing’. The National Theatre remained in its place. Now, this situation, if repeated, would undoubtedly see the country’s prime minister as the winner. I don’t have the magic sphere, but I have the impression that very soon we will see the Prime Minister’s hammer beating in the same place. Edi Rama, today, would easily succeed, because the real actors of the National Theatre are dead.”
So, the end was in the air. The same predatory strategy was and is still applied in Albania from 1991 by all the political parties that formed the government: separation of the workers from their working places and consecutive privatization of the whole country (industries, factories, mines, oil wells, etc.). However there is no focus in this issue in each protest I ever participated. And the protest against the demolition of The National Theatre is one of them. The difficulty to articulate this issue depends by the infiltration of every single protest from political and para-political forces, such as Democratic Party/PD, Socialist Party/PS, Socialist Movement for Integration/LSI or Open Society Foundation for Albania/OSFA/Soros, etc. Therefore there is no possibility for a democratic change based on progressive ideas taking place while these reactionary forces are around.
However, to be honest, in the last few weeks, I thought maybe even this time the National Theatre could resist Edi Rama’s attack, because of a very hard work of some protesters, part of Alliance for the Defense of Theatre, that proposed and obtained from Europa Nostra the status of “endangered European Cultural Monument” for the National Theatre (link).
But, unfortunately, Europa Nostra is not the European Union, the representative/ambassador of which in Albania is Luigi Soreca, that apparently, involved in more important activities to pave the way of the country towards EU, has no comments regarding the peoples revolt against the demolition. The Alliance in Defense of Theatre while I am writing have already sent a request (May, 18th) for pronunciation to the Ambassador (link).
Actually I do not know where the EU finds its representative to send in Albania. The last one, Romana Vlahutin, seemed a porno actress coming out from Pornhub milf category, with the same “accuracy” regarding sobriety (link).
The Alliance for the Defense of Theatre has also sent a request of pronunciation to that Manchurian Candidate, named Yuri Kim, a cyborg that happens to be the US Ambassador in Albania. In this case, the request to me sounds so absurd that is even hard to believe. Our Big Brother, thanks to the Monroe Doctrine of which we, as Albanians, have our independence, but also the fruits of its psychotic struggle for hegemony, I am sure will be the biggest supporter of Edi Rama and, by defending his operation, will give him more credibility just to intimidate the protesters and return to “normality”.
As I see it there is no hope from nowhere, being EU or USA, except from the people resisting fascism with the adequate weapons. The Albanian history speaks for itself.
What can we learn from the history, not only the Albanian history actually, is that the fascism does not permit any choice: it evokes always and everywhere a Piazzale Loreto, it starts and finishes succumbing in its spectacle.
Actually it is not only my perception that this will happen later or soon in Albania. There are for example other artist that somehow, through their works, transmit and evoke the same feelings. See in this regard “REASSAMBLE” of Pleurad Xhafa, a video of 2017 focused on the traumatic history of the WWII and the donation of Walter Audisio, an Italian partisan, to the “heroic people of Albania” of the machine gun with which was executed Benito Mussolini, conserved at the National Historic Museum:
or Ergin Zaloshnja’s quasi-Fellinian “Naming the Halter in the Hanged Man’s House” of the same year, which tries to provoke after the newly designed Tirana’s Central Square and the mafia-government affair behind:
But before concluding it is important to mention a historical reference to this contemporary somber omens. There is a poet and writer I love. His name, Millosh Gjergj Nikolla, known as Migjeni (1911-1938). He was from Shkodra, serbian mother tongue, but deliberately wanted to write in a minor, foreign for him, language, like Albanian. His Albanian language, like his verses in terms of metre, are far from perfect. Yet, there is no other author in Albanian language that sounds as perfect as him in terms of tonality, in terms of relations, stability, attractions of images created through words, which makes his writing an incomparable distinguished gesture.
In one of his essays, entitled “Novel on Crisis” (Novelë mbi krizë), Migjeni writes about a city “the elite” of which, to “fight” poverty, “changed the face of the city” by constructing “wonderful monuments” (a clear reference to the Albanian situation of the time under the self-proclaimed King Ahmet Zogu). And the elite was “competing among each other” in this race of aesthetization of poverty (here the author refers to his historical and social context, but, one year after the death of Migjeni, with the fascist invasion in 1939, with a more intensive aesthetization of poverty, his words sound more as a prophecy or discerning premonitory vision). However, the poorest, still starving, felt “colorful like the monuments under the sun”. But, not too late, after the destruction of the monuments “the day of beggars’ lynch came”, the day of “starving, skinny ribs wolves”. The End.
To me these “beggars” that start “lynching” hungry like “starving, skinny ribs wolves” seem a good image to understand the Albania after the liberation and the partisans persecuting an entire so-called elite of the time, from aristocratic and conservators to progressive and social democrats or other center as well as moderate leftists, all guilty of being too soft, uncertain, or reluctant, according the partisans, to fight against fascism and privileged classes. The terror of the time is better described in some of Kasëm Trebeshina’s poignant and surgical pages. I also remember my grandfather, a member of “Çeta e Pezës”, the first anti-fascist military group in Albania, and later partisan, that during the last years before passing away, in 1994, was used to tell me stories of this terror while hunting the fascists or fascists collaborators in Northern Albania and Yugoslavia. He was used to say “there were no bones or tails left” (“as rrasht as bisht”), a phrase that brings in mind Migjeni’s “starving, skinny ribs wolves” devouring their prey.
The National Theatre in 1944 after the liberation was taken from the fascists and Nazis with real weapons. Was occupied by starving people, which had never had the possibility to frequent the elitist “Scanderbeg Circle”, this was the name of the multi-functional complex, which became after the liberation The Popular Theatre, a theater of the poorest for the poorest. And, during these times of resistance against the demolition, the history of under-privileged classes occupying the elite’s institutions, the symbolic institutions of colonization, converted in symbolic institutions of culture, if not at all, rarely came out or was clearly articulated as the real value to preserve of the history of National Theatre. And it is because of the aforementioned political and para-political infiltration of each protest that this value is continuously erased. However, now, with the demolition of the National Theatre by Edi Rama’s government and Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, the elitist race towards the aesthetization of poverty is coming to an end. The Theatre’s curtain is down. The “starving, skinny ribs wolves” are coming soon.
P.S. It was impossible to defend The National Theatre from the demolition without clarifying its fascist roots, its instrumental construction to promote a spectacular fascist regime through architectonic modernization for the colonization of a country. It was impossible to defend from the demolition The Theatre without evidencing its fundamental value, in other words the power of the poorest to convert a symbolic building of colonization in a symbolic building of culture. Without this clarification Edi(p) Rama’s psychosis and all the neoliberal ass-lickers of the contemporary art system have reduced and will reduce the erasure of this European Monument of Cultural Heritage as an Albanian feud between government and opposition.
Da Bergamo ultimamente a me, come ad altri, penso, arrivano solo notizie tristi. Una di queste, di qualche giorno fa, è la morte di un dottore, il mio medico di base o di famiglia dir si voglia degli ultimi 15 anni, Vincenzo Leone.
Non credo di essere la persona più addatta per descrivere quest’uomo. Non lo conoscevo benissimo. La nostra confidenza si limitava a ben poco. Era siciliano e di solito, essendo io dei Balcani, gli facevo sempre la battuta di un altro mio amico siciliano, e cioè sul nostro “essere tutti e due mediterronei”. Ci si rideva, sempre.
Con mio padre da subito aveva instaurato un rapporto un po’ più speciale. Si vede anche con lui funzionava l’attrazzione tra “mediterronei”.
Quest’uomo come medico di base, figura che qualcuno vuole abolire (link), ha salvato pochi anni fa mio padre da un infarto, quando al Pronto Soccorso degli “ospedali eccellenti lombardi” gli hanno diagnosticato un raffredore dopo aver lamentato dolori al petto. Alla terza volta in 24 ore in Pronto Soccorso, dopo altretante insistenti ricette di esami urgenti del dott. Leone, si sono decisi di fare il test della bicicletta. Dopo due minuti sulla bici mio padre lo hanno fatto sdraiare in orizzontale, gli hanno detto di non muoversi, neanche per andare in bagno, e lo hanno portato in sala operatoria.
Mio zio altrettanto gli deve la vita per un simile problema.
Dal 2011 al 2018, quando vivevo più in Albania che in Italia, l’ho chiamato diverse volte. Una di queste per un problema del figlio di un mio amico che si trovava in una situazione disperata. Ha sempre risposto, puntualmente. Conoscendo di fama la situazione degli ospedali in Albania, ha addirittura chiesto la cartella clinica, si è consultato con specialisti che conosceva, e, dopo aver suggerito e aiutato nel procurare altri medicinali e una cura migliore, è riuscito ad alleviare il dolore immenso di una situazione che faceva impressione solo a guardare da fuori. E lo ha fatto gratuitamente.
Ultimamente vivo più in Finlandia che in Italia. Quì non esiste il medico di base. Esistono ospedali e poliambulatori, pubblici. Di solito per qualsiasi cosa ti ricevono infermieri/e. Il dottore, solo tramite appuntamento. Puoi avere anche assicurazioni speciali, di solito offerte dal datore di lavoro, ed essere seguito in centri privati. Lì magari il dottore c’è e subito. Però può capitare, per fare un esempio concreto, che per una mancanza proteica, che non si risolve assumendo integratori per mesi, ti consiglino un piccolo e semplicissimo intervento chirurgico. Poi capita che ti viene in mente il dott. Leone, il quale, a metà febbraio di quest’anno, ti consiglia, “prima di fare qulasiasi intervento, ricontrolla[re] gli esami del sangue e guarda[re] se non hai semplicemente un infezione da qualche parte nello stomaco o ulcera che ti causa perdita di sangue”. Poi capita che gli esami confermino che il medico di famiglia, quello italiano, aveva ragione e non ti serve nessun intervento. Basta solo una cura di antibiotici, che gli stessi dottori che ti hanno consigliato l’intervento, sbalorditi per non averci pensato, ti prescrivono. Capita poi che a te la fiducia nel sistema sanitario finlandese ti cala un po’ e chiedi ancora al dott. Leone il 20 marzo se magari non sono troppi questi antibiotici e non ci sia qualche cosa di più appropriato. Poi, quando la risposta stranamente tarda più di 24 ore, scopri su facebook che il dott. Leone in 22 marzo è morto per la COVID19. Scopri che, come sempre, seguiva ancora i suoi pazienti anziani nelle loro case. Forse, in mancanza di protezioni adeguate, lì, in una di quelle case, ha preso il virus, come dice il presidente sindacale del ordine, del quale dott. Leone era il vice (link).
Ripeto, e voglio sottolinearlo, non conoscevo bene quest’uomo. Inoltre, avendo qualche nozione di teatro, non voglio scrivere questa storia come una tragedia con un eroe, perché mi uscirebbe comunque, al massimo, un sciacquato dramma borghese o peggio ancora. In questi tempi le nostre coordinate geopolitiche occidentali, non offrono e non stimolano altro. Le tragedie sono altrove. Però una cosa è certa, non ho amici o familiari che abbiano fatto foss’anche solo la metà di quello che ha fatto lui per me e per i miei familiari.
A quanto ne so e leggo ultimamente sui giornali e social media non sono l’unico ad avere avuto così tanto da lui. E continuava fino all’ultimo a fare il suo, allo stesso modo, e lo posso dimostrare io, così come quelli che lo hanno visto a dare consigli ad altri pazienti all’ospedale dov’era ricoverato.
Forse non sapeva fare altrimenti. Forse non voleva fare altrimenti. O forse è la professione che richiede certe qualità. Ma, allora, quanti ci sono come lui, a lavorare nei ospedali e altre strutture sanitarie della Lombardia, oggi? Spero abbastanza. Spero abbiano miglior fortuna. Ed è questo che suona tragico ed eroico, nonostante il contesto non meriti questi termini. Ed è questa la perdita imponderabile non solo umana, ma etica, professionale, della quale fino ad oggi i cittadini di Bergamo, Lombardia e d’Italia beneficiavano gratuitamente perchè era normalità, ma che stanno perdendo e continueranno a perdere, forse per sempre. Adesso che il vagone sembra sganciato dal treno, come l’Impero Asburgico di Musil, forse si vedrà per bene l’illusione e si capirà per bene la perdita. Non tornerà indietro, ma c’è da sperare che si capirà. Altrimenti le vere tragedie busseranno alla porta e si dovranno trovare o inventare eroi adeguati, anche perchè le immagini che ci offre la quotidianità non presagiscono niente di buono: reclusione forzata, libertà solo per andare al lavoro, crematori che faticano a smaltire corpi … tutto in una cornice democratica. Sembra un film già visto diventato normalità.