Reading Pajtim Statovci’s Crossing/Tiranan Sydän … or The Unbearable Lightness of Being from Orient, Balkans, Communist Blok, Albania and a Coup de Théâtre. Part III. (Romeo Kodra)

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 OrietalistOccidentalist 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 …