Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Statue of Lord Byron in Albanian Costume in Tirana

Thanks to Endri Misho, I learned that there will soon be a national design competition to create a statue of the famous English Romantic poet, Lord Byron, that will be positioned in the square at the head of the street in Tirana already bearing his name. In the proposed full-length statue, Byron will be dressed in a traditional Albanian costume that he had purchased in Janina.

Lord Byron has long been considered a true friend of Albania, and wrote about them in "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" - a portion of which he wrote during his visit to Tepelene in southern Albania in 1809. Near his proposed statue will also be placed a full-length reproduction of Lord Byron in Albanian costume that was painted by the fashionable London portrait artist Thomas Phillips.

In the summer of 1813 in London, Byron posed for Phillips in the Albanian costume he had purchased in Janina a few years earlier. Titled "Portrait of a Nobleman in the Dress of Albanian", the original portrait now hangs in the British Embassy in Athens while another copy by Phillips is located in the National Portrait Gallery in London. An additional copy, commissioned by Byron's publisher, John Murray, is also on display at the publishing firm's offices in London.

The design competition was recently anounced by Tirana Mayor, Edi Rama, himself an artist, who is responsible for the imaginative, huge, absract paintings on several otherwise drab buildings in Tirana Square.

A copy of Byron's portrait mentioned above will soon appear in this space, however, viewers can see it beforehand - along with a model dressed in Byron's actual Albanian costume - by visiting www.frosina.org/about/infobits.asp?id=135 titled "Lord Byron and his Albanian Costume."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hemingway Book Club of Kosova

I have known Jim "Dhimitri" Gregory for some 40 years, and over that long period, he has become a younger brother to me. Jim asked me during a recent telcon if I was familiar with the book "Hemingway Book Club of Kosova." When I replied that I wasn't, Jim sent me his review of the book below that I'd like to share with you.

I went on-line and found that the book "Hemingway Book Club of Kosova" was still available and at a reasonable cost. Here's what Ambassador Richard Holbrook who helped broker the cease-fire in Kosova said about the book:

"Sometimes a small story tells a far larger one. Such is the case with The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo Paula Huntley shows us the common humanity that can heal even the most terribly wounds."


Review by Jim Gregory

“The Hemingway Book Club of Kosova” by Paula Huntley is an absorbing memoir about one American’s trip of discovery of a totally foreign and unique country in the midst of turmoil. Based upon a diary that Huntley began while first living in Albania, the book follows her arrival in Kosovo immediately after Serbia’s ethnic cleansing, to her development of deep relationships with its Albanian people.

Huntley’s diary records her experiences as she discovers a culture and language of which she initially knew very little. In the process of teaching English to Albanian students, Paula Huntly utilized the only text she could find, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Huntley quickly connects with her students by exploring common experiences in life and literature. Her book also grants a voice to her Albanian students and the stories of the adults she interacted with in her day-to-day experiences.

The book’s narrative builds from one of a depressing city in Kosova with its damaged populace that Huntley initially observes through an American eyes, to a loving and beautiful place where hope still flourishes.

The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo
by Paula Huntley

List Price: $13.95
Pages: 255
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1585422932
Publisher: J. P. Tarcher

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Muslim Albanians saved Jews

By Leisa Zigman
Channel5, KSGB

Creve Coeur, MO (KSDK) -- With rising anti-Muslim sentiment across the country, an untold story is raising greater awareness about the Muslim faith and the teachings of the Quran. That awareness comes from an unlikely source: a small Jewish congregation in Creve Coeur.

Temple Emanuel is premiering a groundbreaking exhibit of photos that reveals Albanian Muslims who saved 2,000 Jews during World War II.

It's a story you've likely never heard. It is a story told through the faces of Albanian Muslims who risked their own lives to live by a code of faith and honor called Besa.

Dr. Ghazala Hayat is a neurologist at St. Louis University and serves as spokesperson for the Islamic Foundation of Greater Saint Louis.

Hayat said while Besa is an Albanian word, it is part of Islamic culture and teachings. According to Dr. Hayat, Besa is an ancient code which requires people to endanger their own lives if necessary to save the life of anyone seeking asylum. To this day, Besa is the highest moral law of the region, superseding religious differences, blood feuds, and even tribal traditions.

The exhibit is opening eyes throughout the world.

"You don't have to share the same faith. You have to respect each other's faith," Hayat said.

Pictures of the Albanian Muslims in the exhibit tell a lifetime of stories. As a young mother, one woman did not have enough breast milk to feed her son. A Jewish woman she hid nursed him instead. She was asked if she minded that a Jewish mother had fed her baby.

"Jews are God's people like us," the woman said.

Another man who also hid Jewish families said, "I did nothing special. All Jews are our brothers."

And the head of the Bektashi sect, with more than seven million followers, tells the story of Albania's prime minister, who gave a secret order during the Nazi occupation.

"All Jewish children will sleep with your children, all will eat the same food, and all will live as one family," the order read.

In post-war Europe, it is said Albania was the only Nazi-occupied country to boast a greater number of Jews than before the Holocaust.

"They were among the people who at great personal risk sheltered Jews and protected them in their homes and did so out of a religious obligation," said Rabbi Justin Kerber, Temple Emanuel.

The Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and several local Jewish agencies hope the St. Louis community will experience this rare look at the role Albanian Muslims played in sheltering Jews from the Nazis.

"At this time of tension over Islam in America, there is so much more to understanding Islam," Rabbi Kerber said.

The BESA exhibition at Temple Emanuel is October 21- December 1, 2010
12166 Conway Road
Thursday 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 4pm and by appointment

For more information, contact Gail at gail@testl.org or call 314-432-5877.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Tiny Albania: This mouse is roaring!

Albanians everywhere in the world can be proud of the following article about tiny Albania in the current edition of Forbes magazine - a leading financial publication in the USA. The title of the article is quite appropriate!


This Mouse Is Roaring

Here's a twist: The mighty capitalist U.S. could take some economic lessons from the tiny Balkan country Albania, which for decades writhed under the cruel rule of a Stalinist dictatorship. Today Albania has the most vibrant economy in Europe. It was virtually the only European nation to grow in 2009. This once hermitlike nation is expanding again this year. Exports are up 85%. Foreign direct investment is flooding in. The government budget has been cut, with the deficit coming in at a paltry 3.1% of GDP vs. Washington's 10%. Albania's deficit is proportionately less than one-third of ours. The U.S. poverty rate is moving up, but Albania's is declining dramatically.

While the Obama Administration undermines contract law and property rights, Albania is going in the opposite direction: It is taking steps to strengthen the independence of its judiciary, and the government has just cleared a property rights law in parliament.

The architect of Albania's economic miracle, Prime Minister Sali Berisha1, stopped by our offices recently and was brimming with pride over what his country has wrought. In 1992 per capita income in Albania was barely $200 a year; today it's over $3,500.

How did Albania do it? By following free-market principles that the current White House and Congress are oblivious of. Three years ago Berisha pushed through a tiny 10% flat tax on both personal and business incomes. The payroll tax has been cut from 32% to 15%.

The government is streamlining approval procedures for foreign investors, as well as for local citizens who wish to start their own businesses. Ireland, which was once the poster child for the recruitment of overseas firms, can no longer rest on its laurels: Albania has enacted so-called one-euro zones in which land is leased--at virtually no cost--to firms constructing new facilities.


Look for the Berisha interview at Forbes.com's Intelligent Investing, Oct. 11.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fifth Annual International Monodrama Festival "Alabamono 2010"

I was delighted to meet Barbara Tzetzo Gosch - albeit electronically - where we have exchanged pleasant Albanian stories and anecdotes over the past year. Barbara's enthusiastic (and contagious)Albanianism - "Shqipetarizme" - has impressed me greatly, so I'm pleased to post her participation in the recent international festival held in Korce in southern Albania (where I was born) described below.


Fifth Annual International Monodrama Festival “Alabamono 2010”

By Barbara Tzetzo Gosch

It was an exciting week filled with stimulating theatrical performances, international actors, and directors from six different countries!

The whole time I was in Albania, where I was a juror at the International Monodrama Festival (Korçë) and met guests from several Eastern European countries, I thought of those reading this blog. I realize how curious you are about “Albania Today” and believe you would have thoroughly enjoyed being in my shoes.

While at the festival, I couldn’t help but think, “Perhaps it’s though Creativity and the Arts where countries will find peace?” In addition, I agree with one of the jurors Rada Djurcin (the famous Serbian actress) who said that two things should be remembered about festivals. Generally, people in the arts develop them and “festivals serve as a bridge or link between the countries they represent.”

This was certainly demonstrated through my experience. In addition, my recent trip (compared to 1995) furthered an appreciation of my Albanian, ethnic roots. I was impressed with how much Albania has changed, is changing, and will continue in this direction. For example, visitors traveling to Korçë, now, will discover that there’s central plumbing which works efficiently. In fact, Korçë may have the best drinking water in all of Albania. Most likely this is the result of the government upgrading certain areas of the country based on various criteria. One will also notice that electricity functioned well.

I found Korçë (where my parents were born and two siblings) to be a charming and still quaint city, with tree lined boulevards, little shops, and specialty stories. I even found a supermarket (with everything) where prices were less, just as in the U.S. Since I had lived in Paris, earlier in my life, I couldn’t help but compare it to that city. I was happy to see that although, new villas, hotels, and buildings had been constructed (on the whole) the city seemed to try and maintain a certain old world charm. This was true of the hotel where I stayed.

While I could write pages on “changes seen” (note: I avoided mentioning the cars) I’ll return to the Festival which was the reason I agreed to go on this trip. It began with “Opening Night” at the “Ringjallja e Krishtit” (Christ Resurrection) Cathedral where many of the monolog performances occurred. Other monologs were held at the Andon Zako Çajupi Theater named after the leading Albanian poet and playwright (1866-1930) and in nearby villages. These visited areas often pertained to the atmosphere of the monolog performed.

Along with the other jurors, Nina Mazur (Chief Juror and Ukrainian, who lives in Germany) Rada Djurcin (Serbian actress mentioned earlier) and Ahmet Jakupi (Director of Albanian Theater in Skopje) we were welcomed in grand fashion. The women all received a lovely bouquet of flowers and another night the jurors had ribbons.

This unique experience was due to the commitment of Dhimiter Orgocka (Director of Albamono 2010 who is Albania’s leading actor and director). He brought the festival to Korçë five years ago. I can tell you that I was happy and thrilled to raise my glass to several “gëzuars” in Orgocka’s honor which were well deserved. Also, Angelo Kondili (Coordinator of International Guests and Technical Affairs) along with Edmond Xhumari* (Coordinator with artistic teams) and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sports of Albania—all contributed to this successful international event.

I’d like to write from my house in Eau Claire, Wisconsin — my journey to Korce was a real challenge. Prior to my departure there was concern about “take off?” The Icelandic volcano had affected overseas travel with thousands stranded in Europe. In addition, I had only one half hour to make my connection in Munich to board my flight connection to Tirana. The festival was (May 16 to May 21) so I had no time to spare.

However, from the beginning (when I considered going to Albania) I thought, “Surely, I’ll be safe flying into Mother Teresa Airport? My feelings were confirmed. I can say that I’m thrilled to have been a part of this marvelous festival that taught me so much about the arts, people, and enlarged my world view. Plus, I ate the best food of my life and didn’t gain a pound. There must be something to that Mediterranean diet.


*CORRECTION: Edmond Xhumari participated in 2009, not 2010.