Paris’ rainy afternoons never sound like Balkan thunder | Florian Agalliu
Paris’ rainy afternoons never sound like Balkan thunder Print
Florian Agalliu   
Paris’ rainy afternoons never sound like Balkan thunder | Florian Agalliu Albanian society is “stubbornly” building up classes, groups and their respective subcultures, and each of them is showing even more “zeal” at increasing the range and scope of their experiences. Politicians, traffickers and policemen, artists, writers and thieves, the poor, the common folk, the not-so-common folk, clans, foundations, families, and rich individuals, academics and idiots look upon “movement” as the chance for improvement.

The process of radical changes the country has undergone in the last fourteen tears, is accompanied by a multitude of new forms of expressing reactions over the shaping of Albania’s reality and its future. As long as the enlargement of needs (may they be real or “planted” in our heads) and conditions that require definition and response continue, the written language (thought) will always be one step behind our instinctive, collective or individual reactions, which are usually denial or absolute approval, to the end.
Ismail Kadare, according to Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, 2004, “the only Albanian writer to have an international following in the 20th century”, makes no exception to the general status, and has inexorably turned into the sustainer of a new social and moral rhetoric, situated halfway between Balkan myths and codes of honor on one end and West European social-democracy on the other. In other words, Kadare’s literary work is playing a much smaller role in the country’s cultural and social life than it did until the end of the eighties and early nineties, while it’s not-so-splendid substitute, his social and political involvement, expressed in long articles and letters published on a regular basis by Albanian dailies, TV interviews and public debates, falls quite short of having any impact at all on the course of events or in generating any cohesive public response. His latest call for a massive return to our forefather’s religion, catholicism, added to the list of “un-heeded” national-policy “advices” pronounced by Kadare in the last years. Life in Paris for Kadare started on a rainy October day, back in 1990. For 45 years in a row, under the communist dictatorship, October and November had acquired an almost mystic relevance for the Party, turning Autumn in the “communist Ramadan” of the people. The most important anniversaries of communist history were packed in a two-month frenzy of oaths and promises of eternal faith in the Party, its leader and policies, celebrations and quite often purges. That year’s October celebrations had most certainly lacked the show of invincible faith in the regime, supplanted by a rising hope for democracy in the morrow. The regime’s failure to prevent thousands of citizens breaking into all the foreign embassies in Tirana that summer was a clear signal of the events to follow, and in a dreamlike situation, all waited for the next signal.

Many argue that it arrived the day Kadare asked the French Government for political asylum. 16 year’s old at the time, the writer of this piece will never forget the crimson atmosphere produced on the stage of the National Theater, as Yllka Mujo firmly planted her two high-booted feet on the forefront of the stage, spread them out to the width of her shoulders, and monologued her way into the devious scheming of a cadre-chef (the communist term for human resource manager) dressed in her skirted military-like outfit, who decided right there and then, right in front of our eyes, to get rid of her victim in the most cruel and efficient way, accuse her of non-observance of party policies. “We all learned few hours before the premiere of “Moon Night”, a theatrical presentation of Ismail Kadare’s novel of the same title, that he ran away” recalls Yllka Mujo. “At first we waited for someone to stop us from going on stage. There should have been an instantaneous reaction of Party structures, instead nothing happened. Probably more than half of the public knew it also. We all witnessed a unique experience that night at the National Theatre. For the first time we put on stage communist characters who plotted and deceived like common criminals, and the author of the piece had asked for political asylum in a Western country that very day.” That same night, on the late edition of the only TV station, the writer of this piece, listened to the speaker make public what, under communist information techniques would have normally been kept secret for at least a few weeks. The following day the play was still on.

Ismail Kadare constructed the literary monuments of the regime and of the dictator with his epic novels “The Great Winter” and “The Concert”. At the same time but on a different dimension within his works, he created quite “non-representative” individuals (in terms of socialist realism, which brewed solely gray, stakhanovist, or degenerate capitalist characters), haunted by death and treason, who fought and dreamt, who loved and hated, who believed and betrayed with the turn of the page.
Kadare was unarguably the only truly “contemporary” writer of the Albanian language until the early nineties, as his work inspired and led the intellectual and spiritual growth of all young Albanian generations. “His style and ability in presenting totally non-realistic scenarios and plots in terms of physics and history as pounding metaphors and symbols of the communist Albanian society, have most certainly served as the basis for the development of Albanian critical thought and intellectual action until the early nineties” says Idlir Azizi, one of he most promising young Albanian writers and translators, who is searching for new ways to enrich Albanian thought and literature by introducing for the first time to the general Albanian public works by James Joyce, the American Beat Generation, and quite a number of international contemporary writers. Ismail Kadare molded a written past for all of us (Albanians) to refer to, while his look into the future goes no deeper than any mortal man ever will. There are some, among the most radical political forces in Albania, who blame him for this human short-coming, but most would have really loved to read in Kadare’s words about what goes on in the country nowadays. After all, a “contemporary” writer is all about the present. “Maybe if he stayed behind he would have not lost the touch just yet. Maybe then he would have kept writing about things that are really important to all of us,” says my father Jakup, the man who took me to watch the premiere of “Moon Night”, that rainy October evening, few days before my 16th birthday.

Florian Agalliu