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“They don’t even know how to copy”

The discourse on originality in Albania’s art world

Sofia Kalo

This article explores the prevalence of concerns over artistic originality in Albania’s postsocialist art world. Based on anthropological fieldwork, it discusses how Albanian artists discipline each other’s work, particularly by noting its lack of originality in relationship to well-known Western artists but also their own. Emphasizing the social and organizational role of such concerns, I analyze them in light of various factors that have become salient after Albania’s transition from postsocialism to a market economy, including the loss of a system of authority following the liberalization of art production from state support and oversight and the failure to develop a stable one since 1991. The discourse on originality expresses Albanian artists’ perceived marginal status in the transnational art world and market and is deployed to transcend this status.

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Pelasgic Encounters in the Greek-Albanian Borderland

Border Dynamics and Reversion to Ancient Past in Southern Albania

Gilles de Rapper

In the last ten years, many books and articles dedicated to Pelasgians have been published in Albania, mostly by amateur historians and linguists. These works question the official discourse on the Illyrian origin of Albanians inherited from the socialist era. They also question the relationship of Albanians with Greeks, both in ancient times and in the present. Considering the fact that a significant number of those authors originate from southern Albania and that their books are widely read and appreciated in this Albanian borderland, this article argues that the recent success of Pelasgic theories can be partially explained by the new uses of the border in the post-1991 context and by the state of relations between Albanians and Greeks as experienced at the local level. Imagining the Pelasgians as prestigious ancestors appears as an answer to feelings of inequality and marginality related to new practices of the border.

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Internalizing Europe

Albanian Perceptions of the Continent in Historical Perspective (1878-2008)

Adrian Brisku

This article argues that post-socialist Albanian myths and images surrounding the concept of Europe need to be considered from a triadic dimension of (geo)politics, modernities, and cultural identity as well as within a larger historical perspective of the modern Albanian political and intellectual landscape. Seen from a perspective stretching from the late nineteenth century to the present, a triadic Europe appears pluralistic with continuous as well as contested images and narratives. Yet, behind these images and narratives stands one constant understanding of the continent: a political and military power and prosperously untamed marketplace through which Albanians have attempted to navigate their modern existence.

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Denis Vuka

This article explores history teaching in Albania, with particular emphasis on educational and methodological aspects of new history textbooks published after the liberalization of the school textbook market in 2008. National history textbooks serve as a basis for the assessment of changing educational principles and methodologies in history teaching in terms of five qualitative factors: educational aims, teaching techniques and methodologies, historical narratives, visual materials, and sources. The article thus assesses the degree to which textbooks fulfill their educational function and help to put learning theories into practice. The author also places the revision and reevaluation of national history textbooks in Albania in context by comparing them to the progress of Kosovo's recently established educational system.

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Enis Sulstarova

This article investigates the role of Islam in representations of the self and the other in the contemporary Albanian national discourse, on the basis of an analysis of history textbooks published in postcommunist Albania between 1990 and 2013, focusing specifically on texts used in pre-university education. Even after the dissolution of the Socialist Republic of Albania in 1991, Islam in Albania continued to be associated with concepts derived from the socialist era, including the primacy of the nation as well as Eurocentrism and secularism, which were seen as the pinnacle of modernity.

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Migration, residential investment, and the experience of “transition”

Tracing transnational practices of Albanian migrants in Athens

Gerda Dalipaj

This article traces the complexity of migration patterns and residential investments of Albanian migrant families. Interlocutors built new houses in Albania and bought, additionally, apartments in Greece. While they consider their multiple residences to be an “achievement” and “immovable wealth,” they continued to see themselves as “runaways from transition.” The article emphasises the multidirectionality and multilocality of these investments. It shows that, despite various spatial tactics that migrants have successfully employed in making the link between different places, for them “transition” continues to mean the permanence of temporal conditions. This permanence is constructed in two ways: as a temporal continuity of conditions of uncertainty, unattainable futures, pain, and fatigue in a postsocialist country; and as a spatial continuity of these same conditions across different spaces, postsocialist or not, which become interconnected within wider ideologies and policies and not only through the mobility of individuals.

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Denis Vuka

This article examines the visual construction of the myth of the Albanian national leader in history textbooks. By applying visual social semiotics, it explores the function and usefulness of this myth during the critical years of Albania’s self-isolation from 1978 to 1990. Depicted in recurring episodes that were decisive for the existence of the national community, a capable leader emerges as its savior. His figure is perceived as a symbol of unity and as the only actor able to pave the way toward a bright future. This article argues that this myth served to legitimize power and secure social cohesion.

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Interreligious Cultural Practice as Lived Reality

The Case of Muslim and Orthodox Shepherds in Middle Albania

Eckehard Pistrick

This essay provides grass-roots insights into interreligiosity in Middle Albania. I focus on two individuals, Muslim Arif and Orthodox Anastas, to show how notions of cultural intimacy prevail over hegemonic discourses on religious identity that have re-emerged in postsocialist and 'post-atheist' Albania. The process of religious revitalisation took place simultaneously with a pervasive reshaping of local cultural identity. These discourses give simultaneously an opportunity for religious differentiation and symbolic contestations, as well as for diverse collaborations on a social, cultural and economic level. I illustrate how cultural intimacy is performed and cultivated as a shared practice of multipart singing, and understood by the local shepherds not as a marker of difference but as common ground for mutual dialogue. By sharing the social activity of singing the shepherds do not only form a 'sonic community' but also celebrate an interreligious 'community of friends'.

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On the Asphalt Path to Divinity

Contemporary Transformations in Albanian Bektashism: The Case of Sari Saltik Teqe in Kruja

Marta Kołczyńska

This article presents one of the many faces of contemporary Islam in the Balkans, that of the Bektashi community in Albania, and specifically the Sari Saltik teqe (sanctuary) on Kruja mountain. In so doing, it sheds light on the role of religion in 'post-atheist' Albania, while taking into account major changes to the religious landscape in the post-communist, and arguably post-transformation context. The essay ethnographically examines the challenges posed by societal changes for the Kruja teqe, which is undergoing its own micro-scale technological revolution in the form of a newly constructed asphalt road to the top of the mountain, which will likely have far-reaching consequences for the shrine and the whole local community. The essay thus illustrates how Albanian society has become entangled with the turbulent processes of modernisation, increased mobility and the globalising world.

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Giorgia Alù

This article explores the visual narrative of the Albanian Italophone writer Ornela Vorpsi. By drawing evidence from her short novels, Il paese dove non si muore mai

and La mano che non mordi, and from her collection of short stories entitled Vetri rosa, this article intends to cast light on how the interaction between writing and a

photographic aesthetic empowers Vorpsi’s narration of estrangement and repression through the creation of a strategic narrating and visualizing distance. In particular, her writing, strongly influenced by the visual, will be seen as a means of resistance and deriving from an urge to free repressed feelings, stories and corporeality. It also examines the type of reality that emerges from Vorpsi’s visual narration and how word and image allow her to construct and reiterate alternative self-views.