Modern Albanian Literature in Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro

Modern Albanian Literature in Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro


Written literature in Kosova was late to develop because of widespread illiteracy and Serb cultural hegemony. It was only with the improvement of Yugoslav-Albanian relations in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the establishment of full diplomatic ties between the two countries in February 1971 that a political thaw gave the Albanians of Kosova a semblance of cultural freedom. In 1968, they won the right to fly their national flag and in November 1969 the University of Prishtina was opened, facilitating higher education in Albanian for the first time.

With access to Albanian-language education and cultural facilities having been granted, Albanian literature and culture in Kosova flourished in the mid-seventies. It was a brief blossoming in which tremendous progress was made within a short period of time, in education, culture and literature. This semblance of autonomy and freedom which the Albanians enjoyed was, however, brought to an abrupt end in 1981 when the popular demand for republic status and equality with the other peoples of the Yugoslav federation was met by Belgrade with tanks and automatic rifles. From there, it was a downhill slide until liberation in the spring of 1999 with the help of NATO troops.

Literature in Kosova evolved without the severe ideological constraints imposed upon writers in Albania itself. Emigration also brought about contacts with the outside world, which enabled the written word to develop in a more cosmopolitan manner from the start. Literature here, as such, is more experimental and offers the reader a much wider range of styles, subject matter and ideas. Though the level of formal training for prose writers in Kosova was not to reach Tirana standards, young Kosova writers were eager to assimilate foreign influence and the currents of contemporary European thought that were rejected out of hand in Tirana. At the same time, this much more eclectic literature has lost surprisingly little of its traditional Albanian flavour. Its strength and dynamism are a direct result of the need perceived by Kosova Albanians to defend their cultural values in a region plagued by political turmoil and ethnic conflict. It was the founding in 1949 of the literary periodical Jeta e re (New life) which gave voice to the young generation of Albanian writers in Yugoslavia and which served as an initial forum for literary publications. While some monographs were published in the fifties, it was not until the mid-sixties that Albanian and Kosova Albanian literature began to appear in print in Yugoslavia on a significant scale. The beginnings of serious prose in Kosova date from the period 1956 to 1960. Conditions at this time were not much easier in Kosova for the handful of Albanian intellectuals than they were in Albania. The Serb authorities fiercely opposed all progress in education and culture for the Albanian population, and, as in Albania, intellectuals constituted the greatest threat to those in power. Tragically, this first generation of writers, who might have laid the foundations for Kosova prose, was annihilated politically before it could give birth to a new written culture. Kosova prose did not reach a satisfactory level for many years to come, and the loss to Albanian literature can be felt even today.

A start to serious prose in the 1950s was made by Hivzi Sulejmani (1912-1975) of Mitrovica who helped bring early Kosova literature out of its regional focus and provinciality. His short story collections, such as Era dhe kolona, Prishtina 1959 (The wind and the column), and his novels, among which Fëmijët e lumit tim, Prishtina 1969 (The children of my river), were widely read in the early years.

Writer and longtime political prisoner Adem Demaçi (b. 1936) was born in Prishtina. His early short stories, many of them with socially critical overtones, were published in Jeta e re (New life) in the fifties. It was, however, his controversial novel Gjarpijt e gjakut, Prishtina 1958 (The snakes of blood), that established his literary reputation. This novel, of more ethnographic than literary interest, focusses on the bloody institution of vendetta which plagued and continues to plague northern Albania and Kosova. Demaçi spent twenty-eight years of his life in Serb jails as a political prisoner. He was released in 1990 and has been an active figure of public life ever since.

Anton Pashku (1938-1995) is a writer who does not appeal to the broad masses of the public, but rather to the educated reader who relishes the hermetic observations and details of character analysis of the psychological novel. It was the harsh political suppression of the first generation of prose writers in the late fifties which caused him to withdraw from the mainstream of literary production and create a reclusive world of his own. Pashku was born in Grazhdanik near Prizren of a peasant family from the Has mountains. He worked as a journalist in Prishtina for some time and thereafter edited prose and drama for the Rilindja publishing company there. His experimental short stories, novels and plays, showing affinities with the works of George Orwell, Franz Kafka and Robert Musil, are in themselves subtle and masterful studies of the psyche, though they can be taxing to the innocent and down-to-earth reader. Anton Pashku ranks among the best stylists in Albanian literature, though he will certainly never be widely read. Rexhep Qosja (b. 1936) is one of the most eminent and prolific literary critics in the Balkans, academician, former director of the Albanological Institute in Prishtina and author of anthologies and numerous scholarly monographs, including a three-volume history of Albanian literature in the romantic period. He is also the author of the widely translated novel, Vdekja më vjen prej syve të tillë, Prishtina 1974 (Death comes from such eyes). It is a work of original
narrative technique and composition, ‘thirteen tales which might constitute a novel.’ The protagonist of the novel, Xhezairi i Gjikës, is a professional writer caught up in a frightening web of political intrigue, secret police, interrogation and torture, a world full of very definite political allusions to the difficult situation faced by Albanian intellectuals in Kosova. Qosja has remained
active as a writer in the struggle for freedom in Kosova.

Among other prose writers of the last three decades of the twentieth century are Murat Isaku (b. 1928) of Tetova/Tetovo; Ramiz Kelmendi (b. 1930) of Peja/Peƒ, whose works, such as Ahmet Koshutani, Prishtina 1973 (Ahmet Koshutani), were widely published and enjoyed in the seventies; Azem Shkreli (1938-1997) of Rugova; Nazmi Rrahmani (b. 1941) from the
Podujeva/Podujevo region, a prolific and popular novelist of Kosova village life; Luan Starova (b. 1941) of Skopje, whose novels have been translated into French and German; Teki Dërvishi (b. 1943) of Gjakova whose novels and short stories have penetrated the psyche of modern man; Musa Ramadani (b. 1944) from Gjilan/Gnjilane; Beqir Musliu (1945-1996) from Gjilan; Jusuf Buxhovi (b. 1946) of Peja, noted for his three-part novel Prapë vdekja, Prishtina 1991-1995 (Death again); Eqrem Basha (b. 1948) from Dibra/Debar whose short story collection Marshi i kërmillit, Peja 1994 (The snail’s march), and recent novel Dyert e heshtjes, Peja 2001 (The gates of silence), have been well received; Sabri Hamiti (b. 1950) of Podujeva, a leading and
innovative literary critic, poet and playwright; Mehmet Kraja (b. 1952) from Ulqin/Ulcinj; Zejnullah Rrahmani (b. 1952) of Podujeva, an elegant stylist of modern Kosova literature; Kim Mehmeti (b. 1955) of Skopje who has added new dimensions to short story writing in the nineties; and Migjen Kelmendi (b. 1959) of Prishtina.

Poetry has always been the vanguard of literature in Kosova and has enjoyed more popularity among writers and the reading public there than prose. This poetic imagination has solid roots in the soil, in the land and in its people with their aspirations, sufferings and dreams. The writer widely considered to be the father of modern Albanian poetry in Yugoslavia, Esad Mekuli (1916-1993), was not born in Kosova itself but in the mountain village of Plava/Plav on the Montenegrin-Albanian border where national traditions are still revered. Mekuli went to school in Peja on the Kosova side of the wild Rugova canyon and studied
veterinary medicine at the University of Belgrade. In 1949, he founded the literary periodical Jeta e re (New life), whose editor-in-chief he remained until 1971. Mekuli was a committed poet of social awareness whose outrage at injustice, violence, genocide and suffering mirrors that of the pre-revolutionary verse of the messianic Migjeni of Shkodra.

Din Mehmeti (b. 1932) is among the best-known and consistent representatives of modern verse in Kosova. He was born in the village of Gjocaj i Junikut near Gjakova and studied Albanian language and literature at the University of Belgrade. Mehmeti also lectured at the teacher training college in Gjakova. Although he has published some prose, literary criticism and a play, he is known primarily for his figurative poetry which appeared from 1961 to 1999 in fifteen volumes. Mehmeti’s verse is characterized by indigenous sensitivity. He relies on many of the figures, metaphors and symbols of northern Albanian popular verse to imbue and stabilize his restless lyrics with the stoic vision of the mountain tribes.

Kosova’s leading poetry critic Agim Vinca (b. 1947), himself a poet of note, has described Azem Shkreli (1938-1997) as a poet of profound ideas and critical judgments. Azem Shkreli was born in the Rugova mountains near Peja and became head of Kosova Film Studios in Prishtina. He is an intellectual poet who, though highly expressive, is by no means verbose. His urban perception of things has given new significance to his experience of rural customs among the rugged tribes of the Rugova highlands with their traditional wisdom and way of life. His early volumes of verse offered masterful portraits of these legendary mountain inhabitants. The idyllic though specifically organized landscape which Azem Shkreli paints does not blind
him to problems of ethics. Much of his verse, a moral catharsis in words, is devoted to the oppressed peoples of the Third World, expressing a poetic solidarity with them against exploitation and suffering. Shkreli is also the author of the short story collection Sytë e Evës, Prishtina 1965 (Eve’s eyes), and the novel Karvani i bardhë, Prishtina 1960 (The white caravan).

Ali Podrimja (b. 1942) was born in Gjakova at the foot of the so-called ‘Mountains of the Damned.’ After a difficult childhood, he studied Albanian language and literature in Prishtina. Author of over a dozen volumes of cogent and assertive verse since 1961, he is recognized both in Kosova and in Albania itself as a leading and innovative poet. Indeed, he is considered by many to be the most typical representative of modern Albanian verse in Kosova and is certainly the Kosova poet with the widest international reputation. Podrimja’s first collection of elegiac verse, Thirrje, Prishtina 1961 (The calls), was published while he was still at secondary school in Gjakova. Subsequent volumes introduced new elements of the poet’s repertoire, a proclivity for symbols and allegory, revealing him as a mature symbolist at ease in a wide variety of rhymes and meters. In the early eighties, he published the masterful collection Lum Lumi, Prishtina 1982 (Lum Lumi), which marked a turning point not only in his own work
but also in contemporary Kosova verse as a whole. This immortal tribute to the poet’s young son Lumi, who died of cancer, introduced an existentialist preoccupation with the dilemma of being, with elements of solitude, fear, death and fate. Ali Podrimja is nonetheless a laconic poet. His verse is compact in structure, and his imagery is direct, terse and devoid of any artificial
verbosity. Every word counts. What fascinates the Albanian reader is his compelling ability to adorn this elliptical rocky landscape, reminiscent of Albanian folk verse, with unusual metaphors, unexpected syntactic structures and subtle rhymes.

Among the most respected contemporary writers in Kosova in recent years is Eqrem Basha (b. 1948). He was born in 1948 in Dibra in the western Albanian-speaking region of what is now the Republic ofMacedonia, but his life and literary production are intimately linked to Kosova and its capital Prishtina, where he has lived and worked for the past three decades. It was in the early 1970s, during the only real years of freedom in Kosova, that Eqrem Basha moved to Prishtina to study language and literature at the newly created Albanian-language university there. He later worked for Prishtina television as editor of the drama section, but was fired for political reasons during the Serb takeover of the media in 1989-1990. Basha is the author of eight
volumes of innovative verse spanning the years from 1971 to 1995, three volumes of short stories and numerous translations (in particular French literature and drama). He is currently in the publishing industry in Prishtina. Eqrem Basha is an enigmatic poet. Perplexing, fascinating, and difficult to classify in a literary sense, he succeeds in transmitting a certain mystique to the
inquisitive reader. At one moment he seems coolly logical and shows an admirable ability to reason deductively, and the next moment he is overcome by absurd flights of fancy into a surrealistic world where apparently nothing makes any sense. Basha has an urbane view of things and delights in the daily absurdities of life. Nothing could be more foreign to him than the inspiration many of his fellow poets derive from the rich folklore traditions of the northern mountain tribes and verse of social commitment. His verse is light, colloquial and much less declamatory than that of many of his predecessors.

One critic recently described modern Albanian writing in Kosova and western Macedonia as a literature with more poets than readers. There is, at any rate, no lack of poetry collections on the book market, and they range, as one might expect, from the abominable to the sublime. Of the many poets who have made a notable contribution to contemporary verse in this region of the world, mention may be made of: Enver Gjerqeku (b. 1928) of Gjakova, a pensive elegiac poet of classical forms; Murat Isaku (b. 1928) of Tetova; Abdylazis Islami (b. 1930) of Tetova; Besim Bokshi (b. 1932) of Gjakova, author of two slender but exquisite volumes; Adem Gajtani (1935-1982) of Podujeva; Fahredin Gunga (1936-1997) of Mitrovica; Rrahman Dedaj (b. 1939) of Podujeva, now living in London, a neo-symbolist of rich, emotive expression; Mirko Gashi (1939-1995); Resul Shabani (b. 1944) of Struga, author of a dozen volumes of verse; Ymer Shkreli (b. 1945) from the Rugova highlands, now living in Switzerland; Agim Vinca (b. 1947) of Struga, noted also as a leading poetry critic; Flora Brovina (b. 1949) of Skënderaj, poet, pediatrician, women’s rights activist; Sabri Hamiti (b. 1950) of Podujeva, author of wellstructured, intellectual texts; Edi Shukriu (b. 1950) of Prizren; Miradije Ramiqi (b. 1953) of Pozharan; Shaip Beqiri (b. 1954) of the Podujeva region, now living in Switzerland; Nehas Sopi (b. 1954) of Sllupçan in Macedonia who teaches literature in Skopje; Mustafë Xhemaili (b. 1954)
of Ferizaj/Uroševac, now living in Switzerland; Milazim Krasniqi (b. 1955) of Prishtina; Kim Mehmeti (b. 1955) of Skopje; Valdet Berisha (b. 1959) from Peja, now living in Switzerland; Naim Kelmendi (b. 1959) from Peja, now living in Switzerland; Basri Çapriqi (b. 1960) of Ulqin; Vaxhid Xhelili (b. 1960) from the Bujanovc/Bujanovac region in southern Serbia, now living
in Switzerland; journalist Beqë Cufaj (b. 1970) of Gramaqel; and Lindita Ahmeti (b. 1973) of Skopje.

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