Literature as a Place of Memory
AUTOBIOGRAPHIES ABOUT DICTATORSHIP
Identity and memory in literature as important aspects for reflection on the past
23 October 2018, Tirana – Aiming to reveal the role of literature in the field of dealing with the past, the activity of the second day of "Memory Days 2018" was held at the "Europe House". Authors invited by the Institute for Democracy Media and Culture (IDMC) and Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), Dr. Karsten Dümmel and Dr. Albert P. Nikolla, showed other aspects of communism, through the parts of their works and also through question-answers with those present in the activity.
Just as expected, the interest shown was high. Former persecuted, representatives of embassies, historians and many young people paid high attention to the views of two guests about the destruction of human identity from the dictatorial systems and the consequences that they face today in their respective societies, Germany or and Albania.
The topic of the activity focused on "Identity and Memory". For this part, Dr. Godole said in her greeting speech that "identity is created in an autobiographical process, combining memories and confessions that have accompanied our lives". She said that "every effort to give shape to our memories is an unstoppable part of this process". While the representative of Europa House, Mr. Erol Akdag, in his greeting speech said that the people and politicians of a country should have common will to deal with the past.
Under the moderation of IDMC director, Dr. Jonila Godole, the importance of literature in the transmission of human experiences was emphasized. German author, Dr. Karsten Dümmel, who during the Communist era in East Germany was persecuted and imprisoned because of his critical point of view towards the system, provided information on Stasi's permanent surveillance experiences. He read parts from his novel "Strohblumenzeit", showing through the history of the relationship of two young people, more or less what Eastern Germany faced for 50 years under the dictatorial regime.
It was interesting to hear in this event that during his persecution Dr. Dümmel had asked to go outside East Germany 56 times until 1988, when he was "bought" by the Federal Republic. Dr. Dümmel said that an intervention from the outside was necessary for this process, because "you could address everyone to the papers, but it was difficult to enable this". He also emphasized that, as in the case of ordinary Albanians, he had also been unable to move, saying that in general "those who went abroad had political ties or were part of Stasi".
In the other discussion, the anthropologist Dr. Albert P. Nikolla talked about his book "The New Albanian Man". Dr. Nikolla spoke extensively of the aspects that shaped the man of the dictatorship. He said "the so-called "new man" had to be loyal to the Party and give life to the Party, he should not be indifferent, but to spy on, invent and be aggressive to the "old man". By reading parts from his book, Dr. Nikolla emphasized that through the creation of the "new man" the communists managed to eliminate the elites and nowadays could inherit a feature such as "the feeling of mistrust and fear".
Dr. Karsten Dümmel added that "the new man" in East Germany was also with fear and terror, the terror "that needed the power to hold power". "North Korea... East Germany... Albania also... have similarities with regard to the dictatorial history. They are places where people are taken hostage, are enslaved to the Party" - said Dümmel at the end of the discussion.
19‒20 May 2016, Shkodra – The not-so-distant dictatorial past of Albania is "stored" in various places of collective memory, such as in the special museum of testimony and memory in Shkoder, in the prisons and internment camps, in the television archives, and in textbooks or journalistic works. Literature is a very important site of memory, in particular autobiographical literature. Many of those who survived imprisonment and deportation during dictatorship, like writers, confess through authentic stories their individual history, and make us a diagnosis of society and time by leaving historical evidence with multidimensional values. All these create another possibility for dialogue, be it subjective and objective, as well as literal and real.
Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture organized a two-day activity in Shkoder, entitled "Literature as a Place of Memory". It aimed at discovering the role of literature in a dialogue about history, its place in the collective memory, as well as the opportunity offered for education of future generations with historical consciousness.
On the first day, a panel of professionals from the fields of literature, journalism and academia, gathered to talk about the works that deal with the dictatorial past through autobiographical literary stories or real events of the communist terror and violence. The activity was held at the Franciscan Church, with guests like Dr. Agron Gjekmarkaj, Prof. As. Dr. Eugen Pepa, Ms. Brunilda Lleshi, and Mr. Marçel Hila. An interactive dialogue was moderated by Ms. Sara Michel, involving all the participants, both listeners and speakers, and which centered on the creation and strengthening of collective memory.
The second day followed with a conversation at the Austrian school "Peter Mahringer" in Shkoder, with Ms. Alma Liço. After the screening of "Memory of a Country that Forgot to Forget" documentary, she shared her experience of dictatorship. Discussions were moderated by Mr. Parid Teferiçi. Personal stories told by former political persecutees resembled a "meeting place" where the youth was confronted with the dark history of dictatorship and the places of memory under the great communist oppression. The documentary screening was complemented by a visit to the Place of Testimony and Memory in Shkoder.
Participants once again returned to the Franciscan Church to proceed with the second day of the event. Joining the panel were Mr. Preç Zogaj, Ms. Alma Liço and Mr. Alfred Lela, who emphasized the importance of acknowledging the past. Under the moderation of Ms. Sara Michel, they talked about confronting the past and exchanging views about the present through different forms of narration, because literature is memory and memory is identity.
29 September 2016, Tirana – After Shkoder, IDMC organized on 29th September 2016 the "Literature as a Place of Memory" activity in Tirana, in the frame of "Tirana Reads".
The first part of the activity was dedicated to the meeting entitled: "Banned Literature: Tirana Reads Kasëm Trebeshina". The activity was greeted by Dr. Jonila Godole, executive director of IDMC and Prof. As. Lili Sula, head of the Literature Department in UT. After that, Dr. Anila Mullai and Prof. As. Lili Sula pointed out the importance of Kasëm Trebeshina in Albanian literature, discussion moderated by the writer Krenar Zejno. Without a doubt, Kasëm Trebeshina is one of the best Albanian writers, but unknown for what values his pen represents. The activity on the occasion of his 90th anniversary was organized in collaboration with the Department of Literature. Students read short pieces by the author. The first part ended with a workshop with the students of literature entitled: "Dissident Literature in the Albanian Media Before and After 1990", moderated by journalist Saimir Muzhaka.
The second part of the activity was greeted by Minister of Culture, Prof. Mirela Kumbaro, and brought to attention the autobiographies as source to know and understand the past. In this meeting the guests discussed about the "Literature as a Place of Memory" and read pieces that evidence the period of the dictatorship in Albania.
IDMC would like to thank all the participants, especially the Department of Literature at the University of Tirana, for the collaboration.
22 May 2018, Tirana – The Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture (IDMC) in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Europe House started the "TiranaReads2018" activity series. The "Literature as Place of Memory – #TiranaReads to Remember" activity was held on 22 May 2018 in the Europe House Conference room located within the Palace of Congresses. This year's #TiranaReads took as its main subject a combination of reading about and reflecting on the past. This topic was chosen to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Spaç revolt and to urge its historical memory.
IDMC director Dr. Jonila Godole and the representative of European Union Delegation in Albania Monika Bylaite opened the activity. Dr. Godole highlighted the role of literature on transmitting human experiences and praised the interest of the young people, present in the activity. Ms. Bylaite, coming from the former communist country of Lithuania, shared a similar belief and emphasized the importance of dealing with the past.
Under the moderation of Dr. Jonila Godole and Lili Sula, the Head of the Literature Department at University of Tirana, the floor was given first to Fatbardha Saraçi, who had collected the testimonies of women who had suffered from persecution in prisons during the dictatorship. She said modestly that the three volumes of her book "Dhimbje" were not her work, but the work of those who confessed. "I chose this mission because the persistent persecution of myself and, on the other hand, I was close to those women who suffered more than me. I thought to write about this topic immediately after 1990. I thought that a novel would not be expected well, it could be thought of as a fiction; therefore I decided to transmit everything from direct interviews with all the women," said Saraçi, niece of Qazim Mulleti, collecting some of the most horrifying experiences of the notorious Tepelena camp. A piece of one of the many testimonies was read by an actor was screened to the hall. In the face of the reaction, Fatbardha Saraçi said: "I advise you to read these stories, read them slowly. Do not read them to show us mercy; we do not need mercy. But we want you to understand that time better in order not to be repeated again."
Afterwards, Professor Lili Sulaj invited Fatos Lubonja in discussion. Sulaj said that for the new generation Lubonja is not well known for his publicity, but rather for his political opinions or attitudes. She focused on his book "Ridënimi" which Lubonja said had been based on a true story. Facing the question of why he had chosen to use the real names for the main characters, he confessed with emotions that he had to do that. "This is the story of Xhelal Koprencka, Fadil Kokomani dhe Vangjel Lezho, who wrote a letter to the dictator and were shot because they wrote the truth. Two of them – Fadil and Vangjel – were my friends and journalists. Today, when journalists are not telling the truth, I must remember their names because it is my duty for everything they did," said Lubonja, who later read a piece from his book.
The part that Lubonja read focused on the "testament of the days of freedom", the testament from the moment before his friends Kokomani and Lezho were shot… whose remains, along with Koprencka's remains, are still missing to this day.
Further, the activity was followed with the discussion of the book "O njeri..!" which shares memories of imprisonment by Gëzim Peshkëpia. He explained that the title came from a living story. "For the title I took inspiration from a real person called Muço, who was blind. The words "O njeri..!", which he used address people in the prison, was touching, but filled with love, and aroused contrast to the place where we were," said Peshkëpia, who read a piece of the book and further showed the confrontation with prosecutor Siri Çarçani, who signed the execution of his father, Manush Peshkëpia.
Arlinda Çausholli, a publicist, discussed a part of her book "Çizmet e verdha" called "Krahët e lirisë dhe Rini Monajka" which features the story of a hero of the anti-Communist movement in Shkodra in 1990. She said that the book contains her thoughts on things that impressed her to move forward, like the values and importance of freedom, and she wanted to share those thoughts with others who thought like her. She urged young people to be aware of the importance of the freedom that they have today.
The director of the Institute for Studying Consequences of Communist Crime (ISKK) Agron Tufa revealed to the participants that he was writing something about the Tepelena camp, or the "extermination camp" as he called it. Tufa also spoke about the importance of testimonies of the former persecuted of the communist regime in educating the younger generation.
11:00 – 11:20
11:20 – 11:30
11:30 – 11:45
11:45 – 12:00
12:00 – 12:15
12:15 – 12:30
12:30 – 13:00
Venue: Conference Room, Europe House
Address: Blv. "Dëshmorët e Kombit", Palace of Congresses
Contact: Matilda Karçanaj, Project coordinator, IDMC
Registration of the participants
#TiranaReads to remember: Literature as Place of Memory
Readings & panel discussions with authors
Fatbardha Saraçi Mulleti reads and discusses her book "Dhimbje", a collection of stories of Albanian women who were victims of the communist regime
Fatos Lubonja reads and discusses his book "Ridënimi" with personal stories from communist prisons
Arlinda Çausholli, publicist, reads "Krahët e lirisë dhe Rini Monajka" from her book "Çizmet e verdha", the story of an anti-communism hero in Shkodra, in 1990
Gëzim Peshkëpia reads personal stories of persecution from his book "O njeri"
Dr. Jonila Godole, Director of IDMC; Lecturer at Communication & Journalism Department, University of Tirana
Prof.asoc.dr. Lili Sula, Head of Literature Department, University of Tirana
Questions & Answers
End of the activity
Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture
Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Matilda Karçanaj, Koordinatore projekti | E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org