An Audience with Kadare

Ismail Kadare, Albania's best-known poet and novelist, talks to IWPR about his hopes and fears for the region.

An Audience with Kadare

Ismail Kadare, Albania's best-known poet and novelist, talks to IWPR about his hopes and fears for the region.

IWPR: Over the past week, Macedonian armed forces have been shelling rebel ethnic Albanian positions around Kumanovo. There have been many civilian casualties as well as hundreds of houses destroyed. Although the international community has managed to persuade the government to broaden the ruling coalition, there are obvious fears that the conflict could escalate out of control. Is this inevitable?

KADARE: The most important thing at the moment is to stop the killing and stop the shelling of Albanian villages. Bombarding your own people is not the right road to go down. The right road is dialogue. The people capable of bringing peace back to the region should sit down at the negotiating table and there should be no taboo subjects - as these have stalled previous negotiations. I'm waiting and hoping that the NLA will find their place in the Macedonian peace process.

Everybody should work to save Macedonia from any escalation in this war. There are people who say, "As long as Albanians' rights are not being respected, the war should go on". This is not the right thing to be saying. Putting down the weapons is the only reasonable course of action.

The continuing radicalisation of opinion could lead towards the creation of a Lebanon in the Balkans and this would be a catastrophe for everyone, regardless of their ethnic origin. We must stop this psychosis from spreading further.

IWPR: Do you consider Albania itself can act as a stabilising factor in the Balkans and help push for a peaceful solution? I'm thinking more of Kosovo here.

KADARE: A stable and peaceful Albania will be extremely helpful to Albanians wherever they are. The best way that Albania can help Kosovo today, in its rightful struggle for independence, is to lead by example - as a stable and serious state with strong democratic institutions - a country which has left behind the sort of anarchy which it has fallen into several times over the last decade. Every step towards stability in Albania directly impacts on Kosovo's independence aspirations.

IWPR: What about the continuing tensions in the Presevo valley?

KADARE: I think the Albanians in the Presevo valley will have gained a major victory if they manage to secure themselves basic human rights in the area - and are allowed to live a normal life and not suffer as they have done in the past. At present, they are part of another state, a minority as many others in the Balkans.

There is a Greek minority in Albania, there are minorities in Bulgaria, Macedonia and other countries, as well as in Kosovo. If we agree to safeguard the rights of minorities, then that principle must apply everywhere, not only when it happens to be convenient. The problem of minorities exists across Europe and Albanians in Presevo are a part of that, so they have the absolute right to live and be counted as equals to other citizens in Serbia. Nobody can deny that this is a just demand.

IWPR: You have said several times that the concept of a 'Greater Albania' has been manufactured by enemies of Albanians. Who do you mean exactly?

KADARE: I think that the Albanian people have tried hard, and finally succeeded, in showing the international community that the so-called 'Greater Albania' threat is not at all real. In my opinion, this is a demon created by anti-Albanian elements to justify pressuring the Albanian people.

Unfortunately, after the international community accepted that this risk did not exist, the

issue was dragged back up again. You know, one Albanian party recently came out in open support of a 'Greater Albania', and there have been other extremist groups and individuals which have conjured up this ghost.

We should be clear about the issue: the Albanian people have the right, as all other peoples in the world, to wish to one day - if the right conditions prevail, and if the Albanians want it - recreate a united Albanian region.

But Albanians do not want to achieve this through violence, nor do they want to confront the issue immediately. This unique Albanian space, if it is to be created one day, should be created within a fully democratic and integrated Balkans.

So, if the Balkans are to be integrated into Europe, if borders between states become less important, if there is to be free movement of people, cultures and goods, there is no reason to prevent the Albanians from enjoying something that all other peoples can have.

IWPR: History has shown that people in the Balkans have never been able to solve their problems without international intervention. All Balkan countries want to join Europe as soon as possible. What are Albanians expectations?

KADARE: Of all the people in the Balkans who want to join Europe, the

Albanians are the keenest. Albanians have looked to Europe for the implementation of international law and human rights. It is in the interest of the Albanians that this area of the Balkans, as a whole, becomes closer to Europe.

IWPR: How do feel about Albania now, about changes that have been made in

the country over the past few years?

KADARE: Albania is developing, but this is mainly thanks to the vitality of its people rather than to its political structures. Everybody can feel that people here are eager to make up for the time that has been lost. You can see there is huge amount of economic activity in Albania.

Unfortunately, the state is not doing its part to facilitate this. There are big problems to be countered here, mainly regarding relations between the government and the opposition. Lately, I have noticed some improvements: there is less political pressure, and this is a good sign. Now parties are keener on searching for compromise solutions, but it is still a far cry from real political progress in Albania.

IWPR: Change is also slow coming to Serbia. Milosevic may be behind bars but

Serbian society is still struggling with those people who want substantive changes and those actively trying to prevent that. How long will it be, do you think, before Serbia can deal with its past?

KADARE: History has shown us that it takes a long time for the effects of political barbarity to be washed away from a country. It takes time to remove the poison that has been spread over time. It would be very naive to believe that Serbia will develop into a full democracy any time soon. It is going to be a struggle.

People in the Balkans should try to clear their consciences, to own up to crimes committed in the past. Even those intellectuals who have participated in or organised crimes in the Balkans should find the moral strength to do so. Without that, there is no going forward.

Nehat Islami is IWPR's project coordinator in Pristina

Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastra near the Greek border in 1936. He studied at the University of Tirana and Moscow's Gorky Institute. His work has been published in over 40 languages, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times. Although he managed an uneasy truce with the communist authorities, he was eventually forced to leave the country in 1990 for Paris.

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