Post War Chaos Blights Culture In Kosovo

By Mufail Limani in Pristina (BCR No.100, 8-Nov-99)

Post War Chaos Blights Culture In Kosovo

By Mufail Limani in Pristina (BCR No.100, 8-Nov-99)

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Fatmir Toci, from the Toena publishing house in Tirana and one of the organisers, said the idea was "to push for the cultural resurrection" of Kosovo. The organisers estimated more than 10,000 people visited the fair.

The most popular book at the fair, which sold more than 1,000 copies, was "Death Came and We Saw One Another", by the popular Albanian writer Ismail Kadare. The book deals with the war in Kosovo and Kadare blames Kosovar writers and artists for not doing enough for the Kosovo issue.

There is some truth in Kadare's criticisms. From the early 1990s until the start of the war, "artists and people of culture" were in the front row of Kosovar politics. Before the war Ibrahim Rugova, chairman of Kosovo Democratic League (KDL) and the so-called president of Kosovo, was also the Chairman of the Writers Association of Kosovo.

Rugova no longer holds the position. Now, the chairman of the Association is Tahir Desku, a poet who is better known for his fighting past in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Desku was elected as chairman of Association after several writers demanded that those who had not participated in the conflict or who had not supported the KLA be expelled from the organisation.

One of Rugova's most prominent opponents over the last ten years, the writer and art critic Rexhep Qosja, has also lost some influence following the rise of young former KLA figures such as Hashim Thaci.

Such prominent figures in Albanian literature and arts, like Rugova and Qosja, were the leaders of Albanian resistance to Serb repression since its inception in 1989. Now the situation has changed and many of these older political figures have lost ground to new leaders from the KLA.

Ali Podrimja and Eqrem Basha are two well-known writers who never entered politics in Kosovo. Podrimja now lives in Germany, while Basha is editor of the Dukagjini publishing house. These two writers figure prominently in anthologies of Kosovar Albanian literature and culture published in the West during the war.

But to a large part of the Kosovar Albanian public, these two men are escapists who "did not respond to the nation's call". Sabri Hamiti is another well-known writer in Kosovo who has never participated in politics.

Hamiti was wounded during an attempt on his life in 1998. Sabri Hamiti has just published a poetry book called Melancholy, in which through allegories he warns of the "Red Desert".

It is perhaps not surprising that at the moment most cultural events in Kosovo are linked to the war. The cream of Kosovo's artistic elite gathered for the promotion of a new book by Flora Brovina, a doctor and human rights activist currently on trial in Serbia for 'terrorism'. Adem Demaci, one of the first leaders of KLA and a former political prisoner, was among those who spoke at the meeting.

One of the best illustrations of the chaotic state of art and culture in Kosovo is Kosovofilm, the only film production studio in the province. K-FOR now occupies the Kosovofilm buildings, using them as their headquarters.

When Isa Qosja, Kosovo's most famous film producer and director, complained about this, K-FOR suggested he continue his work in Pristina's main cinema, the Rinia. Unfortunately this proved impossible because the space has been rented out to several cafés and snack bars. The cinema director insisted this was the only way he could generate enough cash to pay his staff a regular salary.

The existence of two 'governments' in Kosovo merely adds to the confusion. There are two different culture ministers; Sabit Gashi in the Thaci led interim government and Muhamet Bicaj in Rugova's government.

During the period of peaceful resistance, Bicaj admitted that only 0.5 per cent of the money collected by the diaspora was allocated to the culture ministry. Now that the Rugova administration has been sidelined by Thaci and collections from the diaspora are no longer being made, the situation is even worse.

Gashi's ministry has appointed all senior staff to public cultural institutions, but since this government is not recognised by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and has no budget, these officials have to make ad-hoc arrangements to pay their staff.

The Gashi ministry has, however, taken some steps towards funding of the reconstruction of two cultural sites. The house where the historic Meeting of Prizren took place, which was destroyed during the war, is now being rebuilt.

And in Drenica a memorial is under construction to the Jasharaj family, all of whose members were murdered by Serbs in an incident that marked the start of general conflict in Kosovo.

The last premiere to be held in the National Theatre of Kosovo was Hamlet directed by the British director, David Gothard. In Kosovo, as in this premiere, the war and its consequences are present everywhere. And it seems it will be like this for a very long time.

Mufail Limani is culture editor for the Pristina based weekly 'Zeri'.

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