Albanian culture minister: culture can’t wait until we solve our existential problems


From Kosovo 2.0


At the opening of this year’s Dokufest, we managed to briefly catch up with Albania’s Minister of Culture Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi. Here’s what she had to say on the festival, plans for strengthening Kosovo-Albania cultural cooperation, and why both countries need culture to serve as an engine of change.

K2.0: The Albanian Ministry of Culture is contributing funding to this year’s DokuFest, in what ways are you seeking to nurture and establish further cooperations between the cultural sphere of Kosovo and Albania?

Minister Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi: DokuFest is not the start of this cooperation, it’s just a stage. We have announced from the beginning, again today as we did a year ago, the cooperation between Kosovo and Albania as a priority in all fields. But I am speaking about the cultural side in particular, and we have declared from the start that we would organize a joint calendar for Albania and Kosovo, which we have materialized after meetings between the two cultural ministries and ministers, between me and Mr. Krasniqi.

And on 14th of February of this year we signed the joint protocol for a joint cultural calendar for Kosovo and Albania which was then transformed into many concrete activities. To be honest, we started with the idea of deciding realistically, to not make empty promises, because we’ve had cultural relations also before, but they were more on paper. We wanted to be realist so we confirmed an activity per month. Within a month the Kosovar-Albanian reality and all of Albanian culture turned that into a weekly event. So if we look at the calendar now with 6 months gone, we can see that we now have a joint cultural event between Tirana and Prishtina on a weekly basis. I prefer to speak about Tirana and Prishtina because I see them as two cultural centers of the same environment which is that of the Albanian cultural environment.

K2.0: What will be the objectives for the next three years? What changes will we see in the cultural scene?

Minister Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi: Out first objective is to create an independent cultural Albanian scene, not an artistic scene which depends solely on the hope that is the state budget. If we’re going to have a culture or a cultural initiative that see the state as the only source of support, I believe that it will be a culture that is going toward failure, meanwhile the state must support them in ways that gets them to open and generate new financial sources and new ideas.

Secondly, I want the cultural heritage that we possess in great quantities to be part of a global map, and not only a local one. I want it to be in those spots where we could develop the economy as well, because I see cultural tourism as one of the most important sources of economic growth in Albania and Kosovo.

Thirdly, I want the fact that we now have a borderless cultural environment between Kosovo and Albania to be a strong reality and as such, to be a road to integration in Europe for all of us.

K2.0: I’m interested to know if you see differences between the developments in the cultural scenes of Prishtina and Tirana, especially if we look at culture as a reflection of the current political, economic and social conditions?

Minister Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi: You’re quite right, because I too believe that it is not simply a cultural event. For me they are emancipatory events, events that open the mind. We have to accept the fact that we are a conservative society, we are a society that comes from dramatic history which are very recent and as such, Albanian society really needs to move on and develop so it can open its’ eyes and open its’ mind and be freed from prejudice, to be freed from intolerance, freed from xenophobia.

Why do I say this? Because I strongly believe that if there is a road to the emancipation of Albanian society regardless of whether it is being developed in Prishtina, Prizren, Tirana or Vlora or Shkodra, there is only the road of education and culture, and if we enforce these means we can be sure that the emancipation of our society will be quicker, of course whilst at all times being supported by strong economical mechanisms. I believe that in the last few months, last few years, Albanian society, especially the youth and especially the cultural and youth organisations have shown that they can be stronger than the prejudices, stronger than the brakes of a dramatic society like our own. We are here today for DokuFest which is an international event. This merit belongs to Prizren and the honor and pride of Albanians. It has turned DokuFest into an international event in a period when everybody shifts attention. In a while attention will be on Albanians with Pope Francis’ visit to Tirana. I believe that Albania and Kosovo are not simply the periphery of a zone where big events happen, but are turning into strong points that make that periphery the center.

K2.0: How do you see cultural production of Kosovar and Albanian artists in Europe?

Minister Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi: The cultural products are not a merit of the countries, the cultural products in Europe until now I believe are mostly a merit of individuals, because our countries have not been all that strong, consolidated and stabilized if I may, to surpass the big problems and invest strongly in culture. On the one hand it is very wrong to think that culture is a luxury that comes after we’ve solved the existential problems. But until now we have not understood this.

I believe that this time has come and this is another step towards emancipation and understanding that a country must support the qualitative cultural products of its’ people, its’ individuals, the people that we have, the successful talents that thanks to their work have gone past this small Albanian scene to the larger global one.

K2.0: Usually a criticism directed at cultural development of the whole of the Western Balkans is that most regional artists with global fame, are usually more known and respected for their work outside, rather than inside their own countries.

Minister Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi: I think it is not in vain, there is a basis. There is a basis because we have to accept the fact that as a society with prejudice, cynicism quickly finds a place in our midst. We quickly become jealous of others’ successes, and this is an expression of a certain stage of emancipation which we need to surpass. And I believe that the cultural institutions, whether they be public like ministries of culture or cultural institutions of independent initiatives like DokuFest for example, need to play a big role in being a model of how to attract these individuals with the purpose of exchanging them.

This, for example, is a priority for the new Ministry of Culture in Albania and we have started for a year now to continuously invite not only the ones who produce their achievements in the Albanian scene, but to exchange with the artists that have chosen to live in Tirana, because they’ve all had their challenges. For the artists that have chosen to live in Tirana, they have had the challenge of creating art in a difficult place. But for the artists that have chosen to go abroad, they have had the difficulty of facing much bigger competition and no support.

So I believe that both sides have something to give to one another and this exchange can only be enriching for the artists themselves and for the cultural scene; especially because it creates a good model for the youth. Society needs good models.

K2.0: Thank you so much for your time.

Minster Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi: Thank you.