An unsafe haven for Illyrian guests

Ethnic Radio
‘Hello, we’re Albanian, why don’t
you come over and meet us. We’re here every Sunday, come
after 12.’

You’ve Got Mail
The New York comedy You’ve Got Mail foregrounds
its romantic intrigue against the world-weariness that characterises
a gathering in support of Albanian writers.

Enver Hoxha
"No, comrades, we cannot and should not follow ‘the
European road’; on the contrary, it is Europe which should
follow our road, because from the political standpoint, it is
far behind us … far from that for which Marx, Engels,
Lenin and Stalin fought."

Ismail Kadare
"‘Let me explain,’ he said. ‘A West
dressed up in socialist clothes would be safer, in my opinion,
than it is in its naked form, as in Europe. Do you see what
I mean?’ He lowered his voice. ‘That’s the
kind of West we need—one wearing masks and disguises.
Otherwise we shall always be in danger … Anyhow, perhaps
we don’t need Europe at all any more … We’re
older, we’ve changed, Europe isn’t for us any more
… That’s the point, you see … Our only chance
… our only chance was China …’"

Naim Frashëri

The five brothers mastered the languages of their world, including
Albanian, Persian, Greek, Turkish and Arabic. Sami Frashëri
wrote a five-thousand-page encyclopaedia of Turkish history.
Abdyl dedicated his life to freeing Albania from the Turkish
yoke. Mehdi and Mid’hat both wrote novels about the blood feuds
and adventures of the Albanian highlands. The most famous, however,
was Naim Frashëri, who in some ways was the Albanian equivalent
of the Australian bush laureate, Banjo Paterson.

Haj Bektash
A uniquely Albanian mythology began to develop about the power
of Bektash, including miracle stories about blessed grain that
would make barren women conceive. Tekke were administered by
celibate priests called Baba, who offered advice and ritual
help. Like Shinto priests, their assistance was not limited
to believers but was available to all who required advice.

Ibrahim Rugova
The revered leader of these supposed ‘hot-headed nationalists’
is the long-haired Ibrahim Rugova, who was trained in the Sorbonne
under Roland Barthes and is never seen without his silk scarf.
His enigmatic political language is reflected in lines such
as ‘a person in democracy often has to eat hot stones’.
Carlton has faithfully retained its Victorian terraces, housing
Melbourne’s liberal, intellectual class, but at one point
their revered continuity is broken by a wildly incongruous minaret.

Ali Pasha
Ali Pasha, an Albanian who rose to power under the Ottomans,
established the dynasty that ruled Egypt until the twentieth
century and turned back from conquering the Ottomans only after
European intervention.

Rexhep Idrizi
The Albanian Imam smiles from the corner of his mouth, ‘But
for Albanians no-one works, just for the foreigners. We are
good for others, not for ourselves.’

Leke Dukagjini
As its author Leke Dukagjini articulates the traditional ethic
of Besa: ‘Blood is never unavenged’. Yet this fifteenth
century text is also the platform for Albania’s essentially
democratic society: ‘In the Kanun of the mountains of
Albania, every male child born is considered to be good, and
all are equal.’

Asim Memishi
. The work titled Liria is contained in a typical piece of
migrant furniture, a squat lowboy. Opening the doors, you find
a miniature city of orange striped buildings. In the drawers
are more foreboding elements, including an imprisoned heart,
a Chinese alarm clock and bullets. A photograph on the back
panel of the wardrobe shows the family of Arsim’s father,
most of whom were killed in blood feuds. These contents speak
for a cultural past that an Australian Albanian must keep buried
In Melbourne, the Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, personally
greeted the refugees as they arrived at Tullamarine Airport.
On 17 May 1998, the mass circulation newspaper the Herald
carried its first and only headline in Albanian—Mirse
erdhet në Victori (Welcome to Victoria)—above a beaming
Kosovar boy cuddling a koala and making an OK sign.
The succour of Kosovars was staged as conversion to the Australian
way of life. A website dedicated to 4-wheel-drive sports features
before and after shots of a besuited Kosovar refugee ‘dinkumed’
into a real bloke tearing around the bush: ‘These series
of photos depict the transformation of Fernando, from a shy
Kosovar-style refugee arriving in Australia, to the dinkum,
ocker Aussie bloke you see in the final photo!’

Akif Litfiu
Akif’s story has powerful undertones for Tasmanians,
who live on an island infamous for its recent extinctions. The
Black Line in 1830 led to the expulsion of full-blooded Palawa
people to Flinders Island, where Truganini was mourned as the
last remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal. Later, the Thylacine, known
as ‘Tasmanian Tiger’, was hunted to extinction.

Alex Buzo
The play was recently revised as Normie and Tuon
(1999); the foreigner has become a Vietnamese, who confronts
a war veteran. Buzo compares the friendly/hostile switch to
the Kosovar story: ‘The big thing in the Kosovar case
was the lack of perceived gratitude.’ Despite the parallel
theme, and his Albanian ancestry, Alex Buzo has never been called
on to speak about the Kosovar refugees.

Mërgim’s gentle rhythms underscore a plaintive

Bread and salt in your own country
Makes you strong like iron.

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