By Flora Nikolla*/
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished representatives of the Library of Congress,
Distinguished representatives of the diplomatic corps
It is a great honor and privilege to be here today, in a temple of knowledge, in the greatest library of the world—an elite institution that is a dream for book-admirers, book-readers and book-writers—to speak on post-communist journalism, this dear and difficult profession, but one that adds significant value in the development of society as it should.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak from this podium of honor on a time that Albanian journalism experienced and thanks to its efforts, managed to become the lifeblood of a denied freedom.
And thank you for the opportunity to represent Albanian Press, behind which stand thousands of professionals who, irrespective of their political leanings, want to know the news and know how to tell it.
Thank you, and as a result of the opportunity you have given me, I shall be, for today, their voice!
Thank you for your time, thank you for being here in this place of knowledge and human civilization, to talk to you about post-communist journalism, but also the outstanding Albanian diaspora which has a place in the press.
I would say today that no one is a professional by accident, and I want to say that I don’t believe that for almost 30 years now I am in this profession, a noble profession with dimensions in humanity and society. I recall today that I first connected with journalism in my early childhood.
There was an entire generation of remarkable journalists and writers at that time that would become a comprehensive list of personalities like Ditero Agolli, Ismail Kadare, Xhevahir Spahiu, and even the “decadent” ones persecuted by the regime like Fadil Pacrami, Todi Lubonja, Vangjush Gambeta, my dad’s friends. My dad, a journalist for 45 years, 25 of which as editor-in-chief of Hosteni magazine considered as the only “opposition” magazine of a one-party Albanian nation.
They were people who were always around during my youth, I would hear their conversations and today I realize that subconsciously, without knowing, I started to fall in love with my profession, a noble profession at its core, which can be all consuming and leave you with only with passion.
This is how journalism became a part of me, without formal courses initially, this is how I became familiar with the difficulty in being a journalist during the hard times of survival known as ‘communism’, a desire to write and tell the truth and its cover-up with sorrow and a murdered conscience.
As a kid and later on when I was older, I heard this and I experienced it, through my dad who ran the magazine Hosten for 25 years, a comedy magazine that satirized the negative appearances in society within communist “norms” which were actually great limitations.
It was supposed to be the opposition in a country where opposition was banned. This was basically impossible.
This is how I came to know my father’s pain, the faith of an idealist that was never realized for a generation that believed in it, I came to know his unspoken rebellion, or another way, I recognized the suffering of his close friends and colleagues convicted for breaking the communist ideal, which in fact turned out to be just a utopia.
Because actually, a political regime should be in the service of carrying out the rule of a clear conscience and not for conforming to the opposite.
I remember the sorrow in my father’s gazed eyes, while working in a remote area, he had seen his dear friend, Mr. Vangjush Gambeta, one of the most brilliant journalists on economy, walking with droopy shoulders and eyes to the ground.
He was carrying out his conviction as a political criminal in a mine under dire conditions. He called him out by name but he continued to walk with droopy shoulders, frail body, eyes to the ground…
Again he called out…and again he continued to walk to a cold place for overstepping the party ideals.
Years later in Albania, after 1990, when the press should have been free, I heard my father and Mr. Gambeta remembering that episode, many times actually….He would always answer my father’s concern the same way: “I couldn’t speak because I couldn’t condemn you too”…
In 1993, the Albanian Telegraph Agency, under a secluded bunker, was launched through an institution made up of only high level party members, I participated in a contest organized to bring in young journalists.
Albanian was open, freedom of the press, print and government law, was just beginning,
When the Democratic Party’s newspaper Rilindja Democratike started being printed, hundreds of people smashed the storefront windows of the shops that sold newspapers, while standing in line waiting for their free speech newspaper that they had been missing for years.
The number of newspaper copies sold for an impoverished Albania at the time was astounding: 60,000 copies a day—a figure never before seen during the communist era when there were only newspapers belonging to the state party, categorized according to social groups in Professional Union newspapers, for the youth, for women, all with the same ideology, known as socialist realism.
So in the early 1990s, with the great democratic changes in the country, Albanians began to enjoy the freedom that was forcefully denied for 45 years.
In fact, in the years 1988-1990 in the Albanian press, a tendency for a rebellion of ideas outside the state contours had started to emerge.
At that time a new value for knowledge had been identified by the intellectual elite of the country.
Articles in the newspapers Drita and Zeri i Rinise generated an identity for Albanian Press which would turn out to be the winning model for the early 90s with newspapers like Rilindja Demokratike, Koha Jone, Dita Informacion, Populli Po, Java and Gazeta Shqiptare, Shekulli, Albania etc…
There were actually quite a few for a population of only about 3 million in my country, but perhaps we were all racing in search of that lost freedom.
Even at the Albanian Telegraph Agency, when I started working there so long ago back in 1993 (J), it couldn’t overlook the tendencies for freedom in concepts, reporting, writing and the news.
Among the new press, many times the news agency was seen as a communist-era atavism, which many times hindered its development, an image is still struggles to shake today, despite the fact that this institution has produced many well-known journalists, also its tried and true formula that the news agency has implemented in reporting and writing the news.
Regardless, journalists of the first post-communist period were young and passionate.
Journalism took up our days and night.
During this renewal of private and pluralistic press, particular qualities of newspapers and journalists sprouted but they were dominated by initiatives to create media controlled by political party ownership, specifically socialists, democrats, republicans, social democrats…all the parties created after the 90s during the transition to a pluralistic system.
The topics that were reflected and reported by journalists in the press outlets began to expand, there were a variety of topics in politics, education, culture, social issues; they started featuring the lives of public figures and a new stratification in Albanian society that was formerly lacking in one of the eastern countries, where communism had shaped a typical one-party society.
The economic and political development of the post-communist country was being presented in a new press, which was being created not without difficulty.
Along with this phenomenon, the image of journalists was being created according to the respective fields on which they wrote and reported.
Despite the desire and will to make journalism not uncommon, I thought that journalists of this era were improvised experts, passionate pioneers of a generation brought up in the dictatorial system but who had overcome the odds while in this new era, they put their personal ambitions over everything in the journalist’s profession, which at that time was seen as a profession of added value and with a lot of curiosity.
I recall that in this work vortex and the passion to create the face of a new press, there were shortcomings such as the lack of criteria for recruiting and dismissing journalists, the lack of employment contracts, and above all the lack of a law on press on which the media and journalists’ activity was regulated.
The first press law no. 7756 (1993) was created without much modification from a German model and without consultation with local media actors. Soon it was seen that there were constraints provoking reaction from journalists, although the law remained in effect until the 1997 elections.
The old law was abolished by a new law regulating the printing press, where two sentences were formulated: “The press is free. Freedom of the Press is protected by law.”
Accompanied by the whole Albanian transition movement, presenting all the changes and crises that needed to be overcome, the post-communist Albanian press took shape and developed, creating a considerable number of newspapers, magazines, television and together with journalists of all genres.
With the development of the society and its norms, the global life that Albanians began to experience, modes of communication changed.
In the early 2000s, televisions took the baton of public information, giving the first (light) blow to the media of the past. New television crews, with the latest technology from the media world, were created by journalists, giving another spirit to the public presentation but also in the concept of payment and distinguishing itself significantly from the written media.
The time when the newspapers had reached 80-90 thousand copies of daily newspapers (RD 1990-1991 and “Koha Jone” in ’97) seems to be a distant past.
Today, circulation of daily newspapers (about 20) hardly reaches 40,000 copies, while sales are low.
Analysts say that while the media previously suffered from state dictatorship and control, in the last 10 years the Albanian media suffer from businesses and their submission to politics.
According to them, most media outlets are connected with political decision-makers through businesses and are fully controlled by them.
Someone joked with me a few days ago that if a few years ago it was difficult to distinguish the parties from newspaper editorials, now media are more business and there is no distinction to where a business plan starts and where the free press ends.
It seems that the Albanian media openly hold one side of a political conflict, even competing to show their loyalty to the larger parties, without hiding behind an official impartiality.
According to the Albanian analyst, Fatos Lubonja, from this difficult situation laws can be drafted against owners ‘conflicts of interest and journalists’ boards that determine the editorial positions themselves of their media.
But today there is also an increase in civic journalism on social networks and investigative writings in new online journalism, where online sites are the main source of information, yet another blow to the newspapers. In this sense, it seems that citizens are becoming more active in online media versus a reality that cannot be concealed.
With a population of about 3 million people currently living in the country, Albania remains a small, unfavorable market for the media.
And as a small market, it creates difficulties in consolidating media businesses, as the cost of these businesses’ products is almost the same as that produced in the media that work for big markets, while profits are much smaller.
Not so often journalists follow the unwritten rules of the owners and editors, thus configuring a fifth branch of power over the fourth known to have existed throughout time.
It is this fifth power that forces journalists from all media today to write only for media owners who in some way, for their own interests, give impetus to self-censorship and informality in the employment of journalists.
There seems to be an uneven media environment, where some media outlets are misused by business and politics. In nearly 26 years of political transition, Albania has passed a media transition, with positive changes, which certainly created stratification of journalists and publicists in Albanian society.
We already have veteran journalists, seasoned journalists who are today at the age of 50, and journalists who are being created but are in fact confronted with a new online reality; journalists who spin the news from office walls and computer windows, bringing all too often false news that shake the reader’s faith.
Confronted and raised with a long trajectory in both journalism and visual media, I say that journalism today varies from the time when I was started with it.
Liberated in all its spheres of time and space, I say with conviction and advise that beyond this freedom, the journalist should write with a cool heads, warm hearts and clean hands, given that truth should always be delivered and that ultimately truth triumphs.
*Flora Nikolles’s statement held in the Congress Library