VECOJME NGA VEPRIMTARITE E VATRES TE VITIT 2019, PASQYRUAR NE GAZETEN”DIELLI”/
HIGHLIGHTS FROM CELEBRATING THE 110th ANNIVERSARY OF DIELLI/
BY RAFAELA PRIFTI/
The main events for marking the 110th anniversary of Dielli unfolded on April 6, 2019 in a midtown hall in New York City. Any production of this size includes several parts that require long-term planning, coordination and team work. Dielli’s editors wish to acknowledge the members of the Vatra Board and the Executive Council who did their part guided by the vision of Chairman Dritan Mishto. Further, we extend our thanks and appreciation to each of the contestants who participated with their essays, compositions, monographs, research papers and more. Lastly, we express gratitude to each of our dinner guests who joined the fundraising efforts to support Dielli. Seeing your commitment brings more pride to the name of the paper and made the celebration unforgettable. Kudos to the spirit and passion of our community! It was a vast undertaking to organize Dielli’s competition, the conference with three panels and the formal dinner, and also be able to present all of it in the same day. I will attempt to summarize the celebratory events starting with the conference, a list of the contest entries and a brief review of the evening. The readers’ indulgence is appreciated since there might be fragments, names, and details that are unintentionally disregarded or not mentioned.
The International conference was scheduled from 11:30am to 4:00pm, with three panels and twelve speakers. The Second Floor Room of at 3 West 51 Street was set up and furnished with accessories such as the customized vinyl banner and posters propped up across the room depicting several front page editorials from the issues of Dielli throughout the decades. As the participants were settled in and the panelists took their places at the podium, the moderators Frank Shkreli and I Rafaela Prifti welcomed all in attendance. In his opening, former director of VOA’s Eurasia Division and a career journalist, Frank Shkreli emphasized the importance of the conference beyond the scope of The Pan Albanian Federation Vatra and the Albanian American community, its contribution to the history of the Albanian press and the freedom of expression as it enriches the narrative of the country and the nation. The conference is an acknowledgement of the vision of the predecessors like Fan Noli and Faik Konica and an excellent lineup of editors and volunteers who rallied around VATRA and Dielli to defend the interest of the country, the rights of a nation and its people. In the broader sense, the conference should serve as a point of reflection for the leadership of both states, Albania and Kosova, and their media outlets, said Mr. Shkreli. Speaking as a moderator, I said that we all have a reason to be proud with such an achievement. Dielli has reached a respectable age of 110 years and an honorable place in our history which it has helped to write and record in its pages. In the span of one century and a decade, there have been glorious episodes and historical achievements, there have been frictions and divisions at the top, there have been periods of controversial decisions and righteous determination, and through it all Dielli has been and continues to be a reflection of us, a fair representation of the views and the positions within our community. My closing point was that if we truly appreciate Dielli’s journey of 110 years, then the right path of fulfillment is ahead of us. Next, Mr. Frank Shkrelil said that VATRA and Dielli are regarded as Albanian icons thanks to their leading role in key moments of our history. He invited Chairman Dritan Mishto to deliver his greeting remarks and officially open the conference. After the performance of the American and Albanian national anthems, the first panelist to take the floor was Nicholas Pano. Professor Emeritus of History at Western Illinois University also Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1980 to 1999, Nick Pano is the author of the book, The People’s Republic of Albania and of numerous book chapters, articles, reviews, along with presentations at national and international conferences, pertaining to various aspects of Albanian history, politics, and international relations. His presentation provided an excellent analysis of the role of Dielli in the Albanian national movement, mainly between the years 1912-1924 and the impact in the lives of the Albanian people. “The newspaper Dielli, the organ of VATRA, enjoys an honored place in the history of Albania, the Albanian National Revival, the Albanian-American Community and Albanian journalism. Dielli which began publication in February 1909, along with the Albanian Orthodox Church in America (today the Albanian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church of America) which was founded in March 1908, and VATRA which was organized in April 1912 comprise the three major institutions that transformed the Albanian colony in the United States into the most important external center of the Albanian national movement during the first two decades of the 20th century. These institutions have made significant contributions to the preservation of Albania’s independence –especially between 1912-24– and over a longer period to the political, cultural, and spiritual lives of both the homeland and the Albanian-American Community.” Professor Nick Pano outlined the program for Albania that DIELLI proclaimed in the front page editorial in its inaugural issue, which he said “in essence served as the platform first for Besa-Besen and then VATRA until the achievement of Albania’s independence in November 1912.” He stated that the successes of the period 1912-1924, “which can be termed the Golden Age of both institutions, owed much to the quality of leadership within both the organization and newspaper” with such prominent and talented personalities as Fan Noli, Faik Konica, Kristo Dako, Kol Tromara, Bahri Omari, Kostaq Kota, Koste Chekrezi, and Andon Frasheri, among others. A matter of great importance was the drawing of support from the American players and the financial backing of well to do compatriots along with the willingness to help by the community members. “Additionally, there were sufficient numbers of patriotic Albanians in the United States with either adequate incomes or the will to sacrifice financially to underwrite the range of activities in which VATRA and Dielli engaged in behalf of Albania.” In the next part of the presentation, the panelist gave examples of materials from American literature and original works published in Dielli, during the illustrious years. “From its earliest days Dielli not only printed news, editorials, and what would be termed op-ed pieces today that mainly focused on political issues, but it also published original Albanian as well as translations from other languages of poetry, essays, folk tales, along with literary fragments of various types.” Such content were intended to cultivate the language and educate the readers and above all inspire patriotic ideals. “In respect to its literary and journalistic quality, Dielli had few, if any peers during its Golden Years. Thus, in addition to its significant contributions in raising the national consciousness of the Albanian-American Community, mobilizing it in a variety of efforts to protect the independence and territorial integrity of Albania, Dielli also played a major role in enriching and elevating the intellectual and cultural lives and aspirations of numerous Community members.” In the end, Professor Nick Pano said “I am encouraged by the qualitative improvements in Dielli over the past decade or so and hope this progress will continue.”
The second speaker to be introduced was Mr. Grant Harris, Chief of the European Division at the Library of Congress, and curator the Library’s Albanian collections. His presentation was Dielli and its compeers: ethnic newspapers in the early 20th century Mr. Harris stated that his purpose was to discuss some of the early ethnic Albanian newspapers published outside Albania, also the very first Albanian-language newspaper published in Albania. In the first part of the presentation, titled Four Native Sons from the Korça Region, Mr. Harris laid out some biographical data and background information on Christo Dako, who came to the United States in 1907, and in 1913 he became editor of Dielli and president of VATRA. Krsito Luarasi who moved to Sofia, Bulgaria to set up a printing press, and began publishing in 1897 an almanac entitled Kalendari Kombiar, which played an important role in advancing the cause of Albanianism, Shahin Kolonja, who was forced to escape to Sofia where he met with Luarasi, “Kolonja as editor and Luarasi as printer published what was probably the most influential Albanian-language newspaper for the Albanian diaspora during the 8 years from 1901 to 1908. It was titled Drita” Drita in Sofia and Faik Konica’s Albania may habe been competing newspapers yet they were published for a number of years thanks to the financial support of Vienna, said Mr Harris citing as his source a French-language treatise by Nathalie Clayer titled Aux origines du nationalisme albanais: la naissance d’une nation majoritairement musulmane en Europe (Paris, 2007). The next part of the presentation focused on Taraboshi, the first newspaper to be printed in Albania in the Albanian language, beginning on September 26, 1913, in Shkodër. There are some fascinated facts about the paper that will be of interest to journalism studies. In the segment on the Ethnic American newspapers,the presenter spoke about “the last of my four natives of the Korça region, Kost Çekrezi,”… who emigrated to the United States at the beginning of the first World War and became chief editor of Dielli from 1915 to 1919. In the part, he brought into focus the connection between different phases of immigration into America and the development of ethnic presses. Another interesting data revealed the five major divisions of the ethnic newspapers respectively, news about America, news of the particular ethnic group in America, country of origin news, international news, and editorials. “As the immigrant population settled, the functions of the ethnic press changed to maintain and yet attract new markets and audiences.” Out of over 1,000 ethnic presses in America around 100 years ago, nearly all have perished. Therefore, “it is remarkable that Dielli is still here, still relevant.” The broader perspective as outlined by Mr. Harris’ helped to place Dielli into the landscape of early Albanian newspapers in America.
The next panelist was Dr. Elez Biberaj, Director of VOA’s Eurasia Division since 2005, responsible for VOA’s multimedia programming targeting Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, and the Balkans. He has authored books and numerous chapters and articles on Albanian affairs. The theme of Dr. Biberaj’s presentation was Dielli and the Challenges of Albanian Democratic Consolidation. In accordance with the agency requirements, it was stated that his views do not represent the position of the Voice of American. He began by highlighting the critical role of the newspaper in chronicling the history of the nation, supporting the Albanian cause, reporting the events in our community while facing its ups and downs over its long history. Dr. Biberaj said that “Dielli and VOA, of course, have different missions. But they share common objectives of providing coverage of the Albanian-American community, its many contributions to the American society, the strengthening of bonds between American and Albanian peoples, and promoting democratic values in the Albanian lands.” Drawing from his personal beginnings, he said that he is very proud that his first writings were published in Dielli. Dr. Biberaj’s presentation was a tribute to Xhevat Kallajxhi, who had an expressed interest in bridging the gap between the older and younger generations of Albanian-Americans and provided young journalists and scholars with an outlet for their articles and informed comments. “Mr. Kallajxhi became editor of Dielli after his distinguished, three-decade carrier with the Voice of America and served in that position from 1976 to 1986. He revived Dielli, raised its journalistic standards, broadened its scope of coverage, and focused prominently on the challenges facing the diaspora, Albania, Kosova, and Çamëria.” Dr. Biberaj added that he is particularly proud of two pieces published during Mr. Kallajxhi’s tenure with Dielli. Owing to his integrity and great appreciation for the importance of objectivity and fairness, Mr. Kallajxhi was widely respected. His legacy of professionalism continues to be the highest standard of journalism in the media. At this point, the focus of presentation turned towards the current challenges facing the community. He noted that “the Albanian-American community has played a remarkable role in efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy on Albanian issues.” Yet in the years following Kosova’s independence, the community’s activism, has declined significantly. In his view, the newspapers like Dielli and Illyria are well equipped to keep the community engaged. Whereas “the potential role of diaspora newspapers on developments in Kosova and Albania is likely to be limited for many, and objective reasons”, they “can contribute by pursuing a fact-based approach to news and information, offering a wide range of spectrum of opinion on top issues, and providing a forum for public debate.” The presenter then gave an objective and well founded account of “the negative political, social and economic trends, which are corrosive for the establishment of a prosperous and truly democratic society” in Kosova and Albania. Albanians today lack a clear vision for the future as well as trust and confidence in their leaders and in themselves. As far as the status and role of the media in Albania, Dr. Biberaj said that “the environment has become less free and independent. The Prime Minister has steadily challenged the very notion of an independent media, launching his own, online outlet, ERTV. He has steadily undermined the media, using an increasingly aggressive and threatening rhetoric, and characterizing them as “trashcan media.” His recent attacks on the VOA, for airing a report on collusion between Socialist Party officials and organized crime groups during the 2017 elections, were breathtaking in their audacity. Many journalists, vulnerable to political and economic pressure, practice self-censorship and avoid reporting about taboo topics.” He added that it is worrisome that in the year 2019, the Albanians must rely on the international media, including the VOA, for reporting on sensitive issues. In the end, Dr. Biberaj stated the urgency that is looming on the horizon: “The next phase could determine if Albania will evolve into a consolidated democracy or take a pro-authoritarian, one-party direction.”
The fourth presenter of the panel, Ilir Ikonomi is a career journalist at VOA since 1992. He has interviewed several International and Albanian personalities and high ranking representatives. Ilir is a researcher and a published author. His monograph Faik Konica –Jeta ne Uashington was published on Tirana in 2011 and a second book titled Esat Pahe Toptani Njeriu Lufta Pushteti was released in 2016. Ilir Iknomi was not able to attend the conference. He had made available for the event and donated to Vatra, the NBC Radio Broadcast Interview with Faik Konica on April 8 1939. The interview was conducted by Hilmar Baukhage, a veteran State Department reporter and NBC’s Washington commentator. This is believed to be the only known recording in existence of Konica’s voice. We hear the questions of the reporter and Konice’s answers in English. Reporter Baukhage talks about Italy’s seizure of Albania and introduces Faik Konica as the Minister of Albania in Washington. Konica condemns the Italian aggression and states that there is no reason why Italy attacked Albania after 20 years of friendly relations. Mr. Baukhage asks more questions about Albania’s previous relations with Italy, and the fact that a portion of funds was misdirected by the Italians to build roads. Listening to the interview and Faik Konica’s voice was a rare treat for everyone present.
Following a short break, the second panel was convened. The next presenter was introduced. Dalip Greca, a graduate from the Pedagogic Institute of Shkodra in 1971, completed his Literature Degree at Tirana University in 1976. He has a long career as a journalist with several newspapers in Albania. For a ten year period. Mr. Greca was the editor of the Albanian Language section at Illyria newspaper, New York From September 2009 up to date is Chief Editor of Dielli, a publication of Vatra. His book Albanian History in America is ready to be published and is completing the work on his second book DIELLI -the Last Newspaper of the National Revival – 110 Years, The Voice of Albanians of America.
The Chief Editor of Dielli placed the emphasis of the historic conference in terms of awareness for the newspaper’s history as well as the challenges for its future. “Dielli dates back from the National Renaissance. It started its path just over a month after its predecessor Kombi closed its doors on 10 January 1909.
Dielli was the organ of Besa-Besën Society (Shoqata Kombëtare Besa-Besën) that was founded on January 6, 1907 with Fan S. Noli as its chair. The program proclaimed in the first issue of the newspaper outlined the national agenda. The historians are in agreement about the significance and the strength of the program that is regarded as an historic document that sparked the National Movement.” Revealing some curious facts about the first issues of Dielli, Mr. Greca stated that despite the intentions of printing the newspaper using the letters of the alphabet adopted by the Congress of Manastir, the content was legible and comprehensible. “In the third issue of March 12 1909, the staff apologized to the readers who were promised that the newspaper would be printed with the new ABC. The newspaper had been unable to secure the umlaut –e- (ë) from the company where the order was placed. Starting with the fourth issue, the newspaper will be printed in accordance with the alphabet approved by the Congress.”
The presenter described the format and the graphic design of the front page of the first issue of the paper, where the left side was in Albanian and the right side in English. At the top, it said First Year, Published Weekly, and in capital letters: DIELLI – organ of National Albanians who seek self-government for Albania.
In his presentation, Dalip Greca elaborated on one particular point, the vision of Dielli as it was commented on the Golden Anniversary issue of the newspaper. On the festive occasion, the editor Qerim Panariti who held the title for more than two decades, wrote this commentary: “Dielli’s program is an historic document; a bugle call inviting the illiterate Albanian immigrants to rise up and save the country from the foreign invasion…According to Panariti, the author of the program was Fan S. Noli, born outside of Albania, but with the courage to seek an Albania for Albanians.” In his speech at the celebration of the 50th anniversary, Bishop Fan Noli credits Dielli’s program for securing the independence of Albania albeit the four regions named in it were divided among the neighboring countries. More historical facts were revisited in the context of the divide between Konica and the leadership of Besa-Besen which prompted his resignation from the paper. In the next part, the presentation touched upon Dielli’s survival over the years despite numerous obstacles. Mr. Greca provided a detailed list of the editors for their work. He also credited the managers who have not received much recognition. In the last part of the presentation, Dielli’s Chief Editor said that moving forward presents a few challenges for the paper.
The next panelist, Neka Doko, is the Archivist of Fan Noli Library and Cultural Center in Boston. She has made an invaluable donation of a rare collection of Dielli’s issues. Ms. Doko’s presentation: Dielli, Noli and Konica was read by the moderator at the conference. Drawing from Noli’s writings and her research work, the Albanian Chancery presented in a diary form the meeting between Noli and Konica and a poem accompanied with an original water-color painting.
The next panelist Mal Berisha, former Ambassador of Albania in United Kingdom (2012-2015) and Consul General in Instabul (1993-1997), has joined Vatra since 1998. Mal Berisha is a published author, translator, analyst and researcher of history and culture of Albania. His focus at the conference was to provide the media context for Vatra and Dielli struggle for independence via the articles and references of the time. The first book, Edwin E. Jacques’ book The Albanians: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present which “details the struggles of Albanians to maintain their cultural and linguistic integrity, the impact of the foreign influence on the country etc. The second book, Harris Silajxhiç Albania and Albanians in the Washington Archives grants a comprehensive view of the commitment of the Albanian intellectuals and the lobbying campaign led by Vatra in the United States to secure the independence of Albania and the territorial integrity of the country. Mr. Mal Berisha stated that the author of the study has captured the pro-Western views of the Albanians more specifically their pro-American attitude. Secondly, Silajxhic underlines the networking abilities of the Vatra members to place Albania in the winners’ camp and to make friends who care for Albania. The analyst said that the study references Dielli’s articles more particularly the impact of Vatra’s representative at the Peace Conference. This last point is revisited in the third book that the analyst cited, Southern Albania or Northern Epirus in European International Affairs, 1912-1923. The author, Edith Pierpont Stickney examines the facts with a cool-headed approach, said Mr. Berisha. Yet, the critical role of Vatra’s delegation at the Paris Conference comes again into focus. Along with effective lobbying, the publications and communications had a positive impact in thwarting the mounting Greek propaganda at the Peace Conference. For its commitment for the national cause, Vatra is deserving of its status as ‘government in exile’, said Mr. Mal Berisha.
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT ISSUE