by Thanas L. Gjika/
In the years when Albania did not have diplomatic relations with the US, “Radio Zëri i Amerikës”, played the role of the US Embassy in helping to keep the Albanian people informed about the main events. The credit for carrying out this mission goes to a number of Albanians such as Jozef Paskali, Talat Karagjozi, Xhevat Kallajxhi, Ilia (Louis) Priest, Lulu Vrioni (niece of Mit’hat Frashëri), Ruzhdi Daca, Gasper Kiçi, Bardhyl Pogoni, Dr. Elez Biberaj, Idriz Lamaj and Frank Gjeto Shkreli.
The work of journalist Frank Shkreli as shown in various newspapers of diaspora, Albania and Kosovo, along with his new book “Democracy does not wait” (Morava Publications, Tirana 2016, 476 pp.) is a veritable mine of political, scientific and cultural values. This author’s main stylistic feature is his forthright interpretations of Albanian politics, American-Albanian relations and Balkan issues, which directly or indirectly concern the Albanian world, Russia’s and Turkey’s foreign policy toward Western Balkans and the domestic policies of neighboring states that continue to violate the rights of their respective Albanian populations.
Hope shall overcome despair
As a political scientist, Frank Shkreli is a critical thinker when it comes to the causes that hinder Albania’s progress towards joining the European Union. Yet he does not lack the optimistic orientation for the future. Reflecting on the favorable US and EU geopolitics toward Albania, he has formulated the positive idea that “hope will overcome despair” (Democracy Does Not Wait, page 30). Shkreli’s objective optimism is backed by the events of the last 27 years, including the collapse of the communist dictatorship in Europe and Albania, the liberation of Kosovo and the increased efforts of Albanians living in Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to gain more political and civic rights.
The Freedom of the Press violations and other abuses
Shkreli denounces the violations of the Press Freedom in the Republic of Turkey and in the Republic of Albania. After explaining how the international organizations criticized the Turkish government for the difficult situation concerning its country journalists in the article “The press under pressure in Turkey and Albania” (pp. 16-21), Shkreli presents the case of Mr. Gjiknuri’s verbal assault directed at Tirana-based independent newspaper “Telegraf”. The author concludes that Mr. Gjiknuri’s attitude warrants concern of other human rights violations, on account of a fragile Albanian democracy…
The Catholic Church and Her Pastors
As a member of the Albanian Catholic community, Frank Shkreli is fully aware of the devastation brought upon the faith from the communist regime. He feels the spiritual duty to recall from time to time the lasting consequences of the havoc that communism caused to the church and religion. On that note, he notices that in the post-dictatorship Albania there is no appreciation for Father Gjergj Fishta. -”…due to the country’s Ministry of Culture’s lack of patriotism” ….
Nostalgia for the dictator Hoxha – A Serious Obstacle for Albania
A disturbing issue in Shkreli’s analysis is the nostalgia for Enver Hoxha during the transition years. In his view, this phenomenon is similar to Russia’s nostalgia for Joseph Stalin. The starting point is the celebration of Martyrs’ Day on May 5, 2014, where photos of the dictator where circulating among the school children who were visiting the National Cemetery in Tirana. Shkreli describes this act as “despicable and unforgivable” particularly in the context of Albania’s membership in NATO and aspirations to join the European Union. The honoring of the dictator by the key members of the party, the government and the Albanian Parliament, who were present at the ceremony, indicates that “They … live entirely outside the Albanian and international reality … that they are unable to present to the Albanian people new ideas for solving the many problems they face, by telling the world that they are always proud of being part of a regime with a lost history “(pp. 459-460).
In this context, Shkreli strongly criticizes the Minister of Culture, Ms. Mirela Kumbaro, who has suggested that the statues of Lenin and Stalin should no longer be held in the backyard of the Art Gallery but rather placed in the halls of the Ministry of Culture. Shkreli condemns not only this minister but also the political forces of the position and the opposition, the intellectuals and the people, who stay silent when hearing such suggestions. Instead of the failed ideologists of communism, it should be the statues of Father Gjergj Fishta and the deserving Albanian patriots that must be placed in the office spaces of the Ministry of Culture.
The Secret FILES!
In December 2014 and April 2015 several German institutions and foundations helped to open an exhibition on Europe’s history during the twentieth century. The main purpose was to draw lessons from the life of the peoples of this continent under their dictatorship regimes and how are they now living in democracy. The lessons learned from the German people in this respect were not followed by the Albanian people. After the system changed, no measures were taken to prevent former communists and former state security members from taking part in the ruling coalition. Understandably the former communist and the secret security members who continue to rule the country’s politics are not interested in opening up any debate on the crimes of the communist dictatorship. Precisely the failure to punish the crimes of the dictatorship has stagnated the Albanian politics. The author of the article, aware of the 25 year long rhetoric on this subject, along with the commissions and the draft laws, points out that this process “is unlikely to be completed, it will be hovering continually, neither successful nor unsuccessful “(p. 148).
The Western Balkans, the US Russia and Turkey
Albania and the Western Balkans are at the center of attention of countries like the United States, Russia and Turkey. In contrast with the United States’ efforts to make the people aware of their independent path towards democracy, Russia and Turkey, each have tried to stop the process of democratization of these countries and disrupt their membership into international organizations such as NATO and the EU. Russia and Turkey strive to extend their influence to these countries as part of the re-creation of old empires in new forms, specifically as powerful economic empire ruled by autocratic regimes.
The US needs to be supported in its mission “to help these states to take their own independent decision with respect to their Euro-Atlantic future … as well as the efforts to root out corruption that is wearing down the societies” (p. 135).
The Turkish government has long been working to revitalize a l spirit among the Albanian people in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, a phenomenon that Shkreli criticizes without hesitation. In April 2015 countries around the world were commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Turkish genocide against the Armenian population. The Turkish diplomats in Macedonia encouraged many Muslim Albanians, as well as members of the Turkish and Bosnian minorities to take part in a protest in front of Murat Pasha’s mosque to counter the historical truth, namely the killing of one million Armenians who were seeking union with the motherland. Shkreli is revolted by this fact and condemns the demonstration. He goes on to denounce regressive policies such as the revision of the history of the Albanian people as claimed by the Turkish, Greek, and Serbian governors, who aim to alter and eventually eradicate the Albanian identity in the lands where Albanians have always been autochthonous. The author of the article insists that the main culprit is the Albanian government that does not protest openly but submits to such absurd anti-national demands. This silence urges Shkreli to voice his criticism by quoting Faik Konica: “The greatest enemy of Albanians have been and still are the Albanians themselves” (p.146).
Democratic ideas do not fade away, they illuminate the people’s path to the future
In his review of Ndiçim Kulla’s “Anthological Encyclopaedia of Albanian Thought, 1807 – 1957 vol. 1-3 ” which includes the writings of 75 Albanian intellectuals of the right-wing outlook, Shkreli asks rhetorically: “Where would Albania and Albanians be today, if the thinkers with Western views had prevailed in the last century?” (409). This optimistic scholar and sociologist suggests that the democratic ideas of prominent intellectuals who were thwarted by Albania’s Communist Party remain a valuable ideology in the present time. To illustrate, the author reminisces to a meeting with Ernest Koliqi in Rome in 1968. While honoring the 500th anniversary of George Castriot Scanderbeg’s death, Koliqi had told Frank that after the passing of the National Hero Albania was invaded by the Ottomans, yet the light of his work and ideas revived the nation and ultimately led it to freedom. Shkreli believes in the power of progressive ideas, …the progressive thinking of 20th-century Albanian intellectuals will help our people find their own path of revival…
The High Price of Bickering
With his solid knowledge of history and character of the Albanian people, Shkreli appreciates the positive attributes as generosity, hospitality, bravery, faith, etc. but does not hesitate to point out the disagreeing disposition that has hindered our progress as a society and as a nation. In the reviews of the book “The Suicide of a Nation” by Kol Bib Mirakaj and Albert Lulushi’s “Operation Valuable Fiend” (in English), Shkreli supports the idea articulated by both authors that Albanian anti-communists forces (independent supporters or members of Balli, Zogu and pro-government in 1941-1944) or subversives within these groups who were sent back into Albania with the help of CIA in 1948-1953 were defeated by the Communist Party on account of internal bickering and lack of a common program.
Diaspora – a Wealth of Scientific, Literary and Cultural Assets
As a scholar on the patriotic spirit of the Albanian diaspora of America, the author writes articles and full feature stories on distinguished figures such as Xhevat Kallajxhiu, whom he calls the Dean of Democratic Albanian journalism, Professor Arshi Pipa writer, scholar, literary critic and lecturer of Italian Literature at the University of Minnesota; Professor Sami Repishti, one of the leaders of Albanian intellectuals of our diaspora in the United States as a prominent human rights activist; Dr. Elez Biberaj, Head of the Euro-Asian Department at VOA and author of several books on Albania and the Albanian people in the transition years; Idriz Lamaj, a “Voice of America” journalist and author of several works including “Vatra dhe Vatranët”, etc.
The courage, clarity of thoughts and critical analysis of the non-democratic actions of the Balkan states as well as the United States are prominent traits of Shkreli’s journalistic writings all the way up to date.