Happy Birthday SHQIPERI!

Let me tell you a real fairy tale in a nutshell. Once upon a time, 100 years ago, there was a nation with its own language, customs, and symbols. A nation in its own land occupied for 5 centuries by the Ottoman Empire. My Albanian stepfathers who were known as great fighters, by realizing the weakness of the Turkish army, accelerated to take measures on their own hands. Therefore, our founding father Ismail Qemali departed from Istanbul, set off for Vienna where he reached an agreement with the Great Powers, and invited all Albanians to gather in Vlora on November 28th 1912, precisely 469 years after our National Hero Skanderbeg liberated Kruja and raised the flag on November 28th 1443. Ismail Qemali was extremely pleased to see that delegates from all parts of Albania were gathered to proclaim the Albanian Independence, a free and independent state under a provisional government. He was the key figure in the Albanian Declaration of Independence and the formation of the independent Albania in 28 November 1912.

Here we are standing after 100 years of Independent State heritage, having certainly gone through historic turmoil like World and Balkan Wars, monarchy, communism, and lately democracy. There’s a great deal of history to take a look at during this past century in terms of political events, influential leadership, a deeper reflection on how we evolved, and where we’re headed to. Personally, I have been reflecting a lot on such epic event like the 100 Anniversary of Independence.

More I thought of it, more confused I have got. On the verge of this national super-exaltation, grabbing every moment of city life like a clock ticking with accelerated tick-tack rhythm, I’m caught thinking 100 questions: “What would be like the equivalent of freedoms we enjoy today versus those 100 years ago?”; “How comparable are the nowadays leaders to the idealistic founding fathers”; “Are we really better off discounting time-inflation factor?”; “Have we changed much and to what extend?” What are your thoughts?

Since this anniversary is truly iconic for its importance, I can understand why any remote skeptical opinion on current developments is viewed as anti-patriotic or political oriented. I have the feeling there’s no place for constructive criticism on what we have achieved in this century time-frame or added to the taste of celebrating this mega event. If one does that, risks falling into the anti-patriotic or political bi-polar loop trap. Sounds complicated, but let me simplify it. Two main political parties in the country, or better two main political leaders, celebrate the 28th separately – the one in power in Tirana while the opposition one celebrates it in Vlora. How cheerless and shameful would be for our political leadership to show up divided even in this symbolic day! Can’t they just in the name of national interest leave behind their contradictions/interests at least for ONE DAY? Finally its official, after all the media rumors, prior declarations, or speculations the political leadership of all colors stayed united in the opening ceremony today in Vlora where symbolically the Albanian flag was raised again after 100 years.

As the prominent novelist Mr. Rexhep Qosja mentioned earlier in his speech, today is the day where Albanians worldwide celebrate their independence as Albanians, not divided by their political views, geographical region or religion.

Today we commemorate our Independence Day as one great nation and that’s what counts most. And here’s a pre-taste of what’s going on right now…

Delegates coming from different regions of Kosovo headed to Vlora (impersonated, remembering 28 November 1912), Photo credit: Eris Gashi

Hundred of thousands Albanians gathered in Vlora to celebrate 100 Years Independence!

Arms and Helmet of Skanderbeg in a 45 days exhibition for the first time in Tirana – Collection of Arms and Armour at the Neue Burg (affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum) in Vienna.

Standing in front of Skanderbeg weapons @ Albanian Historical Museum. His weapons have been subjects of mythical adoration.

Flag kept by patriot Said Najdeni

Inauguration of the Eagle Square

Google Doodle wearing Albanian Flag Colors. View-able in Albania

Tirana getting ready for the Independence Day

…and it’s everywhere

…also up in the blue sky (Photo Credit to Aeronautika Shqiptare)

Gathered for some after hour celebration…
…and sipping Margaritas to some awesome Etno Jazz rhythms @ Opium bar


The Auction of Values

I had a crazy dream last night. I dreamt of participating in a special auction in a remote highland area of Northern Albania. It wasn’t about valuable famous paintings, gold or diamonds. It was an exceptionally distinct one – the auction of value.  I found myself suddenly so overwhelmed by this large pool of values where I had to pick what meant the most to me. While my eyes pre-screened almost subconsciously values like loyalty, knowledge, freedom, independence, family, order, openness, love, integrity, vision, trust, modesty, originality, motivation, optimism, leadership and so forth, my mind was busy listing them by priority in a hierarchic order. It is a difficult task setting value priorities, which are important since they relate to my purpose in life. Certain values even stay at the core of my being with a clear perspective of what I stand for. And here I come up with my top three values: family, loyalty and knowledge. Then I thought some of these values, the social ones I could even move to a different pool.

Reminiscing about different historical époques of Albania, it comes easier to relate the core values of a given period to social condition of that respective time. Throughout the history Albanians have fought against many foreign occupations like against the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Often our people have been in midst of Balkan wars, were subject of the 1913 arbitrary division of Albanian territory among neighboring countries and further followed by World War I and World War II. What used to be dominant values (braveness, honesty, trustworthy, mettlesome, fearlessness, audacity and courageous) were the ones that oriented Albanian against occupiers. Normally, social values usually last for 20 to 50 years. But some of these values still prevail and stay at core of many problems that our society faces. A sad example is blood feud which together with the inheritance of fierce clan mentality and tribal loyalties is still persistent to this day in highlands of Albania.

In the last two post communist decades, the transition of values faces the typical dilemma: traditional versus Western liberal and democratic values. Thinking back of late 80s, it feels like we have been trapped in our own episode of “Truman Show” where Albanian territory was “The World” to us, where were no private cars running on streets, rights to own something, democratic institutions, and where concepts like drugs, HIV/SIDA, prostitution, crime were beyond imagination of an average Albanian. Therefore, the fall of the iron curtain found many Albanians in a crossroad, with little guidance and knowledge, poor leadership and all the freedoms in their empty hands. Just we had a big misunderstanding of freedom. We thought freedom was free while the invisible hand of government serving as regulator to the free market economy using decisive and sound public policies was just not there.

A pool of brand new survival values was suddenly available to us like in a nightmarish auction. Who used to be honest was suddenly considered stupid. Getting rich and educated over night was seen as braveness. Using public resources for our own benefits was regarded with indifference. In other words: welcome to the “Paradise” where the rule means no rule and where everything is possible. The contradiction on family values also couldn’t fall behind. Though marriage and kids are considered the cornerstone of our society, still the number of divorces and family crime has grabbed the “holy” marriage institution and become a plague for our society.

In other words seems like history sadly is being repeated over and over again. Just that our enemies are no longer the border countries, communism, or dictatorship. Our enemy is…

My Man of Letters

Did you ever experience that feeling of time freezing upon you?

I certainly did.

It happened a couple of times for several reasons; fear from altitude, breathtaking sceneries, or dreadful nightmares. Now that I think of, it is somehow related to open space, peaceful skies, endless sea line in either dreams or reality. This summer through cruising around in beautiful Antibes I came across to this kind of beauty that stroke me immediately like a bolt of lightning. It left me feeble and immobile. As crazy as it sounds, the open air floating splendor of the Man of Letters named Le Nomade looking out over the Mediterranean creates a sudden vacuum once you glance at it. This perfect blender of art and nature is quite overwhelming. What you make of such magnificence, a gigantic figurehead entirely made of letters. Le Nomade, being a creation of a Catalan artist Jaume Plensa who lives and works in between Barcelona and Paris is a permanent invitation to seize this incredible combination of light, sound, and language. Though the mirage of the bright white Man of Letters against the deep blue sea surface can’t stand alone without the walls of Saint Jaume bastion. Such a magnificent mixture of ancient roman times with contemporary art makes a special space for every visitor.

Once you’re there, you’ll stumble across the magic of this art piece, which is immensely in line with the work of Picasso engraved everywhere along Antibes pathways. To make the story short, if you’re in Cote d’Azzur don’t miss the Man of Letters.

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Congratulations, President Obama!

It’s history in the making! In the wee small hours of the morning Barack Obama won his second term and stays the 44th President of the USA. What great news to wake up to: Four more years! My Facebook Timeline was totally flooded with hyper news on Obama’s victory. Facebook and Twitter users were excited about the well deserved victory which did not surprise me. While most of us were celebrating, someone else like Mr. ‘McDonald’ Trump was calling for a revolution in US or marches in Washington. Man, that’s so desperate and ironic to call for such Marxist approach to Obama’s win.

I followed all three Presidential Debates without being an American citizen, living in US or planning to move to US. Nor am I working for some US development agency overseas, neither I’m involved in politics. Plus: Living in Albania, it doesn’t matter if the new elected US President is left or right wing. The core direction of US foreign policy toward my country is not affected by the orientation of US political leadership. Both Republicans and Democrats historically have been supportive to the Albanian cause. So someone might wonder where all this interest comes from.

It‘s very emotional to see videos and photos of people cheering worldwide about Obama (click here) – and very understandable after the epic acceptance speech this morning. Certainly people around the globe see Obama’s re-election as the better choice and as an unique opportunity to keep the superpower on the right track. I am sure this image doesn’t apply to Mitt Romney. To his misfortune, he is viewed as less charismatic, less smart, trust-worthless, a greedy rich Wall Streeter, and he’s rather seen as a Bush follower. He failed to convince American voters to give him the benefit of doubt and win this presidential race.

But living in a globalized world, it isn’t possible to be indifferent to such a crucial event. Is it going to affect my life from one day to another? Probably not, since I’m not domestically target of Obama’s policies. But one thing is for sure, the average person out there wants a world leader to trigger hope, inspiration, positivism,  humanism, peace and handle well and sound economic policies to avoid the next Lehman-like meltdown, especially in light of heated Euro-zone crisis.

Today, Barack Obama stand in front of the world as winner and challenger. The very first attack on the newly elected President starts with the so-called “fiscal cliff” which effectively would throw the US economy back into a severe recession in January. It’s gonna be a rocky start for Obama with so many pissed republicans by the side – just look at the market slaughter today. But that’s certainly something familiar to Obama. On the day of his election in 2008 the Dow Jones tanked by 486 points. Four years later, the Dow Jones only sold off by 313 points. Yes, Mr. President, you can do it!