Albanian Literature: A short History, Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature: A short History

By: Robert Elsie

“Among the many other writers and intellectuals, who were arrested and imprisoned during the witch hunts after the Second World War were noted playwrights Kristo Floqi (1873-1951) and Etëhem Haxhiademi (1902-1965), Muslim writer and publisher Hafiz Ibrahim Dalliu (1878-1952), minister of education Mirash Ivanaj (1891-1953) and poet Gjergj Bubani (1899-1954), all of whom died in prison; short story writer Mitrush Kuteli (1907-1967), novelist Petro Marko (1913-1991), poet Sejfulla Malëshova (1901-1971), short story writer Musine Kokalari (1917-1983), poet and scholar Arshi Pipa (1920-1997), Bektashi poet Ibrahim Hasnaj (1912-1995), poet Nexhat Haiku (1917-1978), poet Andrea Varfi (1914-1992), translators Jusuf Vrioni (1916-2001) and Pashko Gjeci (b.1918), novelist Mustafa Greblleshi (1992-1986), poet Kudret Kokoshi (1907-1991), novelist and editor Andon S. Frashëri (1892-1965), humorist Mid’hat Araniti (1912-1992), linguist Selman Riza (1909-1998), critic Filip Fishta (1904-1973), folklorist Father Donat Kurti (1903-1969) and Stavro Frashëri (1900-1965) of Kavaja, and writer Lazer Radi (1916-1998) who was released in 1991 after an incredible forty-sic years of prison and internment.

The prosecution of intellectuals, in particular of all those who had been abroad before 1944, and the break with virtually all cultural traditions, created a literary and cultural vacuum in Albania which lasted until the sixties, the results of which can still be felt today.  No one will ever know how many intellectuals and budding writers of talent were dispatched over the following years to labour in dangerous branches of industry, or banished to the provinces forever, to internment in some isolated mountain village with no hope of return.

The forced marriage between Albanian Literature and Marxism-Leninism was firmly cemented from the start with the founding in October 1945 of the Writers’ Union. Initially, responsibility for cultural policies in post war Albania was conferred upon poet Sejfulla Malëshova (1901-1971). Originally from the Përmet region of southern Albania, Malëshova spent a good deal of his life abroad. Most of the verse of this self-styled rebel poet was written in exile under the pseudonym Lame Kodra and was published in the now rare volume Vjersha, Tirana 1945 (Verse). He had studied medicine in Italy and in 1924, at the age of twenty-three, became Fan Noli’s personal secretary in the latter’s democratic government. With the overthrow of Noli, Malëshova fled to Paris and from there, inspired by the October Revolution, he continued on to Moscow where he studied and later taught Marxism. In the Soviet Union he joined the Communist Party (1930-1932) but was subsequently expelled as Bukharinist.
As minister of culture in the communist-controlled provisional government, Malëshova followed a relatively liberal and conciliatory course in order to encourage the reintegration of non communist forces into the new structures of power. He was no one to condemn prewar writer such as Gjergj Fishta as reactionaries, nor was he in favor of a total break with the West. Malëshova soon became the spokesperson of one of the two factions vying for power within the party. With the backing of Yugoslav communists, however, the faction of his adversary Koci Xoxe (1917-1949) gained the upper hand by early 1946 and Malëshova fell into disgrace. At a meeting of the Central Committee on 21 February 1946, Malëshova was accused of opportunism and right-wing deviationism and was expelled both from the Politburo and from the Central Committee. Strangely enough, Malëshova survived his fall. This left-wing idealist who had once been a member of the Comintern, was interned in Ballsh for two or three years and spent all his later life in internal exile as a humble stock clerk in Fier where, for years, no inhabitant of the town dared speak to him. His only social contact was to play soccer with the children. Whenever anyone approached he would pinch his lips with his fingers, signifying the vow of eternal silence which ensured his survival. Malëshova died on 9 June 1971 of appendicitis in unimaginable isolation. Although everyone in town knew his poems by heart, no one dared to attend his funeral. He was buried in the presence of his sitter, the gravedigger and two Sigurimi agents.

The witch hunts that followed the purge of Malëshova numbed all creative writing and thinking in Albania. Most intellectuals who had not been executed by now were in prison or permanently silenced….The intellectual freedom which had existed, ironically enough, under the prewar Zogu dictatorship and during the Italian occupation, had now been snuffed out completely….”




[excerpt from: Albanian Socialist Realism and Beyond, (late 20th cent.) (ed.): Elsie, Robert. Albanian Literature: A short History. (I.B.Tauris, 2006), p. 163-164]

Note: Pictured above, Musine Kokalari