Tag Archives: history

The Albanian Cinema Project

Viktor Gjika’s “Nëntori i Dytë”  (“The Second November,” 1982) and Fatmir Koci’s “The Land of Eagles” (2007) are showing March 29 at the Directors Guild of America Theater.

Viktor Gjika’s “Nëntori i Dytë” (“The Second November,” 1982) and Fatmir Koci’s “The Land of Eagles” (2007) are showing March 29 at the Directors Guild of America Theater.

The film scholar and critic Cole Hutchison from Brooklyn, New York has written a fascinating article on the History of Albanian Cinema and a movement called the Albanian Film project which strives to preserve and restore Albanian film.

Please take a look at this article at Cinespect for more information:


Author of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” also wrote a history of Scanderbeg

In 1850, Clement C. Moore, who wrote the much-beloved Yuletide classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas…” also wrote a history about Albania’s great, 15th century folkhero titled George Castriot, Surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albania.

Here is a picture of the title page:

Scan of the title page of George Castriot, Surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albania by Clement C. Moore.

Scan of the title page of George Castriot, Surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albania by Clement C. Moore. (Image Courtesy Google Books)



Albanian American War Veterans (AAWV)

I am a proud Albanian-American veteran of WWII where I served in the Pacific aboard a Destroyer-Escort with a crew of about 220 men.  Although the Orthodox religion wasn’t then practiced in the U.S. Navy (back in those days, you were designated Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish), and  I was occasionally teased as being an “Albino.”  I am thankful in my resolve to proudly proclaim that I was Albanian even though most of my shipmates didn’t know where Albania was located on a map.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, a vital source of news for the Albanians of Massachusetts was a radio program called “Zeri i Shqiperise” (Voice of Albania) that was broadcast in the Albanian language  each Sunday morning  by the popular Nuci Cojo over Boston radio station WORL. Albanians clustered around their radios  to listen with rapt attention as Nuci announced in his trigger-fast-delivery-style Albanian community events — births, weddings, baptisms, picnics, dances, deaths, etc., and, when available, news about the motherland, Albania.

On Nuci Cojo’s radio program (on one such Sunday morning), the eminent Albanian-American MD, former WWII U.S. Navy Lt-Cdr. Andrew Elia, broadcast an appeal for all Albanian-American WWII veterans to attend a meeting at the Boston West End Settlement House then located near Leverett Circle (Note: Dr. Elia served as the model for the ship’s doctor in the novel “Mr. Roberts” by Thomas Hagan.  Dr. Elia was portrayed by William Powell in the movie version of the same name).  

So, as a WWII U.S. Navy veteran, I was one of some 100 men – and 1 woman –  at the  settlement house meeting who  listened to Dr. Elia’s strong intent to establish an Albanian-American war veterans organization in Boston. I recognized a few of the men present having seen them in uniform previously at various Albanian events in Boston including Peter Chani and Archie Anthony, both U.S. Army 2nd lieutenants, Peter  Chicos, a U.S. Army major,  and Jimmy Kosmo who, crisply uniformed, looked like a combat trooper for a U.S. Army enlistment poster.

albanian american war veterans

Standing left to right: Angelo Andon, George Ratska, James Kosmo, George Chani, Louis Kosmo, Nick Tochka, William Kosmo, Steve Peters, James Christo
Seated left to right: Dr. Andrew Elia, Paul Apostol, Al Tromara, Peter Chani, John Chicos, Peter Lukas

After Dr. Elia completed his presentation,  it was accepted with enthusiastic approval by the audience of WWII veterans for what would eventually become known as the Albanian-American War Veterans of the United States, Inc. (AAWV).

Peter Chani asked me to design AAWV’s new symbol (logo) so on a meeting room blackboard,  I sketched a concept that came to me immediately of an American stars-and-stripes shield superimposed on an Albanian  double-headed eagle. My design was unanimously approved along with an urgent request that I – ably assisted by the talented sign letterer,   Mike Markou –  immediately begin to produce  master  artwork for the  new symbol that would be utilized as the official AAWV emblem for signeage, letterheads, lapel pins, etc.

 A committee was  formed to establish an AAWV constitution which was subsequently adopted at  in December, 1946, where Ted Mantho, a Boston attorney,  was nominated to serve as the AAWV’s first commander.  An  Inaugural Ball to launch the new Albanian American War Veterans  was held on April 24,   1947, at the Hotel Bradford in Boston.  Commander Mantho welcomed all guests and after a short speech about the AAWV and its purposes,  invited all Albanian-American WWII veterans to come forward so he could administer the oath of AAWV membership  thereby making it an official and legal U.S. veterans entity.

Although formed as a social organization, the AAWV devoted considerable time, energy, and finances to keep Albanian culture, language, and traditions alive through its various picnics, dinner-dances, and other social gatherings.  Especially notable was a major AAWV initiative   in the Albanian community by bringing together on several occasions representatives from the three Boston Albanian orthodox churches and other organizations to promote both religious and civic harmony.  The AAWV also organized charity drives for the cancer fund, and helped needy families.

Over the years, the AAWV participated actively in various Veterans Day observances and ceremonies at the Massachusetts State House and other governmental locations  where the Albanian-Americans distinguished themselves  by their presence and by proudly displaying both American and AAWV flags.  Veterans Day luncheons at Anthony’s Pier 4 were hosted by the late Anthony Athanas who was awarded Honorary Membership in the AAWV.

Following Ted Mantho, the first AAWV commander, Peter Chani, Lou Kosmo, Donald Cotto, and Mickey Ligor were among others who served as commanders but the person with the longest record as commander was Bill Kosmo (right) who was re-elected several times  due to his commitment and dynamic leadership. During Bill Kosmo’s long tenure as commander, he  always worked long and hard to show the AAWV to good advantage through its beneficial works and deeds.

I believe there are many Albanian-American veterans of the Korean, Viet Nam, Gulf, and Iraqi wars who could join the Albanian-American War Veterans (AAWV) thus assuring its continuation as a patriotic Albanian-American organization. For more information,  contact: Ronald Nasson, 26 Enfield Street, Boston, MA 02130-2138, Tel: 617 522-7715

Van Christo thanks Virginia Kosmo for her valuable assistance by providing research materials from the files of her father, the late Bill Kosmo,  the energetic and popular Commander of the AAWV, 

The Celebrated Albanian Kilt; Fustanella e Fameshme e Shqipetarit

Man wearing Albanian Kilt

Man wearing Albanian Kilt

The famous Albanian kilt (or fustanella as it is known in the Albanian language) was common dress for men in the 13th century where it was regularly worn by a tribe of the Dalmatians, one of the Illyrian progenitors of the Albanians. At that time, the kilt was called “Dalmatica”, however, theories exist that the kilt really had its origin during much earlier times as a long shirt called “linja” which, when gathered at the waist by a sash, gave the appearance of a knee- or calf-length kilt. Depending on the social status of the wearer, materials used in fabricating the fustanella (thereby defining the number of pleats) ranged fromcoarse linen or woolen cloth for villagers to luxurious silks for the more affluent. Although the kilt was once worn by men throughout Albania, today it is seen only on special occasions in southern Albania, especially in the Gjirokaster area, and in the Albanian regions of Montenegro, Kosova, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece.

The Hungarian sociologist, Baron Nopcsa, believed that the Albanian, or Illyrian, kilt became the original pattern for the Roman military dress, and, because of its similarity to the Celtic kilt, he also theorized that the Roman legions in Britain, through the presence of its Illyrian element, probably started the fashion among the Celts (it may also be interesting to note that the Celtic word for “Scotland” is “Alban”).

Lord Byron, in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, observed the “…Albanian kirtled to the knee”, and T.S. Finlay in his Travels through Greece and Albania states, unequivocally, that “It was the fame of the Albanians which induced the modern Greeks to adopt the Albanian kilt as their national costume.”

See “The Albanians and Their Territories,” Pages 164-166, “8 Nentori ” Publishing House, Tirana, 1985, and Faik Konitza’s “Albania: Rock Garden of Southeastern Europe ,” Pages 81-90

From at least the 14th century, a strong cotton cloth called “fustan” was produced – hence the name of the garment “fustan” and later the diminutive “fustanella.” But archeological evidence points to the fustanella as being a more ancient form of clothing. Among the more important (archeological) finds are:

1. a small ceramic statue from the 4th century C.E.(AD) found in Durres which depicts a man wearing a long fustanella fastened with two bands across the chest

2. a gravestone from the 3rd to 4th century C.E.(AD) found in Smokthine, near Vlora, which shows a man dressed in a fustanella

3. a much more ancient figurine found in Maribor, Slovenia, which dates from the 5th century B.C.E. (BC) which also shows a fustanella worn with the two bands across the chest.

LIRIA, December, 1991

Academy Award Nominee: Colonel Bunker (Kolonel Bunker)

Albanian Film: Colonel Bunker (French-Albanian-Polish)
A 3B Prods. (Paris)/Orafilm (Tirana)/Film Studio Dom (Warsaw) production.
Produced, directed and written by Kujtim Cashku, Camera (color), Afrim Spahiu, Jerzy Rudzinski;
Editor, Kahena Attia-Roveill; Music, Andrez Krause; Production Design, Shaqir Veseli:
Costume Design, Astrit Tota; Sound, Ilir Gjata.
Reviewed at the Thessalonika Film Festival, Greece, Nov. 12, 1996. Running time: 103 Min.

Muro Neto (Colonel Bunker)…………….Agim Qirjaq
Ana, his wife…………………………………Anna Nehrebec
With: Cun Lajci, Guljem Radoja, Kadri Roshi, Petrit Malaj

Film Review: VARIETY, Dec. 9-15, 1996 A dark-hued political parable based on fact, “Colonel Bunker” shows in stark detail the lengths to which an insanely paranoid regime will go to terrorize its own people. Occasional technical weaknesses, and one or two self-consciously poetic interludes, do blunt the film’s grimly humorous impact. Director Kujtim Cashku’s ninth feature (submitted by Albania for the forthcoming best foreign-language pic Oscar) deserves to put his country’s little-known movie industry on the map.

In 1974, the hard-line Stalinist Enver Hoxha regime, having quarreled with virtually every other state in the world, retreated into sulky isolation. A program known as “bunkerization” was instituted with 700,000 semi-subterranean concrete bunkers to be built for the population of 3 million in case of hostile action by any of Albania’s myriad enemies. The program, which calls on virtually the entire economic resources of Europe’s most impoverished country, is to continue until 1981.

Cashku’s film focuses on the man chosen to organize this concrete nightmare: Muro Neto, a professional soldier who becomes known as “Colonel Bunker.” Secretly skeptical about his task, he nonetheless obeys. However, the same day that he’s assigned the job, Albania’s politburo decides to abolish all military ranks, thus thwarting him of an expected generalship. When Neto finally displays his resentment publicly, it brings about his downfall.

Early on, there’s a scene — in darkness cut by flashing lights and wailing sirens — where a panicky populace is hurried down into underground shelters by uniformed figures. What makes the familiar sequence so bizarre is that the people are bewildered peasants driving their cows and goats along with them. The deranged response of Albania’s leaders to an imagined external threat underlines the film’s message that the true enemy of the people was their own government.

As portrayed by Albanian actor Agim Qiraqi, Neto is no stone-faced appararatchik but a troubled figure, forcing himself to go along with a policy he knows is insane. His one anchor is his love for his Polish wife, Ana, played with moving dignity by Anna Nehrebecka.

With its moody lighting, Afrim Spahiu’s lensing enhances the film’s atmosphere, though occasionally shaky editing and continuity mar the effect. Inclusion of some confusing, would-be lyrical episodes involving a pair of English-speaking youngsters making love in the bunkers is a mistake, as is a clinched ending, in which Neto dies. (The real-life Neto is still alive, and helped with the making of the film). However, such lapses matter little, given the revelatory power of the story the pic tells. — Philip Kemp


— Winner “Le Prix de la Critique” Mediterranean Film Festival, Bastia, France, 1996
— “Special Jury Prize” International Film Festival, Izmir, Turkey, 1996
— Official Entry OSCAR-96 for the Best Foreign Language Award, 1996
— “Selected Official Competition” Montreal World Film Festival, Canada, 1997
— “GRAND PRIX” Eurofilm Festival, Saint Etienne, 1997
— Premio-CICT-IFTC (UNESCO) 1998
— “Grand National Prix” Albanian Film Festival, Tirana, 2000

*Colonel Bunker was among 39 films selected for the Oscar prize. Before arriving in Los Angeles, the film was sent to Montreal, Canada where it was selected for showing at the A Series Film Festival, and then to the International Film Festival in Salonika, Greece, and the Strasbourg European Film Festival in Germany.

The Tradition of Classical Music In Albania

Author: Sotiraq Hroni

When Paloke Kurti (1860-1920) wrote the “The Unity of Albania March” in 1878, Albania was still a long way from establishing a classical or professional music tradition. Kurti was a musical amateur, singer, instrumentalist and composer educated in the popular music of his native city, Shkodra, in northern Albania. Albanian musical form took its first real steps

towards professionalism during the second decade of the 20th century with its main initiator, the Franciscan priest, Padre Martin Gjoka (1890-1940) who has the distinction of being the first person in Albania to compose classical music in different genres. Following the classical music tradition of Bach and Handel, Gjoka wrote polyphonic and choral works as well as an unfinished symphony. He can also be considered the first Albanian musician who showed serious interest in traditional Albanian folk music, mostly that of the deep mountainous areas which was less influenced by Eastern music. However, because of the lack of musical institutions and any system of professional music education, his works remained an isolated phenomena – they were performed mostly by amateurs and heard only in small circles. Nevertheless, thanks to Gjoka and a few other musicians of his time, Shkodra became the most important focus of musical life in Albania during the period between the two wars and, especially, after WWII. There, the first orchestral and choral groups were formed and the first musicals were staged, practices that later spread to the southern city of Korça. As a result, Shkodra became the center of education for some of the most distinguished representatives of the first generation of Albanian composers during the second half of the 1900s.

Preng Jakova (1917-1969), who studied clarinet at the Conservatory “Santa Cecilia” of Rome, wrote mostly vocal music. With his operas “Mrika” (1958) and, later, “Scanderbeg” (1968), he is known as the creator of the Albanian national opera. As a composer with lyric inspiration, he wrote under the influence of the traditional Italian opera of the 19th century and in the operatic style of belcanto, at the same time involving the intonations of Albanian songs and dances.

There is no doubt that the most famous composer in Albania of all the time is Çesk Zadeja (1927-1997), also born and raised in Shkodra, and rightly called the father of Albanian classical music. Zadeja graduated in music composition from the Conservatory “P.I. Tchaikovsky” in Moscow, and from 1956 until the end of his life, he propogated his artistic activities in Tirana. He was one of the founders of the Music Conservatory of Tirana, the Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and the Assembly of Songs and Dances. Equally important were Zadeja’s teaching activities as the founder of the Academy of Arts in Tirana and its professor of music composition for 30 years. Under his direction, well-known figures of Albanian classical music were educated. Zadeja’s musical repertoire spawned the formation of classical music tradition in Albania after he wrote his first symphony in 1956. He also composed two ballets, several concertos for instruments and orchestra, dozens of symphonic pieces, several sonnets, music for trio and quartet, etc. Zadeja’s compositions are distinguished for their polished technique and for the rational integration of intonational structures of rhythm and timbre of the most valued Albanian folk music.

During the second half of this century, Albanian music had to confront major challenges resulting from the absence of true professional tradition. This is one of the reasons that its musical development concentrated mainly on classic-romantic styles. The Albanian classical musical scene during 1950-1990 is replete with names such as Tish Daia (b. 1926), the composer of the first Albanian ballet “Halili and Hajria”, Nikolla Zoraqi (1928-1991), a composer with very wide and complex activities that include some short instrumental and vocal pieces for opera and ballet; Tonin Harapi (1925-1991), who was one of the first piano teachers at the national level; Feim Ibrahimi (1935-1997), who, with two concertos for piano during 1970-1980, played a sensitive role in the emancipation of the Albanian musical theatre; Shpetim Kushta (b. 1943), Thoma Gaqi (b. 1949) and others.

With the advent of democracy in 1990, Albanian music had to confront new challenges. Liberation from the constraints of state dictatorship and ideology resulted in the creation of completely new musical structures. Two important musical groups – “The Society of Music Professionals” and “The Society of New Albanian Music” – were formed during 1991-1992, and both became members of the most prestigious European and world musical organizations. Recruiting the best talents and performers of the country into these societies created a different environment for Albanian music and accelerated integration into the world contemporary music scene. Since 1992, the Society of New Albanian Music has organized annual Festivals of New Music while the Society of Music Professionals directs the concerts of New International Chamber Music. Among the composers who are most active in Albania today are Aleksander Peçi (b. 1951), Sokol Shupo (b. 1954), Vasil Tole (b. 1963), and Endri Sina (b. 1968).


Frosina thanks Sotiraq Hroni for supplying the above information and Migen Hasanaj for the translation from Albanian into English.

The compositions of Çesk Sadija, Tonin Harapi, Ramadam Sokoli, and other Albanian composers can be heard on the CD Disc titled “Kenge – Albanian Piano Music”, Guild GMCD 7257.

Albanian Woman in Head Cloth, Lewis Hine Ellis Island, 1905, Gelatin Silver print

Albanian Woman, Ellis Island

Lewis Hine captured an expression of wistful stoicism in his “Albanian Woman, Ellis Island” (1905).

Drawn from the collection of Arlette and Gus Kayafas, a 1998 exhibition titled “There is Nothing as Mysterious as a Fact Clearly Described” at the Fuller Museum of Art, Brockton, Massachusetts, provided a fascinating chronology of photography and its emergence as an art form. Examples of photographic techniques such as daguerrrotypes, callotype negatives, salt prints, and cyanotypes were included.

The exhibition featured the work of well-known nineteenth and twentieth century photographers, with a strong focus on the work of four important teachers of photography: August Sanders, Eugene Atget, Lewis Hine, and Walker Evans. Works by female photographers Julia Margaret Cameron, Margaret Bourke-White, Diane Arbus, and Lee Friedlander were also an important presence in the exhibition.

Additional artists included Harold (Doc) Edgerton, Garry Winogrand, Olivia Parker, Helen Levitt, Aaron Siskend, and Harry Callahan. The exhibition was curated by Gus Kayafas who played an integral role in the field of photography as an assistant to both Doc Edgerton and Minor White. All of the photogaphs in the exhibit provided a direct and unmanipulated view of the world.*

“The photograph on the cover of the exhibition’s brochure was Lewis Hine’s 1905 ‘Albanian Woman with Head Cloth, Ellis Island.’ Wearing traditional clothes for her entry into the New World, she faces the camera directly. What might have been a mug shot isn’t, because Hines has captured an expression of wistful stoicism. She holds something back. You yearn to know what – and also what happened to her.” **

* Page 6, Exhibition Brochure, Fuller Museum of Art, Spring, 1998
** Art Review, Christine Tenin, The Boston Globe, June 16, 1998

Albanian Folkmusic

Author: Thomas Weden

Albanian music is available on several CDs. Here is a brief list:

Albania: Vocal and Instrumental Polyphony
Le Chant du Monde LDX 274897

Famille Lela de Permet / Polyphonies Vocales et…*
Label Bleu LBLC 2503

Folk Music of Albania
Topic TSCD 904

V.1 Music of the Balkans: Albania and the Central Balkans
FM Allegro 706

Silvana Licussi: Far From the Land of the Eagles
Lyrichord LYRCD 7413

Albanie: Polyphonies Vocales du Pays Lab/ Ensemble vocal de Gjirokastër
INEDIT 260065

Laver Bariu: Songs from the City of Roses *
GlobeStyle CD ORBD 091

Vocal Traditions of Albania*
Saydisc CD-SDL 421

Thanassis Moraitis: Arvanitic Songs **
FM Allegro 652

Music From Albania: Anthology of World Music *
(NEW) Rounder CD 5151

Kenge Nga Shqiperia dhe Austria: Songs from Albania and Austria Kultur
CD 51095-1 (hard to find).

Worth Noting:

Engendering Song: Singing & Subjectivity at Prespa Albanian Weddings by Jane C. Sugarman 395pp, Published by University of Chicago Press

“Combining photographs, song texts, and vibrant recordings of the music, this book is an innovative work, with a scholarly importance extending far beyond southeast European studies.” Includes a Compact Disc (CD) containing 24 musical selections.

* Highly Recommended
** “Arvaniti” is the Greek word for “Albanian”
Frosina thanks Thomas Weden of Tower Records, Boston, for helping to compile this list.

Lord Byron and his Albanian Costume

Author: Peter Rennie

Lord Byron in Albanian Costume

Lord Byron in Albanian Costume

Lord Byron’s visits to southern Albania in 1809 had made a great impression upon him. In the Albanians he found a peculiar charm which kindled his poetic imagination for exotic themes. In his notes to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage he wrote that the Albanians “struck me forcibly by their resemblance of the Highlanders of Scotland, in dress, figure and manner of living. Their very mountains seemed Caledonian, with a kinder climate. The kilt, though white; the spare, active form; their dialect, Celtic in its sound…”

In the summer of 1813 Byron put on the Albanian costume he had purchased four years earlier in Jannina and sat (or rather “stood”) to the fashionable portrait painter Thomas Phillips. The three-quarter length portrait depicts him in a crimson and gold velvet jacket with a red and gold and bluish-green striped shawl wound round his head like a turban, a white shirt with a large black jewel in a brooch at his throat and, cradling in his arms, a yataghan or sword with a purple-tinged hilt. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy as a “Portrait of a Nobleman in the dress of an Albanian.” It is now in the British Embassy in Athens. In 1835 and 1840 Phillips painted two copies of the portrait. The first in half-length was given by the artist’s son in 1862 to the National Portrait Gallery in London where it is on permanent display; the second, which was commissioned by John Murray, Byron’s publisher, is kept in the publishing firm’s premises in Albemarle Street, London.

And what became of the Albanian costume? After the Royal Academy exhibition, Byron sent it to Miss Mercer Elphinstone, a wealthy Scottish heiress, and it eventually passed into possession of the Lansdowne family and rediscovered in 1962, when a Byron scholar, Doris Langley Moore, went to the Landsdowne family home at Bowood House in Wiltshire to select items from the family collection for a costume museum she was establishing in Bath. In an article published in the Costume Society Journal in 1971 she describes her excitement when she came across a rich crimson velvet jacket and waistcoat. She recognized it as “Byron’s Albanian dress!” After having been on display at the Museum of Costume in Bath the costume was later returned to Bowood where it is still to be seen. Appropriately nearby are two mezzotints on a wall of the original recipient of the costume, Mercer Elphinstone, who has preserved a visible link between Byron and Albania.

Excerpted from BYRON AND THE ALBANIAN CONNECTION by Peter Rennie, The Anglo-Albanian Association, London.