We publish an interview by American professor Peter Morgan released to the newspaper "Gazeta Shqiptare" on his latest work "Ismail Kadare: The Writer and the Dictatorship 1957-1990" (London, Oxford: Legenda, 2009), a critical and biographical study on the figure of the great Albanian writer.
"The game between Ismail Kadare and Enver Hoxha was like that of the cat and the mouse. This is why I decided to call them two chess masters when they face each other. "This is how the American professor, Peter Morgan, who just published" Ismail Kadare: The writer and the dictatorship, 1957-1990 ". In this long-term study, the author presents Ismail Kadare's journey from the beginning of his youth, when he was still a boy who enjoyed the first fruits of communist modernization, until he became the rigid, provocative and ambitious writer. Morgan tells how "The Palace of Dreams" was what prompted him to enter the mysterious world of this writer and understand what was the relationship that bound him to the dictator Enver Hoxha. Going through the various works, Peter Morgan tells how the messages between Kadare's lines could escape the scrutinizing gaze of Nexhmije Hoxha, the dictator's wife. Kadare's intelligence was such that the content of his writings could satisfy both sides, those able to read between the lines and those that could not go further. The dictator recognized Kadare as a high-level writer and thought well of exploiting him to get his regime approved by the West. Hoxha was a bit snobbish and refused to be even compared to characters like Nikita Khrushchev or Nikolaje Causesku. Finally, Morgan tells how Enver Hoxha tried to publish his childhood memories at the "Fayard", but failed.
You have just written a book about Ismail Kadare during the dictatorship period. Why did you decide to do it?
The process of writing the book "Ismail Kadare: The writer and the dictatorship, 1957-1990" was long enough. I happened upon Kadare's book "The Palace of Dreams" in the English version, I read it and I immediately convinced myself that it would be the ideal text to explain socialist Europe to my students. It is a relatively contemporary text, which recounts a situation of extreme "Stalinization", and provided me with important information on post-war socialist Europe. This novel gave me the opportunity to learn more about the Balkans and Albanian society. A research project started in the 2003, guided me to other works by Kadare, Albania and the author himself, in Paris and Tirana. During the time it took to write this book, I also got to know Kadare, the writer expert in politics and ethnicity. The context of the Albanian dictatorship, the formation of the writer in Moscow, the profound knowledge of the complex style of writing within the post-war communist society, the fact that he had refused to leave the country during the years' 70 is 80, and descend to any compromise, make Kadare a unique writer within the socialist environment. In a land where writers were arrested, tortured and killed, Kadare produced some of his most brilliant and daring works, thus distinguishing himself in Eastern Socialist Europe. The result of my extensive research, the lack of knowledge of Kadare between the Anglo-Saxons and the very poor knowledge of the dictatorial regime of Enver Hoxha in Albania, led me to write articles on the book "Il Palazzo dei Sogni". Having established these scarce knowledge - at least among the Anglo-Saxon speakers - I proposed to write a book, receiving a generous fund from the Australian Research Council, to be able to carry out research and write a book on Ismail Kadare.
When was the first time you met Kadare?
In November of the 2004. I saw in him a person worried about Albania, his contemporary history and his own role. Then I noticed his skepticism about another person's ability to penetrate his secrets. I started my study with the aim of finding an answer to the contradictions in his works and in his life. I described Kadare's journey from the time when he was still a boy who enjoyed the first fruits of communist modernization until he became the rigid, provocative and ambitious writer but at the same time also insecure at the end of the dictatorship. Historical and literary analyzes reveal the works of Kadare and present a person dedicated to their work but at the same time openly and consistently opposed to the dictatorship from the book "City without Traces" of the year 1959 to "L'Ombra" and "La Piramide" at the end of the 80 years.
Have you met Kadare several times, could you tell us more about your meetings and conversations?
Kadare is a true gentleman, writer and intellectual who has dedicated his life to literature and to Albania. At the same time, he is a cosmopolitan, a European but also a solid patriot who openly expresses his views on issues related to his country, be they social, political or cultural. As demonstrated over the last 50 years, Kadare cares about the well-being of its fellow villagers and of Albania. What strikes me most in this writer is the calm and lightness with which he writes. For me this is what highlights Kadare's level of genius, his natural ability to tell and the words he uses, make him a fascinating character even in translations into other languages.
In his book he talks about the life of Kadare during communism. Where did you find all the information? Who did you meet?
Many of my information are taken from various interviews I did in 2004 in Tirana, with friends, colleagues and other people about Kadare and about Albanian culture, history, society, politics and life in general. In particular, Jean-Paul Champseix, a French language teacher in Albania during the years 80 and Prof. Ilir Yzeiri of the University of Elbasan, gave me a lot of information and encouraged to learn about Albania, its history and culture. I have never lived during communism, but I have read and am informed extensively about history during those years, I talked to people who have experienced this regime firsthand. Maybe I will never know, how I would have lived in such circumstances, but I can guarantee that I did my best in trying to understand through the story told, what life was like during those decades.
Can you mention the main themes that your book covers?
While most of the book deals with the political visions, history and biography of the author, my main interest is Kadare as a writer. I was extremely impressed by his novels and my aim was to write a critical study of his work. To do this, I had to find out about the space dedicated to his literature and his "theology". The central theme is the Albanian identity since his return home in the 60 years. One of the criticisms made of the author, both by Albanian and international critics, is that he changed his way of writing so that he could stay in line with the regime. However, analyzing his novels we note a distinct level of consistency in his criticizing the betrayal that the regime has made to its own people. From "The City without Traces" (1959) and up to his last novels in the 80 years, the author has exposed the fragility, corruption and putrefaction of the regime; but it has always firmly supported the sense of Albanian identity, witnessed by national history and values of tradition incompatible with the dictatorship. Is there anything we don't know about Kadare? My Albanian friends, like Professor Ilir Yzeiri, pointed out to me aspects of Kadare's writings, which I would never have seen as a foreigner. I do not intend to suggest being able to teach the Albanians the meaning of Kadare's works. In fact, I met many Albanian people, ordinary people, who were extremely proud of Kadare. However, I must say that the Albanian people are not yet sufficiently aware of how important Kadare is on the world stage of literature. As far as I am concerned he is one of the greatest reporters of the second post-war period, whose work overcomes national barriers and speaks to the whole world of Albania and his people. I find it scandalous that he has not won even a Nobel prize for literature in past years, and I hope he can receive one as soon as possible, as a recognition for his contribution in world literature. He said his book is a story about two determined chess masters and opponents for over three decades. Why do you use the term "chess masters"?
I used this expression primarily to represent the level of tactics involved in the relationship between Kadare and the regime for more than three decades. Both he and Enver Hoxha played an extremely serious game for Albania. Another metaphor, for example the one used in the Anglo-Saxon language, "playing with the cat and the mouse" could not represent the intellectual level and the tactics of the two parts. Also, there was also a
personal involvement between the two characters and this makes Kadare find himself in a particular position within the context of the dictatorships of socialist Europe. Kadare himself used a series of metaphors, especially that of the ancient Greek myths, such as Prometheus and Zeus, in order to represent the degree of complexity of the relationship between dictator-writer, politics-literature and reality-imagination.
She claims that Kadare had brilliant tactics. He managed to survive with the most ruthless dictator of all time. Could you tell us what the tactics you were using?It is a complex question and requires a meticulous response. In fact, it is one of the main issues discussed in my book. Kadare was undoubtedly a very good strategist, a person able to read the political situation and able to write in the way he best believed, always resulting within the limits of censorship. It is important to emphasize that much of what Kadare wrote was scrutinized and controlled by the editors of the regime, so often it happened that the writings were modified or even sent back to the author for a review. Kadare was ready to review those "crumbs" in order to be able to publish his work. My study, on the objections raised by editors also of a high level (as was Nexhmije Hoxha) shows that none of them had actually grasped the essence and the facets of those writings with due insight and intelligence. Kadare wrote in a way that would satisfy both parties, those who could read between the lines and those who were not able to. Like the German poet of the 19th century, Heine, Kadare seems to have involved the publishing houses of communist Albania in the cat and mouse game. For him overcoming the censorship of the regime had become a duty. However, the writer limited himself in his ways of writing and suffered the stress and humiliation of the control he suffered from his work when he published "The Great Winter" and "The Palace of Dreams". The pressure he suffered in writing in those conditions was not to be neglected at all.
Enver Hoxha, she claims, was an intelligent, power-hungry narcissist who wanted to show the world that his was a sophisticated regime. How do you explain this?
Enver Hoxha was the only leader in socialist Europe who had had European-Western education in France and Belgium. He was proud of his library, of what he had read and of his French intellectual credentials, but in reality he was not such a great writer or intellectual. Anyway, Hoxha wanted to have such a reputation. He saw in Kadare a writer of high level and at the same time he understood that he could exploit it to ensure that his regime was accepted by the West. However, Enver Hoxha could not read between the lines; he did not grasp the surface for which Kadare used literary tools in such a way as to undermine and scratch the foundations of the dictatorship. Even the novel "The Great Winter", perhaps the most controversial and controversial of those written by Kadare, while apparently portraying Enver Hoxha as a hero, at the same time tells how in a country like Albania the party had degenerated and in which the winning on Moscow resulted in isolation, poverty and underestimation of the Albanian Besnik Struga. The blizzard at the end of the novel sums up, or rather represents the final situation. While the novel "Le Nozzi", considered by Kadare himself as one of the fewest and most compromised, is quite far from being clear when it comes to describing the conflicts between traditional values and those of the communist regime. So while Enver Hoxha considered Kadare his writer and the intellectual to whom he gave a relative freedom in traveling and writing, Kadare was turning that freedom into something really dangerous for the regime. Where do you see the strength of the writer towards E. Hoxha, the man who owned the Albanian people?
While writing, Kadare also gained substantial support from many French intellectuals, such as the publisher Claude Durand, to whom he would communicate in case of danger. Enver Hoxha was a snobbish character among all the communist leaders of Europe and did not want to resemble Nikita Khrushchev or Nikolaje Causesku. Hoxha tried in every way to publish his childhood memories with Kadare's French publisher "Fayard", but he failed. The bond between Kadare and the Western world provided the writer with potential and protection. You compare Kadare to Nemesis, goddess of revenge. In this regard, what did he do? What was his revenge?
His revenge consists in the fame and admiration he enjoyed. At the same time, when Kadare suffered, he hit and wounded the dictatorship. He offered the Albanian people the image of what they were and what they could be where they managed to free themselves from the chains of dictatorship. Enver Hoxha and his friends, including his wife Nexhmije, had absolute powers to the end. Kadare has documented Albanian life under the regime until the end of the 90 years. You say that the writings of Kadare, "ironic, multi-meaningful and imaginative" completely contrasted with the ideologies of those times. Does this apply to all his works?
Yes, even in the most controversial works such as "Le Nozze" and "Il Grande Inverno". There are ways and ways to read these texts, one of which is to read them between the lines.
How would you define Kadare's life during those times?
Given the living standards of the Albanians at the time, Ismail Kadare enjoyed a number of privileges, in concrete and physical terms. He lived relatively well and had the opportunity to travel even if he was supervised and supervised. It would be wrong to consider Kadare a silent figure of that era. His works were published selectively and he was a known member of the League of Writers as well as of the Party. He was a member of the assembly and could leave the country. Kadare managed to avoid prison, labor camps or other forms of punishment for those who did not follow the current. These were real privileges, these. But it is important to note that Kadare did not have the freedom to give up travel or to refuse to join government groups. Each of the privileges he enjoyed had a price. As with every other aspect of his life, the works he wrote were subject to strict controls. He suffered so much because of threats and was terrified by the idea of a sudden action by the dictator. Hoxha had respect for France and was so shrewd as to protect Kadare as a figure of great value on the international scene. However, Kadare never gave the regime any approval in its role as an ambassador. On the contrary, he used every possibility to spread the literary works that spoke eloquently about the difficult situation in the country. His literature is impeccable. In order to survive, he had to silently accept the regime and with it, the privileges.
Interview with Fatmira Nikolli. Published in the Gazeta Shqiptare newspaper of 17 February 2010. Original title "Peter Morgan: Ja is frikesonte 'Kadare Enver Hoxhen".
Translated by AlbaniaNews from Altina Hoti.
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