Almost a hundred years ago one of the most brilliant European writers would have traveled to Albania. Correspondent of «Frankfurter Zeitung" Joseph Roth in the 1927 it crosses a country of which, even with exaggerations and without available scientific data and statistics (which were often erroneous), it manages to understand the essence and the soul better than many experts and researchers armed with linguistic knowledge and specific studies .
«Much less sensitive to the beauty of nature than are tourists of an optimistic nature», As he himself states, Roth dwells on the cultural, mentality and tradition aspects of that country which he saw at the time«halfway between blood feud and the League of Nations ». East in all respects, this Albania is West only "in those cities for three European quarters such as Skutari, Valona and Coriza»; the rest is an "exotic" world, sometimes "barbarian" and sometimes "primitive".
But, beyond the descriptions that may seem aimed at devaluing the Albanians (in the logic in which he writes, however, they would not be), these articles are an extraordinary document on the continuity of some aspects of the Albanian world, of that oriental past that we find still in the present Europeanized. Indeed, one could even say worse, namely that the occidentism of today, constructed in such a way, could have the effect of a make-up that accentuates and aggravates ugliness with heat and sweat.
More than detached or caesuras, history is made of continuity. Indeed, it is often that continuum, especially on the worst aspects, that should make historians and intellectuals of a given culture reflect. Roth's impressions of a hundred years ago are not very distant from those of an intellectual of today, given that he is free, disinterested and above all, does not suffer the construction of the new Albanian beauty.
«Albania is beautiful, unhappy, despite its current, boring», Seems to be written by someone who is today around the country; instead we are in the 1927. Because in a country where "freedom is a relative concept»Everything becomes boring, because the ways of manifesting virtues are reduced. Today we would say that it is anything but boring, but only at first sight as a tourist, when aesthetic anarchism creates the illusion of authentic stimuli. Instead, the country, then as today, carries with it the same ailments, especially for those who live there.
In a "country in which neither those who govern nor those who are governed are sure», One has learned - this for centuries, then communism has done its part - not to express its opinion, but - writes Roth -«by dint of not expressing it, they will stop having one and listen to that of others: thus, instead of a political conviction, membership in the political party takes over».
In fact, from a certain point of view, it could be said that the Albanians do not have strictly personal political convictions, and, if and when they do, they conform, by inertia, to the traditional dictates of the family or the klan.
The relationship that the Albanians had with their culture in the eyes of Roth seems not to have changed too much over the years. He was able to understand some paradoxes of Albanian society, such as the "national conservatism" that acts "at the expense of humanity", but also the "tribal peculiarities at the expense of the nation". Thus, neither a world based on the values of European civilization nor a nation with a proper sense is built.
The misery of the middle class "petty ... (itself guilty) and always with the desire to leave the country" leaps into the eyes of the great writer - how much, unfortunately, is still true today. The most beautiful words, however, are those addressed to the class of «pseudo», A« very small elite that causes more damage to this country than it profits ». These are those "educated means, greedy for money, always ready to negotiate with interested neighbors and to order conspiracies".
Sometimes they seem the words of a Noli, sometimes of an Eqerem bej Vlora, and sometimes, translated into prose, a poem by Ali Asllani, but it is a foreigner far away to write them. And Roth looks at the defects of this people with extreme objectivity, starting from the regret of seeing them trudge and suffer in this way in the middle of Europe. Whether it is the politicians, the middle class or the "intellectuals", the greatest evil then, but obviously also in the eyes of today's observers, from Roth described in a literary manner as "the most dangerous quality, is the love for money" .
In the most wrong way the Albanians love to get rich, because Albania was and is, precisely, "a poor rich country". He therefore, in a brilliant way, condemns not so much avarice, but the fact that "it is difficult to teach an Albanian that there are things that are done for nothing, that is ... in the interest of public affairs». The Albanian who thinks only of his garden is today as easily recognizable as it was then. In the past there was talk of bajrak; today that bajrak has grown so much as to call itself Tirana.
One cannot help but notice how beautiful the ironic words are about that class of Albanians who, once they have seen the world, return home. The author refers «to the pseudo-culture and to the mandolin of those who have returned from America», But the tragedy is that, still today, that stolen« mandolin »(today elevated to the level of guitar) and the serenades copied beyond the ocean become, in the eyes of the Albanians, especially the most educated, obscured by their sick regionalism, synonymous with "Culture"; likewise, depending on the circumstances, the various pseudo-cities are self-incensing in wanting to appear as exclusive custodians of the "cultural" attribute.
Roth realizes one hundred years ago the Albanian disease represented by the fanatical devotion to tradition and the anxiety of preserving the ancient customs, so poisonous to the point of transforming us into pathetic admirers of serenades copied by others at the expense of true music or, as in the present , in parochial proselytes protesting, in the Tirana dialect, for the survival of the 'national theater' (a fascist building of very low aesthetic value) to the detriment of all the monasteries, churches and ancient mosques that in Albania risk collapsing due to lack of restoration but that the intellectuals of Tirana do not even know exist. On the other hand, this country, as the Austro-Hungarian Roth said, is, today as then, in the hands of "literate leeches".
In conclusion, this book, in my opinion, is a must-read even for foreigners in Albania, including today's ambassadors and diplomats who, like those of the time, come from "civilized Europeans" but are reduced, with the passage of time , to assume the characteristics detrimental to Albanianity.
In the country there is a good slice of the population that, for culture and mentality, could feel perfectly at ease in Paris or Berlin, living like the best European citizenship, but at home, due to the absence of freedom (anarchy is other thing) or because of a poverty that only a few can withstand with dignity, ends up being crushed between the domination of the atavistic Albanian mentality on the one hand, and the presumption of the so-called "civilized Europeans" arrived in the country on the other . So read it, let's read it.