The choice of title is deliberately provocative. This article is designed to be a constructive criticism. The need to write a piece like this arises in the head and heart of a 27-year-old who grew up far from his country of birth and has spent every day comparing his compatriots with the people of the country where he was living, Italy.
After 27 years of comparisons — and after collecting facts, events, life stories, examples — I have ended up believing that many elements of Albanian culture have had, and continue to have, a strong negative impact on our lives and our futures.
For this reason, I decided to write a one-way piece that highlights and critiques all the points of our culture that I think, and in these years I have seen, capable of ruining our lives and our futures. The piece is not meant to be an attack on our culture, which is complex and multi-faceted, but simply to attract attention to certain parts and to move our consciences.
Because, whether we like to admit it or not, there are some negative points, and I am convinced that on some level we all know about them. But the fact that we are often very proud people prevents us from looking in the mirror and admitting that we have weak points or that we have made mistakes. We are not perfect; we are not the best (whatever that means); we should only learn the art of humility and strive to transform our weaknesses into strengths.
It is 2020, and we Albanians should start to ask ourselves whether our traditions and our ideas of life have taken us somewhere or not.
Following the will of others
Let’s start with the spark for writing this piece.
A few days ago, I noticed on social networks that an Italian friend had gotten married and that his wife is pregnant. I thought about his life, his age (30), the patience with which he and his wife had come to that decision. My mind automatically shifted to the rush and pressure that exists in our society in the context of marriage and the creation of a family.
Living in Western Europe, my feeling is that couples decide to get married and have children when the right conditions are in place, especially financial conditions; when they both want to take important steps of this kind and, above all, after having tried to organize their future.
Us Albanians, however, must get married. We must have children. We must have a son. Because if you are not able to do all this, you are pointed out by your relatives, by your friends, by society as a whole.
We are throwing everything away because we are afraid to go against the will of others.
You have to take fundamental steps like these to show yourself “right” in the eyes of others. To do this, one gets into debt for marriage, to give birth to a child without having a job or a house. Do we realize how crazy this is?
Our parents’ generation did not have many choices, but our generation lives in a different historical period. We have in our hands the most powerful tool ever made available to human beings: the internet. This allows us to read, learn, discover, see things that are far away from us.
Yet we are throwing everything away because we are afraid to go against the will of others, against an uncle who asks us why we are still studying at this age, against an aunt who points out that it would be better to marry an Albanian partner. This pressure has short-circuited the lives of our new generations, especially those living in Kosovo.
I have acquaintances and relatives who got married at a young age, already have children, and because of the difficult economic situation, the young fathers have been forced to leave Kosovo to emigrate to look for any job they can find.
What is the result? The baby grows up without seeing his father, the father suffers in silence, the whole family will one day be reunited in Europe, and here it is, another cycle of Kosovar Albanians in Europe doing the dirtiest jobs possible.
The same situation as our poor parents, who — I repeat — had no choice, and they must be given credit for having worked miracles. If, however, we have not been able to reach a higher step, it is a shame because that is what their generation wanted us to avoid. Their sacrifices were for a better future, remember?
And this is not meant to be a criticism of marriage, children, the concept of family. It is a criticism of the decision to get married and have children when there are no foundations, at a young age, when you are conscious of living in a country with limited future prospects.
Pretending with money
Moving on to the next point, the inability to go against the rules. Saying “No” is forbidden.
If a good marriage and a male child allow you to be considered an integral part of society and the family, then there are other unwritten rules that you must follow. One of these is financial help from those living abroad to family members who remained in Kosovo. This process is a kind of silent obligation.
It started, rightly, during the war — when it was required and useful — and has continued up to these days. We must help because it has to be done, period. Not sending money home was tantamount to a shame that was impossible to eliminate; it was equivalent to forgetting your family and your land.
The generation of parents who have lived more than half of their lives abroad has tried to live two lives. One in the Western European country, working and struggling daily, trying to raise their children in an unknown land and trying to integrate as much as possible. Another parallel life spent waiting for the summer to return to Kosovo. With the hope of living there again one day, for real.
A desire that has led a huge number to buy houses or apartments in Kosovo. What is the point of renting in the country where you spend 11 months and having your own home in the place where you spend one month a year?
In an attempt to live two lives, we ended up not even living one properly.
In this other parallel life, financial help to relatives has been the constant for everyone, whether they want it or not. The result of all this?
Families living in the diaspora often struggle to make a financially sustainable life for themselves. In an attempt to live two lives, we ended up not even living one properly and ruining the future. In some cases, people in their 40s and 50s are being forced to emigrate again, starting from scratch for the umpteenth time. It’s not nice, it’s not easy, believe me.
The last point is directly related to the phenomenon of the diaspora. But it is commonplace in our culture to present ourselves as things that we are not.
The Kanun says that the Albanian’s house is owned by God and the guest. This way of understanding the host led my father’s family, and I assume many others, to do things like preserving sugar exclusively for the guests. Usually, when you have visitors, after offering lunch or dinner, you spend your time drinking tea, to which sugar is added. If you are poor, as was my father’s family, they could not afford to buy it regularly because it was expensive, so they only kept it for when the guests were there.
Suffer and do not allow anything for yourself, because the most important thing is the guest. A sign of respect? No, pure madness!
This need to show yourself rich and wealthy is visible every summer when the Kosovars of the diaspora return home. If the “call of one’s land” is the reason many people use to spend their holidays in Kosovo, the need to be rich in the eyes of relatives living in a country where the average salary is 500 euros is the spring that moves everything.
If you’re a fellow diaspora member, you can deny it, but how good does it make you feel to drive around in your brand new car, bought with a mortgage that you pay with the money you make cleaning the toilets of Western Europeans? Was this the primary goal of your life?
This has led to the ruin of family relationships, with relatives becoming more and more distant from each other because one of them realized that they were “loved” for the money they were sending, while the others are annoyed to see that fake wealth thrown in their faces.
Time to think again
In conclusion, the purpose of this article is to make us stop, open our eyes and try to understand where our culture and our way of understanding life has taken us.
Why is a young married guy with children better appreciated than a 30-year-old single student? Why should we put pressure on the younger generation to marry and start a family? Why is the judgement of others more important than our bank account?
Why are women still considered as pieces of furniture in the house, useful only to serve their husband’s needs? Albanian women can become chief surgeons, CEOs of companies, heads of government. Why should your daughter be content to serve tea to guests all her life? Has the beautiful example of Majlinda Kelmendi taught us nothing?
It would be nice to start reading Albanian names cited for supporting this planet.
Why should the girls’ fathers intervene in a relationship that has just begun and force the boy to get engaged to his daughter without even knowing her properly? Why do we not realize that all these things are preventing us from making progress?
Dostoyevsky wrote that men are divided into two categories: those who serve to procreate individuals similar to them and those who have the gift of the ability to say a new word in their environment. The former preserve the world, the latter move it and lead it to the goal.
It would be nice if we, too, began to belong to the second category. It would be nice to start reading Albanian names cited for supporting this planet. Unfortunately, at the moment, the feeling I get when I look at my fellow Albanians is that we are going backward, while the whole world is running forward.
Mom and Dad are optimistic — they tell me that we too will improve, that the change is already happening. I’m a pessimist, however. I’m afraid that nothing will ever change.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.
I'm an Albanian American, my family left Tirana when I was very young. I'm visiting Albania now, and I tried to find information on google relating to other opinions about Albanian culture, having observed what was taking place particularly in Tirana, as well as Sarande. I believe you are correct about points relating to following the will of others and pretending with money. I do have to add that other cultures have an issue with these points as well. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves what is unique to Albanian culture, or behavior? Is it the lack of empathy that we can clearly observe in cities like Tirana? Where a staggering amount of people flash their luxury cars in front of the public, which happen to be the poorest in Europe, excluding Ukraine. Is it impulsivity? Expectations? What's unique is the lack of collaboration and community, but that is not fundamental, something is causing that, and it's most likely a combination of factors. I think that this mostly explains the contrast between clean interior homes, and filthy streets. It explains the rich/poor contrast, and pervasive mocking of one another, which leads to resentment and envy. We are not a SUPPORTIVE, COMMUNAL, or COLLABORATIVE culture. Biologically, human beings have adapted to get ahead via the process of COLLABORATION. That is most important culturally in regions like Scandinavia, some of the wealthiest countries in the world. To get ahead, people have to work together. Have you seen Albanians working together? It's horrific to watch – the inefficiency, the bickering and yelling, just an overall disaster. As a function of becoming a more collaborative culture, it will solve some of the marriage issues and such, because being collaborative means being empathetic, one trait among many other good ones that helps build a functional culture/society. .
I agree with you Gezim. And that is that, our culture is having alot of problems. Were the raise of and upbringing of our children, is about of being dominant rather then a being an own unique person. Things that i hear from my relatives about this, were you have an different opinion for example the family is laughing at you and bullying. Instead of understanding you, and saying like as an example you must marry that girl. Because of albanians are better for you then a Swedish woman. Including manipulating you that you shall only love your brothers and not you sisters, because of they are douchbages. Because of their failure of raising them properly. Were they only their daughters right and not the sons, and then they become manchildren similar to Steven Assanti from My 600lb life as a person. Instead of the person they are meant to really be in the first place. And instead of teaching them right as the Swedish people does as example, the parents are going and talking shit about them behind their backs. Instead of telling them to stop, being such a douchbags and take responsibility as an real adult does. And also manipulating you as an man to be an addicted pervert, who is touching eachothers legs of the same gender of your own familymembers fucking disgusting ugghhh. Smoking, drinking and also sees women as an object at home who is dressing up like a pornstar. To please the familes from their own, to their husbands. Who is as the same time, having no purpose or goal in your life at all. Except for talking bullshit about others, dramatising everything even the smallest details who means in the end nothing. Like for example how popular you are by the girls at your school, as an youngadult who is no longer a teenager (facepalm). Inclduing marrying someone from your own country who is looking great, speaks the language, fluently, are religious and are incredible paotric as hell. All to create an great face to your own family including the relatives, who can arguing, laughing and naging on you as quickly as why you are so different compare to your brothers. When you deciede to be that. Because they are very patrotic meanwhile yourself aren’t, because of you are raised and born in another country. So you maybe thinking because this, that you shall not carrying about this at all. Because of you aren’t born in Kosovo for example. Were you are according to them an dominant charismatic leader, who makes the family having an great reputation. Who is actually an douchebaged loser. Who only thinks about sex all the time. Instead of an smart 26 year old guy, who is progressive and accepting everyone’s rights like the gay peoples ones. Or even the disabled ones for example. Who as the same time has goals and expactations in his life, were he’s studying to become a surgeon at the University hospitals of London or New York. Trying to quit smoking, working out at the gym when he has the chances, and not being stuck on social medias all day long. Instead of wasting his life by chasing woman all day long, and making people laughing at him and clown him because of this.
I get your points. I mean I see how they can be true but also you have never lived in Albania or Kosovo. I grew up in Albanian and lived there until I was 22. I love my culture and my country and yes there is judgment and trying to please the family an all that but there are so many great things to our culture. You didn't get to experience any of those great things because Like I said you never lived there.
This is perhaps the best constructive article I have ever read about Albanian culture. I regularly hear how people who identify with Western culture are criticized and labeled as "shame". But how can you pull on these people when you haven't even had the same experience. It's like growing up with two identities. It feels like you don't have a real "home". I fled to Germany when I was 4 years old (November 1996) and have since grown up here. I love my homeland (Kosovo) but I also love Germany and its culture. I had this thinking relatively early on and consciously decided against living the "classic Albanian life". Almost every day I have to justify myself to my mother and family why I do things differently from what is expected of me. I took my life into my own hands and made something of it. Precisely because I saw that my parents had such difficulties gaining a foothold in this country. Unfortunately, it is not easy for my mother because she always feels this pressure from her family in Kosovo. "How can your daughter not follow traditional Albanian culture?" But what is good about it to get married at the age of 18 and have 3 children (like most of my cousins did) if I want to offer my children much more than my parents (financially and emotionally) could. I have a very good degree and a bachelor's degree in my pocket and a great job that pays me very well. I now have a man whom I will soon marry. This man is not an Albanian. But that's my life and choice and shouldn't matter to anyone. We need to change the way we think if we want to make a difference in life. I am grateful for all that my parents did for me. But I've taken my life into my own hands and haven't regretted it for a single day. Thank you for taking time to write this article. It couldn't have been written better. Best wishes to all of you, Adelina :)
Well... To some degree I agree but then again that is not just because of Albanian culture. Living in Canada for over 20 years especially in the greater city of Toronto where well over 100 different cultures reside... I can assure you that all cultures can relate to you constructive little article. You are telling me that Italian culture don't bug their sons/daughters nieces/nephews about getting married, having children.. marrying their own kind? That's BS if you tell me no! To be accurate Albanian culture has helped Albanians thrive tremendously I'm talking about Albanian diaspora. We have successful Albanians all over the world. Living in different countries, speaking different languages and yet going neck to neck with peers who are natives. There is many more points to make, will stop here for now. All the best, keep up the good work.
Been there, done that ?? Great perspective, let’s say that multiple elements in your article speak to some of my concerns and experiences. I’m a Kosovo born Albanian - that grew up in Germany for the first 20 years of my life, having to constantly struggle with the duality of culture and my own inner desire to expand my horizon beyond the Albanian way. At the end I bring it down to one core emotion that disables the Albanian culture - which is simply #shame. No growth will emerge unless we address the gender dynamics and embrace the rage and frustration that has to be dealt with. Our mindset is limited, when I look at the ratio of mosques ? / schools / hospitals in Kosovo alone - the systematic disfunction emerges that is deeply seeded in the belief system of Kosovo Albanians. Let me share a funny moment of my journey: I lived for 20 years in Hawaii, not knowing one Albanian - and then one day this Albanian couple showed up at my door. In Shqip they greeted me, I was surprised and suspicious but at the same time some unconscious Albanian culture button kicked in - wanting myself to let them into my house, to share my best food and the best seat. Like Automatic... it’s like they knew that would happen. At the end, I had to kick them out - Jehovah witnesses ?♂️ Keep up the curiosity, we are truly just getting in touch with a new sense of self and it will take some continuous experiments to find our new path forward. The best element of our culture that keeps us going & striving: #brave
Pershendetje Shkodran, shkrimi do të jetë së shpejti gati edhe në gjuhën shqipe pasi që është në proces të përkthimit. Të falënderojmë për interesimin dhe të ftojmë të na përcjellësh. Ne poashtu do të të lajmërojmë kur shkrimi të jetë gati në gjuhën shqipe. Çdo të mirë, K2.0
A mundeni me perkthy ne shqip kete shkrim?
Well from experience w/ every Albanian in diaspora I haven’t seen any success story in their life if deferent from following Albanian culture. I am so confident that all of you youth one day will regret believing that another culture or even no culture at all will give you better life.
What a great article! I really appreciate reading constructive criticism about albanian culture as a contrast to common and, in my opinion, naïve and destructive patriotism or national pride. Especially as a women, who grew up but also was born in the diaspora, I agree with almost every mentioned criticism and most of the time strongly and deeply emotionally identify with described situations/realities. However I would like to add something to following part: “And this is not meant to be a criticism of marriage, children, the concept of family. It is a criticism of the decision to get married and have children when there are no foundations, at a young age, when you are conscious of living in a country with limited future prospects.” While I understand the criticism of the decision to get married and have children under described circumstances, I disagree with this phrasing. It focuses on the individual and criticizes the same but disregards its actual “agency” in regard to the ability of changing the circumstances in the near future (here: speaking of individuals living in Kosovo) and therefore ignoring the deeper and important aspect of the interwoven systematic problem regarding the difficult circumstances. The perfectly described pressure of the society only scrapes the surface, it’s important to mention the economic situation, health system, education system in order to see the whole picture. Thus, the criticism seems presumptuous and I’m not d’accord with a man living in the diaspora and defining when and if it’s “right” to marry and have children as a couple living in Kosovo or “a country with limited future prospects”. Since these prospects are not going to change in the very near future (I guess I’m a pessimist, too), is there ever going be the right time for this decision? Who are we to judge the individual? Shouldn’t we analyze and consider every interwoven systematic problem and be careful with criticism towards individuals?