Mentorship | One-on-one | Cultural heritage

Ervina Halili: Rilindja is the only institution that has created a community of writers

By - 28.12.2019

The writer who created the Rilindja Archive speaks about the enterprise’s activity and the challenges she overcame while gathering material.

The Social Enterprise Rilindja publishing house was a hub for many writers, journalists and people of culture from the 1940s until a few years after the war in Kosovo. 

Very few traces remain from the time when Albanian literature was produced in resistance. When art was created to fight the system and readers looked for messages between the lines. 

Recently the virtual platform Rilindja Archive was launched. It was created within the Heritage Space platform that is implemented by Cultural Heritage Without Borders Kosova.

Panel discussion on the night when the Rilindja Archive was launched. Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

Halili began to collect material voluntarily a few years ago. Collecting handwritten pieces, narratives from living authors and memoirs from relatives of those who have passed away. As well as a few videos and photographs from that time. 

Kosovo 2.0 spoke to Ervina Halili, the author and researcher who created the Rilindja Archive. It was presented on December 3 at the Kino Armata in Prishtina.

What hurts more is that we didn’t have collective literature before Rilindja.

K2.0: What pushed you to study Rilindja in detail and to gather and digitize data from that period?

I wrote a book that was published in 2016 in Vienna. It is called “Gjumi i Oktopodit” (“The Octopus’s Slumber”). It is a book of conceptual poetry. The subject of the book is collective self-destruction. I have taken as a symbol the octopus. They get depressed and they do not recognize their tentacles. So they eat them and commit a form of suicide. I used these octopi as a symbol of collective self-destruction. Can a collective destroy itself? Destroy what it has created?

I previously studied collective automatism in literature. This implies how a collective acts subconsciously, instinctively. I tried to project this through collective literary pieces of a certain culture. What hurts more is that we didn’t have collective literature before Rilindja. We had Pjetër Bogdani, Pjetër Budi, who operated in Kosovo. But not only in Albanian. We didn’t have an Albanian language alphabet. 

It’s a pity because the only activists who created and protected the Albanian national ideology in Kosovo were writers. Because they were the only intellectuals we had in Kosovo. They could never create literature because they had to engage in national activism.

Rilindja is the only institution that created a community of writers. That community of writers  preserved the Albanian national identity by attempting to create literature and build a school of Albanian language. They tried to keep the identity alive. So that in the future others could rebel to preserve their cultural identity.

And in the end we destroy their work. We do not remember who they were. From those writers, only two are still alive and we don’t know who they are. We must remember them. Because through them we preserve our identity. Through them we feel proud about who we were. Generations after us feel proud that we have a cultural basis. If we don’t have that cultural basis we detach ourselves from our identity. We have no national identity.

When my Albanology friends would come here to study the image of Kosovo in Ali Podrima’s literary studies, they couldn’t find data anywhere.

When I would come to Kosovo [while I lived in Europe], I was amazed because we have no bridge that creates an identifiable connection to this place. That connects the citizen with their identity. We only create identity dissociation. An identity is a collective emotional condition. This was the first reason. The second was that I belong to the field of Albanology. 

When my Albanology friends would come here to study the image of Kosovo in Ali Podrimja’s literary studies, they couldn’t find data anywhere. They are not digitized. They’d come from Russia, from Munich, to look for data. As a citizen of Kosovo, I was ashamed. They have more data there, than we do here. So I thought that we certainly needed to establish a literature museum. To digitalize the archive or to do something else that is practical. That was my emotional side. While this was my practical side.

How long did the journey toward the establishment of the Rilindja Archive last? What were the first steps? Did you collaborate with anyone?

It lasted for eight years and I didn’t collaborate with anyone. It was all voluntary work. 

It started when I met the writer Musa Ramadani for the first time. When I saw him roaming the streets of Prishtina all alone. One day he invited me to Elida sweets shop for coffee. 

“Do you see them?” he asked me.

“Who?” I replied.

“Beqir Musliu, Teki Dervishi. Do you see them?”

“No.”

“Of course not, because they’re all dead. I am the only one who is still alive.”

I went outside and took a picture. It is in the archive. It says “Here in Elida, we came together when they expelled us. Elida was the only institution where we stayed day and night.”

We would meet in Elida every day and he would tell stories endlessly. I’d say to myself “these need to be seen somewhere.” I began recording the stories and taking pictures. This happened from 2012 to 2013. 

Then I returned to Switzerland. I wrote to Sali Shoshi from Cultural Heritage Without Borders and I told him that I had an archive and that something needed to be done with it. So four or five months ago, they began assisting the creation of this archive through the Heritage Space platform.

Photo: Altin Gashi / K2.0.

Was it easy to come in contact with writers? To talk with them and get information about what Rilindja was?

It wasn’t difficult because they feel forgotten. So as soon as you approach them, they are ready to say a lot. To offer the whole archive. Their relatives also feel forgotten.

Natalia Zaba is an Albanology student. Her master’s thesis was titled “The Image of Kosovo according to Vasko Popa and Ali Podrimja.” She went to Belgrade and found everything about the image of Kosovo according to Vasko Popa. The myth of Kosovo is a major theme in his work. 

And when she came here [Kosovo] for Ali Podrimja, I had to introduce her to him. Otherwise she would have had to go to the library and do manual research. Nothing is digitized or documented. The state archive has little to no important documents for researchers. The National Library does not have any documents for researchers. Only the authors’ written work.

All foreign Albanology students would come to me asking to be put in touch with authors. Because only through the personal archives [of authors] could they conduct their research. This was very painful for me. Because this should be a task of the institutes. Such as the Albanology institute, the National Library, the Kosovo Archive and regional archives. This is not a task for writers, journalists or whoever else. Kosovo institutes are paid with the money of Kosovar taxpayers to do this job.

Can you tell us about the part that remains “under dust,” what remains of Rilindja?

There are no manuscripts from the classic legal archive of Rilindja. There are only a few personal files of journalists and many photographs that were made by Ilaz Bylykbashi and Enver Bylykbashi. But they are their private photographs. 

Their relatives have photographs. Relatives of writers have manuscripts that we are trying to collect. As for the legal institution, I don’t believe that there is anything left. 

What was the biggest challenge in this journey?

In fact, there were many. For example, some writers had their works stolen from their homes during the war. When we all left our homes and escaped. 

Rilindja didn’t save their archives. The [writers’] homes were raided and their archives stolen. One of them is Anton Pashku. This is my biggest challenge. The Pashku family do not possess his material and we are trying to find photographs and materials from others.

In my opinion, Anton Pashku is the basis of modern literature in Kosovo, while his archive is the poorest archive which we possess.

It is not very easy. For example, Radio Television of Prishtina has no videos so far. I don’t possess any video of Anton Pashku. But I do have videos of all the others. I only have a few photographs of Pashku that I received from his relatives.

He passed away in 1995, at a time when his work was censored in Albania. They found a letter in Albania’s State archive that says it is prohibited to publish his work in Albania. He was declared hermetically forbidden. At that time, communism didn’t allow modern writers.

That is why I collected oral stories from writers who were classmates with him or journalists who were from his village. This way, perhaps we can also collect stories from his childhood. Not only photographs. In my opinion, he is the basis of modern literature in Kosovo. While his archive is the poorest archive that we possess.

Until now, eight writers have been registered in the Rilindja digital archive. Approximately how many writers were part of Rilindja and for how many of them did you manage to gather material?

There are many writers. But not all of them were an institutional part of Rilindja as editors or journalists. I collected materials for 52 writers. I tried to publish writers who were freelancers. Who were just authors. Who were not part of some institutional or political structure. Who didn’t acquire institutional positions later on and were not republished later — for example, Mirko Gashi died in 1995.

Mirko Gashi was an author, a true free spirit, a bohemian. I put these writers in the archive initially. They are authors who were not promoted as much institutionally. We have very few women writers. There are two: Fehime Selimi and Hida Halimi.

In one of Fehime’s articles that are published in the Archive, she writes “the silence of my friends concerns me.”

Hida Halimi is the first novelist we had. We did not have a tradition of promoting women authors. Fehime Selimi died in 2005 and she was not lucky enough to be promoted as an author. Even though during the Rilindja period she published three books. Plus two other books with “Flaka e Vëllazërimit” (The Fire of Brotherhood) that were published in Skopje. She worked a lot to promote women in literature within Rilindja.

In one of Fehime’s articles that are published in the Archive, she writes “the silence of my friends concerns me.” She is a writer who started publishing at the age of 18, when she came from Preshevo to Prishtina for her studies. She published five pieces, three of them were published by Rilindja.

Later on, almost every week there was a new Rilindja author. Rexhep Qosja and Ibrahim Rugova were two of these authors. Then there was Esad Mekuli, who was also the director and editor-in-chief at Rilindja. And the director of Jeta e Re. We have his archive at the National Library as well. There are manuscripts that were submitted by his daughter, so they are not endangered. The manuscripts of the writers I submitted to the Rilindja Archive were endangered. Because they weren’t saved elsewhere.

There were cases when pieces written by writers were not published. The censorship of writer Musa Ramadani attracted my attention. What was the publication criteria at Rilindja? How did they implement censorship?

Musa Ramadani’s book “Neorosis” was not accepted, because it was more graphic. It was a truly postmodern book, almost dadaist. It didn’t contribute to Yugoslav social life at the time. Rilindja also had its own criteria because it was part of the Yugoslav system. Being a communist system it promoted socialist life.

There were many cases where the problem is not that they weren’t published. But they were censored before publishing. For example, Mirko Gashi’s books were censored before being published at Rilindja. Now I have some of his manuscripts that are extraordinary. We don’t have contemporary poets like him. 

Do you have many manuscripts like this that remain untouched? 

Yes, I have manuscripts that weren’t published but they can be published now. I still haven’t explored whether the Rilindja Archive 1945-1999 should begin publishing again. Without a doubt, that would have to be done with the approval of relatives and whoever else has publishing rights.

Can you provide any details about them?

The 1990s did not provide favorable conditions for publishing. The manuscripts that I have are mainly from the 1990s. There is a legal procedure regarding author rights and certainly I try to be careful. So I only publish excerpts until I acquire approval for publishing them in full. I would want this archive to have a research center and open opportunities for exhibition. 

One of my favorite manuscripts is a drama written in 1995 that I would want to discuss more publicly next year. It is Teki Dervishi’s drama entitled “Hamleti në pallatin e ëndrrave të Kadaresë (“Hamlet in Kadare’s Palace of Dreams”) that was written for Skopje’s Albanian Theater with the idea of being made by director Vladimir Milcin. 

I think this manuscript is very precious because Teki Dervishi was dismissed from the Skopje newspaper Flaka e Vëllazërimit in 1981 for refusing to write against Kadare. He was also one of the youngest intellectual prisoners. He was imprisoned by the Yugoslav system at the age of 17 in Goli Otok jail. The manuscript is 60 pages long with many edits and improvements from the author.

Photo: Altin Gashi / K2.0.

Let’s talk more about what Rilindja was like. What we remember, or claim, today is that Rilindja wrote between the lines for the public. Does this stand? And if so, how was this done?

In the 1990s, the [Rilindja] newspaper started to form this metonymy, to write between the lines. To write something but imply something else. With time, readers began to learn the language that was used and to understand what was being communicated. 

For example, they couldn’t communicate anything about the protests. Only through Tanjug, as news, but they couldn’t give opinions. It’s not that Rilindja did not make judgements through its language — and its very problematic to explain that language — but this greatly influenced literature because it created a type of hermetic literature that was best displayed by Anton Pashku and his hermetic language. Teki Dervishi with his complex language and many other authors.

They created a literary language that stems from Rilindja’s journalism of that period. By writing between the lines that was genuine hermetic journalism.  It speaks to the collective subconsciousness but not the consciousness. This style of writing was later promoted in a way by Anton Pashku as psychological postmodernism.

Some of the documents that survived are in the Kosovo Archive. Some are in the Privatization Agency of Kosovo (PAK). Which parts belong to which institution and where do you believe these documents should be preserved? 

According to Ruzhdi Panxha, head of the Department of Archival Activity of the Kosovo Archive, only 5% of them are in the Archive — just the personal files of employees and personal funds of some journalists. There are 15 meters of newspapers and one file, according to him. 5% of the archive of an enterprise is nothing. The other part is in the Privatization Agency of Kosovo.

There is a Law on State Archives — it is very poor, but as it is, it’s very clear. The archive of an enterprise such as Rilindja constitutes historical, scientific and national interests. If there are no conditions [for preservation], as determined by law, and if PAK has no capacity, they must automatically go to the Kosovo Archive.

What does the launch of this archive mean to you and why is it important?

I come from the field of writing and human sciences. Now when I look back, I think it’s very good that the weight of this archive falls on writers. Even when I felt it was hopeless that one day we could manage to document the work of Rilindja, I gained hope from all those who are no longer with us. But who I have documented.

Rilindja Archive does not only constitute historical value, but also civil and human value.

So I feel like I have a mission to highlight the contribution of these people who have acted in different circumstances during Kosovo’s social and political history. In very difficult circumstances. It was not at all easy for some women to come from villages and poor families. To be educated in Prishtina and to have the will to write as the first generation. Without having a concrete model in Kosovo. Today, we don’t think that recognizing this history is important. 

Maybe for some, the reason why importance wasn’t given to this category of writing and literature is because they think that it does not constitute sufficient literary value. But I think their contribution and the context of the circumstances where they were brave enough and willing to act constitutes a great value. 

In this case, the Rilindja Archive not only constitutes historical value but also civil and human value. It has the potential to sow the seeds of respect for heritage among future generations. Archives in general are conservative systems. But we cannot have any successive or evolutionary system without initially preserving the roots from where democracy sprouted. 

After the digitalization of Rilindja Archive will it be shown in other cities besides Prishtina?

Yes. An event will be organized on December 10 in the Faculty of Anthropology at the University of Tirana. After this, I will present Rilindja in every place I visit.K

This conversation was edited for length and clarity.

Feature image: Altin Gashi / K2.0.

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