Geert Lovink on Sat, 2 Aug 1997 18:23:53 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> interview with Edi Muka - part 2

After the Chaos - A New Beginning for Albania
An Interview with Edi Muka - part 2
By Geert Lovink

Backstage of Hybrid Workspace, Documenta X, Kassel
August 1, 1997

Edi Muka is an Albanian artist teaching new media at the Fine Art Academy
of Tirana. We met for the first time in September '96 at the V2-East
meeting during DEAF in Rotterdam. You can read the first interview we did
at the Syndicate site:
Since then a lot has happened in Albania. Edi Muka made it to the
nettime meeting in Ljubljana ('The Beauty and the East') to report on
the current (media) situation. Now, after the elections of June 29, Edi is
participating in the 'Deep Europe' group which is currently using
the Hybrid Workspace. Here he just finished a summary (in English) of an
essay he wrote about the political crisis in Albania and the positions of
the arts called 'Free Fall in the Albanian Trance'. (Deep Europe newsgroup)

GL: In the Western press, the events of March 1997 in Albania have been
described in blurry and terrifying terms like 'chaos' and 'anarchy'.
Some tried to explain it as a 'civil war',  but it wasn"t quite like
that. Are those terms appropriate? Should we speak of a 'revolt'?
Perhaps for the first time since Budapest 1956, there was an armed
uprising of some sort in Europe.

EM: First of all, we cannot talk in terms of a civil war. It never took
place. I am an anarchist myself and I would never call this anarchy.
The mess in Albania was caused by the leading force, the Democratic
Party and its government. It was a people's protest. The element of
violence we faced was of a very specific nature. There was not any
violence used during the time of the protests. All the protests were
held without any arms, at least on the side of the people. Of course
the police were armed and shot in the air and sometimes in the crowd. At
a certain point, the government surrounded the whole city of Vlora and
intended to send the army there. But at that moment the army disobeyed
and abandoned their positions. That is why we had such a mess. All the
depots and barracks were left alone. The number of people going there,
taking tanks and guns was limited. In response to this, the Democratic
Party made up this story of the South fighting the North. They promised
their supporters very good fees. But on the whole there were very few
military actions, beside some incidents. In Vlora, the (ex-) President
Berisha tried to attack the city and he failed. Another provocation
took place in the small city of Cerrik, where he did send his troops.
The whole city then fought back. Five of the attackers were killed and
then they left the city. Most of the killings happened because of the
guns, once they were out. The gun became a presence in itself, a fetish,
a very active one. But the gun was very material. It is killing people.

GL: What happened to you in this period of unrest?

EM: Basically it started last May, on the 26th, when we had the
parliamentary elections stolen by the Democratic Party. On the
28th, by doing a public beating of the oppositional leaders in the middle
of Tirana they stated that this was going to be the way they rule. It
became dangerous to speak out. Everything was controlled. I know it sounds
rediculous but they were even controlling the e-mail. They were allowing
only one server, the one in the UNDP office. They did not care too much
about the press. There was the oppositional newspaper, the Koha Jone. At a
certain point they beat them up and closed their offices.
I was lucky not to have suffered. I became scared when the students began
protesting because I was deeply involved in that. By the time they got
to my person the uprising in Vlora started so they did not pay so much
attention to the capital. But our internationally well-known artist Edi
Rama was heavily beaten by the secret police of Berisha. He survived
only because of the physics -- he is big enough. Right in front of
his home.

GL: How do you look at the international involvement? There is always the
suspicion of (post) colonial behaviour of Italy. Again, the EU was divided
what to do, like in the case of Bosnia. What did you think of the late
humanitarian intervention and the half-hearted attempts to restore order?

EM: The Albanian case was the consecutive failure of Europe about how to
deaL with the Balkans. This has to do with their strange attitude towards
democracy. I would call it 'context democracy'. There is the Dutch context
and a different democracy there. And they say that this is the kind of
democracy that fits the Albanians. This is how they ended up supporting
Berisha to the very end. This is horrible. He is a dictator. How could
they close their eyes? The EU and all the rest is unable to predict
events. It is true that there is a strong Italian influence. Italy is
forced to be involved in this because of its sea border. The Albanians
would 'attack' Italy with an exodus in case of big trouble. So for the
Europeans it is easy to delegate this case to Italy.
Someone on the street was asked his opinion on the day of the arrival of
the 'multinational force'. He answered that it could have been done in a
much easier way: just make a statement that Berishia should go away. Get
rid of him and then things will start to improve. Why send troops? They
were not really interested in helping Albanians. They wanted to forbid
Albanians to take the boat to Italy. That's all. Everybody was laughing
when they heard about some 'humanitarian' intervention. There was no aid
coming at all. Albania did not need humanitarian aid at all. I know
this because I went to the South to make reports. It was about 400 tons of
beans and 600 tons of flour.

GL: How do look back at the election of June 29 and the change of
government? The situation seems to be stable at the moment.

EM: I was truly amazed about the calm during election day. Everybody had
expected a massacre, or at least fights between the different parties. But
nothing happened, which means that the Albanian people had made up their
mind. Of course, the balance changed in an extreme way. We could not have
expected to have a more center-balanced, pluralistic choice. That is why
the left wing parties won the majority. There is a big willingness to
end all of what happened. The same mistakes will not be made.
On the other side, there are a lot of problems the government has to deal
with. The biggest problems are the guns. It is estimated that there are
about one million Kalashnikoffs around. Nobody was aware that there were
so many weapons in the country. You may have seen pictures on TV of
Albanians carrying five or ten Kalashnikoffs. It was very easy to get
them. The second problem are the losses to individuals in the pyramid
schemes. The new government promised to give back the money. It was not
like this, but in a passionate moment they made this promise. What they
could do is to make transparent where the money went. Berishia tried to
avoid this by any means. I heard that they are organizing armed gangs to
keep the situation destabilized. They sense that if public order is
restored, the money problem will not be so acute anymore. The people now
only want one thing: to have the public order restored.
What I feared most during the troubles was the impact that it will have on
future generations. But the way in which the Albanians dealt with the
elections was a very positive sign. Vlora was the first city to come up
with the election results. No single incident was reported there. It is
amazing how spirit can conquer paranoia.

GL: What are your plans for the coming year? Do you encourage foreigners
to visit you? There is a strange mix of fear of chaos and a curiosity
about it at the same time, an exoticism amongst Westerners when it comes
to Albania. How should an exchange be organized?

EM: Relations have changed in Albania. I no longer belong to the group
that was persecuted. This does not mean that I am in power. I do not like
to be in power and perfer to be in opposition. I would like to see a
professional debate between me and the people that think in a different
way. Not that they are in power and can do whatever they want. 
Practically, I would like to build up a new atelier, an intermedia
department within the Academy of Fine Arts. The attempts are there. The
students are there, but no equipment. I feel that I have a lot of support
now from collegues. It is the right moment to have a positive split of the
arts community. Now it is moment to say: 'I am like this and you are like
that'. We know who we are and what we are doing.
In terms of exchange, we are very open. There is a growing need in the
West also to collaborate with the East. You can see it also in the
different terminology like 'Ex-East' or... 'Deep Europe'. Western
societies are now in a crisis through the impact of technology. In the
past, Western societies used their own points of reference in order to
overcome these crises inside their culture. But now this has changed and
the West now looks outside of its borders for new points of reference.
That is the mechanism, and I also like it. Finally we will no longer be
exotic anymore. I try to make Albanian artists aware of this and wipe out
the inferiority complexes they have. There has been a
projection on Westerners of your own desires. But East Europeans know by
now that the reality of their ideal looks different. This new conciousness
should be used in the new, increasing forms of communication that now open
up. The cultures of the East European countries, or their potentials, can
be used as a counterbalance to the technological nonsense.

Contact Address: Eduard Muka, 105, Tirana, Albania. tel/fax:
++ 355 42 38524.

(edited by Tom Bass)
#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: