Globalization of Culture in Albania – Cultural Hybridization Trends through History

By Gerta Gjata

“No race has made a more continuous struggle for freedom throughout the ages than has the Albanian. Albanian history is one long tale of epic struggles against one invader after the other.”  Edith Durham

Historical factors that have impacted in the Albanian identity, before and after it became a state; include centuries of invasions, two World Wars, fifty years of totalitarianism and two decades of post socialist transition. As the country emerged from socialism (hereafter referred as communism or communist regime) in the 1990s, the light at the end of the tunnel was a world that was experiencing “a process of accelerated connectivity which shapes all human conditions”; it was exposed to a globalizing world.

The essay evaluates impacts of Globalization in reshaping the culture and identity of Albanians in the post socialist period. This research is qualitative, with the use of secondary data. The analysis and review of the data is narrative as it examines the flow and development of ideological and factual events. This kind of review is more appropriate according to Bryman

as it is based on interpretive epistemology which requires a social scientist to grasp the subjective meaning of social action. The image of cultural changes and identity struggles in Albania comes to clarity when viewing the historical background of Albania in three periods: pre-communist, communism and post-communist. The highlights of Albania’s cultural journey will be assessed in terms of theoretical and empirical emphasis on the contrast between isolation and openness to the age of globalization. The fall of the communist regime in Albania cleared the ground for a revival of the culture, traditions, and faith. However the process was not irreversible, the present and the past blended together with the new colorful yet ‘mysterious’ flux of democracy, freedom, and interaction with the world.

“And among all the ebb and flow few have shown themselves more tenacious of their ancestral lands than the Albanians.”

Nostalgically, one devoted to the Albanian history, culture and traditions would express this same saying. However, skimming through history up to the present days, one may view this experience as a phenomenon of cultural hybridization through centuries. An important definition to analyze is that of hybridization of a culture. How does it intertwine with globalization and how does it affect the identity of one’s nation? In order to analyze the above, it is crucial to determine the globalization school of thought that supports this theoretical analysis.

Globalization has been given many definitions by several schools of thought, who despite the controversial notions agree on it being the prism that merges human conditions such as: ‘capitalism, inequality, power, development, ecology, culture, gender, identity and population’.

By appearing in the political, economic and the social spheres, globalization has been reflected in many different perspectives. According to several scholars it has been identified into three main schools of thought: the globalist, skeptics and transformationalists.

The main supporters of this view are the supporters of the Keynesian neo-liberalism, who also refer to globalization as a new stream that has emerged in the past 30 years as a result of the technological revolution and liberalization of markets. The concept is referred largely as synonymous to ‘Westernization’ or ‘Americanization’.

Skeptics on the other hand challenge the globalist approach by considering the globalization phenomena as a process that can be identified centuries before throughout history. They criticize the globalists for considering the ‘ideal’ globalization to be far more important than the state. They believe that more power by the transnational corporations would be destructive, because the state should maintain the most important role as a political and economic regulator in order to support the interests of the home economy. The skeptics blame globalization to be causing a larger North-South economic gap by increasing development in the North and poverty in the South.  The claims for blending the cultural traits throughout the world are attacked to be a destructive force that would cause identity crisis within societies.

The middle ground is occupied by the transformationalists who recognize globalization to be a process of interconnectedness that has been present throughout history however is developed through time and intensified by the development of communication technology.

This is the perspective in which this paper is analyzing.

Globalization features in the Albanian society, as historically influential in shaping the current national identity. According to Stuart Hall postmodern theory  and cultural practices have interest in determining the position of cultural practices in historical formations and political struggles. In terms of national sentiments, there is a noticeable change of the nation-state notion.  The notion of national identity appears to be restructuring especially overpowered by the uncertainties of the democratic transition in the post communist states. In these countries, nationalism takes the separation in two main concepts; the “ethnic” and “civic”. The attempt to explain and validate democracy through combining these two perspectives claims for this method to be the ideal in articulating the notion of democracy.

Bell  sees the accelerated course of globalization, as having the nation-state become ‘too small for the big problems of life, and too big for the small problems of life.’ The former socialist states have made known to be non-nationalist through local territorial representation. This concept of ‘Ethnonationalism’ reveals the clash of the new with the old national sentiments within each country. The attitudes towards a communal attachment, were existent prior to the socialist states imposing such mind-set, and this tradition has survived through the changes. However the environmental separation brings forth clarity; there could be possible conflict within these identities when different religions overlap within.

Identity is one of the main elements in the study of globalization. Globalization is considered to be homogeneous as long as the identity reveals itself as the “analytical tool” that tackles the effects of globalization on culture and its changes. Mayer and Geschiere consider the combination of the two concepts: identity and globalization problematic and dangerous as well as challenging. The authors claim that this blend reveals new perspectives in the study of globalization, because this movement would not only be considered a “flow” but would be attempting to answer most importantly the questions that come up: ‘Who creates new boundaries and securities by which to live, why these are created and against or with whom in short?’

Hybridization is defined as “the ways in which forms become separated from existing practices and recombine with new forms in new practices. ”In many aspects it is a crossover of “global localization and local globalization”. Another phenomenon is hybridity as cultural mélange. ”

“Hybridity unsettles the introverted concept of culture that underlies romantic nationalism, racism, ethnicism, religious revivalism, civilizational chauvinism, and cultural essentialism. Hybridization, then, is a perspective that is meaningful as counterweight to introverted notions of culture; at the same time, the very process of hybridization unsettles the introverted gaze, and accordingly, hybridization eventually ushers in post-hybridity, or transcultural cut-and-paste.”

The origin of the Albanians according to historians, linguists, and other studies is that they are the direct descendants of the ancient Illyrians which were natives of the area they inhabited. Illyrians fell under roman rule at 165 BC, and since then the whole region has played host to wars and foreign occupation.

Some believe that Christianity in the old Illyria started before the Roman invasion. It is distinctive, that unlike other parts of the Roman Empire, the then Illyrians and today Albanians kept their language and traditions, preserved them and protected them from being Latinized. Inevitably there appear traces of cultural influences in language, religion and traditions. “Albanians claim themselves to have been converted to Christianity by St Paul himself, as he said ‘Round about Illyria I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ’.”

On the fall of the Roman Empire and that of the Byzantium, Albania was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. For five hundred years the Ottomans promoted their language and religion, and prohibited the teaching of the Albanian language. Massively people converted to Islam, some through coercion and some conviction, and others locked themselves into enclaves in order to preserve their Christian faith. “..Albania was overwhelmed by Turkish forces, and it was not until November 28th, 1912, that the Powers recognized Albania as an independent State.”

The sentiment of cultural blend in the cultural mélange of Albania throughout the centuries reflects the definition of culture according to Mathew Arnorld, who describes it ‘as sweetness and light, it is the best that has been thought and said, it is essentially disinterested, it is the study of perfection, it is internal to the human mind and general to the whole community, it is a harmony of all the powers that make for the beauty and worth of human nature.’ Culture for him is a social force in opposition to material civilization.

Therefore, as Durham agrees, despite the events that has brought the substance of one’s culture it is proudly treasured and represented by the Albanian people.

Following continuous Wars and struggles Albania went through to the end of wars only to be completely isolated by the new totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha.

Robert Elsie refers to the period after the Second World War as the “apocalypse” for the writers and intellectuals of Albania. Even though many had hopes to finally be able to rebuild the country, their fates were cut short by a “witch hunt” of arrests, tortures, executions or life imprisonments that massively included any writer or intellectual that had studied or travelled abroad before 1944. By 1967 all religious institutions were closed and mainly the catholic ones destroyed. Priests were executed with the accusations for treason through serving the Italian occupation during the Second World War. The same fate had everything else. Censorship and auto censorship became imbedded into the new communist writer, musician, historian, academics and ordinary people. All the human conditions that Pieterse mentions above were either destroyed or reshaped. According to the Albanian politburo this was a necessary revolution in order to destroy enemies work, and build a new communist Albanian man and woman all based in a soviet model.

Elsie mentions over thirty names of writers that were immediately imprisoned or interned. The ones who suffered particularly were the writers of the Scutarine Catholic School, as they were labeled a ‘nest of reaction’. “This extreme action towards the intellectuals broke virtually all cultural traditions, created a literary and cultural vacuum in Albania which lasted until the sixties, the results of which can still be felt today.

” Highlights of these shocking measures include; the destroying of churches, execution of priests and the closing of the Franciscan library known at that time as the richest library in Albania. Soon after, Albania was declared an Atheist state, while all private properties and valuables were possessed by the state, and became state properties.  Nothing was allowed to be linked to the old or the West and all productions had to have a communist element attached to it.

No foreign TV channels were allowed to be watched by the citizens of Albania.

The nature of the communism practiced in Albania as well as the other countries in Eastern Europe is distinctively harsh compared to the notion of the communist ideology originated by Karl Marx.  Even though claiming to follow the Marxist example, the system identifies with what ironically enough Marx himself calls ‘crude communism’. He makes a very interesting distinction of the concept of ‘communism’ from that of ‘crude communism’; crude communism according to Marx is a non genuine form of communism based on antagonizing private property, and emphasizing that all the people of the society should be reduced to ‘similar level’. “Communism will not however, deny the individuality of each person. On the contrary, the whole import of Marx’s discussion is that communist society will allow, in a way which is impossible under prior systems of production, the expansion of the particular potentialities and capabilities of individuals.

In the case of Albania, communism was the crudest and the country was the most isolated in East Europe.

The depiction presented by Vebhiu gives an accurate portrayal of the effects that Italian television had in Albania during the days of isolation.

“…The ultimate result is that ads are viewed as windows to an upper reality. This is the reality where people, and things and behaviors, and actions are light, colorful, beautiful. People are almost always good looking, clean, and well dressed; they all smile and enjoy everything they do, and get extremely happy, even when confronted with a new toothbrush… The repeated contact with mirages or reality beyond the wall, not only created a diffuse desire, but also kept it alive for a sufficiently long time so that desire could loose its initial property of being a[n]… impulse for action, and become a state of mind, similar to profuse, disinterested love.”

For Vehbi as well as for many Albanians that would have had such an experience, the risk of that glimpse could be costly to life. Despite the extreme oppression and censoring limitations, the Albanian literature started to recover. After two decades of following the Soviet Example, the Dictator Enver Hoxha decided to break his relations with USSR and proclaimed a newborn confidence within the Communist Party, which allowed expression of resentment towards the Soviet System and pride towards the Albanian model. Often throughout literary analogies the writers were able to express the passion of not only detaching Albania from USSR but through thick layers of literary figures often expressing a hope for escape from the socialist model. However the ones that were able to portray such literary figures and be successful to survive within the system were the brave ones. Many more were imprisoned or tortured under accuses of derision towards the Party or the dictator himself.

Ismail Kadare is one of the Albanian authors who remain an international writer and was able to survive through the system. Kadare used the techniques of Aesopian language to provide an alternative image to Albania to that propagated by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha.(Morgan, 2008)

One of the most crucial writings of his career, the book titled “The Shadow” was written in 1984-1986 in the years after the dictator’s death when the pressure felt to ease up. However in fear that this isolation would continue for life, he succeeds to smuggle out the book through a French visitor with agreement to have it deposited at a French bank and published after the author’s death. Luckily the system fell in 1990 which allowed Kadare to move to Paris and later on publish the book, which openly described and criticized the obscurities of the communist regime through the years. “’The Shadow’, can be interpreted as an extended work of autobiography, a voyage from silence, from the cold and grey of the Stalinist East to the creative freedom and bustle of the ville lumiere, where Kadare ultimately chose to reside.”

Finally in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall, the dismantling of communism and Soviet Union, Albania ripped out the iron curtain and became a country with a pluralist system.

There was a major change in Albania with the opening of the country to the world, often perceived as the window to freedom. Religion institutions were re-established and the few religious priests and imams lucky to be alive were set free from prison. Also mass migration occurred as jobs were scarce and Albanians were eager to immigrate, as an immediate means to make up for lost time. Mainly emigration was directed on the neighboring countries Italy and Greece. This brought to the emergence of the new Albanian Diaspora and formation of transnational families. A heavy concentration to learn foreign languages was evident in early democratic Albania, especially English, French, and Italian. Foreign products such as jeans, chewing gums, luxury soaps, chocolates and other assortments that did not exist in the shops during communism entered the market.

This made way for international companies and institutions to emerge as well.  “A new class is emerging and it is the transnational capitalist class, composed of corporate executives, globalizing bureaucrats and politicians, globalizing professionals, and consumerist elites.”

This straightforward methodology, common in much theoretically-informed empirical social science, incorporates both agency and structure, in this case investigating individuals who are powerful by virtue of their institutional positions and the institutions from which they derive their power.”

With the appearance of market economy, the foreign products thrived in every new shop now privately owned, private TVs and Radios started to launch and the foreign movies and music re entered Albania to fill a long thirsty nation, and finally the people of the republic of Albania were allowed to have private properties and exercise entrepreneurship. Albania also experienced continuous struggles through massive state failure and breakdown of protests.

As Albania exited the period of ‘crude communism’ it has been clearly marked in its history as the period of infringement of the culture, identity, and progress. Throughout all the struggles, the effects caused by the communist regime have been the most scarring, and depriving towards the modernization of the culture. Giddens identifies the modern social institutions to have been developed and been very beneficial to creating opportunities that allow great improvements in commodities as well as human life style by many means. However modernity has not been all positive, it also has a dull side of it that has been brought to light by both Marx and Durkheim, who refer to the modern era as being ‘troubled’. Max Weber particularly referred to modernity as a ‘paradoxical era in which material progress was obtained only at the cost of an expansion of bureaucracy that crushed individual creativity and autonomy.’

Giddens considers globalization as one of the consequences of modernity. He makes the assessment that, while the social relations have inevitably expanded through globalization, it has been evident that the regional and local cultures have strengthened their cultural identities. For the Albanian case, this theory describes the scale of change in the three different aspects rather than in a chronological order. However it clearly identifies the outcomes as a result of globalization.

“Migrations, Diasporas and multiculturalism, decentralization and the emergence of nongovernmental organizations and social movements- local and transnational- are tugging away at this format, slowly prefiguring different kinds of political dispensation.” These social phenomena come to play as the tool to cultural hybridization in the post 1990’s.

From a country with one national TV station and one radio there are now over 50 TV channels national and local. The majority of the format that the Media uses is either copied in the West mainly Italian style or directly extracted from their programs. Albanians now prefer Western shows, songs, movies and styles. Appadurai’s five dimensions of flow explain a pattern that the Albanian society has experienced, as of the 1990’s; Ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes; and financiascapes. These are streams of development within images and ideas but defined more specifically as political which according to Appadurai reflect the mélange of influences that are not easy to determine in black and white but need analyses as overlapping processes.

Albania is a fascinating example to illustrate the rapid openness to globalization after several decades of extreme isolation. Henderson and Robertson refer to Albania as an exception to the rest of the East European Communist countries. “It was the poorest, least known and most isolated European Country”.

Taken in perspective from the tranformationalist view of globalization, the country has historically been influenced by the hybridization of culture up to the communist regime in 1945. The attempts to shrink the culture and creativity through censoring have highly damaged the cultural wealth, and affected its development in post-socialism. After the fall of communism, the openness to the world reencountered the country with globalization.

In conclusion, with the fall of communism and the reopening to the world, Albania reenters the globalization waves, now at a faster paste than ever before. Therefore, apart from the communist period, Albania historically has been under the effects of cultural hybridization. This overview of a general historical background gives way to possible future research in the case of the Albanian culture within particular epochs.  It is particularly worth exploring in the post-socialist era to determine specific influences through social trends such as, religion, media, migration, etc. Both cases may bring new interesting perspectives to the trends of cultural hybridization.

The Author Holds a Master of Arts on Globalisation, Transition & Development -from Westminster University, London UK




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