Stuck on Nostalgia

Stuck on Nostalgia

Ish-Kinostudio, Ish-Eksposita, Ish-Kombininati, ish Blokku, ish Misto Mame, ish Fusha Aviation, Lek i vjeter, Pazari i ri…

1 lek

These and others, are examples of modern day places and things, that are no longer actively relevant, yet remain the preferred name. Ish translates as “former” and vjeter is “old”. So why do we insist on referring to things by what they once were, and not what they are? Is it laziness, or ignorance, or is it nostalgia?

It is certainly not laziness, as the effort used to argue between old and new lek is monumental. And it is surely not ignorance, as any literate person can clearly read the number printed on the money, or read a street sign.

Albania is a country seemingly looking to move on from their oppressed Communist past, and yet so many subtle indicators show that the country is still deeply rooted in those times, and often with a very fond nostalgia. It seems as though many residents of this country wear “nostalgia glasses”. Just as sunglasses block out the sun, these Nostalgia glasses block out the present. While wearing nostalgia glasses, one can also speak of the beauty and splendor of Albania, while ignoring the trash and disruptions that are present virtually everywhere.

There are many possibilities to explore, and I will begin with family composition in the household. In Albania, generally families live in large multi-generational units. These units often consist of grandparents, parents and children living together or in close proximity. In many cases both the grandparent and the parent would have been familiar with the former term of something, such as old lek or Eksposita. Thus, their continued use by the older generation could play a major role in the younger’s use of the term. This might be a logical explanation for why young children understand and use ‘old lek’. It is often said that Albania has one of the youngest populations in Europe, however it must also be considered that the older population remains a dominant part of social life, possibly stifling the youth’s development and usage of modern terms. Either way, there is a large communication between young and old, and somewhere along the way, the young are learning things from the older generations, that simply are not relevant today, yet somehow are made not only relevant, but the norm.

Media also has a major role to play, and it is one that is failing. The role of media is to convey reality to the people, yet, for whatever reason popular TV shows that give out cash prizes always refer to old lek, even at times in the title of the show! It is a form of surrealism, of which we have written in the past. These TV shows can suggest the cash prize is 1 million lek, or 500 million lek, and hide behind the fact that they refer to old lek, which is a number 10 times greater than new lek. Every single time an interview takes place on TV, there is always an additional comment or confusion as to whether old or new lek is being discussed. Added to this confusion is the newcomers in the country, who have no previous experience with old lek, and are dumbfounded when a vender insists that the 500 written on the banknote reads as 5000. More often than not, prices of public tenders or contracts are reported by the media in old lek. Although politicians create the laws and created the new lek, they also refer to old lek, and former place names, and politicians dominate the media coverage. Business also commonly list their address as “next to” or “across from” a former landmark rather than the actual address. Tv Klan, for example, lists their address on Aleksander Moisiu Street, yet adds “close to Ish-Kinostudio”.

While common people may be excused from using colloquial terms, which in these cases are a sort of street slang, it is completely inexcusable for media and government to use these terms, as they simply are not true at this point in time.

Another possibility for the continued usage could be that there are so many Albanian migrants who had left the country when these terms were relevant, only to have since returned and continue to use the names that were in use when they left, but this is a rather extreme possibility.

Regarding the place names, Pazari i ri, or the new bazaar, was established to replace the old bazaar which was situated where the current Palace of Culture is, in Skanderbeg Square. Construction of the Palace of Culture began in 1959, so I would assume Pazari I ri must date to around that time, or about 50-60 years ago. Ironically, the new bazaar is situated in Old Tirana.

The area known as ish-Kombinati was once the location of several factories, including one named in honour of Joseph Stalin, and the word Kombinat translates as “combine”, referring to the workers in those factories. The factories, however were largely destroyed by the people after the fall of communism, yet the name has stuck.

kombinat 1964
Kombinat, 1964

The new Ministry of Culture, is now situated in the former Kinostudio, on Aleksander Moisiu street. Surely everyone in Tirana knows where is ish-kinostudio, but likely less than 1 in 10 people in the city know where Aleksander Moisiu street is. Eksposita doesn’t physically exist anymore, but is still a common reference point, even though the street that passes it is named in honour of Gjergj Fishta, who is a national literary icon, born in the 19th century and the first Albanian to be nominated for the Nobel Prize.

ish eksposita

This could have to do with the fact that many street names are recent in the country, thus reference points are needed for orientation. Yet it seems very strange for a young person, or a newcomer to refer to a place that is no longer there. This is not likely to change, and although the Train Station of Tirana has recently been destroyed, it is unlikely that the area where it stood will ever be referred to as the East side of the Boulevard, or any other name for that matter, and that area will continue to be referred to as the Train Station.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because a two level society has been created, where one group uses a particular set of terms that have no base in the present, and another group who uses the terms that are clear and evident. Essentially, it is a second language that is learned only through submersion into the culture, causing a false reality, and an extreme loyalty to the past. If this loyalty to the past is so prevalent, then it is a loud and clear indicator that the citizens value their cultural heritage of that period, just not in a way that can be learned in a book or a classroom, but through the wearing of “nostalgia glasses”.