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23 May 11

From Newborn to the Pimpsons: How Fisnik Ismaili Went from Hope to Anger

In 2008, Fisnik Ismaili devised the monument to Kosovo’s independence, an assemblage of large yellow letters in Pristina that spells out NEWBORN and which became an icon of hope for the young country. Today he pens the Pimpsons, the country's most acerbic political commentary.

Nate Tabak

Ismaili, the creative director of ad agency Ogilvy Kosovo, took an active role in Partia Fryma e Re or the FeR when it formed in the fall of 2010.

Fisnik Ismaili, author of The Pimpsons

With the party fractured after it failed to win any parliamentary seats, Ismaili joined the nationalist Vetevendosje when it absorbed the remnants of FeR in March.

Shortly thereafter Ismaili started producing “The Pimpsons.”

It’s a digital comic on Facebook that uses “Simpsons” characters an oft-profane, sexually charged satire of Kosovo politics.

Ismaili recently produced his 50th “Pimpsons” comic.

Q: As the person behind NEWBORN, the symbol of optimism for this new state, to three years later come out with something that reflects a lot of cynicism on your part, does that mirror a personal transformation in terms of how you view Kosovo?

A: Of course it has, and the two are connected because when I created newborn it was done with the best of intentions. And it reached what I planned to do that night when we declared independence —it was shown all over the world.

But after that, although it became the monument to independence of Kosovo, it has been neglected for three years.

I’ve been trying to maintain it, I’ve been trying to take care of it, but I’ve always been refused by the authorities to do so. They wouldn’t do anything about it, and they wouldn’t let me do anything about it because I needed some licences.

They would refuse. Then I slowly realised that I’ve done this huge thing for whom? For people who ignore it and people who don’t care about it, so then I started feeling not to say angry, but I just felt that this government doesn’t really care about anything and they need a voice, I felt I could in a way be the voice of a certain group of people who would be telling them our concerns.

Q: What led you to start the Pimpsons?

A: It was extremely spontaneous. It happened the night when three political parties together with the US ambassador decided to agree on the choice of a new president.
They presented the name; everyone was thanking each other and patting each other on the back. There was a moment when Ambassador Dell tapped the shoulder of Isa Mustafa, Mayor of Pristina. That looked so artificial. The whole process was so unconventional, so unconstitutional. I myself felt sick when I saw at.

At that very moment, I thought of one of the characters from the Simpsons, the Comic Book Guy, who resembles the ambassador.

And that image just wouldn’t leave my head.  So as soon as I got home, I took that character and some other characters from the Simpsons, put them together, made my first episode, a mockup, a parody of the Simpsons. I called it the Pimpsons because I consider these people to be the pimps of Kosova who put it on sale for everyone to do as they please. Just like pimps do. Then this episode came out. It was fun. It was vulgar. It was totally uncensored. Honestly, I had in mind just to make one.

Q: Dell plays a very prominent role in these episodes, many of which are sponsored by “Dell Beer” in lieu of Duff.  Why is this?

A: All the shady deals that are happening in Kosovo seem to come from him, and in my own honest opinion, I think Christopher Dell does not represent the US interests in Kosovo. At times even breaking our constitution, which I find repulsive, knowing that an American would never allow anyone to break the constitution.

Q: So who is your Comic Book Guy Dell? What does he do –how does think?

A: He thinks he rules the place, he thinks he can manipulate everyone to do what he says. In fact all the other characters always answer with “yes boss” first and then start talking. They always have to take permission from him to talk. And whatever he tells them, they have to do it. And there is an episode where he looks out his window at the US embassy and he considers the whole of the city, Pristina, as his monarchy. And he can do with it what he pleases.

Q: Did you expect there to be so much attention? Obviously you have a lot experience in advertising and marketing, so perhaps you had some idea that using these icons of popular culture would resonate with people who maybe otherwise wouldn’t be engaged by the politics here.

A: In a way, I knew it would raise interest. It’s not the first time I’ve been doing this. I put out slogans, and stirred people with my Facebook status. I’ve been around on the Internet on social networks for a while. And everything I do is through the social networks: criticizing the government, criticising who runs the country but isn’t doing a good job of it. This is what I’ve been doing for last four to five years.

This was one of my latest things to put out. But this had a tendency to continue, whereas things in the past were done as one-off. Now, when I published the first episodes, I realised it’s something that can keep on going. I did expect people to like it, but I never expected to get 9,000 fans in two weeks.

Q: What does that amount of support say to you?

A: It says that a lot of people agree with me. What I write there are things people are too afraid to say in the streets, in the cafés. Let alone publically say it on TV. And they find that apart from me saying what they think, they find people who don’t follow politics, they find this, and they actually call it “The Idiots Guide to Kosovar Politics” because every episode is very actual and connects with the news – whatever is happening that day or the day before. So people sort of follow Kosovar politics though my comic book rather than by reading the news.

Q: So there’s an element of journalism to it?

A: Yes and this is done intentionally because I want to me people aware that there are many things here that are done wrong, and people should realize that who to blame for the situation in Kosovo today — and there are alternatives for that. People are the ones who can change things.

People are the ones who can actually make that change. But first they have to become aware of who’s doing what. To a point you find out through the media — but the media are controlled by the people in power. So then I give them some extra information, some inside information that I find out through my sources.

Q. Describe your favourite episode.

A: Every three or four episodes there’s a character who goes for a visit to the doctor.  And they all have a condition. In Kosovo, the equivalent of sucking up to your boss is we say by entering their anus. So the whole person enters the anus. So one of the funniest episodes is of this journalist who sucks up to the prime minister so much that he’s stuck in his anus. And the doctor describes what the prime minister suffers from. And it’s not only my favourite episode —but the whole city talks about it quite a bit.

Q: What’s your process for creating these episodes?

A: I don’t’ have a special process. I just sit down. I go through the news. Through the gossip that people send me. I got through the emails and message people send me. I confirm my information through my sources. Once I have something that I can actually talk about, I start processing it. While I’m drawing it or putting the pictures together, I come up with a copy, with a text, it just happens spontaneously every time.

Q: How do you think “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening would feel about the appropriation of his characters?

A: If he could understand what I can write and if he could understand the political situation in Kosovo, he would probably send me three or four people to help me out. And find it very hilarious.

Q: So this is your version of going to the streets, and in a sense, raising hell?

A: Kosovo is in such a situation that people should be on the streets as we speak. I found it quite amazing that they’re not. The main reason is that we’ve been going out on the street in the 80s and 90s so much against the Serbs that now that we got rid of the Serbs and have our own country, we sort of say “Oh, well, maybe it’s not good to raise against our own people because we used to do this against an enemy, and now it’s just not right to raise up against our own people”. That’s the main reason that actually stops people, otherwise they should be out as we speak.

Q: You talk about the situation here –and how it’s really bad. What is going on here that’s so wrong?

A: In my view, everything that can possibly go wrong is going wrong. We have a bunch of incompetent people who are running these people.

Incompetent in terms of their knowledge, in terms of their education, in terms of their merits of being in crucial positions. And the mix of all these three creates a failed government that is running this place by pushing it unwillingly —meaning against the will of the people.

The people in power right now don’t do anything for the will of the people. This isn’t the Kosovo I fought for 12 years ago.

Q: In “The Pimpsons”, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is played by Rainier Wolfcastle, the Simpsons character inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  You skewer Thaci as someone who rides coattails on his wartime credentials. What does this say to have this kind of criticism come from you, a person who served in the Kosovo Liberation Army?

A: Thaci may have fought in the KLA, but to have the cheek and come out and say that he — indirectly, through other people —to say that he was the one who freed this place and he’s the sole person who takes the merit for freeing and fighting for this place, excuse me, there are other people who fought for this place, including myself, so I will not allow for a political party to sort of personalise the war and take all the merits for themselves.

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