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Albania’s national literary prizes have been delayed by months – adding to writers’ angst about the little attention they receive from the state.
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Every January Albania’s Ministry of Culture awards a series of prizes for literature that have become an important landmark in Tirana’s literary world.
The ten prizes are for different genres, including poetry, prose and translation as well as the national prize for literature, all named after important literary figures of the past, such as Gjergj Fishta, Fan Noli and the translator Jusuf Vrioni.
However, this year, as Albania celebrates the centenary of its independence, the prizes have yet to be awarded.
The delay started last October, where the jury that selects the winner was supposed to meet.
A rotation of ministers during the May 2011 local elections created an administrative vacuum in the ministry that lasted for nearly two months, which meant delays in several projects.
In December, Bardhyl Londo an adviser to the Culture Minister, Aldo Bumci, warned that the awards would have to be postponed for “technical reasons,” adding that the prizes would likely be awarded in March this year.
In February, Minister Bumci denied reports that the prizes might be scrapped but gave no deadline when the awards would be made.
“There is no doubt that we will hold the national literary prizes but we don’t have a date yet,” Bumci told Balkan Insight.
In July, Balkan Insight inquired again, this time with the books director in the ministry, Ermir Nika, about whether the prizes will be awarded and when.
Nika reconfirmed the minister’s promise that the prizes would be awarded, but again he was not sure when.
“It’s the 100th anniversary of our independence and we want the awards ceremony to be more special than others,” he said.
Although the ministry keeps insisting that the prizes will be awarded it remains unclear why work has not even started on setting up the jury, which will then need at least three months to review the nominations.
If the jury is set up in July, it will not be able to award the prizes until October at the earliest.
While the ministry remains hazy about when the prizes will finally be awarded, writers view the delay with suspicion, adding to reservations about how winners were selected in the past.
Some link the constant delays with the awards to the poor status of the writers’ community in general, describing the community as marginalized on the fringes of public life.
Writer Agron Tufa has been on both sides of the fence in the national literature awards, having once been a member of the jury and having also won the grand prize.
According to Tufa, the delay in composing the jury will leave it little time to review the nominations, which might translate into mistakes and arguments about the verdicts within the writers’ community.
“These are the only national literary prizes that are awarded in Albania and the ministry should set up transparent rules on how they are awarded,” he said.
Writer and literary critic Behar Gjoka goes further, accusing the ministry of mocking writers and their work, while predicting that in all likelihood the prizes will not be awarded at all this year.
“First they took our home,” he said, referring to the fact that the building of the writer’s union is now occupied by the Ministry of Culture.
“Then they closed down our newspaper and magazine, leaving writers in misery, and now they question our work,” he complained.
The delay is not only the only row accompanying the literary prizes. Some writers complain that the selection process for the literary awards is far from transparent.
One critic, writer and publisher, Flutura Acka, says that the holdup in calling the jury is connected to the fait accompli culture of the judges who meet at the last moment in order to reserve the prizes for their friends.
“If one looks at it closely, you will see that the same people are in the jury one year, and then the next year they are awarded the prizes,” Acka said.
“One hand cleans the other - and both stain the face of Albanian literature,” she added.
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
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