Austria meets Albania: Interview with H.E. Roland Bimo on the „Cultural Year Albania-Austria 2018“

2018 is the “Cultural Year Albania-Austria” an initiative of the Austrian ministry for Europe Integration Foreign Affairs, created to promote relations between Austria and the counties of the Western Balkan. SOCIETY spoke with the Albanian Ambassador to Austria, H.E. Roland Bimo about the project.

This year marks the start of the „Cultural Year Albania-Austria 2018“, that was officially opened with the concert „Vienna salutes Tirana“ in November 2017 by former Austrian president Dr. Heinz Fischer and the Albanian president Ilir Meta. Over 100 events – concerts, theatre, dance performances as well as film screenings, exhibitions and journalistic projects will take place this year in both countries. What are the highlights of this cooperation?

Many thanks to you and “SOCIETY Magazin” for your initiative and interest. Vienna is well known as one of the biggest and most crowded cultural scenes of the world. In this context, it is indeed a pleasure to see that opening of the Cultural Year Austria Albania 2018 has been noted. It was a very good beginning and naturally was a great honor that “Vienna salutes to Tirana” was opened by such a personality as former President Heinz Fischer and Albanian President, Ilir Meta.

The thrust of the activities you mentioned, evolve very much around the motto and the logo of the year “to rediscover together” which in the Albanian language reads more like to rediscover what is in common. Focus will be on the long historical cultural relations between Albania and Austria, dating back to the time of the Austrian monarchy. The message that will be conveyed will be that the excellent relations between Albania and Austria have a very long tradition. The beginning of our cultural ties can be traced to the 19th century. During the “Cultural year Austria Albania 2018” multidimensional relations between two countries will be explored from different perspectives. The program of the year will include a wide range of cultural activities in different fields like history, literature, fine arts, cinematography, music, science and intercultural dialogue. Culture has been a special glue in binding our nations together.

Austrian researchers have been contributing to the field of Albanian studies and Austrian diplomats and politicians to the Europeanization of Albanian politics. From Gustav Meyer to Franz Vranitzky, the list is long and full of inspiring personalities.  Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama once said that “…. it is true that researchers of Albanian studies and Balkan studies have to go at least once through Vienna archives, if they want to have a good dissertation or a good scholarly article.”

Austria Albania cultural year provides a great opportunity for deepening and further developing exchange between young artists. It may serve as an inspiration for new ideas and concepts for future cooperation.

The aim of the project is, according to the official statement to „expand and deepen the cultural ties between Austria and Albania.“ You have been Ambassador to Austria since 2014, what are your impressions on the similarities of the two countries? What would you like the Austrian public to know about Albania and vice versa?

Cultural policy has been traditionally an important element of Austria’s European and foreign policy. This was taken to new heights by the visionary cultural policy of former Federal Minister, now Chancellor, Mr. Sebastian Kurz, who created the idea of a cultural year four years ago during a lunch meeting with the countries of the Western Balkan.

To state the obvious, culture plays a particular role to the image that a nation and a country enjoys in the eyes of the people from other countries.

Promotion of the Albanian culture, that embodies our national identity, takes a special importance to match image with reality.

It is widely acknowledged that culture is one of the most efficient instruments for overcoming barriers, be it political, religious, historical or geographical and it contributes to the communication and understanding of different nations.

During 2018, it is worth bringing back some facts to the young generations of the Austrians and Albanians, about the importance that Vienna and Austria had in the education and professional upbringing of a significant number of Albanian intellectuals in science, visual arts, education, medical doctors and engineers, military professionals, musicians etc., that have played a crucial role in Albania’s social and economic development since its independence.

On the other side, it is an opportunity to bring to the attention of the Austrian public to the achievements of the Albanian culture in painting and visual art in general, cinematography, literature, diversity of the folk costumes, classical, modern and folk music, etc. In many of these, there is an Austrian connection.

Part of “rediscover together” can also be honoring Albanian talents that have been and are an enrichment for the Austrian cultural scene. For example Alexander Moissi, the actor of Albanian origin, who is one of the most famous and important actors of his time in Vienna and beyond. Today, some Albanian-born artists are present in important Viennes cultural institutions, such as Eno Peçi, solo dancer of the Ballet of the Vienna State Opera and Shkelzen Doli, member of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Albanians living in Austria constitute a very important link to the relations between our countries including cultural exchange. There will be some cultural activities like literature readings, painting exhibitions co-organized by the Embassy of Albania and the League of Writers of Albania in Austria. From their cultural activities one can clearly see how well they are integrated in the Austrian society and how they are an enrichment to a diversified culture.

Having 2018 as Austria Albanian Cultural Year constitutes a unique opportunity to promote Albanian culture, to highlight its historical heritage and modern development. I think that the cultural year Austria Albania is an enrichment of the concept of European cultural Identity. Cultural activities will show the European roots of the Albanian culture. It can be of certain interest to (re)discover that Albania has been able to develop a national culture against the backdrop of a multi religious society, practically very much united in diversity. Religious tolerance and harmony in Albania has been underpinned by building a communal identity, which is our Albanian culture.

To what extent is the embassy of Albania involved in the Cultural Year? Are there any side events taking place in the building?

The Embassy has had a fruitful cooperation with the Cultural Department of the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs and i.e., participated in consultations for publishing a bilingual book on the cultural year, which will be a lasting contribution for the presentation of the Albanian art, culture and literature to the Austrian and Albanian public as well as to the deepening the knowledge about our historical and cultural ties.

In the honor of our national hero Georg Kastrioti-Skandergeb, whose sword and helmet are owned by the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer Museum in Vienna, Albania has proclaimed 2018 as an all-nation year of Skanderbeg. Combining two events, Cultural Year and the Year of Scanderbeg, the Embassy will organize some activities with regards to the role of Scanderbeg in the history of Albania and its European orientation.

Photo and painting exhibitions will open at the Embassy with an emphasis of the Austrian Families living in Albania.

Promoting Albanian literature will be among the highlights of the cultural activities. A number of reading evenings will be held in Vienna and other cities in Austria.

The activities of the Embassy will aim at the promotion of prominent personalities and successful careers of the citizens of Albanian origin living in Austria and their integration into Austrian society.

What are the historical bonds between Austria and Albania and what does it mean for the future relations between the two countries?

An account of historical bonds between our two countries is provided in the work of Prof. Kurt Kurt Gostentschnigg, “Science between Politics and Military” which is a scientific presentation of the relations between Austro-Hungary and Albania in science, politics, economy, military and culture during the First World War. This book is promoted during the year in Albania and Austria.

Johann Georg von Hahn, Gustav Meyer, Norbert Jokl, Maximilian Lambertz and many other Austrians, are founding fathers of the Albanologie (Albanian Studies)

Austria has been one, if not the main supporter of the Albania’s independence. Simultaneously, with an obvious contribution in protecting and helping development of the Albanian culture.  The cultural year is one the best ways we revisit the traditional bonds of friendship and deepen the mutual understanding.

Nowadays, Austria is in the forefront of supporters of Albania’s European Integration efforts. We have an extensive economic cooperation where Austrian companies are very much present in different fields of the Albanian economy, like banking and insurance, energy, infrastructure, etc.

Austria and Vienna are increasingly becoming more attractive for Albanian students and scholars.

Austria and Albania share the same view about the importance of the stability of the Western Balkans and its integration into the European Union to the wellbeing and security of Europe. Albania and Albanians are an important factor and contributor to the stability of the region of the Western Balkans.

The “Berlin Process”, where Austria is one of the most active players, has positively turned around relations between the countries of the Western Balkans and their relations with the European Union and Austria. Cultural exchange is the best hope for a better understanding of the past as a solid foundation for the future.

The Cultural year will give a new impetus to the interpersonal relations and deepen the understanding of nations and people to the benefit and prosperity of all of us. I am sure that cultural year will have an additional positive impact with regards to our efforts for the integration into the European Union. Cultural year Austria Albania will enhance our cooperation and will tap into new possibilities for further strengthening our excellent relations.

For further information, look here :https://www.bmeia.gv.at

Fotocredits: BMEIA, Lehner

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