After 50 years of central control, the book industry in Albania was exposed to the free market and faced with the task to become an important factor in the efforts of building an open and democratic society in Albania. 1991 is the year when private publishing was allowed by law. The fall of the communist system and the velvet transition into political pluralism, may be considered as the fall of the political censorship. However, another censorship was on the horizon, i.e., the soc-called economic censorship.
The Open Society Foundation for Albania concentrated its efforts into relieving the burden of this new censorship to the maximum extent possible. The institution by the Foundation of a specially dedicated publishing program highlighted the importance of the book as a product of high public interest. The program’s aims were to encourage the publishing of works by contemporary authors, improve local book production, promoted the free circulation of the book over the entire Albanian territory, and contribute to the improvement of reading skills and the critical mode of thinking. The Book Program was a great support to the national publishing efforts including the system of libraries and the culture of reading.
The Information Program launched in the year 2000, was the result of merging into one single program the Libraries Program (in existence since the year 1993) and the Internet Program (in existence since 1997). But the information Program focused in other mediums, too. In addition to publishings, support was also provided to private radios, TV channels, the cinema (especially as regards the production of documentaries), the journals and the magazines. A special contribution in this filed was made by the Internet Program, thanks to the establishment and operation of a number of digital lines which provided access to various services including publications. It was thanks to the OSFA internet program that intellectuals and various advanced categories of the Albanian society were introduced to the digital technology. Among the most important and remarkable contributions of the Publishing program mention can be made of:
The Book and Communications House
The publishing of the column of “Albanian thinking”
Books for an Open Society
The libraries and Internet
The National Strategy of Information and Communication Technology
The Book and Communications House
The Book and Communications House was created as an independent spin-off in January of 2001. Up until that time, it had been one of the successful programs of the Open Society Foundation for Albania. However, despite of the spinning off, OSFA continued to be one of the main donors of the Book and Communciations House. The organization offers information, expertise and a variety of communication services and continues to make possible the translation and publishing into Albanian of a number of representative works of Western civilization, especially in the social sciences.
Jointly with other publishing houses in Albania, the BCH has made possible the appearance of the column “The Albanian Universe”. This series of works count important contributions of the Albanian thought and culture, including albanological works. The publishing program served as a genuine translation school of the Albanian translators who were making efforts to follow in the footsteps of renowned Albanian translation personalities. Translation trainings and the price “Jusuf Vrioni” for the best translator went to the best translators in their respective fields of whom mention can be made of E. Tupja, Z. Simoni, Xh. Lloshi, B. Shehu etc.
In view of the great volume of titles published in Albanian and the absence of an updating and counseling service to orient the reader, the BCH established a web site with cultural and informational materials called “Babel”, available at - www.babel.com.al – or the guide through the Albanian book market. “Babe” provides information about the majority of new books in the Albanian language, recommendations of books deserving of the reader’s attention, information on events connected to the books and discussions in the Albanian cultural universe. However, it also provides information on the world’s publishings and the international intellectual debate. A special place is dedicated to the Balkans and the Mediterranean.
The Book and Communications House has played a great role also in helping the specialized Albanian actors as regards exchanges and professional discussions. Thanks to support from the BCH, a number of celebrities and famous individuals have been visiting Albania to discuss their most recent translations in the Albanian language. Mention can be made of personalities like Gabriel Partos, George Castelan, Salleo, etc. Similar activities have been organized with the participation of renowned Albanian writers like Ismail Kadare and Fatos Kongoli, on which occasions “literary coffees” has been shared by those participating in these reading and commenting events.
The “Albanian thought” collage
The publishing collage deducated to the “Albanian thought” has served to attain one of the main purposes of the OSFA Publishing Program, i.e., the ushering of the Albanian intellectuals into the rich universe of ideas on the development of society, politics and the economy which could have an impact on Albania’s progress. This collage has had a direct impact on the encouragement of critical thinking on the various aspects of the Albanian society, thus paving the way for divorce with the rule of a compliance and submissive culture.
In this manner, the Albanian book stock was enhanced with important works in the field of history, culture, and philology like: Pjetër Bogdani’s “Letters and documents”, Gjergj Fishta’s “Aesthetics and criticism”, Faik Konica’s “Works”, Father Anton Harapi’s “Spiritual value” and “Babel Tower”, Branko Merxhani’s “Formulas of Neo-Albanianism” , Vangjel Koça’s “On the way of albanianism”, Lumo Skëndo’s “Knowledge”, Marie Kraja’s “Lost years”, Tajar Zavalani’s “History of Albania” and “Mission of Century XX”, Hamdi Bushati’s “Shkodra over the years”, Kristo Frashëri’s “The Albanian league of Prizren”, Roberto Moroco dela Roca’s “Nationality and religion in Albania” (1920-1944), Mark Tirtja’s “Views over the Albanian mythology”, Jorgo Bulo’s “The magic and magicians of the word”, etc.
In addition, the Youth Program contributed to the publishing of a number of young authors’ creations. At that time many of these young people were anonymous, but ten years later, they have become important names of the Albanian creative world. Mention can be made of the first books by R. Zekthi “The hours of welding do not drive you crazy” (poetry): L. Duraj with “Music in the car” (poetry); Rudi Erebara with “The view is on” (poetry); Gerti Pashaj with “Return to childhood” (poetry); Marsela Gucaj with “The grey Tuesday” (poetry); Albri Brahusha with “Ignorantia”, (stories); Shpëtim Kelmendi with “Nirvana”, (novel); Lindita Arapi with “Occurrence in the soul” (poetry), etc.
Books for an Open Society
“Books for an Open Society” have been the most precious of all collages of publishings supported by the Regional Publishing Center of the Open Society Institute in Budapest in the context of the Translations Program of the Central European University. They came at a time when the Albanian reader was eager to have access to the great masters of contemporary thinking. Through them and thanks to these books, the numerous Albanian readers became aware that the 50 year long dictatorship had instilled a one-way communication and had promoted cultural isolation, while forcing the ideologisation of history. In this way, the number of supporters of cultural dialogue after the nineties increased substantially and the need became urgent as never before.
Thanks to this collage, in the Albanian public discourse were introduced the concepts of cultural diversity, acceptance of the other and multiculturalism as well as multi ethnicity and coexistence. Many of these books taught the Albanians that one of the key issues for integration not just in Europe, but also in the universe of the values of civilized world society, was the emancipation of the self. This is a complex process, a process of self analysis, of social position and civilization trend. The Albanian readers, especially the intellectuals, the professors and academia, including the students have appreciated particularly such works as “Philosophical wonder” by Jeanne Hersch; “What democracy is” by Giovanni Sartori; “The Modern Social Conflict” by Ralf Dahrendorf, “Civilization” by Ceneth Clark; “Popular Culture in Europe in the beginnings of a new era” by Peter Bruke; “Republic” by Plato, etc.
The appearance and longevity of the various magazines in a society is an indication of the level of access to information, the level of intellectual debate and the level of education and cultural knowledge of the relevant society. This was the rationale behind the OSFA commitment to support newspapers and magazines. Special attention went to the magazines published by the Academy of Sciences. In the circumstances of lack of financial resources, OSFA’s decision was based on reasoning that support for these magazines meant support for the intellectual debate in Albania and the raising of professionalism of publications and quality of writings.
Support went to magazines in the field of research and study in Albanological sciences in general such as ‘Illyria”, “Folk Culture”, “Historical Studies”, “Philological Studies”, etc. They were considered to be the most important tribunes of albanological research and study. The support contributed to the quality and longevity of these magazines.
However, a number of the magazines supported by OSFA came of out circulation once OSFA support was interrupted because of hardships in the Albanian market of the media. Some of them, though, managed to survive and became self-sufficient and continued to appear for a long time. Among them are “Sports World”, ‘Music and Spectacle”, “Light”, etc.
However, there is no doubt that support was most successful for magazines of a scientific and divulging nature, of which mention can be made of "Satire" (Albanian: Hosteni); “The star of light”, "Chri-Chri", “Klan”, “Aleph”, "Balkan", the quarterlies “Visual art”, “Legal Tribune", "Health for all”, etc.
Internet and Libraries
The Information Program, established in the year 2000, is the result of integrating into one single program the Libraries (since 1993) and the Internet Program (since the year 1997). The establishment of the Internet Program in 1997 was marked by putting up in March 1997of the first internet antenna in the country. This coincided with the time of national collapse and all-round crisis brought about by the fall of the pyramid schemes. In the conditions of extreme weakness of the governmental institutions, but also of other democratic structures, the installation of the digital era in Albania was perceived to be the fastest and most democratic way of informing and forming the public opinion. The need was clearly evident and the urgency for making digital information available to the Albanians was crucial to the future of the country. This was a reliable and fast way not just for the simple information of the Albanians, but also a necessary tool for study and research and above all for distance learning, independent and life long study through access to foreign training and knowledge resources.
In this period, for the first time ever, the teaching institutions and the NGO-s benefited from internet access free of charge and free e-mail connectivity. This gave them a fast and reliable way for communication and exchange of information. Academic institutions were connected into the ANET which provided additional opportunities for academic staff and students in Albania to acquire the skills associated with modern ICT and the benefits they bring. The Internet Center run by OSFA took on the role of providing services and training on ICT especially for the educational institutions and the NGO-s in the country. This was made possible through a number of workshops, seminars and other information sharing and exhange forms.
Initial investment was dedicated to the construction and upgrading of memory preserving institutions like the libraries, archives, museums and galleries which would soon assume the proportions of a complete system. The need soon emerged to provide on line connection to the libraries in the country. This was necessitated by the requirement to ensure exchange between the center (the National Library) and the other terminals. More specifically, work focused on:
- Computerization, cataloguing and transfer of all bibliographic records;
- The listing of all new entries into the National Library (especially the unique copy);
- Access to distance learning for all those with an interest in self learning and education;
- Communication of all initiatives dedicated to promotion of reading, to disseminate information and enable people to benefit from such methods.
National Strategy on Information and Communication Technology
Open Society cannot be imagined and much less enabled without access to information. In this light, Albania faces the task of a having to catch up with the fast development of ICT which is becoming ever more an easy and useful way of communication all over the world. The initiative for the formulation of a National ICT Strategy was launched as a joint project of the Albanian Government, UNDP and the Open Society Foundation for Albania on 3 July 2002. The goal of the project was to support the Albanian Government in its efforts to build a national ICT strategic document. The Strategy identified the mechanisms and the legal and institutional framework for the launching of e-government, e-education and e-business as well as the continuous development and upgrading of ICT related infrastructure.
The public libraries became the main beneficiaries of the initiative. The purpose was to turn them into powerful community information centers. OSFA support went for the development and publication of theoretical-practical manuals setting the standards for library services and the design of training programs and materials for the librarians, especially with regard to the use of ICT. In addition, special attention was paid to building public awareness and knowledge on the advantages of ICT technologies and on-line resources such as electronic magazines, publications and various contributions made over the internet.
With the passing of the time, the Information Program was focused on activities which aimed at the exchange of experiences, knowledge and results of various projects. A number of dissemination activities were held such as the National Conference @net, round tables on internet service providers and Telecom, issues related to internet policies, the round table dedicated to “Policies in the field of ICT”, the Conference “Digitalization of Institutions of Memory Preservation”, The Open Source Club, "Cyber Law", the journal dedicated to high technologies called “Computer”, the building of a database for Albanian artists abroad, etc.