Studio Qeramike Vasili – Zadrime

Vasil Kukaj’s love of his craft stems from childhood when, at only 5 years old,  he used to steal the wiring from his electrician uncle to create baskets. From there his artistic mind and industrious will evolved into what is now “Studio Qeramike Vasili“; the only successful pottery art studio, exporter and supplier to Albanian restaurants, shops and businesses in all of Albania .

Vasil studied art at the University in Perugia, Italy followed by his masters at the Universita Belle Arti, Rome. The love of art and history, combined with his desire to return to his homeland and create something far more reaching than just pottery, brought him back to his town of Krajne in the Zadrima valley. This is where Vasil grew up and this is where he wanted to establish his own roots.

We visited the studio today with much anticipation, because of my love for hand-painted pottery and I was not disappointed. We were met by Vasil and had an immediate likeness for him. He is very unassuming and humble. He welcomed us into his studio, which is on his property, and showed us not only the finished pieces in his exhibit room but also the entire operation. He created the studio in 2000 and was later joined by his two brothers who were living in Greece. Together with their wives they set up a very successful business.

You see Vasil is a history buff and he commits himself to research every small aspect of the old Albanian life, culture and tradition and pass that onto his art. There is not one piece of pottery that he can’t tell you about. Every piece is historically detailed; the colors, the costumes, the designs, are all historically related to a certain area of  Albania or a certain subject. Vasil does all his research in libraries in order to find the most accurate details and then passes the images on to his wife and sisters-in-law, who paint them onto his pieces. Vasil creates the pottery, his wife and two sisters-in-law paint the designs and voila! While his brothers handle the commercial side of the enterprise.

Some of the portrait plates are historical figures, like the Princess of Zadrime, or Skanderbeg’s Wife. All immaculately detailed and as historically close as possible. The plates, amphoras, bowls, etc. all have designs which reflect Albania’s traditions of different regions, except for some which are painted in the traditional Italian designs. It truly is an inspiration to hear his story and see the results.

The studio is truly a gem and I am glad to have found it while driving around the countryside. Of course I couldn’t leave without making a small contribution and putting in an order to have my Albanian grandparents’ portrait, in their national costumes, painted on a plate!

Ernest Koliqi – A Loyal Nationalist To The End

Ernest Koliqi, born in Shkoder, Albania in 1903 was a a poet, writer, teacher, journalist, politician, historian, but above all he was a true patriot. He is considered as the founder of the Albanian prose. As Minister of Education from 1939-1941 he was able to send 200 teachers to Kosovo to establish Albanian schools. He translated numerous literary works from Italian to Albanian. He wrote numerous poems and books. He is considered a cultural hero in Albania. A school is named after him in Tirana, his books are studied and revered worldwide. His resume is lengthy and his contribution to the Albanian culture is endless. In 1943 he went back to Rome to continue his work at the University there and was appointed Ambassador to the Vatican. In this tumultuous time he also found himself not able to return to Albania and remained in Italy. In 1945 and soon after he was joined by other exiled nationalists; Gjon Markagjoni, Ndue Gjon Marku, his brother Lem Koliqi and others.

On November 6, 1946 the Bloku Independent Kombetar (National Independent Bloc) was founded in Rome by Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni, Kapidan Ndue Gjon MarkuDr. Ismail Verlaci and Prof. Ernest Koliqi. Subsequently, in 1947, he founded the gazette L’Albanie Libre, an organ of the BKI, with the intent of publishing and dispersing information to the world and Albania about the atrocities of the communist regime and as a tool to keep his compatriots informed of the progresses being made in the west to win the fight against communism. Koliqi would continue his work at the University of Rome and maintain his involvement with the BKI until his death in 1975.

Today, in this climate of hate and discontent, an era where it’s in fashion to destroy a country’s heroes, a time of pure hatred toward anyone who has contributed historically, morally and culturally toward their own country, comes yet another blow; this time targeted against a man who not only helped to preserve and further the Albanian culture, not only in Albania but worldwide, but is revered and honored through his legacy. The piece that is circulating around the internet as of 2 days ago was written with such contempt for a man who is cherished by Albania and all Albanians. The writer accuses Ernest Koliqi of being a spy, a ‘possible’ sub-agent of the UDB and Russia in the 1950’s. I am not even going to deign to say his name or give him the space time, here is a link so you can read the garbage that has been written. Anyone can google the internet and FB and find other writings as well. The paper was based on suppositions and not facts as he purports.

What I am going to say is this, and I say it as someone who knew him briefly personally and knew of him through my granfather and father: Gjon Markagjoni and Ndue Gjon Marku, who were his ‘brothers’, compatriots, friends, confidante and more, until the end. I will leave the scholar debate to the scholars.

Ernest Koliqi was and is a shining light in Albania’s history. There was not one ounce of impropriety in his blood. What was there was his absolute love for his country and his ardent wish to rid it of the communist yoke that was destroying the very soul of it. He lived his life in exile fighting along his companions in the BKI, who were deemed by all secret service agencies, one of the strongest if not the strongest, opposition group.

The question to ask is then, why? Why would someone be so interested in bringing accusations against such a notable personality? Why dig around secret documents for suppositions and not ‘facts’ as he calls them? Instead of focusing on trying to find out dirt on someone who contributed so much to the Albanian culture and history, why doesn’t he focus on exposing the real criminals running the country today: the narcos, the traffickers, the old time communists who are still in government positions.

Instead of writing garbage and accusations against nationalists, if he feels the urge to ‘write’, he should be exposing the cancer that is growing deep inside Albania today and leave the angels of the past, the true liberators of the mind and soul, where they belong, in heaven and not on the filthy pages of a so called book!

Bianca Gjomarkaj

Happy Independence Day America!

Today marks America’s 244th birthday. This day recognizes all the suffering, fighting and personal sacrifices made by our founding fathers and thousands of believers in freedom and independence. Independence from the British Crown and a chance for America to build on that freedom and independence. We have done an amazing job in the 244 years of our life, even so there is still so much more room for improvement. We underwent many obstacles and overcame many tragedies and difficulties in these years, yet we stand united with a common goal ‘freedom’.

As an Albanian-American I feel a strong tie to America. I grew up in America from the age of 13, completed my education there, married there, and lived there until 2012, at which time I moved to Albania, land of my father; to my ancestral home. My love for America has not waned, as a matter of fact being away from her has made me appreciate her qualities more. No other country in the world (and I have traveled around the world and lived in a few) comes close to what we have in America. The freedoms so many are taking for granted these days are non-existent in the rest of the world. I have not been to a country yet where one can do or say what he/she pleases without government intervention. Our freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom to build, freedom to own property, freedom to criticize politicians, right to bear arms, freedom of religion, freedom to love whomever you choose, these are all precious and only found in America. Yes, you have first rate countries who also claim to have these freedoms, but they don’t, not really, not the way America does, they all have some restrictions one way or the other.

My point is that Americans should not be taking America for granted. They should revere her, fight for her and what she stands for and above all respect her and her history.

I am living in Albania now and have come to love this country as well. I have come to know my father’s land and see now the beauty he saw, appreciate the culture he grew up in. Although Albania is still struggling with freedoms which are being denied on so many levels; struggling with their communist past; struggling with many economical and political issues, I hope that one day she will look to that beacon of light shining in the west and realize that without respect for its people, without good, solid and fair laws which respect humanity and without an honest, deep love for her and the well being of her people she will never earn the faith and respect of the people who so much want to give it to her.

As the Eagle is a symbol for both my countries, I hope and pray that one day Albania will soar as high in the sky as her counterpart and together work to better the countries which unite many of us Albanian-Americans!

Happy Independence Day America! Gezuar Diten e Pavaresise Amerikë!

Steal From The Poor To Give To The Poor!

That is what this man, Deputy Illir Beqai, Socialist Party, proposed two days ago. As a financial ‘relief measure’ during Covid-19.

“From May 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020, all employees of the public sector, institutions and enterprises, central and local, dependent and independent, to be paid with 90% of their normal salary. But not less than the national minimum wage, excluding those on the war front line. The average monthly salary in the public sector is 63,000 ALL ($550). There are about 172 thousand employees.
Thus, we create a fund of about 8.7 billion ALL (4.5 billion budget employees and 4.2 billion non-budget employees). Likewise, each additional pension supplement (senior civil servant, military serviceman, professor, etc.) for the remaining eight months of the year, will receive 75% of their monthly installment as of April 2020 “.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the current employees, who are averaging a $550 monthly salary, he wants to reduce the pensions retirees who are collecting a ‘supplementary’ amount in their pensions, by 25%.

The average pension in Albania ranges between 8,000-20,000ALL (roughly $60-$180). The so-called ‘supplementary’ pension is an additional $50, more or less, to those people in the category of: veterans, professors, etc.

What they failed to report is that also in this category are retirees who were persecuted during communism and are receiving the ‘supplemental’ income for their back-breaking labor in: cement factories, cotton and agricultural fields and mines, while they were living in concentration camps, suffering daily from malnutrition and deprivation of basic human rights . This category was conveniently omitted from the article, but it’s not surprising as anything that has to do with the truth of  the communist regime and suffering of the people for almost 50 years wants to be forgotten and erased from Albania’s history.

March 24 – The European Union pledged 50 million euros ($54 million) to help Albania fight the Coronavirus outbreak and recover its economy.

April 10 – The IMF Approved $190.5 Million Emergency Support to Albania to Combat COVID-19 and the November 2019 earthquake emergency.

April 18 – The U.S. has pledged $1.2 million dollars to assist Albania in the fight against Covid-19.

To date a total of $241.7 Million Dollars has been pledged to assist Albania in this fight.

For the Earthquake relief the following was pledged:

December 4, 2019 – The EU has pledged €15 million in relief funding.

February 18 – International donors on Monday (17 February) pledged €1.15 billion to help Albania recover from a powerful earthquake.

To date people are still homeless and waiting for forever homes!

That a member of  Parliament dares to suggest stealing what few crumbs they are giving their pensioners is abhorrent! Perhaps they should first take a look at their own pockets which have been filling with riches for the last 29 years! How dare he even make such a suggestion!

Message from USA Embassy to US Citizens!

🇺🇸 | Attention American citizens: tomorrow may be the last flight from Tirana! Contact ACSTirana@state.gov immediately!