Interview with Lirak Celaj

Posted January 3, 2008

Categories: Eastern Europe, Interviews

Lirak Celaj, theater director

On Albania and Kosovo

During the period when we were in ex-Yugoslavia, there was always pressure on us to change our identity. We were told, “You are Shqpitars and they, in Albania, are Albanians.” I think we are same nation – the same nation in two countries. Some countries and some foundations – and this is not only in Europe – are worried that Albania and Kosovo will be one country. Some countries don’t want Albanians to be important in the Balkans. If Albanians are in one country, then Serbia will not be that strong.

“Greater Albania” as a notion was initiated by the Serbs to make people afraid of Albania. But if Albanians want to live together, why not? We don’t call it “Greater Albania”. We call it a union of two countries that have more commonalties than differences. Half of my family lives in Albania. Before World War II we communicated with each other. We formed a larger economic market. The United States is called just the United States. It’s not called the “Greater United States”. This is something that people will have to decide. In a period of globalization and integration, why should we stay divided? Why can’t we become more integrated among ourselves before we integrate with Europe? There can be a referendum, just between the people of Albania and Kosovo, to let the people decide.

The Macedonia case is different. There, Albanians are still discriminated against. If Macedonia doesn’t try honestly to solve the problem, to treat Albanians as equal citizens, this problem will come back.

On Serbs in Kosovo

When I was in government, we had a report that a director of a library in Gjilan, which is mostly Albanian, had been destroying Serbian books. A Serbian member of Parliament brought up this issue. So we said, if this happened, we are also upset. We formed a commission to go and investigate to see if it was true. We went with the Serb representative and we saw that all the books were there. The Serb representative said he was glad to see that it wasn’t true.

There are Serbian language productions in Mitrovica. There are also Serbian language plays in Albanian theaters, as well as Turkish theater and Roma cultural activities. I can’t go to North Mitrovica, so I don’t know what types of plays they are putting on.

On theater in Kosovo

The National Theater is the biggest theater, and if you do a national performance there, they expect it to deal with the national conflict of Serbs and Albanians. One artist asked me why we were putting on a production of The Vagina Monologues. “We have bigger problems,” he said. I said, “What, Albanians don’t have vaginas?” As a theater, we focus on everyday problems. It’s a different definition of what national is. They think of national as the big issue of Serb and Albanian relations. We think of national differently, as municipal problems, as gender and sexual identity.

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