Albanian Anthem Woes Revisited

This blog originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Link here (available in English, Albanian, and Serbian). 

It looks like Switzerland, that equitable land of chocolates and wealth, will be changing its national anthem soon. The reason? The lyrics of the anthem are heavily religious, based on words penned by a 19th-century monk. A national jury will soon be accepting applications for new versions of the anthem, and within four to five years Switzerland could have a brand-new anthem, with different lyrics and a changed melody.

Albanians are a bit more stubborn about retouching their national anthem. Written by the Albanian poet Asdren in 1912, the Albanian national anthem is about the fight for national independence, and the symbolic, eternal fight for Albania’s freedom. Some of the more martial lines include: “From war abstains only he/Who a traitor is born”, and “He who is a true man is not frightened/But dies a martyr to the cause.”

In 2012, Albanian Ombudsperson Igli Totozani suggested redacting the above lines of the national anthem to replace “men” with “men and women.” The suggestion didn’t really fly, because a) Albanians don’t like change, b) Asdren’s poetry can never be changed or improved and c) it doesn’t really make life any easier for women anyway. When the public backlash became too intense, Totozani wrote a statement on the Ombudsperson’s official website, stating that changing the anthem wasn’t actually something he was trying to do and that “it was still just an idea.”

Kosovo academic Rexhep Qosja was one of the most outspoken critics of potentially changing the national anthem, and we’ve uncovered an interview with that makes us weep for both Qosja’s monolothic understanding of history and the journalist’s incorrect assumptions regarding copyright law, gender equality, and EU integration.

First, let’s start off with a misleading half-fact: Are the author’s copyrights infringed upon in this case?
Qosja: Yes, absolutely, they are heavily infringed upon.

Actually, according to Albanian copyright law, works of art are no longer protected by copyright 70 years after the author’s death. Which means that in 2017, Asdren’s work will be out of copyright and in the public domain. Therefore, asking about what we do with the national anthem once it’s safely within that domain is completely legitimate.

Then, an alarmist question followed by a response about the greatness of menfolk: But is it infringed upon as a historical document?
Qosja: As a historical document, we’re dealing with a change in its authenticity, originality, value. In that time people thought that way. Why the word “man”? Because men fought, women didn’t fight. There were specific cases when women fought, for example partisans included women in their ranks. But that wasn’t a tradition for the Albanian. We can’t change the past. That’s what it was like.

OK — so while Albanian men were fighting, who was feeding, cleaning, and caring for them, their children, their animals, their old people, their households, and making sure that the fabric of daily life didn’t fall apart? WOMEN. Does that deserve a bit of recognition in the national anthem? Nah.

Moving on, a section on how women are doing just great in today’s Albania: But with this logic, don’t we go against gender equality?
Qosja: There are other spaces and opportunities where women can feel like they are in an equal position. And God willed, as the people say, for these things to become a reality. The Albanian woman today is freed from many of the traditions and discrimination that were inflicted upon her in the past. We don’t need to interfere with the national anthem for a political slogan.

Ah yes, the Albanian woman is freed. Except in cases of domestic violence, murder at the hands of their husbands and lovers, and the occasional decapitation.

One would think that at this point, any journalist worth her salt would bring up the many ways in which life is not so great for women in Albania. Instead we get this: But what if this proposal is line with EU proposals for integration?
Qosja: We do not change the anthem!!! Let everything that the EU requests be fulfilled. Even though they want the parliament to have a gender quota of 30%. Why don’t they make it 50% if they want it to be completely equal? Why haven’t they done this in their own countries? Only Sweden has a high, practically equal percentage of men and women in parliament. I’m absolutely for the complete equality of men and women, but not to change the national anthem.

First, three exclamation marks. Second, what part of the EU proposals for integration call for changing the national anthem? When and why would the EU ever do that? Thirdly, Qosja has a good point on gender quotas… but equality doesn’t mean that you get to decide what equality means for the other side.

And so the heresy of changing TWO LINES in the national anthem is silenced.

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