Agim Qirjaqi, one of Albania’s most famous actors, and now director in residence at the National Theatre in Tirana, has ordered 60 pints of pigs’ blood for his production of Richard III. He intends to make the theatre’s small musty stage into an abattoir, dress the actors as butchers in blood-splattered white coats and hang ‘the criminals’ from their feet like cattle. This, Agim says, is the only way to illustrate the horrors of forty years of Enver Hoxha, the dictator who kept Albania in a Stalinist hell long after the rest of Eastern Europe had rejected Stalinism. Agim explained that he had grown tired of Shakespeare’s comedies. ‘Under Hoxha we had nothing but A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure ... what we need now are the tragedies ... to remind people what it was like.’
Vol. 14 No. 11 · 11 June 1992
Reports from Albania tend to be sneering and/or adorned with grainy photographs of poverty. The Albanian people, who have had a lot to put up with, are now facing new kinds of exploitation. At least Matt Frei (LRB, 14 May) noticed the spectacular and unspoilt coastline’ (long may it remain so!). Maybe next time he’ll visit (for instance) Tirana University, with its well-equipped new British Resource Centre; and if he can take time off from his poetic descriptions of burnt-out steel mills, chat to (for instance) the teachers of English and French in Tirana and Shkodra. If he does, he may find himself reflecting on the courage and tenacity of people who have invested their lives and their reputations in studies which were regarded with suspicion (at very least) by the Communists, and who were not allowed the luxury of meeting enlightened journalists and photographers from overseas.
University of East Anglia