Albania Flag Day, Letter from 1995

November 28 is Albania’s Flag Day, marking its declaration of independence in 1912.  The Albanian Community in the US is celebrating Flag Day on November 27 so it does not conflict with Thanksgiving.  This is from a letter I wrote from Tirana about Flag Day in 1995. 

November 28 is Albanian Flag Day, the day the republic was declared in Vlora and the red double eagle flag first flew in modern Albania in 1912.  At 6 PM we went to Skanderbeg square to watch the fireworks.  No one had blocked off the square so the traffic whizzed by as usual.  People were walking in the rain.  At 6 PM the fireworks started, shooting from the Defense Ministry.  They were the same green and orange fire blossoms that they shoot off every holiday of every year and people mostly ignored them.  The fireworks display just added another layer of techno-pop funky-ness to Skanderbeg Square.  A German song “Ein, zwei–politzi, drei, vier–great idea” repeated and repeated from the amusement rides that sit on the square in front of the National Museum.  Occasionally a driver would look up during a big bang and nearly hit another car, and a tire screech would punctuate the bangs.  At 6:05, on schedule, the muezzin added his call to prayer.  The thing sounded like this.

boom-chick-boom-chick-boom-chick  “Ein, zwei—politzi — — drei, vier–great idea.” Whoosh–BOOM, beep, beep,  boom-chick-boom-chick-boom- Whoosh—BOOM,  Screech, honk, boom-chick-boom-chick- “ein, zwei–politzi” Whoosh–BOOM  “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbaaaar”  Whoosh–BOOM, boom-chick-boom-chick “great idea.”

Three blocks away, during all the commotion, a policeman allegedly murdered the man who ran the company that made red double eagle Albanian flags.  The fireworks covered the sound of the gunshots.  There were a lot of rumors about the motive for the alleged murder.  The papers say it was a “private affair,” which, an editor friend of mine says, means a dispute over a bribe.

The next day candles appeared on the street where the man was shot.  Police tried to stop journalists from taking pictures, but it became too big for them to contain and the cops retreated a block away.  People set candles on bricks, and left money and cigarettes for the family.  Pictures of the man appeared near the candles.  The impromptu shrine grew daily as melted candle wax formed the base for more candles.  Thousands of lek have been dropped at this sidewalk shrine.  Politics works in symbols, and this symbol of the man who made the flags, murdered by a cop, on the national holiday, over what many people believe was a bribe, could become a powerful one.  I don’t know where it will lead.

Five days after the murder, as if caught in a human current to where the flag man was shot  (the murder happened on Tuesday, the funeral was on Friday) it was Sunday and the shrine continued to grow.  The stream passing quietly by continued to leave money and light candles.  It hadn’t ebbed.  One man kept a cigarette going in front of the murdered man’s picture.  Another tried to explain “policia, policia do this.”  We stood for a while.  The line never stopped.  In its sad dignity, this was the quietest place in Tirana.  The police still kept their distance.  We slowly drifted away from this quiet place and re-entered the main flow of Tirana.  A kiosk boom box played “Ein, zwei–politzi.”

 

Tomorrow is the actual Flag Day, I will post the letter I wrote 20 years ago, in 1993, describing the strange ceremony celebrating Radio Tirana’s 55th anniversary and talking a little more about the holiday.

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