November 28 is Albanian Flag Day, or independence day. Thirty years ago in 1993 I celebrated Flag Day at the 55th anniversary of Radio Tirana, founded on Albania’s national holiday. It, like everything else in Albania in 1993 was fraught with controversy, as my letter below will explain. But leading up to the celebration I had my own controversy at Radio Tirana. I was working as an advisor for the German Marshall Fund to try to convert Radio Tirana from state radio to public radio. I was training journalists. Parliament was having a debate on which should be the national day, November 28, the day Albanians raised the double headed eagle flag of the national hero Skanderbeg in Vlora and declared independence from the Ottomans advocated by the Democratic Party; or November 29, the day the People’s Socialist People’s Republic was declared after partisans drove out the Nazi’s in 1944, advocated by the Socialists (former Communists). I sent reporters to cover the debate, but the coverage was quashed by management after the speaker of the parliament complained that until something was passed by parliament it was only a rumor and not a fact. Radio Tirana should not report rumors but only facts so we should not report the debate until AFTER the vote. I argued, unsuccessfully, that voters should know about the debate so they could contact their parliamentary deputies to weigh in. I lost. In the end the parliament voted for November 28 as the official day. But November 28 was a Sunday so the day off from work was November 29, a Monday.
Tirana, Albania November 28, 1993
November 28, 1993 is Independence Day in Albania, and the 55th anniversary of Radio Tirana. At this morning’s celebration we watched a struggle for the control of history.
The celebration started with greetings from the Director, Mr. Pollo, who talked about the station’s role in the democratic revolution, including the 40-day strike in 1991 and the station’s coverage of the 1992 elections that led to the victory of the Democratic Party.
A man read a paper on the history of Radio Tirana. He lamented that the history of 55 years could fit on 30 pages, which he dramatically waved before the audience. He explained that under Enver Hoxha the date of the start of the station was fixed on Dec 17, 1944, the date Radio Tirana restarted after liberation from the Nazis. He spent most of his speech reading newspaper clippings proving the station started regular broadcasts on Independence Day, 1938. He described, in detail, the first programs. He spent only a few moments on the period between 1944 and 1991.
Several others made brief remarks, including a woman who sang in the children’s choir on the first broadcast. Then the mic was opened to the audience. Mr. Pollo’s greatest contribution to Radio Tirana has been what he calls the “democratization of the microphone,” opening up the phone lines and on-the street mics to listeners. This was a democratization of history.
A white-haired women stood up and said that it was wrong to forget Dec 17, 1944, because that was a true date of the start of free broadcasting after the Nazis. Those who celebrate that date should not be branded as Communists but patriots. A man rose, his father had been Director General and had hidden equipment from the Nazis in his home against the day that the broadcasts could be free of “Fascist Propaganda.” He said his father and broadcasters who died in defense of the station should be remembered in this history. Another man asked what about the music and literature the station preserved during the Communist period. Should that all now be thrown away in this new history? The story of 55 years should have included more of those accomplishments.
An animated 78 year woman, who had been an announcer and radio actress for 46 years, and who had been arrested by the Nazis for not cooperating, spoke. She accused the father of an earlier speaker of causing her arrest by the Germans. She used all her abilities as an actress to make the audience laugh and cry through her story. The earlier speaker walked out and some of the officials tried to gently reclaim the microphone. She stood her ground until she was done. By then the hall was in raucous discord.
Finally Mr. Pollo tried to calm the commotion by telling the Radio Tirana Symphony and pop ensemble to start playing. The orchestra started to play and a female vocalist sang Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,” a fine song for a radio station and a nation, trying to sort out all its yesterdays. “Oh I believe in yesterday.” Yes, but whose?