Gjirokastra’s festival: A celebration of wounds and memories
The Albanian nation is, without doubt, one of the most controversial in the world. With its cultural, lingual, political and religious differences blurring in every single angle of the country, one would expect a surrealistic situation with strict tradition and neo-liberal modernism coexisting in a tiny district. And this is how it is.
Albania is a beautiful beast. It is a Wonderland, as the elders call it ironically, in which Albanians, more like a troubled and full of wounds Alice, strive to mature through their blooded recent history. The civil war of 1997, the open weapon warehouses, the millions of emigrants, the compulsive prostitution; were more than results of a sudden transition from a strict dictatorship to anarchy. They introduced a completely new reality. A reality of children playing with bombs, Kalashnikovs and different kinds of real weapons. Armed men guarding their houses day and night in order to be secure. People not going to work, women avoiding going out of fear of being raped. Dead bodies laying on the streets and nobody approaching them for fear. People killing, torturing and maiming each other either because they were drunk, or they wanted revenge. It was the rough reality of a wild and sudden freedom.
This happened less than 20 years ago. Now, some are trying to forget what others have done. No matter in which category they belong, Albanians are celebrating diversity and show more cultural respect than they did before. Before dictatorship, before anarchy. Their most popular celebration is the Gjirokastra’s Festival. Gjirokastra’s festival has its roots in 1957 when it was celebrated in the capital of Albania, Tirana, under the title „The national Festival of music, singing and dance“. In 1968 the festival was transferred to the castle of the area of Gjirokastra and it was named as such, Gjirokastra’s Festival . The festival is organized every five years and groups from all different territories of Albania participate.
Its purpose is the protection, promotion and popularization of the best values of music, dance and culture. This is done by the production of traditional music sounds or new ones, by presenting pantomime acts, humorist games within a musical or a dancing context. The number of the participants is huge, reaching around 55.000 today. The groups come together to sing folk music and dance, with prizes going to.
This year the festival was celebrated in May and reflected its cultural expansion from Greek minorities, with Arberesh and Arvanitas participating as well. Albanian groups from abroad also played, giving a cultural note to the exiled Albanian culture.
The festival is an attraction for tourists around the world. The importance of celebrating diversity and culture in Albania is held in such high esteem, that the festival was continued, despite dictatorship. The civil war, or as some prefer, the Albanian anarchy, did not last that long. I guess and I hope that if it had lasted, this celebration of cultural diversity would still take place. Besides, in Albania everything can happen. It is a beautiful beast, it is a „Wonderland“.