Verba Volant, Scripta Manent – Treasures of the National Library of Albania

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s opening remarks at exhibition of rare books on 100th anniversary of National Library:

 

In a novel by the famous writer Danilo Kiš tells the story of a boy who is tries to find out about his father’s life through writing a recollection of memories and nostalgia about most beautiful years of his life.

This is what I recalled while preparing to come here and speak precisely about exploration of the others’ lives and the life of our ancestors through writings that have been housed and preserved for 100 years in our National Library.

Of course, it is a tragedy in itself that at such an important historical moment for the National Library as it marks the 100th anniversary of its foundation, whose commemoration is an obligation, but also an extraordinary emotion that could have been properly nurtured through a chain of events and much wider direct participation, the difficult time when this 100th anniversary coincides with, forces us to be very reserved in this celebration in terms of space, participation, in terms of designing a calendar of activities it really deserves. However, the choice for this exhibition is commendable, as it is not a common exhibition usually and frequently staged at the Centre for Openness and Dialogue  here at the Prime Minister’s office, but it is a very rare tangible evidence of a very long history over many centuries, which is embodied in books, texts and artefacts that have been preserved in the depths of the organism of the National Library.

I very much hope that despite the restrictions, the passionate book friends can visit this exhibition and experience this special emotion and receive a rare impression from this moment of the 100th anniversary.

Of course, it would have been much nicer if we had the opportunity to celebrate this 100th anniversary in the new building of the National Library, which is a long-standing necessity already, but unfortunately the long-wished project already in a process of taking final shape – unless I am mistaken, but I have got the impression that, although wearing a face mask, the one I see on my right is Persida, the previous director of the National Library, with whom we have systematically worked to lead the way and put the project to the right track – had to be suspended in the wake of the earthquake and remain as such, because the earthquake ruins, which now should be transformed into thousands of new homes and apartments, were followed by the severe financial blow due to the Covid. However, the project is already underway and I am confident it will be finalized, although I can’t state it for sure when it will happen, but it won’t be delayed longer that it has been already delayed on the long path of the legitimate request from those who are very closely linked to the book and the library and want a new National Library built soon.

On the other hand, I would like say that though we have yet to construct the new National Library building, a lot has been done to change the course of a very worrisome degradation and destruction of a huge unparalleled and irreplaceable treasury, directly tangible through our eyes and hands. Fortunately, we have been given the opportunity to trust management of the National Library to people who are very attached to the book and the fate of the book in their lives, and together with Persida we have taken important steps towards halting the degradation process and ushering a new era of a revival process with all the constituent elements of the life of the National Library, while together with Pirro, who generously agreed to take over the challenge of managing the library at a moment, when he was probably exploring other plans and would have wished to prepare his books and what we have created as a structure and infrastructure has gradually started to renew, while with the newly launched fund that Pirro mentioned, we will take another important step in this direction.

But, in addition to the library’s physical aspect, its physical structures and the books’ physical condition, but what mattered most and what constitutes an inseparable parallel path of traditional problems has been the digitization of such a great wealth and through digitalization , the opportunity to access this wealth in another way, different from that traditional way that nevertheless remains irreplaceable in what it offers and in what people benefit from it and from physical contact with the book. It would certainly be amazing if we would have been able to materialize it and hopefully it will be materialized in the remaining months of this year – I am not informed about this, the big conference that would have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s about the respect and the obligation towards the individuals, without whom the National Library wouldn’t have existed. They are certainly many of them, but above all they are a constellation of the National Library directors, extraordinary characters of their kind, different characters and sometimes very different from each other, if we keep in mind that the National Library has been run by Lumo Skëndo, Mit’hat Frashëri and Zef Mala. But in addition to what they have accomplished during their rich lives, what they have actually contributed to the National Library is indeed the most valuable and precious jewel in the crown of their accomplishments and public activities. Pirro named some of them, from Mati Logoreci to Karl Gurakuqi.

Sotir Kolea is a character I happened to come across very late in my researches and curiosity to explore and find more about prominent people of this country, who for a thousand and one reasons, have remained in the shadows or in the semi-shadows and even more so, people like these directors of the National Library who however and because of this mission are half-shadow persons.

Sotir Kolea is a prominent name for what he represents in the history of the National Library, withut whom the National Library would have been very sparse. This is also worth saying about Aleks Buda or Haki Stërmilli, not to mention others, praying for your understanding if I forget to mention everyone.

Suffice it to imagine that the Library originally came into being 100 years ago with a fund of only 3,000 books. 3000 book titles could very well be the collection of a single man in terms of quantity, whereas the today’s fund of the library features 1.3 million books. But there are not 1.3 million books collected and accumulated over the past 100 years. They are 1.3 million exemplars of all times to be collected there. Fortunately, most of those precious artefacts on display for the first time today are the vast majority of pre-1800s publications. I say thankfully for the fact that it is an extraordinary opportunity to see them up close and to feel up close the smell of time through the smell of books. By the word fortunately I mean the fact that we are offered today this rare opportunity to see them up close and feel the sense the era up close through the smell of books.

Of course, it is not to me the one who can outline the Library’s history or provide the introduction to the whole labyrinth of authors, but maybe I should repeat what was touched a little through the lines by those who took the floor before me and specifically repeat that along with Meshari by Gjon Buzuku, the texts of Bogdani, De Rada, Pjetër Budi, Sami Frashëri, Dora d’Istria, this exhibition also features manuscripts by some of the most prominent figures of our National Renaissance, Kristoforidhi, Noli, Gjeçov, and moreover, the collection of our Library National also includes an original Arabic manuscript by Aristotle.

The Library’s rich collection also features books by authors-of-classical-antiquity in Italian or Greek, as well as a prodigy of Oriental manuscripts written in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish, some of them of extraordinary value. From those who know better this living organism right at the heart of Tirana, I have learned that the most precious treasure within the National Library’s tremendous treasure is the collection of antiques and incunabula. They are extraordinary rare XV-XVII century works, including the earlier works in Albanian, as well as the works written in Latin by Albanian humanists, from Marin Barleti to Dhimitër Frangu and the oldest book of this collection is a work by  Pope Pius II, published in Milan in 1473, a book of exceptional values for the national history, which  among other things speaks of the possibility of Skanderbeg and Albanians’ participation in the coalition of Christians against the Ottomans.

The exhibition of this national collection also features many other rare books, ranging from the Encyclopaedia of Diderot to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or Voltaire, Newton and Adam Smith.

I would stop my run here as it could have been a much longer one and conclude my speech with the digital revolution we have launched along the entire length of the progress front to include the National Library too, precisely on its 100th anniversary, enabling the paradise on earth, about which Borges once said: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

We will strongly support this digital revolution in the National Library as it represents an opportunity to open through it the whole 1.3 windows of the new National Library building, wherever it might lie, right where it is today, or where I wish and I will do whatever it takes to build. This way, we will grant a global access to this treasury, granting access to every Albania-born citizen who does not necessarily live in Albania today, but who lives in Europe, the United States, Australia or China. The Library will also be accessible by all of those who are interested in what has been created and written here and who are not necessarily Albanians. It will also be accessible by all our children, who by being granted these windows, they will have the opportunity to grow up differently from us. I recall the time when we used to go the National Library, when we were the Artistic Lyceum students and when we voluntarily helped to clean the big reading hall was closed to readers, and we were provided the rare opportunity to quickly take a look and read banned books on arts by the then condemned Impressionists or Post-Impressionists, or the Cubism painters and it was it was an extraordinary emotion. It is a sort of an erotic contact with the book, which was then deeply imprinted and inculcated in our hearts and minds as a moment of tremendous emotional intensity. And we could barely wait to experience such an emotion by coming back again, to offer to set the tables, clean and make it easier for those ladies who had to do the cleaning, waiting for another sandwich to come out of the counter and we in a few minutes to consume it with an extraordinary strong sensation of hunger.

Of course, it was a very quick absorption, but our being was so involved in that absorption that it worked like a kind of a digital scanner that collected and recorded those images in details. While the freedom to have it, the book at any moment has the opposite effect of the kind that I am not going today because I have something else to do and I will go tomorrow instead. But I couldn’t go a day later, but I will next week and the opportunity to explore and read the book unhindered makes your being less interested in all its cells to absorb and take away everything from the book, so much so that we managed to get in those fractions of minutes, or fractions of time that actually digitized in our brains a part of that art that was forbidden and could not be accessed. Therefore I think that the windows, the opening of all these windows to access the treasures of the Library, without having to travel and go there physically and without excuses to postpone the day when you would go there, but having the opportunity to follow closely the books, writings, images at every hour and after midnight and at dawn, it is an obligation great and is also a new opportunity that will be offered to all those who will want to connect life with the book. Although this is a big dilemma of tomorrow, if the book will manage to keep connected all the devils now out of the bottle, now already moving on the air of social networks and synthetic sandwiches, which do not compare at all to our sandwiches with an extremely good nutrition for the organism.

Thank you very much Pirro for this initiative and many thanks to all those who worked to materialize and stage this exhibition! Of course I join you in thanking Thoma Frashëri, a figure forgotten by history and thus left between us in the form of a young man who is not young and an old man who is not old, an old soul that moves, dressed in a way unsuitable for the time of consumption and with all those whims and his decadences. Thank you very much to all of you who are here for sharing with us this special and sad moment, because it is sad to celebrate this moment half secretly, half cunningly, trying fool the invisible enemy that God forbid it from being in this very room, waiting to choose who it will pick to read his or her organism and body.

Thank you very much!