Category Archives: Culture

DokuFest offers an exclusive package for Diaspora

In its 19th edition, DokuFest is rolling out for the first time in an online format due to COVID-19. However, despite all challenges, the festival is being successfully organized virtually under the theme “Transmitting”. Same as in previous years, DokuFest has thought about the Albanian diaspora.

“Knowing that a large number of migrants could not come to Kosovo due to the pandemic and given that this year the festival will not be held physically, the organizers in cooperation with the directors of Albanian films have enabled all emigrants access to the online platform of DokuFest”, said Mr. Eroll Bilibani, one of the team, in an interview for “Albinfo”, a diaspora-based media outlet. Although virtually, our festival has created special programs which will be accessible only to our diaspora “, adds Mr. Bilibani for albinfo.ch.

A competition section with shorts and documentaries made by Albanian filmmakers from around the world, most of them premiering at DokuFest, will be exclusively available for Diaspora in Germany & Switzerland from 7-15 August. Diaspora Package can be accessed via this link, while all other packages and films are accessible at online.dokufest.com.

Gazmend Freitag – Portraits of the Famous

Fascination and respect – portraits of the Famous by Gazmend Freitag

What motivates an artist to draw the portraits of historical and contemporary figures? Fascination and respect, is the opinion of the painter Gazmend Freitag, whose portfolio celebrates the successful, courageous, kind, creative and beautiful people of the world.  A special place in the heart and the ever expanding collection of the artist is reserved for those poets, fighters and philosophers, whose life and work is crucial to the identity and history of the Albanian people.

  1. Aleksandër Moisiu
  2. Ali Podrimja
  3. Bekim Fehmiu
  4. Behgjet Pacolli
  5. Çun Lajçi
  6. Dua Lipa
  7. Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu
  8. Havzi Nela
  9. Ibrahim Rugova
  10. Ibrahim Kodra
  11. Ismail Kadare
  12. Klara Buda
  13. Krist Maloki
  14. Lasgush Poradeci
  15. Martin Camaj
  16. Shën Tereza
  17. Nexhmije Pagarusha
  18.  Pjetër Bogdani
  19. Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad
  20. Rita Ora
Alexander Moissi
Gazmend Freitag: Aleksander Moisiu, 2017
Ali Podrimja
Gazmend Freitag: Ali Podrimja, 2016
Bekim Fehmiu 1
Gazmend Freitag: Bekim Fehmiu, 2014
Behxhet Pacolli.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Behgjet Pacolli, 2016
Çun Lajçi
Gazmend Freitag: Çun Lajçi, 2017
Dua Lipa
Gazmend Freitag: Dua Lipa, 2018
Skanderbeg
Gazmend Freitag: Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu, 2013
Havzi Nela
Gazmend Freitag: Havzi Nela, 2016
Ibrahim Rugova
Gazmend Freitag: Ibrahim Rugova, 2013
IK
Ibrahim Kodra by Gazmend Freitag, 2017
Ismail Kadare
Gazmend Freitag: Ismail Kadare, 2014
Klara Buda.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Klara Buda, 2016
Krist Maloki
Gazmend Freitag: Krist Maloki, 2016
lasgush-poradeci
Gazmend Freitag: Lasgush Poradeci, 2016
Martin Camaji
Gazmend Freitag: Martin Camaj, 2015
Mutter Teresa
Gazmend Freitag: Shën Tereza, 2013
Nexhmije Pagarusha 1.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Nexhmije Pagarusha, 2013
Pjetër Bogdani
Gazmend Freitag: Pjetër Bogdani, 2016
Princess Fawzia Fuad
Gazmend Freitag: Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad, 2016
Rita Ora
Gazmend Freitag: Rita Ora, 2014

Original link here

In a corner building in East Village, New York City, the entire uppermost floor has been turned into a photography studio. It is the studio of the renowned Albanian-American photographer, Mr. Fadil Berisha. Surrounded by windows and an abundance of natural light, there’s a certain positive energy that you feel the moment you step foot inside. The walls are covered in giant photographs of Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Emina Cunmulaj, etc., and countless awards, autographed photos, and souvenirs from people that have worked with Fadil over the years.

When I arrived at Fadil’s studio on a sunny Saturday afternoon, he was adding some final touches to one of his recent photoshoots. Once he finished editing, he suggested going to a pizza place around the corner where we could talk more about his life, and I gladly obliged. Over delicious Italian food, Fadil began his engaging storytelling about his early life and career.

Born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, Fadil Berisha moved to New York City with his family at the age of nine. His upbringing was similar to that of any average immigrant family. Every major decision, he recalls, revolved around personal finances. So, when he chose to major in men’s fashion design, his family was not particularly thrilled. He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, but the degree did very little to quench his thirst for art. Put simply, Fadil didn’t feel like he was in the right career path, yet.

Driven by the desire to be exposed to different forms of art, Fadil, along with his friend, Donna DeMari, a photographer he had met in New York, traveled to Italy. Fadil would spend hours styling and observing her photoshoots, secretly wishing he was the one taking the photos, until one day he finally asked her if he could borrow her camera for a session, and she agreed. “I set up the camera and the moment I heard the click, I found my power. The next day, I packed my bags and moved back to America,” says Fadil with enthusiasm and sheer joy in his face.

“As a kid, I loved faces, all faces, and I was genuinely curious about them.”

—Fadil tells me.

Being the first person in the family to pursue art, he struggled to convince his family members that it was the right thing to do. Fadil is kind, polite, and understanding when he talks about them. It’s almost a non-verbal acknowledgment of their struggles. Most beginnings are often hard and his was no different. He soon found himself at a dead end. Evicted from his apartment shortly after becoming a father, he was forced to return home to his parents where he drowned himself in work. At one point, Fadil was working three jobs that brought some financial stability and very little joy. He could have chosen to lead a more comfortable life, but that was not in his plans. Within six months, Fadil got himself a big studio and has not looked back ever since. “The best advice I ever got was that you can never run away from yourself.” And for Fadil, not attempting to run away from his true self did pay off.

Today, we all know Fadil Berisha as the Albanian-American photographer whose work has graced the pages of some the most prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Nylon, etc. He’s photographed the likes of Roger Federer, Kendall Jenner, Placido Domingo, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Sharon Stone, Nick Jonas, Zendaya, Michael Bublé, Kris Jenner, etc. for clients including Rolex, Estée Lauder, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Lexus, Peugeot, Bulgari, Miss Universe, Sherri Hill. His work has been featured on the major networks, such as MTV, NBC, CBS, CNN, E!, etc.

Among the sea of celebrities whose beauty Fadil has greatly captured, there are many Albanian stars. Bebe Rexha, Era Istrefi, Inva Mula, Xherdan Shaqiri, Robin Krasniqi, and Heidi Lushtaku, Ermonela Jaho, Eliza Dushku, Saimir Pirgu, Blerim Destani, Rame Lahaj, and Nik Xhelilaj are just some of them.

When you hear Fadil’s stories, you wouldn’t know that there was ever a time when Albanians were not part of his life, but such was the reality. At the beginning of his career, Fadil tried to distance himself from his fellow Albanians, in fear of being ridiculed for his career choices. However, that was a short-lived attempt. With a noticeable change in his tone, he recalls the day a couple of young students, refugees from Kosovo, showed up to his studio, unannounced. He refers to that day as the day that changed his life completely.

It was around 1997, Fadil does not remember the exact year, and the early signs of war in Kosovo had already started to show. These kids had heard about him and were seeking his help in raising awareness for the dire situation back home. They even brought along photos documenting the massacres that were happening back in Kosovo. Given that his work revolved solely around fashion and beauty, Fadil couldn’t fathom how he could possibly help them. “That night, I went home and told my Mom what had happened. We had a long chat where she shared emotional stories about her upbringing and she spoke to me about the importance of helping these kids out,” recalls Fadil. The next day, he got back to his studio and picked up the phone. “You have ruined my life,” Fadil told them. “I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, I had nightmares. I know I have to help you, but I don’t know how,” he continued. Despite the hopelessness, he vowed to help in any way he could.  

Around that time, along with Avni Mustafaj, Tracey Aron, Gary Kokalari, and Donika Bardha, Fadil co-founded the Kosovo Relief Fund, an organization that aimed to help families who had lost loved ones in the war. He recalls nightly meetings; frequent post- Broadway show visits from the famous Hollywood star, Vanessa Redgrave, who had expressed desire to help; and the way Albanians had come together for a greater cause. In his voice, I almost sense a little bit of nostalgia as he recounts countless interesting stories.  

Fadil goes on to explain how, together with other volunteers, he had planned to use the photos he had received and created an awareness campaign. They solicited help from Stan Dragoti, the Hollywood film director of Albanian origin. Having previously been deemed too graphic, they worked their magic and turned the massacre photos into a campaign. However, despite raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, they couldn’t quite cover the fees to run the campaign on a major newspaper. However, one of those days, a peaceful protest was organized in front of the White House in an attempt to draw attention to the Kosovo cause. It wasn’t much different from other protests, or so they thought. Nevertheless, the following day, Fadil woke up to see the photo on the New York Times. A man was holding the sign they had created and a reporter happened to take a photo of it. The photo ended up in the print version of the newspaper. Fadil believes it was the sign and the push they needed to continue the fight for a free Kosovo.

“I haven’t thought about this story in such a long time, I just got goosebumps talking about it,” said Fadil as we got up to leave the restaurant.

Back in his studio, I asked Fadil if he has any pictures or videos from the events he used to organize in his studio. They must be somewhere, he tells me, but who knows where they ended up when he moved studios. “I like to recall these moments without dwelling too much in the past. I don’t like focusing on the past because you can get stuck. Remember the past and look to the future,” he says to me.

His phone rings. A famous Albanian couple, friends of his, were stopping by. The number of Albanian artists, sportsmen, political figures, and ordinary people that come to his studio, even just for a chat, is astonishing. I have heard people refer to his studio as the unofficial Albanian Embassy. “It became a duty to me,” says Fadil about his willingness to help others. “I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I help my people?’ To give is gratifying!” Whereas, for Albanians, he has one important advice: “Albanians are great to other people, but not always kind to one another. We need to change that.”

Fadil Berisha has been the official photographer for Miss Universe since 2002. With his help and guidance, both Albania and Kosovo became successful Miss Universe participants. Then he points at the picture of Marigona Dragusha, the 2nd Runner Up in Miss Universe 2009. With a big smile on his face, he explains how everyone loved her, the same way they loved Zana Krasniqi the year before. “When Gona walked out on that stage, tears starting flooding. I was so happy but also so scared of her. People loved her and they compared her to Audry Hepburn. But I was afraid of a possible backlash from other countries who may have thought that I favored her. So, I had to keep a distance.”

Fadil began working with talent in Kosovo as soon as the war ended. He took it upon himself to showcase the Albanian beauty to the world. “I always asked myself, ‘How can I get a girl that will never otherwise get a chance?’” says Fadil. And those photos around his studio are proof that he gave the opportunity to those who indeed would not have another opportunity.

So, what draws Fadil to people? “Smile, eyes, a good heart, and soul,” the answer rolls off his tongue.

Fadil talks about his career and his beliefs with a passion you don’t often encounter. He believes that arts and sports are of crucial importance as they have the power to change people’s hearts and minds. He leads me around the studio as he points at different photographs hung on his walls, telling a story about each of them. When I asked him if he could single out a person who has made a significant impact in his life, he grabbed a framed picture of him with a gentleman and says, “Without a doubt, this guy. He’s the former owner of Rolex. In 2005, he gave me a lifetime contract and was a close friend till the day he died. That opened so many doors for me.”

From sitting at his desk to running to get a bowl of seeds from the kitchen for the birds on the fire escape, Fadil Berisha never stops moving and never stops talking.

A couple of hours had passed and I did not once sense any regrets in his voice, which got me curious. So, I decided to ask him: Does Fadil Berisha have any regrets? He is human, after all. “Not taking pictures of Mother Teresa. I will always regret that” he says pensively. “You know, she was in New York City in 1997 with Princess Diana, and I could have taken pictures of her then, but my plan was to go to India and capture her and the environment in which she worked, so I put it off. She died before I got the chance to do it and it will always be something that I wish I had done,” says Fadil. I could easily sense the disappointment and sadness in his voice as he finished saying those words. It almost made me regret asking the question in the first place.

In recent years, Fadil Berisha has been doing a lot of self-reflection. Nowadays, he enjoys a day off, long walks, and meaningful chats over coffee with friends and family. Whether it’s about his siblings, his mother’s flowers, or his grandson, there’s an overwhelming sense of adoration in the way in which he talks about his family. Spiritually, he does believe in higher powers, in God. But there is one thing he has no doubt about: “We are all energy. Our souls never die, only our bodies do,” he tells me. The energy of New York City is what he claims has kept him there for so long. The crystals scattered around his studio are a testament to this.

And although there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged by people, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to let that happen anytime soon. “Whenever I’m ready to give up, whenever people disappoint me, there’s always someone that comes along that shows genuine appreciation and makes everything worth it.”

The doorbell rings. His guests are here and he greets them with the same smile and hugs that he greets everyone, ready to dive into another deep but lively conversation.

Prishtina Gastronomy Festival is coming!

Prishtina Gastronomy Festival aims to promote Albanian gastronomy by promoting Albanian cuisine and cultural traditions, that will inspire movement and action. At the very heart of this festival there is an issue and a message at hand ‘Our grandparents showed their love for us and the rest of our families through the dishes they were serving on the table. Let’s spread this love around the world!

The event will take place on 21st and 22nd of July 2019 in Prishtina at “Zahir Pajaziti” Square. During two days there will be symposiums, workshops, restaurant corner, trade fair with food and drink products from local vendors, organic section where organic product will be presented, games and music.

The festival will be an annual meeting for companies, chefs, restaurant owners, bartenders, historians, anthropologists, and our grandparents themselves.

Click here, for more information.

Hana Noka Introduces the Story of Queen Teuta of Illyria with Novel “Besa Po”

Los Angeles, February 4, 2019 – International model, actress, media personality and filmmaker Hana Noka will unveil the story of Queen Teuta of Illyria with the launch of the historical fictional novel “Besa Po,” inspired by the true story of love, loss, betrayal, victory and defeat. Queen Teutawas not only a famous Warrior Queen that lived almost two hundred years before Cleopatra, but her love for King Agron was one of the most legendary love stories in history. She was one of the first women to rise to power in the male dominated kingdom and society.

“I feel honored to be the first person to bring the true story of such a powerful woman to English language audiences,” comments Noka. “As an admirer of strong women in history, I was drawn to the stories of the ancient Illyrian women. I felt compelled to tell the story of the great leader Queen Teuta who ruled Illyria, which encompassed the modern day nations of the Balkans from 231 BC to 227 BC. It is my hope that the story of Queen Teuta will inspire women around the world just as it has inspired me. I eventually look forward to adapting the story of Queen Teuta to the big screen.

The Kosovan-Albanian beauty premiered her short film, titled “HANA” at the 9th annual La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival in July 2018. The film received three nominations, including Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music. Directed by Luey Nohut, “HANA” was inspired by a simple quote from former longtime creative director Alber Elbaz of fashion house Lanvin, “Style is something reflected from our soul to the outside world – an emotion.” Along with her husband Shkumbin, Noka served as executive producer on the film. 

Noka stars in the soon to be released film “The General,” starring Goran Višnjić  and Armand Assante, and will begin shooting on  “Criminal Act” by MPH Films in London this spring. She is represented by MMG and AC Talent and is a brand ambassador for Heinemann Duty Free in Europe.

Hana started her career in modeling and acting at a young age. Despite her busy life as a child model and actress, Hana always took her education seriously. She graduated from Griffith College Dublin, in Ireland with an honors BA in Journalism and Visual Media. Born in Istanbul, Turkey as the only child to Albanian parents, Noka grew up in various countries before settling in Los Angeles. 

“Besa Po” is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Official branded merchandise is also available on www.yuzzl.com. 

Noka will appear at launch events in New York and Beverly Hills during the month of February, and will be the feature cover story for the latest issue of Marie Westwood magazine.

Follow Hana Noka on social media:
https://www.instagram.com/hannanoka/
facebook & twitter: hannanoka
www.hannanoka.com

www.besapo.com

Photos Courtesy of Hana Noka.

Sokol Malushaga - Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

Sokol Malushaga – Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

Text & Photography by Ilir Rizaj 

The new wave of talented architects of Albanian origin, living and working in Western countries, is expanding each day. This is not a surprising trend, if we consider that the most influential architects in the Ottoman Empire were of Albanian ancestry, with Mimar Sinan at the helm. More latter-day examples in the 1800s Europe are Karl von Ghega, the most prominent of Austrian railway engineers and architects, and Luigi Giura, an Italian engineer and architect who built the first suspension bridge in continental Europe.

Architect Sokol Malushaga lives and works in New York, and in partnership with Eduard Malushi, owns Ari Group, an architectural-construction company specializing in ultra-luxurious projects in Manhattan.

Sokol Malushaga - Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

Sokol has studied architecture at Cooper Union, one of the most respected schools in the world. His Thesis project (1997) was selected to take part in Archive and Artifact – The Virtual and The Physical, an exhibition that celebrates the school’s pedagogy, by presenting projects completed at the school over the past 50 years.

Curated from vast materials in the school’s archive, the exhibition includes 35 chosen Thesis that includes physical hand drawings, born-digital drawings, and models. Sokol’s work conceives its inspiration from the concept of the wall and the brick and is presented among the projects by graduates of the school who have become prominent architects and educators, including Stan Allen, Peggy Dreamer, Elizabeth Diller, Diane Lewis, and Daniel Libeskind, among others.

Sokol Malushaga - Albanian Architectural Talent in New York

According to Sokol, his project is “a study that began as an exploration of boundary/threshold conditions defined by the presence of walls and their continuous rebuilding: the boundary of a room, house, street, and city was always defined by the wall…walls are alive, they have roots…in order for a new wall to be erected, a sacrifice is made”.

Sokol pays homage to his birthplace of Peja (Kosova) – known as a town of many artisans, one of them of brick makers – “the brick and the wall symbolize the dialogue between the old and the new, allowing for structures that are never finished”.

From the mason of the antiquity to the modern day designer, from Mimar to Karl to Sokol, the talent of the Albanian architect continues to enrich the world heritage.

The Future’s Syzana Kajtazaj says DSK can “create dreamers” in Malisheva and beyond

The Diaspora School in Kosovo, or DSK, hosted its first edition in October of last year. The program brought young adults from all over together to collaborate and create initiatives to better Kosovo.

Syzana Kajtazaj, a Computer Science and Engineering major at the University for Business and Technology in Kosovo, was one of those young adults. Together with her team, she created “The Future.”

“The Future” set out to better Kosovo’s future by working directly with the youth. The initiative took form as a club at Lasgush Poradeci high school in Kjevë, a village in the municipality of Malisheva. Through various activities, “The Future” connected with the students and helped them with health education, self-confidence, schoolwork, and more.

We interviewed Kajtazaj on her experience with the Diaspora School in Kosovo and her initiative.

KD: What was your experience as the leader of The Future initiative? Was it valuable or not?

SK: The Future initiative, for me as a leader, was one of the most beautiful projects I have ever participated. During the project, we successfully achieved to instill hope and motivation in our participants. As a leader, my job was to grow new leaders and not say “I” but “we.” In our project, our staff held the leader’s role. The experience was very valuable and inspiring. We not only worked for the problems of the youth but also to include the youth to solve the community problems and go further together.

KD: What did you gain from the process of the implementation?

SK: From the implementation process we learned more of how to manage time, students, lecture lessons, and other little things that sometimes are very important for a project to work. I gained more thoughtfulness for my surroundings, learned how to manage difficult situations, and I can say that I am now more prepared to lead any other projects. I can find smarter ways to help students, especially how to remember the lectures they will learn.

KD: Do you think your work has had an impact on the target group and community?

SK: We analyzed the results of our surveys and found that 95% of the students answered that they gained benefits that they will need and use in their future journey with education and life in general.

By the end of the program, everyone had become friends with each other and they were free to speak their mind without the fear that someone will judge them or think badly of them. They learned to use their freedom to express themselves by asking questions and sharing their opinions.

KD: Do you think that these kinds of initiatives should continue in the future?

SK: We strongly support the idea that these kinds of projects should continue for our youth. These projects will help our youth to become more open-minded, open doors that they did not know of before, expand their horizons and create big dreamers out there. No one achieved something big by dreaming small.

As the saying goes “Dream big but start small.” The students will start small by participating in projects like this and work hard towards their goals.

The Future team working together at the Diaspora School in Kosovo. Photo provided by DSK.

Arta Ramadani: Journalist and Author reflects on past, present and future

Arta Ramadani is an award-winning German TV journalist and author of Kosovar descent. Ramadani spent her childhood in Prishtina and later grew up in Germany. She has now found herself in Mainz, currently working at Europe’s largest TV station ZDF. It doesn’t stop there. Ramadani is also the author of the young adult book, “The journey to the first kiss: a Kosovar in Kreuzberg.”

The following is an exclusive interview with Ms. Ramadani for KosovoDiaspora:

KD: Tell us a bit about your background and the work you do.

AR: I grew up in Mannheim, a city with a large immigrant population. This means that you live with Italians, Portuguese, Turks, Greeks, and Germans. My childhood friends are from countries all over the world. I’ve always loved that. This way I learned to respect other religions and cultures from a young age. My family is open minded and loving.

Education was always important to my parents. Being independent. Getting ahead. Having dreams and fighting for them in an honest way. This is what my parents taught me at home. I’m very grateful for this, as it can’t be taken for granted. I love my parents, my brother, and sister. I owe them so much.

I always wanted to tell stories. When I was a teenager, I acted in a lot of plays because I was thinking of becoming an actress. But when I was 17 I became interested in radio journalism. I had my own radio shows for two years. In that way, I have improved my pocket money. When I was a student, I became more and more interested in serious journalism. I wanted to tell true stories about the people we live with. I did a lot of internships in television and independent production companies to gain experience. I moved often and lived in different cities. With all this and my academic degree under my belt, I applied to the ZDF, where I am still working today.

I’ve worked at ZDF for 9 years now. I mainly am a reporter for our morning-show “Volle Kanne.” I love our TV-Show. We are a creative band, very close to the spectators. We report on everything, our show is very popular in Germany. I love my job. It is exciting every day.  

I get to meet many interesting and important people when I film my pieces, from whom I learn a lot. The topics vary quite a bit. Sometimes it will be on discrimination, sometimes mental illness or sometimes I’ll meet girls from traditional patriarchal societies, controlled and oppressed by their parents. Unfortunately, the topics can be tough to deal with. Some topics affect me deeply — make me sad, but objective and honest coverage is always my job. That’s what they pay me to do.

Photo provided by Arta Ramadani.

KD: What has been your favorite experience as a journalist?

AR: I interview many interesting and important people. But I have to say, my meeting with Dua Lipa was a very special one for me. I immediately took her into my heart.

She had a concert in Frankfort in 2016, at the very beginning of her career. I had heard her song “Be The One” on the radio and was absolutely taken by her voice. So I arranged to meet her for our morning show.

I knew nothing about her until I started researching. I found that she has Albanian parents and that she lived in Prishtina for a few years. I was so surprised and happy, that I greeted her in Albanian during the interview. She was my first interview partner in Germany to have Albanian parents. For me, that was something special because I rarely meet people with Albanian background in my job.

Now, Dua Lipa is a star. When I hear her songs on the radio today, I smile every time because I know how cute, smart, funny, charming and warm Dua is. I wish her the absolute best.  

KD: What projects are you working on now?

AR: At the moment I am preparing the shooting on the topic: “Double Life.” It’s about a girl from Kosovo who was born and raised in Germany. She is 22 years old and must lie to her parents to live the life as she wants. For example, she cannot have a German boyfriend or sex before marriage, nor can she move out without being married. So many girls in Germany have a life exactly like hers. Girls from Iran, Iraq, Greece, and Russia have parents that come from traditional patriarchal societies.

It is very sad that there are still many girls from Kosovo who are not allowed to lead a self-determined life. Only clarification helps. We need to talk about it. Taboos need to be broken not only in Kosovo but also in the diaspora communities around the world.  

KD: You made the leap into a new media genre! In March 2018 you released your first young adult novel. The book is called “The journey to the first kiss. A Kosovar in Kreuzberg.” What is this book about? How did you come to the decision to process this story as a novel and not as a television report or documentary?

Credit: Drava Verlag

AR: I have already made reports about Kosovo. I kept an eye on it from a journalistic perspective and as a Kosovar, I am interested in the social and political developments there. But as much as I love my work in television, I wanted to create something very special with the novel. Writing, inventing stories… that’s something that is easy for me. I don’t need much for that… there is only me, my PC, my thoughts and a cup of tea. No cameras, no long train rides, no hotel rooms, no time pressure. There are no borders. I can give free rein to my imagination. I think that’s great because I have a lot of ideas in my head.

So I started writing about Era, a girl who lives in Prishtina in the 90s who really wants to go to a Madonna concert. The 90s were a difficult time for the Albanians in Kosovo. They were discriminated against and oppressed everywhere. They lost their jobs and were even persecuted and killed. Era’s parents are political activists who campaign for the freedom of the Albanians. They love their daughter very much, so they protect her by only telling her half-truths.

Era is awake, so to speak. She suspects a lot but does not really know what’s going on. So she flees her world with Madonna’s songs. Madonna’s music saves her. One day the family has to flee to Berlin. There, a Madonna concert is not so far away…

My book is a declaration of love to my parents, but also to Madonna and Germany.  This is a book for all Albanian parents who raised their daughters freely and lovingly.  

KD: Do you process your own story in the novel?

AR: “The journey to the first kiss” is a novel – a fictitious story. But of course, it also has a lot of my own experiences. I spent my childhood in Prishtina too. My father was also in political detention for campaigning for democracy and human rights in Kosovo. In my youth Madonna, Michael Jackson, Take That, New Kids on the Block and the Spice Girls played a big role. Music shaped my life as a teen very much. So, my protagonist Era and I already have some basic data in common. Nonetheless, the book is not an autobiography.  

KD: Germany is considered a rich country in Kosovo. Your protagonist is learning in Kosovo that there were also wars in Germany and that people were persecuted there as well. Why did you make life so difficult for Era?

AR: Eras’s family, who are Sunni Muslim, saved Jews during the Second World War. This is historically proven, which many in Germany don’t know. Many Albanians in Kosovo, but also in Albania –Christians and Muslims– have saved Jews. This has nothing to do with Islam, but with the code of honor of Albanians. 

Era learns about it from her grandmother. So Era develops an idea of Germany as a country that does not welcome all people. She flees Kosovo with many prejudices in her mind about Berlin. Her mother had to laboriously convince her to flee in the first place.

I did not want to make Era’s life difficult but I wanted to show her that people in Kosovo are not the only ones that have experienced suffering, misfortune, and death. Many others have experienced much worse things. What happens in Kosovo is not an isolated case and Era learns that relatively early.

KD: What would advise would you like to give young women, especially those from Kosovo?

AR:  I can only advise every young woman to have a solid education and to be financially independent. Financial independence, for me, is the key to a self-determined and free life. So girls, stay faithful, earn your own money, believe in yourself, never let yourself down, don’t spend time with idiots, go through life curiously and openly and meet all people on equal terms. This is something that really matters in a woman’s life.