Greek-Albanian relations receive a cultural boost

TIRANA – The conversation goes like this: «Thank you.» «Parakalo.» In 2009 Tirana, Greek is the new Esperanto. While it is habit for one to automatically try and establish communication in English, the minute an Albanian you address realizes that you are Greek, he or she will immediately get you out of any awkward situation. It was against this privileged background that the inauguration of a new center of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture took place in the Albanian capital on March 5. Early in the day, dozens of Albanian journalists attended a press conference, while hours later, and despite heavy rain, hundreds of people flooded the Arsakeio Greek-Albanian School – home to the foundation’s new center – for the opening event, which was held in the presence of Neritan Ceka, deputy speaker of the Albanian parliament, and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania. The official opening of yet another Balkan center of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture – similar openings have also taken place in Bucharest and Sofia, with Belgrade next on the list – comes at a good time for both countries. Recent friction between the two countries appears to have de-escalated substantially, while the repatriation of a wave of first-generation immigrants who did well for themselves while in Greece and are now making a fresh start back home is challenging old stereotypes, the preservation of which had been undertaken by a small group of nationalists with poor results – just take a look at the way Albanians voted in last year’s Eurovision song contest. At the same time, thousands of Albanians are working for Greek banks and other Greek companies in Albania. One way or another, the Greek language is very prominent in Albania and this is something the Hellenic Foundation for Culture’s people and its president, Professor Georgios Babiniotis, know only too well. Tirana’s Arsakeio School, which has turned into a vibrant source of philhellenism since it was established in 1998, is currently harvesting its first – for all to see – crop: the graduation of its first group of 18-year-old students, all of whom are fluent in Greek. Meanwhile, during the unofficial period of the center’s operation, which began in September 2008, more than 200 adults have enrolled in a series of courses in Modern Greek. The center’s opening was accompanied by the «Traveling with C.P. Cavafy» exhibition, showcasing archive material along with a collection of publications of the Alexandrian poet’s works translated into various languages – the latter in collaboration with the Center for Neo-Hellenic Studies / Cavafy Archive, the National Book Center of Greece and the Cavafy Museum in Alexandria. The following day, the five-member Argo ensemble interpreted works by Ravel, Yannis Constantinidis and Albanian songs from the anthology of Lola Gjoka, accompanied by the Arsakeio School Choir at the Tirana Academy of Arts. Coming up are three new exhibitions, one of which is aptly dedicated to the subject of immigration.

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