February 10, 1917
|Died||August 13, 1983
|Alma mater||La Sapienza University|
|Notable works||"As my old mother tells me" (1941, Albanian: 'Siç me thotë nënua plakë);
"Around the Hearth (1944, (Albanian: Rreth vatrës);
"How life swayed" (1944, (Albanian: Sa u tund jeta... ).
Musine Kokalari (February 10, 1917 Adana, Turkey – August 14, 1983) of Gjirokastër, Albania was an Albanian prose writer and politician in Albania's pre-communist period. She was the founder of the Social-Democratic Party of Albania in 1943. Kokalari was the first female writer of Albania. After a short involvement in politics during World War II, she was persecuted by the communist regime in Albania, and not allowed to write anymore. She died in poverty and complete isolation.
Musine Kokalari was born on February 10, 1917 in Adana in southern Turkey of a patriotic and politically active family of Gjirokastrian origin. She returned to Albania with her family in 1920. Musine was early to acquire a taste for books and learning since her brother Vesim operated a bookstore in Tirana in the mid 1930s. In January 1938, she left for Rome to study literature at the university there and graduated in 1941 with a thesis on Naim Frashëri. Her stay in the eternal city gave her an ephemeral glimpse into a fascinating world of intellectual creativity and her sole aim in life upon her return to Albania was to become a writer.
In 1943, she declared to a friend, "I want to write, to write, only to write literature, and to have nothing to do with politics."
She had, at the age of twenty-four, indeed already published an initial 80-page collection of ten youthful prose tales in her native Gjirokastrian dialect: As my old mother tells me (Albanian: Siç me thotë nënua plakë), Tirana, 1941. This historic collection, strongly inspired by Tosk folklore and by the day-by-day struggles of women of Gjirokastër, is thought to be the first work of literature ever written and published by a woman in Albania. Their value consists of the very lively dialect of Gjirokastër and the prevailing mores of the region. Kokalari called the book, "the mirror of a world gone by, the path of transition from girlhood with its melodies and the first years of marriage to the world of the grown woman, once again bound by the heavy chains of slavery to patriarchal fanaticism."
Three years later, despite the vicissitudes of World War II, Kokalari now twenty-seven, was able to publish a longer collection of short stories and sketches entitled How life swayed (Albanian: Sa u-tunt jeta), Tirana, 1944, a total of 348-pages which established her—ever so briefly—as a writer of substance. A third volume of her folksy tales was entitled Around the Hearth (Albanian: Rreth vatrës), Tirana, 1944.
After World War II
As World War II came to an end, Kokalari herself opened a bookstore and was invited to become a member of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists, created on October 7, 1945 under the chairmanship of Sejfulla Malëshova. All the time she was haunted by the execution without trial of her two brothers, Mumtaz and Vejsim, on November 12, 1944 by the communists and candidly demanded justice and retribution. Having herself been closely associated in 1944 with the fledgling Albanian Social-Democratic party and its press organ Zëri i lirisë ("The voice of freedom"), she was arrested on January 17, 1946 in an age of terror concomitant with the arrest of Malëshova, and on July 2, 1946 was sentenced to twenty years in prison by the military court of Tirana as a saboteur and enemy of the people.
Right before her arrest Kokalari had sent a letter to the Allied Forces, which were still based in the Albanian capital, Tirana. In her letter she called for free elections and freedom of expression. At the trial, Kokalari stated the following:
I don't need to be a communist to love my country. I love my country even though I am not a communist. I love its progress. You boast that you have won the war, and now you are the winner you want to extinguish those who you call political opponents. I think differently from you but I love my country. You are punishing me for my ideals!
In 1964, after 18 years in the Prison of Burrel in the District of Mat region, isolated and under constant surveillance, she spent the following next 19 years of her life in internment in the town of Rrëshen, Northern Albania, where she had to work as a streetsweeper. She was never allowed to resume her writing. Terminally ill with cancer, she was even refused a hospital bed before her death on August 14, 1983.
Kokalari was one of the first 30 imprisoned writers to be listed in 1960 by the Committee of the Three (precursor of International PEN). In 1993 Kokalari was posthumously declared a Martyr of Democracy by the President of Albania and a school in Tirana now bears her name.
This article contains information from Frosina.org and it is used with permission. Much of this text appears in: Robert Elsie, Albanian literature: a short history, Centre for Albanian Studies, London 2005, p. 157.
- "Musine Kokalari: Dashuria ime italiane" [Musine Kokalari: My Italian Love] (in Albanian). Ikubinfo.com.
- Wilson, Katharina. An Encyclopedia of continental women writers 2. p. 646. ISBN 0-8240-8547-7.
- "1960: Musine Kokalari". International Pen.
- Moisiu, Rajmonda (July 7, 2010). "Appreciation for Musine Kokalari and Imprisoned Writers in the World!". Fjala e Lire.