Author: Stefan Capaliku
Albania is one of the oldest countries on the Balkan Peninsula and is at the cross roads of Europe, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Illyria. Over the past fifty years, it has been under communist rule which isolated the country from the rest of Europe until the early 1990s when the regime collapsed and independence was achieved. Prior to 1944, there was a rapid development or National Renaissance of Albanian art and culture. Following the Second World War, art and culture were under a "socialist realism" ideology whose main aim was to create the "New Socialist Man". Large-scale performances, sponsored by the state, glorified their ideology and the new man of the Labour Party.
During the communist regime, Albanian cultural life was completely centralised and controlled by the state. Cultural events were mostly organised in the capital Tirana, which was also home to the Opera and Ballet Theatre, Popular Theatre, the Hall of State Variety Show, the Concert Hall of the Palace of Culture, the Hall of the High Institute of Arts.
In spite of the guiding political ideology and severe lack of funding, artistic and social progress was made and cultural infrastructure built up. For example, in 1946, the first Albanian Art School was founded and artists created their first professional organisation - Albanian Writers' and Artists' League - in 1952. A few years later, in 1954, the first National Art Gallery was opened which was an important institution to promote and protect the artistic heritage of both native and foreign artists. Despite limits placed on artistic freedom and freedom of movement, many young artists completed their studies and produced a variety of monuments and other monumental works of paintings, sculptures, design, photographs or applied arts.
The collapse of communism in Eastern European countries throughout the early 1990s gave rise to the free movement of citizens, and thus enabled Albanian artists to have direct contact with the world of art outside Albania. Since then, Albanian culture was "exported". A new generation of artists had their works performed and distributed in different regions of the world. Works by Albanian composers were broadcast by foreign channels which gave them access to a mass international audience for the first time. Independent artists groups, orchestras, chamber music ensembles, pop music and folklore groups were founded and were given an opportunity to perform both inside and outside the country.
Such progress, however, has been more or less limited to favourable market conditions found in Tirana with little influence on other Albanians towns. The number of musical events varies in different parts of the country according to the interests of the audience and their traditions. Although there are many cultural groups and associations throughout Albania, only eight of them are recorded in the 1998 catalogue of the Albanian Foundation of Civil Society.
In 1991, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) was decreed by the new President of the Republic whose aims was to bring the Albanian culture and sport institutions in line with European standards. A new cultural policy was created to help recover and develop Albanian cultural life and is based on the right of its citizens to participate in cultural life. In July 2000, a Guide to the cultural policy of the Albanian state was produced by the Ministry to set new goals for the country. Emphasis has been placed on national heritage as well as on the vital role of modernising Albanian society. Few pieces of legislation, have, however, been integrated as instruments in the day to day operations of the Ministry. After the political election in 2005, changes were made to the title and functions of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, which resulted in the formation of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sports.