Speech delivered in Tuz, Montenegro, on November 14, 2004 at the Conference:
“The Ivanaj Brothers: outstanding personalities of the Nation and Albanian culture”
It is a pleasure for me to be here with you today, as a representative of “The Martin and Mirash Ivanaj Foundation” at the joint Conference organized with the “Nikollë Ivanaj Association”, to share our experiences and coordinate our missions toward a common goal.
Since Drita Ivanaj initiated the establishment of two Ivanaj Foundations with headquarters in New York and Tirana, I will tell you how my relationship with Drita began and later paved the way for the creation of these foundations.
In 1992, for the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the State Gymnasium of Shkodra, I was invited to be a participant in a scientific assembly organized on this occasion in that city. At the end of that gathering, symbolic medals honoring the “Martyrs of Democracy” were presented to officials of education, professors, and ex students of this gymnasium, who were in the past victims of the national cause.
The name of the director of the State Gymnasium of Shkodra, Prof. Dr. Mirash Ivanaj, was listed as number one of all the people that were decorated at that time by the President of the Republic of Albania. While the medals were presented to those that survived the long persecution by the dictatorship and/or their relatives, no one was available to receive the medal for Prof. Ivanaj. All those present at the ceremony recognized his name because he had remained alive in the memory of the citizens of Shkodra as an extraordinary example of a truthful, hardworking, and modern educator.
Some months later, I had the chance to travel to New York, where I asked my brother-in law, Dr. Agim Leka, to put me in touch with Drita Ivanaj, whose name I recollected since I had heard an interview she gave to the Voice of America in 1985. That was the first time I had heard her name, but my father, who respectfully remembered the lessons of Prof. Ivanaj (since he had been one of his students), told me then that she was the niece of his ex professor. During that old interview I valued the interest she expressed about the Universities of Tirana and Pristina, and her offer to help them in the fields of computers and technology.
During the first meeting with Drita, I invited her to come to Albania, and she eagerly accepted and acted on my proposal. In May of that year, 1993, after an absence of 54 years, Drita, motivated by indescribable longing and emotion, did step onto Albanian soil again. I wrote some articles about Drita in local newspapers such as : “Republika”, “Kosova”, “Liria- Freedom”, since she is a noteworthy heir of the Ivanaj brothers.
With her we traveled to Shkodra to retrieve the decoration named for her uncle. The then director of the Gymnasium “28 Nentori” (“28 November”), Adnan Beli, and that city Mayor, Filip Guraziu, organized a meeting to personally present the medal to Drita. Totally unannounced to us, it was surprising to see the turn out of people that gathered at the Historic Museum for this occasion. Former students of the gymnasium, elderly men, new professors, and students hurried to meet the niece of Prof. Ivanaj. Everyone was eager to speak or talk about their memories regarding this intellectual and reformer of Albanian education. Many were the voices that expressed gratitude for their professor, who had created harmony in the lives of his students, and it was difficult to break up their conversational interchanges.
After this meeting, Luan Leka, who became Drita’s right hand, facilitated her meetings with politicians, and ex inmates that spent time with Dr. Mirash during their political imprisonment. In September 1993, in participation with the President of Albania and the Minister of Education, members of Parliament decided to organize a commemorative conference on the occasion of the 40 anniversary of Mirash Ivanaj’s demise, which took place at the Palace of Congress in Tirana.
From then on, contacts with, and visits by Drita became more frequent. At first Drita was hosted in my house in Tirana, a very modest home, but, in those difficult days, we were among the first lucky people to be supplied with telephone, fax, computer, and printer, which began to function for the foundation.
One of Drita’s concerns was to bring back to Albania the remains of her father, who had died in Turkey in 1940, so that both brothers could rest together in their fatherland, united as they had been throughout their lives. Luan Leka remained very close to her during this emotional time and organized the burial ceremony in Tirana, when Drita was finally able to accomplish this sense of duty toward her deceased parent.
One of the first steps taken, and requested by Drita, after her return to Albania, was the restitution of her confiscated properties. Fortunately, Drita’s mother, Prof. Giuseppina Pogliotti, had carefully preserved old records of proprietorship that would allow new documentation to be issued. Luan Leka worked with great zeal toward this aim. Authorized by a power of attorney, he searched on her behalf the pertinent paperwork in the archival and real estate offices of the city, and submitted to the ‘Commission for the Restitution of Properties’ what was considered necessary for evaluation. His persistence in evidencing the injustice toward the Ivanaj brothers accelerated the decision for the restitution of the property, and the related registration of deed under the name of Drita Ivanaj. Actual physical access to the property, however, continued to be a struggle, also considerably hindered by the period of political transition that has affected our country.
All the above activities, however, opened the way toward the establishment of the Ivanaj Foundations that have headquarters in New York since 1995, and in Tirana since 1996. Their formation augmented the knowledge about the Ivanaj brothers’ activities through internet, media, and the press. The work “Epic of the man”, published in Tirana by Lazer Radi, was dedicated to Prof. M. Ivanaj. Then “Rhapsodic Chronicle”, where many verses described the known personalities of the Ivanaj brothers, was published in Shkodra. Later on, the speech that Nikollë Ivanaj delivered to the press in Rome, Italy, in 1911, was republished and translated into Albanian, thanks to Drita’s care, and today this work, entitled “An Albanian Revival”, is in the hands of readers also in the United States.
Many articles were published by a variety of authors in the press of the time, in Tirana, in Shkodra, and in “Illyria” in New York. In 1997, Drita took a firm stand against a known writer, who, for his own political purposes in that turbulent year in Albania, published without her permission, “The Confiscated Diary of M. Ivanaj”, an Ivanaj private and copyrighted document. The publishing house (Toena) rapidly agreed to stop distribution of the available copies, which were retrieved, and destroyed as requested.
Now it is important that we have the full, complete work of Dr. Iljaz Gogaj, entitled “MIRASH IVANAJ, an outstanding personality of the Albanian Universe”, published in Albania in 2004.
The Tirana Conference that took place in September 2003 was the wealthiest in material resources. It was a full fledged academic conference, rich of scientific topics, coupled by a great exhibit of important documents of the Ivanaj brothers that was prepared by the Archives of State, at Drita’s request. On that occasion the President of the Republic honored Prof. Mirash Ivanaj with the High Order of “Honor of the Nation”, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death. The good organizational and qualitative work of the Ivanaj Foundation’s staff accounted for the high level and success of this well attended, and televised Conference.
We, as a foundation, have enhanced the significance of our work based on the lessons of the Ivanaj Brothers. Prof. Mirash paid particularly attention to justice in defense of the state, and well known historians are also researching Dr. Martin’s activities, to focus on their contribution in this area, since both brothers graduated in jurisprudence and had experience in this field.
The focal point of Mirash Ivanaj’s special attention that was really important for the protection of state was the schooling system. His contribution in this field was the transformation of the Gymnasium of Shkodra that was converted into a school of European caliber, and later on, when he became Minister of Education, it was the educational restructuring, known as the Ivanaj Reform.
Prof. Ivanaj’s opinion on education was: “the focal point of scholastic education, in the wide-ranging concerns of a nation, is nationwide learning, based on language, real character (manhood), and common traditions”. Since we are in Tuz, close to the birthplace of M. Ivanaj, the word ‘manhood’ is better understood than in any other place. It represents the moral power of the Albanian character that guarantees discipline in school to teach students through conscious dedication.
As a foundation we seek to achieve what Ivanaj carried out in the Gymnasium of Shkodra, who gathered students, of three religious faiths, from all Albanian territories, from Çameria, to Dibra, from Kosovo, to Southern Italy (Arberesh), while creating excellent religious harmony among them. Our Institution will be open to all Albanians, from everywhere, here and from the Diaspora. It will be a training center and it will support the cultural development of Albanian youth. Toward this aim, Drita has put at the disposal of our organization whatever she inherited from the Ivanaj brothers. Below is the legacy left by Prof. Mirash to Drita.
Upon my death and after that, whatever I own in Albania, as immovable and movable possessions, which are free or will be freed from confiscation and appropriation that happened at the time of the Italian occupation of Albania in 1939, I appoint as universal heir, my niece, Drita Ivanaj, the only daughter of my dear brother, Martin, who died in Istanbul, on May 28th, 1940.
Although the immovable (real estate) property, a house in Tirana and a parcel of land in the beach area of Durres, are registered in my name, I declare in complete consciousness, that they are common property of myself and my brother, Martin. They represent the saving of 15 years of our service to a free Albania, from which, upon our exodus, we didn’t take out anything, not even the value of a cup of coffee, very much yearned by my dear brother, Martin, who was very sick when we traveled through Greece, on April 8th, 1939.
Signed: Istanbul, October 3, 1940, Mirash Ivanaj”
In addition to the assured resources, Drita has established contacts with experts in different fields in the U.S.A. that could offer their experience through papers and seminars, which are going to be organized by the staff of our Institute. With this practice we can cooperate with the “Nikollë Ivanaj” association in many ways:
1. In the Archives of the State in Tirana there are 99 old confiscated files of the Ivanaj brothers that include various documents of great value in the fields of literature, history, justice, education, and philosophy. Here, links of cooperation can be established, where particular researchers of our associations can explore those topics, in their service to Albanian society.
2. The family tree of the Ivanajs dating back to 1444, where names in the century ramifications can be found. This can be used by historians to document different periods of history. Here, you are closer to this tree than anybody else, because you are part of its branches and you can add your contribution to it.
3. In their youth, the Ivanaj brothers wrote a drama in Italian and published several poems in Serbian. There are many among you, who know the latter language and have the capacity to translate this poetry and adopt it into Albanian, as Prof. Lazer Radi did in the work “Epic of the Man”.
4. Our PTA project (parents and teachers association), which hopefully may be funded through an American Embassy grant, can become available to both our organizations, but it should be planned and implemented for full effectiveness.
5. The original thesis of Dr. Martin was selected from the “Kanun”, or Code of the Mountains. This thesis contains authentic scientific and historic values, and its author points out observed inaccuracies, written by Shtjefen Gjeçovi about the Code of Leke Dukagjini, the unwritten rule of law, now also translated into English. Here there might be researchers who pay attention to this code, which has dominated life in our mountains for centuries. Even in our days this code is continually referred to with negative or positive sides of interpretation, and these researchers could try to improve the inaccuracies that even today govern living in our highlands.
6. The Educational Ivanaj Reform incorporated the participation of girls in the scholarly, sport and cultural life of the time. This can be a joint work effort for both our organizations to continue the emancipation of women and their active contribution in the social life of our countries.
Any cooperation is welcomed. Thank you!