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Qofte in Disguise

European Others and the Albanian Question

  • Review
  • Dec 01 2019
  • Anna Ehrenstein
    works in transdisciplinary artistic practice with a focus on research and mediation. She uses lens based media, installation, social moments, sculpture, print or writing to reflect the intersections and divergences of so-called 'high' and 'low cultures' and their socio-economic and political constitutions. Raised between Albania and Germany reflections on migration-related visual and material culture, the social life of things, networked images and diasporic narratives form main foci of her work. She studied photography, media arts and curatorial studies and see’s her work as an art educator as part of her artistic and activist practice. She works with a variety of groups together on collaborative artistic projects, e.g. amongst others for the 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, within District Berlin as part of the intersectional, feminist collective N*A*I*L*S or the Critical Academy in Dublin.

The book, The Albanians – A history between Orient and Occident written by Oliver Jens Schmitt. An acquaintance proudly sharing her dirty but adventurous stay in Cairo's hipster hood Zamalek. A German writer’s tales on Columbiabad's pool action and its wild minority youths(1) or the yummy Albanian pizza place performing Italianness par excellence on Boddinstraße. These are just some of the mundane, neo-orientalist trajectories weaving the flying carpets fabric in Berlin. 

German historian Oliver Jens Schmitt recent book The Albanians claims to bring a better understanding to an “unfamiliar” region and his wikipedia declares him to be one of the best recognized experts on Albanian history. Well! Full of curiosity and increasing symbiotic 'Deutsche & Albana' anticipation I start reading the book’s first sentence: “‘The Albanian question' is occupying media and politics for years. Albanians as immigrants are a social reality in many European countries.” (2) These words are the beginning and simultaneously the premature termination of the book's two hundred page voyage. Right from the start the superiority complex of Schmitt negates his subject of study any crumb of personhood, without even slightly recognizing the possibilities of instant projectile vomiting at the side of the recipient. In this conclusion my kin, my family and me are not human beings— but 'a social reality'. What are the colliding forces that produce such a vast ontological difference between subject Schmitt and his object of study? 

The blind spot named Albanian history is an octo-armed multi-split between the posts – post-socialist and post-colonial, between arpeggios of occupation and 500 years of Ottoman rule, Italian colonization, perfidious dictatorship, civil-war and close to thirty years of striving to balance centuries of domination with fragile sovereignty and a lot of 'shaka'. 'Shaka' is the Albanian word for joke and the basis of almost every socio-cultural Albanian entanglement. People that do not have too much to laugh at, tell the best punchlines. 

Internal bonding of European Identity still heavily relies on superiority to the Other. Within the narrative of Europeanness, migration is still the biggest threat to national and continental identity and dazzling through the hijab-liberation front, the new nationalisms or the genocide in the mediterranean. The space of the Balkans and Albania in peculiar, due to their slippery racialization and ethnification processes, are not free from complicity, colourism, antiziganism or Islamophobia— while being very distinct in their own socio-spatial and temporal specificities(3). Even though Europe's phantom outward depiction is as a homogenous mass of privilege, the tension between a growing non-white, non-christian population and insistent essentialist definitions of Europeanness continue growing and producing quantum entanglements of inclusion/exclusion. To encompass full personhood and modernity within the European social structure, the qofte savouring Chaya has to perform racial drag. The classical Persian word 'kofta' has been adopted by languages of the Indian subcontinent, the South Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Balkan regions with minor phonetic variation. Kufta, Chiftele, Kafta, Kofta, Keftedes or Cufteta means to grind. To grind – to be mincing meat, mincing vegetables and mincing herbs or to grind — like grinding one's teeth by trying persistently to escape tropes of flooding, organized criminality and contamination.

The Italian stallion restaurant Nuovo Mario in Berlin’s boujee westside serves the 'Dolce Vita' in whiteface. There is not a single Albanian restaurant in Berlin, but there is a legion of Albanian restaurants dressed up in green, white and red, desperately trying to pass as the Other (4). I'm aware I ain't serving fresh tea when I say the racial threat coming from Africa and the cultural threat coming from Islam have been key themes in European consciousness since the medieval ages. Many decades of post-colonial discourse, critical race theory and action clarified this sufficiently. The buzzword 'decolonize' is riding an exponential google trend curve, leading so far to suggest 'decolonize your diet' as the prime search result (5). 

Mashallah, Brudi– Schmitt's book helped me to back up how far this discourse actually persists in german mass audiences or historical scholarship. History is an accumulation of happenings, that we narrate while sewing in the threads of our preexisting biases. Schmitt's book, while also getting across some of these accurate happenings, is dripping in blood, calamity and islamophobia (6).  Being one of the first results, when researching Albanian history, this orientalist cycle is a prime source for further german journalism, scholarship and bias procreation. The “Clash of Cultures” and “War on Terror” tropes are Islamophobia's tangible outcomes and the perfect justification for surveillance capitalism and fossil extractivism. Unlearned are Islam’s vast influence on European Renaissance— just one of the multitude of specimen breaking the equation of Europeanness and Modernity or Secularism (7). 

In her 2016 book Undeutsch Fatima El Tayeb sheds light on how the process of being racialized as Kanake (8) functions within the German and European framework and how major leftist intellectuals like Derrida and Habermas are not freed from perpetuating white saviour chronicles (9). Fluid, displaced and delightfully shattered are some of the constant parameters, forming 'second gen migrant' identity in western Europe. A familiar narrative is, that children of migration frequently soak up their multiple cultural influences, to be perceived by the majority population as dwelling constant nomads in an abstract, third area. Seen as permanent transitory migrants– never actually arriving and never finally going back. Despite their distinctive regional differences, most Qofte within Europe aren't allowed to integrate into the nation through institutional, structural and quotidian mechanisms of exclusion or through methodologies of fetishisation and hypervisibility. However, some tools that lay the foundation for the cathedral of shit are ingeniously shared. The contemporary flood of white fragility #alllivesmatters intimately unites or certainly does not break on the cliffs of the art world. 

“When you expose a problem you pose a problem. It might then be assumed that the problem would go away if you would just stop talking about or if you went away.” Sarah Ahmed (10). 

A campaign of resigning 'white male art critics' has currently swirled through german and international art media. Sick and tired of the “perpetrator” position, the fear of Baklava scarcity has led to a stomach growl. Alas, instead of properly doing the self-educational labour first and dismantling how decolonizing approaches are being used for current reactionary projects after, in many cases they perpetuate structural violence with using racist imagery for their cases11 or spreading falsehood in favour of their own profiling (12).

Do not fear, white-male ally, Azzlacks(13) like to share their Baklava.

    1. "Multicultural: Pushing permitted - The Nightmare of “the Worried Citizens”: In Berlin's Columbiabad Germany's Multicultural Future is already Present" Stefan Kuzmany's article reads like a contemporary version of Edwin Lord Weeks. 1275179.html
    2. translated to: „The Albanians: A History Between the Orient and the Occident ", page 9, 1st edition 2012, here 2nd edition 2018, publisher C. H. Beck, Germany
    3. In her book "Race and the Yugoslav Region: Postsocialist, Post-Conflict, Postcolonial?" from 2018, Catherine Baker goes into detail about the racial dynamics of the post-Yugoslav space, but the racialized role of Kosovo or Bosnia can also be transferred to Albania.
    4. translated to: "The Italian is Albanian" Markus Mayr, Berlin der-italiener-ist-albaner-1.3584335
    6. Examples of his Islamophobic narration in "The Albanians" are i.a. P. 24, p. 65, p. 112 and p. 123
    7. "Islamic Science and the making of the European Rainaissance“, George Saliba, MIT Press, 2007
    8 . Kanake is a colloquial, derogatory terminology for people of southeastern european, near and middle eastern heritage in Germany,
    9. In "European Others Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe“ Fatima el Tayeb, S. 56, University of Minnesota Press, 2011 is analyzing Derrida's and Habermas's response to the Iraq war and Undeutsch: Die Konstruktion des Anderen in der postmigrantischen Gesellschaft, Fatima El Tayeb, transcript, 2016
    10. "Living a Feminist Life“, Sarah Ahmed, page 37, Duke University Press, 2017
    11. After Kurt McVay publicly defied his "solidarity" in "Kill Your Darlings: The End of the White Male Ally" with the help of a stereotypical, racist work by artist Man Ray, art critic Charlene Stevens laid bare his more than poorly made homework.
    12. The art critic Raimar Stange, also plagued by "identity politics", published this among other untruths in the so called leftist newspaper TAZ that artist Cana Bilir-Meier shall be a political hypocrite, as she accepted the economically funded ARS Viva Prize. Accidentally he left out his own previous collaboration with ARS Viva.!168960/
    13. Azzlack is a self-descriptive terminology coined by the multidisciplinary artist Haftebefehl, representing a neologism for "Associal Kanake"



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