Between Albania and Calabrian Arbëria: an interview with Carlo Pellicano

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Carlo Pellicano

Carlo Pellicano comes from Frascineto (province of Cosenza). He graduated in Political Studies at the University of Calabria in 2004, and started working at the Language Helpdesk of Frascineto on that same year. In 2009, he moved to Albania, where he worked as a Hr Consultant and Internal Auditor for the Italian Development Aid agency for two years. Since 2011, he has been a collaborator of the Italian Institute for Culture, as a teacher of Italian to foreign people and interlocutor for Celi and Cils exam sessions, in partnership with the Universities of Perugia and Siena. Since 2014, he has been a linguistic instructor and an HR recruiter for a customer care office.  

A Calabrian who emigrated to Albania. Tell us about it, what inspired you to make this choice?

I’d call it going back home rather than emigrating. As an Arbëreshë, I have always lived with the myth of Skanderberg, the Albanian national hero who was the protagonist of pages of history that have survived the centuries; this motivated me to investigate my origins and, the idea of belonging to a historically well-founded though scarcely known culture. After 5 years spent as an employee of the Language Helpdesk for the arbëreshë communities, I was going through a bleak moment of my professional career; when I met my future wife, I took an interest in the social and economic situation of the country and in the then-emerging job market. In 2009, I applied for a vacancy at the Italian Development Aid Agency, which gave me the opportunity to enter a new field and build on my professional skills. I soon started collaborating with the Italian Institute for Culture: initially as an auditor during Celi exam sessions, subsequently as a teacher and curator of cultural projects, which led me to keep the link with the Italian component of my cultural identity alive: it certainly was considered to be an added value in Albania. Teaching Italian as a foreign language in Albania was a stimulating experience, which heightened my sense of professional involvement. It is thanks to the Italian Institute for Culture that I gained professional knowledge of my field, which enabled me to put myself to the test over the years; in the end, taking up teaching and linguistic formation proved to be the professional turning point in my career. Given the establishment of many Italian firms in Albania, today I specialize in technical terminology. For two years now, I have also worked as a recruiter and linguistic instructor for a large business company operating in the field of customer care.

What does the Italian Institute for Culture do in Tirana?

It is an official agency of the Italian Republic, its main objective is the promotion and diffusion of the Italian language and culture in Albania through the organization of cultural events “aimed at facilitating the circulation  of ideas, artistic forms and science”. Particularly worth mentioning are the courses it offers in Italian language and culture, as well as the language certifications it is allowed to grant in partnership with important Universities for foreign people, such as the ones of Siena and Perugia.

Do you feel like talking about some particular projects, perhaps something to do with Calabria?

There have been many initiatives focusing on Calabria, particularly on the arbëreshë culture. I might quote: the participation of Carmine Abate – a Calabrian writer whose books get translated into Albanian and are particularly appreciated here – in the Tirana Book Fair, or the publication of Girolamo De Rada’s complete works – he is an author Albanians consider as the “Calabrian Manzoni” – by the Albanian Studies section of the University of Calabria. Also, musical events, such as the concert held by Spasulati Band, a real success in the capital city, or my personal participation in the International Festival of Human Rights organized by the Academy of Cinema “Marubi”, with a musical play called “Aquile e Briganti”, the poetic story of a cultural identity swept by the wind of memory and aptly symbolized by the Bosnian Pine, indebted to the Calabrian- Arbëreshë music tradition. On that occation, when I was presenting the only Italian performance in an otherwise international programme, I was accompanied by a friend, the Master Luigi Stabile from Morano Calabro, who brought along his ancient instruments.

The arbëreshë language and today’s Albanian. What are their similarities and differences?

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I think the crucial difference lies in the use of the language. Today’s Albanian, or rather “shqipe”, is a language shared by the population of a well-defined territory. It includes two historical variants: “ghego” and “tosko”. Over the centuries, this language has followed the social and political evolution of the country and of its neighbouring territories (Macedonia, Montenegro and the independent State of Kosovo), that were formerly Albanian and nowadays belong to Greece. Therefore, an official language, whereas Arbëreshë remains the language of a particular ethnic minority, a vehicle of cultural differentiation for a people that was brought to Italy by a complex migration process more than 5 centuries ago. Those who speak it are still distinguished by a rural culture, whose range of lexical expression is still largely dependent on what sociolinguistics define as the “oral groups and societies”, such as some territorial districts of small villages, family structures and old corporations. On the other hand, this language has always tried to adapt to all the different historic ages: by means of transliteration for example, or introducing Italian loans into its vocabulary, which nowadays is a distinctive feature of this minority language.

How has Albania changed over the past few years?

I think we may call modern Albania a “Cinderella of the Balkans”. Towards the end of the 1980s, after the Berlin Wall was taken down, the Albanian people had this dream that democracy would be the turning point towards their access to that part of the world they had considered as their enemy for about fifty years. In fact, the cultural elite that lay nested in the student movement, the same elite that managed to bring  the regime to its final collapse, had not reckoned with the cultural element of suspicion typical of the Albanian character, nor had they taken into account the people’s inability to understand the true value of democracy in a small amount of time. The 1990s left their marks on this country, which became subject to a massive wave of emigration that would result in the virtual abandonment of most rural areas, those same areas that had previously been administered by the cooperatives of the Labor Party. The1997 crisis saw the collapse of many of those finance companies that had managed for many years to entice small Albanian investors into venture financial operations; the country was on the brink of a civil war, yet it was then that Albania started to feel a certain wind of change. Today’s Albania is a modern country; it takes part in the process of global change and has the advantage of being able to experiment on its territorial heritage as well as, more significantly, on the intellectual resource of young people. The same people who often go to study abroad and come back to Albania with a solid Italian degree, providing their skills for the development of their country. There still are many contradictions at play, but I am sure that time will bring gratification to this young country.

…what about Calabria?

I wouldn’t know what to say. Whoever comes to Calabria on vacation has no actual perception of change. Territorial issues call for daily in-place observation. I would run the risk of saying oddities if I answered. I would probably give vent to unfounded criticism or express non-objective points of view. Those who decided to stay in Calabria should probably keep following the dream of change for a territory that is so unique and rich in resources. My personal suggestion is that they should give up any ideas of immediate economic rewards and give in to the enthusiasm of thinking and taking concrete action. This is what’s happening now in Albania.