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Albania: Millennium Voices -- Albanian Writer Ismail Kadare

The following interview with Albanian writer Ismail Kadare is part of NCA's occasional series: Millennium Voices. The series presents recognized thinkers considering the major trends in international political, artistic, and technological developments that help to shape our world as we approach the year 2000.

As part of RFE/RL's series of Millennium Voices, internationally renowned Albanian writer Ismail Kadare discusses the global lessons of the Kosovo conflict. In a recent interview with correspondent Alexandra Poolos at his home in Paris, Kadare talks about the importance of art in times of war.

Paris, 29 September 1999 (RFE/RL) - Albanian writer Ismail Kadare says the violence that shattered Kosovo must not be dismissed as simply a Balkan phenomenon. In a recent interview at his home in Paris, the internationally renowned author said there were global lessons to be learned from the ethnic conflict that consumed the Yugoslav province earlier this year. He says hatred and violence are infectious, a disease that has spread to every corner of the world. Literature is part of the cure.

Kadare believes the world has an obligation to intervene to prevent the kind of ethnic cleansing campaign that killed thousands and gutted the province. As we enter a new millennium, he says, we must remember that failing to act is also a crime.

"The first thing is you have to not be afraid of crime. You have to do what you can to face it and help. It is wrong to be absent, or to hesitate too long, when victims of crime are calling out and crying for help. Beyond the laws of humanity and democracy and world government, there is a higher supreme law that governs us all as human beings. It was wrong in Kosovo to ask if we had permission to stop the crime. We cannot hesitate to decide if we should help or not -P look at what is happening now in East Timor. "

Kadare was born in 1938 in the southern Albanian town of Gjirokastra. A slender man who wears thick, black glasses, he has a quiet and dignified presence. Kadare says he believes writers have an obligation to speak out.

" Of course, I still play a role in politics every day. I think it is elitist for a writer to only write. I give hundred of interviews. I have strong opinions and I donUt believe in being a writer who is afraid of giving advice. So when they call for advice I give it."

Kadare says artists are especially important during times of war. When there is a conflict, he says, art can offer a window through the violence, a way to see past the hurt and prejudices.

"There is hatred throughout the world. The whole world has been spiritually poisoned. And that hatred is like a fever. You urgently need a medication to lower that fever, that hatred. Like an aspirin. Culture and art can play an important role in lowering the fever."

Kadare discovered his impulse to write when he was very young. His first book, "The General of the Dead Army," was published when he was just 25 and catapulted him to national fame. Censored heavily in Albania, Kadare counts his experience growing up under a communist regime as one of the greatest influences on his work.

"Not a single dictator can change the literature. Even the worst governments in situations cannot suppress literature."

Kadare believes writing is a way to find the truth in his Balkan heritage. Art is necessary for the mind, the same way food is for the body. But, says Kadare, art can be used to poison the people as well.

"During the crimes in the Balkans, literature played a very bad role. The writings of today in some cases actually pushed people towards hatred. That's why the Balkans need more of an emancipated, humanistic literature to help their liberty and freedom in the world and in their current situation."

Kadare has been prolific in his effort to advance freedom. Nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, he has written 18 novels, three volumes of literary studies, a book of poetry, and countless essays.

It has been a struggle for Kadare to achieve international recognition. Albania is a small country, often dismissed by the literary world. Still, Kadare has been translated into close to 40 languages. He believes he is very much a voice of Albania.

"People read my work because they want to read literature. And at the same time, they gain an understanding of the country itself. I receive thousands of letters from around the world saying, 'We read your books and we want to know more about where you're from.' "

For Kadare, this is the greatest pleasure of all.