Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Voice of America's Albanian Services Celebrates its 70th Anniversary

On 13 May 1943, the first Albanian broadcast of the Voice of America went on the air. Only 14 months-old at the time, VOA was already broadcasting hundred of hours of programming in dozens of languages around the world.

In its inaugural program, in German on 1 February 1942, a voice in the ether announced what could well summarize the credo of VOA in the years to come:

"Today, and every day from now on, we will be with you from America to talk about the war. . . . The news may be good or bad for us – We will always tell you the truth."

For a lot of people on the other side of the Iron Curtain, the news kept getting from bad to worse throughout the Cold War. The repression of anti-communist movements was brutal and the list is long: Albania between 1944-1954, East Berlin in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in 1970s, etc. VOA broadcasts provided a glimmer of hope for those who could listen to its broadcasts at the time, although it must have felt like looking at a star in a cold night -- you know it is there yet it is so far away that it has no practical effect in your life.

People of my generation who had their formative years in the 1980s were fortunate to see the darkness part and ultimately dissipate with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1992. For us in Albania, VOA broadcasts were the only source of news in our own language of the whirlwind of change in those years.

But it was more than just the words coming from the radio sets that affected us. VOA leaders at the time, like Mr. Frank Shkreli, Director of the Euroasia Division, and Dr. Elez Biberaj, Chief of the Albanian Service, put on the air as broadcasters young people who had recently defected to the West.

It was a genial move! At the same time that our conscience processed the words enunciated by the fresh voices of Izabela Islami, Zamira Islami, or Astrit Lulushi, our sub-conscience gradually began to formulate a path out of the darkness. They spoke to us but because they sounded like us, we could be like them.

Such subtle shifts in our psyche are what enabled the first demonstrations of January 1990, the storming of the Western embassies in July 1990, the student demonstrations of December 1990 and the mass protests of 1991 and 1992 that ultimately put an end to the communist regime in Albania. The rest, as they say, is history.

Congratulations to the VOA Albanian Service on this significant milestone!