Robert Elsie’s last wish comes true as Albanologist laid to rest in Albanian Alps

Robert Elsie, renowned Albanologist laid to rest in the Albanian Alps.

TIRANA, Oct. 18 – Robert Elsie’s last wish has finally been fulfilled. The famous Canadian-German who dedicated his life to Albanian studies will rest in Theth amid the Albanian Alps, a place which he loved so much and also dedicated a book calling it Albania’s rugged Shangri-La, a fictional valley as described in a novel by British author James Hilton.

Two weeks after dying of a rare disease in Germany, Elise made his last Albania trip this week to rest forever in the country he loved so much and dedicated three decades of his life to promote Albanian literature, folk culture and history as well as photography through his English and German translations and research work in Albanian-speaking territories in the region.

Elsie, who died at 67 of the rare motor neurone disease, was given his last farewell at a ceremony at the National Library in Tirana on Wednesday before being buried in Theth, northern Albania.

Stephan Trierweiler, Elsie’s German life partner, said the Albanologist loved Albania so much that he decided Elsie must be buried in Albania although he had made no will about it.

“He made a will which is very intimate, but left nothing in writing to be buried in Albania. It is was me who decided that he should be buried here because he loved this country so much,” Trierweiler said at a farewell ceremony in Tirana bringing together academics, friends and politicians from Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia paying tribute to the Albanologist.

“I chose Theth as the most beloved place for Albanologists. He left with no regrets. He didn’t leave any major unpublished work. He managed to complete two other works until he died. The last words on his deathbed were ‘death is so boring. So Slow. One only waits for it,’” he added.

In his co-authored “A passion for Theth: Albania’s rugged Shangri-La” Robert Elsie and Dutch traveler Gerda Mulder introduce the region with the writings of the early explorers and travelers to the valley, accompanied by old photographs of the period.

“Though it is one of the remotest corners of Europe, Theth has never failed to attract visitors. Edith Durham was in her element when she visited the valley in 1908, as were the Austro-Hungarian scholars Karl Steinmetz and Baron Franz Nopcsa, and the American writer Rose Wilder Lane,” they write about Theth, which has in the past few years turned into one of Albania’s most popular mountain tourism destinations.

Albania’s President Ilir Meta said Elsie’s unique contribution and love for Albania should serve as inspiration for Albanians.

“We will always be grateful to Robert Elsie for everything he did with so much love and passion for the promotion of our nation, our best cultural, historical values, the development of Albanology and everything,” said Meta.

“No doubt, in particular for his choice to be immortalized as Albanian and rest forever in the Albanian Alps, in Theth, and in this way showing his eternal love for our country and giving us all a lesson to love Albania more,” he added.

Rexhep Smajli, a Kosovo academician who knew Elsie since his early engagement with Albanian studies, says he will be remembered as “window and voice for Albanian culture at a time when our voice was not well-known where he worked.”

“He came among Albanians in all the territories they lived even in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, Calabria, with the good will to get to know Albanians as much as possible and transmit this acquaintance everywhere,” said the Kosovo academician.

Elsie also had a passion for Albanian dialects and collected dozens of recordings by travelling and meeting Albanian community people also in southern Italy, Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Ukraine.

“He did that as professionally as possible and slowly fell in love with this country and we can say he has been one of greatest friends of the Albanian world. In very difficult times, he spread the Albanian culture, more than anybody else did before him. He was present among senior European institutions where the fates of Albanians were decided, either through his services, mediation or even technical services such as interpreting,” said the Kosovo academician.

Among others, Elsie also worked as an Albanian translator and interpreter for the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was active as a freelance conference interpreter for Albanian and took part in many high-level negotiations with the EU, UN, NATO.

What’s particular about his translations and research work, is that he loved to share them with the wider public by regularly posting them on his personal website and social media.

Elsie’s premature death at a time when he was active with Albanian studies until recently was described as a big blow for Albanian studies and their international promotion.

Born in Canada and having studied and worked in Germany, Elsie’s first contact with Albania came in the late 1970s when the Linguistics Institute of the University of Bonn had rare and privileged contacts with the then-hermetic “People’s Socialist Republic of Albania” which he visited for several years.

“These annual trips to Albania in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and travel in neighbouring Kosovo awakened in him a passion for the exotic country and its little-known culture,” according to a bio published on his website.

Probably his most ambitious literary publication was the English translation from the northern Albanian Gheg dialect of the great literary epic of Father Gjergj Fishta (1871-1940), The Highland Lute: The Albanian National Epic, London 2005, a work in thirty cantos and 15,613 lines. The revival of this epic, long banned under the communist regime, was received with great enthusiasm, in particular in northern Albania.

Back in 2013, former Albanian President Bujar Nishani awarded Elsie the “Gratitude Medal” as one of the most prominent Albanologists who for more than 30 years contributed to the international promotion of Albanian culture, language, literature and history.

Robert Austin, a professor at the University of Toronto, described Elsie as by far the most prolific Albanian scholar.

“The community of scholars devoted to the study of Albania and Albanians is a small and devoted one. Elsie was by far the most prolific. His contributions were always seminal. Indeed, you cannot study Albania without engaging with his wonderful scholarship,” said Austin, a specialist on Southeastern Europe historic and contemporary perspective and a senior associate fellow of the Albanian Institute for International Studies.

Source: Tirana Times