Eqrem Basha was born in 1948 in Dibër, where he attended primary school. He studied Albanian language and literature at the University of Prishtina, then the capital of the autonomous region of Kosovo-Metohija in Serbia. While still a student, Eqrem Basha published novellas, poetry and television reviews. In 1972 he began working for the daily newspaper Rilindja.
Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo have repeatedly been in conflict with each other. Basha himself was caught up in a Serbian-Albanian confrontation when he was forcibly removed from his job with Prishtina Television on July 5, 1990. In 1994 he co-founded the publishing house of Dukagjin.
Basha writes short stories, novels, stage plays, radio and television plays and art reviews. He also translates literature from French, Italian and some Slavonic languages. Sadness over the effects of Serb violence in Prishtina is apparent from Basha’s poem ‘The street sweepers of Prishtina’: ‘Who could know the town better
/ Than the sandalled feet of children / On tank tracks.’ The poems ‘Nights of a day labourer’, ‘Audience’ and ‘Balkans Concerto’ also recall the violence that ravaged the region and caused so much hardship to its people. Such times are not easy on a poet. He is ‘The Turtle Dove’, forced to sing his prescribed song in isolation.
A play with elements from daily life is made in ‘The man who did not look in the mirror and the people who combed their hair’ and in ‘Nighttime traveller of this world’. This traveller much resembles a Socialist Mr. Average in his drab, overregulated, over-structured environment. Basha paints atmospheres in a nutshell. One feels autumn approaching in ‘End of summer’, and the chill of being out on a wintry street in ‘Cold’. Equally atmospheric is ‘A beating heart’ – a short poem full of personal, but also universal, loneliness.
The Croatian poet Boris Maruna (also a guest at this year’s festival), in his poem ‘Lenny Bruce and the Sexual Revolution’ wonders at the eagerness with which young people embrace Western pop culture. Basha works out this contrast between the West and the Balkans in ‘Balkan menu’: the city is rife with Western-style bars and restaurants, yet ‘when it gets late / We’ll go back home / To empty our bowels / In a Balkan latrine’.
[Eqrem Basha took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2003. This text was written on that occasion.]