Updated: Robert Elsie, one of the greatest Albanologists, passes away at 67

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 2, 2017 11:59
Albanologist Robert Elsie

Albanologist Robert Elsie

TIRANA, Oct. 2 – One of the most renowned and active Albanologists of the past three decades, German-Canadian Robert Elsie has passed away, leaving behind a legacy with over sixty books and countless articles, mostly devoted to Albanian studies.

Elsie is reported to have died in Bonn, Germany, of natural causes at the age of 67, in a premature death that is 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, until recently regularly updated with his latest publications.

Elsie's publications in English and German primarily focused on Albanian literature, folk culture and history as well as photography.

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.

In a public appeal following the writer's death, Netherlands-based Albanian writer Flutura Aà§ka unveiled her friend Robert Elsie's will was to rest in Albania, calling on the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro to make his last wish come true.

The writer described Elsie's death as the departure of a man who loved Albania like no other foreigner and one of the biggest losses for Albanian culture.

The Albanian and Kosovo Academy of Sciences also hailed Elsie's contribution to Albanian studies.

"Throughout more than three decades Robert Elsie became an emblematic figure of contemporary Albanology developed in Europe and around the world. Although a freelance researcher, he developed scientific activity comparable to an institution," said the Albanian Academy of Science.

"Robert Elsie among others also served as a fruitful and successful bridge for the double and mutual promotion of the Albanian people's spiritual legacy, as a translator of literature, epic of legendary songs and scientific literature from Albanian language into English and German on the one hand, and as a translator of the most important works and studies on foreign 19th and 20th Albanologists from their source languages into Albanian and English," the Kosovo Academy said in a statement.

The Kosovo Academy of Sciences, where Elsie had been an associate for the past 17 years, described his premature loss as irreplaceable.

"Robert Elsie is one of the most prominent Albanologists of our era, a researcher of Albanian language, literature, history and tradition, a translator, archive and early documents researcher spanning from linguistic, historical to latest developments in Albanian art and culture," said the Kosovo Academy of Science.

Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro said she was devastated by Elsie’s premature departure whom she described as a “born and not titled academic.”

"We were born Albanians, passion made you Albanian," she wrote.

Albanian art critic Agim Baci said Albanians are today better known thanks to Elsie's works.

"Elsie took care of the Albanian and Kosovo historical dictionaries, Albanian myths and tales, or renowned authors such as Fishta, Poradeci, Podrimja and Migjeni to speak and be published in English," he wrote.


Robert Austin*: Elsie was by far the most prolific scholar

“To say I am saddened by the death of Robert Elsie is an understatement. 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. We were last together with other friends to celebrate 100 years of Albanian independence. What a time we had. The scene was the usual one: a conference with friends; Korà§a food and home-made Raki. My last correspondence with Robert was in 2016. It was related to my comments on Blendi Fevsiu’s book on Enver Hoxha. Robert was his usual upbeat self and understood my then frustration with politics (and politicians) in Albania in Kosovo. He was worried that I was drifting from Albanian studies. He wrote, Don't give up on them entirely!” I took his advice. Coming from him, it meant a lot.”

Robert Austin (PhD, University of Toronto) is a specialist on East, Central and Southeastern Europe in historic and contemporary perspective. He is also a senior associate fellow of the Albanian Institute for International Studies.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 2, 2017 11:59