Dr Aziz Mustafa is a Kosovo Albanian physician and writer. He is the co-founder of Kosova’s ENT Association and member of PolitzerSociety, Mediterranean Otorhinolaryngology and Audiology Association and Balkan Otorhinolaringologists. His publications are cited in several important databases: PubMed, Index Copernicus, Scopus, Google Scholar and EBSCO.
Mustafa began writing at a very young age. He has published the following books in Albanian:
1. Mustafa, A. (1996). My skull is my passport. Pristina, Jeta e Re
2. Mustafa, A. (1999). The measurement of stopped time. Skopje, Asdreni
3. Mustafa, A. (2004). Learn to say no. Pristina, Rozafa
4. Mustafa, A. (2014). My land is in love. Pristina, Olymp
His poetry appears in several Albanian anthologies. He has been a member of Albanian's Writers Association since 1999. English poetry has recently been published in Emanations, International Authors.
As a consequence of his achievements in medicine and in literature, he was honoured by being included in the 31 Edition of "Marquis Who's Who in the World" in 2014.
Aziz Mustafa is also known as the very first Albanian member of Mensa International.
He currently works at the University Clinical Centre of Kosovo. He is married and father of three children.
PML: What is it like to be an intellectual in Kosovo nowadays?
AM: Not easy at all. But I can frankly say that it never was. It is always difficult to be a part of a minority whether we speak about a national minority, a religious minority or a gender minority. On the other hand, belonging to a minority of intellectuals is both challenging and inspiring.
PML: Why is that?
AM: Well, it means that you possess a powerful tool of wisdom and understanding lacked by the majority.
PML: You don’t come from a family of intellectuals yourself.
AM: Both my grandmother and my mother were illiterate, while my father completed only 4 years of primary education.
PML: And yet you began reading very young.
AM: Yes. I was able to read from the age of 7. One of my happiest memories! I clearly remember the moment when I read my first letter. It was sent by my father who at the time happened to be working in Switzerland. His letters were the only means of communication because, in those days, we didn’t have today’s technology such as phones and internet. Anyway, since my family was illiterate, my father’s letters had to be read by either a distant neighbour or the village teacher. While I was reading it out, I remember my grandmother’s face full of surprise and happiness because her beloved grandson was able to read. That 7-year old boy is now a PH.D.
PML: You’ve lived through many changes in Albanian society.
AM: Absolutely. It’s amazing when you think about the societal changes that happened since the last century in Albanian speaking regions. The foundation and unification of the Albanian alphabet is as recent as 1908. Before that, during the Turkish Empire domination, written Albanian was forbidden and there were more than three different alphabets in use. In 1974, the Congress of Unification of the Albanian Language united the two main dialects: Tosk (in South, Macedonia and Greece) and Geg (in North, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia). With writers like Ismail Kadare, in my opinion one of the world’s best living novelists, and poets such as Visar Zhiti and Ali Podrimja, the Albanian Language can no longer be considered insignificant. Albanian language and culture belong to Western civilisation after all.
PML: The intellectuals were the impetus of these changes?
AM: All through the Renaissance period, the second half of the 19th century until Kosovo’s Liberation in 1999 and Independence in 2008 the intellectuals and writers of Kosovo appeared on the forefront of political and social development. Ibrahim Rugova was the first president of the free Kosovo; he was a literary scholar and critic. Adem Demaqi (known as Kosovo’s Mandela) was a political spokesman for Kosovo's Liberation Army. He also wrote some well - known novels and he is honorary head of the Kosovo Writers' Association. I can sincerely say that being one of Kosovo’s intellectuals and writers makes me feel a special pride. Especially as being intellectual in the Balkans is a matter of survival, an existential issue.
PML: What are you trying to express in your poetry?
AM: I would not like to explain or assess my own poetry. Firstly, because I think that poetry critics and scholars are the people qualified; and secondly, because I never like to praise myself because of my modest nature.
PML: Admirable sentiments, Aziz. But since only 12 of your poems have been published in English…
AM: Since only 12 of my poems have been published in English - in the third and fourth editions of the International Authors Anthology Emanations - and based on the evaluation of Kosovo critics, I will say that my poetry is poetry of protest.
PML: What are you protesting against?
AM: Negative phenomena in society. As I am a doctor, I understand human pain, sorrow, and the psychology of my patients’ suffering. Nearly all my poems show compassion, and are dedicated to people who know what pain and sorrow is.
PML: Are there similar themes in your short stories?
AM: Yes, in my book of short stories (My land is in love. Pristina, Olymp 2014) almost all the tales deal with mankind’s affliction and evocations of torment.
PML: How does your knowledge of medical science manifest itself?
AM: I am perhaps the first poet who in his poems and tales used the concept of phantom pain to compare human pain with the pain of a whole nation. The phantom pain of amputated limbs is a metaphor for that of Albania. We are a nation whose lands have been dispersed throughout six different countries. In fact, the title of my first book My Skull is my Passport (Pristina, Jeta e Re 1996) refers to the numerous Albanians who have been killed attempting to cross Albanian borders.
PML: Your poem Learn to Say No published in Emanations 4: Foray into Forever, pg. 250 seems to carry a theme of Albanian nationalism?
AM: Not really. In fact, I’m a Kosovo/Albanian patriot trying not to become a nationalist. Learn to say no is also the title of my third book. It is protest against the tendency of equalization of the aggressor and the victim during the Kosovo war. It’s a political manifesto and a powerful appeal for national and international awareness in order to say a strong “NO” to all negative phenomena in society.
PML: Negative phenomena being, I suppose, cruelty, lies…
AM: Let me try to explain. According to Biblical and Quranic lessons the average age when people pass from knowledge to wisdom is 40. This is life’s main stage where people must strongly oppose lies, voracity, parsimony, adultery and other sins. It’s the time in life where they must be awakened to repentance and regret. They must henceforth work very hard to expiate their sins. A long time ago, maybe 22 years ago, I wrote a one stanza poem entitled Half Life which I would like to quote:
The half of my life passed,
Doing continues sins,
Will I have the other half,
To expiate them?
The half of my life passed,
Doing continues sins,
Will I have the other half,
To expiate them?
PML: There are, of course, other themes in your poems.
AM: Yes. My literary creation also includes much love for: woman, children, life, nature, friendship and mankind in general. Poetry is written from the heart I think that the true reader can feel the emotion and immediately s/he can notice if those emotions come from the heart or if the poet wrote without inspiration without any emotion at all.
PML: Are there many poets in Kosovo/Albania?
AM: Oh, yes. Even though, Kosovo and Albania are not large countries, there are many writers. In proportion to the total number of the population, there is a density of Albanian poets.
PML: So there’s always been a strong poetic tradition in Kosovo/Albania?
AM: The Balkans and especially Albanian countries are the only countries in Europe which continue to create the kind of oral folk literature which dates back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad. As a child, I remember the folk rhapsodists with demotic instruments – for instance a two- stringed lute – singing historical epics and new songs about recent events.
PML: How do the rhapsodic songs fare nowadays?
AM: That’s the question. Nowadays, even written literature, specifically published literary books, are struggling.
PML: What role can the poet play in modern Kosovo/Albania?
AM: Poets have always played an elite role in literature and culture. During the National Renaissance of the Balkan countries, which took place in reaction to the depravity of the Ottoman Empire, poets appeared to be “principal bells” in the awakening. Unfortunately, this movement resulted in further terrible and bloody conflicts.
PML: Things are a little better nowadays…
AM: We are living in a more democratic era - one in transition too. I think that the time has come for poets to build bridges between the Balkan countries and bring people together. Nowadays, poets can have their works translated in their neighbour’s language, and the language of their former enemies. We can begin the process of soothing troubled spirits and healing old wounds.
PML: Is this why your own work is appearing in English?
AM: I have decided to publish my literary creation in English in order to extend my readership and the opportunities to receive criticism. My land is in love is currently being translated, and I’m also writing my first novel.
PML: How far along are you with it?
AM: Unfortunately, due to my commitment to medicine I face a constant struggle in finding free time. As a consequence, I am writing very slowly, but with great inspiration!
PML: Doubtless writing must take second place to medicine.
AM: I consider my profession – which is one of the most human of professions – to be of primary importance. I am an ENT specialist and my major project is to perfect my aptitude of diagnostic and therapeutic knowledge in ear microsurgery.
PML: What’s the Kosovo medical system like?
AM: Unfortunately, it’s passing through hard times due to the transition phase. That’s why I feel that my role is to give the highest possible contribution. I will wholeheartedly put every effort into helping and curing people who suffer from health problems.
PML: You had a recent presentation in Japan?
AM: Yes. I had a presentation on the topic of acute mastoiditis in the 30th Politzer Society Meeting /1st World’sCongress of Otology, 30 June-3rd July-2015, in Niigata, Japan. This trip to Japan was for me very inspiring professionally (medical) and also from a literary (poetry) point of view.
PML: And you’re also the first Kosovo/Albanian member of Mensa?
AM: These last few months I’ve been very involved in setting up the Kosovo branch. It’s an honour, but I must say it’s been really hard work! Already, the first candidates are tested and the results are coming in. We hope to identify young, talented people, and to create opportunities for them to share their knowledge and enjoy each-others company.
PML: What about your personal future?
AM: Life brings unexpected changes so I never like to predict the future. As always, I plan to have a lot of work, small holidays, and again a lot of work until in my retirement. Then, when I’m retired, I intend to dedicate all my time to literature. If God has planned a long life for me, I will bestow upon my readers literary works of wonderful poetry, stories and novels! Adults, like children need wonderful, fanciful tales because it makes them feel differently; it makes them feel how they would like to be - at least for a short time…
Aziz and Philip would like to express their gratitude to Mrs Valdete Aliu-Muçaj for the Albanian to English translation.