Ethnological Museum – hostage to restoration that did not resume for almost three years
by Shaban Maxharraj
The first day of August 2017 brought good news for the employees of the Ethnological Museum in Prishtina. It was announced that the restoration of one of the two buildings, that of the 19th century, will begin. Their enthusiasm was almost at the level of July 27, 2006, when the Ethnological Museum in Pristina was officially opened.
Two buildings of the “Eminxhiku” complex, typical civic houses that testify to life in the XVII and XIX centuries, for 11 years in a row would be the most visited monument in Kosovo. The time when they were built as the main factor and the depreciation caused by groups of curious visitors for the way of life in the past centuries, have made the Museum in great need of conservation and restoration. On August 2, 2017, employees would start emptying the facility. The elements of the porch, those of the guest room, those of the brides and the room where the corpses were to be placed would be sent to the ground floor of the other building that had been left to be restored later.
Delay in departure
“It simply came to our notice then. But I was sure that the restoration would not take more than six months to a year “, recalls ethnologist Bekim Xhemili, who has been a tour guide at the Museum since the opening of the institution. But now they have been fixed for two years and ten months since the facility was closed to visitors. After the building was emptied of exhibits, restoration work did not begin immediately. After three months, on October 27, it was turned into a workshop. During November and December the interior walls of the building were stripped down to the skeleton. The floor is completely removed, while the building is maintained only by wooden poles. Even the adobe has been removed from the interior walls. Roof tiles have been removed, and the non-penetration of atmospheric precipitation water becomes possible through sheet metal insulation. While the inside of the building is left only on the pillars, the plaster has been removed from the exterior walls up to the twigs. The work was stopped on the 30th of December 2017. As soon as the intervention started, it was ascertained that this object – one of the two main ones – of the “Eminxhiku” complex – was in danger of collapsing.
It was soon discovered that 70 percent more work had been done during the intervention than planned. Traces within the walls would reveal that the need for restoration was greater than previously thought. The Ministry of Culture, in the budget foreseen for 2017, had designed 80 thousand euros for the interventions in the two facilities of the complex. For 2018, 50 thousand euros were planned. 30 thousand for 2019. But the work has never resumed after the interruption that was the cause of the atmospheric conditions.
Windows, doors, display cases, as well as wooden and textile exhibits, are also planned to undergo the restoration process. Their last treatment was in 2006. In the spring of 2018 the new restoration project had to be worked on. That work took time and it turned out to be impossible to start work during the summer months when such monuments can be restored. Meanwhile, the year 2019 brought budget mismanagement.
Lack of budget
The director of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture, Vjollca Aliu, said that in 2019 the project was ready and approved by the Kosovo Institute for the Protection of Monuments, but with 30,000 euros could not start work. The MCYS plans were to increase the funds for “Eminxhiku”, which is known as “Old Prishtina”, during the review of last year’s budget. But in July, former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned, and then the Assembly disbanded and the budget was not revised. The MCYS had made a request for the use of the funds of the Privatization Agency of Kosovo, but it was not immediately approved.
“At the end of the fiscal year, 100 thousand euros were approved. But it was too late to start the procurement procedures “, said Aliu. According to her, but also according to the Law on Budget Divisions of this year, MCYS has allocated 120 thousand euros to resume work.
“We have provided 120 thousand euros and we can start the procurement procedures,” said Aliu. According to her, it is a matter of days before the procurement procedures will start. Last year, with only 50 percent of the capacity, the Ethnological Museum, according to employee data, has over 10,000 visitors, mostly international. Group visits to schools have not been allowed for more than two years. The Minister of Culture in office, Vlora Dumoshi, has also announced that the work will start soon. “We have the Ethnological Museum as a priority for the restoration and functioning of museums,” she said. The damage done to the Museum by not being able to visit one of the two buildings turns out to be great.
In an article published in January this year, the British daily “The Guardian” has given the profiles of 12 museums from Reykjavík in Pristina, an interesting revelation from dinosaurs and Vikings to Mozart. According to The Guardian, the Ethnological Museum in Pristina ranks next to museums known as the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, the M9 in Venice or the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels. The description was made by activist and translator Elizabeth Gowing. It is one of the main merits that the Ethnological Museum has become part of tourist guides all over Europe.
“Are you expecting dusty carpets and rugs?” Not so in this gracious museum, in two beautiful and well-preserved Ottoman houses, in the capital of the youngest state in Europe. Cicero will give you an exciting journey around the once elegant spaces that once inhabited – from the ‘place of fire’ in the kitchen to the comfort offered to friends at any hour of the day or night, in accordance with the strict Albanian laws of hospitality. Such traditions clearly die slowly and English-speaking tour guides will collect nuts and manna from museum museums for you, ”wrote Gowing, who has worked for years to promote the museum.
Regarding the restoration, he said that there was a need for this intervention. “But it is not clear for what reasons it has not been completed so far. I know how disappointing it has been for tourists, as well as visitors from the diaspora who have not been able to see the two facilities. He appreciated the fact that one building was open until March 13 this year. It was closed until May 18 due to measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus. And in April, the project was published in 3D, where visitors could take virtual walks on the monument.
“Definitely spending money is the best way to understand where the priorities of a ministry or a government are. So, I hope that the priorities for the preservation of heritage, as well as for the worthy representation of the country’s heritage will be seen as soon as possible “, said the writer in a response in Albanian.
Damage to the works
Ethnologist Bekim Xhemili has said that it is essential that the restoration of youth resumes as soon as possible. But there is fear. He mentioned the case of the Great Hammam in Prishtina, where unprofessional work was done during the restoration and for almost a decade the building remains closed and without a plan to overcome the crisis.
“Since 2015, Kosovo has become part of the Balkan tours, but also the Ethnological Museum since that year is the main attraction in Pristina by foreign visitors, according to ‘Tripadvisor’ and many tourist newspapers and magazines,” said Xhemili. According to him, the year 2020 also found the Museum in the first place in terms of the number of visitors. It is strange, but also fortunate, that the number of foreign visitors has never decreased, on the contrary, it has increased year by year. “Another handicap is the education of the new generations through the Museum. “Schools since the end of 2017 have not had the opportunity to bring students through organized groups,” he said.
Ethnologist Valon Shkodra, from the opening of the Museum until January 2017, has worked in this institution. He would leave it to become a scientific researcher at the Albanological Institute of Prishtina. At the beginning of this year, he published the monographic book, “Ethnological Museum of Prishtina and its function”. In this work, he spins in detail all the historical elements of the Museum.
According to him, there the citizens have the opportunity to get acquainted, closely, with the way of life in Kosovo in earlier periods. He said that through the exhibition visitors have the opportunity to learn about the past of Kosovo in the village and city, the economic and social situation of the people. According to him, the Ethnological Museum of Prishtina reflects and reflects various cultural aspects. “We can say that this museum is an example for the presentation and promotion of cultural heritage for local and international visitors. It is an important place for educating the new generations, who come to the museum with school pedagogues, parents and society, it is also a place of memories, inspiration, learning and leisure time “, he said. He considered the restoration of buildings as a primary need. The delay in the restoration of the Ethnological Museum, according to him, also implies poor management by the relevant institutions. “It is a great pity that a museum, with an exhibition installed in the house of the XVIII century, one of the oldest houses, not only in the capital, but in Kosovo, is left in oblivion, left to be damaged every day, this is unacceptable, “he said. He recommended that the institutions set good examples in the countries of the region in terms of investments in cultural heritage.
But restoring two of Eminxhik’s four buildings is not the only problem with the complex. Institutions are in trouble with two other buildings. Since May 2017, the company that was carrying out emergency interventions in the facility known as the cottage in this complex, has not had any activity. The Ministry of Culture still has no solution with the center for contemporary art “Station” regarding the use of the Stone House, which is the fourth object of this complex. The MCYS had accused the leaders of the “Station” as usurpers, since 2010 they do not have a permit for the use of the facility. He had also given a deadline for the release of the facility, but it was not respected.
Folklore: As a primary need, ethnologist Valon Shkodra has considered the restoration of buildings. The delay in the restoration of the Ethnological Museum, according to him, also implies poor management by the relevant institutions. “It is a great pity that a Museum, with an exhibition installed in the house of the XVIII century, one of the oldest houses, not only in the capital, but in Kosovo, is left in oblivion, left to be damaged every day, this is unacceptable, “he said.