Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Things Washed Ashore
Register for Zoom Webinar Watch on YouTube


Please join us for a presentation by celebrated Albanian-born author Ardian Vehbiu, moderated by Elidor Mëhilli (Hunter College).

One could not physically leave totalitarian autarchic Albania, but one could always escape it. Ardian Vehbiu, who has extensively written on totalitarian language and semiotics, will talk about the out-sized effects of found western objects, casual merchandise, media and images in the Albanian popular imagination. Looking at this “flotsam” that washed ashore, we will explore the relationship between these objects and images and how they shaped the imagination and experiences of Europe and of ourselves. How did these objects, images and messages reach an otherwise impervious Albania? How did they circulate once in Albania and what life and meanings did they take on? Did this relationship with the “beyond”, cherished and suffered by the citizens-inmates of a country otherwise closed to the world, lead to an inadvertent “colonization” of minds by these ethereal images built by and for Western media? Or, did these highly censored or scarcely available objects and images allow Albanians to clandestinely escape across the porous borders of the imagination?


Born in Albania, Ardian Vehbiu is a linguist, writer, translator and independent scholar. He is the author of fifteen fiction and non-fiction books in Albanian. Vehbiu was awarded the 2010 Gjergj Fishta Award for a study of patterns in public discourse under the totalitarian regime, as well as the 2014 Ardian Klosi Award for an essay dedicated to the image of the West in communist Albania. Since 2007, he has managed and written for Peizazhe të fjalës, one of the leading cultural and social online magazines in Albania. His writing has appeared in a number of magazines, anthologies, as well as academic journals. His work has been translated into Italian, Greek, English and Romanian.


Elidor Mëhilli is an award-winning author and Associate Professor of History and Public Policy at Hunter College, City University of New York. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and has held research fellowships at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. He has published widely on dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, geopolitics, technology, and the diplomatic, economic, and cultural dimensions of the Cold War. His book From Stalin to Mao received three prizes. He is a frequent commentator on current affairs for a number of Albanian televisions, and his opinions have also appeared in The Washington Post, the BBC, the Voice of America, The Conversation, Salon, and elsewhere.


Featured Image: Andrea on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Event Video