terça-feira, março 14, 2017

Cultural heritage and religion as a branding tool for Albanian Cities

Albania is a rather ethnically homogenous country, while a country that declares itself to believe in “Albanism”, and strongly bonded on a common ideology of being Albanian that is sharing, heritage, cultural values and social norms more than being part of a religious system.

Albania finds itself in the crossroads of the three major religions in Europe: Orthodox Christianity; Catholicism; and Islam. According to the 2011 census, 58.79% of Albanians have adhered to Islam. The majority of Albanian Muslims are secular Sunni, with a significant Bektashi minority, while Christianity is practiced by 16.99% of the population, making it the 2nd largest religion in the country. The remaining population is either irreligious or belongs to other religious groups. In 1967, during the authoritarian regime of Enver Hoxha, religious practices were officially banned in Albania, making the country the first and only constitutionally atheist state to ever exist. After the fall of the communism state, in 1991, religious activities have resumed.

During the authoritarian regime of Enver Hoxha [1944 to 1985], significant shifts occurred in the structure of the society, where the Bektashi community played a very important role. In that period, architecture and urban planning were called to influence the creation of a new social reality, where religion was prohibited and a nationalistic identity was imposed. A massive erasure of historical areas and religious centres was executed to free the space for the construction of low-cost housing areas as a new social model, becoming an ‘excellent’ example a city designed by demolition.

The origin of Bektashism in Albania is controversial even today. A group of researchers think that the first presence of Bektashism in Albania dates from no earlier than the end o the 17th century. This is related with the relatively late Islamisation of Albanians. Every year Bektashi believers, Sunni Muslims and Christians gather in the mountain of Tomorri to celebrate and to pray for prosperity.

Albania is a country which tourism is not promoting or branding the architecture of the religous system of even the balanced relations of the religions by themselves. Cultural heritage should be seen as a potential asset for presenting a place’s competitiveness advantages, repositioning a place against its competitors, building reputation, adjusting a place’s identity and creating an appealing environment for tourism and investment. Secondly, a World heritage “brand” indicates fundamental values that should be preserved, thus suggesting special values, exclusivity and distinction versus other places or cities.

The Cultural Heritage title cannot be developed or created by marketing experts, as it is valued and awarded by different cultural entities, meaning that the heritage site is authentic and not just a commercial and marketing promotion of the place. Lastly, visitors to Cultural Heritage Sites are found to be better familiarized with cultural and symbolic products. Branding Albania through Bektashism can be beneficial to several economic sectors and, mostly, to the tourism industry, but also through the gain of recognition of the main cultural cities dedicated to this religious culture of the Western Balkans.

Xhoana Kristo

Bickford-Smith,V. (2009), “Creating a city of the tourist imagination: The case of Cape Town,‘The Fairest Cape of Them All’”, Urban Studies,Vol. 46, No. 9, pp. 1763–1785.
Osmani, E. (2012). God in the Eagles’ Country:The Bektashi Order. Quaderns de la Mediterrània 17 (pp. 107-116). Graz, Austria: Karl Franzens University.
Rakipllari, X. (2015). Branding Albania. Tirana.

[artigo de opinião produzido no âmbito da unidade curricular “Património Cultural e Políticas de Desenvolvimento Regional” do curso de Mestrado em Mestrado em Património Cultural, da ICS/UMinho]

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