With over forty nations competing at Eurovision on a yearly basis, each delegation has their own method for selecting their song for the Contest. For those who opt for a national final, some nations seem to change year after year, refining and renewing their selection processes. However, a pair of countries have embraced festivals that actually pre-date their involvement in Eurovision: Italy with the Festival di Sanremo, and Albania with Festivali i Këngës. While plenty of attention has been paid to Italy and the contest that arguably gave rise to Eurovision as a whole, the story of their cross-Adriatic neighbor is even more intriguing.
For a bit of historical context, Festivali i Këngës first debuted on Radio Televizioni Shqiptar’s airwaves (as a radio program) in 1962, even before Eurovision welcomed such stalwarts as Ireland, Portugal, Israel, or Malta. Over the fifty seven years that FiK has been running, Albania has gone through more political and cultural transition than nearly any other nation at Eurovision, and the contest has reflected that in turn. What started off as a light entertainment programme soon morphed into a mouthpiece for the hardline Communist government of dictator Enver Hoxha, even resulting in the sacking, blacklisting, imprisonment, and alleged murders of those involved with the event’s eleventh edition. After Hoxha’s death in 1984, and a political turn towards a more liberal and capitalist society in the following years, Festivali i Këngës began to reflect a new Albania: turning towards Europe and the rest of the world.
When Albania first dipped their toes into the Eurovision pool back in 2004, there was no better way to select their artist and song than the festival that had meant so much to the country, as well as to broadcaster RTSH. Since then, Head of Delegation Kleart Duraj, the artists, and the Albanian team have managed to strike a balance between ‘a song for Albania’ and ‘a song for a global audience’, all while giving Eurovision fans one of the early highlights of the annual selection season.
How does a song festival with such strong roots in its nation’s past embrace the present, and look towards the future? I spoke to Kleart Duraj for insight on the relationship between FiK, Eurovision, and Albania’s greater identity.