Andrey Sorokin
About Albania, Picasso and God
Andrey Sorokin

There is a country out there that we almost never hear about in the news. However, it often becomes the subject of memes and the butt of all sorts of harmless jokes. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Albania. After the fall of its communist regime there aren’t many in the world who really follow the state of modern albanian affairs. Meanwhile the "feat" of one infamous Russian musical group was recently repeated there. Some musicians performed a dancing act in front of a church altar for a music video. And the Albanian media… Well, I wouldn’t say they took no notice of that exploit (or the music video which didn’t get much attention either), but the whole incident almost completely escaped public attention. There weren’t many to even call it “an incident”. And here's why.

The icons, iconostasis and other shrines of the Church in question are kept in the National Museum of Medieval Art in the city of Korcha. There is a no small amount of tension between the Church and state in Albania. A trail of mutual dislike stretches from the past. At the end of the 60s of the last century, a campaign to eradicate religion was announced in the country. For Christians it meant a reign of terror. Church buildings were nationalized, monasteries were destroyed, temples were turned into warehouses, cinemas, prisons. As you might understand, it was much like the Soviet persecution of religion. But in Albania it was all a lot tougher, people were sent to concentration camps for baptism and using Christian names, a cross became a reason for imprisonment. In 1969, Albania was declared the world's first atheist country. All more or less significant church relics were destroyed. Only in our time, when the regime has already fallen and life has begun to improve, icons and works of church art have acquired the status of historical objects and museums started to include them into exhibitions. Most of the church's heritage has ended up in the National Museum of Medieval Art.

Do you understand now how Christians who have passed through the state hell should feel about the relics of their Church today?

In Albania there is a special law "Law 10057, article 22/2, dated 22.01.2009. "Agreement between the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Albania and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania", which regulates relations between Church and State. And the Church has asked many times that the icons and relics be returned back from state museums to the temples. But, it seems, no one is going to return anything. As to the ancient iconostasis - the formal reply stated that it will remain in the museum “for better preservation”. That is, the state has promised to keep the shrines safe and sound, because it will be better that way. 

And so the young rappers shoot their video, kicking out in front of the iconostasis. Anyone can find this simple song on the web as I did. The song is called "Picasso". I do not know Albanian, so I translated it through Google. But the meaning is clear, or rather, the absence of any meaning. Here:

I love your body like a picture (Yes),

And tell me by drawing with a pencil (Uh),

You're going to get naked, you say "Pablo" to me.

I am, I am, I am

Tiki-Tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki-Tiki, Picasso

Tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki, I don't

Fiki-fiki-fiki-fiki-fiki-fiki, you tell me

"Don Donaldo".

It is not clear to me exactly why they had to sing this gibberish in front of an iconostasis.  It seems to me that this is a considerable lapse of judgement. Looks like these young people have trouble putting words into sentences and notes into music. Not only that, there is also a fatal misunderstanding of how the world works. It seems that for them icons are just pretty pictures. Or some abstract color spots in the frame. Although, maybe not even that, because to understand the meaning of abstract color spots, intelligence is also needed. I thought, perhaps there is some political sense in all that - maybe this video was supposed to be a statement, like its original source? But, no. I looked closely, I listened to every word - there is no statement. An absence of statement. It seems pointless in this case to talk about holiness, value, or at least about history, or, finally, about respect. In this emptiness of meaning, whom or rather what could I address? What is there to talk to?

The hierarchs of the Albanian Church, of course, presented their statement: 

"We express concern, regret and indignation over the desecration of liturgical objects of the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, one of the greatest cultural heritage of our people.

The video clip "Picasso", shot at the Museum of Medieval Art in Korce, in front of the iconostasis of Rehova (which was unfairly not returned to the Orthodox Church under the pretext of "preserving" this precious heritage), is a clear sign of disrespect for these spiritual values. This environment is completely unsuitable for the values that it reflects, for the promotion of such music. There, in respect for the traditions and culture that created these sacred objects, the sounds of Byzantine music should be heard, and not the sounds that offend them and the cultural heritage of our country.

Icons are sacred objects of worship, which Orthodox believers treat with special reverence and respect. Therefore, it is unacceptable and painfully irresponsible for them to be treated by those institutions that are designed to protect and protect them.

We pray and hope that the Ministry of Culture will treat church buildings with care and sensitivity and will respect the religious feelings of the Orthodox community, preventing their desecration."

Unfortunately, there is little hope that the word of the Church will be heard. No doubt, there will be many more stupid music videos with icons in them. I'm not calling for punishing these young rappers at all. How could punishment possibly help? It certainly could not. What kind of enlightenment is needed here, I can’t even start to think. Unlikely even the school lessons of the lessons of Orthodox culture would make much difference. 

In the end this whole story left me sad for the icons and even Pablo Picasso (what he was doing in this song I also do not understand). My only consolation is the knowledge that God can never be abused. And if so, then there is still hope for the enlightenment of mass consciousness.