The house of culture in Bicaj, an administrative unit of Kukës is not expected to have any investment in 2023, as promised in December last year. Today, this building, built half a century ago, serves political parties for electoral meetings and less and less cultural life and entertainment, although the area preserves precious values of history, culture and education. The village continues to be abandoned by residents looking for a better life in England, but Faktoje talked to two characters strongly connected to their hometown, Hazir, the only employee who keeps the culture house open, and Ledio, the high school student of the dance group in Bicaj.
The village of Bicaj and the Unit with the same name is the most important area of Kukës Municipality, known historically as the capital of Lumës province. This unit, which includes the villages of Nangë, Kolesian, Bushat and Tershen, has about 8,300 inhabitants and over 2,500 families. The village is located 11 kilometers from the city of Kukës.
In its center stands a two-story building, old, but distinguished as a culture house only by a plaque with the name “Elez Braha”, martyr of the country, and his engraved portrait.
Since 1968, the House of Culture is the only entertainment space and preservation of historical and traditional values for the residents of the area. During the communist regime, this building also served as a movie theater, but after 1990 it stopped functioning as such. More and more rare cultural activities followed after a reconstruction in the mid-90s, but from that time until today the house of culture has not seen any more investments. The last artistic activity was with the students of the 9-year school “Vebih Shehu” and the general high school on January 18, 2023.
What was promised for the house of culture in Bicaj
At the end of December 2022, the mayor of Kukes posted on his Facebook profile some promises he had made to the residents of Bicaj in the public consultation. Among these promises was the investment in the House of Culture.
We decided to verify this statement and first sent a request for information to the Municipality of Kukes. The answer of the institution was:
“We are in the phase of identifying every problem related to the house of Culture ‘Elez Braha’ Bicaj, to continue with the study-design phase for this important cultural object of Bicaj Unit and beyond.”
After this answer, we checked the online page of Kukës Municipality, where in the category Investments, the note “The website is being completed” was displayed. Even in the medium-term budget of the Municipality of Kukes 2023-2025, there is no provision for the House of Culture, Bicaj.
Screenshot from mid-term budget forecasts, Kukës Municipality
The search does not result in a fund provided for this object.
In the middle of February 2023, we traveled to Bicaj. In the house of culture, we found Hazir Halilaj, the only person who takes care of the facility and keeps the doors of the hall open for visitors or rare cultural activities. Previously, there were five employees, as Haziri says, but the jobs were cut, because promises for revitalization and investments are made in every election campaign.
Hazir Halilaj taking care of the activities hall at the House of Culture, Bicaj
Haziri recalls that the building was reconstructed in 1996-1997 by foreign donors. After these years, investments and maintenance have been lacking. The interiors of the Palace of Culture are being degraded day by day. From the damp walls, bathrooms and dressing rooms of the artists, to the birds that have turned the building into their nest, reflect the current state.
View from the interior of the House of Culture, Bicaj
The toilet at the Bicaj culture house, February 2023
“The first problem is that there is no heating. This has disrupted our work in the winter, because we have canceled activities. The second one does not have ample lighting and no seats. Here we only have wooden benches like in the Middle Ages”, says Haziri as he regretfully adds that he has tried to contribute voluntarily to keep it ‘alive’, the last house of culture.
“I do the cleaning myself, take care of it, change lamps. We made a request to the Municipality to fix the main problems, but it fell on deaf ears”.
Online verification shows that the house of culture in Bicaj has served more for political than cultural activities. During January 2023, the two political parties PD and SP organized meetings with the residents of Bicaj in the hall of this building.
Post of January 19, 2023, activity of the Democratic Party at the House of Culture Bicaj, Kukës
Post of January 27, 2023, meeting of mayor Gjici with residents at Bicaj culture house
View of the performance hall at Bicaj House of Culture
When we ask Hazir if there are cultural activities and how many young people are involved, he answers sadly:
“We want to keep these few young people who are involved in cultural activities. It is old people only that you see here. It’s good that there are two schools, but unfortunately the number of students has also halved. On the day when there is activity, you can hear the liveliness, the next day everything is lost”, concludes Hazir Halilaj.
Ledio, a second-year student at “Bajram Abdiu” high school, admits that he is one of the few young people left in the group of dancers in the area.
“From the group of dancers, 10 people fled to England. Even from my class, 5 people left for emigration. This has had a negative impact on our school, because it leads to no activities”, says Ledio, who does not hide his disappointment about many things that are missing in his hometown, but he has not lost hope.
“We would like the stage, heating or lighting, which are missing, to be in better condition. The House of Culture should have a DJ so that we don’t have to pay any money when we want to organize a concert,” says Ledio.
The main initiators of the activities at the House of Culture in Bicaj are NGOs and the high school “Bajram Abdiu”. Two years ago, the high school had about 400 students, while today the gymnasium and the 9-year school together have 385 students.
Unfortunately, the main topic of conversation among the residents in the cafe remains emigration abroad.
Ilmi Gjana, 51 years old, as the head of the family, does not see the future of his children here. If he would also have an opportunity, he would leave too.
“I sent my only son to University yesterday with 60,000 old lek that I received from economic aid. We have only elders left. Activities are held at the House of Culture, but the problem is that we have nowhere to take the young people to. I met three high school boys here near the bar, I told them go to school and learn. They told me, let’s finish school and we’ll go to England!” – he confesses.
* This article is published as part of the call for 10 articles with a fact-checking profile, part of the “Strengthening Fact Checking Journalism in Albania” Project, which is being implemented by the organization Faktoje, supported by the Dutch Embassy. These articles are part of the national competition for “Fatos Baxhaku” award.