Albanians gather for funeral of writer Ismail Kadare

By Florion Goga

TIRANA (Reuters) - Thousands of Albanians gathered in Tirana on Wednesday to pay tribute to their country's best-known novelist Ismail Kadare, who died on Monday after a heart attack.

Albanians from Albania, Kosovo and other countries in the region flocked to the capital to pay their respects to Kadare's coffin, covered with the red and black national flag.

Others applauded and threw flowers when his casket was carried to a hearse for a private funeral in Tirana.

Albania declared two days of mourning, and neighboring Kosovo, which has a more than 90% ethnic Albanian majority, also declared a mourning day on Wednesday.

Kadare, who split his time between Albania and France, was the Balkan country's best-known novelist and his works were published in 45 languages, but he repeatedly irked his homeland's former Communist rulers.

In 1975, he was sent to do manual labor in a remote village after publishing a satirical poem which took aim at Albania's Communist bureaucracy.

"He came, wrote and left," said Prime Minister Edi Rama during a speech close to Kadare's coffin at the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, near an art installation depicting the hands and scarf of another famous Albanian, Mother Theresa.

He "received all the possible praises and honors of the world, and all possible... insults from the country that gave birth to him", Rama said.

"He was not just a writer. He represented the feelings of all Albanians of all time in history," Angjelina Xhara, a filmmaker who also worked with Kadare, said tearfully.

Kadare gained recognition in 1963 with his novel "The General of the Dead Army", and received numerous awards including the Man Booker International Prize in 2005, the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts in 2009, and the America Award in Literature in 2023.

He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature 15 times.

Kadare sought political asylum in France in 1990 after receiving threats following his criticism of the government and calls for democracy.

Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron awarded him the title of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour.

Kadare was born in the town of Gjirokaster in 1936. He is survived by his wife, the author Helena Kadare, and their two daughters.

(Writing by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Jan Harvey)