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Brexit , Once upon a time there was an United Europe: it’s the end of the dream …

in Politics

Politicians are riding anger, promising things that will be impossible to maintain. Without Europe, the funds to the regions that need it most will disappear . It will be a Stew Europe. Europe of the Great Illusion. We’ll have the European Union of the Baltic countries. That of the Danubian panslavics where the populisms and nationalisms will have their best.

The only certainty is the uncertainty. Of the present, and of the immediate future . In long term , Brexit it’s an arrival point, not the staring one, as someone in a firefighter costume tries to convince people. Europe as we imagined, it’s dead at dawn on June 24, 2016, when the British referendum results became official. Stocks collapsing. Chancelleries boiling. Stunned governments. NATO in early warning. The Kremlin celebrating.

Over all stands the inevitable Circus Jackal of the narrow nationalism, with singers fromt the small countries, with the populist euroscepticism nourished by Putin. The Domino effect that popular press likes a lot, to the trash TV and experts of sensationalism already in place : there is someoen that blows with all the breath on fire but does not warn that the fire can hurt. It is a power struggle, not to help those who don’t have it. That will always have less.

Eurosceptics gloating

Let’s see a moment the Domino environment. Although European leaders have planned to play down the situation and to speed up the divorce proceedings from London, there is a very precise message that makes its way between the capital of European Union: that the British shouldn’t delude themselves that they can continue to take advantage of the internal market without participating in the EU budget: “Leave means leave”, if you leave, you leave, is the mantra of the German Manfred Weber, President of the European People’s Party (conservative) to the European Parliament, very close to Chancellor Angela Merkel. For Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, Brexit is an act of “self-mutilation”. In short, moods tend not to reassemble the pieces of the broken vase.

If we want to be realistic, after Brexit, in pole position there is Grexit. What will happen? Exit calles exit. Marine Le Pen has wasted no time: already invokes Frexit.  Eurosceptics gloating: how nice!  Let’s smash this Europe ruled by banks, watching us with sharp-eyed ruthlessness (that catches cheaters: the real problem …), which obliges us to inane rules.

 

There will be a Stew Europe

Enough with the Europe of the bureaucrats. There is an explosion of claims that smacks of anarchy and ungovernability. Anger clouds the reason. Politicians ride anger, promising things that will be impossible to maintain.  Without Europe, the funds to the regions that need it most will disappear . It will be a Stew Europe. Europe of the Great Illusion. We’ll have the European Union of the Baltic countries. The Pan-Slavic Danubian Europe: and you know how that turned out twenty years ago, in the Balkans, where people were slaughtered without mercy for identity and religious divisions to divisions of territories and local powers . The economies of those countries that have emancipated themselves with Kalashnikovs and mortars, with ethnic cleansing and the rise of racism and xenophobia, are in asphyxiation. Without the EU, “they would go to the dogs”.

With this Europe fed to petty nationalists, Ukraine will be abandoned to his fate. Scandinavia that has always been wary of southern Europe, will hole up in his hypocrit Nordic refuge. Even the civilized Holland is in the grip of gasps and xenophobic extremism increasingly disturbing. The insecurity alibi could foment dangerous divisions, and bring the imitation of  the “splendid isolation” made in Britain. Imagine a Europe fragmented into dozens of areas of identity, every man for himself God for all!

 

Reviewing Saranda

in Nature

The port city of Saranda is located in the south-eastern Albania. In front of the northern part of the island of Corfu (Greece) and 26 km near to the Greek border. In ancient times, the name of this city was Onchesmus.
According to the famous Albanian historic writer Mr.  Neritan Ceka , the city took its name from his father, the Prince of Troy “Anchises”. The name of Saranda according to Christian tradition comes since the 15th century, when 40 monks, soldiers, were beheaded by the Turks because they changed their religion. So, the people and the church declared them as saints. The name of  Santi Quaranta (Saranda) comes from two Greek words. Agii means Saints, Saranda means the number forty. Today the city is called only Saranda.

The city has a population of 30,000 inhabitants. This number triples during the summer because there are many tourists. Many inhabitants from Albania and Kosovo spend their holidays in this city, which lies on the Ionian Sea. The climate in Saranda is mild  Mediterranean and good weather most of the year.
The economy of Saranda town is based mainly on its agricultural products from the valley of Valtos, mussel farming in salt lake Vouthrotos (Butrint).
Fishing is another source of wealth and, finally, tourism, which has experienced tremendous growth in recent years.

Unemployment and Poverty in Albania

in Economy

Albania’s strong economic performance prior to 2008 was accompanied by positive changes in employment and a strong reduction in poverty rates. The poverty rate, measured by nationalstandards, decreased from 25 percent in 2002 to 12 percent in 2008, and rural poverty dropped by an even more impressive rate from 40 to 15 percent over the same period.
However, the effects of the global and Eurozone crises and sluggish growth appear to have modestly reversed the poverty trend. Labor markets and transfers—public and private—have been key channels for impacts on living standards. The Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) data for 2012 indicate that the poverty rate has increased to 14.3 percent since 2008. The extremely poor population, defined as those with difficulty meeting basic nutritional needs, increased from 1.2 percent in 2008 to 2.2 percent in 2012. Extreme poverty has increased for both urban and rural areas. This development is also supported by Labor Force Survey data on employment, which show that 27 percent of Albanian households had at least one member who had lost a job versus a Europe and Central Asia (ECA) average of 18 percent. Available data on the unemployment rate indicate that it increased from 12.5 percent in 2008 to 18 percent in 2014, with the lack of jobs being more pronounced in vulnerable groups such as youth and women. The persistent output gap and strains in the labor market are also reflected in the declining trend of the labor force participation rate. The increase in poverty was partly mitigated by income from pensions and social transfers.
There has been progress on setting up a social safety net for the poor. Further measures are planned to improve equity, efficiency, transparency, and effectiveness in the use of resources for social protection. Ndihma Ekonomike (NE) is the main poverty-oriented cash benefit social assistance program, providing a monthly cash allowance to approximately 7.3 percent of the population (about 100,000 households) on the basis of a means test. Overall spending on social assistance is comparable to other countries in the region (about 1.7 percent of GDP), but the composition has gradually shifted away from benefits targeted to the poor. The relative balance in spending on the NE and disability assistance has shifted significantly over time in favor of disability benefits, crowding out resources for NE. Only about one-quarter of total spending on social assistance in Albania (1.6 percent of GDP) is devoted to NE (0.4 percent of GDP). The poorest 20 percent of the beneficiaries receive 56 percent of all NE transfers, while in the best performing social assistance programs in the ECA region, at least 80 percent of benefits reach the poorest 20 percent of the population. The Government, with World Bank support, has initiated reform of the program to improve its link to poverty, in terms of both transfers from the central level to the municipalities and the selection of beneficiaries at the municipality level.
The World Bank is supporting social protection in Albania through the ongoing Social Assistance Modernization Project, which is supporting social assistance and disability reform. The project is providing support to the Government’s implementation of reforms to improve the equity and efficiency of cash-based social assistance as well as disability programs. Under the equity objective, improving targeting and coverage is a key component of the reforms in both programs.

Financial Sector in Albania

in Economy

The financial sector continues to face important risks, especially external ones, but it has remained stable and recently has shown improving trends. The outstanding credit contracted by ALL 3 billion in the first quarter of2014. Overall lending contracted by 1.7 percent in annual terms during the second quarter of 2014. Lending increased during the second half of 2014, reaching an annual growth of 2.2 percent as of the end of the year. The BoA further cut the key interest rate in January 2015 to a record low of 2 percent. As a consequence, during 2015, interest rates continued to fall. The exchange rate to the euro has remained stable. However, as monetary and financial conditions have improved, lending and demand for monetary assets have remained low. Widespread euroization, weak demand, and banks’ risk aversion (due to high nonperforming loan [NPL] levels) hamper the transmission of monetary policy. The Greek economic and debt crisis pose significant risks to Albania as well.
As of early 2015, the outstanding NPL portfolio was 22.8 percent, a slight improvement from the 23.5 percent at end-2013 and the 24.9 percent in September 2014. Several legal and administrative measures supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been taken up by the authorities to address the expedition of NPL resolution. The repayment of arrears so far has not significantly influenced NPL reduction, but a decline is expected in the future as the repayment of arrears advances. However, progress to date in cleaning up these troubled loans has been limited. Meanwhile, during 2015, banks are expected to write off considerable chunks of old, dated NPLs to comply with BoA rules that require mandatory write- offs of loans classified in the “lost” category for more than three years. An economic recovery, clearance of arrears, and reform of the bankruptcy law would help facilitate private balance sheet restructuring and revive loan demand.
Despite the large NPLs, banks remain sound, with an overall capital adequacy ratio of 16.8 percent at the end of 2014. The banking sector remained profitable, as the return on assets at the end of the same period recorded a positive result of 0.89 percent, while the return on equity reached 10.5 percent.

Fiscal Policy in Albania

in Economy

The Government of Albania is currently implementing a number of reforms with the aim of reducing rigidities in public spending and freeing up resources for more efficient spending. Public debt has surged since 2008, reaching 71 percent of GDP in 2014. The increase in public debt resulted from loose fiscal policy, the need to support the state-owned power generation company, and external shocks. At the end of 2012, the parliament revoked the 60 percent of public debt-to-GDP limit, without replacing it with any other fiscal or debt anchor. In 2013, public debt increased further, reaching 70.2 percent of GDP, as government arrears to the private sector of 5.2 percent were recognized. The fiscal consolidation program that began in 2014 and is included in the medium-term fiscal framework contains a reduction in the public debt-to-GDP ratio starting in 2015. The fiscal deficit reached 5.6 percent of GDP in 2014, including a repayment of arrears of 2.4 percent of GDP. The annual budget law for 2015 has introduced fiscal measures on both the revenue and expenditure sides, which suggests a further narrowing of the fiscal deficit to 4.8 percent of GDP in 2015. Albania’s public debt is projected to fall below 60 percent by 2019, as sustained fiscal consolidation combined with solid GDP growth is expected to put public debt on a steep downward trajectory. This path is, however, vulnerable to changes in the fiscal policy stance, GDP growth,financing terms, and the exchange rate, as well as the realization of unexpected contingent liabilities from the energy sector. 

The energy sector poses significant fiscal risks.
About 98 percent of Albania’s energy is generated from hydropower. Recurrent energy shortages due to fluctuations in rainfall, persistently high distribution losses (about 43 percent in 2013), and regulated tariffs below energy costs have resulted in sustained fiscal support from the Government in the form of guarantees for power imports and liquidity injections to the energy generation company KESh. In the distribution sector, low collection rates from households, businesses, and public institutions have contributed to the financial woes of the publicly owned distribution company (OShEE), which faces an unfunded deficit of US$550 million. In February 2015, the Government prepared a Power Sector Financial Recovery Plan, the implementation of which is supported by the World Bank–financed Energy Sector Recovery Project.
The World Bank supported the design of the Public Financial Management Strategy, which is also serving as the platform for European Union (EU) budget support. The recently approved Policy- Based Guarantee aims especially at improving macro and fiscal stability.

Recent developments in Albania’s economic growth

in Economy

Albania’s growth indicates signs of recovery since the global economic crisis. The country’s growth suffered from the Eurozone crisis, in particular in neighboring Italy and Greece. Exports, remittances, and to some extent foreign direct investment (FDI) fell and were the main channels of the external shocks on the economy. Growth reached its lowest rate of 1.4 percent in 2013, as consumption shrank, investments stagnated, and fiscal and financial vulnerabilities came to the fore. Thanks to an increase in domestic demand supported by sound fiscal policies and structural reforms, growth is estimated to have picked up to 2.1 percent in 2014, due also to an increase in consumption and private investments. Growth is expected to increase gradually over the medium term but will remain significantly below its precrisis levels and its potential. Growth is projected to rise to 3 percent in 2015 and 3.5 percent in 2016 supported by an increase in FDI. Domestic private investment is also expected to gradually pick up in response to an arrears clearance and credit expansion, as well as sustained improvements in the business climate. 
Large external imbalances gradually corrected, but external vulnerabilities remain. The current account deficit (CAD) declined from 15.9 percent of GDP in 2009 to 10.6 percent in 2013, as exports grew from 28.4 percent of GDP in 2009 to 35.0 percent in 2013 and imports changed little as a share of output. The downward trend in the CAD is expected to have reversed in 2014 and reached 14 percent of GDP. Despite this expansion, financing has been available through debt and equity in the financial account. 

External debt has increased since 2009 but remained at a manageable 36.7 percent of GDP in 2014.

Isolation of Albania during the communist regime

in History

Enver Hoxha stepped in Tirana in November 1944 at the head of a Communist government, and on 2 December1945 his Democratic People’s Front of Albania was given a mandate to introduce a republican form of state power. The republic was proclaimed on 11 January1946.
In the period of 1946-1948 the Soviet economic, political and ideological model was established in Albania. The Communist Party was renamed Albanian Labour Party; it backed in full the resolution of Cominform and in practice laid the foundations not only of a one-party regime in Albania, but also of the one-man dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.

Passed was in 1967 the Decree on the Atheist State, which prohibited the three traditional religions rites in this country, the temples were demolished or profaned by being converted into storehouses, shopping places, sporting arenas, or for some other lay usage. Fear of persecution on account of observance of religious traditions was so strong that in only two or three generations people’s real memory of their traditions, of the names of the closed temples, of the meaning and philosophy of faith, was lost. In 1976 the ban on religion became an integral part of the Constitution of Albania and it definitely doomed any effort to keep, even secretly, the religious customs, morality and rites.

Even Bektashism, which has enjoyed a special place in the value system of Albanians, the southerners’ in particular, and has been described as the “fourth religion in Albania”, has become void of meaning. Today, at the end of the 20th century, a large part of the people in Southern Albania affirm they are descended from Bektashi families, but no one is capable of explaining what Bektashism is like, what its philosophical system, moral values and rituality are.

In order to achieve full control over the whole population of Albania, which had proved throughout its history to be disobedient and unsubmissive to administrative systems imposed by force, Enver Hoxha and his cronies in power took advantage of their knowledge as people that came from and belonged to the Albanian ethnos. The Albanians could be put under control only in the way described by George Orwell – through erasing their collective memory and traditions, as well as by directing the whole physical and intellectual power of society and the individual to pointless efforts (like the construction of hundreds of thousands of pillboxes and their maintenance) until morality and common sense were deformed and destroyed.

Although as a southerner Enver Hoxha tolerated in the government and at key posts Tosks from the South, he tried to eliminate the differences and unify the people from the North and the South through their complete subjugation to the Communist ideological stereotypes and clichés.98 This was achieved through the final standardisation of the language, through the schools and the overall educational system, through the military-like regime within the industrial labour collectives, generally through a drastic change in the overall social and value structure of society. Then came a schizophrenic split of personality and perceptions, familiar to the other Communist regimes too. On the one hand, it was evident that the country was being modernised, illiteracy was overcome, the number of university graduates was rising, but, on the other hand, this led to a propaganda-narrowed perspective, to the unification of minds, to stagnation and fear at all levels of political and social relations, to isolation from the world and encapsulation of the individual and the family, to an effort to survive in the privacy of self-isolation.

The chiefs of the clans and the bajraktars were ruthlessly eliminated – killed or put to prison, and precisely they were the guardians of traditions and morals and the ones that were supposed to keep the customs and collective memory for the generations.  It is small wonder then that after the fall of the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the establishment of new democratic institutions has been most retarded and most difficult in Albania. In each of the post- Communist countries, societies turned back to their own heritage and restored the democratic traditions and institutions, but the latter had either not been established in Albania, because of the short historical spans of independent existence, or if any positive heritage of self-government and collective decision-making had been present in the national traditions, it had faded away or had even been eradicated from the collective memory. In such a complex situation the Albanians put efforts to revive their national, ethnocultural, and religious identity, with the invariably concomitant danger to allow, as a result of oblivion, deformation for some ad hoc geopolitical or home policy reasons.

The international isolation in which Albania had been driven into by the dictator over the years – until his death in 1985: the break with Yugoslavia, later with the Soviet Union, with the other countries of the socialist camp, breaking with China too, led to the further loss of true awareness of their own identity. The Albanians have a numerous Diaspora in the neighbouring countries and around the world, where the memory of traditions and cultural-historical identity had been perhaps preserved better, but since they could not travel, they lived in almost full deficit of information about themselves and the world. Every attempt to obtain exterior information – listening to foreign radio stations or studying foreign languages outside the officially sanctioned places – resulted in accusations of espionage and imitation of foreign models.

Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the aspiration to put the Albanians in isolation developed into forms unheard of, when foreigners in mixed marriages were offered the alternative of either leaving the country, abandoning spouse and children, or staying, but cutting any contacts with their native country. On this subject, scholars collecting oral accounts can put down striking dramas of mothers who stayed with their children doomed to persecution and suspicions in a paranoiac country, while their relatives outside Albania had not known for over 20 years whether they were alive or not. Of course, also accounts of reverse cases, when they left the tyrannical regime in Albania, abandoning their families too, and only after 20 or 30 years fathers met for the first time their sons and grandsons.  The proportions of the evil deeds committed by a hypertrophied dictatorship and a maniacal cult of personality are sometimes beyond the grasp of even as prophetic talents as George Orwell’s.

Today Albanians are faced with an alternative of infinite complexity. On the one hand, very strong are the feeling of freedom and the desire to revive the old traditions, which have been forcefully uprooted from the public mind. The country is now open and the contacts with the Albanian Diaspora help to restore collective memory. The renewal of the differences and rivalry between the North and the South is felt in the political life, and the blood feud law compels people to emigrate and children to be hidden in basements. It is better for this reversal to the past and revival of the ancient customs to be made by scholars alone, because it is important for historical and cultural identity, but their introduction into the present-day realities would take the Albanian society back to the remote age of pre-modern times. On the other hand, Albanians long for affiliating themselves with the modern European values and fulfilling themselves in a peaceful and democratic social climate, like all other post-Communist societies in Central and South- Eastern Europe.

The problem of the maturity and consolidation of the Albanian national identity is yet to happen in the Balkans region. For it is obvious that the nation-formation and ethnocultural processes experienced by some nations in the late 18th and the 19th century, or by others like Macedonians – in the first half of the 20th century, have been taking place for the last ten or twenty years for the Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. The fall of the Berlin wall happened to the three ethnic Albanian communities in a most literal way. For several decades they have been forming an entirely mystified, verbal, and fanciful perception of each other. The democratic changes, as well as the dramatic events attending the break-up of the Yugoslavian empire, gave the Albanians an opportunity to meet, and gain an intimate knowledge of one another. In order to understand that, although they have been separated by only a frontier within the narrow Balkan stretch, they have become too different in terms of education, religion, culture and mentality, and maybe only language, ethnic memory, as well as kinship ties are what links them with one another.

Perhaps what we are to see happen in the Balkans in the first decade of the 21st century is nothing but this maturation and consolidation of the Albanian national, cultural and civil identity, as well as the difficult personal, family and social choice between tradition and postmodern European values.

Albania during The two world wars

in History

With the start of World War I, emerged thecontradictions between the nation’s discrepant internal interests, which had taken shape depending rather on the sympathy and support for various external factors than on proper Albanian interests and unification prospects. Central Albania was stirred by mutinies against Prince Wied and his government consisting of big lords; Southern Albania, with Gjirokastër as its centre, was entirely under Greek influence and the illegitimate government of Northern Epirus established its power there. From the north and the east the territories were threatened by Serbian and Montenegrin occupation. In late October, Italy occupied Vlora and annexed it, together with the island of Saseno. Serbia and Greece were given the opportunity to annex the northern and southern parts in 1915. In early 1916, Albania was occupied by Austro-Hungarian, Italian, and French troops and this lasted till the end of the war. Immediately after World War I, the Entante member countries proceeded to settling the outstanding questions through signing a series of peace treaties with the defeated states. The larger part of these arrangements concerned the Balkans and drew up a new geopolitical map, which charged the region with fresh tensions, mutual claims, suppressed revenge-seeking and latent irredentism.

Albania came out of World War I as an independent Balkan state with a surface of 27 thousand square kilometres and a population of 800,000. Its problem, however, remained the practical assertion and defence of the independence and sovereignty, for under the Secret Treaty of 1915 signed in London Italy was promised to receive Albanian territories, there were also many other external claims and internal splits in the identity and orientation of the Albanian society.

The period between the two wars was maybe the only one ephemeral time of endeavours by the Albanians to build up an independent state and lay the foundations of their nation-integrative philosophy and practice. In December 1920, Albania was admitted to UN membership, which was in fact international recognition of the Albanian independence.

The model of state organisation was quite naturally borrowed almost entirely from Turkey, since the century-long enjoyment of a more autonomous status (as compared to the other Balkan provinces) within the framework of the Ottoman Empire made it possible for Albania to assimilate the administrative system and have available a certain number of trained Albanians. A new electoral system, which was a copy of the Turkish one, was introduced. The administrative division, too, followed more or less the Ottoman practice. According to the observers and diplomats of the 1920s, the Albanian governors of counties and districts, the müdürs and the police officers were comparatively well trained, because they were the old and experienced former administrators of the Ottoman Empire. It is a curious fact that the reports from this period described the Albanian judicial system as effective and were impressed by the fact that it functioned irrespective of the huge influence of traditional law.92 The truth, however, is that both the administrative officers and the Albanian judges most often came from authoritative bajraktar (standard bearer) families who, by tradition, had taken care of order, government, and law enforcement for generations. In a word, as in the period of the Empire, the more or less normal functioning of the state was due to a visible or invisible symbiosis between traditional ways and modern constitutional state government.

This achievement, was not a minor one, of course, but it was far from being a victory for the Albanian national movement. The unification of the entire Albanian ethnos in a single state had not been achieved, and it did not look like as if something would happen before long. After 1925 the government of Ahmed Zogu adopted a course of maintaining alliance with Italy which, in the long run, led to the liquidation of the Albanian independence in 1939.

Soon after the occupation of Albania in the spring of 1939, its territories were annexed to the lands under the Italian crown, and Victor Emmanuel III became also the king of Albania. All international functions of the Albanian state were assumed by Mussolini’s government, and Albania’s administration was moved to Rome. This did not alleviate the occupation regime at all and a 100,000-strong army was deployed in this country, while the actual governor of Albania was the royal deputy Francesco Jakomini. The population was given a thirty-day term to surrender all arms, a fact which betrays some naiveté on the part of the occupation authorities, for traditionally Albanians would not give up their weapon.

Today Albanians do not hold a bad memory of the Italian occupation, since for about four years more than 350 Italian enterprises were opened in this economically underdeveloped country, roads were built and administrative buildings were erected. That was also the short period of time when the debacle of Yugoslavia and Greece led to a redrawing of the Balkan frontiers, and the Albanians came closer to the ideal of national union and the dreams of Great Albania – Western Macedonia and the larger part of Kosovo were annexed to Albania.  P. Chaulev characteristises the Albanian attitude to Italy in the following way: “In Albania there are Serbophobes, there are Hellenophobes, but there are no Italophobes. Albanians know the Italian people better than Italians know Albanians. They know that the Italian people, in spite of the new doctrine, cannot become imperialist and, therefore, no matter what the foreign policy of Italy to Albania may be, it does not scare them. Still, Albanians fear the Italian peaceful invasion”.

A key point in the Albanian resistance to the occupation, which had long-lasting historical consequences, was the formation of the Communist Party in November 1941. ACP put effort to take the lead of the independently acting detachments, a joint platform was worked out and the National Liberation Front was founded. Among the members of the general National Council was Enver Hoxha. Indeed, the fact that the Communist Party was established by people who came predominantly from the Albanian South, that is were of Tosk origin, as well as that Enver Hoxha himself was born in Gjirokastër, was not of least importance for the Albanian traditions.

On the other hand, at the end of 1942 all Albanians who did not trust the ACP and called themselves “nationalists”, founded another resistance organisation named Balli Kombëtar (National Front), at the head of which stood Midhad Frashëri, minister in the first Albanian government of Ismail Qemal and son of Abdyl Frashëri.

The main dividing line between the two resistance formations was the idea of “ethnic Albania” which was on the agenda of the Ballists – free and democratic, modernly constituted ethnic Albania… This was a Maximalist claim in the complex situation witnessed at that time and in the Balkans as a whole. On the other hand, Albanian Communists acted in close cooperation with the Yugoslavian resistance and, under the influence of the YCP, preferred to discuss the issue when the war would already be over. Ultimately, ACP’s aspiration to gain an independent control on power took the upper hand and the most convenient moment for joint action of the resistance was missed, namely the time of the capitulation of Italy and the Wehrmacht’s decision to occupy Albania.

The deployment of the German army brought to light once again the Albano-Italian sympathies. To this day historians and anthropologists who collect the oral history of the Albanians from the periods of the occupation, are surprised to hear that most of the families remember that they hid Italian soldiers and officers persecuted by the Wehrmacht. Some circles of the Albanian society supported the Germans and collaborated with them. A transitional Executive Committee was formed, then a National Assembly was called together, its membership collaborating with the Germans, and in November a government was appointed, all these bodies being an appendage to the German general administrator Neubacher. In this period the Ballists joined forces with the monarchist Zogist organisation Legalitet and sought partnership with ACP. In a special directive Enver Hoxha not only rejected collaboration, but also ordered the persecution of the Ballists, and later of the members of Legalitet party. In practice, this directive set the beginning of a real civil war in Albania the methods of which were terrorism, mass killings and revival of the traditional regional, clan and religious-cultural division of the country by new – political – means.

Anti-fascist resistance in Kosovo was put under full control by the YCP and Tito. The Albanian population joined Tito’s forces, gave a heavy toll of hundreds of lives, but, at the same time, was indignant at ACP’s position – in the name of Moscow-dictated internationalism it refused to discuss the strategic issues of the national problem of Albanians. In the second half of 1943, an Albanian League was again set up in Prizren proclaiming its intention to fight for the unification of all territories populated by Albanians. Moreover, the leaders of the Albanian League posed the question of putting Kosovo on equal administrative standing with the other provinces in Yugoslavia. Their endeavours encountered a redoubled opposition, because their right to self- determination was rejected not only by the YCP, but also by the Albanian Communists, and this predetermined the future of hundreds of thousands of Albanians living within the borders of post- war Yugoslavia.

The albanian revival in the 19th century

in History

The rise of national and patriotic ideas in Albania came late. Even in the second half of the 19th century Albanians were far from the ideal of a homogeneous nation. The growth of a unifying spirit was confronted in the first place with the traditional distinctions in the social and cultural organisation of the Gegs and Tosks. In addition, there were faith differences and the presence of a large Muslim community, which accounted for 70 per cent of the total population. In fact, this was not a typical religious division, for the Muslim community did not lose its feeling for regional (North and South) or clan and ethnic affiliation. The Muslim Albanian community, however, had the sense of affiliation to the ruling and propertied elite of a falling apart, but nevertheless glamorous and long-lived empire. Because of their strong presence in the military structures they felt committed to the Ottoman elite, or as an integral part of the official authority. Albanian Muslims held high positions in the Ottoman army, in the central and local administrations, even as high-ranking officers at the Ottoman court. In spite of their clear awareness of Albanians, of northerners or southerners, of members of a particular clan, the Albanian elite committed to the Ottoman power thought and behaved up to the large scale of the empire. They cared keenly about the self-government of the Albanian families and village communities, but underestimated Albania as a country, as well as the prospects for an independent statehood and the idea of national unity and emancipation. Albanian Muslim elite were educated in the Turkish language and felt associated with the Ottoman-Turkish statehood and culture.

The agitation and the ethnocultural mobilisation which kept all the other Balkan nations active and vital from the beginning of the 18th century onward, the striving for reestablishing their statehood, for an independent church and distinct cultural and educational identity, stayed immature or fragmentary among Albanians. This naturally made them an object of claims on the part of their neighbouring young nations – 20 per cent of the Albanian population were Orthodox and some of them studied at Greek schools, which they left well educated in the spirit of pan- Hellenism. Teaching in the Catholic schools was in Italian and Latin and their pupils were instructed into loyalty to the Papacy and to an Italian or generally pro-Western identity.

The question of the education of the Albanians in their own language was a problem posed many times in the reports of American religious missionaries in the Balkans. In June 1896 Reverend Lewis Bond reported that lessons at the Korça (Korcë) school were conducted in modern Greek, while the local people loved their own tongue which they spoke only at their homes. “Can we do anything for them”, asked Reverend Bond. His question obviously remained rhetorical, because three years later he sent another, much more extensive, statement on the issues of the language and education of the Albanians in Korça. He wrote that only at the girls’ school, set up by the Protestant community, the training was in Albanian and once more claimed there was no American who would not sympathise with the Albanians and their desire to use their own language .
It is assumed that the beginning of the Albanian Revival was set by Naum Veqilharxhi’s activity and his address to the Orthodox Albanians, which, along with his primer published in 1845, was the first programme document of the Albanian national movement. In it Veqilharxhi demanded Albanian schools and development of the Albanian language as a first step to the evolution of the Albanian people side by side with the other Balkan nations.

The Albanian resistance and national unification movement was directed almost entirely from abroad, mainly by the Albanian Diaspora in Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Of course, each of these Enlightenment groups strengthened the influence of either the Catholic or the Orthodox propaganda. Already in the 1880s, the Diaspora in Bulgaria drew in Albanian patriots who worked for and dreamt of an independent Albanian state, education and culture. Civil and publishing activities carried out by Yusuf Ali bey – the first Albanian political figure that raised the clarion call for independent Albania living in peace and understanding with its neighbours. Exactly twenty years before Sami Frashëri clearly and categorically recognised independence as Albania’s only way out of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, Yusuf Ali bey developed the thesis that only an independent Albanian principality would keep the territorial integrity of Albania.
On 10 June 1878, the Albanian League of Prizren was founded, on the analogy of the one-time League of Lezhë formed by Skanderbeg. It was the first to unite under its slogans various Albanian committees, regardless of faith and with a common aim – national unification and emancipation, its priority, however, being the defence of the Albanians’ national rights from the aspirations of the neighbouring states. This was prompted by the inclusion of territories with Albanian population within the boundaries of Montenegro under the treaties of San Stefano and Berlin.

Initially, the Sublime Porte was supportive of the Albanian movement trying to communicate an anti-Slav and anti-Russian leaning to it. The support offered by the Austro-Hungarian propaganda, as well as by the pan-Hellenistic circles in Greece, was of the same trend. At the time of the foundation of the League itself, the Ottoman-Muslim trend was prevalent in Prizren. The leadership of the League was in the hands of big landowners and Ottoman dignitaries. The League drew in also members of the Muslim population in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A military organisation, an Albanian army, was set up in order to counteract the claims by the neighbouring countries, at that time chiefly by Montenegro.82 The Sublime Porte, which officially declared that it would strictly abide by the clauses of the Treaty of Berlin (13 June 1878), in fact relied on the Albanian voluntary militias to resist the Austro-Hungarian claims to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The handful of Albanian patriots with incipient ideas of Albanian independence were frustrated and their hopes withered after a sharp statement by the chairman of the Berlin Congress, German Chancellor Bismarck, who declared that no Albanian nation existed at all and it was not possible to listen to any Albanian claims whatsoever.

At the outset of the 20th century a discussion began among the Albanian emigration on the need for the Albanians to mature in order to become a nation. In an article under the telling title of We are Dying Out, M. Frashëri reveals the disastrous consequences of alienation, hatred, religious division and disunion among the Albanians. Cultural backwardness, the lack of Albanian schools, and the studying of foreign languages at foreign schools, which “poison the minds of youth”, were defined as the basic reasons for the Albanians’ underdevelopment. M. Frashëri made a lot of attempts to define the concept of nation. Thus, for example, he wrote: “A nation, to claim to be living, should be united, should have its own language, should be civilised, because as it is – wild, with no civilisation and knowledge, it would not last long. In order to live, we have to get civilised.”

M. Frashëri’s idea was that if Albanians stayed what they were, uncivilised and underdeveloped, if they did not develop into a nation, if they did not cultivate in themselves an aspiration to their own statehood, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire they would perish, and nowhere else is this idea advanced so clearly as in his periodical Kalendari Kombiar (The National Calendar) published in 1900.
Sami Frashëri’s message declared in his book Albania – What it was, what it is, and what will become of it, published in 1899, became the manifesto of the Albanian revival (rilindja). Frashëri drew the prospects for a free and independent republic of Albania, composed of fifteen sancaks (Shkodra, Ipek (Pec), Prizren, Prishtina, Skopje, Bitola, Debar, Elbasan, Tirana, Berat, Korça, Kostur, Yanina, Argyrocastro, Preveza). In the name of this idea Frashëri appealed to the Albanians to unite, to work, and to fight against anything that would prevent its implementation. In this way, beginning with a demand for autonomy and struggle for their own alphabet and education, the Albanian national liberation movement arrived at the claim for independence, within broadest ethnic boundaries at that.

As a matter of fact, the personal and family background of Sami Frashëri himself was a salient embodiment of the drama of the Albanian identity. He was brought up in a Muslim environment, was a member of a rich (bey’s) Muslim family, had a place in the Ottoman literature as a talented author under the name of Shemsüddin Sami and contributed much to the Turkish language reforms. He and his family went through a painful metamorphosis from disappointment and giving up their loyalty to the Ottoman Empire and the sultan to full devotion to the idea of developing the Albanian national identity.

In the first decade of the 20th century there was a sequence of spontaneous and unorganised revolts and uprisings in reaction to the attempts by the Ottoman administration to increase the tithe, to levy new taxes on the population – a resistance which involved Albanians from different regions (Gjirokastër, Lushnja, Kruja, Elbasan, etc.) and different faiths, but was of a social nature alone and lacked a well-rationalised national cause.

A serious impetus to some degree of ideological rationalisation and maturity of the national idea was given by the involvement of the Albanians in the Young Turks’ revolution of 1908. Very soon, however, it became clear that the Young Turks’ revolution contributed in no way to the national causes of the non-Turk peoples, on the contrary, it implied “Ottomanisation” of the empire. With the consolidation of their power, the Young Turks developed their pan-Ottoman programme: control over the religious communities and the national schools of the non-Turkish peoples, settlement of Muslims from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Macedonia and the Edirne area of Thrace by, driving away non-Turkish population from the estates owned by the Ottoman pashas and beys, confiscation of the arms of the national organisations, etc.

In response, the Albanians formed their constitutional clubs (after the proclamation of the constitution by Abdul Hamid II in July 1908), which took the lead in the movements for opening Albanian schools, in defence of the Albanian alphabet from encroachments by the Young Turks’ regime. A cardinal question discussed at the clubs was: how to achieve Albania’s autonomy. Two trends took shape within the autonomist tendency: the Albanian feudal lords committed to the Ottoman Empire sought to impose a line of compromise and conciliation with the Porte, while the democratic trend called for struggle for autonomy as a way to achieve full independence. Actually, in that period, around 1910-1911, in the context of a sequence of rebellions, it became unmistakably clear that Albanians had matured for the foundation of their own state.

Parallel with armed insurrectionary action, Albanians defended their cause by parliamentary means. In December 1911, a group of Albanian members of the Ottoman parliament, guided by Ismail Qemal, started a parliamentary debate in order to make Constantinople grant the Albanians national rights in the cultural and administrative spheres. The aim of these claims raised by the deputies was, through acquiring cultural and administrative autonomy, to achieve a clear delineation of the ethnic and political boundaries of Albania. At a parliamentary session in January 1912, taking the floor during the parliamentary debate, Albanian deputy Hasan Prishtina warned that the reactionary policy of the Young Turks’ government was going to lead to a revolution in Albania. In the spring of the same year an uprising stirred up the whole of Kosovo, and in June – southern, central and northern Albania. Albanian officers and soldiers began deserting all branches of the of the Ottoman military service to join the insurgents. Towards the middle of June all of Albania was already at war and the Turkish government administration had actually ceased functioning.
The Albanian leaders and the Sublime Porte took the course of mutual concessions because of the pending war in the Balkans. By means of concessions, the ruling circles in Istanbul were trying to win over the Albanians to take their side in the looming war. On their part, Albanians feared a partitioning of the territories populated by Albanians among the countries of the Balkan Alliance. The Albanian national leaders believed it was better for Albania to remain within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire faced with the prospects of its division among Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. Thus, immediately before the outbreak of World War I, with the assistance of the Sublime Porte, steps were made in the Albanian territories to institute autonomy within the framework of the empire.

With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1912 there emerged an immediate danger of Albania’s being partitioned among Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. This was in conflict with the interests of Austria-Hungary and Italy, which had their own plans and supported the establishment of an independent state. The diplomacy of Vienna and Rome, as well as London, gave a signal to Ismail Qemal that the outright proclamation of the Albanian independence would not encounter resistance. At the same time, there were feverish preparations in Albania of calling together an all- Albanian congress. On 28 November 1912, delegates from all over the country gathered in Vlora and officially proclaimed Albania’s independence. Albania was not recognised in its ethnic boundaries, but as dictated by the international political conjuncture: Kosovo and Metohija were left outside the borders of the Albanian state, but Serbia’s claims to Northern Albania, and Montenegro’s to Shkodra, were rejected, Korça and Gjirokastër were given to Albania, while the region of Çameria was annexed to Greece. In July 1913, the Great Powers signed in London the Organic Statute of Albania which made its independence nominal. Albania acquired the status of an independent neutral state under the patronage of the Great Powers, and a commission of representatives of these powers, including an Albanian too, assumed control over the civil and financial administration.91 Dutch officers took charge of the Albanian gendarmerie, and the German prince Wilhelm de Wied was appointed prince of Albania by the Great Powers and was enthroned in the spring of 1914. Established was also the capital of the new principality – Durrës; thus the too familiar status witnessed in the Kosovo of today took its final shape – from a province of the Ottoman Empire Albania turned into a protectorate of Great Britain, France, Austria- Hungary, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

During that period the traditional, as well as some new, internal Albanian contradictions emerged again. On the one hand, pro-Ottoman big feudal lords like Esad Pasa Toptani, and Turhan Pasa Përmeti joined the government and practically held the whole country in their hands. At the same time, under the cover of defending Islam and the social interests of the Albanian petty owners, a kind of primitive Bolshevik ideas thrived in Albania, declaring a “holy war” on both Prince Wied and the big feudal lords in the government, enthralling the masses, and gaining control over all of Albania. This regime, which lasted for several months, was named after its leader – Haxhi Qamil, and compelled Esad Pasa to sign a contract with the Serbs and, in practice, betray the national Albanian interests .

The Islamisation of the Albanians

in People

Important factors facilitating the dissemination and adaptation of Islam among the Albanians were the local religious specifics and the peculiarities in the religious identity of the native inhabitants. Prior to the Ottoman conquest, the southern Albanians (Tosks) were Orthodox Christians under the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The northern Albanians – Gegs, were Catholics under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Holy See. The Albanian language was also divided into two large dialect groups – northern and southern. The northern, Geg language bordered predominantly on Slavic languages; the southern, Tosk, on the modern Greek. The boundary between the two dialects was marked by the river of Shkumbin. Here, along the contact line between the two dialect groups was formed the relatively newer and intermediate Elbasan dialect. The ethnographic and linguistic differences between the North and the South have served as an argument for many scholars studying Albania, who base their research on the specific political and cultural-historical features, to speak of a certain autonomy of the two regions – Gegëria and Toskëria.

The tribal and clan-related cultural-historical differences between the southern and northern Albanians were reinforced by the disunion resulting from the active Catholic propaganda. The rivalry between the two churches left deep traces in the spiritual identity of the Albanians. The Albanians’ subordination now to the Holy See, now to the Patriarchate, the incessant strife for domination between the two churches drove Albanians to ideological doubts and even to religious indifference, which was an impediment to the formation of an integral Christian outlook.

Islam, reinforced by the influence of the attractive practices of the Muslim sects, as well as by a great number of social and economic factors, gained ground among the Albanian population conspicuous for its feeble religious commitment.
The specific religious indifference is also manifested in the Albanians who converted to Islam. Scholars unanimously reject whatever presence of religious fanaticism among them. This is in contrast with the religious devotion of the Islamised population in other Balkan provinces – in Bosnia, Macedonia, and the Rhodopes. It could be, judging by Skanderbeg’s testament, that reservation to religion was of a political character, since many times in the course of their struggle for independence the Albanians had been misled or deceived by the Catholic West, while they had never relied on the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The lack of deep religiousness in the Albanians has been pre-determined in large measure by the significance of the fis, by the overwhelmingly clan character of their traditions and customs. Foreign travellers and observers in the Albanian territories have perceived as curiosity the circumstance that the patron’s days – for example, St. George’s and St. Nicholas’ feast days were celebrated together by Catholics, Orthodox believers and Muslims. The difference in the ritual was insignificant: the Catholics lit candles as they did on all other holidays, while the Muslims used to throw in the fire a piece of wax of the size sufficient to make a candle. The role of the church in the worship of saints was minor, church feast days were much humbler than these of the family and clan. It was of basic significance that each fis, regardless of its religious commitment, had its own patron saint. For example, the Berisha fis worshipped Virgin Mary whom they called Lady Berisha and celebrated the clan festival on the day of the Assumption (15 August). The Merturi clan called the Holy Virgin Lady Merturi and observed the fis patron’s day on 8 September, the day of the Nativity of Mary. The Thaçi clan venerated St. John on 27 December, and the Krasniqe revered St. Sebastian on 20 January, etc. It is perfectly clear that this practice was very far from the religious worship of saints as prescribed by the cannons of the Catholic and Orthodox religious doctrines, and that it was laden with entirely different tribal-patriarchal and social-ritual meaning.

The significance of kinship, clan, brotherhood had grown into a serious, rich and branched, ideological system which rested upon the Kanun of Lek, and the Code of Skanderbeg, ousting any attempt at domination by some other ideology in the Albanians’ value system. The fis, or the brotherhood, tolerated no influences, no intrusion by alien elements. They even had their own graveyards where no member of another brotherhood or clan could be buried.

Especially typical of the tribal system is collective liability. In a trial, which, in conformity with customary law, requires the defendant’s “vow of negation” – “I have not committed this”, the jury are selected from among the vllaznija or vëllasëri (brotherhood) of the accused, because customary law did not recognise the individual as a legal entity, such was, in its perception, the collective of relatives holding equal responsibility for the wrong-doing of one of its members.  Obviously, the legal system effective among the Albanians in the period of the Ottoman rule, was far from the dogmas of Sheriat law.

The official Sunni Islam in the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire was maintained prevailingly by the upper classes, the administrative and religious functionaries. In the adoption of Islam by the Balkan Christians, a much more essential part was played by the Muslim sects whose rituals and rite system were closer to folk beliefs. Even the period of the Seljuk Sultanate in Anatolia, saw an expansion of Islam in consequence of the spread and influence of mysticism, Sufism, and the dervish orders from the mid-13th century, a process that intensified even further in the 14th century. Although the Sufi orders differed from one another, they shared the quality of approaching religious life emotionally rather than in a legal-dogmatic way. The followers of Sufism believe it is possible to achieve immediate communion of man with God with the help of contemplation, one’s personal qualities and individual experience. As a matter of fact, by its simplicity this view makes Sufism attractive to broad social strata. The philosophy of Sufism built into the fundaments of Islam a new conceptual layer, more distant from dogmas and more open to man. Sufi adherents performed primarily mystic rituals that appealed to both the lower and the more educated social classes.

The Sufi-dervish orders were the most persistent agents of the worship of saints. In this way they met a basic need of the broad lower strata of society for protection and support against the injustices of earthly ways and rulers. The dervish brotherhoods established their tekkes and zavyes usually near the tomb of some righteous person (or fighter for the faith and justice), who was very soon declared holy. At the same time, the Muslim sects were religiously tolerant in celebrating some Christian saints who were close to their own martyrs by moral qualities, exploits and “miracles”.  This attracted the people from the neighbourhood to the tekkes, while the ?eyhs and dervishes suggested to them that religions and rituals were not differing greatly or at least that the invisible meaning of values and philosophy were very close to one another, no matter whether they were Judaic, Christian or Muslim in origin. All endeavours by theologians and by the authorities to put an end to the sanctification of new saints in popular Islam, failed. Their efforts to end the overgrowing of Islamic rituals with local customs and traditions were of no avail either, and controversies in the sphere of dogmas, as usual, wound up in compromise.

The religious ideas taught by dervish missionaries, actively assimilated the local traditions. Islamic and Christian beliefs and practices were mutually adapted to each other and thus the formal conversion of the Balkan population from Christianity to the new faith was made easier. In folk religious practices both in Anatolia and the Balkans the Christian and Muslim saints belonged to the same category of religious phenomena. That is why it was a common occurrence in the Balkans for Christians to visit the holy places worshipped by the Muslims, and very often the latter sought spiritual satisfaction in the ancient Christian sanctuaries. Equally frequently were attended by the two religious groups the shared places of worship.

The Muslim sects were built on a common foundation, although there were some differences in rituality and attire, as well as in their interior organisation and rules of behaviour. Most of them had adopted certain features of the pre-Islamic religions and beliefs – shamanism, Christianity, Judaism, while some were influenced by the heresies spread in Asia Minor and the Balkans assimilating elements from their doctrines and rites – for example, from Manicheanism. Mysticism is at the root of the Bektashi and other Sufi orders, which actually represented the foundation of Islam in Albania, Macedonia, and some parts of Bulgaria. Mysticism arose on Islamic ground, although in it there are traces of various influences, including Zoroastrianism and some Indian beliefs, and Judaism. Hellenistic doctrines,especially pantheism and Neo-Platonism had a strong impact in the shaping of Sufi philosophy. The establishment of Muslim mysticism as a manifold and complex syncretic ideological structure which, at the same time, is not alien to democracy and dedicated opposition to the official ideologies, respectively, authority, was a prerequisite for the wide spread of some sects in the Balkans. Furthermore, religious propaganda of the dervish brotherhoods was successful with the native people, because Sufism expressed an eternal striving for social justice, human dignity and spiritual perfection. Of course, a factor for the popularity of these orders was the extremely strong tie between the brotherhoods which covered the Balkans like a web, built up their hierarchy, determined the major network centres, contributed to the natural rise of secondary networks in the rural areas, etc. As a matter of fact, this organisation, which has not always been recorded in documents, has been functioning to this day disregarding international borders and the conventions of contemporary geopolitics.

The adaptation of Islam in Albania was furthered by the Bektashi sect, which, with its relative democracy and openness, came close to the religious beliefs of Albanian Christians. Its centre became Elbasan. Bektashism was one of the popular forms of Islam in Northeastern Bulgaria and Macedonia, too. Its spiritual centre in Macedonia was Tetovo. In this place, according to D. Gadzhanov’s studies, were also found other orders – such as the Kadiriyye, Rifa’iyye, Halvetiyye, Nakshibendiyye, etc. It may be asserted that all of Macedonia was sectarian, its western parts being home chiefly to the tekkes and centres of the Bektashi and Hayati (a subsection of the Halvetiyye).

In Kosovo, like in Albania, Islam was disseminated through the order of Haci Bektash, while in Bosnia the Sunnis predominated, the Mevlevi order being held in highest esteem. In fact, today the centre of administration of the Bektashi order in the Balkans is situated in Tirana, and some of the richest, in spirit and tradition, Bektashitekkes are to be found in Tetovo and Djakovica. (During the war in Kosovo in the late spring of 1999, the tekke in Djakovica was set on fire by the Serb police or by a paramilitary unit, and part of the library was destroyed.)

In Albania the campaigns of forcible dissemination of Islam were only exceptions, since these clearly did not have the anticipated effect. The Ottoman campaigns during the conquest of Albania usually ended in land desolation, abduction into slavery, and imposition of Islam. The campaigns of 1464 and 1465 brought devastation to the Albanians. These campaigns were undertaken in the summer, in the harvest season, and finished off by burning down the fields and bringing ruin, by driving away the cattle, and taking the captured people into slavery. Particularly difficult was 1466, when the Albanian lands were invaded by sultan Mehmed II followed by his entire army. Turkish chronicler Kemal Pashadze mentions that “because of the heavy losses inflicted on them by the Albanians, the Ottomans showed appalling ferocity here and even left no vegetation on the ground”.   During these campaigns seeking to subjugate Albania, in spite of the outrages, Islam was being spread among the native population only incidentally, occasionally. During that period, Islam was adopted mainly by the feudal clans trying to preserve their lands and consolidate their privileged positions.

Under Sultan Mehmed II Fatih (the Conqueror) the non-Muslim religious communities were allowed. At that time the situation of people professing different religions was better within the boundaries of the Empire than in some countries in Western Europe.  When in the beginning of the 16th century Sultan Selim I decided to impose Islam on all Christians by force, his plan failed, because the patriarch of Constantinople referred to the code of Sultan Mehmed II, which guaranteed certain autonomy to non-Muslim communities. Helpful were also protests by the members of the high Muslim religious circles, as well as by the janissaries.

Typical is the case of the large-scale Islamisation in the unruly region of Reka, lying to the north of Debar. Here the Sublime Porte resorted to the spread of Islam as a method of pacification. Reka fell under Ottoman power in 1460. According to the first timar registers for this territory from 1467, its sparse population was Christian only. It comprised motley groups of Albanians, Slavs, and Wallachians. In the beginning and the middle of the 16th century several consecutive uprisings broke out. In 1573 the kadi of Elbasan sent a report to the sultan on the need to draw the local population to the true faith in order to appease them at long last. The results of the measures applied became apparent in the next register of the region from 1582. As many as 170 Muslim households, of which 160 newly converted to Islam, were listed in it.

One of the early forms of nonforcible conversion to Islam and substitution of the cultural identity was the gradual incorporation of the local aristocracy into the Ottoman military-feudal class. This naturally required some kind of compromise with certain dogmas of the Muslim doctrine with a view to the expansionist objectives of the empire. One way or another, typical of the early period of the consolidation of the power in the Balkans is the motley character of the military detachments recruited into the Ottoman army. Once fallen under partial dependence on the sultan, the Balkan nobility, in their striving to prevail over their rivals, as well as to preserve or expand their estates, gradually turned into Ottoman feudal tenants. Data on feudal lords who supported the foreign power are found in the correspondence between the patriarch of Constantinople and the archbishop of Ohrid dating back to the beginning of 15th century. In his commentary to this evidence Prof. H. Geltzer writes: “…What a strong power of attraction has the young, full of energy Turkish state exerted, especially on the Slav and Albanian notables in the Balkan Peninsula… One has to remember that this was the time when Bulgarian, Serbian and Albanian notables abandoned Christianity in droves and adopted Islam.”
One finds records of the local feudal lords converted to Islam even in the earliest Albanian timar registers. In the defter of the sancak of Arvanid of 1432, over 50 per cent of the recorded spahis were Islamised Albanian aristocrats, sultan’s and bey’s slaves.  In the sancak of Shkodra among the dozens of feud-holders in 1485 there was one convert to Islam, Zaim Ayas Bey, son of Kuke. In the same year, out of 107 timar-holders in this sancak, eight were Muslims of Albanian origin – H?z?r Jovan, Hasan Arnaut, Mustafa Hrac, Hasan Marin, etc  . In 1467, the local lords converted to Islam accounted for eight per cent of the timar-holders in the sancak of Debar.  Even in the fortress of Dergoz at least half of the garrison offices in the regular Ottoman occupation troops were filled by local people who had adopted Islam.  In the vilâyet of Akçahisar (modern Krujë, Kruja), along with the five Christian spahis who shared the holding of two timars, in 1467 there were two new Muslims – Ilyas and Dogan.

The Albanians were greatly valued as soldiers by the Ottoman military system and provided recruits for some of the elite corps of the Ottoman army. Levends (sailors) were generally recruited from among the Turkish youths and were given special training. Ottoman records, however, reveal that the Albanians were subject to regular enlistment in the levend forces. Correspondence from 1693 evidences of the directions issued by the central authorities requiring the mobilisation of 1000 Arnauts in the mentioned year from the sancaks of Avlona and Delvin (today’s Delvina) as recruits for the levend troops. In compensation, there came an order that the households of the conscripts should be exempted from the avariz and nüzul taxes. Enclosed were the lists of the locations and number of households obligated to provide the levend enrolment. For example, 54 households in the town of Avlona had to send 27 recruits, while 333 households in the town of Delvin were levied with providing 166 men, etc.

The sultan’s guards, too, were predominantly recruited from among the Albanians. Though isolated from their compatriots, the Albanians never lost awareness of their ethnic and clan identity. They were referred to by the administration and entered in the official records as Arnauts, which was a mark of their origin. This was largely due to the fact that no matter how loyal champions of the Ottoman state they were, they never became fanatic Muslims, and in their value system the sense of affiliation to the Albanian North or South, or to a particular family, as well as the soldier’s duties stood higher than religious beliefs. In this sense, the description given by Lady Mary Montagu in the first years of the 18th century is illustrative and accurate: “But of all the religions I have seen, the Arnaut seems to me the most particular. They are natives of Arnaoutlich, the ancient Macedonia, and still retain something of the courage and hardiness, though they have lost the name, of Macedonians, being the best militia in the Turkish empire, and they only check upon the janissaries. They are foot soldiers; we had a guard of them, relieved in every considerable town we passed: they are all clothed and armed at their own expense, generally lusty young fellows, dressed in clean white coarse cloth, carrying guns of a prodigious length, which they run with on their shoulders as if they did not feel the weight of them, the leader singing a sort of rude tune, not unpleasant, and the rest making up the chorus. These people, living between Christians and Mahometans, and not being skilled in controversy, declare that they are utterly unable to judge which religion is best; but, to be certain of not entirely rejecting the truth, they very prudently follow both and go to the mosques on Fridays and the church on Sundays, saying for their excuse, that at the day of judgement they are sure of protection from the true prophet; but which that is, they are not able to determine in this world. I believe there is no other race of mankind have so modest an opinion of their own capacity. These are the remarks I have made on the diversity of religions I have seen…”

Islam began to spread first in the urban centres. The more complex nature of urban life spurred town-dwellers to adopt the rulers’ religion. The influence of Islam was felt there first. On the one hand, the cities were the first centres of the conquerors’ administration and target of colonisation. On the other hand, they were places of concentration of Christians and Jews owning large moneyed capital. Their basic ambition in the new social and political setting within the framework of the dominant Muslim state system was to further retain their leading positions.
In the early period following the conquest of the Balkan towns, up to the middle of the 16th century, when the Ottomans believed it was their right and duty first of all to consolidate their power in the new territories and their participation in the later campaigns of conquest, the propertied urban groups managed to keep their predominance in the most important activities – tax farming, trading, crafts, etc.

In the second half of the 16th century, parallel with the spread of Islam, the holders of money capital who professed Islam gained strong positions in the cities. The role of the Christians began to decline and they were forced to give up their place in the key economic activities to their Muslim fellow-citizens. In order to keep their positions, the most powerful Christian urban classes strove for proximity with the Muslim ruling crust by way of Islamisation.

In the villages, unlike the towns, the spread of Islam began much later and followed its intrinsic rules, forms and motives. The delayed diffusion of Islam in the rural areas was mainly due to objective factors. The colonisation, especially in the Albanian highlands, did not affect so directly the rural population as it did the urban one. Wherever Ottoman settlers moved in, they aimed to establish separate colonies and live in relative isolation from the local population. The rural structures were characterised by isolation, which was quite pronounced in some places (especially in the highland areas), and which was hardly susceptible to outside influence. Very strong in the rural communities was the tradition of strict abiding by the customary law, of observance of the clan or mundane religious rites, of preserving their inherited, generation-old moral value system. The more or less homogeneous social structure of the rural population was also a factor making the cases of conversion to the dominant religion by personal and social motives, so characteristic of the urban areas, isolated and untypical in the countryside.

The Ottoman authority did not aim to impose Islam among the rural populace forcibly and on a mass scale, since such an act would have harmed seriously the military and economic interests of the state. Bosnia made an exception, on political and military-strategic grounds, although the amount of the cizye, and some other taxes collected in this province, were valued high as revenues to the treasury, and no violent measures were applied. Ottoman centralism rarely resorted to campaigns for the spread of Islam. In Albania and Kosovo, where colonisation was scarce, and at places it was limited to the settlement of representatives of the Ottoman administration and the establishment of garrisons, Islamisation began latest in time. As evidenced by the reports of the Vatican Catholic inspectors, by the first decade of the 17th century only 10 per cent of the population in the Albanian North were Muslims.

A large-scale and comparatively rapid change in the religious identity of the Albanians, especially in the mountain rural communities, was in progress in the mid- and late 17th century and, with varying intensity, during the 18th century. In a sense, the abandonment of Catholicism and the Orthodox faith by the Albanians was formal and employed as a conscious strategic move aiming at their survival and admittance to the hierarchy of the local Ottoman administration. Furthermore, this explains the presence of dual religious identity among the Gegs, but also among the Tosks in the South. Crypto-Christian behaviour was characteristic of the Albanian territories in the period from the 17th up to the late 19th century. In order to evade interference by the Ottoman administration in their home affairs, in their austere clan traditions of hierarchy and communal self-government, many Albanian clans, especially among the mountaineers in the North, adopted Islam formally and lived as dual-faith believers, just as in the description given by Lady Montagu. Along with the new religion they continued to celebrate the old Christian festivals and saints, baptised their children, took Holy Communion, married Christian women, practices strictly forbidden by the Sheriat prescriptions. Bishop Zmajevic established that “there is a vicious and disdainful custom to give Holy Communion to those who, in order to evade taxation, publicly profess Mohammedanism, and secretly – the Christian faith, infecting others by their example…” It is difficult to determine the role of the Catholic and Orthodox priests as shepherds of their flock, when the latter adopted Islam or sank into practising dual faith. According to M. Drinov’s remarks, based on correspondence of Catholic envoys from their Albanian missions, the level of performance of the Catholic priests was extremely inadequate and they were often the first to adopt Islam and lead their flocks into conversion. Catholic priest Stefan Gaspari toured the Albanian eparchies in 1671-1672 and wrote that “the unworthy Catholic priests had not only been unable to maintain the faith in their flock, but also had utterly exterminated it by their foul life.” In the eparchy of Dras [modern Durrës] he met many Crypto-Christians, designated in the original by the Latin term of christiani occulti, who “overtly professed the Mohammedan faith, and secretly attended church to pray, confess their sins and take Holy Communion”.  Other scholars, like A. Zhelyazkova, to a degree P. Bartl and St. Skendi, hold the thesis that the local Catholic priests were closely linked with or were part of the family and clan ties in the highland communities and made efforts to be of service to their congregation. When, towards the middle of the 18th century, Pope Benedict XIV demanded in a special bull that the renegades, observing in secret the faith of their ancestors, should renounce Islam in public and profess Christianity openly, the population offered violent resistance to it, fully supported by their clerics.

As for the Orthodox priests, they were not only notorious for their ignorance, but also for the abuse of church tax collection. Besides, both the Catholic and the Orthodox population were levied with special taxes and duties. Since the time of Sultan Mehmed II, with the integration of the Orthodox Church in the system of the central Ottoman power, the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople exacted a heavy fiscal regime on all Christians. Part of the church taxes were collected with a view of paying out what was known as peshkesh – a sum contributed by the Greek patriarchs to the state treasury in return for their right to be assigned to their position with an official document (berat). Along with these sums, the size of which was constantly growing, the Orthodox population gave also ecclesiastical miri rüsüm, comprising taxes and duties received by the metropolitans from the eparchies under their jurisdiction. There were a great number of other taxes collected on a voluntary or compulsory basis. Their collectors acted with the assistance and under the protection of the local Ottoman administrative bodies, usually bribed to turn a blind eye to malpractice.

St. Skendi, who has studied Crypto-Christianity, considers that fear of persecution was by no means a reason for the conversion of Albanians to Islam and the emergence of dual faith. They were rather led by their wish to evade paying per capita tax and benefit from proselytism, namely – to be given a post in the military administrative hierarchy of the Ottoman state.73 Indeed, from the middle of the 17th century the Sublime Porte found out the only measure by which to punish the insurgent Albanians – through a drastic increase in taxes. If the tax levied on the Christians in the Albanian communities in the 16th century amounted to about 45 akçes, in the middle of the 17th century it ran up to 780 akçes a year. In order to save the clans from hunger and ruin, the Albanian elders advised the people in the villages to adopt Islam. Nevertheless, the willingness of the Gegs to support the campaigns of the Catholic West against the Empire, did not abate. In his report to Cardinal Gozzadino, the Albanian bishop and writer Pjetër Budi informed in 1621 that scores of men in Albania, Christians, but also Muslims, were ready to take arms, given the smallest help from the Catholic West.

In this context, the motives for the complex dual religious identity of the Albanians become clear. Emblematic is the case of the Crypto-Christians inhabiting the inaccessible geographical areas around Berat, Shpat and Gnjilane (Alb. Gjilan). Undisturbed by the Ottoman authorities, the people from Shpat and four villages near Gnjilane maintained for a long time their religiously dualised existence. The central power came to know about them only in 1846, and by chance, when two recruits from these parts declared they were actually Christians, hence could not serve in the Ottoman army. The Sublime Porte conducted an inquiry and then, forced by circumstances, the local people, guided by their priest Antonio Markovic, openly declared themselves to be Christians. Those who survived the ensuing repression were exiled to Asia Minor. As for the Crypto-Christians from Shpat, some five thousand people, they were able to revert to the Orthodox faith, without risking their lives, only in 1897.

A fairly accurate picture of religious self-awareness in Albania is presented by the general consul of Belgium in Thessaloniki in 1888. According to his statistics, the proportion of religious believers in Albania was the following: Geg Muslims (Northern Albania) – 370,000 people, Tosk Muslims (Southern Albania) – 250,000, Catholics – 253,000, and Orthodox Christians – 150,000.75 In fact, there probably are some incorrect data in this statistics, because in the beginning of the 20th century the Muslims constituted 70 per cent, the Orthodox Albanians – around 20 per cent, and the Catholics – 10 per cent of the total population. According to the latest census held in April 1989, the population of Albania is 3 182, 417 persons, the same proportions of Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Catholics being revealed. With reference to Albanians’ religious indifference, E. Biberaj points out that Albanians favour their ethnic-national identification, rather than their religious one. The modern Albanian is often heard saying: “The religion of the Albanians is Albanian-ness.”

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