Vol 1, No 17
18 October 1999
A B A L K A N E N C O U N
T E R:|
The Myth of Greater Albania (Part 1)
Dr Sam Vaknin
To the politicians of the Balkans - almost without exception corrupt and despised by their own constituencies - the myth of a Greater Albania comes in handy. It keeps the phobic Macedonians, the disdainful Serbs and the poor and crime-ridden Albanians united and submissive within their respective countries, although each group for differing reasons.
To reiterate, it is the belief that people of Albanian extraction, wherever they may be, regard their domicile as part of a Greater Albania and undertake all efforts necessary to create such an outcome. For example, Kosovo should be part of this Greater Albania, so the myth goes, because prior to 1912, when the Serbs occupied it, Kosovo had administratively been part of an Ottoman-mandated Albania. Sali Berisha - a former Prime Minister of Albania - talks ominously about an "Albanian Federation." The younger, allegedly more urbane Pandeli Majko, the current Prime Minister of Albania, has raised the notion of a uniform curriculum for all Albanian pupils and students, wherever they may reside. Albanians in Macedonia make it a point to fly Albanian flags conspicuously and on every occasion. This could have well been a plausible scenario had it not been for two facts. Firstly, there is no such thing as homogeneous "Albanians" and secondly Greater Albania is without historical precedent.
Albanians are comprised of a few ethnic groups of different creeds. There are Catholic Albanians - such Mother Theresa - and Muslim Albanians - such as Hashim Thaci, the self-proclaimed "provisional Prime Minister" of Kosovo. There are Tosks - southern Albanians who speak a (nasal) dialect of Albanian and there are Gegs - northern Albanians (and Kosovars) who speak another dialect which has little in common with Tosk (at least to my ears). Tosks don't like Gegs and Gegs detest Tosks. In a region where tribal and village loyalties predominate, these are pertinent and important facts.
The Kosovars are considered by their Albanian "brethren" (especially by the Tosks, but also by Albanian Gegs) to be cold, unpleasant, filthy rich cheats. Albanians - Tosks and Gegs alike - are considered by the Kosovars to be primitive, ill-mannered bandits. There is no love lost between all these groups. When the crisis brought on by Operation Allied Force started, the local Albanian population charged the refugees exorbitant (not to say extortionate) prices for such necessities as a roof over their head, food and cigarettes. When the UN mandate (read: the KLA mandate) was established, the Albanians rushed to export their brand of crime and banditry to Kosovo and to prey on its local population.
No Macedonian - however radical - will dare speak about the Albanians in the way that my Kosovar contacts do. They nonchalantly and matter of factly attribute to them the most heinous crimes and uncivilized behaviour. Kosovars had - and are still having - an excruciating experience in Albania during this crisis. The lessons learned by Kosovars since Albania was opened up to them in 1990 will not be easily forgotten or forgiven. Albanians reciprocate by portraying the Kosovars as cynical, inhuman, money-making terminators and emotionless wealthy predators.
This is not to say that Albanians on both sides of the border do not share the same national dreams and aspirations. Kosovar intellectuals were watching Albanian TV and reading Albanian papers even throughout the Stalinist period of Enver Hoxha, the long-time Albanian dictator. Albanian nationalists never ceased regarding Kosovo as an integral part of an Albanian motherland. But as the decades passed by, as the dialects metamorphosized, as the divide grew wider, as the political systems diverged and as the political and cultural agendas became more distinct - Kosovars became more and more Kosovars and less and less like the Albanians of Albania proper.
This historical, 80-year-old rift was exacerbated by the abyss between the Enver Hoxha regime and its Tito counterpart; the former impoverished, paranoiac, xenophobic, hermetically isolated and violent; the latter - relatively enlightened, economically sprightly, open to the world and dynamic. As a result, Kosovar houses are three times as big as Albanian ones and Kosovars used to be (until the Kosovo conflict) three times richer (in terms of GDP per capita).
Kosovars crossing into Albania during the Hoxha regime were often jailed and tortured by its fearsome secret police. A Kosovar - Xhaferr Deva - served as Minister of the Interior in the hated Second World War government in Albania, which collaborated wholeheartedly with the Nazis. Albanians, in general, were much more reserved and suspicious towards the Germans (who occupied Albania from 1943, after the Italian change of heart). Kosovars welcomed the Nazis as liberators from Serb serfdom (as did Albanians in Macedonia to a lesser extent). Deva was responsible for the most unspeakable atrocities against the Albanian population in Albania proper. It did not render the Kosovars more popular. In Albania proper, three anti-fascist resistance movements - the Albanian Communist Party, Balli Kombetar (the National Front) and Legaliteti (Legality, a monarchist faction fighting to re-establish King Zog) fought against the occupiers from 1941. The Communists seized control of the country at the end of 1944.
Thus, the forced re-union was a culture shock to both. The Kosovars were stunned by the living conditions, misery and lawlessness of Albania proper. The Albanians were envious and resentful of their guests and regarded them as legitimate objects for self-enrichment. There were, needless to say, selfless exceptions to the egotistic rule. But I cannot think of any right now.
Historically, there was never a "Greater Albania" to hark back to. Albania was created in 1912 (its borders finally settled in 1913) in response to Austro-Hungarian demands. It never encouraged Kosovo to secede. The Albanian King Zog suppressed the activities of Kosovar irredentist movements in his country in between the two world wars. Albania, mired in the twin crises of economy and identity, had little mind or heart for Kosovo.
But this was the culmination of a much longer, convoluted and fascinating history.
Dr Sam Vaknin, 18 October 1999
Part 2 of this series will appear in next week's issue of CER
The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He is an Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.
Dr Vaknin's website is here.
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