The aim of this text is to analyse the historical and conceptual roots of the Great Albania project with the hope
Arrangement by Vladislav B. Sotirovic, 01.02.2010
to explain the current events concerning „Albanian Question” at the Balkans. This text seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the foundations of the national project for a Great Albania during the last 150 years.
At the first, it has to be stressed that the concept of a greater ethnic Albanian state, differently to the other Balkan nations, did not appear originally as an authentic expression of the Albanian national movement itself. In the other words, until the beginning of the Great Eastern Crisis (1875-1878, i.e. Serbian uprising in Bosnia and Hercegovina against the Ottoman yoke followed by Serbia‘s, Montenegro‘s and Russia‘s war against the Ottoman Empire), Albanians, unlike Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians and Romanians did not attempt to create an independent national state for the reason that a regional and religious identity was dominant among the Albanians for whom basically the Ottoman Empire was national (in the sence of confessional) state. In order to preserve predominance of the Islamic values in the everyday life and social relations, Muslim Albanians opposed by different forms of disobedience to the central authority in Istanbul the sultan‘s reforms which the Ottoman Empire tried to implement during the 19th c., under pressure from the great European powers. Bosnian and Albanian Muslim feudal lords became the strongest defenders, within the European part of the Ottoman Empire, of Islamic theocratic society resisting to any attempt from Ottoman central power to introduce some kind of administrative order into the functioning of the state taking into example West and Central European states.
The main power of the expansionist Albanian movement came from Muslim Albanians. With the exception of isolated examples of cultural efforts among the Albanians, mostly those in Diaspora (Istanbul, Egypt, South Italy), Albanian Muslims have been the most important nation in the Ottoman Empire in its efforts to suppress the Christian movement at the Balkans. With their patriarchal-oriental society of Asian type, they constituted the main obstacle to Europeanization of this part of Europe in the 19th and 20th cc. Exceptions to this were an insignificant catholic minority in the north of Albania, mainly in the region of Skadar, and the more numerous orthodox community in the south of Albania, which was strongly influenced by the Greek cultural orbit.
The first pan-Albanian political organization was found in 1878 in Kosovo town of Prizren (at that time with majority of Serbian population) under the name „First Albanian League”. Today, after studying Ottoman historical sources from Istanbul, it is clear that the birth of this league, together with its political program, was not an expression of Albanian original liberation efforts as the league was in fact only Turkish instrument for the preservation of the Ottoman Empire. According to the reports from Krijevski, a French consul in Thessaloniki, Turkish powers gave weapons to the Albanian leaders. However, very soon the league was abolished by the central Ottoman authorities as it started claiming greater autonomy from Istanbul for the lands inhabited by Albanians. According to Albanian demands, autonomous province of (united) Albania within the Ottoman Empire had to be twice bigger in comparison with present day Albania (Albania proper, Kosovo, East Montenegro, parts of Central and Southeast Serbia, West Macedonia and Northeast Greece).
Obviously, for the very practical political reasons the formation of the First Albanian League in Prizren coincided with the preparations for the International Berlin Congress dealing with the so-called Eastern Question or remaping the South East Europe after the regional crisis in 1875-1878.
The attempt by Russia to solve the Eastern Question by securing its interests by creating a Greater Bulgaria (as Slavic Orthodox state), at the peace negotiations in San Stefano (1878) between Russia and Ottoman Empire was finally met with fervent opposition from all other (western) major European powers. Although the project of Greater Bulgaria encompassed a significant part of territory inhabited largely by Serbian and Greek population, the central Ottoman authorities, with the crucial support by the British diplomacy (as historically the main opponent of Russian foreign policy in the East), convinced all other powers that the Albanians are the best defenders against the Russian and Orthodox “threat” to the Western Europe. It is the fact that from that time (1878) until the present day the Albanians have been presenting themselves to the public of Western Europe as major defenders against an alleged expansion of Russian Orthodox pan-Slavism into Southeastern Europe. In fact, the western-made and supported „Great Albania” megalomaniac project in the hands of Turkish and other powers was to designed to counteract another equally megalomaniac project (of „Great Bulgaria”) originating from Russia. It was clear sign that neither Russia nor west European great powers cared about a justifiable solution of the Easter Question but in essence only about their strategic interests in the Balkans.
The Great Albanian political concept from 1878 was imbued with the spirit of pan-Islamism and radical political Islam. Only from time to time did the Albanian political elite try to hide the distinctive Islamic feature of the foundations of their ideology, usually prompted by a desire to secure the support of some western power. A militant form of Islam prevailed in Kosovo and Metohija and in Western Macedonia, brought by the Albanian population from the mountainous parts of North Albania who forcefully descended into the gentle and fertile parts of these Balkan provinces. According to German Albanologist Georg Stadtmuller, the regions of Middle Albania constitute the original centers of Albanian population. Albanian religious heterogeneity and a distinctive tribal identity have historically always been a permanent source of internal conflicts. This “unstable” condition of the Albanian state (established in 1912/1913) threatens primarily non-Albanian people in Albania itself, but also in the neighborhood. In the territory of Albania large Slavic and Greek settlements have existed for centuries and Slavic and Greek toponymisc have been largely preserved up to the present day. However, from the creation of the first Albanian state in 1912/1913, and especially during the rule of the Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxa, a large part of non-Albanian, particularly Slavic population, were assimilated by the means of state repression.
It has to be addmitted that the Great Albania project is directly connected with the consequences of the Turkish conquests in South Eastern Europe, and especially with the wars of European Christian powers against the Ottoman Empire towards the end of the 17th c. It has remained, in a sense, as a long reaching hand of the Ottoman spirit in Europe, as a vehicle of Oriental kind of life, customs and mentalities which were characteristic for the territory of the South Eastern Europe at the time of Ottoman rule. The Christian population of the European Turkey, primarily the Serbs, joined the struggle of the European powers during the Great Vienna War from 1683 to 1699 to expell the Turks from Europe. After the defeat of the Austrian army in 1690 as a reprisal the Serbs have been subjected to massive atrocities and to the first major ethnic cleansing in the region. The Ottoman destructive military campaigns allowed the overflow of Albanian people from their original regions into the countries of their neighbors, both Slavs and Greeks. It was not before the 18th c. that masses of Albanian stock breeders from the hilly regions of the North Albania started descending into the fertile lands of Kosovo and Metohija populated by Orthodox Serbs in overwhelming majority, as well as into the regions of Western Macedonia.
Togeather with massive and regular atrocities which characterized this conquest of Old Serbia, there were also numerous other ways in which the compact Serbian ethnic body was broken u plike forced Islamisization, different forms of robbery, plunder, destruction of religious sites, and many other forms of terror. All of sush forms of atrocities are documentary testified by many foreign travel writers but on the first place by Roman Catholic missionaries and visitors (for instance in the report by Roman Catholic archbishop of Skoplje Matija Masarek in 1764). A similar process went on in the Albanian-Greek boundary regions. Albanian migration under the Turks went towards Greek lands, particularly Epir. With the strengthening of the Greek liberation movement Turkey used Muslim Albanians to secure the rule over the largest possible parts of Epir and Thesalia. That Kosovo and Metohija, of which Albanian authors often speak as “Albanian land” were irrefutably the central regions of Serbian settlement, is testified to by the fact that the most important monuments of Serbian architecture and Serbian spirituality were erected there. In Kosovo and Metohija alone 1,400 monasteries, churches and other Serbian monuments were built. The most famous among them are the Patriarchy church in Peć, monasteries Banjska, Gračanica, Dečani, St. Archangel near Prizren, Bogorodica Ljeviška in Prizren etc. A logical question is: why would Serbs erect their central church, the Patriarchy in Peć, in the region where they were not in majority and which was not the central point of their people’s homeland?
The greatest changes in ethnic structure of the population of this part of Old Serbia occurred from the middle of the 18th up to the middle of the 19th century, and from the Berlin congress in 1878 up to the liberation of these regions from Turkish rule in 1912. They were basically a consequence of the conflict between the Islamic Ottoman-feudal concept on the one hand, and the European Christian concept of society on the other hand. Samuel P. Huntington is quite right when he defines similar processes today as “conflicts of civilization”. Kosovo and Metohija may be the most convincing example of such a conflict today, bearing in mind that the radical Islamic features of the Albanian secessionist movement are quite skillfully masked by Western and European phraseology and symbols.
Numerous foreign authors testify to the ethnic, political and religious circumstances in these regions. These are the works of Ami Bue, Joseph Muller, Johan Georg von Han, Ivan Stepanovich Jastrebov, Aleksandar Giljferding, Viktor Berar, Gaston Gravier and others. For example, Joseph Muller reports the data from 1838 about the religious and linguistic structure of the population in Metohija – in Peć, Prizren and Djakovica; in Peć, orthodox and Muslim Serbs were in a majority (92.09%) in relation to the catholic and Muslim Albanians (4.17%). In Prizren the percentage of Serbs, Muslim and Christian, from the total population (24.950) amounted to 73.68, whereas the percentage of Albanians, Muslim and catholic, amounted to 16.63%. Only Djakovica had a clear Albanian majority – the percentage of the Albanians, Muslim and catholic, amounted to 80.76%, whereas the percentage of Serbs, Christian and Muslim, amounted to 18.05%.
The facts that Prizren, a town in Old Serbia, and on the outskirts of the Albanian ethnic region was chosen as the place for the session of the Albanian league in 1878 testifies to the extremely expansionist nature of Albanian aims. That is exactly were it was necessary to create a strong obstacle to further strengthening of the Serbian liberation movement in Old Serbia. And it was not a coincidence that the session of the Albanian League was not held in Albania, say in Drač, Valona, Tirana or some other town. From the time of the Great Eastern Crisis (1875-1878) the neighboring regions of Albania such as Kosovo, Metohija, today’s western Slav Macedonia and northern Epir, were Albanians had massively settled, mainly in the 18th and 19th century, started being referred to as “Albanian lands”. So the Albanian league, created on the eve of the Berlin Congress, took it upon itself to prevent the liberation of the “Albanian lands” from the neighboring peoples. The Leagues‘ documents reveal the essence of the movement. The sessions were held in a Prizren mosque, and the special feature of the Statute (Kararname) was Islam. Albania and Albanians were not explicitly mentioned in any of the 16 articles of the Statute, but instead they speak in general terms of “nation and motherland”, “country”, “our land”, “Balkan country”, “in the Balkans” and similar. The political subjects of the Union (League) are simply Muslims; the article 7 talks of the need for the Union with “our long-suffering fellow countrymen and members of the same faith in the Balkans”, and the last 16th article qualifies the abandonment of the Union as the abandonment “of Islam”. It is also telling that Muslim land owners from Raška region between Kosovo and Heryegovina, and even from Bosnia and Herzegovina were present at this meeting.
Basically the same ideas served as a foundation program for the so called Peć League in 1899 and so called second Prizren League in 1943. After the Turks were ousted from Europe in 1912, and after the formation of an independent Albanian statei n 1913, the programme`s aims were clearly adapted somewhat to the new political circumstances and new protecting powers. The insistence on a totally pure ethnic Albanian state is typical for the conceptual program of Great Albania, as is the rejection of any multi-ethnic concept. In accordance with such a program, the organized ethnic cleansing of non-Albanian population from the regions which were proclaimed as “Albanian lands” started right after the Berlin congress in 1878. During the period from 1876 to 1912 around 150,000 orthodox Serbs were forced to leave Old Serbia, that is the then Kosovo vilajet (biggest administrative province). Similar ideas had and Ismail Kemal Bey Vlora, the president of the first Albanian interim government: as the government president he demanded that the great powers cleanse “Albanian lend” of Slavs and Greeks and praised Albanians for having ousted “Christian Slavs”with their guns and violence.
After the First Balkan war in 1912, in which the Albanians fought on the Turkish side, the conference of ambassadors in London in 1913 determined the borders of the newly created Albanian state. In November 1921, at the conference of ambassadors in Paris it was agreed to recognize Albania as an independent and sovereign state. The Albanian state encompassed the biggest part of ethnic Albanian territory. It is perfectly clear that in the Balkans with its large-scale migrations and mixing of races, languages and religions, particularly during the centuries-long Turkish rule, it was not possible to draw clear ethnic borders. A number of Albanians who, as has been mentioned, settled in Old Serbia in the 18th and 19th century, remained within the borders of the Kingdom of Serbia, but also tens of thousands of Serbs, orthodox and Muslim, remained in the newly crated Albanian state, as well as a large number of Greeks, who, following the decision of great powers, were left in the Albanian state. The regions which Greater Albania propaganda claims, have never been a part of an Albanian state. However, a certain number of Albanian political leaders from the time of Ottoman rule, who lost their privileges with the disappearance of Turkey, did not want to accept the borders of the newly created states in the Balkans, and they immediately started their activity aimed at the breaking up these new states, primarily Serbia and Greece. This activity, particularly strong in the eve of the Second World War, was directly supported by fascist Italy. The Greater Albanian irredentist activity between the two World Wars enjoyed strong support form fascist powers, which were also interested in breaking up the newly created Yugoslav state which, they claimed, was the creation of the”Versailles system”. Italy was in the firs place, but there was also the Third communist international (Kominterna) with its headquarters in Moscow. The grater Albanian “Kosovo committee” joined the Kominterna in 1920 ; in December 1921 Baajream Curi, one of the leaders of this organization, visited a Soviet emissary in Vienna and discussed the issue of Kosovo and Metohija with him, having handed him a memorandum on the Committee’s intentions. It is conspicuous that between the two world wars the leadership of fascists and communist political organizations competed in supporting separatism among the Albanians of Kosovo and Metohija. From 1939 an even stronger and better organized activity of fascist Italy was directed toward Greece and Yugoslavia. Italy occupied and annexed Albania on the 7th April 1939. Already in July 1939, Count Cano gave instructions to Albanian emigrant for action in Epir and Kosovo and Metohija; he often repeated that irredentism in Kosovo and Metohija was “a knife aimed at the backbone of Yugoslavia!”
With the beginning of the Second World War and shortly after, when fascist powers, headed by Germany and Italy, attacked Yugoslavia, a bloody realiyation of the Greater Albania project started. A larger part of Kosovo and the whole of Metohija were annexed to fascist Greater Albania, parts of Kosovo was annexed to the newly created Great Bulgaria and parts of western Macedonia also became parts of Great Albania. The Vienna agreement from April 1941 determined the demarcation line between Great Bulgaria and Great Albania, but the Bulgarians were not content with this division.
On 30th May 1941 Mustafa Kroja, the president of the Great Albania‘s government, held a lecture in the Italian Royal academy on the natural and historical roots of Great Albania. In June 1942 he visited Kosovo and Metohija and at the meeting with Albanian leaders he publicly declared that “the Serbian population in Kosovo should be removed as soon as possible… All indigenous Serbs should be qualified as colonists and as souch, via the Albanian and Italian government, be sent to concentration camps in Albania. Serbian settlers should be killed.” It was revealed, yet again, that the Greater Albanian national programme leaves no room for any other people but Albanian.
After Italy occupied these territories not only did etnic cleansing start, but also a systematic implementation of the Great Albanian polical and culutral programme in all spheres of life. A small number of Serbian children who attended schools under Italian occupation were forced to study in Albanian language. It was the same with children in western Macedonia. Serbs were massively expelled from Kosovo and Metohija and tens of thousands of Albanians from Albania settled there (100.000 people). By April 1942 as many as 60.000 refugees from Metohija and parts of Kosovo had amassed around the southern borders of Serbia under German occupation which became part of Great Albania. These events significantly changed the etnic structure of this part of Serbia. After the capitulation of fascist Italy in 1943. the infamous “Skenderbeg SS division” made up of Albanians was formed under the direction of the German occupation forces. This organization pursued the project of Great Albania until the final liberation of these regions.
A whole set of decisions made by J. B. Tito`s communist movement before and during the Second World War show that the leadership of Yugoslav communists were consistent with their strategy of weakening the Serbian factor in future Yugoslavia, and that the Albanian factor was an important means in that strategy. This was also noted by foreign observers of political developments in Yugoslavia during the war After the war it was completely logical to expect that the expelled Serbs would return to their land in Kosovo and Metohija However, in 1945 Tito‘s government issued a prohibition of the return of expelled Serbs to their earlier places of residence in Kosovo and Metochija. Thus the result of the occupation of fascist Italy and fascist Germany during the Second World War and the sanctioning of these results by the leadership of Yugoslav communists, represented actually one of the stages of the Great Albanian political project. Everything that was done in Tito`s Yugoslavia contributed to the strengthening of Great Albanaian political ideology which in new circumstances was cleverly disguised under the communist parole of “brotherhood and unity” and under essentially, false internationalism.
Yugoslav communists remained consistent to the strategy of the communist international to indulge the extreme nationalism of “small nations”. In practice, the Albanian political oligarchy carried on ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and Metohija on a daily basis and prepared the terrain to join the future Great Albania, and in all of this it used all the means of state government (police, education, judiciary system, cultural institutions) which in this part of Serbia were totally in the hands of Albanians. Albanians as a national minority in Serbia had their Academy of Science in Pristina (probably the unique example for a minority in the world), the Parliament, the Government, the President, the University with classes in the Albanian language and numerous other institutions. They abused this maximum possible framework of autonomy obove all European standards and used the total power theu had to indocrtinate the Albanian population and particularly young people with the Greater Albanian national ideology.
The Great Albanian chauvinist propaganda achieved its greatest success in the period 1974-1981, after the adoption of the federal Yugoslav Constitution in 1974, which gave the provinces in Serbia Vojvodina and Kosovo) attributes of statehood and federal constituency. In practice there was no border between Yugoslavia and Albania. At the time when Stalinism was at its peak in Tirana, inspiring incredibly fanatic ideology of hatred towards Serbs, delegations from the Albanian capital come to Kosovo and Metohija almost every day. A lach of any freedom and democracy in Albania was augmented with regressive ideology of entice cleansing of Serbs in Old Serbia and pseudo-academic production. More than 20% of all textbooks used in schools in Kosovo and Metohija, particularly those on social studies, were imported from Albania.
Together with the processes of stifling Serbian and Slav enclaves in Albania, the same was done in Kosovo and Metohija. In the 1970`s the albanological institute composed lists of names which would substitute the existing Serbian and Slav names in order to hide the etnic origin of these settlements. Up today the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija have many scientific magazines but they used all these publications to disseminate national hatred, instead of the spirit of tolerance, understanding and cherishing of civilized relations with other peoples. The paradox of the whole situation lies in the fact that the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija, who claim to have been systematically repressed and pursued for centuries, have reached such a level of development precisely in Serbia, that today Prishtina instead of Tirana wants to play the role of main crator of a Great Albania.
We can conclude that “Great Albania” with the leading idea “all Albanians in one state” represents not only a belated example of the national romanticism of the 19th century, but also questions existing internationally recognized borders, jeopardizes stability in the whole of Southeast Europe and threatens to cause a new, third Balkan war. The ambition to set up an ethnically pure Great Albania at any cost represents an even greater anachronism.
Written by Dr. Slavenko Terzic
Arrangement by Vladislav B. Sotirovic
Владислав Б. Сотировић
Оснивач и уредник онлајн магазина
Serbian Patriotic Front