The Myth of Great Albania
By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
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Written: October, 1999
Updated: March 2008
To the politicians of the Balkans - almost without exception corrupt and despised by their own constituencies - the myth of Great Albania comes handy. It keeps the phobic Macedonians, the disdainful Serbs and the poor and crime ridden Albanians united and submissive: each group for different, idiosyncratic reasons.
To reiterate, the Myth of Great (or Greater) Albania is the belief that people of Albanian extract, wherever they may be, regard their domicile as part of a Great Albania and undertake all efforts necessary to secure such an outcome. Thus, to mention one example, Kosovo would, in all likelihood, become a part of this Great Albania, so the myth goes, because prior to 1912, when the Serbs occupied it, Kosovo has administratively been a component of an Ottoman mandated Albania.
Sali Berisha - a former President of Albania - talks ominously about an "Albanian Federation". The younger, allegedly more urbane Pandeli Majko, erstwhile Prime Minister of Albania, raises the idea 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. They rapturously celebrated Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence on February 17, 2008.
Thus, a Great Albania could well have been a plausible scenario except for two facts. First: there are major, historic, and irreconcilable differences between various Albanian groups and second: a Great Albania is without historical precedent and runs contra to the self-interest of the Albanian political, business, and intellectual elites in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania.
Albanians are comprised of a few groups of different creeds. There are Catholic Albanians, like Mother Theresa, and Muslim Albanians, like Hashim Thaci. There are even Orthodox Christian Albanians. Then 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, Kosovars, and Gegs dislike each other. 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, and prone to profiteering and dishonesty. Albanians - Tosks and Gegs alike - are considered by the Kosovars to be primitive, ill mannered, and crime-ridden.
When the crisis brought on by Operation Allied Force started, the local population in Albania proper charged the Kosovar refugees amidst them 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, Albanian gangs rushed to export their brand of crime and banditry to Kosovo and to prey on its indigenous population.
No Macedonian - however radical - will dare say about the Albanians from Albania what my Kosovar contacts routinely communicate to me and to other members of the foreign media.
Kosovars had an excruciating experience in Albania during the crisis in 1999. This lesson (being learned by Kosovars since Albania opened up to them in 1990) will not be easily forgotten or forgiven. Albanians reciprocate by portraying the Kosovars as cynical, obsessed with moneymaking, and calculating.
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 metamorphosed, as the divide grew wider, as the political systems diverged and as the political and cultural agendas were rendered more distinct, Kosovars became more and more Kosovars and less and less mainland Albanians.
This historical, 80 year old rift was exacerbated by the abyss between the regimes of Enver Hoxha and Tito. The former was 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 (up to 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.
As opposed to their wartime government, Albanians, in general, were much more reserved and suspicious towards the Germans (who occupied Albania from 1943, after the Italian change of heart). In Albania proper, three anti-fascist resistance movements - the Albanian Communist Party, Balli Kombetar (the National Front) and Legaliteti (Legality, a pro-Zug faction) - fought against the occupiers since 1941. The Communists seized control of the country at the end of 1944.
Only the Kosovars welcomed the Germans as liberators from Serb serfdom (as did Albanians in Macedonia to a lesser extent). A Kosovar, Xhaferr Deva, served as Minister of the Interior in the hated World War II government in Albania, which collaborated wholeheartedly with the Nazis. Deva was responsible for the most unspeakable atrocities against the Albanian population in Albania proper. This did not endear the Kosovars to the Albanians.
Thus, the forced re-union in 1999 was a culture shock to both Kosovars and Albanians. 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 they were few, far between, and the exception to the rule.
Finally, historically, there was never a "Great Albania" to hark back to. Albania was created in 1912 (its borders finally settled in 1913) in response to Austro-Hungarian demands. Kosovo was never encouraged to secede from the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later known as Yugoslavia). The Albanian King Zog suppressed the activities of Kosovar irredentist movements in his country in between the two world wars. Albania, mired as it was in the twin crises of economy and identity, had little mind or heart for Kosovo.
Moreover, business, intellectual, political, and criminal elites in all three territories - Kosovo, Western Macedonia, and Albania - have a lot to lose from an Albanian Anschluss (unification): their elevated positions, access to funds and independent streams of income (for instance, from the customs and tax administrations), and their chances of upward social mobility. The self-interest of these powerful groups is the best guarantee that a Great Albania will never emerge except in fervent, jingoistic propaganda and nationalistic-romantic poetry.
But this was the culmination of a much longer, convoluted and fascinating history.
Go to Part I
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