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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. The “Critical turns”: Subverting the Romantic narratives

The organization of the chaos

Branko Merxhani
Traduction de Rigels Halili

Texte intégral

1Title: Organizimi i Kaosit (The organization of the chaos)

2Originally Published: In the monthly review Neo-shqiptarisma, Nr. 1, Tirana, 1930

3Language: Albanian

4The excerpts used are from A. Plasari ed., Formula të Neoshqiptarismës. Përmbledhje shkrimesh (Tirana: Apollonia, 1996), pp. 99–102.

About the author

5Branko Merxhani [1894 Istanbul – 1981, Istanbul]: scholar and writer. He was born in Istanbul and educated in Germany. In all likelihood, only his father was Albanian. By the end of the 1920s he went to Gjirokastra, where, together with several other well-known intellectuals, he founded and published the journal Demokratia, which soon became one of the most important newspapers in Albania. It was through its pages that he first presented his ideological program, known as Neo-shqiptarisma (Neo-Albanianism). During the 1930s, Merxhani continued publishing in other journals, such as Neo-shqiptarisma, Illyria, Minerva, and finally, starting in 1936, his own monthly review, Përpjekja shqiptare (The Albanian endeavor). After the Italian invasion of Albania in April 1939, Merxhani left the country and fled to Istanbul, where he died in 1981. Merxhani’s place in the national canon is rather peculiar. Despite his very important role as a publicist during the interwar period, his writings were banned by the communist authorities, and hence, he was completely forgotten for almost 60 years. The rediscovery of his activity coincided with the publication of his collected articles in 1996.

6Main works: Formula të Neo-Shqiptarismës [The formulas of neo-Albanianism] (1996); Vepra [Works] (2003).


7After the failure of the so-called ‘Democratic Revolution’ in December 1924, Ahmet Zogu returned to power. Many of his political and military opponents, such as Fan Noli, Luigj Gurakuqi and Hasan Prishtina were forced to leave the country. Others, like Bajram Curri, fled to the mountains to the north of the country with the hope of resuming political and military activity. Conscious of his fragile position, Zogu undertook drastic measures to consolidate and reassert his power. By the end of the winter, two of the main leaders of the opposition, Luigj Gurakuqi and Bajram Curri, were assassinated. Many other activists were arrested and imprisoned. Zogu’s other adversary, Bishop Noli, founded the Komiteti Nacional Revolucionar (National revolutionary committee) in Vienna, known as KONARE. The main aim of the committee was to topple Zogu’s regime and restore democracy. KONARE published a journal called Liria Kombëtare (National freedom), through which the committee tried to mobilize Albanians for a final struggle. It was in the pages of this journal that the first Albanian communists, Halim Xhelo and Riza Cerova, presented their political and social programs. Nevertheless, the political activity of KONARE, the name of which changed in 1928 to the Komiteti i Çlirimit Kombëtar (Committee of national liberation), had limited influence within the country, which was already under the total control of Zogu’s power apparatus.

8After three years under republican regime, on 1 September 1928, the ‘National Council’ proclaimed the foundation of the Kingdom of Albania with Ahmet Zogu as King. The new state took the form of a constitutional monarchy; however, the real power lay in the hands of the king.

9Although this was the beginning of a period of relative political stability, there were enormous social and economical problems. The level of poverty was very high, especially in rural areas, and the agrarian character of Albanian economy appeared to be one of the main obstacles for the development of the country. The level of education was dramatically low and more than 85% of the population was illiterate. And yet, by the beginning of the 1930s, intellectual and publishing activity reached a peak in the history of modern Albania.

10The most acute question of the era was how to develop the country and achieve social, economic and political progress. Different alternatives were presented, engendering never-ending, and rarely fruitful, discussions. The first alternative was presented by the so-called Të Vjetërit (The old) group, whose main organ was the journal Besa (Honor). The term ‘conservative’ has been used with respect to this group, but this could be misleading. ‘The Old’ represented the interests of the landowners and generally the old nobility, having its origins in the Ottoman past. In their accounts they focused on Albanian history and the so-called ‘good old traditions.’ For them, the models of development for the country were to be derived from the past, especially with respect to the patterns of social order. Hence, their special concerns were traditional customary laws, the strong position of the landowners, and financial restrictions on the urban bourgeoisie. They were fervent supporters of the monarchy and king Zogu.

11Another group was formed in strong opposition to these ideas bearing the name Të Rinjtë (The young), which functioned not only as a linguistic antonym but also as an ideological statement. They were mostly young people, some of them descendants of elite families, usually educated in the West, above all in Paris, Vienna and Rome. In general, the group represented the new Albanian bourgeoisie. They disseminated their ideas through the journal Arbëria and the review Illyria. They supported the monarchy and the King, but also demanded radical changes as well as the appropriation of western institutions in political, economic and social life. Hence, their program was identified as a call for the ‘Westernization’ of the country. In 1935 king Zogu appointed a new government, consisting entirely of members of ‘The Young’ group. Several reforms were undertaken but the results were not as successful as expected. The government did nothing to resolve the main problem facing Albanian society, namely the demand for agrarian reform. Soon, known for his pragmatic attitude, Zogu restored the cabinet which was made up of the old elites.

12It was in the context of rising demands for the implementation of social reforms, especially with respect to the agrarian question, that a new group appeared in the intellectual arena, namely the Albanian left, which was under the influence of the Soviet Union. The first Albanian communist group was created in Korça in 1929, and soon became very active, mainly under the direction of a former activist of KONARE, Ali Kelmendi, who had also lived in the Soviet Union. In several militant papers such as Përpara (Forward) and Bota e re (New world), a series of articles appeared criticizing Albanian politics and supporting social reform, especially among the rural masses. Such activity and ideas were perceived as subversive by the regime, and these newspapers continuously suffered under official censorship.

13In 1934, another communist group established in Shkodra began publishing a review called Buletini Jeshil (The green bulletin). This town experienced the first clashes between communists and other intellectual groups, especially the Catholics, for whom Shkodra was a stronghold. Traditionally oriented and with a special concern for the religious aspects of social life, these intellectuals and publishers strongly opposed Bolshevik ideas.

14It is impossible to discuss the intellectual life of Albania in the interwar period without accounting for the contribution of men of letters from the socalled ‘Catholic Circle of Shkodra.’ Such journals as Hylli i Dritës (The daystar), founded and directed in 1913 by Gjergj Fishta, and Leka, directed by father Zef Valentini, left their mark on the cultural and scientific life of interwar Albania. Hylli i Dritës in particular, with articles on folklore, history and society, became one of the most significant periodicals of the period. In 1933, under the direct influence of father Gjergj Fishta, the Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit (The canon of Lekë Dukagjin) was published. It is a collection of oral norms collected over almost 30 years by another well-known Franciscan, Shtjefën Gjeçov-Kryeziu. Another significant scholarly publication related to the activities of that group was the fourteen volume collection of Albanian folklore, containing mainly lyric and epic songs, proverbs, tales and rare words, which appeared between 1937 and 1944 under the title Visaret e Kombit (The treasures of the nation), and is still considered a masterpiece of its kind.

15It was in the context of this discussion that the program of Branko Merxhani appeared. Evading vague discussions on the ambiguous position of Albania between the East and the West, it proposes a specific agenda directed towards the shaping of an entirely new Albanian society. For him, the path to development did not rest upon constitutional order, but the implementation of new social and cultural patterns in Albanian society. However, a primary condition for this was a new understanding of the nation, which was to be based on the main achievements of contemporary philosophy and sociology.

16Merxhani named his socio-cultural program Neo-Shqiptarizma (Neo- Albanianism), and appealed to the young generations (djalëria) of Albanians educated both home and abroad to implement it. The program was first presented at the end of 1928 in a series of short weekly articles published in the journal Demokratia in Gjirokastra under the title Formula të Neo- Shqiptarismës (The formulas of neo-Albanianism). Merxhani was the first to introduce to the Albanian public such thinkers as Comte, Nietzsche, Renan, Le Bon, Durkheim, Weber and Bergson, not only through translations of their works, but also as sources of inspiration for his ideas on the social and cultural order of Albanian society. It is in their writings that Merxhani found new definitions for such notions as nation, state, religion, language, culture and race, which he then adapted to the Albanian realities. However, this appropriation did not only happen at the conceptual level. It was also conceived as a starting point for the introduction of local reform measures. Based on these precepts, he proposed a new educational policy, the reorganization of the schooling system, the implementation of a new agrarian reform, and other measures of social character.

17In the 1930s, when the situation in Albania deteriorated with the effects of the Great Depression and the suppression of the Fieri revolt in 1935 by government forces, Merxhani became more political in his writings. Amidst the growing influence of the fascist model of state promoted by the pro-Italian circles in Shkodra, on the one hand, and, of the Soviet model, promoted by the young communist activists and writers on the other, Merxhani turned towards Kemalist Turkey. His main argument was based on the similarity between the social and cultural conditions of the two countries, and on the successful application of the Kemalist reforms in Turkey.

18However, Merxhani’s model remained an intellectual utopia. With the Italian occupation of Albania, fascist models became more influential in social and cultural life. Known to be an adversary to fascist ideology, Merxhani was forced to flee first to Athens, and finally to Istanbul. He was also known, however, as a firm critic of communist ideology. His works were banned with the establishment of the communist regime in Albania. In contrast, Merxhani’s ideas have found an extremely fertile ground in post-communist Albania. The need for the re-definition of social, cultural and political life is still as acute among Albanians as it was before the Second World War, when Branko Merxhani formulated his program.


The organization of the chaos

  • 1 The author does not provide reference to any particular source for the quotation here. Most probab (...)

20Before starting to live and present themselves, each man or each nation must firstly organize the chaos which exists inside them (Nietzsche)1

21Today our Albania is just a small chaotic world. There is so much pain and sadness inside us, along with traces of destruction and slavery, the heritage of that wounding historical and social clash. The agitation and anarchy present in our language are just a small part, an image of our total historical and social destruction. Such agitation and anarchy are present in all our dynamic efforts toward civilization. They are also present in our ideas, social tendencies, and even more in our understanding of the real form and essence of social institutions. Our whole life lies in anarchy. We have no ideals. There is no rationalism in us. We have an immense lack of any predisposition to undertake deep scientific research. What are the sources of such evil? Is there an historical reason? And, from the sociological point of view, what is the reason of this state of things?

22These are some of the questions which Neo-Albanianism poses to our intellectual and idealistic youth. Meanwhile, one should add that without an answer to these questions, it is impossible to take even one step forward.

23The time has passed, when nationalism was closely connected to Romanticism. The nationalism of today values reality. It is a live expression of sociology as a science, a field for the implementation of social hygiene, a laboratory to discover psychological and social diseases. This scientific research used for discovering the sources of evil presents itself as the only positive value. The main obligation for the Youth (that Youth, which, enlightened by the light of reason, feels without any hesitation a deep respect for the historical fate of our Fatherland, and already treads the path of development and of the future) in the eyes of Neo-Albanianism is the following: the processes of research and definition should be based on a scientific framework, but also on a philosophical and clear body of national ideals.

24An intellectual is aware of the greatest and most terrible danger: if he wishes to start a journey in the infinite and chaotic sphere of his own fantasy, he will be in danger of falling into error and self-disappointment. This sphere contains only fake worlds and dead values, which bring only sleepiness and “genial utopias.”

25Science is illumination. This is the world of reality. We shall not define our political life through romanticism and fantasy. The problems of life and the mysteries of the future need that illumination. We should turn our eyes towards life, which means to see life as it is, not as we want it to be. Life needs a solution. We cannot find this solution in a national fantasy, because it is hidden deeper in the national spirit.

26This is our starting point: to shed light on the deep causes of the social anarchy we have inherited from the past, we should hold on to the torch of sociological science. And this is our reference point: to build the Albania of tomorrow, enlightened and civilized, on the ruins of yesterday’s Albania—an Albania that is not stuck in history, but civilized.

27The aim of our war: the perfection of life.

  • 2 Pelasgs (Gr. Pelasgoi; Lat. Pelasgi; Alb. Pellazgët): an ancient people mentioned by Homer, Herodo (...)

28The Albania of feelings, the Albania of reason is waiting for its creators to shed light over the fantasies of the past. We are not the famous descendants of mythic Pelasgs,2 nor the remnants of the Illyrians: We are Albanians—a new nationality.

29The story about the Pelasgs is just an absurd hypothesis. We should leave this sophism behind. No enlightened Turk today is dreaming of old Turanic stories. No contemporary Greek with any brain pretends to be a descendant of Pericles. Even glorious Romanians seem to have forgotten their one-time origin: the only life of the nations lies in the miracle of development, which regulates the great waves of history.

30Yes! We are Albanians and we are a new nationality. Our Mother Nation gave birth to a new child: we are the children. Like the New-Greeks, like the New-Turks in Asia Minor, we were born during a magic summer night as a result of a creative, dynamic, fresh and eternal force of the nature. We are still young boys. Our consciousness is not yet aware of the face of the Creator. Our eyes are not able to look at the sun of reason. Where are our social memories? Where is the unification of our feelings? Where is the poetry, the literature to represent our race? Where is the national spirit, pure and advanced? Where is our language? Where is our culture? Albania has not yet built its own temple.


1 The author does not provide reference to any particular source for the quotation here. Most probably it is an impressionistic rephrasing of a Nietzschean aphorism.

2 Pelasgs (Gr. Pelasgoi; Lat. Pelasgi; Alb. Pellazgët): an ancient people mentioned by Homer, Herodotus and Thucydides as the inhabitants of ancient Greece up to the twelfth century BC. Most of the Aegean islands and parts of Asia Minor were also inhabited by them. In the mid-nineteenth century, Johan Georg von Hahn launched the theory of the Pelasgic antecedence of modern Albanians. Although nowadays the ethno-genesis of Albanians is linked with the Illyrians, the concept of Hahn still appears from time to time in discussions regarding this topic.


Rigels Halili (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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