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Ideologies and National Identities

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John Lampe
, 
Mark Mazower

Chapter 9. Greater Albania: The Albanian State and the Question of Kosovo, 1912–2001

Robert C. Austin

Texte intégral

  • 1 Throughout this chapter I will employ the term Kosovo, as it is the accepted international designa (...)
  • 2 On the number of Albanians in Yugoslavia, Ivo Banac writes that “the official census probably halv (...)

1The goal of this chapter is to examine Albania’s official relationship with Kosovo in the twentieth century. Its intention is not to address “grass roots” attitudes towards Kosovo before the 1990s but simply state policy. We should remember that for the overwhelming majority of the period in question, Albania’s population had virtually no stake in the political process. In the interwar period an illiterate and impoverished peasantry were subject to the authoritarian regime of King Zog. In the Communist period Albanians confronted the most oppressive form of Stalinism. Nevertheless, despite the earlier inability to affect official policy, popular attitudes may now reflect Tirana’s policy. Even with the end of one-party rule in 1991, there was no noticeable clamor to re-evaluate long-established policy towards Kosovo. Why has official Albanian policy been based on Realpolitik vis-à-vis Kosovo rather than openly pursuing a policy of Greater or Ethnic Albania?1 This question is interesting for several reasons. Albanians, unlike some of their neighbors in the region, have not been tempted by claims based on medieval statehood. This is an anomaly especially when one considers that Albanian borders, agreed upon in 1913 and reconfirmed after the First World War, left just as many Albanians outside the state as inside it.2

2Moreover, despite having all the conditions present for revisionist and irredentist thinking, the twentieth century did not offer up a single serious political leader of the state who could be called pan-Albanian, and there are hardly any political forces that have called (or call) for the creation of a Greater Albania. This is not to say that there have been no revisionist or extreme nationalist parties in Albania, only that they have never been able to gain substantial popular support. In fact, the very forces that have called for a more openly revisionist policy were more often than not undermined by the policy of the Albanian state itself. Just why this is the case is an important question, especially since Albania’s neighbors have consistently portrayed Albania and Albanians as bent on revising their borders at the expense of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece.

3There are several reasons why Kosovo was marginalized in Tirana’s policy prescriptions. It is impossible to speak of a single Albanian nationalism. Rather, Albanians need to be viewed as still in the process of building a unified nationalism that would bind all the Albanian communities that were separated by Great Power diplomacy. In fact, at this juncture, one may well speak of at least two Albanian nationalisms with distinct centers and agendas, namely Prishtina and Tirana. Separated in 1913, when nation building was still in an embryonic stage, the Albanians have never been able to begin sustained work for a unified identity, and the governments in Tirana have done little towards the creation of a truly national program. As well, the Albanian state has been consistently weak since its inception in 1913 and, especially in the interwar period, more concerned about defense against hostile neighbors and maintaining existing frontiers than with the quest for national unification. In the Communist period in particular, the isolationism of Enver Hoxha’s government contrasted sharply with the relative prosperity and openness of Yugoslavia. Moreover, cut off from the world, Communist Albania’s policy towards Kosovo appears as rhetorical, half-hearted and almost theatrical. Finally, the Albanian elite in Kosovo has not always looked to Tirana for leadership. That is especially true in the post-Communist period when Albania’s transition has been so fraught with catastrophes and setbacks that it can hardly be called “the motherland.”

4To explore these themes, we will look at Albania’s relationship with Kosovo at four critical junctures. It is only at these points in the twentieth century that one can even seriously speak of an official Albanian policy toward Kosovo. Kosovo was only significant for Tirana in the aftermath of the First World War, during and after the Second World War and after the collapse of Albanian Communism. The years between these episodes were marked by disinterest in the fate of Kosovo. Readers will note that the documents correspond roughly with these watersheds. Document 1 outlines the difficulties faced by the Albanians in the aftermath of the First World War in defending their existing geo-political frontiers. Documents 2, 3 and 4 look at the Communist public and private musings on the Kosovo question, and Document 5 speaks to the issue of transition Albania’s relationship with Kosovo.

The Legacy of Albanian Nationalism

  • 3 Albanians are primarily Sunni Moslems, although there is a smaller number belonging to the Bektash (...)
  • 4 In 1922 Albania’s religious breakdown was as follows: out of a total population of roughly 900,000 (...)

5Not surprisingly, the foundation of the relationship between Albania and Kosovo is rooted in the Albanian national awakening. Albanian nationalism emerged only in 1878 and was the direct result of a fear of partition in the wake of the Russo-Turkish War. Albanians were not unified, and the elite, who were largely the large landowning class of Islamic beys that dominated political life in the Ottoman period, played on this disunity. The main obstacles to national unity, which in many respects still remain, fall under four broad headings: religious, regional, linguistic, and socio-economic. Five hundred years of Ottoman rule had exacerbated disunity within Albanian society. Roughly 65 percent of the population had converted to Islam.3 Some 10 percent were Catholics, living primarily in and around the northern city of Shkodër [Scutari]. A compact community of Orthodox Albanians, roughly 20 percent, lived in the south, coexisting alongside a community of both Greeks and Slav Macedonians in the provinces of Gjirokastër [Argyrokastron] and Korçë.4 Ottoman policy toward the Albanians had added its own obstacles to national consolidation. The Ottoman Empire had traditionally tried to preserve adherence to Islam and pursued a divide and rule policy, openly encouraging divisions between Moslems, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. While Moslem Albanians often rose to the heights of the Ottoman administration, Catholic and Orthodox Albanians were marginalized and enjoyed few benefits. The Turks, realizing that language was the key unifying component of the Albanians, also made a conscious effort to undermine Albanian culture by severely restricting the teaching of the Albanian language and forcing Albanians to learn Turkish or Arabic. Orthodox Albanians largely fell under the influence of the patriarchate of Constantinople and were thus subjected to Greek influence in terms of language, religion and culture.

  • 5 Stavro Skendi, The Albanian National Awakening, 1878–1912 (Princeton, 1967), 464.
  • 6 S. Pollo and A. Puto, The History of Albania—From its Origins to the Present Day (London, 1981), 1 (...)
  • 7 Anton Logoreci, The Albanians—Europe’s Forgotten Survivors (London, 1977), 41–42.

6Albania’s national awakening was thus delayed when compared with other Balkan nationalities. In June 1878, Albanian leaders had met in Prizren and established the Albanian League for the Defense of the Rights of the Albanian Nation, often called the League of Prizren. This was the first time that Albanians spoke with one political voice. The League’s fundamental goal was to prevent the partition of Albanian lands by the Treaty of San Stefano (1878) between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. It also sought to set up the framework for a form of administrative autonomy within the Ottoman state for the four vilayets (provinces) with a sizeable Albanian population, Janina, Shkodër, Kosovo, and Monastir [Bitola]. It is worth noting that at the outset, Albanians were not secessionists. However, owing to regional and religious differences, the League of Prizren was dominated by Moslem conservatives and never established a single center of direction or concerted action.5 As such the League was hardly a truly national organization. Some patriots suggested that the League should be an Islamic organization, others pushed the Albanian aspect and viewed the League as a force for Albanian autonomy within the Ottoman Empire.6 While the League was later crushed by the Ottoman authorities in 1881 and its leadership exiled, it did make nationalist leaders “aware of the wide gap that existed between their immediate political aspirations and the deep-seated social, economic and cultural backwardness of the overwhelming majority of people whose rights they defended.”7 Realizing that much remained to be done if Albanians were to survive as an independent people, patriots turned their attention to a cultural awakening and focused on the one component that unified the Albanians: language.

  • 8 R. V. Burks, The Dynamics of Communism in Eastern Europe (Princeton, 1961), 145.

7Denied a long period of cultural preparation, Albanians set out again on the path of nation-state building in 1920 only to find that many of the obstacles to national unity that had become apparent after 1878 were still there. The country was overwhelmingly illiterate and there were gross deficiencies in political, cultural, and economic development. There were, moreover, two distinct Albanian-speaking communities within Albania, the main division being north-south. Gegs, essentially northern Albanians, inhabit the primarily mountainous regions north of the Shkumbin River including Kosovo, while Tosks dwell in the low-lying regions south of that river. Southern Albania, with its proximity to Greece and its less rugged terrain, was far more accessible and possessed better communications to the outside world. The Tosks were by and large better educated than their brethren in the north. Village life was more developed and the clan-style existence that still prevailed in the north had largely been eroded by the end of the nineteenth century. The standard of living was higher, literacy was more widespread, and “the populace more sensitive to material deprivation.”8 Equally important was the fact that Orthodox Albanians, who lived in the south, because of their disadvantaged position within the framework of the Ottoman Empire, were more inclined to emigrate. It was these émigrés preeminently the cleric Fan Noli who emerged in the interwar period as the spokespeople of Westernized Albania that was free from the legacy of Ottoman rule.

  • 9 Leke Dukagjini was a fifteenth-century feudal lord. For more details on northern tribal life see M (...)

8The south had traditionally been more open to foreign stimuli, more prone to politically sophisticated ideas, and in many ways better suited to truly national, as opposed to regional, thinking. Tosks also possessed a sense of superiority owing to what they identified as the south’s more advanced cultural and economic position. Because of the inaccessibility of the north, emigration there was marginal and the region maintained a form of quasiautonomy under Ottoman rule. Tribal life, embodied in the centuries-old Canon of Lek, a fifteenth-century tribal customs text, was still dominant.9 Even in the post-independence period, this region continued to distrust any form of central government and the hereditary clan chiefs worked to thwart attempts to bring them under the control of Tirana.

  • 10 Skendi, 139–42, 370–76.
  • 11 Ibid., 468.
  • 12 For an interesting polemic on linguistic developments in Albania see Arshi Pipa, The Politics of L (...)

9Gegs and Tosks spoke different dialects, and within them numerous subdialects existed as well. Albanian patriots attached great significance to the creation of a unified Albanian language as integral to the country’s national awakening. Until the beginning of this century, Albanian nationalists had yet to choose even an alphabet for their language. Prior to the 1908 Congress of Monastir, which adopted the Latin script, several alphabets were in use throughout the country.10 The adoption of Latin script, “although innocent in appearance, not only was a powerful factor in unification, but also signified a breaking away from Turkish-Islamic culture and an orientation toward the West.”11 In 1916, at a meeting in Shkodër, a first attempt was made to create a common literary Albanian. The participants chose the Geg idiom from the town of Elbasan as the basis for the gradual convergence of the Geg and Tosk dialects. However, no further progress was made and nothing else was undertaken in the interwar period to unify the principal dialects. It was not until 1972 that a Unified Literary Albanian was adopted. It represented a fusion of both Geg and Tosk, although drawn primarily from the latter which, as some observers noted, was because of Tosk predominance in Albania’s Communist leadership.12

Albania after the First World War

  • 13 Miroslav Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe (New York, 2000), 22–23. Phase (...)
  • 14 In 1944, 80 percent of the population is estimated to have been illiterate and the ratio of pupils (...)
  • 15 Ismail Qemal (1844–1919) declared independence in November 1912 from the Albanian coastal town of (...)

10The Albanian national awakening was thus hardly complete when statehood was achieved. If one were to apply Miroslav Hroch’s model on national awakenings, the Albanians were in the beginning of Phase “A” in that patriots were developing national culture, language and ethnography.13 Illiteracy was widespread, as even by 1939 some 80 percent of the population could not read.14 One could not speak of an attempt at patriotic agitation among the population, or the development of mass nationalism. In fact, these later stages were largely completed, in a deeply politicized way, by Albania’s Communist rulers who undertook a sustained nation-building campaign. It aimed at eliminating all divisions and hence any challenge to their authority that could come from religion and regionalism. Patriots like Ismail Qemal, the founder of the Albanian state in 1912, were not unmindful of the fact that the independence declaration was premature.15 However, the alternative was partition among its Balkan neighbors.

11Albania’s 1913 borders were largely an expression of geo-political bargaining. The First World War subsequently destroyed Albania’s brief independence and it was only in its aftermath that Albanian leaders could begin seriously the process of state and nation building. The paramount agenda for the majority of Albanian political leaders was to ensure Albania’s survival as an independent state and to find a place within the Southeastern Europe shaped by the Paris peace settlements. This was no easy task. Albania found itself weak, without allies (either big or small), and its territory was coveted by far more powerful neighbors. This is not to say that Albania’s leaders did not seek much larger borders in Paris. It would have been absurd not to put forward maximum demands especially when Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia were making claims that would have left Albanians with little more than a triangle linking Tirana, Durres and Vlora. That said, since the Albanians lacked a Great Power benefactor, the main task for the Albanians in Paris was not the creation of a greater Albania, but rather to ensure that they were left with what they achieved in 1913. Given the limited borders it did receive, Albania might well have fallen into the revisionist camp of East Central and Southeast European states, like Bulgaria and Hungary. Yet it pursued a policy during the interwar period that was largely based on preserving the territorial status quo.

  • 16 Eighty-five percent of Albania’s population was rural even though only 9 percent of land was arabl (...)
  • 17 Isa Blumi, “The Commodification of Otherness and the Ethnic Unit in the Balkans: How to Think Abou (...)

12The internal situation also forced acquiescence to the peace settlement. Albania’s political culture was rudimentary, and few of the political parties, personalities or groups that emerged were capable of taking their appeal beyond religion, region or even more narrow, often careerist, interests. There was no general agreement as to where the state was heading: to the East, retaining the authoritarian legacy of 500 years of Ottoman rule, toward a West European parliamentary government, or somewhere in between. Albania remained essentially unintegrated, dominated by a class of politicians that had a vested interest in the maintenance of a socio-economic status quo, established under the Ottoman Empire, which was essentially feudal. The vast majority of the populace were landless peasants who had no stake in the political process.16 For our purposes, what is most important is that the Balkan and First World Wars delayed the opportunity to create a single Albanian national consciousness, and borders separated the Albanians on all levels.17 In short, separated long before any serious work was done in creating a single identity, Albanians in Albania and Kosovo largely went their separate ways.

  • 18 Bishop Fan Noli (1882–1965) was an Orthodox Christian who spent his early years in the U.S., atten (...)
  • 19 Ahmed Zogu (1895–1961) was born of Moslem Gez parents in the Mati area and acquired military exper (...)

13As Document 1 indicates, Albania’s interwar political leadership was focused on the much more pressing task of survival, as between 1920 and 1925 Albania’s neighbors did their utmost to promote instability and call into question the very existence of an Albanian state. The country’s leaders were thus forced to dedicate scarce resources to defending the postwar status quo, not to fighting the “injustice” of the frontiers. Albania’s two principal interwar politicians, Fan S. Noli18 and Ahmed Zogu,19 both opted for policies that would preserve the existence of Albania within existing borders. Any adventurous pursuit of incorporating Kosovo could only invite disaster for Albania. It was only Noli, who was briefly prime minister between June and December 1924, who attempted to make Kosovo an international issue. He did this not as a revisionist but because he owed his power partially to support from Kosovars, the Albanian majority in Serbian-controlled Kosovo, and he actually believed that the League of Nations promised a new order and that minority rights treaties were there to be upheld.

  • 20 Swire, 291.
  • 21 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Albania, 1910–1944, Record (...)

14The years between 1920 and 1924 were a chaotic time for Albania but also the only democratic period in Albanian history prior to the end of oneparty rule in 1991. There were indeed domestic forces that called for a more aggressive policy towards Kosovo and they were very much a part of the intense political debate inside Albania. For many Albanians, especially those in the northeast, who had found their prewar trade, family and other links with Kosovo severed, there was a strong desire for ethnic unification. Also, Belgrade’s policy aimed at Serbianization after five centuries of Ottoman rule, manifesting itself in multiple abuses including forced migration. In a 1921 petition to the League of Nations, the Albanian community in Serbia alleged that since 1918, some 12,371 people had been killed and 22,000 imprisoned.20 The Kosovo Committee, fundamentally a clandestine resistance movement, which drew its membership from both sides of the border, was formed in 1918 to promote a more aggressive Albanian policy on Kosovo. It sought the national unification of all Albanians. Its minimum goals were Yugoslavia’s adherence to the rights of its Albanian minorities as stipulated by the postwar minority treaties, while its long-term ambition was the annexation to Albania of the territories primarily inhabited by Albanians.21 Its leadership, especially Bajram Curri, Hasan Prishtina, Zia Dibra and Hoxha Kadriu, were men who had little use for diplomacy and preferred armed action. (They had come together in order to confront Ottoman authorities in Kosovo in 1912. By 1933, with the assassination of Prishtina by an agent of Zog, all of them had died violent deaths at the hands of their opponents.) The Committee had fundamentally two enemies: the government in Belgrade, which they maintained was waging a war on the Albanian community, and politicians in Tirana, who preferred a hands-off policy in Kosovo. Interestingly, for Ahmed Zogu, the main challenge to his leadership in the early 1920s largely came from disgruntled Kosovars who expected more concern from Tirana, and judged Zogu as pro-Yugoslav. The Kosovo Committee reached its zenith in 1924 when they helped Noli seize power in a coup d’état of sorts that briefly unified the political forces opposed to Zogu.

  • 22 See Paskal Milo, Shqiperia dhe Jugosllavia (Tirana, 1992), 300–03.
  • 23 According to Communist historiography, Zogu ordered the assassinations of both Bajram Curri and Ha (...)

15Noli, eager to avoid offending international opinion and also seeking to appease his Balkan neighbors, did not include members of the Kosovo Committee in his government but he did accompany them to the League in the fall of 1924 to help plead their case. Noli’s decision to re-open the Kosovo question after four years of relative neglect was not merely because the circumstances of his June victory dictated it. As an idealist and committed to the vision of new world order offered by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, he believed that the Kosovars were not accorded full rights in accordance with the postwar minority guarantees and he hoped that through the League of Nations he could improve his brethren’s plight. He felt strongly that while Albania was meeting its obligations to its much smaller minorities (Greeks and Serbs), Belgrade and Athens were violating the new League of Nations standards. Nevertheless, Noli’s support for the Kosovo Committee was judged by Belgrade as hostile. Ahmed Zogu, who chose Belgrade for his brief exile just prior to Noli’s seizure of power, ousted Noli in December 1924 with vital aid from the Yugoslav army. This ended not only Albania’s brief experiment with democracy but also Tirana’s activism in the affairs of Kosovo. Zogu, a master of realpolitik and political survival, had no stomach for the Kosovo cause. In exchange for Yugoslavia’s support, he made some modest border changes but more importantly he agreed to eliminate the Kosovo Committee.22 In due course, its leadership was exiled or killed by Zogu’s agents.23

The Second World War

  • 24 For details on the interwar experience of the Albanians in Kosovo, see Noel Malcolm, Kosovo—A Shor (...)
  • 25 Enver Hoxha (1908–1985) was the son of a Moslem Tosk merchant who was drawn into Communist activit (...)
  • 26 Burks, 147.

16National division and isolation following the First World War was not much altered by Zogu in the interwar period. Albania’s population was left largely as Zogu found them—poor and illiterate. As to Kosovo, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Zogu’s only acknowledgement of the Albanians in Kosovo was his decision in 1928 to call himself “King of the Albanians” as opposed to the “King of Albania.” The interwar experience for the Albanians in Kosovo was worse than their brethren in Albania—they were not only poor and illiterate but they also faced consistently hostile policies from the Belgrade government.24 That said, neither Albanians in Albania nor Albanians in Kosovo were taking concrete steps to establish a unified national identity and the Second World War did little to erode the cleavages within the Albanian communities. Significantly, the wartime division between Communists and nationalists was largely a reflection of the old Geg-Tosk split as the Albanian Communist movement was very much a southern phenomenon. Not just First Secretary Enver Hoxha25 but also the rest of the early Communist leadership was, and essentially remained, Tosk in origin. This led one observer to note that “Communism came to Albania as a revolt of the more advanced Tosks against the political domination of the more backward Gegs.”26

  • 27 Midhat Frasheri (1880–1949) had opposed Zog’s regime earlier in the 1930s but headed a government (...)
  • 28 Institute of Marxist–Leninist Studies at the Central Committee of the Party of Labor of Albania, H (...)

17During the war, the question of Kosovo became a major bone of contention between Albania’s potential liberators. The nationalist Balli Kombetar (National Front) formed in November 1942 by Midhat Frasheri,27 called for the creation of a greater Albania while the Communist-dominated National Liberation Movement, which later became the National Liberation Front, owed much of its existence to crucial assistance from Yugoslavia’s Communists. It unsurprisingly opted for a policy that left Kosovo in Yugoslavia. Only briefly did the two groups agree on a common front that included a commitment to a “Greater Albania” in the ill-fated Mukje accord of August 1943. The accord briefly papered over differences between Communists and nationalists but, under Yugoslav pressure to reject the deal, Communist leaders did so. According to an official history of the Albanian Communist Party, the Balli Kombetar accepted the “ethnical Albania hoax, a weapon of the fascists and reactionaries to beguile the Albanian people into forgetting who their main enemy was at that time and to stir up antagonisms against the neighboring peoples.”28 As Document 2 indicates, Hoxha was eager to ensure that territorial expansion did not undermine the solidarity between Yugoslav and Albanian Communists as Yugoslav support took precedence over other concerns. On an official level at least, the solution to Kosovo lay in victory by Albanian and Yugoslav Communists.

  • 29 Bernd J. Fischer, Albania at War, 1939–1945 (West Lafayette, Indiana, 1999), 71.
  • 30 Ibid., 88.

18Even the development of a “Greater Albania” under fascist auspices during the war cannot be taken as a serious manifestation of Albanian official policy. As Bernd Fischer noted, it was largely an Italian enterprise designed to win over mass support.29 The plan eventually backfired as there was not enough enthusiasm outside of Kosovo to “win any lasting support for the Italians.”30

  • 31 Blumi, 564.
  • 32 Nicholas Pano, The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania (Baltimore, 1968), 18.
  • 33 Pipa, 223–24.

19After the war, Enver Hoxha focussed attention on eliminating the social and political power that Gegs and their cultural elite enjoyed in the north. He also assisted the Yugoslav state in repressing Albanian nationalists in Kosovo.31 As early as 1944, at the request of Tito, the Albanian Communists sent troops to disarm the population of Kosovo and “to prepare the way for the resumption of Yugoslav control.”32 Finally, when looking at the Albanian state in the Communist period it is important to keep in mind that it was, with few exceptions, a Tosk government.33 As Documents 2, 3 and 4 indicate, not surprisingly, Albania’s Communist leaders had one policy meant for public consumption and another that was the “real” policy. Documents 2 and 3 were published in Albania and elsewhere and they can hardly be taken as serious policy statements or a reflection of the wartime reality. Document 4 was released in 1994 after the collapse of Albanian Communism and was part of an effort to discredit the Albanian Socialist Party (former Communists). Albania’s Communist leaders consistently sought to portray themselves as nationalists pushing for unification but were deterred by Tito’s reluctance. As we now know, Hoxha did not push for unification at all. He did offer it as something that might happen in the long run but without ever considering its pursuit as a serious policy. Like Zog before him, the question of political survival was his biggest concern and the relationship between Yugoslav and Albanian Communists precluded any attempt to push for a different policy for Kosovo. After leaving Kosovo to its fate, and surviving a personally near-catastrophic break with Yugoslavia in 1948, Hoxha was free to turn up the heat on the question of Kosovo. Given Albania’s limited role and influence in world affairs, Hoxha was able to say what he wanted without fear of repercussions.

Transition Albania

  • 34 For details on the Albanian elections of 1991 and 1992 see Robert Austin, “What Albania Adds to th (...)
  • 35 Louis Zanga, “The Albanian Democratic Party,” RFE/RL Research Report, 1 March 1991: 3

20The collapse of Albania’s Communist regime between 1990 and 1992 offered a real opportunity to reassess official policy on Kosovo and it certainly gave the country’s democratic forces added strength in the electoral battles of 1991 and 1992.34 Moreover, any Albanian claim to Kosovo would not have been unreasonable given the harsh policies of the Milosˇevic´ regime there after 1989. However, despite fertile ground for revisionism, interest in Kosovo only briefly rose to the foreground of Albanian policy. Early statements from the Democratic Party (DP), formed in 1990 as Albania’s first post-Communist opposition party, suggested that Albania finally had pan-Albanian leaders. Party co-founder Gramoz Pashko criticized Communist rulers for “supporting the Kosovars with polemical propaganda rather than action during periods of unrest and Serbian oppression in Kosovo.”35

  • 36 Quoted in Elez Biberaj, “Albania at the Crossroads,” Problems of Communism, September–October, 199 (...)

21In 1991, DP leader Sali Berisha noted that his party “could not accept the division of the Albania nation as eternal.”36 Berisha also enjoyed very close relations with Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, the dominant political force there. Rugova and his party strongly supported Berisha in Albania’s elections of 1991 and 1992. It appeared that change was in the air in Tirana and that the long-suppressed issue of unification was on the table. When elected with a resounding majority in the March 1992 elections, Berisha enjoyed great respect in Albania and Kosovo which he could have used to articulate a long-term vision for a pan-Albanian national state.

22In concrete terms, however, Berisha did little to advance this cause. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, he was no doubt warned by Albania’s patrons in Washington and Europe to avoid advocating border changes. Secondly, he realized that pan-Albanian nationalism was not something that unified Albanian voters, and it was especially useless among a population fed up with slogans and cut off from the outside world for so many years. Finally, Berisha sacrificed almost all his programs in favor of a devastating battle with the opposition Socialist Party that poisoned Albanian political life. As a result, Berisha softened his line on Kosovo once he was in power.

  • 37 Rilindja Demokratike, 3 February 1993.
  • 38 Elez Biberaj, Albania in Transition (Boulder, 1998), 251.
  • 39 Shkelzen Maliqi, “Kosovo: What Next?”, Aimpress (www.aimpress.org,) 7 February 1995.

23In 1993, he suggested that believers in a Greater Albania were naïve and added that “Albania has not sought, does not seek and will not seek any change in existing borders.”37 Berisha also noted that Albania could not speak for Kosovo.38 This provoked a lengthy battle with Kosovar academician Rexhep Qosja. Although his constituency in Kosovo was increasingly small, Qosja called for steps to be taken, primarily on an academic level, which would move forward the process of national unification by calling for the creation of a pan-Albanian council. Qosja made it clear that Berisha was wrong when he said that Albania “will not seek” border changes as he was not entitled to speak for future generations. He also criticized him for downgrading the issue of Kosovo to a question of human, i.e. individual, rights.39

  • 40 Biberaj, Albania in Transition, 255.

24Until 1992, Albania’s official policy toward Kosovo derived from a legacy of state weakness, political survival and an incomplete national awakening. After democratic changes swept the region in 1989, many leaders in Kosovo were not prepared to follow a line from Tirana, especially since democratization came to Kosovo before Albania. In 1996, important differences between Tirana and Prishtina became more apparent. In the wake of pro-democracy demonstrations in Serbia in late 1996, the government in Tirana urged Kosovo’s Albanians “to stage their own peaceful demonstrations.”40 Rugova, who was reluctant to provoke any crackdown by Belgrade, rejected the advice and was no doubt disturbed that Tirana was trying to tell him what to do. In 1997, as the Albanian state collapsed in the wake of failed pyramid schemes, it was Prishtina calling on Tirana to exercise restraint and hold fresh elections.

  • 41 RFE/RL Newsline, 13 April 2001.
  • 42 AFP, 4 April 2001.
  • 43 International Crisis Group ICE Report, Albania: The State of the Nation 2001, Tirana/Brussels, 25 (...)
  • 44 Ibid., 4

25More recently, the Albanian Socialists, the successors to Berisha’s DP government in an internationally sponsored election in 1997, made it clear that Greater Albania was not on their agenda. In April 2001, the Socialists, whose support came largely from the south, stated that they did not support the creation of a Greater Albania.41 Then Albanian prime minister Ilir Meta said that the “Albanian communities should be integrated into the different countries where they are based. These liberal and democratic countries will join the European Union, which will allow in the future the Balkans of today to become an open region. …”42 The flurry of activity and rush of public statements from Tirana in 2001 was the result of statements to the contrary by a cabinet member of the then governing coalition. Arben Imami, secretary general of the Democratic Alliance and the minister of justice, stated that his party declared as “one of its future political commitments to devote itself to inspiring and accelerating the unavoidable peaceful unification of Albania with Kosovo.”43 Imami, later explaining the remark to journalists, noted that “as for the idea of viewing my statement as feeding the desire of Albanians for a Greater Albania, I am of the opinion that we are speaking about a contemporary trend for a divided nation to unite: there are not two Vietnams or two Germanys any more, and there will not be two Koreas in the future.”44 Imami’s statement was immediately denounced by all mainstream political forces in the country.

  • 45 Tim Judah, “Greater Albania?” New York Review of Books V, XLVIII, No. 8, 17 May 2001: 37.
  • 46 ICG Report, “Albania: State of the Nation,” 22.

26As far as official Tirana is now concerned, Greater Albania is not a realistic policy. Document 5, from former Albanian foreign minister Paskal Milo, made it clear that official Albanian policy is about integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and not about unification. Milo’s statements, which might well be considered judgmental and insulting to Kosovars, were a response to the regional and international clamor about the growing threat of Albanian nationalism after the NATO-led war in Kosovo. The insurgency of Albanians in Macedonia led many to believe that the next big threat to the region came from Albanian unificationists. In conversations with analyst Tim Judah, Milo made it clear that Tirana does not seek border changes but would like to see borders become irrelevant.45 Even during the armed conflict between Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia in 2001, official Tirana’s statements were “indistinguishable from those issued by the international community.”46 Even the Albanian press avoided a descent into nationalism and jingoism. Cynics will simply argue that Milo (and the rest of Albania’s political elite) is simply telling Western leaders and journalists what they want to hear. But as the preceding pages have made clear, Sali Berisha, Paskal Milo and the post-Communist governments are merely following Albania’s traditional hands-off policy. Although they now couch it in the “Euro-speak” of not wanting to change borders but to eliminate them, the Albanian leadership retains their predecessors’ reluctance to offer anything that looks like a pan-Albanian program—even on a philosophical, intellectual or psychological level.

  • 47 James Pettifer and Miranda Vickers, Albania: From Anarchy to Balkan Identity (New York, 2000), 155

27There are political forces within Albania that do call for the creation of a Greater Albania, yet they have remained insignificant and exist on the margins of Albania’s political scene. The successors to the wartime parties Balli Kombetar and the monarchist Legaliteti have, it must be admitted, both called for territorial revision. The Balli Kombetar (BK), which is primarily a party of émigrés, has consistently maintained that the Communist abandonment of Kosovo after the war was criminal. While the more right-wing Democratic Party was in power (1992–1997), the BK pressured the government to take a harder line on the Kosovo issue.47 Legaliteti, which advocates a return of the monarchy, also supports revised borders. As noted earlier, the BK’s commitment to Kosovo is real and very much based on its wartime struggle. Legaliteti, on the other hand, is revising history when they claim that Zogu fought for a unification of Albanian-inhabited territories. Regardless, these two parties and others have yet to influence the political discourse in Albania and rarely secure more than 5 percent of the popular vote.

Conclusion

28Throughout the twentieth century, official policy in Tirana has continually rejected nationalist pursuits. When Albania achieved its fragile independence in 1912 and again after the First World War, to sacrifice claims to Kosovo was a simple matter of survival. This is especially true in the interwar period when Albania’s neighbors sought to ensure that Albania remained weak and divided. Lacking Great Power support, revisionism would have invited a catastrophe. Only Fan Noli, for a brief six months in 1924, tried to put the Kosovo issue on the international table. He did this not as a revisionist, but merely as a naïve believer in the League of Nations minority rights treaties. This cost him dearly, as his inability to maintain “good neighborly relations” resulted in his ouster. Noli’s political survival meant he needed to find a modus vivendi with Albania’s neighbors and that meant he needed a policy based on state weakness. Ahmed Zogu, as president (1925– 1928) and king (1928–1939), worked against a claim to Kosovo for the sake of staying in power. Enver Hoxha could not have “won” Kosovo from his Yugoslav allies in 1944, but he did not fight for it either, despite his “official” pronouncements. He did not even turn it into a serious human rights issue as Albania’s peculiar foreign policy, especially after the break with China in the late 1970s, stripped Albania of its limited means to lobby for the Kosovars.

  • 48 Ibid., 22.
  • 49 Elez Biberaj, “The Albanian National Question,” in Michael Mandlebaum, The New European Diasporas— (...)
  • 50 Judah, ibid. My own work in the field during the war confirms Judah’s analysis.

29Albania’s post-Communist leaders found that the past really was a prologue; it seemed like 1920 all over again. For the sake of security and Western aid, they dropped any claim to Kosovo but did their best to pursue the problem from a human rights perspective. This consistent hands-off policy towards Kosovo may be the result of the simple fact that the “Albanian political elite preserves a traditional belief in great power patronage.”48 Just as important, with the exception of the Communist regime’s brief foray into a peculiar form of self-reliance after their alliance with China collapsed in the late 1970s, external forces have in fact played a key role in shaping Albania’s destiny. Still, much has been made of the threat or promise of a Greater Albania especially since the events in Kosovo in 1999 and Macedonia in 2001. One observer noted that the war in Kosovo radically transformed relations between Tirana and Prishtina and that all Albanians recognize that while the road to Albanian national unification is likely to be complex and protracted, “the ultimate goal remains a unitary state of all Albanians.”49 When war came to Kosovo in 1999 and an estimated 500,000 Kosovar refugees arrived in Albania, a chance for national “oneness” was briefly on the table. However, while certain barriers were knocked down, many still remain. The war did little to change the cool official relations between Tirana and Prishtina. In addition, it is not certain that it did anything to bring ordinary Albanians from Kosovo and Albania closer together. A great number of refugees, in Albania for the first time, were no doubt surprised by the state of the economy. Tim Judah noted that many Kosovar Albanians “were shocked by the poverty and corruption of Albania and, as many were also robbed there, they were more than happy after the war to leave.”50 In any case for Albania, even more so than in the past, Tirana is largely unable to influence events outside the country.

Sources

Document 1:

30The Albanian nation has suffered cruelly from the unjustifiable dismemberment of which the country was a victim in 1913. The vast districts of Kosovo and the districts of Dibra, Hotti, Gruda, Plava and Gussinje, with a population of more than a million Albanians, have been annexed to Serbia and Montenegro as a result of political manoeuvres; the same fate has befallen the Albanian region of Chameria, which has been annexed to Greece. Albania cannot endure to be further manipulated. The surrender of even the smallest part of her territory would, to her, be equivalent to the renunciation of her very existence.

31Source: Fan S. Noli speaking to the League of Nations in Geneva in June 1921. Noli was fighting further reductions in Albanian territory. Quoted in Publications of the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague. Series C, No. 5–II, Fifth Ordinary Session—Documents Related to the Advisory Opinion No. 9. 4 September 1924. Question of the Monastery of Saint Naoum.

Document 2:

32Meanwhile [during the Second World War], the Communist Party of Albania took a consistent internationalist stand and did not allow itself even the slightest manifestation of chauvinism. … As to the problem of Kosova and other regions of Yugoslavia inhabited by Albanians, the CPA had never accepted the fascist slogan of “Greater Albania.” It saw the correct solution of this problem in the victory of the people’s revolution in both Albania and Yugoslavia. The CPA had declared publicly that, through the victory of the revolution in both countries, the Kosova people would win the right to decide their own fate. Otherwise, they would fight against any Yugoslavia that would try to oppress and enslave them.”

33Source: History of the Party of Labor of Albania, (Tirana: Institute of Marxist– Leninist Studies at the Central Committee of the Party of Labor of Albania, 1982).

Document 3:

34After we [Enver Hoxha and Tito] talked about the development of education and culture in our country and I put forward some requests in this direction, too, especially about sending a number of Albanian students to the University of Belgrade, Tito asked what I thought about the solution to the problem of Kosova and the other Albanian regions of Yugoslavia. After a moment’s silence to sum up our views on this important problem so that I could present them in the most complete and concise way, I said:

35“You know about the historical injustices which the various imperialist and Great-Serb reaction have done to Albania. You also know the principled stands of our Party during the National Liberation War and the desire of our people for friendship with the peoples of Yugoslavia.”

36I went on to express to Tito the opinion of the Albanian side that Kosova and the other regions in Yugoslavia, inhabited by Albanians, belonged to Albania and should be returned to it.

37“The Albanians fought,” I told him, “in order to have a free and sovereign Albania with which the Albanian regions in Yugoslavia should now be united. The time has come for this problem to be solved justly by our parties.”

38President Tito replied:

39“I am in agreement with your view, but for the time being we cannot do this, because the Serbs would not understand us.”

40Source: Enver Hoxha’s account of his meeting with Tito in June 1946, as quoted in Hoxha, The Titoites.

Document 4:

41Affiliated with this is another issue. Some members of the party want to philosophise, saying that we should not ask what Kosovo is doing. In case that one member of the party understood clearly the line of the party, he understands the issue of Kosovo. Democratic Yugoslavia is more advanced and more progressive than we are. Our inter-est is that Yugoslavia is strong, because with a strong Yugoslavia we will have a democratic Balkans. Is it in our interest to seek Kosovo? This is not progressive. Therefore, in this situation, we should do everything we can so that Kosovars are brothers with the Yugoslavs. When we arrive at socialism, there [Yugoslavia] and here, when the remnants of capitalism are beaten, in this situation, Kosovo will be together with the Socialist Republic of Albania. This is the line, this is what Marxism teaches. We will explain this. For those who do not understand this, we are obliged to fight them.

42Source: Enver Hoxha’s speech to an Extraordinary Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Albania, 18–20 December 1946. Quoted in MarredhenietShqiptaro-jugosllave, 1945–1948 (Tirana, General Director of the State Archives, 1996).

Document 5:

43The platform of a “Greater Albania” is not popular in Albania. This does not mean that the Albanians of Albania are less nationalistic than others or that they do not want close relations with their compatriots in other countries. There is no connection between the two. A number of reasons explain this attitude to the platform. Political culture and education in Albania are at higher levels than in Kosova and Macedonia concerning the public at large. They understand better the anti-Albanian core and substance of the slogan. Living in the mother-country, they have conceptualised their future in the development of Albania and its orientation towards Euro-Atlantic structures. Human contacts during the last decade between Albanians on both sides of the borders have shown differences not only in mentality, psychology, and cultural background, but also in economic development. This gap cannot be filled in a short time.

44In the official policy of the Government of Albania there is not, nor has there been, any reference to or any aim at the creation of a “Greater Albania.” On the contrary, there have been clear and unequivocal statements that such an idea is counterproductive and contrary to the objectives of Albania to be integrated into a United Europe.

45Source: Paskal Milo, Greater Albania—Between Fiction and Reality. Published by the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2001. At the time of writing, Milo was Albania’s foreign minister.

Notes

1 Throughout this chapter I will employ the term Kosovo, as it is the accepted international designation, instead of Kosova as it is spelled in Albanian. I will also use the term Greater Albania as opposed to Ethnic Albania. Both mean essentially the same thing.

2 On the number of Albanians in Yugoslavia, Ivo Banac writes that “the official census probably halved their number (reducing it from probably 800,000–1 million to 441,740 in the preliminary report on the 1921 census and to 439,657 in the final report). See Ivo Banac, The National Question in Yugoslavia (Ithaca, 1984), 298. According to Magocsi, the figure for 1931 was 505,000. See Paul Robert Magocsi, Historical Atlas of East Central Europe (Toronto, 1993), 141.

3 Albanians are primarily Sunni Moslems, although there is a smaller number belonging to the Bektashi sect.

4 In 1922 Albania’s religious breakdown was as follows: out of a total population of roughly 900,000, 563,729 were Moslem, 181,051 Orthodox and 88,739 Catholics. T. Selenices, Shqipria ne 1923 (Tirana, 1923).

5 Stavro Skendi, The Albanian National Awakening, 1878–1912 (Princeton, 1967), 464.

6 S. Pollo and A. Puto, The History of Albania—From its Origins to the Present Day (London, 1981), 119.

7 Anton Logoreci, The Albanians—Europe’s Forgotten Survivors (London, 1977), 41–42.

8 R. V. Burks, The Dynamics of Communism in Eastern Europe (Princeton, 1961), 145.

9 Leke Dukagjini was a fifteenth-century feudal lord. For more details on northern tribal life see Margaret M. Hasluck, The Unwritten Law in Albania (Westport, 1981).

10 Skendi, 139–42, 370–76.

11 Ibid., 468.

12 For an interesting polemic on linguistic developments in Albania see Arshi Pipa, The Politics of Language in Socialist Albania (Boulder, 1989).

13 Miroslav Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe (New York, 2000), 22–23. Phase B is marked by the attempt or growth of patriotic agitation or growth of patriotic agitation among the population. The final phase, C, is defined by the growth of a mass movement.

14 In 1944, 80 percent of the population is estimated to have been illiterate and the ratio of pupils to total population was 58 per thousand.” Toussaint Hocevar, “The Albanian Economy 1912–1944: A Survey,” in Journal of European Economic History (Italy) 1987, 16 (3): 565.

15 Ismail Qemal (1844–1919) declared independence in November 1912 from the Albanian coastal town of Vlora [Valona]. Qemal was a prominent official in the Ottoman Empire and a member of the Young Turk Parliament. He later rejected the centralizing trends of the Young Turks and began lobbying, especially in Vienna, for support for the creation of an independent Albania. For details on Qemal’s career see Raymond Hutchings, Historical Dictionary of Albania (London, 1996), 187–88.

16 Eighty-five percent of Albania’s population was rural even though only 9 percent of land was arable and there was no industrial development prior to 1925. Orjan Sjoberg, Rural Change and Development in Albania (Boulder, 1991), 29.

17 Isa Blumi, “The Commodification of Otherness and the Ethnic Unit in the Balkans: How to Think About Albanians,” East European Politics and Societies, V, 12, No. 3, (Fall 1998): 561.

18 Bishop Fan Noli (1882–1965) was an Orthodox Christian who spent his early years in the U.S., attending Harvard University and proclaiming his Albanian church as autocephalous in 1912 (without recognition from the patriarchate in Istanbul). He represented Albania at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919–20 before his brief period as president in 1924, which began and ended in conflict with Zogu. He was obliged to leave the country and never returned.

19 Ahmed Zogu (1895–1961) was born of Moslem Gez parents in the Mati area and acquired military experience during the First World War as commander of the new Albanian army formed in 1916 by occupying Austrian forces. He played a leading role in the departure of all foreign forces in 1921 and consolidated his power as interior minister until 1924. On expelling Fan Noli’s brief regime, he became president and proclaimed himself king in 1928, ruling until himself expelled by the Italian invasion of 1939.

20 Swire, 291.

21 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Albania, 1910–1944, Record Group 59, National Archives Microfilm Publication M1211, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereafter Department of State), U. Grant-Smith to the secretary of state, no. 354, 19 November 1924. 875.01/256. Grant-Smith, U.S. minister in Albania, had a brief conversation with Curri on 18 November.

22 See Paskal Milo, Shqiperia dhe Jugosllavia (Tirana, 1992), 300–03.

23 According to Communist historiography, Zogu ordered the assassinations of both Bajram Curri and Hasan Prishtina. See Aleks Buda et al., Fjalori Enciklopedik (Tirana, 1985), 145 and 867–68.

24 For details on the interwar experience of the Albanians in Kosovo, see Noel Malcolm, Kosovo—A Short History (New York, 1998), chapter 14.

25 Enver Hoxha (1908–1985) was the son of a Moslem Tosk merchant who was drawn into Communist activities during his studies in France, 1930–33. Returning to Albania as a school teacher in Körce in 1936, he was dismissed after the Italian invasion of 1939 and joined in forming the small Albanian Communist Party (Party of Labor) in 1941. By 1944 he was first secretary as the Nazi retreat left the party’s partisan forces in a commanding position.

26 Burks, 147.

27 Midhat Frasheri (1880–1949) had opposed Zog’s regime earlier in the 1930s but headed a government for him from 1935 to 1937. The NLF’s Communists rejected postwar accommodation with him or the National Front.

28 Institute of Marxist–Leninist Studies at the Central Committee of the Party of Labor of Albania, History of the Party of Labor of Albania, 2nd ed. (Tirana, 1982), 126.

29 Bernd J. Fischer, Albania at War, 1939–1945 (West Lafayette, Indiana, 1999), 71.

30 Ibid., 88.

31 Blumi, 564.

32 Nicholas Pano, The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania (Baltimore, 1968), 18.

33 Pipa, 223–24.

34 For details on the Albanian elections of 1991 and 1992 see Robert Austin, “What Albania Adds to the Balkan Stew,” Orbis V, 37, No. 2, Spring 1993: 259–79.

35 Louis Zanga, “The Albanian Democratic Party,” RFE/RL Research Report, 1 March 1991: 3

36 Quoted in Elez Biberaj, “Albania at the Crossroads,” Problems of Communism, September–October, 1991: 3.

37 Rilindja Demokratike, 3 February 1993.

38 Elez Biberaj, Albania in Transition (Boulder, 1998), 251.

39 Shkelzen Maliqi, “Kosovo: What Next?”, Aimpress (www.aimpress.org,) 7 February 1995.

40 Biberaj, Albania in Transition, 255.

41 RFE/RL Newsline, 13 April 2001.

42 AFP, 4 April 2001.

43 International Crisis Group ICE Report, Albania: The State of the Nation 2001, Tirana/Brussels, 25 May 2001: 3.

44 Ibid., 4

45 Tim Judah, “Greater Albania?” New York Review of Books V, XLVIII, No. 8, 17 May 2001: 37.

46 ICG Report, “Albania: State of the Nation,” 22.

47 James Pettifer and Miranda Vickers, Albania: From Anarchy to Balkan Identity (New York, 2000), 155.

48 Ibid., 22.

49 Elez Biberaj, “The Albanian National Question,” in Michael Mandlebaum, The New European Diasporas—National Minorities and Conflict in Eastern Europe (New York, 2000), 279.

50 Judah, ibid. My own work in the field during the war confirms Judah’s analysis.

Auteur

Robert C. Austin is Project Coordinator at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto and a Consultant for Intermedia Global Research and Evaluation, Washington, DC.

© Central European University Press, 2006

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