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The Albanian – A Basic Ethnographic Inquiry into Albanian Symbols and Sentiments

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Aasmund Andersen, August 2000 
Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo






1. The Albanian population and ethnographic diversity

1.1 Albanian population settlement

1.2 Topography and ethnographic diversity

1.3 The topographical, historical, political and economical shaft between Albania and Kosovo

2. Social Organisation and codes of conduct

2.1 The house and the family

2.2 Clans and regional relations

2.3 Codes of conduct and traditional law

3. The sense of commonhood in relation to the others – symbols in action

3.1 ‘Us’ and ‘them’ on the international arena

3.2 ‘Us’ and ‘them’ on the intra-national arena

4. Summary


Appendix – ethnographic map of the balkans



This essay is written as a pre-fieldwork preparation test to be evaluated by Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo (UiO). After its approval, I will start my fieldwork in Kosovo, studying the nation-building process, which will culiminate in my postgraduate thesis for the Cand. Polit. degree at the University.

My thesis will analyse the relation between the international community, the political and intellectual elite and a village when looking upon nation-building and Albanian ethno-nationalistic sentiments. Without having conducted the fieldwork, I will in this essay discuss the very basics of Albanian culture and society in light of the topic of my thesis on basis of the ethnographic material available.

I will follow three aspects of ethnicity in general : primordial constituents, civic codes of conduct, and the perception of ‘us’ and ’them’.

The Albanian population and ethnographic diversity

Albanian population settlement

The extension of Albanian settlement has been basis for political manipulations since the 1890ies. As Gerhard Grimm (1984) rightly indicates in his essay, scientific enquiry on ethnographic data is determined by the scientific praxis of investigation and the motivation behind. As long as ethnic settlement has been a legitimate basis for the establishment of nation-states, ethnographic maps have played an important role on the political arena, at the cost of scientific objectivity as normative method.

The 'Albanian National Question' first manifested itself at the month-long Congress of Berlin in June 1878, where the Great Powers did not recognise Albanians as constituting a nation and did not distinguish between Albanians and Turks. The ethnographic maps presented at the conference clearly disfavoured Albanians (Grimm 1984). This exercise created massive reactions among the Albanians who founded the League of Prizren the 10th of June 1878 in order to defend Albanian territories and to fight for autonomy within the Ottoman Empire (Vickers 1995:31). Although the Great Powers agreed in principle to support the establishment of Albania as a new political entity after the Balkan Wars, the 1913 Conference of Ambassadors nevertheless awarded the Balkan allies substantial areas of Albanian-inhabited territory (incl. Kosovo). The final border which was eventually established in November 1921 left more than half the Albanian nation outside the Albanian state with almost half a million Albanians included in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and a further 70,000 in Greece. It looks as if the Ambassador's Conference was merely an exercise to gain time, a barrier against further war, and that the Great Powers did not expect the Albanian State to last long (International Crisis Group 2000b).

'Greater Albania', or 'Ethnic Albania' as the Albanians prefer to call it, comprises the territory of present-day Albania together with Kosovo, Western Macedonia, south-eastern Montenegro, and the north-western Epirus region of Greece - known to the Albanians as Chameria. It is said that Albania is the only nation in the world that borders itself on all sides (Frosina 2000).

Historically, two facts have contributed to the turbulence around determining the ethnographic settlement in areas the Albanians are present in: the Albanian population is growing faster than its ethnic neighbours and the other ethnic population is decreasing and moving out of the same areas. The Albanian families in Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro are reproducing much faster than other ethnic groups in the same area (Eltervaag 1999). In Macedonia, the Albanian population growth has reached peaks of three percent per year (Strazzari 1989:179). The Albanians are concentrated in western Macedonia, where many areas have a clear majority (see ethnographic map in appendix). The Albanians constitute over 20% of the population in Macedonia. On the political arena, there is an increasing concern for the political ambiguities of this dominant minority. With the present increase of the Albanian population and subsequent decrease in Macedonian settlement, there is a widespread perception that the Albanians in the areas around Tetovo will reach a clear and dominant majority in a considerable stretch of Macedonian territory within 25 years (Eltervaag 1999). The fear of a political separatist movement among the Albanians, striving for either consolidation with Albania or an independent Kosovo, have been underpinned by the unofficial and governmentally banned election for an independent Western Macedonia that was carried out in 1991 (Holmen 1998). There has been a clear increase in Albanian nationalistic activity and political usage of Albanian identity in Macedonia the last two decades. Politically there has been a one-bloc formation with the University of Tetovo as its key symbol of struggle for national acknowledgement and thereby Albanian language in the schools and better access to higher education for Albanians (Strazzari 1989:179). Albanians claim that they constitute 40% of the population in total, a figure that has been criticised by Turk and Slavic Muslims because other minorities are included (Strazzari 1989:179).

The situation in Montenegro is different. It is more difficult for Albanians in Montenegro to perceive themselves as an exclusive and oppressed minority as the population is truly multiethnic. The Macedonians are outnumbered by 70% and the Albanians are only a fraction of these.

Greece hosts a large number of Albanians, especially in the areas bordering Albania, where many Albanians find illegal work. There have been many reports about crimes that are connected with this work immigration, but no signs of political activity. The same can be said for Italy who has received thousands of illegal economic refugees from Albania. Italy have however also a historical influx of Albanians in the 14th century, where people from central and southern Albania flew across the Adriatic sea seeking security from the Turks. This community, firmly based in central southern Italy, have preserved their culture and identity up to today.

Also worth mentioning are the many Albanians living in third countries not neighbouring Albania. These have an economic impact by sending money to their relatives, as well as a cultural impact of importing and exporting cultural idioms. An extraordinary example of this is how the KLA organised itself in Western Europe, with a base in Switzerland, collecting tax from literally every Kosovo-Albanian in Europe through its many branches, organising recruitment to its army and buying weapons and equipment. Kosova Information Center (KIC) had a major impact on the international media coverage of prelude to the Kosovo war. The New York based Frosina Information Network for Albanians Abroad and Albanian American Civic League is two other examples - many Internet networks that works for "the Albanian question" in U.S.A, where there are approximately 3-400.000 Albanian inhabitants.

Topography and ethnographic diversity

The differences within the Albanian population are primarily linguistically (Svenningsen 1996). Therefore we can categorise the ethnographic areas according to linguistic diversities. Martin Camaj (1983) classifies the dialects of the Kosovo region in five groups:

- The dialect group comprising Rrafshi i Dukagjinit (Gjokove, Peje and Prizren), what he calls the Central group
- The northern dialects encompassing Mitrovice, Vucitern, Prishtine as far as Drenice.
- The southern dialects extending from Ferizaj, Kacanik, Gjilan to Mali i Zi i Shkupit.
- The dialect of Kumanove (Macedonia) as well as that of Presheve and Bujanovac (Serbia)
- The southern dialect group bordering to Albania (in the districts of Kukes and Tropoje)

Further on in Albania, there is a clear distinction between the area north and south of the Shkumbin River. The area north is called Gegeria, also comprising the dialect Gheg, while the area south of the river has traditionally been named Toskeria, where the dialect Tosk is spoken. Additionally, the central Ghegerian area can be seen separately, now comprising the new and modern city of Tirana, as well as the old harbour Durres and Shkoder and the former religious centre of Elbasan (in the communist era most known for its heavy industries). It is also possible to distinct between the North-West Gegerian areas, centred around Shkoder, and North-East Gegeria, comprising the old region of Kosovo, now divided between Albania and Serbia (Kukes, Tropoja). These areas were organised by the Ottoman administration into what they called vilayet, as shown on the map from 1878.

In general, the area of NorthWest Gegeria, Kosovo and Montenegro can be treated as one ethnographic area even though Montenegrins are Orthodox Slavic people, as they have a very similar family- and legal- system (Svenningsen 1993:29). Moreover, the people in the north have an impression of the southern Tosk regions (even the hole Albania) as being very little Albanian in the sense that traditional values as honour and the family have lost some of its meaning and structure (Svenningsen 1993:73). This is the impression of Tobias Svenningsen (1993), among the few Social Anthropologists who have done fieldwork in the southern region of Albania.

This underpins the historical impression that the northern areas, comprising NorthWestern and northeastern Gegeria (Shkoder, Kukes, Tropoja and Kosovo) generally have a higher degree of ethno-nationalistic sentiments and national awareness than the people in Central and Southern Albania. It is perhaps no coincidence that The Prizren League was formed in Prizren, Kosovo, and not in Albania. It seems to be the Albanian communities living outside Albania itself and under hostile governments (Serbia and Macedonia) are most aware of their Albanian culture and identity. Politically, these areas are often interpreted as motivated by the idea of a ‘Great Albania’. When considering these issues a central question arises: what divides the Kosovo region from Albania?

The topographical, historical, political and economical shaft between Albania and Kosovo

First of all, there is a clear topographic border separating Albania and Kosovo. Mountains (called the Albanian Alps -Alpet Shqiptare) reaching as high as 2600 meters above sea level effectively closes Albania off from Montenegro, except from the coastal area. At the far North-East of Albania an equally high mountain range stretches along the border to Macedonia and into Kosovo, effectively closing off the southern part of Kosovo from Macedonia. This leaves behind a quite narrow stretch of some 60 km. Because of two 2000 meters high mountains in between this stretch, it is however only three passes that allows contact between the two areas. Only one of them have a road connection that is open for regular transport and passing of people and goods (the two others only tracks). This road is connecting the town of Kukes and Prizren along the Drini i Bardhe river.

Another type of shaft between Kosovo and Albania has been political. Kosovo, as part of the Yugoslavian federation, broke the co-operation it had with Albania during the 50’s. Albania instead oriented itself eastward, first with the Soviet Union, later China. In the late 60’s however, Albania broke all co-operations and relied fully on their own resources. This developed into a total isolation during the 70’s. All borders where closed, even the beaches where guarded by the military to prevent Albanians from fleeing, or have any other type of contact with Italy and Greece. Enver Hoxha, the undisputed political leader of Albania after the 2. World War led the country into total isolation. Being without allies in the cold war was a dangerous project and resulted in an almost paranoid build-up of the military defence capability (every man had a rifle and a bunker). This meant that the border to Kosovo was effectively sealed off for decades. Only in the late 80’s was the policy soften up.

Yugoslavia have been economical relatively prosperous since its establishment and until the 80’s. The economic growth in Albania never reached the same level (see Peter Prifti and Adi Schnytzer in Studies on Kosova). The communist regime in Albania has not been without achievement (i.e. on industry and education), but all its engagements have suffered by hopeless ineffective management and state co-ordination. The living standards, that had not been visible because of the closed borders, became a shocking experience for the 400.000 Kosovars that fled to Albania during the NATO bombing campaign that started 24. Of March 1999 (the refugee influx started 28. of March). This means that most of the Kosovo population now knows by personal experience or by the experience of friends and family how much poorer the population of Albania is, as well as about its lack of effective state organisation and political stalemate. In my opinion, this concrete experience has given a significant impact on the Kosovars and their perception of Albanian ethnographic diversity. As the International Crisis Group (2000) concludes in a report on the issue: "The overwhelming majority of all Albanians agree that the different historical paths taken by the people of Albania as distinct from those from the former Yugoslavia, mean that a certain amount of time has to pass before either group is ready for the difficulties that they themselves, let alone their neighbours, would have to face in trying to unite geographically all the Albanians of the Balkans. Nevertheless, a new political and national identity is still in the process of formation" (International Crisis Group 2000a).

Some initiatives have been taken on pan-Albanian issues such as a common educational system. Universities in Pristina, Tirana and Tetova have now started to co-operate which includes exchange of teaching staff, organising joint research projects, as well as workshops aimed at co-ordinating a unified university curriculum (International Crisis Group 2000b). Plans to build a joint forum of Albanian political parties in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro are also discussed. Further on, the Albanian government has made plans to improve the 350 km road from the port of Durres to Pristina, in order to give Kosovo access to the Adriatic without Serbian control. A railroad connection on the same stretch is already under construction. The improvement of the 6.5 km border crossing in northern Albania is already funded, and will now make it possible to enter Kosovo by the Prushi Pass with trucks. This is expected to improve the economic situation for northern Albania.

We have now looked upon what and where people can be perceived as Albanian in a primordial fashion and some of the diversity within it. This boundary, though constructed is perceived as naturally given, by birth. In the following we will focus on civic codes that is socially constructed on the basis of familiarity with implicit and explicit rules of conduct, traditions and social routines. Rules that are regarded as the core of the collective identity of the Albanians.

Social Organisation and codes of conduct

The house and the family

For the Albanians, the house constitutes a national symbol that penetrates all Albanian cultural idioms. In many ways, we can say that the house "is good to think" when analysing Albanian society. ‘House’ in Albanian is ‘Shtepi’ or ‘shpi’, also meaning ‘household’ (Doja:200:22). Because the community of the clan did not give protection for the individual, each person had to provide for his own family’s security and prosperity. Thus the house and the family became the nucleus of society (Gashi 1997:115). This is reflected in the construction of the house that is designed for defensive functions. Especially the ‘kulla’ type of house, built by landowners and wealthy families.

A two-meter high stone wall surrounds the house and its garden. The house is also made of stone and the walls are thick. There are no windows on the first floor and on the second there are just small peaking holes. The roof is made of wood. Little light comes in the windows and inside it is rather dark. But the defensive advantage of the construction is obvious and favoured. In a region where there have never been a strong public legal system controlled by a state or an empire, the household have to rely on its own defensive capabilities. This also concern socio-economic matters. That is one of the reasons why the ethnographical famous (now dying) phenomenon of the Zadruga household, which can consist of more than 100 members can be found in the Albanian mountain areas (Durham 1909, Backer 1979).

The strength of the family was equal to its manpower. A powerful family with influence in its village and the clan would be a family with many men. Therefore, the birth of men is a specially greeted occasion connected with many symbolic rituals. Albert Doja (2000) has recently explored these in a structural anthropological perspective. He shows how the birth of a man is celebrated and how the upbringing of men is bound with a series of Rites de Passage that the girls are excluded from. Girls are simply not that important, as they are going to be married to another man’s family (usually at the age of 20). For the family, the most important contribution a woman can make is to give birth to a man. Subsequently, her status in the family is ascribed according to the number of children she has given birth to. Sterile women and their families are therefore confronted with a crisis. There are many rituals that have the supposed effect of increasing a woman’s fertility (Doja 2000).

Every family has an authority among its men. That person, who is chosen by the household is traditionally called zoti i shpis ("the master of the house"). According to Susanne Wiik, who conducted fieldwork among women in Tirana, they there called him kryefamiljar ("the head of the family") (Wiik 1999:93). He has the responsibility for the family’s economy. Zoti i shpis is the family’s contact point to the outside world concerning economical, practical and societal matters. He will have contact with the state authorities and decides in which matters the women of the household can participate outside the house. The zoti i shpis have the main responsibility for the honour of the family and the honour of its women. . When a guest is present, he will be the one to address and he talks for the whole family. The rest of the household are obliged to show their respect to the zoti i shpis in everyday life and especially when guests are present. This is formalised through a series of symbolic actions, such as when serving food or talking. He will be served the food and coffee first and the women will be silent in general when he is present (Wiik 1999). Respect and power is interrelated in the Albanian society – by showing respect, the power and authority of an individual is confirmed.

Among the women there will also be one of authority, called zonja e shtepise (Wiik 1999:93-95). This responsibility is enrolling between the women over forty years old. The upbringing of the children and the properly house work is her responsibility. She is however under the authority of the zoti i shpis, because descend is traced through the male line (patrilineal).

The sons of the family enjoy more freedom than their sisters. They are more outside the house participating in social activities, while their sisters get more and more duties in their homes as they grow older. They are supposed to be silent and dutiful, while the opposite is expected from the boys, who shall be noisy and independent (Wiik 1999:99). It is not expected anything from the son regarding duties at home. However, the bonds between brothers and sisters are strong. A girl can rely on support from her brother(s) her whole life. This is evident in sociological studies, where the brother is referred to as the one women go to in case of crisis (USAID/ORT 1998). And after her fathers death, women move to their brother if they divorce or their husband dies. While the man is expected to live in his family house his whole life, the women are to be married to another family. The women that are married into a family are called the nuse of the family. The nuse is ranged lowest in the hierarchy of the family (Wiik 1993:101). Urban women are therefore privileged because their family will not be far away, while villagers often have to move long distances.

Not long ago, there was no inns or cafes in Albanian villages. There were no public buildings of any kind. All societal matters was discussed and decided upon in family’s houses as described above. Every aspect of life took place in and around the house (Gashi 1997). Therefore the house have got a tremendous importance in Albanian culture and society. And not even great empires would interfere in an Albanian family house. Because Albanians have never been very religious, their house was a sort of sacred place (Gashi 1997). The basic construction of a public sphere like described in the Western European countries simply did not exist. As Richard Sennet have pointed out, the public sphere need physically constructed areas (public spaces) in order to create a civil society. In the western sense of the term, this has not existed in Albania, which will be a central issue when analysing politics. The clan was the only social organisation that reached outside the family boundaries.

Clans and regional relations

A clan (fis) connects families by blood. Women that are married into a family are considered a part of the family (until an eventual divorce), but not the family’s clan. She is still connected to the clan of her father by blood (Wiik 1999). This means that the women still can claim protection by her brothers if she was not treated properly. The honour of the women is connected to her clan. Members of a clan claim that they have a common ancestor. Through exchange of brides, two clans can form an alliance. This does not necessarily prevent the clans from conflict. This is a topic that repeats itself in epic songs, where the women get caught in a very difficult situation as a wife in a family which clan is in conflict with her own clan (Wiik 1999:48).

Often the clans will populate a geographical area such as a valley (Durham 1909). A conflict between two clans can thus involve a whole region. A clan will become in conflict with another clan when a woman is ill treated or a the honour of a woman is disgraced. This will mobilise the clan of that woman. The woman can not incur in blood feuds, but the men of her family and clan will incur for her (Gjecov & Fox 1989:38).

Codes of conduct and traditional law

From ethnography of the Mediterranean in general we know that honour is a strong cultural idiom. This is true also for the Albanians. The Albanian term bese can be translated as ‘honour’.and is often a part of the Albanian culture that Albanians are proud of and refers to when they describe their culture to foreign people. Bese is connected to respect (respekt), which again has to do with a persons social power and the acknowledgement of that power. To openly show disrespect of a person means to dishonour the person and his/hers family. This often leads to a sustainable conflict in which the two persons and their families never again speak to each others and avoid all social contact with the opponent. Albanians in general are therefore very careful about talking to and about other persons. If you ask for opinions about another person’s activities you are most probably presented with neutral answers. Sociological surveys also shows that people are very concerned about what other people think of them and that they easily feel miserable if someone should be disappointed of their performance (ORT/USAID 1998). In traditional law, the essence is all about securing people’s honour. If someone is dishonoured, the law suggests ways of compensation and re-establishing a person’s honour and the honour of that person’s family.

The Kanuni i Leke Dukagjinit (The code of Leke Dukagjinit) is a 600 old customary law for the Albanian highlands first written down by Shtjefen Gjecov (1874-1929). The Kanuni organises the society in a way which gives each person responsibility for his own family (Gashi 1997). The Kanun has been used as a system for administering justice in Northern Albania, which historically has remained isolated from central government law. This is the context in which we have to understand the Kanun and why it is so deeply rooted in the society.

During the socialist government, efforts were made to decrease the influence of the Kanun. With the collapse of communism in 1991 and the subsequent lack of nation-wide law and order, the Kanun has re-appeared and strengthen its position as the governing law of the northern areas in particular. It raises however a serious dilemma for anthropologists: is it just an old functional law regulating system in an area without a functional juridical system or is it used to legitimise crime and political murders. A recent reports from International Crisis Group states that: "Today, revenge killings in the name of the Kanun have taken on threatening proportions. A recent survey on the Kanun by the Independent Social Studies Centre, Eureka, expressed concern that many killers were using the rules of the Kanun as a cover to commit ordinary crime. According to the Eureka statistics, over 50 per cent of teenagers polled said that they respected the rules of the Kanun and would be willing to take revenge in the name of the Kanun. The report also highlights the fact that thousands of male children are being locked inside their homes because of the fear of revenge (females are exempt from revenge killings).

In one sense it could be argued that northern Albanians are resorting to the Kanun in order to fill the law and order vacuum. […]. In most cases, however, it is not the traditional rules of the Kanun that are being applied but rather a self-selected interpretation. In fact it is a means of settling accounts amongst gangs of traffickers, smugglers, and other criminal elements who, in the absence of official law and order, can use the fear, respect and moral justification associated with the Kanun to terrorise local people into a code of silence" (International Crisis Group 2000b). The Kanun is being used to compensate for a weak and corrupt judicial system, but it is also a fact that for too long now it has become the accepted truth that Northern Albania is beyond the rule of law, that the government has no jurisdiction there, and that the north must rely on its own customary law to provide justice for its citizens. Blood vendettas are particularly rife in and around the town of Shkoder where gangs routinely collect ‘gjoba’ or protection money from bars and shops, which if not paid will result in the automatic killing of its owner (International Crisis Group 2000b). The vast majority of contemporary feuds, however, are the result of disputes over land and water rights.

The International Crisis Group concludes that " The reintroduction of the Kanun into the lives of the communities of northern Albania must be seen as a serious challenge to the state. Today paperback copies of the Kanun are widely available in Albania, Kosovo and Western Macedonia, and the fact that new translations and interpretations of the Kanun are appearing must be viewed with real concern" (International Crisis Group 2000b). It is difficult a student of Social Anthropology to look upon the current praxis of the Kanun without moral condemnation.

Anton Cetta, a well-known university professor, started a reconciliation programme in the 80's, where he meditated between families that were in conflict (‘in blood’). According to the Kanun, during the first year the families can reconciliate very easily, but after that it can be persistent for generations. Many conflicts therefore needs external mediation to be settled.

We have now seen how rules of conduct creates and visualise the ideal of the social person. Now we will discuss a third code – the constituted boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’, that often is linked to a "particular relation of the collective subject to the realm of the sacred or the sublime, be it defined as God or Reason, Progress or Rationality" (Eisenstadt 1999:5).

The sense of commonhood in relation to the others – symbols in action

‘Us’ and ‘them’ on the international arena

When the wall dividing Eastern and Western Berlin fell, it was under the slogan: "return to Europe". Europe then meant the economic centres in Western Europe concentrated in the rectangular area between France and Northern Italy in the South, England in the North-West and West-Germany and Austria in the East. The term ‘Europe’ has become a symbolic term that strongly refers to this specific area and its economic success. The east is compared to the economic centres in this specific area. Laszlo Kurti have called this the myths of hierarchaisation of Europe. A new term, ‘Central Europe’ was made as a reference to the more successfully countries of the formal Eastern Europe, such as the Check republic, and now Poland (whom have achieved great economic prosperity since the crack in 1994) and Hungary - a bit closer to the wealthy democratic west.

According to Kurti, people in Eastern Europe have prior to this development been educated to think in terms of a hierarchy of nations since the middle of the last century (Vienna at top). When the iron curtain fell, the former east bloc states struggle an ethno-nationalistic fight of their place in the hierarchy. The intellectual elite in the Balkans especially "have been indulging in a perverse form of indoctrination. In this new literary representation, which has dominated the eastern European, and for that matter the Balkan intellectual scene, the principal culprits continue to be national 'others'.

For each nation-state emerging out of the Soviet empire, the 'neighbouring other' assumes the characteristics of the externalised evil; at the same time, in their quest to prove their own 'Europeaness' and 'modernity', the intellectuals look at the internal and neighbouring 'others' in disgust [...] As long as the mythological Wetsern 'other' continues to persist (not only in the personifications of Goethe, Fichte, and Herder of the eighteen century but, more and more, in the embodiments of the late-capitalist West of Micheal Jackson, Ted Turner and Bill Gates of Windows '95 fame), there wil always be images of the mythological 'Eastern' or 'Balkan' (Kurti 1997). Yugoslavia is said to always have had an ethnic hierarchy ranging from the Slovenes at top, to Croats, Serbs, Bosnians and Albanians at bottom. This has been an obvious reason why the political leadership in Serbia have been able to legitimise their politics in Kosovo.

Muslims are perceived as the critical ‘other’ in the nationalistic discourse in Eastern Europe (also in Western Europe because of immigration). Serbs looks upon themselves as the bulkward against Muslim Turks, Albanians and Bosnians. The Bosnian Muslims have thereby been ethnicicied, even though they really are only a religious minority (they also have descended from the Slavs). They are now looked upon as an ethnic group rather than religious group (Modood 1997). This is well reflected in the Serbian national consciousness.

Sasa Nedejkovic (2000) argues that Serbian nationalism is strongly emotional and can be looked upon as religion. Serbia has developed a national religion based on the testament of Kosovo, instead of the New Testament. The Serbian nation is on the side of God, while its enemy is with the devil. Military newspapers use the dragon, Satan and God as symbols. Kosovo is the premier symbol of Christian values because of the battle at Kosovo Polje in 1389. In the epic songs from the battle, the Serb leader Duke gets a letter from God presenting him with two opportunities upon which he chooses heaven instead of battle. This is the ultimate symbolic event in Serbian national heritage, representing the choice of the nation for the life death instead of earthly values. The Serbs therefore is bound to suffer in this life, but they will be awarded in the next. That’s why an open letter from an American orthodox asks the Serbs for forgiveness as God forgave Christ at crucifixion (Nedejkovic 2000). And that is why and how the Serbian defeat in the war against NATO can be transformed into a victory, in which the Serbian national myth was confirmed.

It also help to explain why Mr. Milosevic is still in power and can continue his policy despite his disastrous international record. His power is in fact strengthened, not weakened as was the aim of the western international community. The Serbian nation will resurrect, but it will be spiritual, not in any materialistic way (Nedejkovic 2000). The international community was unable to see this contradicting perspective and took it for granted that Milosovic would be defeated. The religious content in the argument presented in the Serbian public discourse was so contradictory to what the western public and common sense would call rational and reliable that it was always categorised as ‘Serbian propaganda’. This made it easy for the Kosovar lobby and news agencies such as the Kosova Information Centre (KIC) to be perceived as a more reliable source of information, especially from the end of 1998 and the prelude to the NATO bombing.

As with all nations, history is always exploited for myths. On the Balkans, the historical myths have proved tremendous importance in legitimising ethno-nationalistic claims and in presenting hierarchialisations of Europe. Nexhmedin Spahiu (1999) has shown how this is reflected in the historical curriculum in both Serb and Albanian educational system. He describes how some historical events are emphasised while others are liberally forgotten, under-communicated or simply lied about. He argues that the Kosovo-Albanian myths where created as a reaction on the Serbian mythology and that its fundamentals was copied (Spahiu 1999:37).

Until the end of 1999, most Albanians have followed a non-violence approach to resistance against the Serb domination in Kosovo. However, the case where it was legitimate to use force was if the domestic sovereignty was altered by force, i.e. by Serb police. In such cases most Albanian families would fight back with firearms. The symbol of the house "stands for Kosova, its population, and their desire for independence. The symbol of ‘head of the household’ designates the political leadership of the Albanian in Kosova, which lays down rules on how to protect the house and its dignity" (Gashi 1997). The nation is like a house, it mobilises in case of threats and trespassing.

‘Us’ and ‘them’ on the intra-national arena

The idea of a ‘Great Albania’ that unites all the ethnic Albanians under a single government is no longer a stated objective of KLA (PPDK/KPC) politics and plays no role in public opinion (International Crisis Group 2000a). This can be taken as a sign of a general acknowledgement of the political diversities especially between Kosovo and Albania. But it is also a result of the political turmoil, the poor governmental structures and the economical unstable situation in Albania. It is however interesting that Albania seams to present itself as a very homogenous country, while it is in fact a melting pot of religions. Apart from historical catholic roots and a catholic as well as Christian minority, the religious sect ‘Baktashi’ is the most known and dominating group. It is widespread in the Central and Southern part of the country.

Many have observed that the end of the socialist and anti-religious government of Hoxha has brought a religious revival in the country (Kressing 2000). Svenningsen, who have conducted an anthropological fieldwork in the southern part of Albania have pointed out that the real difference between the Christian, the Muslim, the catholic and the Bektashi are minimal. The differences are however kept important in people’s discourse and rhetoric (Svenningsen 1997:144). None of the groups are doing anything very different from the others, but they are socially categorised as if they did.

It might be legitimate to say that religions as well as political parties and ethnographical diversity within the Albanian nation as such is looked upon as people looks upon clans. When it comes to politics, which I unfortunately do not have sufficient space to discuss here, political parties seems to be organised around one charismatic leader (Nano for the SP, Berisha for DP, Thaci for PPDK, Rugova for LDK etc.) in pretty much the same manner as Max Weber once described as the ideal type ‘charismatic leadership’. When people discuss politics, they discuss the person representing the party, not the political programme of the party. This interest is reflected in the political speeches and public debates.

Identity is brought down level by level according to the scale a person is confronted with. Albanians stresses the Albanian in confrontation with Serbs, the ‘high culture’ of the Highlanders vs. the lowlanders, supporters of the Democratic Party vs. supporters of the Socialist Party, and clans vs. clans. Albanians seems to be "good at" diversifying themselves from each other. At the social scene, wherever it is, by over-communicating some statuses and under-communication others, people are able to stress alliances and eliminate internal differences in one case and the opposite in another. Goffman (1992) have described this technique of presenting yourself in everyday life and how it can be used for personal interests.

It is necessary to remind our self of the total lack of "neutral" help or guidance in Albanian society. The government does not have a strong bureaucratic system that support its citizens through a "neutral" and "citizen’s rights" point of view. In fact, a change in government means that more than 60% of the staff in the departments are changed too. This is done according to one criterion: loyalty. If you support the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party is in power, you can not rely on support from any department in that period, unless someone among them owes you a favour or you can afford to pay a bribe. The department personnel have a very low salary, yet it is regarded as a high status job. This is because of its bribe-salary potential and the fact that you have power to "give favours" to people that rely on government support.

There is a clear assumption that without giving bribery or "knowing someone" it is impossible to get a case through a governmental office (ORT/USAID 1998). This means that most of the population is included in a complex set of reciprocal relationships where transactions of "favours" is the focal point. These relationships take a form not unlike the clans, where charismatic leaders personalise the interest of the group. Because of the weak government, Albania can be seen as divided in two interests and "governmental favour" groups formally formed as political parties. This dividing line goes all the way down to the local village and city level. The dividing crosses the boundaries of Tosk and Gheg regions, though the Sali Berishas stronghold is in the Northern Gheg area.


In this essay, I have first described what and where people can be perceived as Albanian in the primordial fashion. Then I have described civic codes that are constructed on the basis of familiarity with implicit and explicit rules of conduct. We have now seen how rules of conduct that creates and visualise the ideal of the social person and at the same time discussed what moral person the community wants and why. Then we have seen how the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is constituted both in national mythology when confronted with the non-Albanian, as well as through dividing lines that puts most of the Albanian population into dichotic categories opposing each others, which can be essential for peoples ability to obtain the very basic support for increased living standards.

I would have liked to discuss the fundamentals of Albanian politics, but there is unfortunately not enough space for such here. I believe however, that this essay have described some of the basics of Albanian symbols and sentiments, a will prove to be a good fundament for further analysis.


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Appendix – ethnographic map of the balkans



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