Initiated in 1999, the “Joint History Project” publication sought to provide materials to history teachers in the Balkans that would challenge an ethnocentric teaching of the past. Published by the NGO Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) based in Thessaloniki, Greece, the project aimed to encourage critical thinking and debate as part of long-term reconciliation in the Balkans.
The project resulted in the production of five volumes, starting with medieval Balkan history and concluding with contemporary history.
This series of articles offers a critique about individual volumes of the project, analyzing how important historical Albanian events were portrayed and which of them were not portrayed at all. Furthermore, this series discusses how they should have been portrayed, based on the work of international authors such as Noel Malcolm, Oliver Schmitt, Peter Bartl and others who cover developments and events in Kosovo throughout various historical periods.
Such an examination is especially important considering that during the completion of the project, CDRSEE maintained close working relationships with all education ministries in the region and enjoyed the support of a total of 25 international donors, including the EU. Moreover, the project employed historians from the entire region, including Kosovo.
Follow this link to read the first piece on the Ottoman Period.
Follow this link to read the second piece on “Nations and States in Southeast Europe.”
A critique on the “Balkan Wars” Volume
The third volume, divided into five chapters, deals with the Balkan wars of 1912-13, in which the Balkan countries — Montenegro, then Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece — waged war against the Ottoman Empire. The idea behind this volume is to change the traditional presentation of these wars as primarily political events, and to present various aspects related to them. So, not only battles, victories and defeats, but also suffering and relations between ordinary people, since these wars saw atrocities and crimes, but also acts of benevolence and solidarity.
In the introduction to the volume, the publishers explain that the publication of materials from regional countries helps understand different perspectives on historical processes and streams within societies defined as “homogeneous.”
Chapter one, “Economies and Societies,”divided into three subchapters, provides an overview of the regional societies before the Balkan wars, noting their differences with other western European societies of that period. Neither the subchapter entitled “Population,” which deals with demographic and social changes and their consequences, nor the subchapter “Culture,” which discusses cultural and technological changes with significant impact on people’s lives, contain anything on Albanians. The subchapter entitled “Economy,” which presents economic development, documenting it in various ways (state budgets, trade relations, agriculture, industry and railway construction), in relation to Albanians presents only two photos on the means of transport in 20th century Albania.
Chapter two “Policies,” is also divided into three subchapters and provides resources to understand the diversity of political and ideological factors that led the Balkans peoples to fight against each other. The entire first subchapter “Preliminary ideologies,” with regard to Albanians provides only one cartoon published in 1931 in the “Dielli” newspaper with a line reading “Get away from me you bloodthirsty savages.” In it, Albania is portrayed as an armed woman who protects Shkodra from Montenegro, portrayed as a monkey, Janina from Greece, portrayed as a tiger, and whose legs are tied by Serbia, the snake.
The third and last subchapter entitled “Expecting and Proclaiming the War,” prints two excerpts from two newspapers published in Albanian abroad, one in Boston and the other in Sofia, expressing different attitudes toward the First Balkan War. The core of the article in the Boston newspaper “Dielli” is that “the interest of Albania is the total union with Turkey, against the Balkan countries, while the article in the Sofia newspaper “Liri e Shqipërisë” is that “the Albanian nation must not unite with Turkey,” but “raise its voice and demand its rights from the Great Powers.” The presentation of these two articles is very valuable, because it helps understand the different perspectives within the Albanian society of the time.
Chapter three, “Societies at War,” aims to bring a balanced presentation of the lives of both soldiers and civilians of different nationalities on the frontlines and behind them, bringing opposing perspectives in order to demystify national heroic narratives. However, the first subchapter “The War Fronts” presents only the Serbian point of view, describing the victory of the Serbian army over the Turkish one in Kumanovo, according to an excerpt from the 1913 book “Balkanski rat u slici i reči” (The Balkan War in Photos and Words), in which this victory is presented as “proof of the ability of Serbian officers and the unmatched courage of the Serbian soldiers, whose guiding idea was Revenge for Kosovo!”
In this description, the Battle of Kumanovo is constantly compared to the 1389 Battle of Kosovo: “Our soldiers, along the entire front, started to charge with bayonets and with great determination to resolve the battle in hand to hand bayonet fight, as once in Kosovo […] at that moment, nearly one hundred thousand Serbs had only one goal – victory or death, equal to the death of the Kosovo martyrs.”
Nowhere are the crimes of the Serbian and Montenegrin forces against Albanian civilians presented in the volume. Furthermore, with a passage from the book “Balkanski rat u slici i reči,” the publishers give the reader the impression that the Serbian and Montenegrin forces were quite well-behaved with the civilians. It is worth quoting the passage in full: “At one corner, a Serbian soldier, a simple private, sat on a stone, took two Turkish boys in his lap, sitting one of them on one knee, the other on the other knee, embracing them with both arms. He held the soldier’s bread in one hand, bayonet in the other; he was cutting bread with his bayonet, giving the first bite to one Turkish boy, the second one to the other and taking the third bite for himself. I watched from the sidelines and felt pain in my heart because I did not have a camera to take a picture of this magnificent scene of love of the Serbian soldier for the children of a defeated enemy and his compassion for their misfortune.”
The entire upper half of the following page shows a photo of Turkish children saluting Serbian soldiers in 1912. Presented here is also an excerpt of the time from the memoirs of the Turkish surgeon, politician and writer Riza Nur, in which Albanians are blamed for the defeat of Ottoman forces: Albanian battalions, deceived by the Serbs, left the front; the Albanian soldiers deserted Ioannina too; the Albanians killed the Ottoman commander who was defending Shkodra; the Albanians paid by the Greeks surrendered Thessaloniki without fighting and without conditions. This fragment ends with the sentence: “This chain of events shows that it was the Albanians who caused these disasters.” The next subchapter, titled “Life at the Front,” which contains nothing about Albanians, presents an excerpt of a meeting between Turkish and Montenegrin soldiers in Shkodra, following the city’s surrender, in which Montenegrin soldiers are described giving white bread to Turkish soldiers, which they accept with gratitude.
The third subchapter “The Parallel War” at the very onset presents a passage from the 1914 Carnegie Commission for International Peace Report, which comments on the “parallel” losses from the burning of villages and the exodus of people, but there is nothing in the passage about the Albanians. Later there is only an article by Edith Durham, written after the Balkan Wars ended, about the wartime devastation of the villages near Shkodra and a photo with hungry people occupying the yard of the Italian Consulate in Shkodra. The last subchapter “Behind the Front” presents a description of an Italian journalist about the situation in Shkodra during the siege of the city by Montenegrin forces.
Chapter four, “Battlefields and Onlookers,” consisting of two subchapters, provides historical sources that present the attitudes of the Balkan peoples to the Balkan Wars. The first subchapter, ‘The Balkan Provinces of the Ottoman Empire,” in which Albania and Macedonia are presented as provinces, there is sufficient carefully selected and correctly presented material about Albanians, much unlike the practice followed in other chapters. The second subchapter, “The Balkan Lands of Austria-Hungary,” obviously contains nothing on Albanians, as Albanian territories had not been under the rule of Austria-Hungary.
Undocumented Albanian victims
The fifth and final chapter, “After the War,” deals with the political, economic, social and ideological consequences in three subchapters. The chapter is not intended to document in detail all the possible short and long-term consequences of the Balkan Wars, but only to summarize the sources that help understand the complex nature of the post-war consequences and their long-term aftermath.
The first subchapter, “Political Consequences,” contains nothing on Albania or Albanians. It contains an extract from the speech of the Serbian writer and Member of Parliament, Jovan Skerlić, delivered in October 1913, in which he asks, ‘[Did] Serbia get absolutely everything that it could get, is its position better and safer than it was before?’ and answers, “after the recent Albanian incursion, after Austria’s brutal ultimatum that we get out of Albania, we can have doubts about the completeness of these results.” There is also a photo with the flags of the Great Powers hanging over Shkodra Castle in May 1913. This subchapter also brings an excerpt from the proclamation of King Petar of Serbia, held in August 1913, in which he promises equal rights for all people living in the territories annexed by Serbia, despite their different ethnic origins, but there is no presentation of the atrocities that followed these promises.
The second subchapter, “Socio-economic results,” does not present any of the economic and social consequences for Albanians and Albania. There is a table presenting data on the victims from all the countries during the Balkan War, but there is no data in it on Albanians.
The table published in this chapter does not include data on Albanian victims, or any other data on Albanians for that matter.
Likewise, the third subchapter, “Ideological Consequences,” has nothing on Albanians or Albania. In it there is an excerpt from the 1914 “Report of the International Commission to Enquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars” Report, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but it also has nothing on Albanians who migrated, the villages that were burned, the people who remained in the regions that became part of another state, and who underwent difficult times.
In order to describe the crimes of the Serbian forces against the Albanian civilians during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, this volume could have included excerpts from the book by the Austrian Social Democrat, Leo Freundlich, entitled “Albania Golgotha — an indictment against the exterminators of the Albanian people,” from the 1914 “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars,” compiled by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but also articles by Russian correspondent Leon Trotsky entitled “Behind the Curtains of the Balkan Wars.”
The volume could have also presented some excerpts from different articles written by Serbian Social-Democrats, such as Kosta Novaković, Dušan Popović, Dragiša Lapčević and Triša Kaclerović, published in the Belgrade socialist newspaper “Radnićke Novine.” One excerpt states, “The editorial office of the Radnićke Novine newspaper possesses data on horrible crimes committed by the Serbian forces against the Albanians that are so horrible we prefer not to publish them at all.”
It would be especially useful to bring excerpts from articles written by the Serbian Social-Democrat Dimitrije Tucović, one of which says, “we committed a premeditated murder attempt on an entire nation.” Perhaps, by bringing excerpts from the Serbian Social-Democrats, this volume would better fulfill its mission announced in the introduction of presenting different perspectives within societies perceived as “homogeneous.”
A summary of exclusions
The volume presents nothing in terms of the Albanian economy and society, culture or population. Likewise, two of the subchapters of the chapter dealing with political issues, namely “Mobilizing ideologies” and “The Eastern Issue,” contain nothing on Albanians, while the third and last subchapter “Expecting and Proclaiming the War” provides two valuable excerpts from two Albanian newspapers published abroad, which help understand the different perspectives within the Albanian society at the time of the Balkan wars.
The chapter, “Societies at war,” which deals with armies and civilians of different nationalities on the frontlines and behind them during the Balkan wars, only presents the Serbian viewpoint; it describes the victory of the Serbian army over the Turkish army in Kumanovo, constantly comparing it with the Kosovo Battle of 1389. The chapter does not present any of the crimes committed by Serbian and Montenegrin forces against Albanian civilians, but through the examples presented leaves the reader with the impression that the Serbian and Montenegrin forces were rather quite well-behaved towards civilians, which differs from a multi-perspective picture. On the other hand, the Albanians are blamed for the loss of Ottoman forces during the Balkan wars and the catastrophes caused, as they were “deceived by the Serbs, paid by the Greeks, they had deserted the Ottoman army and surrendered.”
The chapter, “Battlefields and Onlookers,” which provides resources on the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire, presents sufficient and carefully selected and presented material on Albanians, much unlike the other chapters. Yet, as far as war crimes are concerned, only two excerpts are chosen, both pertaining to Shkodra, one by Edith Durham about the wartime devastation and the suffering of the locals, and the other by an Italian journalist describing the situation during the siege of the city. Although the chapter presents a passage from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Report, which comments on the “parallel” losses from the burning of villages and the exodus of people, there is nothing on Albanians.
The last chapter entitled “After the war,” which deals with the political, economic, social and ideological consequences, contains absolutely nothing on Albania or Albanians. It brings an excerpt from a speech held by King Petar of Serbia, delivered in August 1913, whereby he promised equal rights to all people living in the territories annexed by Serbia, regardless of their ethnic origin, but the volume brings no accounts of the events that followed these promises.
The volume contains data on the victims of all countries during the Balkan wars, except for Albanians. With regards to the crimes committed by Serbian and Montenegrin forces against Albanian civilians in 1912-1913, the data could be obtained from the book written by the Austrian Social-Democrat Leo Freundlich titled “Albania’s Golgotha.” Excerpts could also be presented from Leon Trotsky’s book “Behind the Curtains of the Balkan Wars” and particularly from the Serbian Social-Democrats, thus offering a different perspective by a Serbian political group on the killings of Albanians.
This series of articles were written by the author as part of a project titled “An analysis of alternative textbooks of CDRSEE” by the ADMOVERE organization, with financial support by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, which operates via the Swiss Embassy in Prishtina, and it does not necessarily reflect the views of the donor.
Feature image: Insert from the book “Teaching Modern Southeast European history”.