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.
A critique on “Nations and States in Southeast Europe”
The volume entitled “Nations and States in Southeast Europe” is divided into four chapters. It focuses mainly on the 19th century, although it includes some 18th century historical sources on the rise of national movements in the region, as well as 20th century accounts on the birth of nation-states and new developments in the relations between nations and states.
The focus of this volume, the introduction claims, is the creation of nation-states, with issues such as nation-building, national ideologies and conflicts fueled by nationalism. Because most of the peoples in the region learn more about their own nation by ignoring or receiving biased information about their neighbors, the publishers claim they have sought to fill the void in these peoples’ knowledge of each other.
The information provided might reinforce the prejudices that peoples of the region may have about Albanians.
The first edition of this volume, chapter one, “Creating Nation-States: Goals vs. Achievements” with about 40 units in total, contains a short poem in Albanian, written at the time of the 1878 Congress of Berlin when the great powers of Europe convened to determine the territories of the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans. The poem reads: “Please be careful/ Of Albania/ Don’t tear it up in pieces/ As if it were an orphan/ We are not Greeks, or Bulgarians/ Not even Montenegrins/ We are just Albanians/ And we want freedom…” Other than that there is a very short excerpt from an article by Jeronim de Rada, dated 1886, in support of a special Albanian state, which reads, “A separate state for ourselves, where all the people of the same blood gather around as the members of a family gather in a home.” From here we move on to 1912 where there is an excerpt from a report by the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which talks about the efforts of the Albanians to secure their own state, as well as an engraving of the period of the declaration of independence of Albania.
The information is one-sided and fails to fill the knowledge gap of the students in the region about the Albanian national movement and the way the Albanian state was established. Moreover, the information provided might reinforce the prejudices that peoples of the region may have about Albanians, because the Albanian national movement cannot be represented simply with a short poem from the time of the Berlin Congress and an equally short and insignificant fragment from an argument in support of a separate Albanian state.
The second edition of this volume, published in 2012, but only in the Albanian version and not in English or regional languages, has added the following to this chapter: An 1878 memorandum of the Albanians against the Treaty of St. Stefano (1878), which stipulated the expansion of Serbia and Montenegro to include territories inhabited by Albanians, two notes of protest from Albanians from different regions addressed to the Congress of Berlin seeking help to stop the atrocities of Serbian, Montenegrin, Bulgarian and Russian forces against the local population; a document from 1880 containing the requests of the League of Prizren Central Committee sent to the Sultan. These additions are good, but do not aid the understanding of how the Albanian state came to be.
The right approach would require a more suitable presentation of the Albanian National Revival, which began in the 1830s and ended in 1912 with the proclamation of Albania’s Independence. Since the title of the chapter is “Creating Nation-States: Goals vs. Achievements,” it should be noted that the goal of the Albanian National Renaissance was a state that would include all areas inhabited by Albanians, while the achievement of the Albanian National Revival was a state with less than half of the areas inhabited by Albanians.
With regards to the League of Prizren — the political organization that opposed the fragmentation of Albanian-inhabited areas — a few requests sent to the Sultan in 1880 have been published in this volume, the main one asking for the appointment of a single person to govern the entire Albanian areas. But this was only included in the second edition of this volume but only in the Albanian version, not in the ones in English or in regional languages. This kind of presentation creates a false impression on the relations between the Albanians and the Ottoman Empire.
Only a year and a half after the establishment of the League of Prizren, it approved the autonomy program, and after almost three years, it declared it would commit to full independence.
To begin with, essential parts from the first document issued by the League of Prizren, called the Kararname or the Decisions Act, adopted on June 18, 1878, should have been presented, such as its Article 1 stating that the League of Prizren will oppose any government except that of the Ottoman Empire, and Article 2 that adds that the League “shall protect the imperial rights of the immaculate person of His Majesty the Sultan, our ruler.” The same document further refers to Shari’ah law with regards to protection of the life, the property and the honor of faithful companions of non-Muslim faith. So, the cooperation between the League of Prizren and the Government of the Ottoman Empire should be mentioned firstly, because the League initially enjoyed the sympathy of the Ottoman government and, therefore, its establishment faced no obstacles.
It should further be clarified that only a year and a half after the establishment of the League of Prizren, in a meeting held in Prizren in October 1879, the League approved its autonomy program, and after almost three years, at a large gathering in Prizren, it declared it would commit to full independence, which reinforced the determination of the Ottoman Empire to suppress it by imprisoning and killing its key leaders. None of these clarifications appear anywhere in the volume. After the violent suppression of the League of Prizren by the Ottoman Empire, the next three decades saw various uprisings breaking out in Kosovo, all of which were local and short-lived, yet the volume mentions none of them, in spite of one of the explicitly stated goals of the chapter being to present the dissatisfaction with the various imperial regimes. Finally, as the chapter aims to present the forms of nation-building endeavors and their results, the space being limited, instead of the engraving on the declaration of independence of the period, it would advisable to include the integral 1912 Declaration of Albania’s independence, itself a very short text.
Instead of one of the two protest notes addressed to the Congress of Berlin, which were almost identical in content, it is worth presenting data on the mass expulsion of Muslim Albanians from the Sandzak of Nis area in Serbia during 1877-1878. According to the historian Noel Malcolm, the number of muhajirs (refugees) who came to the territory of Kosovo from those areas is about 50,000. This expulsion of Muslim Albanians from these areas and their settlement in the current territory of Kosovo aggravated the relations between Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo. For this reason, but also due to the general stagnation, poor administration, and better living conditions in Serbia in the 1878-1912 period, according to Malcolm, about 60,000 Serbs were displaced from Kosovo.
With regards to the creation of the state of Kosovo, the end of this chapter presents the essential points of the Declaration of Independence in 2008 and the Decision of the Assembly of Serbia for its annulment. These documents provide an objective summary of the political process in Kosovo starting from the post-war period (1999) to the Declaration of Independence (2008), but lack the essential elements of the International Court of Justice Decision (2010), according to which the Declaration of Kosovo’s Independence is in compliance with international law.
The disregard of the Albanian language and national symbols
Chapter two “Organizing the Nation-State” is divided into five subchapters: “General aspects of state organization,” “Citizenship,’”Nations and Churches,” “Infrastructure of the nation-state” and “Nation-building.” The first four contain nothing on Albanians, yet the first subchapter could list the central elements of the first constitutions of Albania and Kosovo, following the model used for other countries of the region. In the second edition, yet only in the Albanian version and not those in English or the regional languages, excerpts from the Constitutions of Yugoslavia and Kosovo of 1974 have been added. The autonomy of Kosovo under the Constitution of Serbia of 1990, is also added but the addition is misleading, given there are no excerpts from the constitutional amendments of Serbia in 1989 that abolish Kosovo’s extensive autonomy based on the 1974 Constitution. In addition, excerpts from the Kosovo Constitution, adopted on September 7, 1990, although not internationally recognized, are also missing.
The subchapter on citizenship, as it has done with other countries, could include the definitions of citizenship according to the constitutions of Albania and Kosovo. It is surprising that subchapters three and four have nothing on the relations of the Albanian nation with the churches, as is done with other countries in this volume.
Regarding the importance of language in the development of the nation, the subchapter on nation-building contains only the following two sentences from the founding document of the “Society for the Publication of Albanian Writings” (1879), an organization comprised of Albanian intellectuals: “All nations are enlightened and civilized because of the letters of their language. And any nation that has no written language or letters for its language is in the dark and is of a barbaric nature.” That’s all. The information that Naum Vexhilharxhi had compiled the Albanian alphabet in 1825, and in 1844 the first primer book in Albanian, should at least appear here.
Konica sought financial support to publish the newspaper “Albania”and some brochures, as well as to open schools teaching in the Albanian language and form associations.
Also lacking are relevant data on the linguistic developments in the 20th century, such as the Shkodra Literary Commission of 1916, when the dialect of Elbasan was established as an official language variety, and the Orthography Congress, held in Tirana in 1972, when the Tosk-dialect-based standard language assumed its final shape and was accepted as such by Albanians in Kosovo and elsewhere in former Yugoslavia.
This nation-building subchapter brings in full a very interesting letter from 1897 by the journalist Faik Konica addressed to Agenor Goluhovski, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria-Hungary, where he elaborates the plan for “[d]eveloping an Albanian national sentiment, becoming perfectly aware of the fundamental differences there are with the Turks.” For this purpose, Konica sought financial support to publish the newspaper “Albania”and some brochures, as well as to open schools teaching in the Albanian language and form associations.
The subchapter further presents a valuable excerpt from the vision of King Zog I of the Albanians, which speaks of the importance of compulsory military service for nation-building dated 1928. The average Albanian had always looked up to the head of their tribe, or their Bey, as the supreme authority. King Zog stressed they should learn to be citizens of the State.
The first subchapter entitled “What is a Nation?’ from chapter three, “National Ideologies,” has nothing on Albanians or on Kosovo. The second subchapter, entitled “Self-definitions,” contains a suitable excerpt on being Albanian from an article by Pashko Vasa dated 1879, thus following the adopted model of using fragments from writings by important national personalities for almost all the countries of the region.
The chapter lacks writings by a Kosovo personality about being Kosovar, explanations about the meaning of the Kosovo flag, the national anthem, and the origin of the Kosovo emblem.
The following subchapter “National Symbols” offers an excerpt from a speech by Fan Stilian Noli that talks about the meaning of the Albanian flag, which was that of Skanderbeg, but had been forgotten for four and a half centuries, until found by Faik Konica in the biography of Marin Barleti. The subchapter also presents the Albanian flag in its section on flags, and the text of the Albanian national anthem in its section on anthems. The last subchapter “National mythologies” provides a brief explanation by a contemporary Albanian historian on the origin of the Albanian coat of arms, which is “derived from the heraldic symbol of our national hero, Gjergj Kastriot Skanderbeg.” Yet the chapter lacks excerpts from a writing by a Kosovo personality about being Kosovar, explanations about the meaning of the Kosovo flag, the Kosovo flag itself, information about the Kosovo national anthem, something about the origin of the Kosovo emblem, and other relevant points.
None of the three subchapters in the fourth and final chapter, “Conflicting nationalisms,” contain any information on Albanians or Kosovo. The second subchapter, “Concrete Conflicts’, contains the text of the 1986 Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Memorandum, where Kosovo is mentioned indirectly, when it states, “[t]he autonomous provinces must become true integral parts of the Republic of Serbia.”f The same subchapter provides information only about the conflict between Serbia and Croatia and nothing about that between Serbia and Kosovo. The subchapter “Overcoming nationalism?” mainly presents parts of agreements signed between the parties in conflict, but there is nothing about the case of Kosovo-Serbia conflict, while it should probably contain parts from the Kumanovo Agreement, signed on June 9, 1999 between NATO and the FRY, which marked the end of the armed conflict in Kosovo.
A summary of exclusions
The information presented in the first chapter of this volume about the Albanian national movement and the way the Albanian state was created is one-sided and fails to fill the knowledge gaps of the peoples of the region about the Albanian people. The Albanian National Revival, which began in the 1830s and ended in 1912 with Albania’s proclamation of independence, is not presented in a suitable manner. The second edition contains some additions in the Albanian version but not those in English or regional languages. These are not sufficient, however, to facilitate an understanding as to how the Albanian state was created. Nowhere in this volume is it stated that the main goal of the Albanian National Revival was to have a state that would include all areas inhabited by Albanians, and its achievement was a state with less than half of the areas inhabited by Albanians.
As far as the Albanian relations with the Ottoman Empire are concerned, especially during the League of Prizren period, somehow only their cooperation appears in the volume but it is presented incorrectly. Although it was stipulated by the authors that one of the aims of the volume is to present dissatisfactions with the various imperial regimes, the Albanian uprisings during the last three decades of the Ottoman rule are not even mentioned.
Data on the mass expulsions of Albanians from the Sandzak of Nis area of Serbia between 1877 and 1878 and the displacement of Serbs from Kosovo to Serbia in the 1878-1912 period are also missing. Despite the volume aiming to present the forms of nation-building efforts and their results, Albania’s declaration of independence is presented only with an engraving of the time.
The essential points of the documents related to the Independence of Kosovo in 2008 are objectively presented, and the political process in Kosovo from the post-war period to the declaration of Independence is well summarized. However, the essential points of the International Court of Justice 2010 Decision stating that Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence is in line with international law are missing.
“Nation-building,” the last subchapter of this chapter, very vaguely presents the importance of language for the development of the Albanian nation; it lacks relevant information on language developments during the 20th century, yet correctly presents the plan to organize the Albanian national movement.
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”.