Perspectives | History

There needs to be a reaction in order to change the (mis)representation of Albanians

By - 22.10.2020

Alternative pan-Balkan history textbooks offer a questionable and incomplete documentation of Kosovo.

The Thessaloniki-based NGO Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) in 1999 launched their project, entitled the “Joint History Project,” in order to provide history teachers in the Balkans with materials containing different perspectives on the same event. The CDRSEE contracted historians from all over the region and the project concluded with the compilation of six volumes, beginning with the medieval history of the Balkans and ending with the present day. 

In the course of creating these volumes, the CDRSEE maintained close working relationships with all the ministries of education in the region and enjoyed support from a total of 25 international donors, including the EU. All six volumes were translated from the original English into ten languages (nine regional ones and Japanese) and was promoted in many of the regional capitals, including Prishtina in 2018. 

The CDRSEE in its “Joint History Project” volumes on Balkan history aimed not only to review the ethnocentric teaching of history but also to stimulate critical thinking and debate, to promote diversity and to acknowledge both the suffering and the common achievements of the Balkan peoples. 

Over the past few weeks, I have published a series of articles in K2.0 with the aim of establishing the extent to which the CDRSEE achieved this admirable aim. These articles examined the way Albanians in general are presented in the five volumes of this project, specifically how were important historical events for Albanians presented? Which of the important events were not presented at all; and how should they have been presented?

Summary of the main critiques 

The first volume “The Ottoman Empire” aims — in addition to presenting the conflicts of the time — to include the coexistence of the subjects under their Ottoman rulers due to individual and collective privileges, yet it presents no Albanian uprisings or collaborations with the Ottoman Empire during the five centuries of its rule. Likewise, there is no explanation as to what the political intentions of Albanians are or what their different political beliefs under the Ottoman Empire were. The volume does not present any of the crimes committed by the Ottoman forces against the Albanians but rather portrays them as mercenaries, robbers, usurers, contemptuous to women, uneducated, etc. 

The second volume “Nations and States in Southeast Europe” presents only a few examples of cooperation between Albanians and the Ottoman Empire, and those cases are not correctly presented. Although the compilers of the volume claim that one of their aims was to present dissatisfaction with various imperial regimes, they do not present a single Albanian uprising during the last three decades of the Ottoman rule. 

The authors do not clarify that the goal of  Albanians at that time was to create a state that would incorporate all the territories inhabited by them. However their achievement was only to establish an independent state including less than half of the territories inhabited by Albanians. The Albanian political currents of this period are not mentioned anywhere — on the one hand there were the “Muslim traditionalists” who dominated in Kosovo, and on the other the “autonomist intellectuals” who dominated in Albania. Likewise, data on the mass expulsions of Albanians from the Niš Sandzak of Serbia during 1877-1878 are missing as are those on the displacement of Serbs from Kosovo to Serbia in the 1878-1912 period.

Although some passages about the burning of villages and the peoples fleeing — as well as data on the victims of all countries during the Balkan wars are presented — there is nothing on Albanians.

The third volume “The Balkan Wars” does not cover the most important Albanian historical event on the verge of the Balkan wars, namely the 1912 uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Nor does it cover the cooperation of some of the main Albanian insurgent leaders in 1912 with Serb representatives in Prishtina. The volume provides some excerpts from Albanian newspapers published abroad. Although they helped to understand the different perspectives within Albanian society of the time of the Balkan wars, they are not sufficient. Nowhere is it clarified that the Albanians at this time were divided with most of the representatives, i.e. beys and aghas, opposing autonomy on the one hand, and on the other the insurgents who aspired to autonomy but were themselves divided, as some preferred to remain associated with the Ottoman Empire.

The part dealing with armies and civilians of different nationalities during the Balkan wars only presents the Serbian viewpoint. It does not show any of the crimes committed by the Serbian and Montenegrin forces against Albanian civilians, but uses excerpts from sources giving the reader the impression that these forces had even been very well-behaved. Although some passages about the burning of villages and the peoples fleeing — as well as data on the victims of all countries during the Balkan wars are presented — there is nothing on Albanians. 

Moreover, the volume portrays Albanians negatively — they are blamed for the Ottoman forces losing the Balkan wars and the disasters that ensued, because they are said to have been deceived by the Serbs, paid by the Greeks, to have deserted and surrendered. It should be noted now, that the second edition of this volume in 2012 contains some new additions. But those are insufficient and appear only in the Albanian version, not in the English one or those in other languages of the region.

The fourth volume “The Second World War” contains no data whatsoever on Kosovo or the Albanians outside the territory of Albania, namely in Yugoslavia.

The fifth volume “The Cold War (1944-1990)” does not mention the military administration in Kosovo, the sentencing and the executions of  Albanian opponents to the Yugoslav regime, or the violence and terror against the Albanian civilian population, the seizure of tens of thousands of hectares of land, half of which were given to the mainly Serb and Montenegrin settlers, nor the expulsion of tens of thousands of Albanians from Yugoslavia to Turkey. Likewise, there is no mention that after the Second World War there were legal representatives operating in Kosovo as part of the institutions of the Yugoslav system, and on the other side there were groups organized in illegal organizations opposed to the Yugoslav regime. Their different objectives are not mentioned. 

The volume, as far as the protests of the Kosovo Albanians for expanded autonomy and equal rights with other Yugoslav peoples is concerned, presents only the 1968 and the 1981 protests, but superficially and with many inaccuracies. There is nothing in terms of Kosovo’s developments resulting from the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution, Kosovo’s industrialization is presented, albeit quite superficially.

Jepen detajisht dëmet materiale të shkaktuara prej sulmeve të NATO-s, por nuk ka absolutisht asgjë për dëmet materiale të shkaktuara prej forcave sërbe.

The sixth volume, “Wars, Divisions, Integration (1990-2008)” regarding the Kosovo war and the related events, not only is there no clarification given that the crimes of the Serbian forces against the Albanian civilians had provoked the armed clashes, but it is even claimed that the KLA attacks were those that brought about the emigration of the Serb population. It is further claimed that this resulted in the reinforcement of Serb forces in Kosovo, followed by the operation of the Serbian paramilitary units and that therefore the Albanian population had to flee or was expelled en masse. It is also said that the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was undertaken as it was “alleged” that Serbian security forces were carrying out an ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians. The only massacre presented is that of Reçak, itself described as controversial. 

Regarding the deportations, we read that it is “believed” that over 80% of the Kosovar population was deported from Kosovo during the NATO bombing, but we do not learn who was deporting the refugees during the war. Figures are quoted for the number killed, but even here it is not clarified what formations were carrying out the killing. The material damage caused by the NATO attacks is presented in detail, but there is absolutely nothing about the material damage caused by Serbian forces.

The war is illustrated with two photographs showing the damage from NATO bombing of Serbia, as well as two of Albanian refugees fleeing to Macedonia, one of which depicts about 20 refugees from Kosovo and the other some humanitarian workers helping the refugees who are said to “flee from atrocities and aerial bombardment” Excerpts on “NATO aggression and US propaganda,” on reservations about  the Rambouillet Agreement and NATO intervention, as well as footage of films of concerts against NATO intervention are predominant. 

The two most important documents of 1999 for Kosovo, namely the Rambouillet Agreement and the UN Resolution 1244, are presented only with articles that have been and are used by official Serbian politics. Moreover, when the UN resolution is presented, the authors refer to Kosovo with the Serbian name “Kosovo and Metohija.” As for the manner in which the war is commemorated, only two monuments erected in Belgrade to commemorate Serbian victims of NATO are presented.

Our historians’ oversight — there needs to be a reaction to make changes

Namely, many of the very important events in Kosovo’s history do not appear at all in these CDRSEE volumes, and many of the events are presented superficially, incorrectly, inaccurately and in a biased manner. Sometimes they create the impression that the parts regarding Albanians and Kosovo may have been compiled by historians still influenced by Serbian nationalism. It should be said that the way the history of Kosovo is presented in these publications does not effectively contribute to the CDRSEE mission of overcoming the painful legacy of the past or for long-term reconciliation between the Balkan peoples and the way of presenting Kosovo’s history must urgently change.

The general editor of these volumes is professor of history Christina Koulouri from Athens, while the editors of every volume are history professors from Balkan countries that were involved in this project. It is surprising that among the numerous committee members working on these volumes, there is only a single one in the Resources Committee from Kosovo, Dr. Frashër Demaj from the Institute of History in Prishtina. Being a member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Kosovo, Dr. Demaj — in his biography that is published on its official website — claims to be the author of several chapters of these volumes. He was also among the panellists during the launch of this CDRSEE project in Prishtina.

Recently, Dr. Demaj said that Dr. Jusuf Bajraktari and Dr. Fehmi Rexhepi represented Kosovo alongside him in this project, but their names are nowhere to be seen in the six CDRSEE volumes. Like Dr. Demaj, Dr. Bajraktari also claims that he authored some units of these volumes in his biography published by the Kosovo Academy of Sciences and Arts (KASA).

This way of presentation heavily damages the image of Albanians and Kosovo in countries where these textbooks are used as alternative textbooks in elementary and high schools.

It seems that Kosovo’s representatives in this project submitted materials about the history of Albanians and Kosovo, but then apparently were not asked what should be included and what shouldn’t be, because historians from neighboring countries made that decision. It seems that, to our historians, it was important to participate. Their participation entailed honorariums and the “enrichment” of their resumes with publications outside of Kosovo (these books are their only publications issued outside of the country). This displays a horrific lack of professionalism, but also a severe inferiority complex.

This way of presentation heavily damages the image of Albanians and Kosovo in countries where these textbooks are used as alternative textbooks in elementary and high schools. Besides Albanian, these textbooks, which were originally written in English, were translated and are used in elementary and high schools in: Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and possibly in other places considering that they were also translated into Japanese.

Thus, Kosovo institutions need to react to this misrepresentation of Albanians and Kosovo in these alternative textbooks and use their influence to change this misrepresentation as soon as possible. It would be good to engage an international historian who has dealt with the history of Albanians and Kosovo in order for the text on Albanians and Kosovo in these volumes to be corrected and complemented. Later they can be translated and published in all the languages of Balkan countries.

This series of articles was 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: From “Teaching the modern history of Southeast Europe,” edited by K2.0.