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Rexhep Qosja:
Notes on Albania

Rexhep Qosja

Rexhep Qosja

Rexhep Qosja (b. 1936) is an eminent figure in public life in Kosova and one of the most prolific literary critics in the Balkans. He is a member of the Kosova Academy of Sciences, former director of the Albanological Institute in Prishtina and author of literary works, anthologies and numerous scholarly monographs. Qosja was active as a writer and political figure in the struggle for freedom in Kosova. Among his many monographs on the national question is:"Çështja shqiptare - historia dhe politika" (The Albanian Question - History and Politics), Prishtina 1994, from which the following synthesis is taken.


The Albanian question
- the problem of a divided people

The proposals which have been made up to now for a solution to the Albanian question and, within this framework, for an international solution to the Kosovo problem, show that not all the historical, political, social, economic, geopolitical and humanitarian factors involved have been understood, or at least not clearly and properly understood. The basic argument in support of this assertion is that it is essentially wrong to treat the Albanian question as the question of an ethnic minority.

Although it is commonly used by political and government organizations, the term 'ethnic minority' is one of those terms whose meaning should depend on a specific definition and not simply on the vagaries of common usage. According to common usage, the term 'ethnic minority' has come to mean the members of an ethnic group living in an ethnically identical territory outside the country they belong to ethnically. As the word 'minority' is an integral part of the term 'ethnic minority', the ethnic group in question must consequently be a real minority, firstly in comparison with the nation it is related to, even though these people live in another country, and secondly, in comparison with the other people and peoples with whom it shares territory.

"Women of Lybeniq" by Agim Çavdarbasha

"Women of Lybeniq"
by Agim Çavdarbasha

The Albanians were not an ethnic minority in former Yugoslavia, i.e. communist Yugoslavia, nor are they an ethnic minority in the countries created or being created out of former Yugoslavia.

How can this be true?

The Albanians were not an ethnic minority in former Yugoslavia because they were about eight times as numerous as the Montenegrins, who had their own republic within the Yugoslav federation. They were also about two and a half times as numerous as the Macedonians, who had their own republic, too. They were more numerous than the Slovenes, who had their own republic, and more numerous than the Moslems, who also had their own republic within the framework of the former Yugoslav federation. Thus, they were not a minority in communist Yugoslavia for the simple reason that they were a majority in comparison with a good number of the 'state-forming' peoples of the federation.

The Albanians are not an ethnic minority in rump Yugoslavia, the present state of Yugoslavia as it is called by the Serbs and Montenegrins alone, because they are still more numerous than the Montenegrins who have their own republic within this Yugoslavia. Nor are the Albanians a minority within Serbia, because you cannot call one-third of the population of a multinational state such as Serbia an ethnic minority.

The Albanians are not an ethnic minority in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, now an independent and internationally recognized country, because they account for over one-third of the total population of this multinational republic, too.

And even if they were an ethnic minority in rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) or in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, there is one other reason why the Albanians in former Yugoslavia can no longer be regarded as an ethnic minority - they constitute half the population of the Albanian nation. Living on their own ethnic and historical territory along the border that separates Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro from Albania, a territory which is ethnically and geographically continuous with Albania, these Albanians are just as numerous as the inhabitants of the Republic of Albania itself, i.e. about three million individuals. Half of a nation cannot be called an ethnic minority of any country, irrespective of the number of inhabitants that country may have. The half of the nation living under foreign jurisdiction should not enjoy any fewer privileges than the other 'state-forming peoples' there or than the other half living under its own jurisdiction.

What conclusions can be drawn from the above?

If there are just as many Albanians in former Yugoslavia as in Albania itself, people living on their own ethnic and historical territory which forms a geographical continuity with the Republic of Albania, it is then logical that these Albanians in former Yugoslavia, i.e. in contemporary Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, cannot be considered an 'ethnic minority' but rather as part of a divided nation. Consequently, the Albanian question must not be seen or dealt with in terms of a minority problem, but rather as the question of a divided nation.

The Albanian question has not evolved from the problem of an ethnic minority to the problem of a divided nation simply because the Albanian population in former Yugoslavia has grown. It was a question of a divided nation from the very start. During the Conference of Ambassadors in London, at a time when there were about 748,000 Albanians in Albania itself, there were also about 1,200,000 Albanians abroad, in lands occupied by Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. Albania cannot really be called a national state in the broadest sense of the term since half of the Albanian nation lives beyond the country's national borders. The Republic of Albania is the homeland of only half of the Albanian people, the national state of a divided Albanian nation.

There are other nations in Europe with a good portion of their population living in foreign countries. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918, for instance, it left countless Hungarians outside the borders of Hungary. There are still about three million of them at the present time. When the Soviet empire broke apart in 1991, about twenty million Russians found themselves outside the borders of Russia. But neither the Hungarians nor the Russians consider themselves divided nations. The three million Hungarians living in countries outside the borders of Hungary constitute less than one-third of the Hungarian nation, and the twenty million Russians living in countries outside the borders of Russia constitute less than one-seventh of the Russian nation. In other words, neither the Hungarians nor the Russians, although many of their people live in other countries, are divided nations. There is only one divided nation in Europe, and that is Albania.

The Albanian question - a colonial question

The Albanian question is not simply a human rights question. To put it another way, if the Albanian question is simply one of human rights, then all colonial problems must be treated as such, i.e. in terms of human rights.

The question of Kosovo is a colonial question because Kosovo has the status of a colony. It is no coincidence that French writer Paul Garde described the status of Kosovo in the following terms: "A Moslem majority with a high birth rate versus a Christian minority clinging to political and economic power and with a low birth rate: i.e. a colonial situation."

There can be no doubt that the human rights of the Albanians in former Yugoslavia, and in Kosovo and Macedonia in particular, have been severely violated and that their basic freedoms have been radically curtailed. These human rights violations and the curtailment of the basic freedoms of the Albanians in former Yugoslavia, as well as in present-day rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, are by no means a contemporary phenomenon, nor even a phenomenon of the last 12 to 13 years during which the problem has become better known to the outside world. On the contrary, these violations have been a permanent feature and consequence of the colonial status of the Albanians. It is indeed this status, that of an ethnic community in a colonial situation under the rule of a foreign people, that has made the violations in former Yugoslavia not only possible, but also systematic, i. e. a permanent feature of life there! The Albanians were discriminated against in the past in Yugoslavia and are being discriminated against in present-day Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and in Macedonia as well, primarily because they are Albanians, an unwanted ethnic group within the federation of the southern Slavs. They are not allowed to have their own homeland within the framework of Yugoslavia even though they are more numerous than many other peoples who have their own republics, not because there exists a sovereign state of Albania on the other side of the border, encompassing half the Albanian population, but because Kosovo and Albanian territories in general (including all natural resources above and under ground) are considered to be the exclusive property of those who conquered them in 1878, and in 1912-1913, and yet again in 1945, i.e. the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Macedonians.

Greater Serbian propagandists have devised slogans for the promotion of Serbian ideals in Kosovo, such as, "Kosovo is the cradle of the Serbian state," "Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian civilization," "Kosovo is the cradle of the Serbian soul," "Kosovo is the Serbian Jerusalem," etc., etc. It is with such slogans that Serbian politicians, statesmen and intellectuals have always endeavoured to justify their occupation of Kosovo. It is naive of them to believe that Serbia has a right to possess Kosovo, with its 90% Albanian inhabitants, on the basis of ancient mythology and for other, primarily religious reasons. Serbia possesses Kosovo because of its natural resources. Kosovo is small in territory, a total of 10,885 km², but it has extensive natural resources. It has excellent farmland and enough water for irrigation, as well as forests and alpine pastures. Kosovo also has substantial mineral resources, including both common and rare minerals: lead, copper, zinc, nickel, chromium, silver, gold, bismuth, indium, germanium, selenium, mercury, and especially coal deposits which, according to Serbian specialists, may amount to thirteen billion tons. These riches in Kosovo have been a source of woe for the Albanians because they have condemned the population to a colonial situation. The mineral resources of Kosovo, some of which are of strategic importance, are never processed in Kosovo itself, but rather by industries in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, or are exported as raw materials of strategic importance to countries with which Yugoslavia has had commercial relations. The price of these natural resources was never fixed by their producer, Kosovo, but rather by the Republic of Serbia or by the Yugoslav federation.

Aside from being exploited as a source of cheap raw materials for Serbian and Yugoslav factories, Kosovo has also been exploited as a source of cheap labour: miners for Kosovo and manual labourers for other regions of former Yugoslavia. Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia carry out 80% of heavy manual labour in the urban centres of Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, and to some extent in those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and at low wages, too. In Maribor, Ljubljana, Rijeka, Zagreb, Belgrade, Novi Sad and Sarajevo there were and are many Albanians who do the jobs that no Slovene, Croat, Serb or even Bosnian would volunteer to do. Even today, there are about 60,000 Albanians in Belgrade, of whom most offer their services at a lower price than Serbian workers do.

Serbia keeps Kosovo as a colony as did many colonial powers in the past, not only to exploit its natural resources, but also for demographic reasons. Since the time when it took over Kosovo in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, Serbia has undertaken numerous campaigns to depopulate Kosovo of as many Albanians as possible and replace them with Serbs and Montenegrins. There have been four major campaigns of Serbian and Montenegrin colonization in Kosovo up to the present. Before World War II, Serbia colonized Kosovo with Serb and Montenegrin immigrants from the poorest regions of Montenegro and Hercegovina, thus resolving its own social problems and the social problems of Montenegro. After World War II, Serbia sent to Kosovo its surfeit of workers, including a good number of experts who had not managed to find employment in the other regions of Yugoslavia. There were two reasons for this: on the one hand, it served to solve the problem of unemployment, and on the other it served to alter the ethnic structure of Kosovo.

Despite the fact that international organizations have constantly criticised Serbia for its crude behaviour in Kosovo, it continues to carry out colonialist demographic policies by importing Serbs who do not find work in Serbia, refugees from Bosnia and even from Croatia - managers, civil servants, technicians, health care workers, security officers, policemen and soldiers, most of whom become permanent residents of Kosovo with a role of their own, that of dominating the political and economic life of the country.

The colonialist economic and demographic policies of Serbia in Kosovo are also based on a Serbian colonial theory about the origins of the Kosovo Albanians. According to this theory, which we have had pushed down our throats for years, before and after 1981, the Albanians as a people ought to be thankful to be under the rule of the superior Serbs. As the present generation of Serbian racists would have it, we ought to be grateful for the civilizing effects their work has had on the rough and rugged nature of the Albanians who would otherwise have been left behind in the dust of the Balkan Wars. They explain away the reaction of the Albanians who insist they would not only be happier outside of Serbia's iron embrace, but also more advanced, as being due to lack of information. The natives are never grateful to their civilizing, 'well-meaning' rulers.

Although Kosovo has often come up in Montenegrin politics since the Eastern Crisis, it is not an issue of central importance to the Montenegrins. And how could it be? Kosovo was only part of Montenegro for a short period in the twelfth century when King Baldwin occupied the Serbian principality of Rascia (Raška) and again from 1912 to 1916 when Prince Nikolla occupied Dukagjin. In view of the brevity of Kosovo's links with Montenegro and of the fact that it was only after the First World War that a modest number of Montenegrin colonists ever settled in Kosovo, we cannot consider Kosovo as an issue of historic significance to Montenegro, either from an ethnic or from a territorial point of view.

Kosovo is not an issue of essential significance to Serbia either, despite the fact that it has been raised to the level of mythology in Serbian national politics.

Kosovo was Serbian for somewhat longer than it was Montenegrin, but compared to its long history, this period was relatively brief. It found itself within the extensive mediaeval Serbian Empire from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries and again after 1912 when Serbia occupied Kosovo during the Balkan Wars. On the other hand, Kosovo has been Albanian for long periods of its history. In fact, even when it was incorporated into the mediaeval state of Montenegro and into the mediaeval Serbian Empire, and later into Serbia and Yugoslavia, Kosovo was never really theirs from an ethnic point of view. From the time of the Roman Empire, through the Byzantine age, the mediaeval Serbian Empire, the centuries of the Ottoman Empire and the years of royalist Yugoslavia, Kosovo was inhabited by Albanians and by their predecessors, the Illyrians. In other words, the Illyrians and their Albanian successors formed the majority of the population of Kosovo throughout history. They were the native population of the country. All the other peoples, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Serbs, the Turks, and again the Serbs, came as invaders and colonists. They entered the country or passed through, returning to where they had originally come from, and left Kosovo with a number of colonies of varying sizes. If this is the case, and history shows us that it cannot be otherwise, then Serbian interests and Albanian interests in Kosovo cannot be identical. Serbian interests in Kosovo were to a great extent and still are the interests of a colonial power, of exploiters. Albanian interests in Kosovo were and are the vital interests of the native population. From an ethnic and territorial point of view, therefore, Kosovo is an issue intrinsically linked to the destiny of the Albanian people. For this reason, the political struggle of the Albanian people to free themselves of Serbia and Yugoslavia and to gain independence is an anti-colonialist struggle, a legitimate struggle for freedom and independence.

The consequences of the colonial status of Kosovo and of the other territories inhabited by Albanians in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia, i. e. the countries which have arisen out of the second Yugoslavia, have been multifarious and dire. There are ramifications of social, economic, political and nationalist factors, and factors related to culture and civilization, among others. These consequences are felt not only by the Albanian population of rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia, but also by the Albanians living in Albania.

The geopolitical and strategic aspects of the Albanian question

The Albanian question is a matter of substantial geopolitical and strategic interest with regard to territory. For some parties, Kosovo was of greater interest in the past than it is in the present, whereas for others it will be of greater interest in the future than it was in the past.

Looking at ethnic maps which have been published in various books and periodicals in Europe and the United States over the past few years, serving to elucidate the ethnic structure of the Balkans, one gets a feeling for the geopolitical and strategic significance of the peninsula in the years to come, and for the role which the Albanian question will play in any possible geopolitical constellation.

The Albanians have always been strongly influenced by their geopolitical position. The lands they have inhabited since ancient times have been crossroads for the Great Powers - the Great Powers of the West as well as the Great Powers of the Orient. It is also here that the great cultures of the Middle Ages met and intertwined: Roman Catholicism, Byzantine Orthodoxy and Sunni Islam. Nolens volens, the Albanians found themselves in the eye of many a storm created by the Great Powers and, more often then not, misfortune was their lot.

Because of their geostrategic position at various moments of history, the Albanians have been regarded by the Great Powers as a people capable of playing various geopolitical roles. Up to the end of the Middle Ages, for instance, the Albanians were regarded as a barrier to the penetration of Islam. And because over the centuries, more than half of them converted to Islam, they were regarded by the East as a barrier to the penetration of Christian interests in the Balkans. Since there are Albanians of all three faiths, however, they were never willing or able to play one of these essentially religious roles exclusively. Subsequently, in the modern age, because they inhabited territories of geopolitical and geostrategic importance to the three great geopolitical powers - the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the Russian Empire - the Albanians (and other Balkan peoples) were assigned other historical functions by the Great Powers of Europe: sometimes religious, sometimes ethnic and sometimes ideological. Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany hoped that the Albanians would create a barrier to the spread of the southern Slavs, who seemed uncontainable, in particular in view of support from another of the Great Powers, Russia. But the Albanians did not play the role to which they were assigned, and Serbia and Montenegro were able to penetrate deep into the southeast Balkans. On the one hand, no Albanian national elite could be found to play the game for the Great Powers in the Eastern Crisis, but more importantly, these same powers sacrificed Albanian interests to what they regarded as the loftier interests of their own states.

Later, from the First World War onwards, England and the United States hoped that the Albanians would play the role of a barrier to the spread of communism. But once again, the Albanians did not play the role they were supposed to. Not only did they not form a barrier to the spread of communism, they used all their energy to fling open the gates and windows of their lonely stone mansions to the aggressive and impoverishing designs that ideology.


During the First World War, the Albanians had hoped for assistance from the Western powers for a just solution to their national question. But in vain. None of the Powers showed any such willingness. Italy, for instance, had territorial ambitions of its own on the Albanian coast, ambitions that would soon spread to all Albanian territory. In 1939, Mussolini's Italy occupied Albania, and the Western Powers did not even consider it necessary to react to this aggression as they did to the other aggressive moves of the Fascists and Nazis at the time.

During the course of the Second World War, the Western Powers, England and the United States, made no promises to nationalist forces in Albania that they would help them solve the greatest of their problems, i.e. the national question. On the contrary, from the memoirs of British officer Reginald Hibbert who was in Albania from 1943 to 1944, memoirs published in a book with a telling title: Albania's national liberation struggle, The bitter victory, it is clear that England gave its wholehearted support to the territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, i.e. to maintaining the status quo in the Balkans. This meant that Kosovo and other Albanian territories were to remain under Slav rule. In short, for British foreign policy the Albanian question did not exist.

Ignored by the West, many Albanians turned their attention in another direction. The fact that half of the Albanian people and almost half of their territory were under Serbian and Montenegrin domination created an illusion for many Albanians who were strongly influenced by communist ideology and politics: that this ideology could bring about a solution to the national question which, after the inevitable defeat of Italy and Germany, had become just as acute as it had been before the war. It was indeed this illusion, created at a time of desperation for the West, which facilitated Albania's inclusion in the communist alliance between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, an event which was to have tragic consequences for the nation and for the political, economic and intellectual life of the Albanian people. The consequences of this ideological alliance, from which the Albanians would only free themselves half a century later when communism finally faded into the annals of European history, are evident to anyone visiting Albanian territory. The ruins of communism are obvious, as are the systematic impoverishment of a people divided into several countries and the brutal and systematic violations of human rights and basic freedoms.

In their history up to the present day, the Albanians can thus be seen in various geopolitical roles, as part of international political alliances cut out for them and as part of international political alliances not cut out for them. They acquiesced willingly to some of these alliances, whereas others were imposed upon them against their will. Politics in the Balkans have always been like this. They have often made use of the Albanians, and of other Balkan peoples. But what of the present situation? A new world order is presently being created and, if this can be accomplished without war as in the past, but rather by peaceful democratic means, one could hope that the age of unwanted geopolitical alliances is over. And yet, such geopolitical constellations still exist in the Balkans. And quite logically so, because Balkan issues have never been dealt with or resolved without the assistance of powers from outside the Balkans. The small nations of the Balkan peninsula and small nations elsewhere on earth are well aware that their interests cannot be realized and will never be able to be realized without the help of an alliance with some European or global power.

Western analysts have suggested that three political alliances may arise in southeastern Europe now that Yugoslavia has collapsed. The first of these would be a sort of re-creation of Austria-Hungary, i.e. Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia. The second would be Greece, rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Romania and Bulgaria, and the third would be Turkey, Albania, Moslem Bosnia (following the division of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina into three parts), and the Islamic communities of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia. Aside from historical and cultural traditions and economic links, the uniting factor, indeed the decisive factor in these alliances, is religion.

Serbia has shown the most interest in such a religious alliance recently. Even though no open political alliance has been created as yet, a cultural alliance already exists, uniting Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Montenegro. This is not the only indication in our era, in which cold war and the division of the globe into ideological blocs has been overcome, that there exist political forces and indeed countries which long to return to the logic of blocs and divisions along religious lines. During his visit to Italy, the leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, declared that one of his greatest political ambitions was to create a federation of Slavic peoples of one blood. Their capitals would be Moscow, Warsaw, Sofia and Belgrade.

Although Albania has joined the conference of Islamic states, the Albanians cannot seriously take part in any alliance based on religion. They are themselves divided into three religious groups and any such alliance would only cause friction within the country.

The Albanian people have their roots in Western civilization. Considering the harm that has been done to them by the alliances which have been formed in the Balkans and in Europe over the last two centuries, it is understandable that they now prefer a world without alliances and blocs. Such alliances can only serve to hinder contemporary achievements, such as the process of European integration.

A united Europe of free and equal European peoples is the only alliance in which the legitimate rights of the divided Albanian people can be realized.

Regardless of what the future may bring to Balkan politics and regardless of whether this future will be compatible with a new and just world order or a new world disorder dominated by force, the Albanian coastline will continue to be of strategic interest. As in the past, whoever controls this coastline can easily control the Adriatic. And it is obvious that whoever controls the Adriatic will find it easier to control the Mediterranean. This was Albania's misfortune in the past. Whether things have changed remains to be seen.

The social and economic aspects of the Albanian question

The Albanians remain the poorest people in Europe, both the half of them living in rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia and the other half living in Albania itself. This is apparent from their towns and settlements with their antiquated infrastructures which are not really fit for human habitation, but also from the pale faces of the inhabitants, malnourished children in elementary schools, malnourished students in secondary schools and universities, malnourished peasants working in the fields, malnourished workers toiling in the factories - pale and sallow faces at all levels of Albanian society. There are other peoples in southeastern Europe whom one could call more or less poor, but poverty among the Albanians is something quite different. It is systematic, permanent and universal poverty. Under the monstrous communist system, this poverty became a threat to the very survival of the nation. As the great Albanian writer Ismail Kadare aptly put it, "it threatened the very essence of our race." If Albanians in rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia are not dying of hunger, it is only because they are living off the remittances of other Albanians who have managed to find work in the West, i.e. in the United States, Canada, Australia and especially in Western Europe. The inhabitants of Albania, for their part, manage to survive only with the help of aid from the international community and from the remittances of the increasingly large number of emigrants working in Western Europe and in the United States.

Why are the Albanians so incredibly poor? Because they don't know how to work? Because they don't want to work? No.

One of the reasons for the economic backwardness and poverty of the Albanians was the communist system which held them in power for almost half a century. But this is not the only reason, and certainly not the earliest historical reason for this state of things. The Albanians were late to develop economically. As a people they were poor long before communism, and as anyone can guess from their present state, they will remain poor for some time after the fall of communism, at least for as long as they are divided into several countries. The division of Albanian territory into several states and consequently, the disintegration of the Albanians as a people has, as a matter of course, impoverished them even further and jeopardized their economic survival. As a result, opportunities for their development, progress and well-being have been cramped, confined and restricted. How could it be otherwise? This ethnic, cultural and geographical entity, i.e. a natural entity, has been unnaturally and forcibly chopped into pieces and is now struggling to return to its unity of old, for which the political, economic, commercial, intellectual and cultural prerequisites no longer exist.

Our Balkan neighbours, the Serbs and Montenegrins, and subsequently the Macedonians, who took possession of Albanian territory either because they feared the understandable and inevitable irredentist demands of the Albanians or because they were simply power-hungry, will do their utmost to ensure that any agreements reached between the Albanians on the two sides of the border will be blocked - not only political agreements, but also any cultural, economic and commercial ties. The Albanian people are therefore in a political and economic situation which was unknown to them in the past. In Kosovo and in other parts of former Yugoslavia they find themselves in a colonial situation which has become more intolerable than it was under the Turks. Their language and culture are proof of their common identity as one people but so is poverty, which has become the common denominator of their economic and social situation. With this in mind, it is clear that their dreams of freedom and independence, cherished for five hundred years under the Turkish yoke, have ended in a national catastrophe, i.e. in the division of a nation. One half of this nation ended up under foreign rule no better than the one before it, and the other half, after years of trials and tribulations to maintain its independence, ended up in an unspeakable communist dictatorship, from which it will take much longer to recover than might be expected at the moment.

The border which runs through the middle of Albanian territory, as if right through the heart of the nation, has been the major cause of the systematic and seemingly never-ending poverty of the Albanians on both sides of it. This poverty in turn, not to mention persecution and political terror in Yugoslavia, has been the major factor in the uninterrupted emigration of Albanians abroad from the time of the Balkan Wars to the present day: to Turkey, to the United States, Australia, Canada and subsequently to Western Europe. This flow of emigrants, which has been much more rapid and dramatic in recent years, has brought the Albanian question to the fore in international politics. This mass migration, the consequences of which the Western world is only beginning to comprehend, has been caused more than anything by the division of Albanian territory and the division of the Albanian people. It is the result of a political and historical error now working at the expense of those who committed it in the first place: the Great Powers of Western Europe. Indeed, this political injustice is returning to haunt them, and they will, alas, have to pay dearly for it.

The political aspects of the Albanian question

The Albanians in former Yugoslavia, i.e. in rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and in Macedonia, constitute a major political problem in the Balkans, a problem which must be resolved in the interests of the Albanians, but also in the interests of their Balkan neighbours. The European Community, now the European Union, and the United States of America have become convinced over the last few years that the strikes, protest marches and demonstrations of the Albanians, which have helped draw the world's attention to this people's plight since 1981, are understandable and inevitable. The European Union and the United States have managed to gain a more or less true impression of the situation faced by the non-Serbian population of Yugoslavia, and in particular, by the non-Slavic population there, and have come to realize that for the Albanians, Yugoslavia means nothing more than an expanded Serbia.

The Serbs are a small people, no more numerous in fact than the Greeks, Bulgarians or Albanians. And yet, after their expansion and the recognition of this expansion at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and after an extraordinary expansion during the Balkan Wars and the recognition of their conquests by the Great Powers at the Conference of Ambassadors in London in 1912-1913, the Serbs became a power to be reckoned with, not only within Yugoslavia which was created as a state in 1918, but also throughout the Balkans. The unconditional support they received from Russia as well as help from England and France enabled Serbia to more than triple its territory within the space of eighty years before 1918 and to transform itself into an aggressive state, whose expansion was felt not only in Yugoslavia but in the Balkans as a whole. With the army, the police and the diplomatic corps at its disposal throughout Yugoslavia's seventy-three years of existence, Serbia was able most of the time to determine the political, economic and social fate of the other peoples, in particular of the Albanians who were the most defenceless of all the ethnic groups within the Yugoslav federation.

An anti-Albanian attitude has always been a fundamental feature of nationalist ideology among the Serbs, and this has done much to determine national and government policies towards the Albanians in Yugoslavia. The Albanians were seen by Serbia and by Yugoslavia as an ethnic group to be harassed at all costs and forced into emigration. The reasons for this chauvinist attitude towards the Albanians are ethnic, political, religious and strategic. Since 1912, there has never been a single day in the existence of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro when their jails have not been teeming with Albanian political prisoners. These people were imprisoned because they refused to accept their people's situation or because there were doubts as to their loyalty towards the Yugoslav state. Even in the years 1966 to 1981, in which a relatively liberal atmosphere towards the Albanians is considered to have reigned in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Yugoslav prisons were teeming with Albanian political prisoners. Whether the number of Albanian political prisoners in Yugoslavia rose or fell depended on factors over which the Albanians themselves had no control. It depended on internal relations within Yugoslavia, on the level of tension reigning between Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and Macedonian nationalists, on Yugoslavia's international status and, last but not least, on relations between Yugoslavia and Albania. The number of Albanian political prisoners in the prisons of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia usually rose whenever relations among the republics within Yugoslavia worsened, i.e. whenever the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes were preoccupied with one another over economic, social and political issues, over the country's federal structure or over relations with the other states of the Balkans.

The number of Albanian political prisoners in Serbian, Macedonian and Montenegrin jails also rose or fell whenever Yugoslavia changed its political course with regard to the European or global powers, e.g. to Germany or Italy, or to any of the political and military alliances, to the Soviet Union or to the United States.

The number of Albanian political prisoners in Serbian, Macedonian and Montenegrin prisons was particularly affected by any deterioration of relations between Yugoslavia and Albania. Whenever Albania allied itself with a European or global power with whom Yugoslavia had bad relations or of whom Yugoslavia was apprehensive, the number of Albanian political prisoners in Yugoslav prisons rose sharply. Whenever Albanian propaganda against Yugoslavia or Yugoslav propaganda against Albania increased, which happened often from 1912 onwards, Kosovo and other Albanian territories in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro were transformed into one huge concentration camp in which the Albanians realized that night had fallen, but did not know if another day would ever dawn. On such occasions, there was not enough room for all the Albanians in Serbian, Macedonian and Montenegrin prisons, so new prisons had to be built, and when these overflowed, Albanian political prisoners were dispatched to Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Without sovereignty of their own, without a government of their own, without their own diplomats, police and army, i.e. without a country of their own, the Albanians were and have been left to the mercy of the Yugoslav state, the country of the Serbs, Macedonians and Montenegrins, who were free to do as they pleased with them: to persecute the Albanians, to imprison them, to murder them or to free them.

In view of political and state terror against them, but not only for this reason, the Albanians have never been willing to accept Serbo-Montenegrin or Macedonian power over them, nor will they accept it today.

The year 1981 saw the beginning of the open political expulsion of the Albanians from public life in Yugoslavia. At the same time began the de-Yugoslavization of Albanian political opinion in the media and, subsequently, in political practice. The Albanians as a people made it known to Yugoslavia that they were not willing to accept the situation they had been forced into and also made it known that they had the right to decide their future themselves. This is politically understandable. The Albanians demand no more rights than the other peoples already have. Self-determination for the Albanian people in Kosovo and in other Albanian regions of former Yugoslavia means an end to the colonial situation in which they are stuck. It also means an end to a life of suffering in which they have been dispensed political democracy, freedom and civil rights bit by bit, as if on a druggist's scales, or deprived of such freedoms completely. It means an end to persecution, oppression, incarceration and murder, an end to universal and systematic destitution and an end to their extremely poor quality of life. It also means an end to anguish and to the psychological, emotional and physical stress which have weighed heavily upon the present generation and which will weigh upon the coming generation, too. In the final analysis, self-determination for the Albanian people means preservation of their ethnic identity from new calvaries of persecution and expulsion as well as from biological, physical, emotional and cultural annihilation.

Anyone informed about the past and the present of the Balkans will understand that the Albanians are not demanding anything more than what has been granted to and enjoyed by the other peoples of former Yugoslavia. In other words, they want no more than to be treated equally with the other peoples of the Balkans and not to be treated as if they were at the bottom of the barrel. With the collapse of Yugoslavia, all the traditional peoples of the Balkans, with the exception of the Albanians, have come to fulfil their national aspirations. The Greeks, Bulgarians and Romanians managed to realize their national aspirations in the nineteenth century and now, the Slovenes, Macedonians and Montenegrins are in the process of realizing theirs, as are the Serbs, Croats and Moslems. But what of the approximately seven million Albanians in the Balkans who are in jeopardy? Their neighbours, in this case the Serbs and Macedonians, are realizing their own interests at the expense of the Albanians.

This makes resolving the Albanian question all the more complex.

At a time when the aspirations of the Serbs, Croats and Moslems of Bosnia and Herzegovina are close to being fulfilled by the division of that country into historical ethnic states, no one has the right to demand of the Albanians that they fulfil their aspirations any differently. Is it proper for the Serbs, Croats and Moslems of Bosnia and Herzegovina to enjoy the right to self-determination, and for the Albanians in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia to be denied this right? It is unjust to apply certain political criteria to the Serbs and Croats and to apply other criteria to the Albanians. How is it that the 1,000,000 to 1,200,000 Bosnian Serbs enjoy the right to self-determination when the 2,000,000 Albanians in Kosovo are deprived of this right? How are the 600,000 to 700,000 Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina to enjoy the right to self-determination when the 700,000 to 800,000 Albanians in Macedonia are being denied this right? How is it that the 1,300,000 Montenegrins enjoy the right to self-determination, but not the 3,000,000 Albanians in former Yugoslavia? The principle of equal treatment must apply. One cannot play around with political principles without severe political and historical consequences for the region.

The Great Powers are perhaps unable to understand the situation of smaller peoples because they have not been confronted with such problems and do not have the same way of looking at the world. But if the Great Powers can make an effort to understand the Serbs, Croats and Moslems in Bosnia and Herzegovina, why can they not make an equal effort to understand the Albanians in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia?

There can be no doubt that the Albanian question is not merely a problem for the Albanians. It is a matter for other Balkan peoples, too: for the Serbs, the Macedonians, the Montenegrins and the Greeks. Indeed it is a matter for the Balkans and for Europe as a whole. A solution to the Albanian question, a just solution to the Albanian question, also means a solution to the problems in the relations between the Albanians and the Serbs, between the Albanians and the Macedonians, between the Albanians and the Montenegrins, and between the Albanians and the Greeks. A just solution to the Albanian question would, in the final analysis, also mean a solution to the Balkan question as a whole because, now that the Serbian, Croatian, Moslem and Macedonian questions have found an initial solution, only the Albanian question remains to be solved to attain basic order in the Balkan. Without a just solution to the Albanian question, there can be no legal order, humanity or peace in the Balkans. What is more, without a solution to the Albanian question, i. e. the last remaining national question in the Balkan peninsula, there can be no democracy there. The well-known Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas once called Kosovo a millstone around the neck of Serbian democracy, a weight which cannot be removed until the Kosovo question is resolved. "In Serbia, we must first of all solve the Kosovo question so that we can begin to consolidate our democracy. There will be no modern Western-type democracy in Serbia until the Kosovo question is solved."

And this is not true of Serbia alone.

The Albanian question is also a millstone around the neck of Macedonian democracy, because Macedonia cannot take its place in the modern democratic world either without solving the problem of the Albanians there, who constitute over one-third of the population.

It may seem paradoxical, but the unresolved Albanian question is a millstone around the neck of Albanian democracy, too. It is an illusion to believe that Albania, the state of one half of the Albanian nation, can consolidate liberal and democratic institutions and maintain a stable democratic society while the other half of the Albanian nation across the border lives in a state of oppression and exploitation under foreign rule. In other words, Albania, as the state of one half of the Albanian nation, will never find peace or stability as long as the problem of the other half of the Albanian nation is not resolved, a problem which constitutes the greatest national challenge facing the Albanian people as a whole. The unresolved Albanian question will inevitably interfere with relations between Albania and the Albanian people and their neighbours. In Albania, in Kosovo and in Macedonia, there can easily be found servile and mediocre Albanian politicians willing to present the Albanian question as non-existent and to create the illusion for our Balkan neighbours and for the international community that the case should be regarded as closed. But such an illusion fades quickly and its initiators are inevitably regarded by the Albanians as compromised.

If it remains unsolved, the Albanian question will continue to be a source of irritation and indeed of political conflict catapulting the Balkans from one crisis to the next. The dissatisfaction of the Albanians will only grow and become more evident, and will continue to burden the Balkans and countries elsewhere. This is obvious to anyone who has an eye for Albanian and Balkan realities. If they are not given equal rights with the other peoples of the Balkans, the Albanians will continue to be severely frustrated and agitated by regimes which are not their own, i.e. which they cannot identify with, and will continue to be obsessed by the fact that they are the only people in the Balkans to be severely discriminated against, to be damned by history. With all this in mind, one cannot exclude the possibility that they will give vent to their frustration beyond their ethnic borders and indeed outside the Balkans. A culture of vengeance could arise among the Albanians forced into emigration as well as among those in their Balkan homeland, and this could turn into wide-spread protests and movements which would know no end. In short, a peace created in the Balkans to the detriment of any one of the Balkan peoples, in this case of the Albanian people, cannot last long.

National self-determination - a just solution to the Albanian question

What is the just and permanent solution to the Albanian question? What solution can be found that will make the Albanian people equal to the other peoples in the Balkans? What solution can we come up with to resolve not only the Albanian question, but as a consequence, the Balkan question, too?

As can be seen from the observations above, various responses have been given to the Albanian question in the course of the last eighty years, during which time the issue has grown into what it is today. Various theoretical and practical solutions have been proposed by various parties. But all 'solutions' proposed for the Albanian question up to the present are outdated. Even the much-lauded solution to the question of Kosovo in the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution did not resolve the Albanian question and was thus rejected by the Albanian people in 1981. This solution is outdated for two reasons: firstly, because there no longer exists the Yugoslavia upon which that solution was based and, secondly, because it was outdated at the time and was historically unacceptable for the Albanian people since it did not foresee national self-determination for them. At present, any similar solution to the question of Kosovo within the framework of rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) or within the framework of a possible Yugoslavia to come, which might be composed of Serbia, Montenegro, and the Serbian Republic in Bosnia and Herzegovina, would not be considered satisfactory by the Albanians because it is an inner-Yugoslav solution or, better said, one within the framework of Greater Serbia. Yugoslavia fell apart because it did not provide an adequate solution to the national question of the peoples living within it. How could Yugoslavia, reduced to the scale of a Greater Serbia, now possibly constitute a solution to the question of Kosovo or to the Albanian question as a whole?

Now that Yugoslavia has disintegrated, now that other countries have been created on the basis of their right to self-determination, i.e. the independent country of Slovenia, the independent country of Croatia, the independent country of Macedonia, the independent country of Serbia and Montenegro, and now that the independent Moslem state, the second Serbian state and the second Croatian state being created in Bosnia and Herzegovina are free to join rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) or Croatia if they so wish, the proper and permanent solution for the Albanians can only be national unification, based on the right to self-determination. This is a right which belongs to the divided Albanian people on their territory in former Yugoslavia, land which is geographically continuous with the Republic of Albania and on which the Albanians are either the only inhabitants or the majority inhabitants.

This will mean a change of borders. Borders, after all, are not sacrosanct, for they were not created by God. The history of the human race is a history of the fixing and changing of borders, mostly, alas, in time of war. Fortunately, borders have more recently begun to be fixed and changed in peacetime. Borders are changed and must be changed wherever it is in the interests of the peoples living in the region in question. After the reunification of the two Germanies as an important factor for European stability, after agreement within the international community on the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina along ethnic lines, and after the separation of the Serbs and Croats in Croatia with the help of UN forces, there can be no legal or humanitarian argument against such a change for the Albanians. Jonathan Eyal, a British expert on strategic affairs, convinced that a just and lasting solution to the question of Kosovo could be achieved by altering the border between Serbia and Albania, noted recently that in most cases, it was cheaper, less bloody and, in general, more humane to alter unjust borders peacefully than to defend existing borders in never-ending wars. If we have learned one lesson from European history, it is this: the more a border expresses a demographic division, the more secure and stable it will be.

All those who sincerely desire that Serbian-Albanian and Albanian-Serbian relations be placed on a footing of goodwill, i.e. that good neighbourly relations be maintained, should consider the following question. Which is better: for about 2,000,000 Albanians to be within the borders of Serbia for the sake of about 200,000 Serbs and Montenegrins, or for about 200,000 Serbs and Montenegrins to be within the borders of Albania for the sake of about 2,000,000 Albanians? Which is more appropriate from the point of view of long-term security, justice and humanity: that Kosovo with its roughly 2,000,000 Albanians be left in Serbia or that it be united with Albania?

Political, moral and historical logic offer only one response to this question: Albanian demands are justified.

Those who still hold that the ethnic problems of the Balkans must be resolved at the expense of the Albanians will counter that the Albanian unification is tantamount to the creation of a Greater Albania. But what kind of argument is this? Russia, with its more than 17,075,400 km² and 150,000,000 inhabitants is not called Greater Russia. United Germany with its 357,000 km² and 80,000,000 inhabitants is not called Greater Germany. Nor is China with 9,511,000 km² and 1,200,000,000 inhabitants called Greater China. In contrast to this, some people still insist on using the term Greater Albania for a united Albania, made up of the present-day Republic of Albania and Albanian territory in former Yugoslavia, a geographical entity in which the Albanians are either the only inhabitants or the majority inhabitants and which would extend over a total surface of about 50,000 - 55,000 km² and have approximately 7,000,000 inhabitants.

No, a united Albania, made up of the two halves of the divided Albanian nation, cannot be called a Greater Albania, but rather a natural Albania. And even in this case, there would still be many Albanians 'left over' in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, i.e. Albanian minorities living in those countries. Albania, consisting of Albanian territory on both sides of the present border, is not a Greater anything. An Albania reunited with Kosovo, being a geographical entity in which the Albanians are either the only inhabitants or the majority inhabitants, can certainly not be called Greater Albania.

On the other hand, a Serbia including Kosovo with a 90% Albanian population is a Greater Serbia. Macedonia, including its western territories in which the Albanians are either the only inhabitants or by far the majority inhabitants, is a Greater Macedonia.

Albanian unification is therefore not tantamount to the creation of a Greater Albania, but rather tantamount to the realization of the right to national self-determination, a right which some peoples in the Balkans were early to realize and which other peoples are now realizing - all with the exception of the Albanians, who have been and continue to be denied this right.

There is no doubt that a just and permanent solution to the Albanian question would be of historical significance not only to the Albanians, but also to the Balkans as a whole, but of course only if it is brought about as it should be brought about, by peaceful and democratic means. As long as the Albanian question continues to exist in its present form and content, the Albanians will remain the condemned prisoners of the Balkans, and Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia will remain the sick men of the peninsula.

Our Balkan neighbours and the international community must come to comprehend the injustice done to the Albanians and be convinced of their unequal status compared to other peoples in the Balkans. Endless statistics could be added to the information given above. At the time of the Eastern Crisis, for instance, the number of Albanians in the Balkans was approximately equal to that of the Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians, and the territory they inhabited was of approximately the same size as that which these peoples (Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians) disposed of. At the present time, however, the seven million Albanians in the Balkans, inhabiting as a majority a territory of about 55,000 to 60,000 km², hold sovereignty over only 28,565 km² of this land, whereas in the other part of this Albanian territory, sovereignty is held by their neighbours, i.e. the Serbs, Macedonians and Montenegrins. About 7,500,000 Serbs hold sovereignty over about 140,000 km². About 500,000 Montenegrins hold sovereignty over about 13,812 km². About 1,300,000 Macedonians hold sovereignty over about 25,713 km², and about 9,500,000 Greeks hold sovereignty over about 130,938 km².

It is more than obvious that the interests of our Balkan neighbours have been realized to the detriment of the vital interests of the Albanian people.

It is also more than obvious that the injustice under which the Albanians are forced to live, compared to their neighbours, is so great and with such ramifications that it must, of necessity, disturb their Balkan neighbours, too.

The Albanians now believe that their national interests must be realized, and that the interests of their neighbours must be maintained at the same time. The neighbouring peoples must come to this conclusion, too, i.e. that their national interests must be maintained and that the interests of the Albanians must be recognized and realized. The Albanians are not demanding, nor should they ever demand, anything more or anything less than what the other peoples of the Balkans already have. They demand of the others a promise of equality and good will in the Balkans, and demand for themselves the right to be equal to the others.

The Albanians, I repeat, have been put at a dreadful disadvantage in comparison with other peoples of the Balkans. It is not in the overall long-term interests of the Balkan peninsula to keep the Albanian nation divided into various states, and consequently to keep it worn down, poor and frustrated, to keep it in a position in which the Albanians are acutely aware of the injustice done to them and constantly infuriated that this injustice has not been corrected. It is in the interests of the Balkans that the Albanians be given an equal chance with their neighbours to become an advanced and developed nation which, as a consequence, will feel at home in the community of Balkan and European states. It is in the interests of the Balkans that the Albanians be united in their own country just as the other peoples of the peninsula are united in theirs, so that the Albanians can make a positive contribution to Balkan and European co-existence, so that they can meet the demands which will be made of them in the future.

There is no doubt that Albanian unification is the legitimate and democratic right of the Albanian people, a right which has come to the surface after much delay and which is still being thwarted, but which, as it is becoming clearer to everyone, is both politically and morally justifiable and historically inevitable.

Unification of the divided Albanian nation can still be hindered by the Great Powers, but not by the course of justice.

In their endeavours to realize this right, the Albanians must not forget that there is only one Balkan peninsula despite the myriad of peoples living in it, and that they must come to terms with their neighbours and live with them on a permanent basis.

Our Balkan neighbours, for their part, must not forget that there is one thing which has proven stronger than any weapon: the will of nations for freedom and independence.

[Excerpt from the volume Çështja shqiptare, Historia dhe politika, Prishtina: Instituti Albanologjik 1994, p. 287-316, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in Kosovo, in the heart of the powder keg. East European Monographs, CDLXXVIII. New York 1997, p. 207-232.]