Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:165–169.
The Albanian National Idea and Hungarian Foreign Political Thinking
Being a historian I do not wish to reflect on the problematic of Kosovo from the perspective of politics but of history. I think it is all the more important because several views and ideas were expressed in relation to the Albanians that require some correction. First of all, I wish to shed light on the momentary state of the Albanian national idea, because according to my experience neither academic nor public opinion knows much about it. It might be useful to get better acquainted with the thinking of the Albanian party as well.
I would start with two quotations. On 28 November 2007, on the greatest national holiday of Albanians the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Agim Çeku sent a telegram of greeting to Bamir Topi, President of Albania. He wrote the following in the second part of the telegram: “At a time when Albania is celebrating the 95th anniversary of its independence, Kosovo is also ready to celebrate its own. That day is approaching and nobody can hinder it. Afterwards our two states will jointly progress towards Euro-Atlantic accession and we will rightfully belong to the great European nations. This is going to be our century.”1
The second quotation is from the leader of the Socialist Party of Albania (Partia Socialiste e Shqipërisë) Edi Rama, who gave an interview to the most popular daily newspaper of Tirana, to the Zëri i Popullit on 11 December 2007. According to the party leader the only possible solution is the independence of Kosovo. After independence is gained, a grand alliance of Albania, Kosovo and “all Albanians” can be created. However, it is not clear from his wording whether that would take place within the Euro-Atlantic framework, or in some other way. According to Rama the emergence of another Albanian state would by all means open a new age in the life of the Balkans (and, let us add, that of the world too)2.
As far as the current state of Albanian national development is concerned, some of my colleagues share the view that the development of the modern Albanian nation is reaching its final stage these days. The ‘completion’ of the process, however, is made relative by the fact that it is supposed to be belated and ‘more backward’ compared to similar phenomena in its neighbourhood. I would challenge both statements. I do not agree with the first one, because the development of Albanian nationhood is not completed and is not even being completed nowadays, it only takes steps forward. In 1912–1913, when the independent Albania was created, only a small group of about 30 or 40 people regarded the modern national idea as its own; they were the people who envisaged the future of the Albanian people in following a Western-type model. This was also the historical moment that separated Kosovo and Albania for decades from each other and launched the parallel development of two or three different Albanian national identities. Nowadays there are some examples of the beginning of merger in the concepts of history of Albania and Kosovo, in the political jargon and the world of myths; the acceptance and canonisation of each other’s views has begun. Unification, however, is beginning to be realised only on the level of the social (political) elite for the time being; the spread of common ideas to further strata of the society will only be the next (possible) step.
The second problem derives from the fact that the development of Albanians into a nation can only be understood by taking at least three coordinates simultaneously into consideration. The Albanians are a Muslim-majority people, but it would be impossible to interpret the acts and deeds (and even the motivation) of the political elite from this approach only. One of the coordinates is the ‘classic’ Western nationalism. About one hundred years ago, between 1878 and 1912, the most respected figures of the national movement basically stood, though not evidently, for this model. Following the patterns of European national development they adjusted their vision of the future to taking over Western democratic values. This outlook has become dominant even after the period of the system changes. The other coordinate, which I defined as ‘Oriental’ is an equally important point of reference. On the one hand it means that the majority belong to the Islam, on the other hand it also refers to the attachment to the Ottoman Empire and to its successor state, to Turkey. In fact attachment to the Empire and to the present Republic of Turkey is an equally important argument of legitimacy in Albanian thinking as the Oriental religious relations.
In addition to these two considerations there is yet a third one: Albanian national development, similarly to that of other nations, has also a specific internal regularity. Albanians belong to four religions (Sunnisme, Bektashism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism). Understandably religious differences could not offer a basis to the shaping of the foundations of becoming a modern nation. As the majority are Muslims (55% are Sunnites, 15% are followers of the Bektashi dervish order, 20% are Eastern Orthodox, 10% are Catholic), the question often arises whether Europe or the world should not fear that this would create a new source of conflict.
There is no reason to worry, partly because there are no religiously homogenous areas: in Kosovo the majority of Albanians are Sunnites, and a smaller number of them are Catholic at the Albanian border. In Albania the northern mountainous region is Catholic, and areas along the Greek border are Eastern Orthodox. A significant part of Southern Albania is Bektashi. On the other hand there is no reason for anxiety because the national idea related to religions covered a straight and consistent route of development from 1878 on, from the Zogu and Hoxha dictatorships up to the decade following the system change. When Albania under Hoxha’s rule canonised atheist ideas he did not make a decision related to religions as it is generally accepted. He elevated the national idea itself into the ideology of the state. Theorists of the national movement recognised already between 1878 and 1919 that discord deriving from religious distribution represented the greatest danger to the future of Albanians. This is why the idea emerged in 1878 (first formulated by Pashko Vasa) that the innumerable forms of religiousness should not disappear from the life of the people, but the very idea of the nation should become the subject of religion!3 In other words: religious faith in ethnicity should take the place of the four confessions in thinking. I am of the view that this idea is the basis of communication between Albanians and if this is understood, inter-Albanian relationship may become easier to comprehend.
No one believed 95 years ago that an independent Albanian state could be created after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Yet the great powers of the day acknowledged Albania as an independent, sovereign country in the summer of 1913. It was a great achievement even if only half of the ethnic areas were included in the new state. After the emergence of Albania contemporaries did not believe that the new West Balkan state would be viable, but it proved to be the case. In the early 1990s nobody believed that Kosovo may also achieve independence. Only the Albanians did.
Today’s historical moment is experienced by Albanians very consciously. Reading homepages and reports it seems to be clear that euphoria has been dominating in Albanian areas. The programmes of the Albanian Foreign Ministry and of the parties of Kosovo regard it as one of the most important aims and priorities to achieve Albanian and European integrity. In my view this idea is not accidentally put in this order. Official policy deliberately says that Albanian integration has to take place inside the Euro-Atlantic community. It should be understood, however, that similarly to other peoples of the Balkans, the Albanian constitution4 as well as the all-Albanian thinking/mentality have kept those ‘backdoors’ open that in principle allow for another kind of integration as well. The Albanians celebrated their greatest national holiday, the “festival of the flag” between 17 November and 10 December, on 28 November. That festival goes back to an idea that is the alpha and omega of the national sentiment. In 1847 an Italian-Albanian (arbërësh) thinker, Vincenso Dorsa, a forerunner of the modern national movement wrote in his book entitled On the Albanians – Studies and Thoughts5 that the time would come when the Albanians would be united under a common flag and that was going to be the flag of freedom. Subsequently the flag took up a central position in Albanian symbolism6. It is worth noting that the flag of the independent Albania from 1912 is just a little bit different from the flag most often used by the Albanians of Kosovo today. The words ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ (almost magically) link together political thinking, historical consciousness and the Albanian ethnic group in general just as closely as the flag does. The independence of Kosovo would be taken as the common national experience of the Albanian people in the context of these three symbols. (Diplomats of the Albanian Foreign Ministry had been diligently lobbying for the acknowledgement of the independence of Kosovo during the past years.)
Finally, let me outline some of my thoughts related to the attitude of Hungarian foreign policy. The Albanian foreign political thinking keeps those countries on separate record that basically support Albanian interests. Such states are: France, Italy, Germany and Great Britain. The United States, with which Albania has developed close partnership occupies a prominent place among the supporters. There is, however, a curious category among those mentioned here and it would be a mistake to underestimate its significance in Albanian political thinking. “Due to historical reasons” Albania (and the Albanians) cultivates unique relations with two states, with Turkey and Austria7. They regard Turkey as the successor of the Ottoman Empire, the state and national ideology of which has common roots with the Albanian ones. Austria is important for another reason: modern Albanian political thinking has accepted and respects the fact that the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had a very significant, rather decisive role in the development of modern national identity and in laying down its foundations (and also in the acquisition of Albania’s independence). It should be noted that to this day, if an Albanian intellectual or a man of the street mentions ‘Austria’, he/she would automatically add ‘Hungary’, or would say ‘Austria–Hungary’ (the same applies for Albanian historiography)8. It is a feature of all Albanians that they have a very positive emotional attitude towards the Hungarian state as well as the Hungarian nation. This is partly due to the fact that János Hunyadi and Skanderbeg were allies in the wars against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. In addition, Hungarian scholars (Lajos Thallóczy and Ferenc Nopcsa) in the turn of the century also contributed to the shaping and development of the Albanian national idea besides the Austrians. Albanian students learn about them in Albania as well as in Kosovo. If we also take it into consideration that the political elite of Kosovo are aware of the situation of the Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina, it becomes clear that there is an emotional-psychological basis which the Hungarian foreign policy could rely on.
„Në kohën kur Shqipëria po feston 95 vjetorin e pavarësisë, Kosova po bëhet gati të festojë pavarësinë e saj. Kjo ditë po vjen dhe askush nuk mund ta ndalojë më. Dhe pas kësaj si dy shtete, do të rrugëtojmë së bashku në rrugën tonë euro-atlantike dhe do të zëmë vendin që meritojmë në familjen e madhe evropiane. Ky do të jetë shekulli ynë.” Agim Çeku’s telegram to Bamir Topi, 28 November 2007 Http://www.president.al/ shqip/info.asp?id=3696 (Downloaded: 12 December 2007.)
„Sot unë jam këtu, për të thënë në emër të të gjithë socialistëve dhe progresistëve, se unifikimi i shteteve të BE-së në qëndrimin e tyre për pavarësinë si një opsion i cili nuk