THE ALBANIANS: a modern history

Author: Miranda Vickers

262 pp. $49.50
I.B. Tauris & Co., Ltd.
45 Bloomsbury Sq., London WC1A 2HY
Distributed by St. Martin’s Press
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010

Reviewed by Antonia Young

This third book on Albania and the Albanians to be published in English within eighteen months may be seen as complementary to rather than in competition with the others (The Albanians: an ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present by Edwin E. Jacques, reviewed in September’s issue of Liria by Van Christo, and Albania and the Albanians by Vickers’ British compatriot, Derek Hall). All three foreign authors have great concern for Albanians and have spent much time in Albanian lands over a period of many years. Each brings major contributions to the knowledge and understanding of the Albanians both inside and outside Albania. Generally found to be roughly equal (a little over three million inhabitants in Albania and at least that many elsewhere), it is worth repeating the comment often made that Albania is the only country in Europe surrounded by itself! (by Albanians in Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece). A few pages of introductory backround cover the period to the eighteenth century and the Ottoman decline. The book relates Albanians’ history during the Balkan Wars, the First World War occupation of Albanian territory, the 1992 elections, the elections, the fading of the Democratic ‘Dream’ and finally a discussion about the future of Albanians in all Balkans.

A particular merit of Vickers’ new book is its concise clarity; it should bring Albanian history to a wide readership. It is ideally suited to be a paperback (at present only available in hardback, though still half the price of the other two books).

Vickers’ sympathetic yet balanced treatment is admirable. An im dportant aspect of her book is its attention to Kosovo (Vickers is currently working on a book of its history) as a center for intellectuals in the last century at a time when Albania itself was suffering serious prohibitions on education, writing and publishing in the Albanian language. Vickers explains the crucial role of Kosovo in the Albanian national awakening and the peoples’ revolt against Ottoman oppression as well as its permanent effects on developments within Albania, especially since the nineteenth century. The rise in national consciousness she relates to the handling by present day Kosovars in their situation of gross human rights abuses at the hands of the Serbs (observing that they have also suffered here in earlier times; she mentions elsewhere that Serbs and Montenegrins were “mercilessly killed” by Albanians in Montenegro.

Twice during this century plans to re-unite Kosovo with Albania fell through (in 1928 and again under Tito in 1940. By the end of World War II Tito changed his mind, expecting to annex Albania as a seventh republic of Yugoslavia. It was in 1944 that the Kosovo Rising brought particularly harsh reprisals from the Yugoslav army commanders.
Chapter four clarifies for the reader the competition of many nations in their varying desires to control different parts of Albania. She notes that after all that was played out in that small area of the Balkans, it was remarkable that Albania emerged as an independent state (p. 97). Vickers allows her readers to draw their own conclusions while also showing that although foreign intervention has been excessive throughout history, lack of exemplary leadership within the country has contributed to its problems.

The often controvertial Ahmed Zogu is shown in both positive and negative lights: positive in his religious toleration, giving all religions equality within the state; on the negative side Zogu manipulated laws and people to suit his needs, even finding ways of disposing of those in opposition to him. Using Gwen Robyn’s Geraldine of the Albanians for much of her information on Zogu, Vickers notes humorously that while exiled in the Ritz Hotel in London with his retinue of 30, the Albanian Royal family had the ladies’ cloakroom coverted into an air-raid shelter.

There is discussion of the fact that Albania came under Communist rule without the assistance of the Soviet Union: and a further corollorary that fighting would have lasted much longer had Britain not supported the National Liberation Front (LNC), a controversy which still arouses debate today.

Using a wide selection of sources, the author draws considerably from Stavro Skendi and Joseph Swire, she also had access to the unpublished correspondence exchanged between the late Harry Hodgkinson and Edith Durham, both of whom devoted their lives to Albanian causes.

Three clear maps show Albania’s changing position in Europe. There is a glossary of terms, though no explanation of political groups nor their initials. There are a variety of photographic illustrations, from many different sources, which bring the text to life. The story behind the photograph on the dust-cover holds great interest to many who barely know the whereabouts of Albania: the small boy at the right-hand end is Rexh Meta, then aged twelve, at the time when he was the guide of American writer/reporter Rose Wilder Lane whose Peaks of Shala (referred to on p.102) deserves republication. Rose Wilder Lane, once one of the world’s best paid women writers, has now faded behind the fame of her mother whom she urged to relate her life story: the renowned “Little House on the Prairie” series. Rose took a lifelong interest in Meta, sponsoring his attendance at the American Technical School in Tirana and later at Cambridge University, UK. This interesting tale needs further telling elsewhere.

There are a few faults, for example Albanian place names are sometimes but not always given in Serbo-Croatian in parentheses, and sometimes visa-versa (given in Serbo-Croatian with the Albanian in parentheses). Clarity would have been better served by listing the names seperately and including, where relevant, the Italian names also. Secondly, the bibliography omits publishers’ names. Margaret Hasluck’s last name is incorrectly spelt at every mention, and although her writing is cited, it is not listed in the bibliography, the same is true of A. Adoni. The last names of John Allcock and Thomas Hughes are both incorrectly spelt. The non-European diaspora is apparently beyond the scope of this book. However, these are minor criticisms for a book which will long serve as an invaluable resource to all with an interest in the cohesive society of the Albanians.

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