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From the League of Prizren to the “Greater Albania”. When history influences contemporary foreign policy.

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From the League of Prizren to the “Greater Albania”. When history influences contemporary foreign policy.

This article examines why Kosovo is so important for Albania and how a league created in 1878 affected contemporary territorial disputes in the Western Balkans.

The Republic of Kosovo consists of an area of 10,887 km2. Over 1,7 million people live there, mainly Albanian-speaking Muslims. The largest minority group is the Serbians (approximately 6% of the total population), who usually face hostility from the government. Its five biggest cities (Pristina, Prizren, Ferizaj, Peja, and Gjakova) have less than 200.000 residents each. Financially, according to recent research by the IMF, approximately 30% of the Kosovars are unemployed, while 23% live in poverty. Things are even worse in politics: lack of stability, corruption, and political insecurity characterize the newborn state. So, why is Kosovo so important to Albania?[1]

The League of Prizren (1878-1881)

The above question takes us to the last quarter of the 19th century when the Albanian national movement rose. It is noteworthy that Albanians characteristically delayed forming a common identity compared to Greeks, Bulgarians, and Serbians. Two factors were crucial for the delay of their awakening. First, Albanians were satisfied with Ottoman domination for centuries and did not aim to create their own state. Also, among them, there were several social, economic, religious, and ethnic differences.[2]

The year 1878 marked a significant turning point in the history of the Albanian national movement. Fearing the potential division of lands where Albanian-speaking populations lived and their distribution to nearby Christian states, some prominent beys (Muslim landlords) called for a gathering in Prizren. This gathering, known as the League of Prizren, was led by a Muslim Tosk bey, Abdyl Frashëri. The League petitioned the Sublime Porte for the unification and autonomy of the Ottoman vilayets of İşkodra, Yannina, Monastir, and Kosovo, which were home to a diverse population, including Albanians, Greeks, Serbians, Vlachs, and many others.[3]

The Ottomans initially viewed the League of Prizren as a potential political tool against the territorial claims of Greece and Serbia. However, when they realized that several Albanian beys were advocating for the creation of an autonomous state, they decided to take action. In 1881, under the leadership of Dervish Turgut Pasha, they suppressed the movement.[4]

The League’s Legacy and the Great Albania

In international historiography, the League of Prizren is often considered the first step towards the creation of Albania. Kristo Frashëri, a famous Albanian historian, admitted its significance:

After the armed resistance was crashed, the League of Prizren declined and fell into decay on account of the persecutions, confinements, and imprisonments. But though it was crushed and destroyed, it had left a deep impression within and outside the country.[5]

The fact that the Albanian national movement began in a Kosovo’s city influenced several politicians to consider the region a key part of their Greater Albania. The latter, the Tirana nationalists’ dream, includes the areas of the four former Ottoman vilayets that the League of Prizren demanded. Recent events like the Yugoslav Wars and the establishment of the Kosovo Republic greatly influenced this vision. 

Today, several Balkan states have expressed their fears about creating Greater Albania. In particular, the Serbian government refused to recognize the Kosovo Republic, while the Greek accused the Albanian irredentists of claiming territories belonging to Greece. Politicians in the Republic of Northern Macedonia, a country threatened by Tirana’s expansionism, also expressed similar opinions. Those reservations indicate that a possible unification of Kosovo with Albania could disturb the status quo in the Balkans.[6]  

Conclusion

The League established in Prizren in 1878 was crucial for the development of the Albanian national movement. The adherents of the “Greater Albania” recall the territorial demands of the League today, asking (among others) for the annexation of Kosovo. It is possible that if that happened, the irredentism in Western Balkans would grow even more, and new challenges would appear.

REFERENCES

  1. International Monetary Fund, “Kosovo Datasets”, IMF, https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/profile/UVK. Retrieved in 18-06-2024.

  2. Gawrych, George. 2006. The Crescent and the Eagle. Ottoman Rule, Islam and the Albanians, 1874-1913, I.B. Tauris: London and New York, pp. 7-37.

  3. Vickers, Miranda. 2001. The Albanians. A modern history, I.B. Tauris: London and New York, p. 30.

  4. Vickers, ibid, pp. 41-44.

  5. Frashëri, Kristo. 1964. The history of Albania, Tirana, p. 145.

  6. Janjevic, Darko. 05-04-2017, “Greater Albania – threat to peace or pipe dream?”, Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/greater-albania-bogeyman-or-a-pipe-dream/a-38705227. Retrieved in 18-06-2024.

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