What borders for Albania?
By Jean-Arnault Dérens
In 1878 at the Congress of Berlin the German chancellor Bismarck declared that Albania was no more than “a geographical expression”. In the same year, however, influential delegates from the Albanian regions of the Ottoman empire gathered to found the League of Prizren, establishing the first modern claims to national status. Austria-Hungary defended the Albanian claims in the years that followed, in a standoff with Serbia and Greece who had entered alliances with Great Britain, France and Russia.
Ismail Qemal proclaimed a first, and ephemeral, Albanian republic at Vlora in 1912. But a year later the London Peace Conference created the Kingdom of Albania over only half of the regions with Albanian populations. The treaty also split Kosovo (predominantly Albanian) between Serbia and Montenegro. The Albanians have never accepted the prejudice to their people, and today its nationalists are intent on “rectifying” the “historical injustice”.
It is true that there was little guarantee of a future for the state of Albania at the time. It almost disappeared in the first world war, and there was no real settlement on its borders until the treaty of 1926, which was based on doubtful logic. The town of Gjakovë/Gjakova, for example, became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, despite the small size of its Serbian population. Similarly, territory that had always been part of the important municipality of Debar/Dibra was shared between the kingdom and Albania; today the city is part of the Republic of Macedonia, although its traditional hinterland lies in Albania (around the town of Peshkopi).
There are two issues intertwined here. The delicate balance between Albania’s neighbours (Montenegro, Serbia and Greece) and their powerful protectors had an influence on the definition of Albanian territoriality, as did Italy’s historical claims over the Albanian coastline. Also there are the problematic notions of an “Albanian region” or “Albanian cultural area”. Albanians have always lived in the midst of other national communities in these areas. Can we say that this or that town is part of the Albanian world because 50%, 60% or 80% of its inhabitants are Albanian? What percentage do we take and, more particularly, what scale of settlement do we include?
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Jean-Arnault Dérens in Le Monde diplomatique