Show him the colour of money
And the judge will bend the law.
He will sell his father for dear money.
He knows the value of money.
Hasan Zyko Kamberi
The rule of law
The law, the courts of law, and the police
The role of the judiciary in the Albanian society
In this chapter I will consider briefly a controversial subject, which is the theme of frequent debate amongst the learned and the ignoramuses in my country nowadays. I will take the clue from a TV programme broadcast by the Albanian State TV Centre the day after it showed a film named KANUN, on 23 September 1997. The panel consisted of Prof. Ylli Pango, the socialist elected president of the Albanian Radio and Television Committee, and Fatos Lubonja, the son of Todi Lubonja, a Party boss in charge of Albanian mass media under Enver Hoxha. I will not mention the other two participants because they did not contribute anything notable to the discussion.
Without doubting the usefulness of showing this film, because this is beyond the point of my argument, I would like to say from the start that the TV presenters of the film committed a blunder.
When one decides to announce a film, the programme department of the TV Centre should have a correct idea what the film is about. To tell the viewers that the film KANUN is about the set of customary laws known as the KANUN of Lekė Dukagjini is wrong, because the film makers deal with the customary law in Mirdita, which is a different thing. The programme organisers ought to have invited Mr. Pal Doēi, the country's best researcher in the customary law of Mirdita.
The film raises an important subject and carries a strong message which is worth discussing in itself. The TV Centre initiative to show the film is commendable because, as the panel said on 24 September, the producers conveyed the full grandeur of the act of conciliation, or pardon, in that part of the Albanian society in which the ancient blood feud was still operating.
However, whereas the director, the script writer and the cameraman are equal to the task and use every detail with great skill and taste, the panel were wide off the mark in most of what they said. Unfortunately for them, they gave the unmistakable impression that they had no idea at all what the KANUN stands for and that they were heavily indoctrinated by the old communist school of thought. Indeed, Mr. Lubonja went so far that, at the conclusion of the talk, he suggested that the only solution to the tangle of old customary law and its influence on modern Albanian society can only be found in the methods which remind the public of the communist practice for the eradication of the customary law, by "putting on the stack the enslaving norms of old", by sending out expeditions to teach the backward highlanders in the new ways of life in collective education courses and all the rest of the old communist rubbish. Mr. Lubonja does not know better.
The panel overlooked one of the major points regarding the KANUN. They did not seem to be aware that there is proof that the Customary Law of the Albanians, whether in the north or in the south, is an ancient institution, which provided all the answers to the governing of the Albanian communities for centuries. To those who have read the exceptional publication of the KANUN by Shtjefėn Gjeēovi, there is no mystery in the continuous and frequent points in common between the KANUN and the most ancient laws as they are recorded in the Scriptures.
Unfortunately, neither the "distinguished" guests nor Prof. Pango mentioned this all-important point in the talk.
The TV talk of 24 September was a weak attempt to establish an explanatory connection between the riotous and confused behaviour of the Albanians today and the historic backdrop of our inception as a nation. Or, to put it more bluntly, between theft, robbery, and killing that is going on throughout Albania today, and the unwritten laws that guided life in the Albanian community under the rule of the KANUN.
This effort at establishing a connection between the present condition in the country and the KANUN, even though in passing and superficially, betrays a total lack of understanding of this pristine body of Albanian law and great lack of logic on the part of the panel. Prof. Pango's and Mr. Lubonja's high-faulting phrases did not help them out of the predicament, in which they unwittingly had put themselves out of their ignorance of the subject.
It is true that law is not operating in Albania today - the panel know this much from their own experience. It is again true that the KANUN is not operating as a body of law which regulates the life of the community. I should explain that it is precisely the neutralisation of the law because of the rebellion, and the fall into disuse of the KANUN because of the systematic erosion under the communist regime, which became the main cause for the widespread occurrence of lawlessness, murder cases for vengeance, and Mafia-type robbery. The KANUN does not condone people to take the law unto their own hands. And the "high" TV panel should have known better before they raised the infantile idea of the reactivating of KANUN practices in this period.
KANUN does not allow for similar attitudes. It goes against its nature to give people a free hand to kill and murder. KANUN does not condone the kidnapping of children. KANUN does not condone the white slave trade. KANUN does not condone Mafia type traffic, prostitution and the traffic of little children, or the debasement of the individual.
By raising the subject of blood-feud (la vendetta) indirectly or directly and using the film to prove their point, those who stage-managed this programme were seeking to impress the ignorant, to deceive the Albanian TV viewers, to make them believe that KANUN is nothing but a set of rules about how people should kill one another, that KANUN sanctions murder. It is an ill-guided effort to identify the body of law in KANUN with the blood-feud. By so doing they were making a great injustice to the nation as a whole.
Prof. Pango and Mr. Lubonja were only trying to clear the old paths from which they could allow communist-style attacks against the unique body of Albanian law which withstood the erosion of centuries. With their discussions, the panel were only giving fresh munitions to all those who have continuously vilified Albanians as a race with a highly destructive impulse for revenge.
It takes only a few minutes to leaf through the KANUN of Lekė Dukagjini and the KANUN of Skanderbeg in order to realise that the two bodies of Albanian law handle all aspects of social life in the Albanian community, and not just the issue of blood-feuds.
The "learned" panel of the Albanian TV programme ought to have at least looked up the table of contents of the KANUN of Lekė Dukagjini in order to be on safe ground.
KANUN of Lekė Dukagjini contains 12 Books, 24 Chapters, and 1263 paragraphs and/or articles.
Book One - The Church
Book Two - The Family
Book Three - Marriage
Book Four - House, Livestock, And Property
Book Five - Work
Book Six - Transfer of Property
Book Seven - The Spoken Word (Besa)
Book Eight - Honour
Book Nine- Damages
Book Ten - The Law Regarding Crimes
Book Eleven - Judicial Law
Book Twelve - Exemptions And Exceptions
I believe this is enough to show that the KANUN has just one book in which the rules of blood-feud are laid down in unequivocal terms.
Prof. Pango and his comrades on the panel admitted with their own mouths that they had only a vague idea of what the Albanian customary laws are about. It is a shame that this self-proclaimed "élite" of the country, which is so poorly equipped for the task, takes upon itself the discussion of a subject of paramount importance for our society. They ought to have been better prepared before they appeared in public, because the subject is controversial and we have seen ourselves attacked constantly by the chauvinistic neighbours precisely over our "savage nature" and have been discribed as a "feuding" lot.
I have expressed my views on KANUN of Lekė Dukagjini (collected by Father Shtjefėn Gjeēovi) in an article published in the Franciscan review HYLLI I DRITĖS (THE LIGHT OF THE LORD), which I propose to reproduce in this book for the curious in English. The article shows that the Albanians respect the law when the law is part of their own raison d'źtre, when the law emerges as an intrinsic part of the Albanian community, as an inner requirement for an orderly life.
I have made a few corrections to the article for the sake of clarity without changing its substance.
THE ALBANIAN ARCHETYPE
QUO VADIS HOMINE! 1997 A. D.
"Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil..."
(Exodus, 23, 2)
"Thou shalt not wrest the judgement of
thy poor in his cause."
(Exodus, 23, 6)
"And thou shalt take no gift. for the gift
blindeth the wise, and preventeth the words
of the righteous."
(Exodus, 23, 8)
These tumultuous days of confusion and blind anger I hear reports of hundreds of innocent and undefended lives lost at the hands of their own brethren, friends and enemies alike. I read reports of children blown to pieces while toying with hand grenades and explosives, of toddlers maimed for life while playing with fancy "bottles" containing lethal liquids. I watch with alarm teenagers sporting automatic guns in front of TV cameras. I hear of entire families wiped out in a fury of settlement of old scores. I hear of entire families wiped out in tunnels with explosives, trying to steal war material and sell them to arms traders.
In the beginning I refused to believe the reports.
I said to myself that this folly would soon subside and people would come to their senses and control themselves. But the nightmare is persisting for months and months. People would not just pull themselves together and say stop to all this mania for destruction.
I seek an answer which an ordinary person would accept. I seek an answer which would satisfy all my questions and the many questions that come pouring from different people around me who fail to understand the reason for this Albanian collective madness.
Many are those who watch with great concern the goings-on in my country and turn to me for an explanation.
Before I can give them an answer, I must find a satisfactory explanation for myself.
What are we? Why do we behave like this? Why the Albanian at the end of the 20th century is behaving in a self-destructive manner?
These fundamental questions, which appear so very simple, await answers and I want them to be simple and straightforward.
Many have despaired at what they heard in the reports filed by foreign correspondents from Albania in the beginning of this year. Many more have given up Albania as a country doomed to go down for good. From the mouths of many an Albanian I have heard the extreme denial of their own roots - Cursed be the soil where I was born? Or, I'd rather never hear the name of Albania. Or worse still: I'll be damned if I ever call myself an Albanian.
I fully understand this extreme expression of frustration and anger, this darkness which has descended upon the minds and souls of many people. I know that the roots of despair go back in the centuries of denial and the many years of repeated delusions. I know the reason for this negative attitude and of the revolt in the spirit of the Albanian who denies his own roots and origin, who feels ashamed to say that he is an Albanian.
I shall not dwell on the obvious causes which led the country and the people to the brink of the abyss. We, each single one of us, are responsible for this predicament. Above all this is the responsibility of those who took upon themselves to go into politics and take the helm of the State, who were so eager to fight for State power. If they have a sense of justice, let them abandon political play and try to put political interests aside, in order to soothe the pain of the wounded country.
As part of this immense suffering I am seeking an answer to the strange conduct of the Albanian today - not of the politicians who brought the country into this predicament, not of the sham patriots, not of those who cast their nets to fish for votes of the "dead souls".
I will try to find an explanation for a number of occurrences which are frequently interpreted with a marked ill-feeling and evil-minded tendentiousness. The romantic interpretations of the unspoilt life in the Albanian highlands are not useful for my purpose.
I will first establish a few basic landmarks on the basis of the notions:
I. Occupiers and local people
II. The occupier's administration vis ą vis the Albanian
III. The Albanian administration vis ą vis the Albanian
IV. The KANUN and the Albanian
Next, I will place the interaction of State administration and the individual in different periods of time:
I. The end of the Illyrian-Roman wars marks the beginning of the application of the "divide and rule" policy implemented by a formidable administration of the Roman occupiers, which the Illyrians had never experienced before.
II. The Southern Slav invasions of the 7-9th centuries A.D. in the Balkans mark the beginning of a period in the history of relations between local populations and newcomers in which hostilities increase with the efforts of the newcomers to impose their own forms of administration and their own church on the local population; the process was accompanied with a systematic change of the local place names and the names of people.
III. The Ottoman occupation of Albanian territories marks the height of the "divide and rule" policy, which accompanied with a long-term plan for the conversion of Albanians into Islam, the extinguishing of their national awareness, a ban of written Albanian and the closure of all Albanian schools.
IV. The proclamation of Albania's independence in 1912 gave the Albanians a government of their own a State of the Albanians.
V. The year 1944 marks the beginning of half a century of communist reforms in Albania.
VI. The period 1991-1992 is the time of democratic overthrow
VII. In 1997 the country breaks splits down the middle; a collapse of unimaginable proportions which threatened the country with extinction.
* * *
Influence of outsiders on Albanians living
in their territories - peoples meet in a give-and take process, which sometimes is accompanied by the exercise of violence - long-term plans of assimilation - survival of the fittest.
The Arbėr-Albanian community, which is known by that name in the last millennium, is the bearer of a way of life determined by historical factors which stemmed from one of the basic laws of nature - every action produces a counteraction (I will quote only the first part of the definition of this law, because the second part is irrelevant to the premise). Without dwelling on the equality of the action and counteraction, I would point out that the direction of the interaction of forces is always opposite. This general law of nature finds its reflection in all the major time divisions I drew in the previous paragraph.
Premise: when two peoples of different levels of civilisation meet, either in the din of battles, or in bloodless encounters, their proximity will clear the way to exchanges in a give-and-take process. It is not necessarily true that the newcomer (either as an occupier or as an invader) will always emerge victorious over the local people in all aspects.
Examples of encounters: Rome vs. Athens; the Francs vs. the locals in Gall; the so-called Barbarians vs. the Romans.
The occupation of the Greek city-states by the Roman legions was accompanied with the influence of the reduced on the victors, the influence of the Hellenic civilisation on the Roman one. The peoples inhabiting the Apennine Peninsula gave their language and civilisation to the Huns and the rest of the Barbarian hordes that settled in the peninsula. The victorious Roman eagles took to the outposts of the Roman Empire their way of life which was imposed on the locals in the system of administration and the language that goes with it. The Iberian Peninsula adopted Latin as the language which generated Spanish. The inhabitants of the British Isles were influenced by the Roman civilisation nearly in the same manner and degree as the Illyrians in the Balkan Peninsula - 70-75% of the vocabulary of modern English consists of loan words from Latin; the road building system of the Romans is largely retained both in the British Isles and in Albanian territories.
The Southern Illyrians
Situated at the closest point where the West meets the East, Southern Illyria, with is flat coast suitable for safe harbours, first attracted the Greek settlers, and later the attention of the rising power of Rome with ambitions to expand eastwards. The Illyrian territories became battlegrounds between the locals and the armies of the invaders, and even between the outsiders fighting for the supreme power in Rome.
The four centuries of Roman occupation and administration have left their imprint in the large number of loan words from Latin - they constitute nearly 70% of the vocabulary of modern Albanian. The four centuries of administration based on the Roman law did not pass without making a deep mark in the organisation of the Albanian community, which has survived to our days and has been pointed out by the researchers of the KANUN of Lekė Dukagjini (cf. comparisons in the footnotes of the Albanian-English edition of the KANUN OF LEKĖ DUKAGJINI, 1989, by Gjonlekaj Publishers, New York).
Whereas the overseas cultural influence appeared in the shape of the armed occupiers who imposed their rules in the territories of the Province of Illyiricum under their jurisdiction, the stratification of the southern Slav culture in the civilisation of Albanian communities appeared through invasions that spread over centuries of a later period.
The Slavic influence on the Albanian way of life appears in a rather restricted area: in the sphere of farming and remains there, despite continued and systematic efforts to impose itself in other spheres. Although the Slavs were state-builders, although they had a well organised State and a Church that went along with it, they never succeeded in stamping their imprint on the spiritual mould of the Albanian communities as the Romans did.
The five centuries long Ottoman occupation and administration can be described briefly as a period of continuous clashes between the armies of the conquerors, on the one hand, and the stiff resistance of the locals, on the other hand. It was the longest period of unceasing confrontation between the systematic efforts of the local population to resist the implementation of a programme devised by the foreign rulers for the denationalisation of the locals through conversion to a different faith. Great empires can afford the time and money for ambitious programmes.
I will dwell briefly in the influences the Albanian language was subjected to in the periods of long foreign rule and administrations. Language, and vocabulary, in particular, is the field in which the Roman occupiers achieved most. Without going into the merits of the system they used, the result, as I mentioned earlier, is obvious and tangible in written Albanian.
The Slav invaders were less successful in imposing their type of civilisation among the Arbėr-Albanian culture.
A half-success at a very high price was attained by the Ottoman Turks in stamping their own imprint on the Albanian culture. The most powerful empire of that period, whose victorious armies took the crescent to the gates of Vienna, was in possession of inexhaustible means and a sophisticated administration. These means were brought into action in order to implement the programme of conversion of the Albanians into Islam which spread over three centuries, and was called to a halt at a point when only 60% of the Albanians were converted and the price was too high. The Turkish administration banned the Albanian schools as part of the scheme for the extermination of the "Aranuts" and made every effort to introduce the Sharia, which remained a dream of the architects of the plan. In the long run, today after the closure of the chapter of Ottoman Rule in Albania, the result is clear: the influence of five centuries of the Ottoman-Turkish rule was steadily eroded until in the end the Turkish influence was reduced to a situation in which Turkish loan words in the Albanian language were relegated to the sphere of derogative use, thus loosing all connections with the world they came from.
I proposed earlier that I would look into the degree to which the Albanian language was influenced by the language of the invaders-occupiers, because I believe that is the unique field in which one cannot take sides and distort the truth. Unlike other elements of civilisation, language is like a photosensitive plaque which records every and each event dispassionately. The scholars know how very difficult it is to determine whether a given piece of pottery, fired in this or that manner, glazed in this or that material, designed with geometrical or floral ornaments, belong to this or that period of Hellenic or Assyrian culture, to this or that civilisation, when we are aware of the incursions and excursions of whole populations over the face of the ancient world, which influenced each other to a greater or lesser extent.
Whereas with the language one feels in safe ground. Since I will not enter into details which are up to the scholars to discuss, I am going to continue with a generally accepted assessment: language is, among other things, an indication of national distinctiveness and belonging of the speaker.
When I speak of the language as a distinctive feature of nationality, I do not exclude other features which are just as closely connected with the notion of nationality. By making language the pivot of my argument, I will not overlook a number of factors which are just as important in the making of nationality, such as customs and way of life. Linguistic factors, in my opinion, speak quite clearly about other concurrent factors.
I deliberately pointed out the influence of the three major occupations of our land and underlined the survival of the Albanian civilisation and of our language, in particular, in the face of efforts on the part of the occupiers and foreign rulers to assimilate and denationalise us.
In investigating the resistance of the local population in their continued confrontation with the occupiers and the civilisations they brought into our territories, I would like to highlight that aspect of the Albanian mettle which withstood the centuries of pressure for assimilation.
On the other hand, it would be of interest to consider the Albanian community organisation and civilisation in the conditions of the Roman occupation, the Slav invasions, the Ottoman occupation, the communist rule and the recent democratic government - thus extending the scope of my investigation over a period of two thousand years.
The Albanian of that long period should be considered as an archetype - as the product of the storms of history. I do not intend to deal with the origin of the Albanian archetype - on this issue I will take for granted the opinions which the scientific world has accepted, i. e. the direct line of descendence from the Southern Illyrians to the Arbėr in the present-day Albanian territories down to the Albanian of the modern age. I will accept the conclusions reached by the Albanian studies, especially by the etymological studies of Prof. Ēabej, and the conclusions reached on the basis of archaeological finds and ethnographic research.
From this point, I will continue to investigate the behaviour pattern of the Albanian archetype in the course of centuries, in the classical cases of confrontation and reaction to efforts of imposition and violence from outsiders.
The reaction can be easily imagined today, in retrospect. I believe that it is not difficult to define the Albanian archetype and the system of his reactions, because the material on which I can base this logical conclusion is abundant. I must also add that the normal pattern of his reactions form a constant trait which can be defined as a system of social-economic-spiritual organisation.
In the history of our nation, this archetype has counteracted the action of outside forces - invaders, occupiers, efforts for assimilation and annihilation, plans for the destruction of the national spirit, the programmes for the wiping out of the entire nation, the strategies for the suppression of all initiatives for the preservation and revival of the indigenous culture and language.
The material is varied - often concrete and tangible, and sometimes easily imaginable.
I will place the Albanian archetype in the context of confrontations with the outsiders - this is necessary because this archetype was shaped in the process of constant struggles and wars, which I cannot overlook, and history records confirm this. The fact that the modern Albanian remains the social type which preserved its own civilisation and way of life, its own language and customs, its own set of rules which governed the Albanian community, should be placed at the basis of the discussion.
I do not have to demonstrate that we speak and write our language nearly in the same way as it was spoken and written hundreds of years ago. Likewise, I do not have to give evidence here of the preservation of the Albanian civilisation in centuries, because it has enough material proof in the records and publications made by the collectors of the unwritten customary laws, the folk tales, the songs and dances, the rich archaeological and ethnographic material.
As a summary of what I said above, I would attempt a final conclusion:
THE SUBSTANCE OF WHICH THE ALBANIAN ARCHETYPE IS MADE AS THE PRODUCT OF A PROCESS OF CONFRONTATIONS BETWEEN THE LOCAL CIVILISATION AND THE FOREIGN CIVILISATIONS OF THE OUTSIDERS AND INVADERS.
The Roman eagles brought in their wake the imposition of the Roman administration, which was achieved through three Illyrian-Roman Wars. The Roman administration in the Illyrian territories brought, as a consequence, the use of the Roman administrative idiom into these territories. The long presence of the Roman legionnaires and administrators in Southern Illyria, the four centuries-long living in close proximity with peoples of different cultures, brought about a symbiosis which was reflected notably in the Roman laws and their influence on our unwritten laws.
Despite the great number of loan words from Latin, the essence of the Albanian language remains intact - its word formation system, its morphology, its syntax, and its phonetic system are clearly and distinctly Albanian (an independent branch of the trunk of Proto-Indo-European family of languages). Latin loan words in the Albanian language constitute a layer on top of the basic Albanian lexic - which is a normal occurrence with civilisations that share the same territory over a long period.
Despite the success of the Roman administration it can be assumed that the local population counteracted in order to ensure its own continuity as a distinct entity. There is no denying that the result of this process of action and reaction was the cauldron in which the Albanian archetype was shaped. Despite the degree of the outsiders' influence on the Albanian civilisation, the local people were not assimilated by what is often and erroneously described as a "superior" civilisation.
* * *
The State vs. the Albanian
What does the State stand for in the eyes of the Albanian archetype?
History shows that only in some short-lived periods have the Albanian ever had a government of the people for the people (!). In the eyes and minds of the local people, for thousands of years, the State was the representative of the outsider, the intruder and the occupier. The State was physically embodied in the shape of legionnaires and centurions, praetors and consuls, governors and senators - under the Roman rule -, or by boyars and their retinue, by the noblemen and their soldiery, by the priests and the tax-collectors - during the period of Southern Slav invasions - , and by janissaries and spahis, by judges and tax-collectors, by viziers and pashas - under the five centuries of Turkish rule.
In the memory of the Albanian nation, the State, as the embodiment of the lawmaker and the executive, identified with the foreign intruder and occupier, is the means to ensure the subjugation of the local population through the force of arms. Therefore, the Albanian archetype is rejective to the very idea of the State. The State was not accepted as an indispensable ingredient in the life of the Albanians simply because the administrations (whether Roman or Turkish) worked to further the interests of the occupier and the invader. This attitude was imbeded deep in the conscious and subconscious level of the Albanian archetype, and became part and parcel of his patern of social behaviour, .
Hence the equation of adversity:
STATE = ENEMY
As long as the State and the foreign invader are identified as one, the equation is always valid. In simple terms, the State in the eyes of the Albanian archetype is the source of evil.
In 1912 the Albanians had the opportunity to have their first State - if the system in which the Albanians organised themselves during the period of the wars under Gjergj Kastrioti - Skanderbeg, is not considered as a State in the original sense of the word.
The short period from November 1912 until the outbreak of the WWI is the only one in the whole history of the Albanian nation in which it can be said that the Albanian archetype and the government were one, in which the rooted distrust and hostility to the very notion of the State was replaced with an effort to support it; the hostile gap between the State and its subjects was closed.
The men who made the law in the Albanian territories which refused to recognise foreign occupations and who observed their own rules according to the KANUN, followed Ismail Bey Vlora, the first ever Albanian head of State, and stood by him when he raised the national flag on 28 November 1912 and by his government.
* * *
An inner drive for safeguarding
ourselves against the State systems
Two thousand years of successive occupations and invasions, each one putting fresh pressure on the local populations, were more than enough in shaping the features of the Albanian archetype as an individual stubbornly opposed to the State.
In the conditions of a foreign State, which represented and defended the interests of everyone else but the local population, the Albanian's reaction to this situation was to instinctively build their own means of self-defence, i.e., a definite pattern of behaviour which was built, in the course of time, into a standard attitude in social and political life, and eventually became a substitute for the government which they hated. This type of behaviour has been discussed extensively, but never thoroughly.
Albanians' main and constant concern was to escape subjugation and submission to the central government, the foreign soldier, tax-collector and governor.
Many have expressed their views on the question: Why was the KANUN created? When the informed scholar speaks about this vital issue the rest must listen and learn. We need more informed people to make their views known in writing, in order to shed light on one of the crucial issues of our naional existence.
When the ignorant speak, the learned scholars should not allow misinformed statements to go uncriticised. The ignorant can do a great deal of damage.
Fortunately for us, in the 1920's, Father Shtjefėn Gjeēovi, an enlightened Albanian, a tireless collector of Albanian folklore, a scholar of ethnography, an archaeologist, and above all a proud Albanian, after years and years of field work, succeeded in collecting the different versions of the KANUN and put them down in writing. Later he went through them and compared each single paragraph of this formidable body of law and finally wrote the KANUN which we have today. He did not see in print while still alive. He was shot in an ambush, because his work on KANUN was seen as a great threat to the Serbs.
Other people followed his example, took up the work where he had left and today we have the KANUN OF LEKĖ DUKAGJINI and the KANUN OF SKANDERBEG. What remains to be done is to publish the remaining KANUNs which operated in the southern regions of the country. With the corpus of these major publications in their hands, our scholars will be able to carry out thorough studies of the organisation of life in Albanian communities. This and only this is the way forward to explaining our roots, our behaviour in certain situations, and our future reactions.
Although I have given an answer in passing to a question that came up repeatedly in the foregoing paragraphs, I will stop to ask the question again:
WHAT IS THE KANUN? WHY WAS IT CREATED?
And again I will not stop repeating for the ignorant that the answer is: The Kanun is a body of unwritten laws which govern all the many and different aspects of Albanian community life. It was created as a result of the inner need of a whole population, living in our territories, in order to defend the very existence of the nation in the face of the threat of assimilation by "superior" civilisations of the invaders and occupiers. I will not stop repeating this answer until the ignorant stop confusing and identifying the blood-feud with the KANUN.
Albanians respected and obeyed the rules as laid down in the KANUN and escaped extinction as a nation. They survived with their distinct culture and language, succeeded in preserving a unique civilisation in the face of ruthless pressures by "superior" civilisations.
By clear provisions which determine the role of the leader of the region or the clan, the role of the elders and the assembly, the Albanians displayed a high respect for what the modern world calls the "democratic system", including the freedom of speech.
By provisions which determine the rights and duties of the Church the Kanun shows that the Albanians had sound ideas about the importance of the freedom of belief.
By provisions which determine the very strict and severe system of fines the Albanians showed their maturity as a nation and their great concern for the preservation of the community against trespassers and evil-doers, and for the protection of the community and personal property.
By provisions which regulated the blood-feud, the Albanian lawmakers showed their great insight in ther maximum restriction of the occurrence.
By provisions which regulated the code of honour, the Albanians showed that they placed great importance in the high moral qualities of the individual.
By provisions which determined the role and place of women in the community, the KANUN showed that the Albanians valued the regenerative role of the mother in their community.
Our unwritten customary law covered every single detail of community life and regulated them with great precision in chapters and articles and paragraphs, which existed in the minds of the elders who imposed the rules, and the exegetes who solved complicated cases of litigation.
Sharing irrigation water, felling trees for timber, cutting firewood, the sharing of the common pasture grounds, size of wedding gifts, assistance for the destitute, support for the orphans and the widows, the obligations towards the Church, to mention only a few, are covered in the KANUN with clear-cut rules, which are just as important as the chapters on the family, marriage, inheritance, and last but not least the chapter of the given word (besa).
KANUN's area of operation changed with the vicissitudes of times. As the arm of the central administration reached further into the highlands, the area under the authority of the KANUN shrank steadily. With the passage of time, the towns under Roman administration, under the influence of invaders' administration, under the authority of the Sublime Porte, under the iron fist of the communist government in Tirana, led a double existence. On the one hand they acquiesced, under duress, to the high authority of the central administration, on the other hand they respected the customs of the country which bonded the towns to the highlands.
The tax-collector and the gendarme hated to venture alone in the territories where the banner-bearer (chieftain) of the clan was supreme authority. The townsman in trouble sought refuge and protection in the areas ruled by the customary law. The highlander and the lowlander alike had a very clear idea of the value of the word BESA, the given word, of the unwritten law of hospitality and protection of the guest.
Early Shattering Blows - 1944
The changes in the form of government after 1994 brought about a trauma in the social life of the country. The arm of the law was reaching deeper and deeper into the impenetrable fastnesses of the highlands. The wise old men who had presided over countless cases of judgement was stripped of his authority. The village assemblies were devalued and were replaced by the National Liberation (read: communist) Front Councils in every town, village and hamlet. The decisions taken with a quorum of the village assembly were replaced by the laws and decrees of the People's Assembly and by the directives of the Communist Party.
This marked the beginning of the end of the KANUN, the sapping of the foundations of a centuries-old structure which had kept the Albanian community together, which had withstood all the foreign invaders' attempts to destroy it. What foreign legions and hordes had failed to do, despite the time and energy they spent to destroy the spirit of the nation, was achieved in a short period of time by the government of the Albanian communists, by the victors in the National Liberation War.
The Albanian communist State succeeded where the force of arms and the power of money of the foreign occupiers and invaders had failed. Where the Sublime Porte failed, despite the reportedly huge sums of money and every enticement of lucrative high posts in Istanbul offered to Albanians to abandon the cross and embrace the crescent, to abandon the KANUN and embrace the Sharia, the communists succeeded. The communist State finally overcame the structure of the old society. The Albanian authorities of the last fifty years knew that by destroying the old way of life a vacuum would be created; they were aware that a vacuum should be filled immediately, and they proceeded to fill it with their communist ideology. That was their second act of "wisdom".
A vacuum would spell disaster, therefore the Party think-tanks substituted the Party + State leadership for the ancient democratic system consisting of head of the clan + elders' council + village assembly (read: head of state, senate and parliament). In order to safeguard this new power system, the Communist Party set up the system of State Security + Volunteer Information branch (read: part time informers).
National Trauma - 1997
Where there is no law,
There is lawlessness.
The Albanian crisis which flared up with fierce intensity in the beginning of this year cannot be explained with the financial situation created after the government stepped in to freeze the assets of some pyramid schemes and the collapse of two of them, or only with the political struggle between the DP and the SP (which was unusually hot).
In the conditions of post-communist Albania, with the destruction of the pillars of the Albanian community life (Kanun, religion, honour), with five decades of life in total disregard for the traditional rules of coexistence tested in the centuries, with the advent of "democracy" and the systematic demolition of the communist state and the social environment which were associated with it, the Albanian people found themselves in a social medium with precisely that kind of a vacuum which the communists had not allowed to exist.
The authority of the new democratic state, the pillars of the new state (the judiciary, courts of law, police, and the army), the people vested with power (the prefect, the mayor, the head of the region, the commune and the village), as parts of the new state-executive-judiciary structure, were only the beginning of an effort, the signs of good intention of the new style of government. However, much of what the new authority planned to achieve remained on paper. It was reflected in the body of laws produced by the People's Assembly, in the large number of presidential decrees, and in government orders (about 5300 acts of Parliament in five years).
The new structures, which were going up slowly and with difficulty, did not resist the great test. They crumbled overnight and in the process of collapse they nearly took the entire country down into the abyss. Albania suddenly became the country of "a soldier people".
The freedom of movement - which was a step in the right direction inspired by the principles of equality in a democratic system - snatched thousands of people, most of them young, from the traditional community village background, in which the old rules had not disappeared entirely, and pushed them in the direction of the towns. Attracted by get-rich-quick stories and by the prospect of finding a job or an opportunity to emigrate abroad, hundreds of thousands of Albanians crowded into the towns in search of "America".
The consequences are now glaring into the face of the government. There is nothing wrong with the freedom of movement as such. However, the recent history of other countries, USA in particular, ought to have taught something to our Democratic government. When a decision which was expected to spark off a "chaotic" movement of the population, is made, the government should provide the solutions to the problems that would follow as a natural consequence, should provide the stop-gaps against untoward situations.
In our case, the decision to lift the old communist restrictions on the movement of citizens ought to have been accompanied with parallel measures to ensure that the situation would not develop into a crisis that would defeat the purpose of the well-meaning government. I grant that the government was guided by good intentions when it made that decision, but "the way to hell is paved with good intentions."
The government found itself in a predicament.
The country-boys in the towns found themselves in a predicament, too.
The country-boy in town is stripped of all defences, but he clings to his dream. He is eager to succeed, all the same, at any cost. Town-life has its own rules, but the newcomer has his own notions. Town-life has so many lures, and just as many traps. But in the eyes of the country-boy it is the promised land, or the next best thing to it. The rules of country life have ceased to bind him; once he is in town he tries to copy the town-boys.
Many countries have been through this experience before. Albania is going through it in a most unhappy moment. The movement of people in the conditions of the freedom of choice, with the irresistible lure of town-life, and the quest for a better life, was not unknown to the Albanians in the period from 1920-1939, but the scale of movement and displacement bears no comparison with what happened in the period 1990-1996.
Under the communist dictatorship, the movement of population was kept under strict control, and the complicated rules of getting a permit to move from the village into town discouraged everyone. When the government needed labour from the country, it would determine who would go to work where. In that way, the government knew exactly who was doing what and made sure that they did what the government wanted them to do.
For someone to move from his village to a town, first he had to make an application to the local council and the head of the co-operative farm, then to the Party boss, in order to make the process smooth, then to the Security man in charge of the village. If he were successful at this level and got the go-ahead, he had to proceed to the next stage: the town council; and then to the next: the housing department of the regional council. And finally, when everything was in order, the Regional Party Committee would make the final decision on whether the villager could move into the town.
Then, if he obtained the permission to move in, he would have to go through the same ordeal in order to have a place to live, because having qualified as a town resident, did not necessarily mean that he would have a house, or a flat, or a hut.
That was how the communists controlled the movement of people.
The massive movement of population from the country to town, or the emigration to Greece and Italy and other parts of the rich West, brought about a convulsive demographic change in Albania, and caused immense social problems, regardless of the fact that in these five years under the Democratic Government Albanians (those who were lucky to find a job) working abroad could make in a day three times as much as the highest-paid civil servant in Albania.
Not everyone could reach "America". Thousands of country-boys remained in the towns, in the hope of finding something to do, which more often than not proved impossible and caused the first major spiritual crisis in them. They were in a gray area - torn between the desire to succeed in the town at any cost, and the regret of having left the secure homes in the villages.
The newcomers left behind a consolidated way of life - a family life in which the old rules, even though badly damaged by the relentless communist campaigns against the "old" customs, were still respected in a degree. When the young countryman arrived in town, he felt he was completely free, freed from the authority of the older people, the elders of the household. The young man from the country was let loose. Nothing could control him, nor had he any controls on himself.
The weak police and the state power without the means of exercising its authority, and frequently the victim of corruption, could not cope with the torrent of people moving into towns.
Then, after a while the country-boys found that the towns could not fulfil their dreams and satisfy their lust for money, and an easy life, which eluded them at every turn.
I will describe these people as the rootless mob of Albania.
I feel it would benefit the reader if I explained briefly what I mean by this.
The roots of the traditional system were culled according to a long-term programme which was in place since 1944. The rot had set in the trunk of the customary law, which had kept the Albanian community together over the centuries. The repeated annual campaigns against old customs since 1968 were eroding the basis of the authority of "patriarchal" family. The struggle of the Party of Labour to uproot religious beliefs, to bring down the old idols, to clear the way to the "new", bulldozed the system of elders and community assemblies.
The younger generation of Albanians brought up and educated in the years of the "people's Power" had no religion and no sense of duty and obedience towards the elders, in the same way as it was understood in the past.
The concepts related to the homeland (motherland) assumed a different meaning. Love of country was replaced with "love" of the (Communist) Party of Labour. Respect of the elders was replaced with ideological obedience, and reverence for everything that was saintly and Godly was replaced with a party idolatry, blind service to the ideology of the and the image of the great leader.
Since the mid-1950's, the communists decided to put an end to the practice of our schools under which the pupils would sing the national anthem before going into classes. Gradually, the love of country became a remote notion, as its place in the books was taken by the party notions of patriotism. Instead of cultivating the pride of being Albanians, our schools tried to instill in the younger generations the love of the socialist homeland, the land of the proletarian revolution, the land of communist ideals.
The spawn of the communist school are the hundreds of thousands of Albanians who roam around the world trying to sell their labour; the thousands upon thousands who change their names and religions in order to please their Greek or Italian bosses; all those who deny their homeland and roots; all those who refuse to call themselves Albanians and who go as far as to regard Albanian as a dirty word.
Thousands upon thousands of Albanians who were brought up and educated in the communist school, who were made to believe that Albania was paradise on earth, that capitalism was evil, nowadays are abject slaves of the ruthless capitalists, labourers on the black market, illegal workers at the mercy of the whims of a Greek or Italian politician, the victims of the "agreements" of the Albanian socialists with the Greek and Italian counterparts.
Hundreds and thousands more are waiting on the shores of the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas to sail or swim away from their own homes. Hundreds and thousands more are waiting in the woods and ravines for the Greek traffickers to fetch them into Greece and sell them to the first bidder.
It is obvious that it is still too soon to say that in these six years we have learned something from the craziness of fleeing from ourselves, from our roots. We have not yet learned a thing about what it means to abandon one's own, to deny one's roots, to debase oneself abjectly at the "rich" man's door.
* * *
Each nation has a price to pay in the uphill road towards civilisation. We are paying today what other nations have already paid in the distant past and now are picking the fruit of their labour.
Many Albanians dreamed of the fruit without thinking of the labour.
We have just begun our Calvary. We are at the first stop at the foot of the Hill. We must share the burden of the cross together with a sense of responsibility, with honour and fairness, with an eye to our salvation in our future together.
May it be the last effort dipped in blood and clad in mourning.
We know where we come from, we know what we were yesterday, we know what we are today, we don't know what we'll be tomorrow and where we are going.
If we do not accept that to err is human, we will never be sure what we'll become of us tomorrow. After accepting that we all make mistakes, we should work towards the great repentance.
Albania must put on the cloth on top of the mourning dress.
Every family in mourning has a right to demand: "Why my child?... Why son? ... Why my daughter? ... Why my young wife? .. Why ..." And the why's from the souls of the bereft are no medicine for their wounds. The hand of the man who took so many lives cannot return the sons to their mothers, the wives to their husbands. No human can return the life that he takes. These lives are priceless. No KANUN on earth can give an answer to these questions.
Good help us.
London, on a dark day.
KANUN in the context of this article has a wide meaning. It includes the whole body of unwritten law operating in all Albanian regions, without discrimination, whether in the North or in the South.
* * *
All my comments and observations about the KANUN and the historical background in which it was conceived make part of an effort to explain what in modern social studies is called "the pattern of an individual's social behaviour," or, more broadly, behaviourism.
I went over these personal notes and observations in order to explain the reasons for the total disregard of law, and the abject situation of the representatives of the law, in the hands of the modern Albanian, on the eve of the new millennium. I mentioned them also with a view to showing how difficult it is to establish rule of law when the balance tips heavily on one side - the side of lawlessness.
This unpredictable pattern of behaviour which we have witnessed on the threshold of the 21st century is a clear message to every Albanian who will make bold to take upon himself the task of governing the country today and in the days to come.
The past will haunt us if we are unable to treat it in an unbiased spirit ,dispassionately and without ideologically tainted preconceptions.
When the crisis thickened and the boiler blew off, I watched the government and the DP actions, waiting to see which way they would go, what solutions they would opt for, what contingency plans they had prepared, if any, in order to ward off disaster.
In a situation in which government structures were paralysed and democratic institutions melted away, bold and inspired ideas were needed to save the country from total disintegration. The DP and the government did not come forward with any convincing plan to turn the tide of the rebellion and calm the disquiet population in the south. The DP leadership was completely at sea. Only Berisha managed to keep his head to some extent, but with little or no success to inspire confidence and to regain credibility.
His rabid foes succeeded in a great measure to tarnish his image. Sadnwitched between popular claims for the restitution of money lost in (stolen by) scum pyramid schemes and the fury of growing communist rebellion, Berisha failed to make any substantive alterations to his strategy in order to tackle the deteriorating situation. He failed to realise that he could have survive as the head of the State only by an extraordinary feat and by making concessions which he had resisted all along.
As the DP, the government and Berisha were losing ground fast and not acting decisively, the socialist-communists stole a step on them by setting up "national salvation committees" in the South as parallel local authorities.
Berisha tried to counter this move by yielding to the unrelenting pressure and growing claims for the Meksi 2 government to resign and by setting up the National Reconciliation Government (NRG) headed by Bashkim Fino and members from a wide spectrum of the myriad of political parties. The NRG was the only answer that Berisha could come up. As later events showed the NRG only served to buy time for the socialist revolution to consolidate its gains in the South and further erode the positions of the DP and Berisha in Northern and Central Albania.
The DP leadership was apparently running out of ideas. It failed to realise that the ordinary man in the street was fed up with politicians and their juggling for power. The credit of the Albanian politican had reached an all-time low, in both opposed camps. What Berisha had done to discredit the SP and the communists in five years of his rule by blaming them for the shambles, the SP was paying in kind, by accusing Berisha and his DP of ruining the country.
Whereas Fatos Nano's image was tainted with charges of misappropriation of emergency aid funds, and some of the slur remained despite the efforts of his party to build his reputation in the shape of a martyr, Berisha's positions were shaken just as much by the inadequate answers to the questions of who allowed the pyramid schemes to operate, and by inaction in the face of charges of corruption in the Meksi government.
All in all the image of the Albanian politician was badly scarred by the long and relentless "political war of atrition". No matter how skilled a politician was, he could no longer command respect and could not wield his authority with success in a situation which was deteriorating by the hour.
Hence the mistake of opting for politicians to provide a solution to a crisis made by politicians. From the very beginning it stank as a political manoeuvre.
What the country's political class did was to give too much heed to the recommendations from Western advisers and accept their word as Gospel truth. The unfortunate thing about taking the advise of Western politicians is that the international mediators saw the Albanian crisis as one of a political content only, and they sought to find a solution from a political angle, which was narrow-minded, to say the least.
Our Albanian politicians, for their part, should have realised that they had had their say in all that mattered until then. They should have owned up to their inability to manage the crisis, because they themselves were the cause of it. The DP governance prepared the ground for the collapse - the SP and its allies planted the time bomb that blew up the whole edifice, thus completing the destructive work.
At this point in time, when the crisis was transformed from a rebellion of discontented and angry peopple into a nation-wide movement that bore all the hallmarks of a revolution, the politicians should have been barred from having anything to do or to say in the destinies of the country. They should have volunteered to relinquish the little power that they still wielded and allow a different group of people to take over.
But international community insisted that a politically negotiated settlement was the best and, perhaps the only, answer to the crisis. All is fine with this way of doing things, provided it is conducted in a democratic spirit and in a normal environment. Albania did not offer the basic conditons for a negotiated settlement. The international community could not come up with a different option, because they had a blinkered view of the Albanian realities.
The political forces had shown that they were unable to run the country. The socialists were twice in government over a short period and were brought down. The democrats were in government long enough to show what they were capable of doing. So, why rely on politicians again to save the country from the crisis which they had "generously helped" to create?
What would have been the answer, then?
There was one option, which was never explored, was never even taken up for consideration, was never even mentioned as a possible way of pulling the country back from the brink of the abys.
I would not expect the representatives of the OSCE to suggest the sort of solution I had in mind because their knowledge of Albanian way of life is only skin-deep. They are skilful negotiators in political crisis-solutions. They are good "doctors" who can diagnose a political case, and that is all. Their expertise is limited to tackling the political roots of the crisis.
What I had in mind was something that stood above party politics, above party interests and allegiancies - I was thinking on different terms.
In the history of the world there are numerous examples of countries at grips with similar crises. They would have made perfect case-studies and could have provided some leading ideas as to how to avoid the convulsions in Albanian society.
In some countries similar crises were solved by military coups and the setting up of military juntas. Our southern neighbour had been through that experience in the seventies until the conditions were ripe for a hand-over of power to political forces. The military-coup scenario could not work in the recent Albanian conditions. Firstly, because of the loyalty of the military. Secondly, because the military were demoralised and had no sense of orientation.
In those difficult moments I was hoping against hope that the Albanian tradition would be the first thing that our political class would turn to for ideas. It could stand us in good stead in this situation and help to weather the crisis. What I was expecting to hear from both main fighters in the political ring, was that they would agree to make a truce, call an end to the endless political war of words and desist from claiming to govern the country for a period. From that point onwards they could go about setting up a non-political representative body in the model of the traditional assemblies (lower house of the parliament) and elders' councils (upper house of the parliament). This body could run the affairs of the delapidated state and try to repair most of the damage, heal the worst wounds caused by mutual political jabbing, and restore Albanians' confidence in themselves.
Meanwhile, the frayed political forces would have gained enough time to rethink their policies and rebuild their strategies with a cool head, without the worries and problems that beset politicians in quest of power.
Once a degree of calm and stability was achieved, this non-political body would turn to the crying needs of the country - the repair of the damage to private individuals' and state property, the improvement of the basic infrastructure, water and electricity supply - two basic points which went largely unattended by both the socialist and the democratic governments from 1990-1996.
By getting the politicians out of the scene, people's tempers would cool gradually, politically motivated enmities that threatened to split the country into enemy camps would die down and life would resume a normal course.
When the cause of the ill was removed, the ordinary citizens would look up to this body with calm and confidence for judicious guidance and governance.
This non-partisan interregnum would be most advantageously used in order to build the institutions which lie at the basis of a democracy. The four pillars of the democratic edifice could be set up without interference from politically motivated forces and the country would proceed to the next step, i.e, a normal political life, with a high degree of certainty that democratic principles would not be tampered with, that the rights of the individual would be looked after, that the interests of the state would be safeguarded.
This period of healing would have served to complete Albania's transition to an acceptable system of government based on infallible institutions that would provide the safeties for the country.
Unfortunately this was never contemplated before, during and after the crisis.
The international mediators were eager to get this one crisis over and report that the Albanian chapter was closed temporarily. They provided Albania with a short-term political solution and gave the country a socialist government which is composed precisely of the same people who share as great a responsibility for the ruination of the country as their political opponents. They made sure that Albanians have a Parliament, which the DP is boycotting in the same style and spirit as the SP did earlier.
The hot ashes of the crisis were smothered in a hurry. It will take only the slightest political pretext for the ashes to stir and become another conflagration. The roots of the evil are still there. The seeds of disquiet are hibernating.
If the international community fails to see this potential threat, is there anyone in Albania who is prepared to point a finger at the flaws in this hurried settlement of the Albanian crisis? If the international mediators could only do this much to save Albanians from themselves, aren't there any Albanians left who can show that this is nothing but a short-term solution, and that all the ingredients for another crisis have remained untackled? If the international community fails to see where the solution it provided comes short of what is really needed, is there no one left in Albania who can stand up and show that there is a better way of managing the crisis, and that the solution is not necessarily a political one?
It is only understandable that the governing socialists would not contemplate to relinquish the reins of state to a non-political body. They fought tooth and nail for it in the last seven years and they believe they have amply earned the reward. It would be just as difficult to convince the centre-right political forces to agree to this idea, either. Both the DP and the ruling SP and its allies were fighting for the same goal - state power.
In the face of the national disaster which they helped to cause, the political parties should have the courage to admit that they failed their electorate, that they failed the whole country and the nation.
The ruling socialist-communists are not better able than the democrats and their allies to claim title to leadership of the country in this unhappy period. If there is any civic sense of duty left in the Albanian politicians they must own up to their grave errors of judgement and allow the people to rule themselves by state institutions that have nothing to do with a political class which is in great need for a period of rethinking. If they accept this as a fact and allow a non-political body to take the responsibility of ruling the country, they would be doing a great service to the country and to themselves. Only then can they claim forgetfulness for one of the greatest disservice's which they did to Albania.