THE YUGOSLAV STATE AND THE ALBANIANS, part II
THE YUGOSLAV STATE AND THE ALBANIANS, part II
In the years and decades after the Berlin Congress, the obsession with defending designated territories grew into pathological enmity towards neighboring states and peoples on religious-ethnic levels. The consequences of the conflict, followed by an accelerated change of ethnic structure in the Albanian population, was mostly felt in the impact made by Islamization and Albanization in the area of the Kosovo “vilayet”. The intensive emigration of the Slavic population, the settlement of “muhadjirs” who fled from Serbia and Montenegro, the chaotic state of events in the bordering zones but also oppressions, propaganda, violent Islamization and Albanization—all crucially influenced the reduction of Serbian ethnic tissue, which, in the years up to the Balkan wars, remained reduced by around 150,000 members. After 1878, the bordering areas of Serbia and Montenegro incorporated a wide, arced zone of Albanian settlers who, as live rampart, divided the South Slavic population in the north from that in the south. For many long years after, the awakening of a national conscience in their compatriots was disabled in the areas of Turkish Albania in such a way. The political and cultural impact of Serbia and Montenegro was thus minimized. The Albanian role was to act as a special “military frontier area” directed at surrounding states, whereas the Kosovo and Bitola “vilayets” had specific strategic importance. On this basis (and on par with territorial concerns) the ethnographic area of Albania was established. Just as the Porte failed to carry out reforms in Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Metohija (on a huge scale of terror) the Albanian movement enlarged its program.
In the waning years of the 19th Century, the movement for the autonomy of Albania found its “patron” in the policies of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in the Balkans. The agreement made in secret between Franz Josef and Nikola II was to go into effect from May 1897 “…on the territory of Ioannina in the south to the Shkodra lake in the north, the principality of Albania to be created with appropriate expansion on both sides”. Its directive aroused the aspirations of the Albanian leaders. The events in Macedonia, in Kosovo, and in Albania, kept giving new reasons to Albanian leaders to answer with terror and, through the newly created Albanian League’s interest in Serbia and Montenegro, to protect their compatriots in the mentioned regions. That is how, in the gathering in Peć (January 23-29 1899), five hundred representatives of the Kosovo, Ioannina, and Bitola “vilayets” formed a Committee. It adopted the Declaration’s defense provision to the “Albanian land” from Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece—much as the Prizren By-laws (from June 17, 1878) had enacted. On this occasion it was decided that the League, through its committees in all “vilayets”, would propagate the “unification and defense of the fatherland” and become a representative of general Albanian interests. The international public was informed that Albania comprised fifteen “sanjaks”. Out of the fifteen, Shkodra, Peć, Priština, Prizren, Skopje, Bitola and Debar are disputed with Serbia. It was emphasized that the Albanian area should include the areas of Peć, Priština, Vranje, Kačanik, Skopje, Prilep, Bitola, Florina, Krebona—and Ioannina, up to the bay of Prevaz. At the meetings in Peć differences regarding issues of autonomy of Albania (inside or out of Turkish Empire) were pointed out. There, claims were made that the Porte should be in concordance with the messages from the Memorandum from October 1896 and February 1896, and popular opinion prevailed. The first Memorandum demanded that the “vilayets” of Shkodra, Ioannina, Bitola, Kosovo and Thessalonica be linked up. It would form one single, unique “vilayet” on the border of the Empire—with the acknowledgement that affairs of the administration be conducted in the official Turkish language. The second Memorandum abandoned the idea of joining the Thessalonica “vilayet” but the introduction of Albanian language in administration affairs was insisted upon.
By establishing the Committee for Defense in Shkodra (March 1899), the activities of the League were able to expand to middle Albania. The action of the Debar Committee, which followed the conclusions of the Peć League to the letter, was especially singled out. There was an idea to declare administrative autonomy on the territory of the four “vilayets”—Turkish rule was suspended on the greater part of the Bitola “vilayet”, and a rebelled insurrection in the Kosovo “vilayet” had begun (Peć, Prizren, Uroševac, Priština, Djakovica, Mitrovica, Skopje). All this made an impact on the decision of the Porte to crush this movement by armed action which took place in May 1900. In this, the Peć League had the same fate as the one from Prizren which followed the ideas and programs regarding territorial and administrative separateness.
The limited scope of activity of the Peć League (mainly in the region of the Kosovo, and a lesser part in the Bitola and Shkodra “vilayet”) served Austro-Hungarian interests by constantly aggravating relations between the Albanian and Slavic population. The government in Vienna was convinced that the solution to the prestige-beset problems of the Balkans was to be sought through controlling Kosovo and Metohija.
Starting from the strategic judgment that only through Kosovo and Metohija would the penetration along the Vardar valley towards Thessalonica be made possible, the Austro-Hungarian politicians and the military circles concentrated on excluding Kosovo from reform action. This action, together with the other great powers, was imposed on Turkey at the Congress of Berlin. Its impetus was supported by Germany, which considered that reforms in the area of Kosovo would weaken Albanian power—indispensably necessary for preventing the Slavic penetration towards the Adriatic Sea. That is how the Albanian anti-reform movement in the beginning of the 20th Century was used very early on: to keep, and inflame, the already existing enmity between the Albanians and the Slavs.
The Albanian movement for autonomy on political and national fronts gained important status in diplomatic and strategic projects created by Vienna after 1908. Enmity both supported and stimulated plans concerning a lasting division of Serbia and Montenegro. The creation of an independent Albania, the occupation of Kosovo, the undertaking of control over Durrës and Valona, and the inclusion of Albanian area into “our sphere of power” were all included. Acting in accordance with the said determinations, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy smoothly prepared the way in the following years, and in 1912-1913. Through its agents and representatives at the Conference in London, decisive policy influenced the establishment, and thereby acknowledgment of the Albanian state.
From the onset of the 20th century the Albanian anti-reform movement was strengthened in the area of Kosovo, Metohija and west Macedonia coinciding with the Austro-Hungarian plans. A national consciousness concerning originality and territorial-administrative separateness began to spill over the Albanian feudal layer while collective memories of Italian irredentism were headed elsewhere. In the years preceding the Balkan wars, Albanian leadership directed the Albanian rebel movement, and thus created the territorial and ethnical entirety of Albania—while completely ignoring the non-Albanian population of the cited “vilayets” (Shkodra, Ioannina, Bitola and Kosovo). In that way did the Albanian nationalists take over the ideas, concepts, and programs of the Prizren and Peć Leagues, and build nationalistic and chauvinistic contents into the foundations of the Albanian national liberation movement. Unprepared to break away completely from Turkey in order to create a state out of their megalomaniac interests, the leaders of the rebel movement of 1909-1912 accepted every help and understanding from the big European powers. It made sacrifices to the given objective in advance – a territorial and ethnic Albania. In the beginning, when connections were so closely connected to the political outcomes of the new Turkish movement, the repeated claim for an autonomous and independent Albania gathered steam in a few short years because of their willingness to make sacrifices.
Albanian nationalism, chauvinism and “irredentism”, based on romantic visions and rebel enthusiasm, began to manifest more aggressively before the Balkan wars. The dramatic process of inciting those on land was testified by the armed Turkish intervention in Ljuma, Mat, and Debar. The rebellion in Kosovo, Metohija, Malësia, and in the surroundings of Shkodra in 1909 was crushed, as was the rebellion in Kosovo in 1910 and the insurrection from Cemerija, Kolonjë and Korçë to Great Malësia, Podujevo, Gnjilane and Skopje in 1912. Besides differences in the tactics of realizing objectives, which was shared by the political leadership of the rebellions (Hasan in Priština, Nedzib bey Draga) and leaders of the rebel units (Bajram Curi, Isa Boljetini, Riza Krieziu, Idriz Seferi, Ludji Gurakuchi), the idea about territorial and administrative autonomy was not abandoned. Turkey was considered as a necessity, and “manner” to survive, as well as guarantor of Albanian rights in a future Albanian state; succession of Turkish inheritance in the Balkans depended on it. The establishment of the Albanian Committee in Skopje in 1910 suggested that Epirus, a greater part of Macedonia and Old Serbia (Kosovo, Metohija, and part of Novi Pazar “sanjak”), should compose a part of Albania and proved that the earlier program visions and fictions had been followed completely. Acting in compliance with the aim of propagating the predominance of Albanians in the cited areas, this Committee directed its major activity to ignoring the rights of the non-Albanian population. Other committees forming in the region, which the Albanians considered as theirs, acted in a similar way. The necessity of proving the ethnical rights of the Albanians in four “vilayet” regions transformed over time into a national pathology. It eventually burdened the Albanian movement for autonomy into unrealistic nationalist and irredentist aspirations between 1909 and 1912 and contributed significantly to the moment when the Albanian allies declared war against the Osmanli Empire: Albanian leaders linked their own and the fate of their people with the defense and survival of the Turkish Empire. In keeping with this, the offers which Nikola Pašić offered to Albanian leaders through his mediators, promised freedom of religion, official usage of language, and Albanian rule in municipalities and districts settled with Albanians. (Custom law and assembly functions, which would take care of educational, religious, and legal issues, were rejected in 1912.) In the Memorandum addressed to the consular representatives of the big powers in Skopje on October 16, 1912, armed Albanian resistance to the planned division of territories of Balkan Turkey was pointed out. It was estimated that about 16,000 Albanian fighters were opposed to Serbian armies on the frontier—but their resistance was short-lived, and eventually came to an end with the fall of Priština on October 22, 1912. Thanks to the influence shared amongst Albanian leaders, the Serbian army passed peacefully across Drenica and Kosovo. Out of 150 Albanian villages not one reported any clash, but there were skirmishes in Metohija where Bajram Curi organized resistance against the Serbian army. There was further resistance when attempting to disarm Has, Dukadjin, and Ljuma. In conflicts with the Turkish army, the Montenegrin units had the support of the Malësors from the start—as well as Albanians from Rugovem, Plav, and Gusinje. Misunderstandings arose when the Albanian claims for autonomy in those regions were exercised. The establishment of the “new rule” was followed by a wave of migration of Albanian and Muslim populations toward the Albanian areas of Turkey. Attempts to restrain the violence were assigned to “volunteer battalions” that local Albanians and Turks were taken into to serve. They also tried to win over the always-influential “beyship” to their side. For the purpose of regaining trust, the new rule facilitated the return of refugees. The successes of the Balkan ally in October and November 1912 offered a way out of the uncertain situation. Albanian leaders, headed by Ismail Kemal, consulted with Austro-Hungarian and Italian political circles and as a result declared the independence of Albania in Valona on November 28, 1912. The connection with Turkey continued to be honored, however, until May 30, 1913 when the Peace Treaty between Turkey and the Balkan allied jurisdictions over Albania were left to European powers.
Austro-Hungary and Italy were left to prepare according to their “special interests” an elaboration about Albania, for the Conference of the Ambassadors in London. The basis was discussion of a future “autonomous Albania” and the political destiny of the Albanian people whose leaders were all-too familiar with state manipulation. Formulated compliance with direct interests caused different reactions, especially regarding future Albanian borders. By adopting the common position that Albania would border with Montenegro to the north, and Greece to the south, territorial expansion of Serbia through (north) Albania towards the Adriatic Sea was suspended. Maximum claims of all interested parties contributed to the climate of distrust, and “bargaining” with territories. The border disputes were open around the towns of Shkodra, Debar, Prizren, Djakovica, and Peć. In the Memorandum addressed at the Conference to Edward Gray by the provisional government in Valona, (January 2, 1913), it was pointed out that the borders of future Albania had to “correspond to the maximum variant (sic) of the territorial program of the Albanian movement”. It was foreseen that the expansion would start at the border of the Kingdom of Montenegro, and include “the towns of Peć, Mitrovica, Priština, Skopje and Tetovo with their surroundings, keeping the present border all the way up to Preveza”. The signatories of the Memorandum considered that they had the right to certain merits in the general Albanian movement for liberation from Turkey, and founded their claims on them. Respectively, the following was included in the Memorandum: “The Albanian nation is convinced that the Balkan allies will have in mind that the common action they undertook is, to an extent, a continuation of the most recent Albanian rebels and that their yesterday’s successes can be considered only as fruit of liberation movement in which the Albanians, today, as yesterday, distinguish themselves by their bravery and constant rebellions, proving tireless irredentism” (sic). That is how “irredentism” became a terminological entry of the Albanian movement for autonomy and independence – developing side by side with Albanian nationalism and building up in that way the political fiction which became blind for all those who did not favor the necessity of Albania for territorial or ethnical frameworks. The border of Montenegro and Serbia with Albania was a result of compromise between Austro-Hungarian and Russian diplomats. That it was not drawn by Albania nor its Balkan neighbors, Serbia and Montenegro, but by European powers was self-indicative. Because of that, and the border which they concluded, the Balkan states were increasingly in a state of dissatisfaction which, additionally, inflamed their conflicts. The border from the Adriatic coast along the river Bojana included a part of the Shkodra lake where the towns of Plav, Gusinje, Peć, Dečani, Djakovica, Prizren, Debar and Ohrid belonged to Montenegro and Serbia. The Conference made the decision that Serbian troops stationed in northern Albania should withdraw to the afore-mentioned frontier line. The established Albanian state then became “the corner stone of this policy of Vienna diplomacy in the Balkans”.
Ismail Kemal’s leaders expressed a readiness to continue their “tireless irredentism” until all demands were fulfilled. They were leading a provisional government dissatisfied with the territorial solutions of Albania, and established a Committee for the defense of Kosovo and northern Epirus in 1913. Through the Fire association in the United States, and similar Albanian associations throughout Europe, it promoted its cause to Prizren in 1878: that of the marked “vilayet” frontiers based on the principle “Albania for Albanians”. That is how (after the establishment of the Albanian state) the search for new Albanian borders began. Non-reconciliation with what was achieved for Albania at the Conference in London became a constant in policy of the Albanian movement throughout the whole of the next century. The birth of the Albanian state was accepted by public opinion as a “drop of joy in the sorrow felt in the heart of every Albanian because of the loss of Kosovo, Debar and Cameria”. The position of the Conference in London that “divided the Albanian people into two” and “sacrificed it to the rivalry of powers” decided its destiny. It was then built into the foundations of the political propaganda regarding the territorial and ethnical Albania.
“General anarchy” most accurately describes the situation in 1913 and 1914 that ruled the frontier between Serbia and Albania. Led by the policies of Vienna and Sofia, the Albanian political and military elite began extensive preparations of armed rebellion against Serbians in the bordering areas of Macedonia and Kosovo. The Bulgarian government was of the opinion that the insurrection of the Albanians stimulated the creation of autonomous Macedonia which, annexed to Bulgaria, would enable the change of the Albanian border in favor of Serbia. There was a conviction that about 20,000 Albanians, who had escaped during the First Balkan War from Kosovo and Metohija into Albania, could generate a level of unrest that would force the Serbian troops to abandon Albanian territory right up to the demarcation line.
The organization of rebellion was entrusted to Hasan Prishtina, Isa Boljetini, Bajram Curi and Riz bey Kriezi—political leaders originating from Kosovo and Metohija who had strong influence on the entire Albanian policy. They relied on “kacac” (ethnic Albanian outlaws), units that grouped political malcontents, deserters, and outcasts who joined after 1912. Behind the entire action stood the government of Ismail Kemal, and the political circles of Vienna and Sofia. After the intrusion of “kacac” troops during May and June, Albanian companies, who numbered as many as 10,000 fighters-strong, invaded territories which belonged to Serbia according to the decision of the Conference in London. Headed by Bulgarian comities, they took over Debar, Ohrid, Struga and penetrated towards Gostivar.
At the same time units headed by Isa Boljetini and Bajram Curi occupied Ljuma, sieged Prizren, and took Djakovica for short. The government in Valona, which supported the rebellion with arms, ammunition, and money, hoped that its fierce and massive presence would force Europe to change the decisions adopted at the Conference in London. The “irredentist current” that started the rebellion was put to task to stabilize the situation of uncertainty, thus necessitating Austro-Hungarian intervention. The counterattack of Serbian troops, organized in the beginning of October, pressed the Albanians from the occupied territories and resulted in the reoccupation of strategic points in Albanian territory. Shortly after this, on October 20, 1913, Serbian troops withdrew to the borderline determined by the London Treaty. Without having been reconciled with the borders of the Albanian state and the defeat of rebellion, Ismail Kemal sent word to the nation from the political meeting in Valona: “We should always have in mind that Kosovo was and will remain Albanian”. The interested powers of Austro-Hungary and Italy, considering the role of Albania and the Albanian movement in future events, agreed in April of 1914 to restrain their rivalry by accepting the principle of “priority interests” in Albania based on “equal influence and participation”. The agreement foresaw the possibility of common opposition to “attempts of Greece, Serbia and Montenegro to cause riots in Albania”.
In the request of the Serbian government to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vienna on September 29, 1913, the involvement of the Albanian government from Valona in the rebellion was explained in the following way: “Many data the Serbian Royal Government disposed of show that the movement of Albanians against the Serbian border as well as their intrusions into Serbian territory were prepared long and systematically, that it had encouragement outside of Albania, that the attacks were organized in Valona under the leadership of two members of the provisional government, its minister H. Prishtina and I. Boljetini.” Refuting reasons for preventing Albanians in border areas to use markets in Djakovica and Debar for supplies, it was concluded in the request that “Albanians have been gathering big quantities of arms and ammunition for three months” and that “Albanians within the borders of Serbia received arms from Albania”. In this context, a free passage to the markets in Djakovica and Debar assisted in arming and spreading the rebellion across the other side of the border. Essentially, the Albanian rebellion from September 1913 was an announcement of an irredentist movement for attaching Kosovo, Metohija, western Macedonia, and the eastern regions of Montenegro to Albania. It served the provisional Albanian government in Valona to demonstrate readiness through nationalist leaders’ claims of fighting for a territorial and ethnic Albania in compliance with the visions of the main actors of the Albanian regeneration.
At the moment when the Austro-Hungarian monarchy declared war against Serbia, the military and political circles in Vienna counted on the help of the Albanian state and the “ardent aspiration of the Albanians to grab Kosovo”. From Prince Vid it was requested to “stand at the head of the Albanians and attack Serbia”. The insurrection in Kosovo, Metohija, and Macedonia was planned with the conviction that it would grow into a second front against Serbia. Plans of new Albanian borders were constructed, a propaganda campaign was organized, the rebellion financially aided, and arms were delivered and stored in the bordering areas towards Serbia. It looked to Albanian leaders like Austro-Hungary was ready to accept and, in accordance to its own interests, support the concept of the Albanian state that included the area of Kosovo and Metohija in its widened borders. Prince Vid was not ready for war against Serbia. Vienna suggested to Rome and the Albanian leaders that any further delay of his deposition “only delayed the unification of Albanians for action against Serbia”. Close cooperation was reached and with Constantinople was included in rebellion action. They were convinced that its purpose was to create Albania, united with the territories of Kosovo, Metohija, and Macedonia under the control of Turkey.
The favored plans for a territorial and ethnic Albania were taken on by the Committee for defense of Kosovo (Hasan Prishtina, Bajram Curi, Isa Boljetini and others). Vienna, through its military intelligence service, money, and arms, accordingly aided the rebellion’s organization in Kosovo, Metohija, and Macedonia. The March rebellion in 1914 in the area of Suva Reka, and Orahovac (and the desertion of the Albanians from the Serbian army while new “kacac” groups appeared), were foundations from which border intrusions were planned. The arrival of the International Control Committee escorted them in front, while Albanians from the bordering areas received the assignment to express dissatisfaction with life in Serbia but also the desire that Djakovica, Peć, and Prizren (as well as the whole area up to the railroad Uroševac – Mitrovica) be attached to Albania
Turkey’s involvement in the war (November 1914) strengthened the religious component in ferments which struck the Albanian state and the area settled with an Albanian population. The agreement between Vienna and Constantinople saw to it that Turkey joined the Central powers, thus favoring the possibility that Turkey, together with Kosovo, Metohija, and Macedonia, would come under its “control”. Along the Serbian-Albanian border, the gathering of Albanian companies commanded by Young Turk and Austrian officers started. The rebellion against the “Durrës government” of Esad-pasha gathered momentum on the same strength as the return of Islamized Albanian populations in the areas of Albania, Kosovo, Metohija and Macedonia under the sovereignty of the Sultan’s regime. The invasion of Hasan Prishtina, with around 2,000 armed followers into the territory of Serbia, forced the Serbian government to preventive intervention. Using the provisions of the Treaty concluded between Nikola Pašić in the capacity of prime minister with Esad-pasha (September 1914), the military intervention gained the form of “help” to the protégé. In the military action, in which around 20,000 soldiers participated, intrusion into the territory of Albania was carried out. Elbasan, Tirana, and Drač were occupied, that part of Albania was pacified, and the positions of Esad-pasha Toptani were fortified. The area of northern Albania and Mirditë still remained a zone from which adherents of Isa Boljetini, Bajram Curi, and Hasan Prishtina relied on the support of Austro-Hungarian monarchy, which permanently endangered the interests of the Serbian state.
The German-Austro-Hungarian offensive against Serbia and Montenegro in the autumn of 1915, and the Bulgarian campaign on the side of the Central Powers, created a new historical situation favorable for stating the Albanian territorial pretensions. The Committee for defense of Kosovo’s initiative was to organize “kacac” groups out of the fleeing population, and deserters whose numbers increased day by day. After the Serbian army passed “across Albania” and shifted to Corfu, northern Albania—together with Serbia and Montenegro—found itself under the control of Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian troops. The territories of Kosovo and Metohija were caught, once again, by a wave of anarchy and terror. The “bey” oligarchy, former Turkish officers, Bulgarian comities, Albanian “kacacs”, regular military units, occupational administrations and others, were part of the milieu in which they had to survive. According to available data, occupational authorities succeeded in gathering around 10,000 armed Albanians who were used to keeping order, but also to fighting Serbian rebels in Toplica.
The inclusion of Kosovo and Metohija into Austro-Hungarian occupational zones of General governors “Montenegro” (which included parts of Metohija, too) and “Serbia” (which consisted of a smaller part of Kosovo with Mitrovica and Vučitrn), and the Bulgarian Military-inspection region “Macedonia” (which included Priština, Prizren, Gnjilane, Uroševac and Orahovac) showed that the occupational regimes counted on territorial projections of Albania only in compliance with their own military-political objectives. The Albanian leaders didn’t make much room for realizing any dreams about a territorial and ethnic Albania. The attempts of Prenk Bib Doda and Hasan Prishtina to organize a gathering of all occupied Albanian regions under Austro-Hungarian protection did not produce significant results. The introduction of an Albanian administration into the administrative machinery in the areas of Plav, Gusinje, Peć, Djakovica, Priština, Mitrovica and Vučitrn was not accepted with the rationale that this was not to be discussed “while the state of war lasted”. Introducing the Albanian language into schools and services controlled by the Austro-Hungarian monarchy aroused the hope and the position there would be no changes while “military operations” lasted and the war stimulated the expectation. The outcome of the war opened the treacherous possibility that the dispute between Vienna and Sofia was to be resolved by attaching Kosovo and Metohija to Albania. However, hope did not abandon Hasan Prishtina and like-minded persons around him that the administrative status of the region under the control of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the protectorate position over entire Albania would enable the expansion of Albanian borders. These borders reached the territorial and ethnic boundaries protected by the Prizren and Peć Leagues in the Memorandum dated January 2, 1913. The other alternative was offered by Rome. According to the decision of the secret London Agreement from April 26, 1915, the events during the summer months of 1917 indicated the possibility of the “unity of Albania under the protectorate of Italy”. The guarantees of territorial broadening were found. The desired outcome of the First World War was only to be awaited. The Albanian political elite were confident that the outcome of the war would not be a surprise. The possibility that a post-war Serbian state could return to areas “of their Middle Ages” was overlooked, however.
Written by Djordje Borozan, Ljubodrag Dimic