Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Minorities and Minority Language Education in Inter-War Albania

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Minorities and Minority Language Education in Inter-War Albania

Article excerpt

The south-western section of the Balkan peninsula has long been a mix of ethnicities. The ethnic tensions the region is experiencing today have their roots in disputes which began smoldering in the nineteenth century, were left unresolved or even exacerbated by World Wars I and II, and are no re-emerging in post Cold War and post-communist societies.

One of the most contentious issues in present day relations between Greece and Albania concerns each country's obligations under international law to provide education for minorities in their mother tongue. Since Albania emerged from communist dictatorship in 1991, ethnic Greeks, suppressed under the regimes of Enver Hoxha and Ramiz Alia, have begun to request permission to re-establish Greek language schools. Also, Albanian citizens of Vlach origin have reasserted their ethnic identity and have sought to perpetuate their cultural heritage through Rumanian language schooling. For its part, the new democratic government of Albania has sought from Greece recognition of the historic presence of Albanian minority communities in Greece.

This article reviews the roots of these contemporary social and international issues during the inter-war period in Albania. The author was granted access to previously closed documents at the Albanian State Archives. Over several months, he located and examined documents which chronicle decisions made by the Albanian government between 1920 and 1929, as well as some from the period of the Italian fascist occupation, 1939-1943. He examined the texts of diplomatic demarches made by the Albanian, Greek and Rumanian governments regarding minority education, correspondence between Albania and the League of Nations on this issue, and intra-government memoranda and reports describing problems local education officials faced in trying to administer Greek and Vlach (which for Albanian officials meant Rumanian) language schools.

After World War II, when Enver Hoxha had consolidated Communist Party control of Albania, he began a campaign to eradicate all vestiges of minority identity in Albania. Ethnic Greeks and Vlachs feared speaking in their mother tongues, and both communities faced severe education restrictions. Especially after Greece became a member of NATO in 1952, ethnic Greeks, more so than Vlachs, were regarded as an "enemy within."

Today, as Albania attempts to build a democratic society, old minority issues are re-emerging. This piece begins with a short background to the issue of minority education in Albania and then focuses on the inter-war period. It ends with a short update on recent developments in minority language education.

Background: The Albanian State and Minorities After World War I

Ethnic minorities have lived on the territory of present day Albania, among Albanians who comprised a majority of the inhabitants of those lands, for hundreds of years. Greeks and Albanians have lived among each other for centuries in the region of northern Greece and southern and eastern Albania referred to as "Epirus." Distinct Albanian communities existed throughout Greece long before and even after World War I. Large numbers of Albanians lived in the area of Northern Greece known to them as "Cameria" until they were expelled to communist Albania after World War II, accused by the Greek government of collaborating with the Nazis.

During Ottoman rule in Albania many Greeks came to Albania to work for Albanian and Turkish land owners. Dozens of ethnic Greek villages grew up in the southern Albanian districts of Gjirokaster, Delvine and Saranda. Schools were opened. Foreign diplomats stationed in northern Greece in the latter part of the nineteenth century occasionally met with Ottoman officials governing Albanian territories to discuss concerns for ethnic Greek communities.(1)

Vlachs first moved to land now within the Republic of Albania during the seventeenth century. …

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