Academic journal article East European Quarterly

A Stable Ecumenical Model? How Religion Might Become a Political Issue in Albania

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

A Stable Ecumenical Model? How Religion Might Become a Political Issue in Albania

Article excerpt


To a great extent, the social conflicts which have erupted in the formerly communist countries, have been, at least on the surface, religiously motivated.(1) This is not only characteristic of the former Communist states. During the last decade, the phenomenon of social conflicts that appear as religiously motivated has become quite common in other areas too. So much so, that, once different groups and movements in a multi-religious society begin to frame their goals in a religious discourse, the scholars tend to consider and evaluate the possibility of future conflict as something which must be taken for granted. A number of scholars have suggested that the worst scenario usually is bound to happen when the multi-religious society is based on tribal kinship groups. It is assumed that these kind of societies tend to have more conflicts and disputes than other societies.(2) In addition, in societies divided sharply by social class or religious confession, there is an obvious tension between the solidarity that a common nationality requires and the antagonism provoked by these divisions.(3)

Given the current precarious political situation of Albania, one must question whether or not a future conflict framed on a religious discourse is bound to happen. In a book published in the fall of 1997, James Pettifer and Miranda Vickers suggest that it is only a matter of time: "It remains to be seen if Albanian separation of church and state can be maintained."(4) A few pages later, resonating the same hopeless tune they conclude that "Religion, culture, and politics are close companions in the Balkan countries."(5) Although Pettifer and Vickers are not alone in professing the clash of religions in Albania, what is surprising is that their book was published after the Albanian crisis had been in full swing and there was no religious war occurring in Albania.

Similarly, when the crisis of the last year erupted, many analysts predicted that religious civil war was inevitable. Yet war did not break out. At this point, then, with all due respect to these authors and analysts, it is quite apparent that we should reverse the question and ask why, in the first place, a religious war did not ensue. Although from an ethnic point of view, ethnic Albanians make up about 98 percent of the population, from a religious standpoint, Albania definitely is the typical example of a multi-religious society.

   Albania is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in Europe with
   Albanians in 1989 comprising ninety-eight percent of the population. Prior
   to World War II, about seventy percent of Albanians were Muslims, twenty
   percent Eastern Orthodox, and ten percent Roman Catholic.(6)

Since the Second World War, no reliable census based on the religious denomination of individuals has taken place in Albania. However, it is widely believed that this proportion has remained about the same.(7)

Nonetheless, one has to explain the puzzle of why Albanians did not fight a religious war. More importantly, no scholars have touched upon the delicate point of the perspective of the religious conflict in a democratic form of regime. One does not get much from an assertion that Albania can traditionally be considered as a challenge to many complex and controversial ideas which explain the doubtful coexistence of various religious groups in a multi-religious society.(8)

More than to highlight some of the traditional parameters of the relationship among religious groups that in the past have been characterized by harmony and tolerance, the purpose of this article is to explain why, even in a democratic regime, it might not be possible to maintain and cultivate harmony and tolerance all the time and what should be done in order to avoid the worst scenario so deliberately put forward by Vickers and Pettifer. I focus on the possibility that the attitude of each major religious community towards democracy and its institutions may not prove to be stable and uniform, but may change in the course of time. …

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