Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

VIII. The Albanians

8. The Future. Greek and Servian Claims, Austrian and Italian Ambitions
 

Greek and Servian Claims
Of the future of Albania it is difficult to write with any measure of comfort or conviction. This gifted and interesting race has awakened too late, and one fears that the crisis in its fortunes must come before it has had the leisure to prepare itself for freedom. It has won no recognition from diplomacy, and the young States which surround it have regarded it as their legitimate inheritance. Greece lays claim to Epirus, and Servia to the plain of Kossovo as far as the mountains which rise behind Prizrend, while Montenegro, the especial protégé of the Tsars, has also her ambitions. Carved up among these alien countries, Albania would go the way of Poland, and her dream of a national


278

existence would have vanished almost before it had begun to inspire. Beyond these minor competitors stand Italy and Austria, each anxious to obtain a share, if not the whole. Indeed, the only hope that seems permissible is that among so many claimants, the easiest and the least dangerous solution may after all prove to be an autonomy upon national lines.

The claim of Greece to Epirus rests on a hoary confusion. The Christian minority of Lower Albania may be Orthodox in religion, but it is Greek neither in language nor in race. And yet one must admit that a Greek occupation of Epirus would not be an unmixed evil. There is a large population which is still Greek in sympathy, and Greek in such culture as it possesses. A great number of the Moslems would undoubtedly return under any Christian rule to the faith of their fathers. In two generations Epirus would be as much Greek as Attica is to-day. For the greater part of the population of Northern Greece is undoubtedly Albanian in origin. The addition of so large an Albanian element to the Greek kingdom would, on the other hand, dilute its Hellenic character still further, and possibly the Albanians would be strong enough to force the Greeks into some reluctant show of tolerance, and even into a tardy recognition of their language. But the chief objection to this solution is, to my mind, that it would rob Albania of its most progressive and enlightened element. An Albania which included Epirus would already contain a considerable population on a relatively high level of civilisation, which might be trusted to leaven the whole mass. Deprived of the Epirotes, Albania would be a little principality of savages whose progress towards order and letters would be intolerably slow.

The case for a Servian annexation in the North is at once stronger and weaker. While there is no considerable Greek population in Southern Albania, there is a large Servian element in the North. On the other hand, there is a traditional feud between Servians and Albanians which would render the peaceable administration of the country under a Servian hegemony more than difficult. The Greek genius exerts a certain ascendancy and fascination over the Southern


279

Albanians. It has been a civilising influence. It can quote a long and often friendly intercourse, and to bridge the conjiection there is already a large population of Hellenised Albanians established in the present Greek kingdom a population as loyal and as advanced as any in the Greek world, and one, moreover, which has contributed more than its fair share to the laurels of modern Hellenism. With the Serbs it is quite otherwise. They have never played the part of civilisers in Northern Albania. So far from regarding them as his superiors in culture the Albanian has learned to despise and to exploit them as his villeins. A Greek dominion in Southern Albania would seem comparatively natural, and would imply no violent reversal of traditional habits of thought. But Servian rule in the North would imply a social as well as a political revolution. The Servian minority already settled about Prizrend and the plain of Kossovo would tend to become a party of ascendancy, and its novel and irritating pretensions would seem to the Albanians peculiarly degrading and offensive. These local Serbs have hitherto held their lives and their property on a species of feudal tenure from their Albanian overlords. That they should become prefects and deputies protected from Belgrade would be an inversion of every custom and an outrage on every prejudice. Moreover, the Servians of Servia have not succeed in conciliating their local Albanians as the Greeks of Greece have done. When the Southern limits of the Servian kingdom were enlarged after the Treaty of Berlin, the greater number of these Albanians were driven across the frontier, and in the process there were wholesale evictions and uncompensated confiscations of estates. Both races are convinced that the country is theirs by right, and it is difficult to imagine any satisfactory compromise between them.

The Albanians can boast the advantage of actual possession. They form the majority of the population almost everywhere between the Servian frontier and the mountains behind Prizrend. They are also the aboriginal population, and if one goes far enough back, they can regard the Servians, with perfect justice, as intruders and usurpers. On


280

the other hand, Kossovo was the metropolis and the cradle of the Servian Empire. In Prizrend and in Uskub the great Dushan had his capitals. At the monastery of Detchani, near Ipek, the Servian kings were crowned, and round it gathers all that is most sacred in the legendary memories of an imaginative race. Nor does their historical claim end with the overthrow of Dushan's Empire by the Turkish invaders on the field of Kossovo. Up till the close of the seventeenth century Ipek was still the Servian centre, and its Patriarch preserved the identity of the national Church. It may be true that the Albanians who have colonised "Old Servia" succeeded to derelict and unoccupied lands, it was their ferocity which had rendered them untenanted. Each race has a claim so ancient and legitimate, and their recent relations are so complicated with injustice and the resentment it brings with it, that neither could live happily under the dominion of the other. The Serbs could not establish themselves without serious fighting and long years of coercion, while the Albanians would certainly use authority to complete the exile of the Servian race. The Servians lack the force to make their rule respected; the Albanians lack the civilisation to make their domination tolerable.

Short of the administration of "Old Servia" by some alien Power, which could only be Austria, there seems no tolerable solution save its partition between Servia and an autonomous Albanian State. Partition would certainly be an unnatural expedient. The country is a plain which lies between two ranges of mountains, the northern already Servian, the southern certainly Albanian. But there is no considerable river or well-marked range of hills dividing it which would offer a convenient frontier. If, on the other hand, one consults the interests of both populations, the happiest issue from an awkward dilemma would be to draw a conventional frontier somewhere below the Uskub-Mitrovitza railway, and to give the land to the north to Servia,


281

leaving the southern moiety to be incorporated in an autonomous Albania. The immediate consequence would no doubt be a serious unsettlement of the actual populations. The Albanians of the northern half would probably decline to remain under the Servian flag, and their place would be taken by Servian refugees from the southern territory. If this exchange were consciously effected, and supervised by neutral commissioners, it could hardly fail to lead to the pacification of the country and to a fair composition between the claims of both races. The chief inconvenience would be that the Servians would be left with a frontier which it be difficult for them to defend against the predatory raids of the Albanians. [1]

By giving Epirus to the Greeks, Old Servia to the Servians, and by incorporating Dibra in an autonomous Macedonia, it would doubtless be possible to reduce Albania to very modest proportions. But there is no Balkan race save the Albanians possesses the slenderest claim to the country that lies between Elbasan and Scutari. If those poor and sparsely-peopled highlands were to be created an independent principality, it would be condemned to continual poverty and to a savagery without hope of redemption. It is only by including within the limits of a free Albania all the lands inhabited by the Albanian race, the populous region of Prizrend and Djacova, as well as the more civilised province of Epirus, that a worthy future can be assured to her. The question-begging name of "Old Servia" settles no titles, while the Greek claim to Epirus rests on no better foundation than the confusion of the terms Greek and Orthodox. Europe has fallen into a deplorable habit of ignoring the claims of the Mohamedan inhabitants of European Turkey. Where they are Turkish by race, and form the minority of a population, it is no grave error to discount their existence.

1. The same problem arises in the Sandjak of Novi-Bazar, where the population is also partly Albanian and partly Servian, but Austria is never likely to renounce the right of military occupation conferred upon her by the Treaty of Berlin. If she were to renounce this territory a union of Montenegro with Servia would become possible, and that Austria is bound at all hazards to prevent.


282

They have little national sentiment. They can thrive only under a retrograde administration and a Mussulman theocracy. Under any alien Christian rule they invariably emigrate. But the Moslem Albanians are in a totally different case. They form the majority of their race. They have a fervent if primitive national sentiment. They are capable of progress, nor do they owe their position to the favour of an Asiatic conqueror. To deny them a political future because of their loosely-held creed, and to confound them in the fortunes of the Slavs and the Greeks, would be an injustice which only intolerance could explain, an error which only ignorance could excuse.
 

Austrian and Italian Ambitions
Autonomy has become a practical policy for Albania because the rivalries of the two Great Powers which aspire to its possession are acute and incompatible. Austria has long aspired to the reversion of Turkish territory; and Italy, since the failure of her Abyssinian adventure, has been active in asserting her claims. Austria starts with many advantages. She is a Catholic Power. She has long enjoyed a protectorate over the Albanian Catholics, and in them she has a powerful army of partisans. Italy, on the other hand, is regarded by the Catholic Albanians as an impious State which has persecuted and imprisoned the Pope. To the northern Albanians the Italians are atheists, to the southerns they are "Latins," and each name serves to excite an inveterate and almost insuperable prejudice. Austria has a further superiority in her wealth, whereas the Italians are regarded as an impecunious race of adventurers who are anxious to exploit the country and to eat up the mineral wealth which it is supposed to contain. The obvious argument in favour of Italy, that she is a Liberal Power, does not appear to weigh with the Albanians as it ought. Their instincts are monarchical and aristocratic, and they do not realise how much they might gain from the generous and sympathetic democracy of Italy.

Their thoughts are for the present so wholly concentrated on the preservation of their language that they regard Austria only as a friend who has recognised and assisted this propaganda. It is true that Austria has subsidized


283

some of their publications and created a chair of Albanian at Vienna. [2] On the other hand, while she assists their struggles outside Turkey, she has done nothing whatever to aid them within its borders. A little pressure at Constantinople would have saved their school at Koritza. But Austria has never been known to display her interest in this practical fashion. She does enough to persuade the Albanians that she is sympathetic, enough to assure them that under her rule they would enjoy full liberty to cultivate their own tongue; but she does not do enough to civilise them, to develop them, to make them capable of controlling their own destinies. How far she has a conscious motive one cannot say, but it is conceivable that she may find it to her interest that the Albanians should remain relatively savage, advanced enough to wish to be rid of the Turks, but not sufficiently civilised to seem capable of independence. For when the catastrophe comes which makes the maintenance of the status quo impossible, the turbulence and the backwardness of the Albanians will constitute the best arguments for an Austrian occupation. It will be urged with much plausibility that an autonomous Albania would be a menace to the peace of every State on her borders, and that the Albanians lack the necessary initiative for their own advancement. The good work of Austria in Bosnia and Herzegovina gives an earnest of success, and unquestionably she has the force and the resources necessary for the pacification of a difficult race. Italy, on the other hand, is untried and without experience in the management of alien peoples, and her best friends are those who seek to dissuade her from the path of Imperialism and colonial adventure. As for the Albanians themselves, they hardly seem to reflect that an Austrian occupation would mean the extinction of all hope of political independence. Some of them have thrown themselves with such whole-hearted enthusiasm into the language movement that they have forgotten the political side of nationality altogether. Others, under one disguise or another, have accepted bribes or subsidies from

2. Italy has also established a chair of Albanian at Naples, and the popular interest in Albania is growing.


284

Austria, and this susceptibility to the argument of the purse is perhaps the most distressing aspect of the national character. It is no doubt a trait of all poor peoples, and the Albanians share it with the Scottish Highlanders of the eighteenth century, to whom they bear, in many other respects, a marked and most promising resemblance. The more far-sighted and intelligent Albanians have adopted a peculiarly dangerous line of argument. They say, with some justice, that ten or twenty years of Austrian rule would be the salvation of the country. The Austrians would make roads, introduce schools, and wean the savage tribesmen from their predatory habits, their feuds and their vendettas. But twenty years hence who would care to prophesy that the Austrian Empire will still exist? Those who reason thus know enough of European politics to understand that a break-up of Austria is possible, and even probable. But they fail to realise that Austria, though she may be remodelled or partitioned, can hardly disappear. She must have a successor and an heir, and there is no guarantee that an Albanian province would be able to emancipate itself from one or other of the groups into which Austria may be split. Magyar or Slav or German rule would be even more fatal to Albanian aspirations than the comparatively tolerant regime of the present Empire.

But, however strong the current may be which seems to be carrying Albania within the Austrian system, the dennination of Italy to prevent the aggrandisement of her rival has still to be reckoned with. To make the Adriatic what it was in the great days of the Venetian Republic, an Italian lake, is an intelligible ambition. A torpedo-boat can sail in three hours from Vallona to the Italian coast, and Italy is not at all anxious to have the Austrians in such close proximity. But Austria, which has no other exit from Fiume and Trieste, is equally resolved that Italy shall not be the undisputed mistress of the straits. It is fairly certain that either Power would go to war to prevent the other from acquiring so dangerous an advantage as the possession of the Albanian coast. One hopes that this rivalry may mean checkmate to the ambitions of both Powers. One hears, indeed, from time to time, that Italy and Austria are at one. It is, one suspects, the sort of unity to which Francis I. and Charles V. attained before Pavia, when both were agreed in wanting Milan. But if one chooses to be optimistic, there is warrant enough in official utterances. Addressing the Italian Chamber, after his meeting with Count Goluchowski, in the summer of 1904, Signer Tittoni announced in categorical terms that his Government and that of Austria had come to an understanding. Both undertook to respect the status quo as long as possible, with the proviso that when this becomes impossible the solution shall be sought in an autonomy for Albania on national lines. Certainly there seems no other way of avoiding war, and with equal certainty one may predict that so soon as Macedonia in one way or another is released from direct Turkish rule, it will be quite impossible for the Sultan to hold Albania. The example would be too stimulating, the proof of Turkish weakness too overwhelming. Albania can be controlled more or less from Uskub and from Monastir, but if these centres were emancipated, she would become to all practical purposes an insular province, to which Constantinople could neither give an order nor despatch an army corps.
 

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]