VIII. The Albanians
9. Prospects of Autonomy. Albanian Pretenders (note)
Autonomy, then, is a solution within the range of practical politics. It is also the best solution. The Albanians have the makings of a united people. They are turning already with a pathetic eagerness towards knowledge and civilisation. It would be difficult to allege any reason why they should be denied the right of self-government which has been allowed to Greeks and Serbs and Bulgars. They are certainly not more primitive, more savage, or more turbulent than were their neighbours the Montenegrins a generation ago. Austrian rule, no doubt, would give them material prosperity, but without the stimulus of freedom, and without the education which only independence can confer. Their progress would doubtless be slow; but they do not become levantinised by letters, and I believe that after a generation of schooling they would be, thanks to their energy and their traditions of personal honour, in
some respects the most promising race in the Balkan peninsula. For any elaborate constitutional régime they are doubtless unfitted, but their tribal institutions rest upon an admirable traditional system of local self-government which could be adopted without much modification. To select a suitable Prince would be no easy task, but when once he has been chosen, he will find a people whose feudal instincts will dispose them to honour and to obey him.  To introduce order and a respect for law will no doubt be the work of years, and even of generations. Wholesale coercion would be a fatal mistake. But it should be possible from the first to mark out certain areas, such as the plain of Koritza, together with all the larger towns, within which murder will not be tolerated. The remoter and more mountainous regions can only be conquered gradually. But schools should be founded everywhere, and it should be understood that the persons of teachers must not be used as targets for rifle practice.
Higher education should be made compulsory for the nobility, and much might be achieved by encouraging the beys on one pretext or another to familiarise themselves
1. There are already two pretenders in the field. (l) The Marquis Aladro alleges descent from the family of Scanderbeg. He is a Spaniard of some diplomatic experience, wealthy and somewhat advanced in years. When invited by a representative Albanian to submit proofs of his descent from Scanderbeg, he replied that he had no sympathy with that sort of "Byzantiuism." The fact seems to be that the last male descendant of George Castriot was killed at Pavia. The Marquis Aladro can hardly be considered a serious candidate. His knowledge of Balkan conditions may be gauged by an offer which he once made to found an opera-house at Scutari ! (2) The second claimant is a certain Prince Albert Ghica, who comes of a family of Albanian origin, long resident in Roumania. It has given Hospodars (Governors) to the old Wallachian provinces and diplomats to the modern kingdom, and enjoys princely rank in the Austrian Empire. Prince Albert is a comparatively young man with plausible manners and a dubious past, who speaks fluent French, and knows neither one word of the Albanian language nor the elements of Albanian geography. He has been chosen honorary president by one of the numerous clubs of Albanian immigrants in Bucharest, and on the strength of this social honour poses in European hotels as the chief-elect of the Albanian people. He talks of venturing in person into Albania and raising the flag of revolt. We shall see.
His claim is interesting, only in so far as his programme contemplates a union of the Vlach and Albanian causes. He asserts, probably without any basis, in fact, that he has the support of the Conservative party in Roumania, and may therefore be backed by the Roumanian propaganda in Macedonia and Albania. His modest dream is a Vlacho-Albanian State embracing all the five vilayets of Albania and Macedonia. But the Vlachs are neither numerous nor warlike nor unanimous, and they are much too cautious to rise in support of such a chimera as this. As for the Albanian chieftains, one does not see them accepting the leadership of a denationalised adventurer from Bucharest. The Khedivial family of Egypt might, if it possessed a cadet of character and parts, prefer a claim with some measure of reason, inasmuch as Mehemet Ali, the founder of the House, was an Albanian soldier of fortune. But no member of this family has so far shown any practical interest in Albania, or done anything to assist the national propaganda. On the whole it would be best to seek a Prince from some reigning family of Europe. He must not be a Slav, since the prejudice of the Albanians against all Slavs is quite ineradicable. It would be well that he should not be a Catholic, since he will have so many Orthodox subjects who have been taught to regard the Latins as worse than the Turks. A Protestant would probably be the most generally acceptable candidate.
with civilisation by travelling in Europe. The making of roads and the careful policing of them, by breaking down the isolation of the wilder clans, should serve at once to soften their manners and to create a sense of national unity. The mere prohibition to carry arms would alone effect a revolution in manners. Nor should the creation of a good gendarmerie prove a difficult task. The fidelity of the Albanians ought to make them an excellent material for police. The chief difficulty will be financial, since the wilder tribes resent direct taxation, and consume few imports on which a tariff could be placed. The feudal structure of Albanian society puts a powerful lever in the hands of a tactful and magnetic ruler. If by means of a court and a college he can succeed in spreading among the nobility an enthusiasm for culture and for orderly progress, the whole people must follow their example.
The conversion of the landed class to Islam involved the majority of the race in apostasy. A contrary movement among them towards civilisation would have results no less considerable. It is fairly certain, for example, that under a Christian Prince vast numbers of Albanians would return to Christianity — a change from which the women, at
any rate, would have much to gain. One hopes, too, that Bektashism,
relieved from the necessity of conforming outwardly to Islam, might develop
into an independent cult whose features would be humanity and tolerance.
It is quite conceivable that this strange and gifted race, whose mind has
so long lain fallow amid the loneliness of its white mountains, may yet
contribute some new and original element to European civilisation. The
countrymen of Lord Beaconsfield, on whom lies the responsibility for conserving
Turkish rule in Europe during thirty years of turbulence and stagnation,
could hardly discharge their debt to the subject races of the Balkans to
better purpose than by assisting the Albanians in their struggle for education
and emancipation. Something might be done at present to aid them with schools
and even, perhaps, with missions, and when the catastrophe comes, to assure
them an opportunity of working out their destinies in freedom. [Note
in a separate section.]
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