How do Kosovar Albanians differ from Albanians in Albania?
July 30, 2008 11:26 AM   Subscribe

How do Kosovar Albanians differ from Albanians in Albania?

Kosovar Albanians and Albanians in Albania proper share a nationality but their historical experiences seem so different that I wonder if the division has produced cultural differences between the two. The historical analogy that comes to mind is that of Germany, where the Iron Curtain produced distinct “Ossi” and “Wessi” identities which persisted even after reunification

So, how are Kosovar Albanians different from Albanians in Albania? Do they speak a different dialect of Albanian? Do they speak with a distinct accent? How did their experiences under Yugoslav Communism affect them culturally? And how do the two groups view each other?

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sadly, both Albania and Kosovo are very poor - there's nothing like the financial divide that existed between East and West Germany.

In Albania, Enver Hoxha's regime was isolationist even among Eastern European nations - close ties to China, for instance. Like many dictators, he was fairly paranoid, and seemed to spend a lot of time constructing millions of concrete bunkers and seeming to do little else.

Kosovo's Albanians benefited in some ways from being a much more progressive and liberated country (in comparison, of course), but at the same time were fairly oppressed by the Serbian population. Use of Albanian was hindered and prohibited in some cases (as in education), and opportunities were doled out unfairly, keeping the level of unemployment high.

Yours is a very loaded question; Serbia has long maintained a secret plan by Albanians to merge Kosovo with Albania proper to form a "Greater Albania." I reckon this is unlikely to happen though, and there's not much evidence of it. One reason - and this is the same reason that makes your question tricky to answer - is that the divide between Albanians isn't really Albania / Kosovo. It's Gheg / Tosk. These are the two dialects of Albanian, but they carry with them many other associations. Gheg is spoken in the northern part (above the River Shkumbin) of Albania and in Kosovo. Tosk is spoken south of the River Shkumbin.

So, there's great solidarity between the Northern Albanians and the Kosovan Albanians - the Ghegs. Not so much with the Tosks of the south. I think Tosk is the more literary and "official form," and that the Albania government is more Tosk-centric. (Take that with a grain of salt; I'm not 100% sure.) So the idea of more Ghegs may be disturbing to the Tosks.

The Ghegs are also the feisty people whose culture is built in part around the Kanun - a collection of cultural "laws" which tend to revolve around honor and can be pretty heavy. You can read a little about some of their fascinating customs in this
recent thread.

To make a long story short, the differences may be greater between the northern Ghegs and the southern Tosks than between Albanians in general and Kosovans.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:13 PM on July 30, 2008 [5 favorites]

Also, both the Ghegs and Tosks have several different dialects. I think there's a high degree of mutual intelligibility, at least in the mainstream versions of these differences. The highly agrarian lifestyle of Kosovo's Gheg population was such that it's hard to say that Communism or anything else affected them much - quite a lot of them live as their great-grandparents would have, though this is a generalization.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:15 PM on July 30, 2008

As an Albanian, here is my quick take:

The most forceful division ocurred about 100 years ago at the collapse of the Ottoman control of that area of the Balkans, and was solidified after WWII. Albania declared independence in 1912, which was recognised in 1913, albeit the borders were changed and Albanian territory was annexed by neighboring countries. The Great Highlands went to Montenegro, Kosovo went to Serbia, Tetova and areas to the East went to Macedonia and Chameria in the south was taken over by Greece. Regarding the "Greater Albania" question, considering it was violently broken up, the notion should not be viewed as malicious or predatory as a matter of course. That said, I don't think it is reasonable to expect any legitimate push for unification between Kosovo and Albania, now or in the foreseeable future. The notion itself was a creation of either Serbia or Greece. As far ar I can tell, the general hope in both countries seems to be that as long as there is peace, and economic and political progress is (ever so slowly) being made, there is absolutely no need to chase after administrative nomenclature.

As Dee points out above, the main subdivision of Albanians is done along the dialect lines. My non-expert analogy would be to the difference between the British and American accent. Most of the time Ghegs and Tosks will understand each other very clearly. This improves as each gets closer to Tirana, which has a fair mix of both.

To answer your question more directly, the separation has not produced any substantial new cultural differences between Kosovar Albanians and those in Albania. It did, IMO, cause the two sides to lose touch with each other for about 50 years, but any awkwardness resulting from that is quickly disappearing. Generally, everybody gets along.

I have to run, but here are two examples of the musical style of Tosks (lots of poliphony) and the Gheg which is marked by frequent use of the çifteli (a two stringed instrument not dissimilar to a turkish saz) and rare vocal harmonies.
posted by preparat at 2:04 PM on July 30, 2008

I think Tosk is the more literary and "official form,"

The decision to make the Tosk dialect for the most part the standard was made in 1972, so you are absolutely correct.
posted by preparat at 2:24 PM on July 30, 2008

Regarding the "Greater Albania" question, considering it was violently broken up, the notion should not be viewed as malicious or predatory as a matter of course. That said, I don't think it is reasonable to expect any legitimate push for unification between Kosovo and Albania, now or in the foreseeable future. The notion itself was a creation of either Serbia or Greece.

I'm happy to hear from my Albanian pal that I got things basically right!

I mention the "Greater Albania" thing because this is the perennial problem in our little corner of Europe - out of control irredentism. People speak of "Greater Romania," "Greater Hungary," "Greater Serbia," "Greater Croatia," "Greater Bulgaria," "Greater Albania," and so on, either as threats (however imaginary they may be; often, these are created as red herrings to further someone else's irredentist policies) or sometimes as realities (Serbia's started four wars in under two decades, with "Greater Serbia" as their stated objective. Greece objects to even the word "Macedonia," as they feel that Macedonia is inextricably Greek - that's why you sometimes hear the country referred to by its capital, Skopje, or as the clunky "FYROM" - Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia.)

Greater Albania is pretty unlikely. As Preparat has said, it was mostly the creation of Serbia and Greece, and it was meant to be used as sort of a pseudo-defense of some of their less savory actions, and to stir up nationalist passions. In Serbia and Greece, the idea of Greater Albania conjures up the idea of the return of the Ottoman Empire (not for nothing do Serbians tend to refer to any Muslim in the region as a "Turk.")

Most Kosovans and Albanians are trying to get by in tough times and lead good lives, just like people everywhere. Their sense of politics is often very local; they have not the inclination, nor the resources, nor the time to ponder deeply a theoretical unification of a nation. Anyway, as a primarily Muslim people, they are a little less prone to irredentist nationalism than their Orthodox neighbors. There are a lot of historical reasons for that, too extensive to get into here. This post is a great question, and I've liked wondering about it myself, and as I've said before, Albania doesn't get enough attention. It's a fascinating place with fantastic people.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:59 PM on July 30, 2008

If you're interested in a reasoned critique of the idea that such and such a chunk of country is and always has been Ours, you may be interested in this Radio National podcast on the uses and abuses of history.
posted by flabdablet at 7:28 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

This post is a great question,

Thank you, Dee! And thanks to you and your friend preparat for such well-composed, thoughtful answers!

Again, thanks!
posted by jason's_planet at 7:02 AM on July 31, 2008

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