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Albania Celebrates 100 Years of Independence
***The following article— “Albania Celebrates 100 Years of Independence” by Ashley Elizabeth Wood is not an official Albanian Voices article. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of their author and do not necessarily represent the views of Albanian Voices or any of its partner organizations.***
“The Albanians, these tigers of mountain wars … have as their religion rebellion. Even their worst warrior is one of the strongest and bravest on the battle-field, just as if he was a knight on the legendary horse. But he has no horse, nor proper weapons for battle. Instead of the horse, he has a lance which strikes as lightning, he has spears who’s points are full of poison as the sting of hornets, he has also a wooden bow with some arrows. Furthermore, he is stronger than iron … “
– Ibn Kemal (Historian of the Turkish court during Skanderbeg’s war against the Turks)
“The story of the Albanians deserves a study in itself. Attracted by the ‘sword, the gold trappings, and the honors, they left their mountains chiefly in order to become soldiers. In the sixteenth century they were to be found in Cyprus, in Venice, in Mantua, in Rome, in Naples, and Sicily, and as far abroad as Madrid, where they went to present their projects and their grievances, to ask for barrels of gunpowder or years of pension, arrogant, imperious, always ready for a fight.”
– Nicholas Pappas
Today, Albania celebrates their 100 year anniversary of the declaration of independence. This moment is huge for Albania, representing centuries of struggle, bloodshed, loss and triumph against everyone from the Ottomans to the French. The history of Albania is rife with conflict. For the better part of 800 years, ethnic Albanians had to defend their land from invasion by the Serbs and the Ottomans. When they finally established an official script for their language in 1908, and declared independence in 1912, the road only got more difficult.
Albania endured the Balkan wars and World War I; tolerated Greek, Italian, Serbian and French military occupation. Later, they were attacked by Serbia, divided up and given to Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia. Before and during World War II, Albania was permeated by Italian culture, language, politics and military rule. By 1940, the Albanian Fascist Party was established and one year later, the Albanian Communist Party. After WWII, Albania suffered years of communism and allied itself with the Soviet Union. But in 1990, the Democratic Party of Albania was established and in 1991, diplomatic relations with the US were reestablished. Albania again was rocked by violence in 1997 when there was great social, political and economic unrest. Despite their complicated history that can hardly be summarized in a paragraph, this population of 3.3 million (another 12 million ethnic Albanians are estimated to live in diaspora) celebrates proudly today. The red flag with a double black eagle flies everywhere in the world. Gëzuar to all my dear Albanian friends!
I awoke early this morning to watch the celebrations that were streamed live on YouTube (you know, ’cause Europe is 6 hours ahead). According to the Prime Minister, today’s November 28th celebrations include a military parade in Tirana (complete with a special unit of 65 soldiers from the Kosovo Security Force), concerts of folk and popular music in Tirana and Vlorë. The president of the republic will raise the flag, pay tribute to Ismail Qemali (founder of the modern Albanian state as its first head of state and government) and the deceased at the Martyrs’ of the Nation Cemetery.
He will also inaugurate the Monument of Independence and give a speech at a rally specifically dedicated to the anniversary. Another celebrated hero today (and every day in Albania) is Skanderbeg (born George Kastrioti in 1405). He is considered the father of Albania and many say that he is an inspiration for the characteristic Albanian courage and tenacity. He successfully rebelled against the Ottoman Empire during the 15th Century and unified the Albanian people.
As I sit here watching an extremely patriotic display of flags, pins, statues, anthems, lights, music and people; all of whom are dressed in head to toe in red and black (kuq e zi), I can’t help but be moved. All Albanians share the experience of being forced to struggle for their well being, whether it be in Albania or living abroad. Albania still experiences high unemployment and rampant government corruption and many Albanians are forced to leave the country in order to find work elsewhere. Many risk deportation and imprisonment to immigrate to countries like the U.S. and Canada illegally. Unlike some other major immigrant groups, Albanians tend to learn the language of the countries in which they live, which results in high rates of bilingualism. Despite the difficulties of living in Albania, or living as an Albanian abroad, the people have come out in droves today and celebrate patriotically, smiling and waving flags as their leaders give speeches.
In the spirit of music, language and culture, here is the national anthem with English translation. Albania is now a parliamentary democracy, a member of the United Nations and NATO and has applied for the European Union membership. Congratulations to Albania for not giving up on independence for so many centuries! May your country continue to grow and be strong!