Sunday, 9 December 2012

National symbols and unity

I struggled to finish this note, because of lack of time for most of it but also because this isn't an entertaining article. I had given myself the duty to keep away from 'serious' subjects as I wanted to write light hearted and easy to digest stories that could be pleasant to a wide range of people. It proved difficult to keep away from the 'serious' subjects and this time I want to talk about national unity and how it is reflected in people's behaviours during events of national significance. Albanians are people that talk a lot about 'serious' stuff, politics, the economy, origins of law, how do you make people stick to rules, how do you get a functioning democracy etc. For most of them these are questions that one can spend a lifetime exploring without reaching a clear cut conclusion. This may be related to the type of issues Albanians face in their every day lives, injustices, lack of order or the rule of the stronger etc. Whereas for the British things are much easier and mostly people speak about what they consume, what they will consume and of course the news, food, entertainment and other leisurely topics. However both the Albanians and the British are part of a country and have a national sense. I am going to look at that sense for both people at the same time, without wanting however to fall prey to comparisons between two very different groups of people.

2012 has been in Britain a year marked by the Queen's jubilee and the Olympics and Paralympics. Both events were hugely popular, the jubilee saw people celebrating in street parties organised spontaneously by groups of neighbours, waving British flags, wearing the royal family members face masks etc. The Olympics raised that national fervour a notch higher by producing a spotless, safe and pleasant show for millions of people. This in itself was for many an exceptional achievement which was made even better by the highly achieving British team.

I have been following the Queen's jubilee and the Olympics not very closely but from my own distance i.e. being interested but not a fanatic. I am no fanatic of monarchy and neither of sports. Although I made it to the Olympic park once and really enjoyed it.

There is a sense of national pride, showcasing the best of British culture everywhere, in conversations, news editions, newspapers and social media. What strikes me is how united the British are behind what the Union Jack represents for them. Their strong sense of national identity and pride impresses me.

2012 in another part of the world Albania, was also a special year, the 100th anniversary of independence. The festivities for this special event culminated with various activities on the independence day, 28th November although there were other festivities spread in the year. Most of the events were spotless as well, attended and enjoyed by a lot of people.

However there is a feeling that some people might have enjoyed the events more than others, or that some people might have wanted to honour different memorable historic figures.

Some people considered as more important Ismail Qemali, the man that was at the heart of organising the efforts of bringing delegates representing all areas inhabited by Albanians to Vlora, in the south of Albania where he declared the independence on 28th November 1912. And others thought Ahmet Zogu, who was prime minister and later self declared monarch in the 1920s had a more significant influence over building a modern Albania.

I don't think we can choose to celebrate one at the expense of the other because they were both very important. Ismail Qemali is a historic figure engraved in every Albanian as the founding father of an independent Albania. Without him and the other men, that went against many odds and surprised the international forces by their determination to present an Albanian plan at the Conference of Ambassadors in London in 1913, today's Albanian wouldn't exist. The other plans presented at that conference wanted a much smaller Albania and under the protectorate of Italy. However Ismail Qemali representing the Albanian delegation followed up what he started in Vlora and had the agreement of the conference to accept some of the Albanian plan. So despite the Albanian plan not being accepted fully i.e half of territories inhabited by Albanians were left out (territories in the north and east went to Serbia and in the south to Greece) the plan that was agreed was better than the other competing ones and Albania became an independent state. This is a major achievement for which all Albanians are grateful to Ismail Qemali.

Now if we want to talk about the other historic figure Ahmet Zogu he is also as important and has a long lasting influence similarly to that of Ismail Qemali. I don't understand why a choice has to be made between the two, and if is often made it is based on party politics.

Ahmed Zogu played a much bigger role because he was driving Albanian politics for a much longer time from 1920 to 1938 but as to their symbolic importance both are equal. You can neither chose Ismail Qemali at the expense of Zogu because what he left behind in 1913 when he chose to resign from being prime minister was far from an independent Albania. The country was trapped in the middle of the First World War and had many armies invading it, the Austro-Hungarians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Macedonians, Italians and Greeks. The final borders of Albania were only defined after 1921 many years after Ismail Qemali's independence declaration. This coincides with the beginnings of Zogu being in power when there was a lot to do, not least to clear the territory from foreign armies. From that point onwards many things happened (I invite those interested to read Bernd J. Fischer's book King Zogu and the Struggle for Stability in Albania (1984) and Zogu's efforts were numerous and continuous to build a state that could survive without any other stronger country's 'help'. Although it didn't prove possible and at the end of his reign Albania was invaded by Italy, his outstanding efforts and legacy remain.

So instead of choosing sides, depending on political affiliation Albanians should embrace both figures for their equally important influence on the creation and endurance of the independent Albanian state. On such a special occasion as the 100th anniversary of independence, political and social divisions should subside and every Albanian should enjoy and feel proud of being Albanian.

It has been a long and difficult journey to come where we are today. It has been a century of upheavals. In the first 45 years coming out of from five centuries under the Ottoman Empire, creating a state for the first time, forging a national identity, building the economy and uniting and educating a society dominated by poverty and illiteracy. In the second 45 years engaging the whole country into a catastrophic descent into the abysses of a Stalinist dictatorship for years and suddenly coming out of it in a world that had moved forward and where Albanians had not much to be proud of.

But things have got better, people are happier and we are back at a point when we can look back at our history and think that we have achieved a lot and be proud of it. Of course there is still a lot to do, let's not lure ourselves but things can get much better if we are all together and believe in a common dream.

2012 is the year of celebrating our national achievements together beyond the historical divisions and rivalries. There is one thing that is beyond these differences, that is the red two headed eagle which stands out and calls on us. In the same way as the Union Jack calls on the British and their national pride. We should respond and recognise that we make our country better when we are together and celebrate our history as a whole.

This is the 'serious' note. I hope it wasn't too serious bur rather informing for those that don't know much about Albania and a call for agreement to other fellow Albanians who feel the same as me. I promise the next one will be more fun, or perhaps even more serious, perhaps even a piece of political and social engagement? Let's see I will keep you posted.

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