‘Enverists’ and ‘Titoists’ - I

Author: Stephen Schwartz
Uploaded: Monday, 20 April, 2009

Fascinating and copiously documented historical survey of significant political and cultural trends in Albania and Kosova since before World War II, first published in The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics (Glasgow) - second part (with footnotes) follows

Communism and Islam in Albania and Kosova, 1941-1999 - from the Partisan movement of the Second World War to the Kosova Liberation War

 

 

Dedicated to the Albanian Communist Llazër Fundo (1899-1944), who wrote:

‘Far from my country/I find myself in Mongolia.’

 

Introductory note

Albania has a population of 3.6 million, which is 65 percent Muslim, with a Sunni majority, and a considerable minority, perhaps 30 percent of the whole population, or one million, affiliated with the Bektashi Sufi order, mainly in southern Albania. Bektashis, the only indigenous Shia Muslims in Europe, have been headquartered in Albania since the suppression of Sufism in Turkey in 1925, and have as many as two million adherents in Albanian-speaking communities. The remaining, non-Muslim 35 percent in Albania are roughly 20 percent Christian Orthodox (in the south) and 15 percent Catholic (in the north).

The Kosova Republic, the second-largest Albanian-speaking country, with approximately 2 million people, is 80 percent Sunni, 10 percent Catholic, and 10 percent Serbian Orthodox. Bektashis are present in Kosova and influential beyond their small numbers, especially in the western region of Dukagjini, known to Serbs as Metohija, as well as among veterans of the former Kosova Liberation Army or KLA (Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës – UÇK, more properly ‘Liberation Army of Kosova’). Many other Sufi orders are widely represented among Albanians, who are the only European Islamic community with a major indigenous Sufi presence. Kosova’s Albanian majority of 90 percent is a subject of debate over its historical origins; that issue will not be examined in this paper.

Albanians in western Macedonia, who total at least 800,000, resemble their Kosovar homologues in religious sentiment. Orthodox Christian Albanians are rare in Kosova and western Macedonia, although long-prominent in the Albanian diaspora in the U.S. [where Fan Noli founded the Albanian Orthodox church]

Among Albanians, religion tends to be a signifier of local and family tradition, and there is no reliable means to determine how many people in any of the faith communities are really religious, as opposed to agnostics or atheists. Albanian national tradition holds that the people do not allow religious differences to divide them. Albania proper has seen a significant movement of Muslims toward Catholicism, which is alleged to be the main primordial religion of the nation, prior to the Ottoman conquest of the 14th century. Protestant Christian proselytism is prevalent in Albania and Kosova, where missionaries function unimpeded.

The political typology of ‘Enverists’ and ‘Titoists’ in Albanian political history, and especially that of Kosova, could easily lend itself to misinterpretation. The distinction could be taken to reflect an enduring preference for different styles of Communist governance – extreme dictatorial tyranny under Enver Hoxha (1908-85), ruler of Albania proper after 1944, and ‘liberal’ Communism under Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980), the architect of Communist Yugoslavia. Such an assumption would be mistaken. As will be shown, no Kosovar ‘Enverists’ after the 1960s were supporters, per se, of Hoxhaite social or economic polices.

Kosovar Albanians suffered various forms and degrees of discrimination under Yugoslav Communist and Serbian neo-Communist domination, culminating in decisions in 1987-90 by the regime of Slobodan Milošević to expel the Kosovar Albanians from the Yugoslav political, employment, education, and health systems. Kosovars were then compelled to organize a parallel economy and political life, independent schools, and improvised medical services. The aggravated oppression suffered by Albanians culminated in the Kosova liberation war of 1998-99, in which NATO intervened on their side, and the declaration of independence of the Kosova Republic in 2008.

Nevertheless, throughout the period of Serbian Communist suppression of the Kosovar Albanians, the latter were never effectively denied freedom of worship, or the right to pluralistic cultural expression diverging from a single Albanian literary standard and from ‘socialist realism.’ This was not the case in Hoxha’s Albania. Hoxha declared Albania the world’s first statutorily-atheist country in 1967, and all mosques, churches, Sufi centers, and the country’s sole Jewish synagogue were seized as state property and assigned to such secular uses as cinema theaters and sports facilities. Religious functionaries were executed, including Muslim and Catholic clerics and Sufi shaykhs and babas (the title of Bektashi clergy). In addition, the Hoxha state forced extremely harsh restrictions on all cultural and educational activities, ruthlessly imposing a linguistic variant known as Unified Literary Albanian or letrare, attempting to extirpate the northern or Gheg variant of Albanian,[1] and forbidding and assailing artistic and literary modernism, which had been an important element in Albanian literature since the end of the first world war.

While in 1987-90 Kosovar Albanians under Milošević were fired from their jobs and prevented from schooling their children or obtaining health care in Yugoslav state institutions, the Communist and Serbian nationalist Yugoslavs, even then, as well as during the liberation war of 1998-99, did not impede Albanians from attending mosque or church services (except, during the war, where Serbs demolished mosques and Sufi structures) or writing and painting in whatever idiom or style they chose.

Indeed, Yugoslavia, as long as Tito was alive, asserted pride in its commitment to religious autonomy, linguistic and dialectal diversity, and aesthetic experimentation (although these claims were in some periods mendacious), and used these conceptions to promote its image as a ‘democratic’ socialist commonwealth. Under Hoxha, by contrast, everything except praise of the dictator, the Albanian Party of Labor (formerly the Communist Party of Albania), and nationalist Communism was banned. Under Tito, by contrast, nationalist ‘propaganda’ (which could take the form of items as innocuous on their face as folk balladry) was subject to sanctions, for Croats, Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs, and Albanians. Exceptions to the Titoist suppression of nationalist aspirations obtained among Slovenes, whose patriotic traditions were considered unthreatening to Titoite Communism, and Macedonians, who were encouraged to develop a specific literary tradition as an alternative to the appeal among Macedonian Slavs of neighboring, Soviet-aligned Bulgaria. (The history of Bulgarian-Macedonian relations is irrelevant to the present inquiry.[2])

It would also be a conceptual error to equate ‘Enverism’ in Kosova with aggressive agitation for a single ‘ethnic Albania’ or ‘Greater Albania’ uniting Albania proper, Kosova, and the Albanian-speaking areas of western Macedonia, Montenegro, south Serbia, and northern Greece. As the Kosovar Albanian publicist Nexhmedin Spahiu wrote in 1999, while ‘Enverists’ were viewed as moderately sympathetic to Hoxha’s regime, the essential cleavage separated ‘Enverists,’ who placed the Kosova issue within the general context of a broad national consciousness in a people partitioned between Albania proper and Kosova, and ‘Titoists’ who considered the Kosova problem to be distinct from the destiny of the broader Albanian community. In the period preceding the Kosova liberation war, Spahiu identified ‘Enverism’ with the noted essayist Rexhep Qosja (b. 1936) and ‘Titoism’ with the moderate and nonviolent national leader Ibrahim Rugova (1944-2006).[3] As will be explained, the KLA/UÇK, which triumphed in 1999, was neither ‘Enverist’ nor ‘Titoist,’ regardless of Western speculation about its supposed Marxist origins. Further, as I will seek to elucidate, in the aftermath of Communism’s collapse in both Albania and Yugoslavia, as well as the success of UÇK, the terms ‘Enverist’ and ‘Titoist’ disappeared from the Kosovar political vocabulary. Although a nationalist left is present in Kosova today, its main protagonists do not identify with the legacy of either Communist Albania or of Yugoslavia.

1. The foundation of the Communist Movement in Albania and its antecedents

Albania was occupied by fascist Italy in 1939, its ruling King Zog (Ahmet Zogolli) fled, and Yugoslavia was subdued by Germany in April 1941. Kosova was soon occupied by the Italians and mainly attached to Albania, although the key mining area north of Mitrovica came under German control and was assigned, on the map, to Serbia, but as an Albanian autonomous zone. The German invasion of Russia on 22 June 1941 brought about a change in the line of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ), which, while the Stalin-Hitler pact was in force, had concentrated its efforts on anti-British propaganda. Albania proper had not yet produced a Communist Party, and at its foundation, in the aftermath of Hitler’s break with Stalin, Communism in the country was entirely ‘Titoist.’ This was because, lacking an industrial working class, Albania had no stable basis for Communist activity. At least 50 Albanians from Albania proper and Kosova, however, had participated in the Soviet-controlled International Brigades (IB) in Spain during the latter country’s civil war of 1936-39. When an Albanian Communist Party was founded late in 1941, its inspiration, and even its guiding spirits, were Yugoslav; it was established in Tirana, the Albanian capital, by two Slav representatives of the Kosova section of the KPJ, Dušan Mugoša and Miladin Popović. Their mission was unambiguous: to recruit allies for the Yugoslav anti-fascist movement. Mugoša and Popović fashioned the new party out of three small groups that were little more than study circles.

Sadik Premte, an early and popular leader of the Albanian Communists, expressed suspicion of Popović, whom Premte described as ‘a crafty Serb chauvinist who, under the mask of Communism, wanted to form a clique for the sake of better serving the interests of his country,’ i.e. Yugoslavia. Premte, in turn, was accused by the Yugoslav Communist Vladimir Dedijer (1914-90) of ‘Trotskyism’ and being ‘anti-Yugoslav.’[4] Premte and other pioneers of the Albanian Communist movement were soon expelled from the new party; Premte and a certain Anastas Lula were thrown out after a purge trial in Tirana in mid-1942. At least two Albanian dissenters from the official Communist line, Lula and Llazër Fundo (1899-1944)[5], were murdered during the war at the behest of Hoxha, a former Albanian student in France (where he may have been recruited to Communism by Fundo.) Hoxha was long suspected of serving as a monarchist police agent among the Albanians abroad, serving the regime of King Zog, but would become the Yugoslav-installed Communist chief of his native land.

According to Premte, many more such dissidents were assassinated. In memoirs, Hoxha referred to the purge of Lula and Premte as removal of an ‘abscess,’ and Albanian official party literature from Tirana continued to denounce them decades later. Premte escaped to France where he lived in exile from 1947 until his death in 1991; there he remained a target for assassination by Hoxha’s agents, but joined the international Trotskyist movement. Premte survived to see the fall of the Tirana Communist regime, and was praised by the French Trotskyists as having ‘remained faithful to the belief that there can be no socialism without democracy.’[6]

Llazër Fundo, although largely forgotten by Albanians today, was memorialized by British liaison officers assigned to the antifascist resistance movement in Albania, as well as Italian left-wing historians. Fundo was born in the town of Korça in Albania proper; his family were merchants from the nearby, once-prosperous city of Voskopoja (Moschopolis), which embodies a unique chapter in Balkan history. Voskopoja had been the economic center of Vlach (West Balkan Romanian) people and in the 18th century established one of the earliest printing industries in Christian languages in the Ottoman empire (Jewish printing under the Ottomans had begun earlier, in 1493, immediately after the expulsion of Jews from Spain and their invitation to settle in the Turkish lands, extended by the sultan.) Fundo was a Vlach. Voskopoja was largely depopulated at the end of the 18th century, and today is but a small village, yet is still famous for the beauty of the frescoes in its Orthodox churches.

Fundo studied in Salonika and Paris before returning to Albania in his early ‘20s and joining a political group led by Avni Rustemi (1895-1924), a revolutionary democrat. Rustemi was assassinated, and Fundo assumed editorial responsibility for Rustemi’s periodical, Bashkimi (Unity). Fundo later worked in the Balkan Federation, a front group for the Communist International (Comintern), active in regional nationalist politics and opposed to ‘White’ Yugoslavia as a counter-revolutionary monarchy that had welcomed Russian military opponents of the Bolsheviks. The Balkan Federation assisted the leading Albanian movement directing mass, armed resistance to Serbian rule over Kosova in the 1920s, the Kosova Committee (Komiteti e Kosovës or K.K.), in which Fundo was active. Fundo became a high Comintern functionary, associated with the Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov (1882-1949) and remained in Berlin after the latter, with two Bulgarian comrades, was arrested in 1933 by the Hitler government, and tried for the arson attack on the Reichstag. Fundo helped direct the legal defense for Dimitrov, who was acquitted and expelled from Germany, at which time Fundo also left the country.

The K. K. anticipated the later KLA/UÇK in lacking an elaborated political platform, aside from Albanian nationalism, or even the rudiments of an economic reform program. While the K.K. was led by the outstanding Kosovar Albanian patriots of the time, such as the long-active anti-Serbian combatant Bajram Curri (1862-1925), it had no social-revolutionary content, and indeed was viewed by most observers as defending the property rights of traditional Muslim landlords. K.K. members also included the notable Hasan Bej Prishtina (1873-1933), who had served as prime minister of Albania proper, and one of the most famous of all Kosovar guerrilla fighters of his generation, Azem Bejta Galica (1889-1924). Azem Bejta is perhaps even more renowned for the armed role taken on by his wife, Qerime ‘Shota’ Galica (1895-1927), who has become an epic female hero among the typically-patriarchal Albanians. The zone of operations of Azem and Shota Galica, Drenica in central Kosova, became the cradle of the KLA/UÇK campaign in 1997, and included the town of Prekaz i Ulët, home of Adem Jashari (1955-98), the most prominent martyr of the Kosova liberation war.[7]

In Kosova at the beginning of the second world war, the eminent South Slav historian Ivo Banac states flatly, ‘the KPJ had no following’ among Albanians.[8] As the Albanian Communist Koço Tashko wrote to Moscow in late 1942, in a letter cited by the historian Noel Malcolm, ‘The hatred and fear of the Kosovars for the Serbs and Montenegrins is very great.’ But the brunt of Tashko’s letter involved a complaint that Miladin Popović had rejected proposals for a separate Communist organization to be set up in Kosova. For, Tashko added, ‘let us not forget that (Kosovars) also have a great hatred for the fascist Italians, whom they call "weaklings" and "infidels".’[9]

Popović briefly asked that the party in Dukagjini be placed under the authority of the Albanian (Tirana) rather than the Yugoslav Communist leadership, and for the Partisans in the same area to report to the Albanian Partisan staff in Albania proper. But such a decision might have legitimized the Italian extension of Albanian authority into Kosova, and Popović soon abandoned that proposal. Nevertheless, Kosova remained Albanian in its majority, and its association with Albania was logical and justifiable by almost any measure except that of Serbian nationalism.

Only once, during the war, did the Albanian Communists from Tirana seem to seriously dissent from their Yugoslav masters on these matters. At the end of 1943, a conference of Communists was held in Bujan, in northeast Albania, at which just a seventh of the attendees were non-Albanian, and it created a Kosova People’s Committee. The Committee declared that only common Partisan struggle with the Yugoslav nationalities would allow the Kosovar Albanians

‘to decide their own future through the right of self-determination, up to the point of secession.’

This formulation was almost immediately rejected by the supreme Yugoslav Partisan leaders. However, Banac has shown that Tirana-Albanian Communists had attempted to break through this system of control on other occasions. The party organization within Albania proper unsuccessfully sought to assume command over Albanian Partisans in Kosova and western Macedonia, and to bring Dukagjini under its jurisdiction, in line with the original proposal of Popović; at least one obscure manifesto, very early on, seemed to grant Kosova and its Albanians equal standing in the Partisan liberation effort with Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece.[10]

Before continuing a review of Albanian-Yugoslav tensions in the Balkan Partisan milieu, it is appropriate to further examine the predecessors of the official Albanian party in the history of Communism in the Albanian lands. Because no historic Albanian socialist or Communist movement existed, the first Albanian Marxists originated in the ranks of an anti-Stalinist political tendency that today is virtually forgotten, the Greek ‘Archeio-Marxists,’ so named because they published a periodical titled Archives of Marxism. The ‘Archeio-Marxists’ fostered a youth group called Zjarri (The Flame) among Albanian students in Athens. Unfortunately, a historiography of Zjarri is lacking in Albanology.[11]

As previously noted, some 50 to 100 Albanians, including Kosovars, joined the International Brigades in Spain. Their transportation had been facilitated by Llazër Fundo; they refused assignment to the South Slavic detachments of the IB, which were commanded by Serbian and other South Slav officers, and the Albanians were included in the Italian-language Garibaldi Battalion. Unfortunately, the Albanians were involved in the suppression of the 1937 anti-Stalinist demonstrations in Barcelona known as the ‘May events,’[12] recorded by George Orwell in the classic Homage to Catalonia.

The most famous Albanian IB veteran was doubtless Mehmet Shehu (1913-81), who rose to serve as Hoxha’s premier before his probable murder. The experience of the Albanians in Spain is evoked in a novel, Hasta la Vista by Petro Marko (1913-91).[13] Marko was jailed under the Hoxha regime in the late 1940s. He is considered a major Albanian modernist and Hasta la Vista has remained in print. According to the Albanologist Robert Elsie, the leading Albanian poet Migjeni (Millosh Gjergj Nikolla, 1911-38), who was of Slav ethnic origin and had Trotskyist associations, similarly wanted to go to Spain to fight but was prevented from doing so by his acute tubercular condition, which led to his early death.[14] The Tito representative to Albania Miladin Popović was also a Spanish civil war veteran.

Apart from authentic Marxists, and volunteers in Spain, the Albanian lands included a number of important political figures associated or aligned with the Soviet Union. In the first category, it is worth recalling the short-lived Albanian democratic regime of Theofan Stilian Noli (1882-1965), established in the second half of 1924 by a revolution beginning with protests against the murder of Avni Rustemi. Although Noli was an Albanian Orthodox Christian bishop and his government enjoyed Catholic support, he and his supporters were attacked as ‘Communists,’ during the preparation of the Noli republic’s rapid destruction by intervening Yugoslav forces. Noli’s administration had established relations with the Soviet Union, but could hardly be considered a revolutionary socialist government. Nevertheless, the Communist label was widely attached to Noli in foreign media. After its overthrow in December 1924, the Washington Post reported: ‘When the Fan Noli government recognized the soviet regime… Moscow promptly sent a delegation to Tirana (including a military delegate) which at once began to ‘fish in troubled waters’ and arm bands of lawless Albanians to raid Greek and Jugoslav territory… Strange to say, one European statesman (and not the least), Dr. [Edvard] Benes, the minister of foreign affairs of Czechoslovakia, refuses to regard the Communistic danger as a very serious one.’[15]

Such highly-colored reports were predictably exaggerated, lending credibility to the doubts of Beneš. On 12 September 1924, the general secretary of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Joseph V. Stalin, signed a letter of the RCP(b) Central Committee announcing the establishment of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Mexico, then considered a leading revolutionary country; Albania, and the Arabian state of Hejaz (the last, as it happened, was just then suffering its final invasion by the Wahhabi forces of Ibn Sa’ud, which were also considered ‘revolutionary’ by some observers.)[16] the opening of Soviet archives has disclosed that Moscow’s relations with Noli were significantly affected by the commitment of the Communist International to the Balkan Federation and the K.K. Noli was friendly to the K.K., but the Soviet archives do not sustain a charge of wholesale attacks in Kosova or Greece coordinated with Russian help. With the end of the Noli regime, Llazër Fundo, a member of Noli’s inner circle, had fled to Russia. Comintern personnel files on Fundo and other Albanian figures prior to 1941 are absent.[17]

Albanians were seemingly unique in Europe, as the only nation that viewed Comintern support for their struggle against foreign (i.e. Serbian) domination as a separate Soviet policy from Moscow’s program for Communist organization. The obvious reason for this is that while the Comintern was ‘international,’ the KPJ was Yugoslav, i.e. ‘South Slav’ and therefore different from and, at least presumptively, opposed to Albanian identity, which is neither historically nor linguistically Slavic. In addition, Catalan, Croatian, Macedonian Slav, and Irish nationalists had temporarily benefited from such aid by Moscow, but in all four of these cases local socialist and labor traditions drew Soviet attention away from nationalism to standard Marxist perspectives. The history of the Noli regime and of Comintern support to the K.K. – parallel with inconsistent Yugoslav Communist cooperation with other anti-Serbist movements in the Balkans, including the Croatian peasant movement of Stjepan Radić and the terrorist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) – nevertheless persisted as obstacles to the complete suppression of Albanian national demands in the Western Balkan Partisan milieu during the second world war.[18] Tito, who came from a mixed Slovene and Croat background, committed the KPJ to moderate accommodation with all such sentiments.

2. Cooperation and competition in the Yugoslav and Albanian Partisan movements

With the establishment of Communist governments in Yugoslavia and Albania after the Partisan victories in the war – neither countries having needed significant Soviet military assistance in defeating the Axis – unresolved interethnic Slav-Albanian conflicts were bound to emerge. Predictably, the first such clashes came about in Kosova.

In 1948 the Yugoslav Communists were expelled from the Moscow-directed Comintern, and Albania chose to side against Tito and with Stalin; indeed, alleged (and probably real) Yugoslav intrigues to absorb Albania played a supposed role in the Stalin-Tito break. Yugoslav government sources, seemingly intended to bind Kosovar Albanian identity to Yugoslavia and to counter nationalist propaganda by Hoxha, then claimed that Albanians had initiated the wartime Partisan struggle in Kosova. This official Yugoslav documentation asserted that Kosovar Albanian miners had joined their Slav co-workers in sabotage actions at the Trepça mines near Mitrovica as early as July 1941. On November 28, 1941, according to the same sources, an Albanian Flag Day commemoration in the Dukagjini city of Gjakova turned into an antifascist demonstration of 6,000 Albanians. In 1942, telephone communications throughout Kosova were repeatedly cut to sabotage Axis occupation activities.[19]

The authorized Yugoslav account states that the first Kosovar Albanian Partisan detachment had been recruited in Ferizaj in September 1942, followed by the formation of units made up of Kosovar Albanians, Serbs, and Macedonian Slavs, in the then Bulgarian-controlled region of Vranje, on the frontier of South Serbia (also known as Eastern Kosova), as well as in the Sharr mountains. A new unit, named for Kosovar Albanian Communist Emin Duraku, killed in 1942, was set up in Dukagjini and began operating in both Kosova and Albania. It was eventually followed by a Partisan formation named after Bajram Curri, which additionally fought in Kosova and Albania proper. Partisan groups were further named for an Albanian Communist, Ramiz Sadiku, and a Slav, Boris Vukmirović. Anti-Axis demonstrations were repeated in Prishtina, Gjakova, Prizren, and Peja; the last three are the main cities in Dukagjini.

Kosovar Albanian Partisans entered Macedonia, where similar units were formed by Kosovars who were previously imprisoned in Albania proper, as well as by local ethnic Albanians. Kosovar Albanian Partisan groups, unspecified Macedonian units, and Partisans from Albania proper were credited with the liberation of the remote Eastern Albanian town of Peshkopia, and Kosovar Albanian units were assigned responsibility for liberation of large areas of northern Albania. A combined Kosovar Albanian-Macedonian Partisan brigade was also established in 1943 and fought in northern Greece. Late in 1944 a joint operations staff was established in the Gjakova region by the 1st and 4th Kosovar and 3rd and 5th Albanian (Tirana) Partisan brigades. At the end of combat in Kosova, nine Partisan brigades, overwhelmingly composed of ethnic Albanians, were active in the region. Kosovar Albanians participated in Yugoslav military actions, with the Partisan forces transformed into a regular army, in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Srijem area on the border of Croatia and Serbia, and in Trieste, contested between Italy and Yugoslavia.[20]

Thus, during the war, the roles of Kosovar Albanians and their kinsmen from Albania proper, as well as the frontiers of Kosova, Montenegro, and Serbia, as well as Kosova and Albania, which were historically artificial (dating only from the late 19th and early 20th century), and with an Albanian majority on both sides of all of them, had become indistinct. A decision by the Yugoslav Partisans to dispatch Fadil Hoxha, a semiliterate Kosovar Albanian Communist, to form combat groups in the Malësia e Gjakovës, a mountain range on the post-1912 border of Kosova and Albania proper, apparently reflected the assumption of the Yugoslav Communist leaders that they could control overall operations in the Partisan fronts of both Yugoslavia and Albania. Fadil Hoxha was appointed Yugoslav Partisan staff commander for Kosova in 1943, the same year that Italian occupation of Montenegro and Albania ended.

It was perhaps unsurprising that Albanian Partisan detachments reporting to Tirana entered areas of Axis-controlled Yugoslavia to join Yugoslav Partisans in military actions, given the ideological nature of the conflict. The Yugoslav Communists, however, also insisted that Tirana-coordinated Albanian Partisans active in western Macedonia withdraw into Albania or face armed attacks by their alleged comrades who were Slavs. Enver Hoxha, installed by the Yugoslavs as head of the Communist network in Albania, expressed no qualms, during the war, about supine obedience to orders from Tito. As Banac has written, the Kosovar Albanians greeted ‘strictly Albanian’ Partisan units with ‘occasional tolerance,’ rather than enthusiasm. Banac notes that Kosovar Albanian Partisans claimed their enemies included not only rural folk, but also ‘dogs, shepherds, and even goats.’ Various sources describe an hours-long, pitched battle in 1943 between Partisans and 2,000 armed and enraged Kosovar Albanian peasants, at Livoc near Gjilan, which only ended when the attackers realized the Partisans were also Albanian.

How much the significance of these diverse incidents may have been distorted in postwar propaganda, in the hope, as noted, of binding the Kosovar Albanians to Yugoslavia after the split between Tito and Stalin’s surrogate Hoxha, is difficult to determine; a sound, credible historiography of the Albanian Partisan movement has yet to emerge, and must begin with the opening of archives that still remain inaccessible. But the foregoing chronicle of Partisan activity almost certainly represents a narrative mainly intended to legitimize the inclusion of Albanian-majority Kosova in Tito’s postwar Yugoslavia. While it sustains the assumption that the Communist internationalism of the Partisans transcended not only ethnic, but national-state barriers, it also underscores the arguably factitious nature of the Yugoslav-Albanian state borders, which were persistently viewed by Albanians as a partition of their nation. To emphasize, Partisans originating in both Yugoslavia and Albania assembled members of diverse ethnicities and functioned in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece. The borders of these states and Bulgaria had either been dissolved (in the Yugoslav case) or redrawn, and the Yugoslav Partisans could justify their disregard of the prewar frontiers by the exigencies of the armed struggle under new occupation authorities and against, in some cases, different enemies than might previously been anticipated.

A considerable number of ordinary Albanians, however, viewed this trans-national mobility as an expression of Slavic imperialism, and a sound argument may be made that Tito exploited the Axis reassignment of territories and shifts in demarcation to expansively direct Yugoslav Partisan operations, just as Albanians viewed the same fluctuation on maps as a de facto recognition of their authentic ethnic territory. The new borders drawn by Axis occupiers could be used by either Yugoslav or Albanian Partisans in their hidden but real competition. Albanians could use the joining of Kosova to Albania by the Axis to facilitate their recovery of Kosova, alienated since 1912 by Slav power, but Yugoslav Communists could use the same merger as a pretext to operate in Albania.

Recruitment to Albanian Partisan units was slow in both Albania proper and Kosova. Still, in 1944, Partisan units from Albania proper were invited into Dukagjini to do work Slav troops could not be expected to complete among the Albanian majority in Kosova – the suppression of independent anti-fascist, but also anti-Communist fighters. This was ironic in light of the rejection by the Yugoslav Partisans of weak Albanian Communist initiatives, symbolized by the Bujan colloquies, toward recognition of Kosovar Albanian demands. The Yugoslavs would not recognize Albanian rights in Kosova but would use Albanians to deny such rights.

The situation within Kosova was, in reality, never as positive for the Yugoslav Partisans as one might imagine from reading the official Titoist narrative. Llazër Fundo was murdered in Kosova while participating in an anti-Stalinist and anti-fascist movement led by a powerful family of Kosova Muslim notables, the Kryeziu brothers. Gani Kryeziu and his two brothers Hasan and Sahit, from Gjakova, were sons of a long-established Kosovar Albanian leader. During the second world war, the Kryezius favored the British, Americans, and other democratic and non-Communist powers in the Allied coalition. At the end of 1943, one of the Kryezius initiated contact with a British liaison officer in Kosova, Peter Kemp (a man of the political right who, curiously enough, had also fought in the Spanish civil war, but for Franco), and Kemp was presented with a proposal for an independent, insurrectionary movement against the Germans. Albanian Communist cadres from Tirana were so fearful of such a possibility that they secretly informed the Gestapo of Kemp’s first meeting with Hasan Kryeziu. Kemp soon agreed to provide support, but he was overruled by his superiors in London, who favored the ‘official’ Partisans.

Still, the British officers on the ground, if they could not provide immediate aid to the Kryezius, depended on them for help. Earlier work with the Kryezius had been carried out by another British agent, Julian Amery,[21] who had also gone to Spain during its war, but as a journalist, while a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force, Tony Neel, established a liaison with Gani Kryeziu in the Kukës area of north Albania, on the Kosova border. After six months, British backing, at least in words, was given to the Kryezius’ effort, which aimed at liberation of the Albanians from the Axis, but with continued unity of Albania proper and Kosova. The Kryezius were considered local supporters of the deposed Zog in Albania, and were joined by Fundo.

In the aftermath of his involvement in the world-famous Reichstag Fire trial, Fundo had broken with the Comintern during the Yezhovschina in 1937, but was saved from the purge machine by his association with Dimitrov. Amery, who developed a close relationship with him, described Fundo as the main Albanian Comintern figure, and, in the early period, the only Albanian Communist aside from the poet Sejfulla Malëshova (1901-71). Like Fundo, Malëshova had been a significant figure in the government of Noli, and originally went to Moscow via Paris. Robert Elsie states that Malëshova joined the Communist movement after 1930 but was expelled as a follower of Nikolai Bukharin, then reinstated.[22] Malëshova developed a venomous rivalry with Fundo and twice denounced Fundo. Both these leading Albanian Communist intellectuals were reputed followers of Bukharin, which was probably a predictable outcome given that the Bukharin line in the Comintern, during the late 1920s, emphasized the social weight of peasants in societies like China. Albania, without an industrial proletariat or even a substantial petite-bourgeoisie or secular intelligentsia, was yet more susceptible to a pro-peasant strategy than the Far Eastern countries, although Albanian peasants never formed a movement based on their economic function.

Fundo was called back to Moscow after Malëshova’s second denunciation of him but like others outside the Soviet Union at the height of the purges, refused to return there. He may have made contact Spain, during the civil war, with the anti-Stalinist Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista (POUM), in the militia of which Orwell served. An Albanian known only by the nom-de-guerre of Jovan was present in the POUM milieu in Barcelona during the revolutionary phase of the Spanish conflict.[23] Amery recalled that Fundo had gone to Albania in 1938 with the intention of establishing an Albanian Socialist Party with a social-democratic orientation. He also described Fundo as a former Comintern supervisor of Tito, while the latter, through his propagandist author Dedijer, later appeared obsessed with Fundo’s alleged Trotskyism. Malëshova, who had hounded Fundo, was himself purged from the Albanian Communist leadership in 1946.

Fundo was deeply patriotic and wrote a series of poems expressing his nostalgia for Korça and Albania, including one titled ‘I remember the homeland,’ composed during a trip to Outer Mongolia. Even there he wrote of being ‘far from my country.’ He was arrested by the Italians in Albania in 1941 and deported to the prison island of Ventotene. There he met Gani and Sahit Kryeziu, who had also been interned by the Italians as antifascists, as well as an Italian Trotskyist, Luigi Zanon, previously arrested and imprisoned by Muscovite Communists in Barcelona during the Spanish civil war, and a group of Spanish and Italian anarchists. Freed with the Kryezius at the end of Italian involvement in the war, in 1943, Fundo insisted on returning with them to rejoin the Albanian national struggle, in Kosova. The Italian socialist politician Sandro Pertini (1896-1990) tried to dissuade him, and held a final meeting with Fundo in Rome in August 1943. Pertini would later serve as president of the Italian Republic from 1978 to 1985. Given his past association with the K.K., it may have been inevitable that Fundo would be attracted to the struggle in Kosova. He became a prominent figure in the Kryezius’ movement, but was arrested by Hoxha’s Albanian Partisan s in the mountains between Kukës and Gjakova with two British officers, and beaten to death in November 1944.[24]

Also at the end of 1944, in a series of incidents that remain alive today in the collective memory of Kosovars, at least 4,000 Kosovar Albanian fighters under the command of an elderly combatant, Shaban Palluzha (1871/73-1945), who had formed the Democratic Antifascist Movement of Drenica in 1941, became involved in an uprising against the Yugoslav Partisans. Palluzha’s situation was extremely confused and tragic, yet he became an immortal ‘hero of heroes’ to Kosovars, who write ballads about him even today. Tito’s staff ordered Palluzha’s fighters removed to the Srijem district near Belgrade, but Palluzha insisted they were needed to defend Drenica, the old heartland of Azem Bejta and Shota Galica, where a horrific massacre of Albanians by Serbs had occurred as the war came to an end. Furthermore, an Albanian Partisan sent to investigate the Drenica affair was shot by Yugoslav Partisans when he attempted to present his report. According to reputable accounts, 20,000 fighters joined Palluzha’s ranks, which were retitled Military Forces of the Movement for National Liberation and Unity (Forcave Ushtarake të Lëvizjes per Çlirim dhe Bashkim Kombëtar or FULÇBK) and were attacked by Yugoslav and, again, by Albanian Partisans, with bloody results.[25]

Leadership of the Kosovar uprising was assumed at the end of the war by a new organization that emerged almost spontaneously: the Albanian National Democratic Movement, known by its Albanian initials as LNDSh, and in the popular vocabulary as Endeja (ND-ja) or ‘the ND.’[26] ND-ja became an informal but near-total resistance effort. It drew some of its members from among the functionaries of the former pro-Axis Albanian occupation regime, but since the insurrection became general, embracing almost the entire Kosovar Albanian populace, numerous Kosovar Albanian Partisans were quickly drawn to participate in it. Indeed, ND-ja represents a unique example of a near-unanimous popular insurrection in Europe, neglected by historians who do not know Albanian sources. It was a genuine collective rebellion encompassing Dukagjini and western Macedonia.

Between 1945 and 1947, the LNDSh organized three underground congresses. A debate took place in the movement, with one trend favoring relocation of the leaders to Greece and their opponents insisting that the fight continue within Kosova. In the parlance of later revolutionary movements elsewhere in Europe, these could be described as ‘internal’ and ‘external’ factions. The main ‘internal’ leader, Ajet Gurguri, remained on the scene in Kosova but was arrested and executed. He was followed in death by Gjon Serreqi, a Catholic patriot, who had been sent to a prison camp by the German SS in 1944. Serreqi had directed the clandestine ND while serving as a teacher in the Sami Frashëri high school in the historic center of Prishtina, whose students organized an LNDSh Student Youth Committee. He became a major symbol of Albanian defiance of Slavic aggression, the latter in Communist garb.

On 11 March 1945, the Albanian women of Gjakova went into the streets to protest against the drafting of their menfolk to serve the Yugoslavs in the repression of ND-ja. Many of the women protestors were arrested and received lengthy prison sentences. But one Albanian woman stood out from the others. She was Marie Shllaku (1922-46), a Catholic schoolteacher born in Shkodra in northern Albania.[27] Marie Shllaku became a martyr, succeeding to the legacy of Shota Galica; she even surpassed her, and is known as ‘the Joan of Arc of Kosovo.’ Marie Shllaku was seriously wounded during fighting in Drenica. Sheltered by a peasant family, she was discovered and arrested. The Yugoslav police ignored her injuries, beating and otherwise torturing her. She was carried into the courtroom in Prizren, where she was tried. The judge was Ali Shukrija, the leading Communist among the Kosovar Albanians for many years afterwards. He ranted at her during the proceeding, declaring that she was unfit to be shot, and should be burned alive.

In her last words in court, Marie Shllaku declared, ‘one day your sons and daughters will be ashamed of your treachery and inhumanity against us and against the whole Albanian people.’

During the period when she awaited death, she was heard in her prison cell nightly singing folk songs from Shkodra, as if preparing for her wedding. She was 24 when she was executed late in 1946. Many more LNDSh supporters were imprisoned and killed before the insurrection was completely defeated. Fighting in Kosovo had not ended until the establishment of martial law in 1945; several tens of thousands of Albanians perished in the uprising.

More than a half century later, Slobodan Milošević referred to these events in a discussion with US General Wesley Clark. Milošević averred: ‘We know how to handle problems with these Albanian killers… We have done this before… [In] Drenica [in] 1946… We kill them, all of them.’[28]

Throughout this period Enver Hoxha demonstrated that he was no Albanian patriot, by fulfilling the orders of the Tito leadership. After their immediate usefulness to the Yugoslav Communists was deemed to have ended, Tirana-loyal Albanian Partisan units withdrew from Kosova; further, Hoxha’s early administration, like the original cadres of the Albanian Communist Party, included numerous Yugoslav ‘advisers’ in positions of authority. This left resolution of the Kosova issue, within the new, Communist Yugoslavia, entirely in the hands of Tito and his Slav politburo. The first measures taken by the Tito Communists after they established control over Kosova were unmistakable in their import: the Kosova Communist district committee was abolished and all local organizations were placed under the responsibility of the Serbian republic leadership. Still, Kosovar Albanian recalcitrance remained visible, as numerous local Communists resigned their posts and gave up party membership in protest of this action. A special commission directed by the Montenegrin Milovan Djilas (1911-95), number four in the KPJ party hierarchy, reestablished the district party committee for Kosova, and the territory was granted official but limited autonomy within Serbia.

Nevertheless, Kosova remained a troubled region. Early in 1945, Miladin Popović, one of those responsible for the creation of an originally Slavophile Albanian Communist Party, was assassinated in Prishtina. For decades, a legend among Kosovar Albanians held that Popović had been murdered by the Yugoslav secret police because he insisted on fulfilling the vague wartime pledges the Titoites had made to grant self-determination to the Kosovar Albanians. In addition, until his own death Hoxha insisted on honoring Popović as an ‘internationalist.’

Claims that Popović was liquidated by his Yugoslav comrades were, nonetheless, merely extravagant conspiracy theories. Popović was killed by two ND-ja supporters, an activist from Gjakova in his early ‘30s, Qazim Vula, and Haki Taha. Haki Taha entered the building of the Communist regional committee for Kosova, fired the shots that killed Popović, and was himself killed. Qazim Vula stood in the street to assure Taha’s escape; he was arrested and taken to Niš in central Serbia where he was sentenced to death. Incredibly, but perhaps typically of Albanian fighters, he managed to escape from prison and made his way across the border into Albania, where, when he announced that he had participated in the attack on Popović, he was again arrested – for a crime against Hoxha’s ‘internationalist’ exemplar – and served another long sentence. He died in Shkodra in 1987, in his middle 70s, and was reburied in Gjakova in spring 2000.[29]

3. The Tito-Hoxha break and its consequences for Kosova

The rupture between Tito and Stalin in 1948, with Hoxha favoring the latter, has been amply discussed in Yugoslav and Albanian historiography, including works by confidantes of Tito such as Djilas and Dedijer, critical historians exemplified by Banac, and the unreliable memoirs of Hoxha himself.[30] Kosova itself played no major role in the split. Stalin and his Politburo are perceived to have grown suspicious of Yugoslav competition with Russia for domination throughout the Balkans, including Bulgaria as well as Albania.

According to the commonly-accepted version, Stalin encouraged Tito to exploit the presence of Yugoslav advisers in Albania and annex the latter country as a new constituent republic of Tito’s state; the Soviet chief then turned on Tito and incited Hoxha to join Moscow in denouncing Yugoslavia’s regional ambitions. Given that, even after the break with Tito, Hoxha never actively supported Kosova’s demands for autonomy within Yugoslavia, much less the historical struggle for emancipation from Slav rule, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of this account. Hoxha himself declared, in his main work the Titoites, that he told Tito promises of autonomy even up to secession had been made to the Kosovar Albanians at Bujan in 1943, and that he (Hoxha) advanced the demand that Albanian-majority regions of Yugoslavia should be united with Albania proper. According to Hoxha, Tito replied benevolently: ‘I am in agreement with your view, but for the time being we cannot do this, because the Serbs would not understand us.’

In turn, the Albanian dictator alleged that he effectively allowed the matter to be ignored, after reminiscing about Comintern support for the Kosovar anti-Serbian movement in the 1920s and 1930s. Hoxha said he summarized his attitude as follows: ‘When we began the [anti-fascist] National Liberation War and in the course of the war, we never thought about this problem.’

Hoxha claims he concluded his exchange with the Yugoslav ruler by insisting, ‘work must be done to resolve the question of Kosova justly,’ and that Tito affirmed: ‘ "We shall work in this direction." Tito "gave me his word." However, all Tito’s words and pledges were a bluff.’

In reality, history shows that Hoxha was much more a bluffer than Tito. The latter in 1974 acted to make Kosova, previously a mere district of the Yugoslav socialist republic of Serbia, an autonomous province of the Yugoslav federation, on a de facto equal standing with the six constituent republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Vojvodina, previously governed as a Serbian province, but with a large Hungarian minority, was elevated to the same status.

Kosova’s improved standing came after decades in which its affairs were dominated by an Albanophobic Serb, Aleksandar ‘Leka’ Ranković, who became head of the Yugoslav secret police, known under various acronyms, but mainly as the UDBA, or Administration for State Security. The period was called the ‘Ranković era,’ with extremely grim connotations among Kosovar Albanians. Throughout the decades from 1948 to 1985, when he died, Hoxha’s support for Kosovar Albanians was limited to words. Hoxha expressed continued fulsome admiration for Miladin Popović, while pointing out secondarily that Kosovar Albanians suffered repression at Slav hands. Hoxha alleged that Yugoslavia had constructed no schools for the Kosovar Albanian population, which was easily disproven in official Yugoslav publications after the breach between the two states.

Given this context, it is unsurprising that a considerable section of Kosovar Albanian nationalist opinion, in the period after 1987, defined itself as ‘Titoist’ rather than as ‘Enverist’. The ‘Titoist’ phenomenon among Albanians was not simply, as it is often described, an expression of nostalgia for Tito’s ‘gift’ to Kosova of its position as a Yugoslav autonomous province. Titoist social reforms had, at least at the beginning, been carried out in a much more benign fashion than the Hoxhaite ‘transformation’ of Albania proper.

In the early 1950s, after the Hoxha regime had commenced a venomous propaganda campaign against Tito, concentrating on the anti-Stalin ‘betrayal’ by the latter rather than on Kosovar Albanian rights, Belgrade issued statistics noting that three Muslim medresas functioned in Sarajevo, Prishtina, and the Macedonian capital of Skopje. The Tito regime ruthlessly suppressed the Bosnian Sufi orders, and expressed its opposition to Sufi influence among Albanians. But it was unable to carry out a ‘Bosnian’ policy in Kosova, where Sufism survived in a vibrant mode, such that Kosova and Albania remain today the most accessible area for Westerners to encounter Islamic spirituality in its most animated form.[31] In 1951/52 a total of 623 Albanian-language schools were open in Kosova, aside from trade schools, and included 523 primary schools, with the rest providing middle- and high-school level instruction. Eight technical schools had been established, with curricula in agriculture, architecture, finance, commerce, book-keeping, nursing, midwifery, and administration. The Yugoslav authorities also vaunted their success in liberating Muslim girls in Kosova from traditional obstacles to their education, including covering of the face (niqab, typically referred to as ‘the veil.’)[32]

Notwithstanding their zeal for modern schooling, however, the Yugoslavs failed to notice that the Bektashi Sufis had long pressed for popular education and female equality among Albanians. Together, decades before the arrival of either Tito or Hoxha, the Bektashis and the Albanian Catholics had led the way in development of the Western-style, Latin-based Albanian alphabet (which embodied a standard proposed by Catholic clergy and adopted at a congress convened in Macedonia in 1908), Albanian-language journalism, belles-lettres, and related fields of endeavor. The Tito regime ignored such achievements and banned some of their notable products (e.g. The patriotic epic Lahuta e Malcis [The Mountain Lute] by the Albanian Franciscan Fr. Gjergj Fishta [1871-1940], who was the main figure in the creation of what would become the Albanian alphabet). Yet the Hoxha regime sought to extirpate all memory of them, putting the best of the Albanian Catholic intellectuals on trial and executing them, then making possession of any of their works a capital offense, and for decades conducting a campaign of gross libel against their memory. The situation in Albania proper was so bad that Albanian Catholics fled to Serb-dominated Kosova. And when a Kosovar Catholic priest, Fr. Shtjefën Kurti (1898-1972), who had distinguished himself as a patriot in the 1930s and then took refuge in Albania, was caught baptizing a child under Hoxha, he was executed. At the time of his death, he had only recently completed the second of two prison sentences in Albania.[33]

Kosovar Albanians nevertheless often expressed a sentimental attachment to Albania proper. In 1964, the Kosovar Albanian author Adem Demaçi was imprisoned for allegedly forming a ‘Stalinist’ group. Demaçi was born in 1936 in Prishtina and first showed literary promise in the early 1950s, when he was a high school student. His work was discovered by the literary editor of the Kosovar Albanian Communist newspaper, Rilindja (Rebirth), Gjon Sinishta (1930-95), a former Jesuit seminarian, poet and exile from Hoxha’s Albania. Demaçi’s short story, ‘Lustraxhiu (The Shoe Shiner),’ won the annual short story contest run by Rilindja. Demaçi joined the paper’s staff and worked alongside Sinishta until 1956, when Sinishta was arrested; as a believing Albanian Catholic Sinishta had refused to become a Communist party member.

In 1958 Demaçi published a novel, Gjarpinjt e Gjakut (Bloodthirsty Snakes), a depiction of blood feuds among Albanians that is considered his masterpiece. The book became extremely popular among Kosovar Albanians, who appreciated Demaçi as an author ‘acutely sensitive to the suffering of helpless folk and to social inequality,’ according to the Albanian American scholar Peter R. Prifti. A Kosovar literary critic, Idriz Lamaj, who edited a definitive edition of the work, perceived in it a serious critique, indeed an exposure and denunciation, not only of violence between Albanians, but of Slav rule in the region. This message was not lost on the Yugoslav authorities. Soon after the book’s appearance, Demaçi was arrested for the first time on 19 November 1958, joining his friend and mentor Sinishta in prison. The pair were together in jail three years, and became extremely close, even though Demaçi was then a Marxist in conviction and Sinishta a Catholic and opponent of Communism.

Demaçi became the leading symbol of Kosovar Albanian patriotism for decades, and remains a figure of great respect in the republic. After his release in 1961, Demaçi was rearrested again in 1964 and 1975. In the latter instance he was tried as the leader of ‘the group of Adem Demaçi.’ He was tortured, and nearly went blind. His third arrest resulted in a sentence of 15 years. Demaçi served time in the prison of Sremska Mitrovica, as well as on Goli Otok (The Naked Island), the most feared of the Yugoslav Communist punishment sites. He later abandoned a Marxist position, creating the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, known by its Albanian initials as KMDLNj, and still functioning today, followed by a Kosova electoral party, before serving as a spokesman for UÇK.

Banac writes that after the Stalin-Tito split, the Kosovar majority were ‘somewhat’ pro-Hoxha, ‘but this allegiance had little to do with any significant appreciation of Albania’s radical political system… the Albanians of Yugoslavia might have been… attracted to a more humane government in Tirana, provided, of course, that such a government maintained a clear distance from Belgrade.’[34]

 (to be continued)

Back To News Index
home | about us | publications | news | contact | bosnia | search | bosnia report | credits
bosnia report
Bosnia Report is a bi-monthly magazine which publishes articles and other information about Bosnia-Herzegovina and related issues. Use the links below to access the current issue or archives.

current
archive

Search our archives: