The role of religion and nation among Albanians

20160412_183554.jpgApril 17 2016 (Arbanon Blog) – On April 12 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a conference held at the in Geneva on the subject of “Religion, nation et citoyenneté en Albanie.” The event was moderated by Yves Oltramare and the selected speaker for this venue was Nathalie Clayer from l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris.

Albania remains an unexplored country for many people. It was only in the beginning of the 90s that Tirana decided to open itself to the world. Before that, the country remained isolated, inaccessible and remote as Albania’s former communist leader Enver Hoxha held a firm position that Albania should not expose itself to foreign influence.

Once the Cold War was over, there was no other option left for Albania than to become an integral part of world community. Albania has joined NATO and is slowly but surely taking the necessary steps to become a member of the European Union (EU).

Despite the fact that Albania has finally opened itself to the world, few people understand the role and influence religion plays among Albanians in Albania. That’s why Nathalie Clayer decided to share her viewpoints on this very subject.

In the 19th century, the Albanian activist of the Albanian National Awakening movement Pasko Vasa wrote an influential poem entitled “O moj Shqypni” in which he sought to unite Albanians, irrespective of religious beliefs, around one cause: a nation-state uniting Albanians in the Balkans irrespective of religion.

Albanians are nowadays scattered among many countries and they belong to four different religious beliefs. The Albanian monarch Ahmed Zogu during the pre-World War II era attempted to maintain the religious harmony among Albanian Catholics, Sunni Muslims, Bektashis and Orthodox Christians to keep up Albania’s DNA. Enver Hoxha took drastic measures against religion by proclaiming Albania as an atheist state. He also started destroying religious monuments and objects in an attempt to erase all signs of religion in the country.

Once democracy was introduced to Albania, the religious harmony, that always existed in Albania, managed to survive the challenging Communist era. It is worth assessing how this was achieved bearing in mind that the communist regime tried its very best to suppress religion. One explanation might be that the religious groups considered communism a common threat against religion. Religious communities had no other options than to unite their forces against the communist apparatus. In every crisis lies an opportunity!

Unsurprisingly, Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama invited religious leaders, representing Albania’s religious communities, to walk hand-in-hand in the streets of Paris sending a peaceful message to the world that religious coexistence is possible.

Since the Albanian National Awakening era, a mobilizing force uniting Albanians has been their love and passion for the Albanian nation. As Albanians are divided into four different religions, ethnicity is determined by national identification and linguistic identity, not necessarily religious beliefs. This has made the Albanian case different from other national awakening movements in the Balkans as also suggested by the speaker. /Blerim Mustafa

Photo credit: Blerim Mustafa

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