A Biographical Dictionary of Albanian History
I.B. Tauris in association with
the Centre for Albanian Studies, London 2013
ix + 541 pp.
There has long been a lack of information and, in particular, of reliable information about the figures and events of Albanian history. The more one investigates them, the more one comes to realise that they have been enveloped in an opaque cloak of myth, fantasy and wishful thinking.
This Biographical Dictionary of Albanian History attempts to rectify the situation by providing clear and objective information about most notable Albanian and Albanian-related figures of the past, from ancient times to the end of the twentieth century. The alphabetically arranged entries given in this book offer biographical information on over 740 individuals, and, in many cases, provide an overview of relevant publications and an evaluation of the historical or cultural significance of the persons in question.
Included in this dictionary are not only figures of Albanian (political) history itself, but also noted proponents of Albanian culture, such as writers, artists and scholars, and non-Albanians who have had close ties with Albania in one way or another, among whom are scholars, writers, political and military figures, and travellers. They range from Illyrian kings to recent political leaders, but also comprise individuals as diverse as an eighteenth-century Montenegrin impostor, a German circus acrobat and an Austrian mistress of King Zog. The basic criterion for inclusion in this volume is that the figures in question should be persons whom the reader, student or scholar might have come across in Balkan history, in general research or simply in reading, and might want to know more about. As a general rule, the figures must be deceased, although exceptions have been made for a few elderly individuals of historical interest, for instance, political representatives of the communist period in Albania that ended in 1991.
Some of the entries included in this dictionary are based on material published earlier in my books: Historical Dictionary of Albania (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2010) and Historical Dictionary of Kosovo (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011) which, despite their titles, are works of a more general nature, as well as in my Early Albania: a Reader of Historical Texts (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2003), Albanian Literature: a Short History (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005) and my two-volume History of Albanian Literature (Boulder: Social Science Monographs, 1995). Needless to say, hundreds of other sources have been consulted over the five-year period that has led to the conclusion of this overwhelming project, overwhelming at least for the author. A bibliography of all major sources is provided at the end of the book, as is a glossary of place names, to help orient the interested reader.
Despite its broad scope, this book cannot claim to compete with the "dictionaries of national biography" published for major western countries whose histories have been well explored and documented. With Albanian history, we must content ourselves with much less. Source material is usually sketchy and has often not been properly evaluated.
Though they are in essence Europeans, the Albanians evince many of the traits and suffer from many of the trial and tribulations of developing nations in the Third World. They have never had a solid written culture and the results of their scholarly endeavours have often been shoddy. Indeed it is no exaggeration to state that historiography in the Albanian world is in a lamentable state. Few native scholars have been able to bridle their passion – be it their enthusiasm or their Balkan inat (rage) – to provide clear and objective information on the figures of their past. For one, the cult of Balkan heroism is still very strong and persuasive. The Albanians, like other peoples in the Balkans, have tended to view their history in terms of good guys and bad guys, the good guys being those who have illuminated the nation and struggled in one way or another on its behalf; the bad guys being the rest. Encyclopaedic works and public discourse in Albania and Kosovo include only those historical figures who are found to be “worthy” in accordance with the cultural and political criteria of the period. If their biographies are not one-hundred percent lily white in the political or more often patriotic sense, they are cast aside, or “adapted” and revised to fulfil the needs of nationalist ideology. More often than not, figures who do not meet the mark are passed over in rigorous silence. This was particularly true, of course, for the tragic Stalinist period (1944-1991), but attitudes have not changed fundamentally. To include someone in a lexicon or a book in Albania is to set him (or very rarely her) on a pedestal and praise him (or very rarely her).
An attempt has been made in this dictionary, at any rate, to sift through the layers of rosy nationalist endeavour and to present the figures of Albanian history as they were, as genuine human beings. Much remains to be done to complete the picture and this dictionary can only be a small contribution to putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The history of Albania has yet to be written.
Finally a technical note. Albanian place names often cause confusion because, like other nouns in the language, they can be written with or without the postpositive definite article, e.g., Tirana vs Tiranë and Elbasani vs Elbasan. In line with recommended international usage for Albanian toponyms, feminine place names appear here in the definite form and masculine place names in the indefinite form, thus: Tirana, Vlora, Prishtina and Shkodra rather than Tiranë, Vlorë, Prishtinë and Shkodër; and Elbasan, Durrës and Prizren rather than Elbasani, Durrësi and Prizreni. Exceptions are made for tribal designations and regions for which English forms such as Hoti, Kelmendi and Shkreli are better known. In this connection, reference is made to the political leader Ahmet Zogu, but from the time he became king of Albania in 1928, to King Zog, in line with common usage.
It remains for me simply to express my gratitude to the many people who responded with patience to my questions and inquiries, in particular to Bejtullah Destani of the Centre for Albanian Studies in London who “fed” me with much information, and Maksim Gjinaj of the National Library of Albania in Tirana who provided me with many an otherwise irretrievable fact or detail.
Scheveningen, the Netherlands