Greater Albania?

It was a perfect spring day this March when they laid to rest the young ethnic Albanian guerrilla Daut Sulejmani. It was warm, the breeze rippled across the rolling hills of the Presevo Valley, and soldiers from the US Army watched from the brow of the hill, less than a mile away. Behind a row of the ashen-faced women of Daut’s family stood two hundred armed Albanian guerrillas. A guard of honor fired above the open grave and angry orators lauded Daut’s martyrdom at the hand of “barbarian Slavs.”

Daut was sixteen. He was buried in his home village of Dobrosin, which lies just over the border from Kosovo, inside Serbia proper. The funeral took place on March 24, two years to the day after NATO began its punishing bombardment of Yugoslavia in response to the mistreatment of Albanians in Kosovo by Milosevic’s forces. Seventy-eight days later Serbian soldiers, police, and civilians began their historic retreat from the province. It was the final nail in the coffin of the nationalist dream of Greater Serbia.

Why, two years later, was I attending Daut’s military funeral? If I was to believe everything I read in the European and American newspapers, the reason was simple. The West had created a monster. Yes, we had severed the head of Greater Serbia only to discover that Balkan nationalism is hydra-headed. In its place we now stood confronted by the evil specter of rabid, expansionist Albanian nationalism, which aimed to create either a Greater Albania or at least a Greater Kosovo.

But something jarred. It was like the story of Daut’s death. No one seemed clear about how he had died. There was talk of a Serbian sniper who had shot Daut in violation of a cease-fire. A day or two later another story began to emerge. Daut had not died at the hands of a Serb. He had shot himself in an accident. Tragic, but not quite so glorious. As always, things are never quite so simple in the Balkans. And so it is with the story of “Greater Albania.”

Albanians complain that history is not fair. Following the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 an Albanian state emerged, more or less within its current borders. The problem was that these borders left considerable territory with large Albanian populations, such as Kosovo, outside the new state. Some were left in northern Greece, the rest in the lands which were to become part of Yugoslavia in 1918. In 1941 Fascist Italy created the first and only Greater Albania, which included most of Kosovo and the Albanian-inhabited regions of western Macedonia.

After World War II the old Yugoslav borders were restored. The Albanians of Albania were sealed in behind the frontiers of a Stalinist state while Albanians in Yugoslavia were treated with suspicion by the Communist authorities. Still, by the mid-1970s most of them lived in the increasingly autonomous and self-confident southern Serbian province of Kosovo. Largely run by Albanians until Milosevic imposed direct Serbian control…

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