The book was published in February by Il Mulino Albanians, the Italian translation of the famous essay Die Albaner: Eine Geschichte zwischen Orient und Okzident, published in 2012 by CHBeck, and has reached the second edition in German.
The author of the volume is Oliver Jens Schmitt, professor of History of South-Eastern Europe at the University of Vienna, one of the most attentive European scholars to the history of Albania, especially from the Middle Ages.
As some will remember, in Albania Schmitt's name is linked to the sensation that made the Albanian translation of his critical biography of Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg, released in 2009. No ideological prejudice, however, should deny Albanians (from any country in the world) the pleasure of approaching the work of a scholar of international authority, who dedicates himself to Albania like few other contemporaries. We believe that the translation into Italian of this essay represents good news, because there are many Italian-speaking Albanians, and we at Albania News know it well, especially the second generations born in Italy are hungry for knowledge on the origins of their family.
Two introductory words about the book
Although written with the trappings of historical science, The Albanians it is a short book, popular, and fortunately well translated. Only the last chapter, the seventh, is dedicated to the Risorgimento and therefore to the birth of the Albanian State (1912), because the author's goal is to trace a story of the Albanians intended as a Balkan people. In the first pages Schmitt says that to write a story of the Albanians there are two possible ways: «on the one hand, the story of an ethnic group that already existed in antiquity, which originates from the ancient people of the Illyrians, and after vain attempts to conquer sovereignty and a foreign domination lasting centuries, in 1912 it finally reached state sovereignty; on the other, an Albanian history as the history of the Balkans, in which, as through a magnifying glass, one can observe and describe the great linguistic, cultural and social variety and fragmentation of a great European region ». Schmitt recalls that for understandable political reasons the first variant still tends to dominate the historiography of the Albanian societies of the Balkans, and, to differentiate itself, declares that it wants to take the second route.
But be careful: with more than one warning and without ever flattening out on an a priori "multiethnic" narrative, which in turn would be the bearer of a political intention, even if opposed to that of nationalism, and which would risk sacrificing the Albanian element . Schmitt's broader idea is that all of the Balkan nations today look at their past in the same way, and that, as in a game of imprisoning mirrors, one claims the exceptional nature that the other claims. Born in western Europe in the XNUMXth century, the concepts of "nation" and "origin" live in the Balkans today, writes the author, "in a more radical way than in any other part of our continent", and this prevents us from grasping the historical reality in the round. Schmitt explains the "blinding mechanism" very well in this passage of the first introductory chapter:
«Albanian history as Balkan history highlights well documented cultural and social overlaps between Albanians and Greeks, Southern Slavs, Latinized Balkans and Turks, but also between Albanians and Italians, Roma and the very small Jewish communities. Albanian history, however, cannot be reduced to a multiethnic narrative, so to speak. In addition to being contentlessly unfounded, in fact, such an approach also presents a political value in the Balkans: since the XNUMXth century nationalists, especially Greeks and Serbs, believe that Albanians do not have their own national history and consider them or a barbaric people without culture to conquer and civilize, or a part of their nations, since all the Albanian Orthodox would be "in reality" Greek by reason of their faith, while the Muslim Albanians of Kosovo would be Serbs who have undergone a process of Islamization and albanization. Just for fear of such positions, Albanian historians deny any plural identity and any cultural ambiguity. The external observer must neither endorse nationalist positions, nor be afraid of hitting national susceptibilities, a purpose certainly easier to enunciate than to be transferred to research activity in the face of the great emotion with which we still have to deal with when it confronts the Balkan history ».
In conclusion, - Albanesi it is a book that deserves to be read because it moves away from political needs and ethnic stereotypes, well aware of the difficulty of the operation but determined to carry it forward. In a nutshell, we could say that all Schmitt's well-documented reconstruction is based on the idea that Albanian history, especially if looked at in the long run, is a "normal" history, less exceptional than what Albanians themselves often believe and less " exotic »as it is described by many external observers. A healthy and restful idea, which can annoy the Risorgimento political myth that contributed to the construction of an Albanian state (and which, today, in a European key is tempering ...), but which does not deny and indeed enhances the Albanian historical specificity, placing it within the rich regional mosaic.
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