It is said that revenge is a dish that should be served cold and in Albania it can in fact be served very cold. Conflicts known as blood feuds can be handed down to entire generations, leading to descendants who have nothing to do with insult or initial murder.
Despite being dated over time, blood feuds are still powerful today, with 68 families from Scutari, a district in northern Albania, currently barricaded in the home.
We visited Niko, a boy from 13 years, in his small village in northern Albania. Rumor has it that Niko "it's in blood"With the family of the killed, meaning threatened to death for supposed" crimes "committed even before being born.
Niko lives with his elderly grandparents and is in danger every time he leaves his home. Dozens of other families in the north of Shkodra live self-closed at home for fear of being revenge.
He gave us a ride to visit Niko in his isolated community with his teacher Liljana Luani. Ms. Luani teaches "children in blood" in their homes. Blood feuds mean that children cannot leave their homes, not even to go to school.
Blood feuds are regulated by Kanun, ancient customary code, which dates back to the 15th century. The Kanun contributed to the social order of tribal communities in northern Albania, particularly during its occupation by the Ottoman Empire.
The Albanian blood feuds
- "Gjakmarrja" means "Taking blood": the blood feud. "Hakmarrja" indicates the will to take revenge from a rude or a serious offense that deeply undermines the social image, the honor and the credibility of the person.
- Oral laws which regulated the blood feuds date back to the far Bronze Age. The Kanun dates back to the late fifteenth century.
- Il Kanun is divided into 12 sections and has helped regulate tribal life in northern Albania.
- 1945-1991: the communist dictatorship suppressed the Kanun and its code of honor. Those involved in blood feuds were executed or imprisoned in labor camps.
- 1997: The economic crisis caused by the pyramid schemes has brought about a widespread social disorder and a return of the Kanun.
- Il Albanian Government reforms the institutions and the courts and hopes that this will lead to a decline in blood conflicts.
- Police arrests the participants in the feuds and investigates the killers, bringing the guilty to court.
However, Ms. Luani states that the Kanun is often distorted by the families involved. "If they respected the rules of the Kanun ... they would not kill women and children. But nowadays neither the Kanun nor the laws of the Sato are respected ", he explains.
"It happened that women and children were killed. I think the public security authorities should do more and that they are not working properly ".
The blood feud involving Niko's family began shortly after the severe economic crisis caused by the failure of the so-called pyramid schemes. Chaos has led to a collapse of confidence in public institutions and in the judicial system.
The family was involved in a conflict on land with a family from a nearby village. A member of Niko's family killed one of the neighbors. This led to other feuds and disputes involving neighboring communities.
Later, none of Niko's parents lives in the family home, letting him grow up with his grandparents near the homes of other families involved in the feud.
Mrs. Luani told us that Niko knows little about the feud. "He hears people talking about issues, and all he does is remain silent. But he is very angry, he knows that "he is in blood", as they say, and that his life is in danger and that he must be very careful. "
Colonel Gjovalin Loka, the chief of police for the Shkodra region, says he is doing everything possible to prevent and investigate blood conflicts.
"We have intensively investigated cases of possible murders resulting from blood feuds," he said. "And we intervened as soon as we received information on possible violations of the law."
Colonel Loka also stated that people abuse Kanun: "People interpret it the way that suits them best. The Kanun is not implemented correctly. "
"Furthermore, today we have the laws of a modern Albanian state - which comply with the laws of the European Union - and the time has come for the Kanun to be placed only in the archives."
There is a popular consensus that the ongoing reform of public and judicial institutions must be successful if the blood feuds of Albanian life are to be eradicated.
Dr. Olsi Lelaj, researcher at the Institute of Social Anthropology and Art Studies in Tirana, capital of Albania, declares: "It is not a question of having a strong state, but rather of recognizing a single state. It is a question of justice and a collectively shared justice ".
Meanwhile, Ms. Luani is worried about Niko's future.
"I think this is a problem that can be solved by all of us. I also work hard with parents, especially with the mothers of these children because they are the mothers who teach them tolerance, forgiveness, how to forgive and let go and not continue with the cycle of violence ".
Original article title published on the BBC on November 12 2017 by authors Andrew Hosken and Albana Kasapi: "The children trapped by Albania's blood feuds"