by Antonina Zhelyazkova

The Balkans Revival in the 19th century and the Albanian patriotic ideas.

The rise of national and patriotic ideas in Albania came late. Even in the second half of the 19th century Albanians were far from the ideal of a homogeneous nation. The growth of a unifying spirit was confronted in the first place with the traditional distinctions in the social and cultural organisation of the Gegs and Tosks. In addition, there were faith differences and the presence of a large Muslim community, which accounted for 70 per cent of the total population. In fact, this was not a typical religious division, for the Muslim community did not lose its feeling for regional (North and South) or clan and ethnic affiliation. The Muslim Albanian community, however, had the sense of affiliation to the ruling and propertied elite of a falling apart, but nevertheless glamorous and long-lived empire. Because of their strong presence in the military structures they felt committed to the Ottoman elite, or as an integral part of the official authority. Albanian Muslims held high positions in the Ottoman army, in the central and local administrations, even as high-ranking officers at the Ottoman court. In spite of their clear awareness of Albanians, of northerners or southerners, of members of a particular clan, the Albanian elite committed to the Ottoman power thought and behaved up to the large scale of the empire. They cared keenly about the self-government of the Albanian families and village communities, but underestimated Albania as a country, as well as the prospects for an independent statehood and the idea of national unity and emancipation. Albanian Muslim elite were educated in the Turkish language and felt associated with the Ottoman-Turkish statehood and culture. 

The agitation and the ethnocultural mobilisation which kept all the other Balkan nations active and vital from the beginning of the 18th century onward, the striving for reestablishing their statehood, for an independent church and distinct cultural and educational identity, stayed immature or fragmentary among Albanians. This naturally made them an object of claims on the part of their neighbouring young nations - 20 per cent of the Albanian population were Orthodox and some of them studied at Greek schools, which they left well educated in the spirit of pan-Hellenism. Teaching in the Catholic schools was in Italian and Latin and their pupils were instructed into loyalty to the Papacy and to an Italian or generally pro-Western identity. 

The question of the education of the Albanians in their own language was a problem posed many times in the reports of American religious missionaries in the Balkans. In June 1896 Reverend Lewis Bond reported that lessons at the Korça (Korcë) school were conducted in modern Greek, while the local people loved their own tongue which they spoke only at their homes. "Can we do anything for them", asked Reverend Bond. His question obviously remained rhetorical, because three years later he sent another, much more extensive, statement on the issues of the language and education of the Albanians in Korça. He wrote that only at the girls' school, set up by the Protestant community, the training was in Albanian and once more claimed there was no American who would not sympathise with the Albanians and their desire to use their own language.78

It is assumed that the beginning of the Albanian Revival was set by Naum Veqilharxhi's activity and his address to the Orthodox Albanians, which, along with his primer published in 1845, was the first programme document of the Albanian national movement. In it Veqilharxhi demanded Albanian schools and development of the Albanian language as a first step to the evolution of the Albanian people side by side with the other Balkan nations.79

78 Reports and Letters of American Missionaries 1858-1918, ed. by V. Tsanoff. Sofia, 1919, pp. 101-103.