Old troubles, new troubles

October 1, 2007

By Alba Çela

TIRANA July. 5

Winston Churchill, one of the most important political figures of the twentieth century once said that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. Indeed, with the conflicts hitting the region throughout the 1990s, his statement was proven much too often true. Had he lived these days in Albania he would have been observing it come true once more.

On June 28, a  group of protesters many of Tcham origin led by a handful of  Members of parliament, civil society members and other prominent figures marched to the village of Qafebote to remember what they call “the Greek genocide of 1945”. What this likely-to- be-inappropriate term refers to is the violent population displacement that occurred in 1945 in the northern Greek territories. Thousands of inhabitants mainly but not exclusively- a point lost in the discussion- of Albanian ethnicity were forced to leave their houses and emigrate to the Albanian state on-the-remake after WWII. Their property was confiscated and many of them died on the way. They were called Tchams to reflect the location they came from, called in Albanian “Çameria” (pronounced Tchameria) the struggle of this community started in 1912 with ethnicity and religion becoming key factors in decades to come.
The horrors were never forgotten by the Tcham population which was dispersed then in Albania, mainly on the central areas. During communism the issue was purposefully left ignored. Hoxha had already enough “enemies” to face in the outside world.
Even after the regime change, with few exceptions of unusually loud historian MPs like Sabri Godo or Pellumb Xhufi, Albanian politics tried to avoid the sensitive issue. Allegations made in the press of the neighboring countries in the late nineties that there existed a Cameria Liberation Army ready to launch a full-scale attack on Greece did not help the Tcham cause. They were seen as yet another belligerent ethnic group that risks to set the gunpowder-ed Balkans on fire.
“Albanian politicians all play the ostrich game when it comes to the tcham issue,” Amos Dojaka, told IPS. Dojaka is the General Secretary of the Party for Justice and Integration (PDI), whose program largely supports the plight of the tchams. But now the tchams themselves are waiting for nobody to make their requests loud and clear. They ask for the recognition of their plight and demand financial compensation from the Greek state.
The tcham community is very well-organized and vocal. Except from the PDI they have formed the Chameria Association with several Diaspora branches that publishes a monthly newspaper. They also have their own research institute called inevitably “Cameria.”
Albania’s relationship to Greece is at best complicated and fragile. The Tcham issue joins the busy agenda where Greek minorities in Albania, Albanian immigrants in Greece, religion issues and football matches ending up in murders are just a few to mention. For the past months every single week there has been a new incident reported by the media where the G word was used. A controversial video of Greek soldiers singing hate marches against Albanian and Turks were followed quickly by other ones showing Greek policemen subjecting young illegal immigrants to beatings. Vasil Bollano, an eccentric and controversial mayor of Himara, located at the southern coast of Albania had the nerve to require independence for his city in case Kosovo has it and the Greek ambassador in Tirana made a faux pass in supporting him.
The protesters of this year had come from a two day concert in the city of Saranda where they had celebrated their unique cultural heritage, their special songs, dances costumes and traditions. The protest was followed by extensive activism in the political, religious and cultural arenas. MP Shpetim Idrizi, a tcham, asked the Parliament to come up with a resolution condemning the genocide. Despite not approving this request for the time being, the Parliament did hold a minute of silence honoring the victims. The National museum held a two day event called “The days of Tcham history and culture” with a series of activities- book promotions, round tables, cuisine tastings and photo exhibitions- aimed at raising the public awareness at the tcham issue.
“We repeat this series of activities each year,” Dojaka explained. “This year the media was far more present and more sensitive to our cause. The tcham issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.”
The discussion is very much reflected in the popular daily discourse. Albanian blogs swelter with debates, comments, pseudo-analyses, allegations and counter-allegations on the issue, often expressing nationalistic aspirations that give out the wrong message to the Greek side.
The Greek government classifies the tcham issue, in the words of Foreign Ministry spokesman of 2001, Beglitis, as “nonexistent.”
We are convinced that unless the tcham problem is solved there will be no friendly relations between Greece and Albania, nor peace in the Balkans, “ writes a petition of the Chameria Association of 1999, cited in Miranda Vicker’s book “The tcham issue”, one of the few serious academic attempts to present a well-researched history of the problem.
One important conclusion is to be drawn: weather too much to be consumed or not, history in this region never dies and the sentiments it can recall are often jeopardizing regional peace and stability.


  1. I think you miss the real question even though you put it in the first article of your article. Why does the Balkan produce more history than it can consume?

    I do not care that much, what problems Albanians produce in the Balkans, but 100’000 Albanians living in Switzerland, constant talk about Albanian terrorist groups does not make me sleep any safer.

    Do we allow the same problems that you have on the Balkan to happen here in Switzerland, as more and more Albanians live here.

  2. Dear Ian,

    If you are blaming Balkan problems on Albanians I believe you are off track. It is my article point to say that unaddressed history troubles can produce problems but to blame any side for this would be very simplistic and narrow-minded.

    As far as Switzerland is concerned if you guys give up your love for drugs you wont even notice the Albanians there(simple as demand and offer in economics), and …please sleep safely!, Albanians are far from beign as strong as having their own terrorist groups!

    i dont care if I am being aggressive, my friends who have this blog know very well that I am indeed when it comes to bloodless xenophobic comments!

    and to finish this in proper triumphant style:

    “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” (Third Man, Carol Reed)

  3. Dear Ian,

    I must tell you that your comment worried me.
    First of all, I doubt it that, in her article, Alba wanted to talk about “the problems Albanians cause in the Balkans”.
    But there are other things. I worry that you say that you only care about the situation in Switzerland and imply you do not care much about what goes on in the Balkans. I think this blog is here because we care about all these things and want to bring them up to discussion.
    More importantly, I worry that you confuse terrorism with criminality and you seem to imply they come from some specific feature of Albanians. Sounds a little bit fascist to me.
    Rather than rush to talk about Albanian terrorism, perhaps we should talk first about the strict migration laws in Switzerland that might force people, Albanians, Romanians or whatever, to occupy themselves with crime rather than pick up a normal job and raise kids.
    I also worry that what you actually say is that you cannot sleep because of “constant talk about Albanian terrorist groups” not because of something that you know to have happened…
    I don’t know, why are we so ignorant about each other and so afraid of each other at the same time? This is perhaps the question I was trying to ask when I was wondering what is terrorism.

  4. Now Alba…you know attacking Switzerland is not the way to go about this, don’t you 🙂

  5. I like the mayor Vasil Bollano…
    Ian Norman – I am sure that Switzerland has some shady patches in its history, perhaps even darker than the Balkans’ ones… say around sixty-eight, sixty-two years ago… but sleep safe now

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