The New Europe/Volume 9/Albania and Greece
In The New Europe of 17 October Signor Salvemini asks us to resume a discussion on Albania, which was begun in our issue of 22 August. As he well remarks, the New Europe and the Unita are in agreement on fundamentals. We have good cause here in England to recognize the high ideals and the sincerity of our Italian contemporary. It is with peculiar pleasure that we take up Signor Salvemini's challenge, and explain why some of us do not see eye to eye with our Italian friends on the question of Southern Albania.
Let us clear away, to begin with, some points of agreement. We, too, believe in the creation of an independent Albania, and that its development should be unhampered by its Balkan neighbors. We realize that to ensure this it may be necessary that for some considerable time help and guidance should be given from outside. The Albanians of the north and center are far behind their neighbors in the stage of civilization that they have reached. They will inevitably come into collision with them if they are not restrained. It will take generations for them to pass from blood feud and tribal jealousy to the good order of a unified state, unless they have the tutorage in the art of self-government. Neither Yugoslavia nor Greece would be the best trustee for the young Albania. Their best men will be fully engaged in organizing their own extended territories. The fact that they adjoin the new State, and that frontier incidents will be bound to occur, would make it difficult for them to take a sufficiently detached point of view. Italy is neither too near nor too far. It should have good administrators and to spare for the purpose. It has experience on Albanian settlements within its own boundaries, and has a traditional sympathy for Albanian nationalism.
The only friend caveat we enter is, that if such a protectorate is to be a strength to Italy, and not a source of trouble and friction, she must never forget that she is acting as a trustee, and that Albania will one day come of age. The Albanians are a restless, headstrong, and turbulent people, and these qualities, though they will be fined down by civilization and take new shape and form, will not disappear. Indeed, their existence at the present stage is our guarantee that Albania is worth preserving and developing as a virile and vigorous national unit. The Albanians will not be kept long in leading strings, and if Italy is to find a wise analogy for her protectorate, she must look to our actions in the Ionian Islands rather than to our actions in Egypt. If Italy desires any part of Albania, such as Valona, permanently, for strategic reasons, it would be far sounder to say so from the outset than, for the sake of Valona, to maintain her protectorate over Albania a day longer than Albania desires it.
So far we are not far from the standpoint of Unita. Where we apparently differ is in the limits that we set to Albania on the south, and our conception of the relations between Albanians and Greeks. We gather that the Unita takes much from the same position on these questions as certain English friends of Albania, such as Miss Edith Durham, and Mr. Aubrey Herbert. They are possessed with the vision of an Imperialistic Greece, seeking to extend her sway over reluctant Albania. We believe that this way of presenting the problem places it in a totally false perspective. We conceive of it in this way.
The Greek race, like the English race, is of mixed descent. From the days of the Roman Empire onwards there have been repeated and extensive settlements of northern invaders in Central Greece and the Peloponesus. Fallmerayer, the German ethnologist, attempted, about a century ago, to use this fact to discredit the claims of Modern Greece to be the heir of Ancient Greece. The attempt has failed. Hellenism has been strong enough to assimilate alien elements, and historians are now agreed that the continuity of language, religion, customs, temperamental and (to a large extend) even physical characteristics, has been as marked as if the Aegean had seen no migration of people since the days of Alexander the Great. The controversy, however, left behind it a certain unwillingness on the part of the Greek world to dwell on the historical facts that gave rise to it. We have even heard of eminent Athenian anthropologists who have been reluctant to compare ancient with modern sculls because of the differences of type they might disclose!
This ostrich - like method of apologetics contributed to the obscuring of the Albanian question. It consisted in ignoring or denying the antecedents of anyone who had called himself a Greek. It is as if the United States, in its suspicion of hyphenated Americans, disowned its gift of assimilation. But such an attitude is remote from the frankness and, we may add the farsightedness of the Venizelist regime. Pre - Venizelist Greece met the Albanian claims to North Epirus by quoting the Hellenic sentiments of Epirotes as proof that racially they could not be Albanians. Venizelist Greece quotes them as a proof that race and language taken by themselves are no test of political allegiance. We may adapt the epigram of the philosopher who, when asked whether he denied the divinity of Christ, replied that he denied the divinity of no man. If we are asked whether we deny the Albanism of Koritza, we might reply that we deny the Albanism of no Greek.
Such a paradox is not far from the truth. It is not a matter of old Albanian settlements that have lost their language. There are whole districts as far south as Boeotia and Attica, where the peasants are bi-lingual. The present writer has conducted excavations near Thebes with a gang of local workmen every man of whom talked Albanian as well as Greek. The characteristic Greek national costume is Albanian. The uniform of the Evzones, or Highland Regiments, is Albanian. The war of Independence was largely fought by Albanians. Not only is this true of the Clefts of the mountain district, but the seamen of Hydra and Spetsae. No wonder that the Albanians of Epirus, proud from time immemorial of their orthodoxy religion and their Hellenic culture, find themselves at home in the kingdom of Greece, and they are welcomed there, not as aliens but as natives. We have often heard of the schools and fine buildings founded at Athens by North Epirotes, and that it was one of them, Averoff, who gave Greece Navy its most modern cruisers. It is less widely known that the commanders of the Greek Army and Greek Fleet in the Balkan wars, General Danglis and Admiral Condouriotis, are both Albanian by blood. They formed, with Venizelos, the Triumvirate who raised the standard of revolt at Salonica in 1916 and saved the honor of Greece. Mr. Repoulis, Venizelos’s right hand in the present Cabinet, is an Albanian and speaks Albanian when in his own home.
There is no question, then, of an alien Greece seeking to conquer and annex. The problem is whether the Albanians of North Epirus wish to throw in their lot with a partly Albanian and wholly sympathetic Greece or with a predominantly Moslem and mainly uncivilized Albania? Which do they prefer, race and language or culture and religion?
To such a question there can be no a’ priori ready - made answer. The analogy of the Yugoslavs, which is fresh in our minds, would make us expect that race and language would outweigh all else. But what of Celtic Wales? Wales prefer imposing Prime Ministers on its neighbors to creating a State of their own. What, too, of the Britons or the Gaels of Scotland? If Wales, Gaelic Scotland, and Brittany were faced with an independent Gaelic - speaking Ireland and asked to join it, is it conceivable that they would choose to leave Great Britain and France? Race, language, religion, culture, economics, geography, oppression, sympathy, all help to determine the nationality of a given group of people, but no one can tell which of them will be the decisive factors at any given moment except by asking the people themselves what their national sentiment is.
True, our friends of Unita may say, but obvious. Obvious, we should reply, in general, but not as applied to this particular case. The trouble is that language and race has been taken for North Epirus as the sole criteria. Once admit that they are not and we are half way to the solution of our problem.
What, then, are the national sentiments of the North Epirotes? Before the war the population consisted of 101,000 Moslems and 122,000 Christians. Most of the Moslems would prefer to belong to a predominantly Moslem State. They would acquiesce in a union with Greece, but only a few would welcome it. The Moslems, however, are in a minority, and would be in a still great minority if the risings against the Turk of 1854, 1866, and 1877 had not been followed by persecutions which drove tens of thousands of Christian Epirotes to emigrate, and not a few to find an easier escape by embracing Islam.
Taking the pre - war population as we find it, the question is whether enough Christian Epirotes share the Moslem view to turn a minority into a majority. That there are Christians deeply attached to the Albanian nationalist idea we should be the lasts to deny. We see reason, however, to believe that they do not form a consistent proportion of the Christian population. We believe, too, that they are faced, not by an inert body of opinion, which such ideas have not yet reached, but may soon to reach, but by an active mass of Greek sympathizers, who have consciously rejected the Albanian idea, and are every whit as convinced and enthusiastic in their national sentiments as are their opponents.
This is the conclusion we draw from the events of 1913 and 1914, which we followed at the time with some attention. We have no wish to press the apparent unanimity of the country when the Greek army was in actual occupation in 1913. Long experience of Turkish rule inspires caution, and it may be that some of the children who waved Greek flags before Colonel Murray at Koritza had their tongues in their cheeks. But if we cannot press acquiescence we can all the more surely argue from revolt. There is no doubt whatever that the armed rebellion against union with Albania set on foot after the Greek Army had evacuated the country in the spring of 1914 was a genuine local movement. The provisional government was backed so strongly by the population the Albanians of the center and north, reinforced as they were by the well - drilled Dutch Gendarmerie, could make no way against it, and, after a fierce fighting, had to leave it in possession of practically all the territory it claimed. The support that the "Sacred Legions," as they were called, received from disbanded Greek regulars was negligible, and considerably less than that which came to their opponents from Turkish and other sources. Venizelos, so far from encouraging the movement, carried his respect for the decision of the Powers so far as to risk his popularity. Mr. Zographos was quite serious when he said to the correspondent of Daily Chronicle, on 11 March 1914 "the Greek Government had striven by every means to throw obstacles in the way of the emancipation of Epirus."
In 1913 the Greek ecclesiastical and political authorities had not yet grasped the significance of the language question. Even then, when the Albanian-speaking Christians had a reasonable grievance, Hellenic feeling was dominant and enthusiastic. What may we now expect when Venizelos has inaugurated a more liberal policy? One of his most recent acts has been to insist on the teaching of the Albanian language in the Greek schools of Koritza. As the Greek schools contain about ten as many pupils as the Albanian, the concession is not a small one.
That is our reading of the facts, but our friends of the Unita will agree with us that it must be put to the test. What are the conditions for a decisive plebiscite? They appear to us to be three:
1 - The disputed zone must vote as a separate unit
2 - The Voting must be organized by a disinterested Power, such as Britain, France, or America and all the Greek and Italian troops and officials must evacuate the country for the time.
3 - The register of voters must be based on the pre - war population.
It is believed in Greece that in the Italian sphere of occupation all Greek schools have been closed; that thousands of Epirotes are refuges in Greece and not a few prisoners in Italy; and that Mussulmans have been brought down from Berat and Avlona to take their places and their lands. Can these statements be true? Our friends of the Unità will do a real service if they investigate them.
We are certain that they will decide that Italy has nothing to gain, and all to lose, by a warmth of of partisanship that might permanently estrange her Greek neighbours. Greece is willing to abide by the results of a genuine plebiscite. Need Italy ask for more?