by Antonina Zhelyazkova
The Albanian identity and the geographical environment...(3)

Lord Kinross, too, was impressed by the independence of the Albanians and sought the explanation in the geographical factors claiming that in many respects Albania owes its independence to the natural conditions - to the inaccessibility of the mountain ridges - as well as to the martial spirit of its own people, of those hardy mountain-dwellers allied in clans, whom Skanderbeg had united and kept under his authority.13

One more characteristic feature: it is only in the lowlands that one finds close-knit, stifling communities, a prebendal clergy, a haughty nobility, and an efficient system of justice. The mountain is a refuge of liberty, of democracy, of peasant 'republics'. 'The steepest places have been at all times the shelter of freedom' writes the learned Baron De Tott in his Memoirs 'A poor thing was Turkish despotism -' exclaims Braudel as a remark to these words - 'ruler indeed of the roads, passes, towns, and plains, but what can it have meant in the Balkan highlands, or in Greece and Epirus, in the mountains of Crete where the Skafiotes defied, from their hilltops, all authority from the 17th century onward, or in the Albanian hills, where, much later, lived Ali Pasa of Tepedelenli? Did the Wali Bey, installed at Monastir by the Turkish conquests of the 15th century, ever really governed? In theory his authority extended to the Greek and Albanian hill villages, but each one was a fortress, an independent enclave and on occasion could become a hornets' nest."14

As anywhere else in the early Middle Ages, with the growth of crafts, in the lower littoral areas of Albania there emerged guilds, corporations, and the group of urban residents engaged in trading grew in number. The Adriatic coastal centres were flourishing as a result of a busy trade, mostly with Ragusa and Venice. The ports of Durrës, Ulcinj, Vlora, and Lezhë thrived, new port centres emerged, among them such along the larger rivers. According to the privileges granted already by the Byzantine rulers, the citizens were not serfs and even enjoyed some political and civil rights: the right to take part in the council of citizens, the right of municipal self-government, considerable local autonomy.

Owing to the boom in the economy and the period of political stability, especially after the break-up of the Serbian Kingdom, the Albanian princes consolidated their power and, in the long run, sought to become absolutely independent masters of their feudal estates. Naturally, this gave rise to new political relations between the Albanian princes. Rivalries evolved and internecine wars were waged in pursuit of expansion and takeover of the more developed urban centres. Throughout the second half of the 14th century Albania was overwhelmed by clashes between the big clans, all its territory being overpowered by anarchy and the antagonism among them. In consequence, the more powerful were devouring towns, lands, and the feuds of the weaker. There appeared several big feudal estates, three of which evolved into principalities.

Historical background. Ethnogenesis
The Albanian identity and the geographical environment.
George Kastrioti - Skanderbeg's resistance to the Ottomans. Heroicity as part of the Albanian individuality.
Ottoman colonisation and establishment of the new administration.
The Islamisation of the Albanians and its impact on the Albanian religious identity.
The Balkans Revival in the 19th century and the Albanian patriotic ideas
The two world wars, the occupation periods and the frustration of the Albanian national strivings and anticipations for independence.
The survival of the Albanian identities under Enver Hoxha. The role of the isolationist policy of the regime in Tirana.

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