by Antonina Zhelyazkova
George Kastrioti-Skanderbeg's resistance to the Ottomans. Heroicity as part of the Albanian individuality...(3)

As a vassal of the Ottomans, one of the Albanian feudal lords, Gjin Kastrioti, was forced to send in 1423 his son George as a hostage of Sultan Murad. There the Albanian was converted to Islam and was given the name of Iskender. George Kastrioti - Iskender took part in the military campaigns of the sultan, distinguished himself, and was granted the title of be?. In 1438, he was appointed suba?? of the vilâyet of Kruja, a town having been once part of the possessions of the Kastrioti family. In 1440, he was promoted to sancakbey of Debar [Alb. Dibra]. Although he served at the Ottoman court, George Kastrioti sought opportunities to organise a resistance against his suzerain. First, with the mediation of his father, he entered into negotiations with Venice, later, on 28 November 1443, taking advantage of the wars waged by John Hunyadi, he proclaimed a rebellion and made efforts to unite the Albanian forces to ensure its success. It is a curious circumstance that Skanderbeg's mother was a Slav woman, according to some sources a Bulgarian named Voisava, a fact recorded in an anonymous Venetian chronicle: "Huic uxor fuit Voisava, Pologi Domini filia, est autem Pologum oppidum in Macedoniae et Bulgarie confinibus" (the provinces of Upper and Lower Polog ranged over the territory of the Tetovo plain - A.t.).22 

After the proclamation of the uprising against the Ottomans, Skanderbeg with his troops destroyed the garrison of Kruja and restored the independent principality of the Kastrioti. At that time, the Ottoman administration was already functioning in the family's estates - Ottoman garrisons had been stationed in the fortresses, any traces of the former rule of the Kastrioti had been erased. In this situation, Skanderbeg's struggle for overthrowing Ottoman power coincided with his desire to restore and keep the feudal heritage and authority of the Kastrioti clan. 

Skanderbeg's example gave impetus to the liberation movements in Central and Northern Albania. Nearly all princes rejected the Ottoman rule, and the big Albanian clans reestablished their principalities. George Kastrioti made efforts to unite all moral and material resources of the individual families in a successful struggle against the Ottomans. To this effect, on 2 March 1444 he called in Lezhë an assembly of the Albanian princes, where almost all of them gathered: the Arianits, Dukagjin, Crnojevic, Balshas, Thopias, Muzakas, as well as the leaders of the free Albanian tribes from the high mountains. In spite of the discord among the princes, they founded a union, which went down in history by the name of the Albanian League of Lezhë. George Kastrioti - Skanderbeg was elected its leader, and commander in chief of its armed forces numbering 8,000 warriors.23 

In the light of the modern geopolitical science, the League of Lezhë represented an attempt to form a state union. In fact, this was a federation of independent rulers who undertook the duty to follow a common foreign policy, to defend jointly their independence and recruiting their allied armed forces. Naturally, it all required a collective budget for covering the military expenditures and each family contributed their mite to the common funds of the League.24  As a matter of fact, in our days the KLA was being recruited on the same principle, by collecting a tax from each family.. 

At the same time, each clan kept its possessions, its autonomy in solving the internal problems of its own estate. The formation and functioning of the League, of which George Kastrioti was the supreme feudal lord or suzerain, was the most significant attempt to build up an all-Albanian resistance against the Ottoman occupation and, simultaneously, an effort to create, for the span of its short-lived functioning, of some sort of a unified Albanian state. It is no chance at all that to this day Skanderbeg is a national hero of the Albanians, and the period of the Albanian League has been perceived by the Albanians as a peak in their history, especially if compared with the subsequent failed attempts, until the beginning of the 20th century, to constitute an independent statehood.

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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