Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Kosovo fieldwork: Albanian League of Prizren Museum and Crucified Kosovo

Kosova/Kosovo fieldwork notes extracts

This entry recorded another encounter that further expanded my knowledge of how sectarian the different communities' constructions of history can be; it included a visit to the Albanian League of Prizren Museum and a review of one of the entries in the Serbian Orthodox Church's Crucified Kosovo book.

Trying to structure my thoughts after a productive day, at 12.55am on the 20th of July 2005 I decided that:

It may be best to work backwards. On my way to dinner tonight, I passed a few men speaking in English; curious, I went back and approached them. None were, in fact, English; they consisted, sounding like a poor relation of a poor English joke, of a German, a Kosovar Albanian and a Serbian.

When the Serbian identified himself as such, his Kosovar Albanian friend joked, 'he's from Serbia - he's a terrorist - he's here to blow things up!'
Having gleaned the conspiracy theory from television and newspaper reports and had the suspicion confirmed to me in conversations, I observed that,

this may refer to the allegation that it was Serbs who were responsible for the bombings of the UN and other (inter)national institutions in Prishtine and of the public transport in London (Israeli-trained, apparently).

As always, when I mentioned I was an archaeologist, they were puzzled where I'd managed to find work - but as there was a KFOR employee present, for once they didn't assume there - the Kosovar Albanian asking me, 'are you working at the church?', indicating the Orthodox one on the hill [the fourteenth-century Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Saviour] that's under German KFOR guard.

I explained that I was a doctoral student and that I didn't have work, but was seeking it, seeing if it were feasible in Kosova - or Kosov@, as some now write it, which I quite like; even with its use of computer shorthand, I find it quite elegant.
As I understand it, "Kosov@" is written because the use of the Albanian spelling, Kosova, is assumed to imply a belief in Kosovan independence and the use of the Serbian spelling, Kosovo, is assumed to imply a belief in Serb unity.

Some of those who are more concerned with standards than status write "Kosov@"; still, it's quite possible that some of those who write "Kosov@" do believe in Kosovan independence - and therefore "mean" Kosova - but find the graffiti-style spelling appealing.

When I expanded upon that [the explanation that I was seeking work] by telling them I was looking at the destruction of cultural property, the Kosovar Albanian asked if I'd been to the Institute (for Protection of Cultural Monuments).

I said, yes, but 'they just insist they're professionals, not political', admitting that, 'it's the best thing', even if what they mean is not that they're not political but that they're not sectarian.

He responded, only half-jokingly, that 'it's okay in the past, but when you bring it into the present, it's "Happy Birthday! See you in heaven!"' (though I don't know whether he meant the past, the politics, or the politics of the past in the present, I assume he meant the politics of the past (and therefore any and all of the three)).
Then, I relayed that,
after a twice-disturbed lie-in (by a cleaner with three teeth who accepted the typical English proposition that if you shouted loudly enough in your own language, the energy expended would mystically translate it into your unfortunate audience's), I went to the League of Prizren Museum - or, as the sign made clear [and the Albanian historians I met, who took me round the museum, made clearer] the Albanian League of Prizren - 'Lidhya Shqiptare e Prizrenit' - Museum.

They were very helpful and friendly - even, in the upper gallery [where two of the three Albanian historians were] explaining and then translating the displays to me - but made it clear that this history was ethnicised history.

When I noted, on entry, that 'in English sources (and even in non-English authors' works accessed in English) the League of Prizren's just the League of Prizren'... I was corrected that it is the Albanian League of Prizren - or the Prizren League of Albanians.
The ellipsis - the "..." - in the last sentence was a reminder that, "I should, of course, check that this is indeed the case, to avoid another Orthodox church access inaccuracy", referring to an encounter detailed in a previous entry on "religion and identity politics".
Re-reading my history research notes, I remembered that the Albanian League of Prizren was known variously as the Albanian League of Prizren, the League of Prizren, the Albanian League and even simply the League; moreover, whether it was written into the name or not, it was the League of Prizren trying to unite the Albanian community to work towards the goals of the Albanian community, so it was the Albanian League of Prizren.
When I asked, 'weren't other communities involved?', I received [a]... 'no'. She continued, 'it was just the Albanians - every nation fought for its own independence - Bulgarians, Serbians, Macedonians - the Albanians were on their own - this is a museum to the Albanian fight for independence'.
If nothing else, the Albanian League of Prizren was too short-lived to foster robust alliances: it emerged in 1878; in 1879, the Ottoman Empire misunderstood the League's position (mistaking a minority demand for an independent Albanian state for the majority demand, which was for autonomy within the Empire), after which, the Empire changed its mind and rejected the League's proposals; the Albanian community impatient, the League of Prizren took control of Kosovo in 1880; and in 1881, the Ottoman Empire crushed those it perceived as secessionists.

I had, though, misremembered the history as well; it was, as Greek Helsinki Monitor observed, "throughout the 1920s" that
the Albanians found an ally in the Macedonians, who were equally discriminated against and discontented [during which time]... the two groups often cooperated against the repressive assimilation policies of Belgrade.
It was, Greek Helsinki Monitor continued, "in the 1930s", that
this collaboration waned with the suppression of the radical Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), and the looming possibility of Macedonia acquiring autonomy within the Yugoslav Federation [whilst]... little had changed for the Albanians.
Greek Helsinki took the information for this narrative from Hugh Poulton's (2000: 92-93) work.
After that, I was still surprised when, on asking, 'where are the monuments to the other communities' struggles in Prizren?', she answered, 'there aren't any!'; on double-checking, 'I thought there were monuments to the other communities' struggles against Ottoman rule', she confirmed, 'no - not as far as I know!'
I noted that,
as sectarian as it is, the Serbian Orthodox Church's [Ljubisa Folic's (2001: 50)] Crucified Kosovo only takes advantage of existing monuments' and buildings' biographies - it doesn't invent property - and it documents 'tokens of gratitude', some of which are memorials to 'the warriors of the Third Serbian Army who lost their lives in October 1912, liberating Prizren' or more generally to 'the warriors of the Serbian Army killed liberating Prizren in 1912'.
It is possible that the Albanian historians were confused, as some of the tokens of gratitude are memorials to the "dead soldiers of the Serbian armies from 1914-1918" (Folic, 2001: 50); it is also possible that the historian's use of the present tense - when she "answered, 'there aren't any!'", was a very careful use of language, as, according to Ljubisa Folic, the tokens of gratitude were recently "destroyed by Albanian terrorists in the presence of the German KFOR troops" (Folic, 2001: 50).

According to the key at the start of the book (Folic, 2001: 2-4), the phases of the destruction of the memorials consisted of:
  • the "shattered conditions of the buildings";
  • the "desecrating of shrines";
  • the "burning of shrines and adjacent buildings";
  • the "initial blasting"; and
  • the "blasting of the surviving buildings".
This might explain why I didn't see any tokens of gratitude during my week-long survey of Prizren.

Conveniently demonstrating the sectarian nature of Ljubisa Folic's (2001) work, those monuments were appropriated and their meanings manipulated in Crucified Kosovo: although it is true that the Serbian armies were liberating Kosovo from Ottoman rule, they were simultaneously dispossessing Kosovo's Albanian community (as the Ottoman Empire was using Kosovo's Albanian community as cover for their own retreat); Noel Malcolm (1998: 251) points out that the Serbs "fought their way through, destroying Albanian villages as they passed".
It's worth writing now, as I remember, that, as I acknowledged in the past, realise in the present and must achieve in the future, I need to study the (past) destruction of Kosovar Albanian heritage too.

For all this, she [one of the Albanian historians] did talk nostalgically of her days as a student, when she and her colleagues didn't have the concerns they do now, as they came from and went to study in the various areas within the Yugoslav federation; [she made the point that] 'that was thirty years ago - not like today'.

There are a set of photos of the building in which the League was established, including one of its original version, several of its second, reconstructed version (after its destruction in undefined circumstances in 1967(?)) and that version's destruction by the Serbian army (and/or Serb paramilitaries) in 1999.
There are also,
one or two of its third, current version (which houses statues previously displayed outside, until they were taken or threatened by the Serbian army (and/or Serb paramilitaries), when they were taken inside or eventually rescued.

Like all other... institutions, the museum 'doesn't have enough money' to do the work it needs to, despite an American donation to conserve the library (which, if the translation and understanding were accurate, now only holds material written in Turkish (quite funny, really)).
I noted that,
I still need to talk about all I did before - and I need to do it before it fades from memory. Maybe I should have an evening in tomorrow with something 'me vete' (literally 'with self', it's used for '(to) take away').
Having sat outside, watching the square, as I ate, I had spent the evening reflecting upon the local landscape and the experience of living and working in it and moving and expressing yourself through it.

I decided that I should "end by noting that"
the place and atmosphere are so incongruous: you look left to see a historic monument surrounded by trees, obscuring your view of the river and the promenade; you look right to see a dozen heavily-armed soldiers sweeping across the street.

You look left again to see two heavily-armed vehicles with another dozen heavily-armed soliders standing in the street obscuring your view of the historic monument; then half-a-dozen heavily-armed vehicles, including tanks, containing dozens more heavily-armed soldiers, drive past behind them; still, the soldier I asked assured me that 'there is no problem'.

The contrast of the very visible presence with the assurance that 'there are no problems' may be clarified both by another German KFOR soldier's earlier comments and one of the Albanian historians'. The German KFOR soldier described things as 'calm, but not stable' and the Albanian historian described German KFOR as 'very good', arguing that they were a welcome and necessary presence since March 2004's 'catastrophe' (which is the word used by all heritage workers so far).
Particularly after the bomb/bomb scare on the day I arrived in Prizren and some local Albanians' warnings that Prizren had a large number of radicals in it, I believe that it can only be possible "that 'there are no problems'", because KFOR are just keeping a lid on things, just keeping control.

I ended the entry asking myself,
would discussion of interpretation policy fulfil the proposal's commitment to socio-legal studies - to 'proper policy' - or would that only be satisfied by discussions of legal implementations of policy?
Folic, L. 2001: Crucified Kosovo: Desecrated and destroyed Orthodox Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosovo and Metohia (June 1999-May 2001). Prizren: Serbian Orthodox Church.
Malcolm, N. 1998: Kosovo: A short history. London: Macmillan.
Poulton, H. 2000: Who are the Macedonians? London: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.

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