1.ALBANIANS: A PEOPLE IN SEARCH OF AN EMPIRE
This is the last chapter of the book, with only an eleven-page conclusion to follow. I will most likely be briefer and less comprehensive with my reviewing from here on out--this chapter is as tedious as the previous chapter; the only difference being that while Chapter Four was all about Germans (both in Germany and Austria), Chapter Five boils down to 58 pages of Albanian-bashing. Would that be Shqiptarphobia?
Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but there it is. The first three chapters of this book were somewhat interesting, in a bizarre way--Johnstone's convoluted defense of collectivism and ethnic nationalism under the guise of progressive/radical politics and anti-imperialism, while neither convincing nor intellectually honest or sound, at least bears the faint whiff of a genuine anti-establishment, contrarian viewpoint.
As I have noted from time to time in this blog, there is a danger that ill-informed progressives and well-meaning left-of-center idealists might be willingly duped by her clumsily seductive appeals to reflexive anti-American/NATO/Western sentiment. Johnstone is selling reactionary poison, but she tries her best to package it as progressive medicine.
This opening section sets the stage and the tone--Albanians are a fierce, primitive, violent, unloving, vengeful, savage race who have had their viciousness and aggression codified and validated by their conversion to Islam. Am I exaggerating? If I am, it is not by much.
In the first three pages, we are informed that Albanians have lived in the Western Balkans "since time immemorial, without organizing an Albanian state until less than a century ago." The implication is clear--they are a primitive people, outside of the norms of civilized Europe. Her depiction of Albanians is little different from the racist caricatures that imperialists of previous centuries utilized to legitimize their colonization of the Third World.
I don't dispute the facts she uses to paint this picture--there is such a thing as the "Kanun" (orally transmitted code of behavior), and Albanians continue to organize themselves into clans and tribes right into modern times. And the institution of the blood feud does survive to this day is some parts of Albanian society. We shall see what Johnstone tries to make of these facts in later sections.
For the rest of this section, she dwells on the conversion to Islam by the majority of Albanians, who then served the Ottomans as oppressors of the Christians in the Balkans.
I think you can see where this is going.
As it ends, Johnstone has noted that Albanians remained under the rule of feudal nobility eager to hold on to their power and status under the Empire. The end of Ottoman rule meant that this ruling class looked for a new Empire to join, in order to suppress national aspirations and maintain their aristocratic status. And this, she assures the reader, means that Albanians have remained "attractive clients for empires attempting to gain a foothold in the Balkans by using the classic methodss of divide and rule."
She has nothing to say about Albanian peasants (many of whom were Catholic and Orthodox), which is a strong warning that the hyperbolic generalizations are only going to get worse.