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Contested Borders

Territorialization, National Identity and «Imagined Geographies» in Albania


Ilir Kalemaj

This book argues that power struggles between internal and diasporic elites play a central role in the development of political agendas that have the potential to shift national borders. The author uses Albania as the primary case study, examining how the understanding of the Albanian nation has taken on varying geographical borders over time and why different Albanian communities have often had differing perceptions of the borders of the nation.
On the basis of this case study, the author constructs a theoretical model that captures the dynamic of domestic versus international constraints on elite choices and analyses how this leads to the (re)construction of borders. The book explores the way in which competing elites manipulate national symbols to create the necessary environment for personal political gain, using both expansionist and contractionist versions of «virtual» borders that may or may not be congruent with internationally recognized borders.
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Chapter 1: Delineating the Playing Field: Virtual Borders and Imagined Geographies


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Delineating the Playing Field: Virtual Borders and Imagined Geographies

The boundaries of identity, so to speak, are constructed much as are territorial boundaries.

— KOOK 1995: 309–336

A boundary does not exist only in the border area, but it manifests itself in many institutions such as education, the media, novels, memorials, ceremonies etc. These are effective expressions of narratives linked with boundaries and border conflicts and serve as reference to the Other.

— PAASI 1999: 76

In the language of Sir Walter Scott, writing in 1833, the same causes that made borders suitable as “theatres of war” made them apt also for “singing”. This meant that borders, metaphorically, were simultaneously conceptualized as sources of conflict and sources of imagination, through culture-sharing and the stimulation of relationships that cut across various differences. In addition, historically speaking, borders were often constructed as “towers of defense” and served as fortresses against sudden enemy inroads. In yet another sense, they have always been used to demarcate territory, as well as identity.

Though borders have always existed, in certain periods nested identities have caused them to overlap with each other. That is to say that several border types have co-existed concurrently, cross-cutting each other horizontally. Prior to the Westphalia treaty of 1648, multiple borders that had emerged as a result of overlapping loyalties meant that particular groups or individual subjects were confined to various territorial units, as...

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