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Contested Borders

Territorialization, National Identity and «Imagined Geographies» in Albania

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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 5: From “Greater Albania” During the Second World War to Contractionary Borders in the Communist Era

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CHAPTER 5

From “Greater Albania” During the Second World War to Contractionary Borders in the Communist Era

Greater Serbia and Greater Albania are not only slogans of the post-World War I era, but remain relevant ethnonational symbols in our supposedly borderless world and bring, yet again, identity boundaries to the fore of the territorial discourse in these regions.

— NEWMAN 2005: 334

This chapter shows how regional destabilization caused by extreme outside intervention, which culminated in direct occupation by the Axis powers, provoked a renewed clash of the elites, with most nationalists switching their loyalty to Rome and Berlin, while communists primarily fought against the occupation forces, with the help of the Allies and, especially, Tito’s emissaries. These elite clashes saw several escalations during the time span of five years that is traced here. The struggles of the elite and the dominance of one or another party led to the creation of a “Greater Albania”, not only symbolically and imaginatively, but also in a very concrete form.

During the early communist years, when the Yugoslav-Albanian era was in its honeymoon period, the map takes an interesting form, with the Albanian leadership scaling down any rhetoric that assumed territorial pretensions. At other times, a perceived change in geopolitical conditions, coupled with domestic calculations, made a reversal of discourse possible, though no action took place that was directly aimed at any form of map expansion. At certain critical junctures, such...

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