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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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[…] and it strikes her, as she walks, that borders, like hatred, are exaggerated precisely because otherwise they would cease to exist altogether.


This book first started as an academic project for completion of my doctoral dissertation at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. My initial interest was in the question of irredentism and my first book, Sources of Irredentism in Foreign Policy: Understanding Kin Policies in the Aftermath of Communism in Serbia and Albania, sought to provide an answer as to why Serbia became increasingly irredentist in the aftermath of communism, while Albania refrained from following suit. The novelty was in focusing on the role of intermediate societal ideas, interests and institutions in fomenting irredentist policies. Afterwards, I became increasingly interested in the difference between real and virtual borders and how competing political projects can lead to different perceptions of the national map. At the same time, the political elite is usually constrained by external actors and shifting geopolitics, which are especially important factors in determining domestic developments in small countries and weak states.

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