Albania,  Countries

Fleeing the United States? Albania and it’s Code of Honor

THE CODE OF HONOR

Albania is rich in history with heroes, martyrs, famous writers, artists, etc. As each day passes and I become more immersed in the culture of Albania, one thing that continues to stand out to me is the pride the native Albanians have in their country and their history; their survival. Today, I spent some time with Sadeta, my language teacher and friend. As we walked, she shared stories of her life as she pointed out places that have been pivotal to her for one reason or another. We stopped at statues and squares as she enriched me in the history of that attraction. She told me of times of trouble in the not-so-distant past ( shortly after the fall of Communism in 1997) that gave me chills, but, as she spoke her voice was full of pride, a bittersweet smile on her face, she said:” Many left, including relatives. It was a terrible loss to us but we didn’t leave, we stayed and we are lucky to be alive today.” That comment hit me like a ton of bricks and hours later, I can still feel the pride she so adamantly spoke of. I’m lucky to have found her and glad to call her a “friend”!

(I used the online booking app for tours, Viator. They offer so much pre-tour information, which allows you to “know before you go”! The vouchers are easy to download to your phone and you are all set! I used TripAdvisor for the reviews and past guest comments, which I found very helpful! And of course, for the hotel and flights, I got great deals using Kiwi.com. I highly recommend all three of those vendors when booking your next trip!)

ALBANIA’S HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL:

As with practically every country on the planet, Albania has been ruled by many throughout history, its borders have been changed, and its culture has evolved based on the influences of the past. Today, although it is part of The Balkans, it is an independent country. Albania was once under Ottoman rule, then Italian rule, then Communists, Russian, Chinese, and then they achieved independence, and is now known as The Republic of Albania. In fact, Albania is a relatively newly independent country, achieving its independence from the Communist regime as recently as the early 1990s.  Today, the country is working towards membership in the European Union but is a member of NATO.

Being under communist rule between the years 1941 – 1992, religion was banned in Albania, making Albania the first atheist country on the planet. That has now changed with the main religion being Muslim  (about 60%), followed by Catholicism and Orthodox, although honestly, religion does not seem to be a big priority here. The city in which I live doesn’t have many churches and the few that are here are located out of the city.

Bunkers of Albania
Albananian Bunker
Painted Lady Bug Bunker

During the Communist regime, Enver Hoxha, in the event of invasion, had more than 750,000 bunkers placed across the country. The bunkers, although unused for their initial purpose, remain to this day. Many have been painted and are referred to as Bunk’Art and can be seen along the shores, in the city centers, along roadsides. There are two museums in Tirana specifically devoted to bunkers- Bunk’Art1 and Bunk’Art2. In the city I used to live in, there was a bunker dead center of town. I looked inside and was amazed at small, yet space-efficient it was! Even so, I’m very claustrophobic and I can’t imagine spending much time inside one of those.

AN ALBANIAN HERO:

Gjergj Kastrioti,(born 1405, northern Albania—died Jan. 17, 1468, Lezhë, Albania) is known to most as simply, Skanderbeg. Early in life he was taken as a hostage of a sultan, converted to Islam, and joined the military in Turkey. His name was changed to Iskander (largely being named after Alexander the Great) and evolved into Skanderbeg. At a point in time, he left Turkey and returned to his native country of Albania, fighting for Christianity with the intent to abolish Islam in his country, and was appointed commander in chief of the forces.

Obviously, there is more to Skanderbeg than I have written, but he has a prominent place in Albanian history. The main square in Tirane, the capital city, is named after him and is the site of the annual Christmas festivities in the city and a year-round “hub” of activity. An Albanian Hero Coffee is coffee with a shot of Skanderbeg brandy in it, which truly warms you on some of the chilly winter days. The flag of today’s Albania is a black double-headed eagle which was first placed by Scanderbeg on his flag and seal.

Albania
The Flag of Albania with the Black Double Headed Eagle

A month or so ago, a restaurant server close to my home was telling me about this event, again with great pride showing on his face and in his voice.

As with any country, there are heroes and protagonists that make up the colorful history. For a complete list of Albanian heroes, CLICK HERE.

THE REPUTATION OF ALBANIA:

Albania, in my opinion, gets a bad rap, worldwide. It is said to be corrupt, dangerous, full of criminals. But let me throw this out to you as food for thought….. aren’t criminals in all countries? In the United States, “corruption” is called “doing or repaying a favor”. Really, folks? I’m not going to sugarcoat things, there are gangs, trafficking of humans, drugs, and weapons here. The geographic location makes the country ripe for that kind of activity. As I read the Albanian news, I have to be honest, most of those drugs, humans, weapons, etc, are confiscated going to or coming from Italy, Greece, Serbia, and other nearby countries. As Albania continues to develop as a post-communist country, it feels its growing pains as has every newly freed country. Albania is a member of NATO, it is working towards acceptance into the European Union and is quickly becoming a nation of empowered people inviting the rest of the world to take notice. I’m so very grateful that I noticed it as I fled the United States!

Besa- The Code of Honor

I have never seen people who are as welcoming and helpful as Albanians. This “pride” or “code of honor” I speak of as I tell you about my encounters actually, has a name here in Albania. It is called Besa (pledge of honor) usually translated as “faith” or “oath”, which means “to keep the promise” and “word of honor”. Besa is of massive importance in the Albanian traditional law (Kanun) and is a cornerstone of personal/social conduct. The tradition of Besa includes the structure of the family and one generation’s obligation to the other, to friends and business dealings. In Greek culture, this is called philotimo. Besa permeates the nature of relationships here in Albania. And for someone new to the country, like me, it has already come to mean a lot. I’ll talk more about this in upcoming articles. One last thought; A Challenge: try incorporating Besa into your life for a while and see what effect it is on you and those you encounter. Leave a comment on this post and share your experience!

Until next time, friends, remember:” To Travel is to Live!”

 


 

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