Albanians - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The agnatic descent system has already been discussed under "Kin Groups and Descent." The institutions of godparenthood, arising out of the rites of a child's first haircut and baptism, and blood brotherhood extended social ties further for the whole family.

Political Organization. The lord of the house or zot i shpis represented his extended family in the assembly of village elders, no member of which had any wealth or other privileges. One or more of its most respected members ( plak or dryepfok ) also represented the village in the assembly of clan elders ( kuv'ènd ). Each clan also had one or more "standard-bearers" or bayraktars, military leaders with administrative and juridical functions in times of peace. The area in which the zot i shpis recruited his followers was known as a bayrak, which might or might not coincide with a clan (fis) territory. Some clans therefore had more than one standard-bearer, while in other cases one bayraktar would be responsible for more than one clan. He had the right to convene the clan assembly and preside over it for military purposes. The assembly had Executive and juridical functions concerning the community (questions of territory, religion, politics, and law), whereas cases concerning single persons or lineages were decided at village assembly level. In the plains these traditional forms of Political organization were replaced by the Ottoman administration, which introduced a feudal structure. Under socialism, the state and the Communist party organized politics on the local level. As part of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Albania is moving rapidly toward a democratic system. In 1991 Albania became a member of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and in March 1992 the Democratic party, which had been founded only in 1990, won the second free election in Albania with a majority of more than 70 percent.

Social Control. Gheg customary law was transmitted orally. The clan and village assemblies administrated and modified justice for 500 years by always referring to a territorial ruler, to Lek Dukagjin, or in certain areas to Skanderbeg, both of whom were said to have codified existing customary law. In 1913 the Franciscan scholar Shtjefen Gjecov collected the laws referring to Dukagjin in the Mirdita clan's area, where it was said to have been preserved best. In 1933, many years after Gjecov's mysterious death, this collection was published as Kanuni i Lek Dukagjinit, a code based on the concepts of honor and blood. A person had to guard the honor of his family and clan, which was conceptualized through the patriline as consisting of the same blood, and the honor of wives. There was also a collective liability lasting generations regarding the actions of any clan member, maintained through an internal hierarchy reflecting the closeness of kin. The doctrine of "blood for blood" found in the Kanun led to institutionalized feud, which clearly defined the responsibilities of the "debtor of the blood" and the "master of the blood" and their respective successors in vengeance.

Conflict. Moral death was more threatening than any intervention by the church, as this Albanian saying makes clear: "You fast for the soul and you kill for honor." The idea of feud as ultimately producing family cohesion and at the same time preventing crime and disputes must be seen in the context of a system that took no action in relation to disputes or murders within a household. Since the latter concerned blood within a family, no feud would result. Quarrels arose through disputes about marriage arrangements, territory, theft, murder, and slander, whose respective values were also defined by the Kanun. For example, a guest's security had to be extremely well maintained according to strict regulations, which ensured mobility for all in an insecure environment. Misfortune for or the mistreatment of a guest could provoke blood vengeance or bring forth sanctions (such as burning the host's house) following a decision of the village community. Blood payments or an oath of allegiance, besa, were among the institutionalized ways of ending a feud, with regional variations regarding the degree to which this was consistent with one's honor.


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