Vlachs - Sociopolitical Organization

Throughout history, the Vlachs never succeeded in forming their own state. By the end of the eighteenth century in the Albanian town of Moskopolje, a national movement was organized but it never involved all Vlachs. Although they are not numerous, they do live on a comparatively great territory because they are dispersed as ethnic islands among other Peoples. Individual Vlach groups—especially herders in winter settlements—maintain frequent mutual contacts. Movements from one regional group to another are rather Common. This behavior contributes to intermixing and to the maintenance of ethnic identity. Although the Vlachs had been relatively homogeneous, following the Balkan Wars (1876-1878 and 1912-1918) the territory in which they live was politically divided so that communication between Vlachs in Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania became very difficult. They were not allowed to cross state borders with their flocks and herds.

Social Organization. The social position of the Vlachs was determined by the opposition between the sedentary populations and the mobile nomads, clearly distinguished in Old Serbian and Croatian laws. Serbian laws of the Middle Ages, for example, prohibited marriages between sedentary Serbs and Vlach nomads in order to preserve a sedentary economic national character. Mountains and forests in the Middle Ages were treated legally almost as a dead zone, and their inhabitant herders were free from laws that applied to sedentary populations. Consequently, Vlachs have always had their own autonomous internal organization. Patriarchal families were grouped in lineages or groups of lineages ( tajfas ) headed by čelnik or ćehaja. This head shepherd was supreme chief with great authority. His word was always obeyed and he governed a group of 20 to 200 families with 10,000 sheep, paying taxes and tributes and taking care of trade and other group activities.

Social Control. Traditional norms regulate the relationship between the individual and the group. The place and the role of the house and family is strictly determined within this structure.

Conflict. Self-managed communities (katuni) were closed in their autonomous world and their members organized their own defense. Conflicts between two neighboring Communities were usually over pasture rights, and every offense gave rise to fierce animosity, plundering, and killings, which sometimes turned into a series of bloody revenges. Isolated in high mountains, the Vlachs represented the main outposts of resistance in fights with the Turks.

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