The thought of being ruled by a coalition of the current Labour party (the Westminster branch of the UNITE union) and the 'Scots Nuts' has made me contemplate seriously the idea of emigrating. The problem is - where?! Alas, at my age I am European bound, I can't be doing with all that youthful vigour stuff they require 'over there' or in the Dominions. On the other hand, all the attractive parts of Europe are already filled with British ex-pats and they are, without doubt, the most eye-stabbingly boring collection of people you could ever wish to avoid.
However, in the last few days I have received not one but two massive nudges in the direction of, well, er, Albania, actually. Hitherto, I must confess, in so far as I ever thought about Albania it was in connection with their #1 export - Albanian gangsters! This, I admit, has coloured my view of the place. But just the other day my eyes were opened by a chapter in Margaret MacMillan's history of the Versailles peace conference - yes, I'm still working my way through it, it's not difficult but 'comprehensive' hardly describes it! In 1919 both Italy and Greece were circling the place looking for pickings:
Poor little Albania, with such powerful enemies and so few friends. And it had almost no industry, little trade, no railways at all and only about 200-miles of paved roads. It emerged out of obscurity just before the war, created out of four districts of the Ottoman empire. [...] History and geography - the tangle of mountains and valleys that stretched inland from the coast - had produced a myriad of tribes, equally suspicious of outsiders and each other. The Gregs of the north and the Tosks of the south spoke different dialects and had different customs. As elsewhere in the Balkans, the past had left in its wake religious divisions; the 70% of the population that was Muslim was part Sunni, part Shia, and a minority were dervishes. The Christian minority was Catholic in the north and Orthodox in the south. Rules about honour and shame, of a dazzling complexity, governed daily life. In some areas, one man in five died in a blood feud.
But then, this very morning, I read an article at The American Thinker telling of Albania's truly magnificent record in saving Jews during WWII. Not one single Jew was killed in Albania even though hundreds were secretly hidden.
The practice among Albanians during WWII was to hide Jews in their cellars, and give them fake names and false documents. Someone with the name Solomon became Suleiman, Isaac became Esau. Jewish men would grow beards like the Muslims and Jewish women would wear traditional Muslim garb. There were a lot of strategies implemented to cover up Jewish identity. Today, the older people in Albania still remember what happened during those times.
According to Edmond Panariti whose family was involved in hiding Jews during the war, Albania has an almost unique record in smoothing religious differences:
Edmond said it not only has to do with Albania’s tradition and culture. “We are the only country in the region that has a religious tolerance. This is not the case with our neighbors. The most amazing thing, and we are taking pride in it, is that we have coexistence between religions.”
Edmond explained that tolerance between religious groups happens because the communities accept each other, and respect one another’s beliefs and their history. “We are trying to do our utmost to preserve this. We’ve seen, recently, attempts to radicalize this situation; especially from fundamentalists who are trying to interfere with these favorable ties that exists between different religions… Christians and Muslims.”
According to Edmond, Moslems attend Christian celebrations and vice versa. “I have not seen it elsewhere. It is happening in Albania. We are not doing enough to promote this.”
He thinks it was the hospitality towards the Jews, with this climate of understanding and living together with these other communities, that helped protect the Jewish community in Albania during WWII.
So let's hear it for 'plucky little Albania'! If I can work my way up those valleys and into the mountains and find a suitable wooden hut then 'Mili' and 'MacNutter' can do what the hell they like!