‘King Zog and the Struggle For Stability in Albania’: A historical Albanian journey

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 13, 2020 11:36

‘King Zog and the Struggle For Stability in Albania’: A historical Albanian journey

 

By Bernd J. Fischer

king zog final_cover (2)-page-001I am very pleased that Dr. Albert Rakipi, the director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies felt that a new English reprinting of my first book King Zog and the Struggle for Stability in Albania was warranted. He has given new life to an old book, a book which was originally published in 1984, using sources available in the 1970s. This was my first attempt at a serious work as a newly credentialed historian and I will forever be grateful for the guidance and encouragement of my mentor Professor Dimitrije Djordjevic at the University of California where I completed my Ph.D. He instilled in me the importance of being involved in one’s topic, even developing a certain attachment to the people and the area. He encouraged my life-long affection for Albania and its people. But he also strongly emphasized the constant need for thoroughness and absolute objectivity in the search for historical knowledge. a maximum I have always taken seriously

Because published material on Albania covering the Zog period was either very sparse or, in the case of material produced by Albanian historians during the command socialist period, rather heavily politicized, this required that I spend months – years really – in archives throughout the western world. Because Albanian archives were closed to foreign scholars, I was limited to European and North American locations, principally in Washington D.C., London, Rome, Bonn, Vienna and elsewhere. I have fond memories of the countless hours spent at the National Archives in Washington, the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) in London, the Auswartiges Amt in Bonn and the Haus-Hof und Staatsarchiv in Vienna. The British archives were by far the most efficient and enormously useful because of the wealth of material. It seems that the British keep everything. I remain very grateful to all the archivists with whom I had the privilege to work. They were invariably extremely knowledgeable and always willing to go out of the way to help the new student of history.
I also remember that the archives in Vienna in the 1970s conformed most closely to the image that I had of dusty old records repositories at the time. I recall sitting at a small desk in a historic building, ordering documents which usually took some time to appear. Eventually an ancient archivist slowly wheeled in the dingy documents piled high on a small creaky cart. It was what I had always imagined archival work would be like. But that has changed, as indeed have all of the archives that I originally visited in the 1970s. In almost every case, the change has been for the good, facilitating the work of the researcher. For example, I recall the great expense that researchers like myself incurred using archival copy facilities, particularly at the Public Record Office in London. This was of course understandable considering the large outsized paper on which diplomatic exchanges were printed required the construction of special large cameras which produced exact copies. But the cost was prohibitive, requiring a researcher to carefully choose those documents to be reproduced. The use of digital cameras has not only reduced that expense for modern researchers, but has made it possible to copy large amounts while in the archive, and then carefully review the documents once back at home. So archives are changing, but not just with respect to the ease of doing research. They change in terms of what is available to view – there is always new material. The process of declassification of documents makes new material available on a fairly regular basis. This revelation was important in the formation of my strongly held position that history is a continuous process – that it constantly needs to be reevaluated and rewritten. History is very much a living discipline which becomes more sophisticated with each generation – there is new material and there are new approaches. It is the vain historian who believes that they have produced the final word or the definitive work on a particular subject. There is no gospel in history. With new material constantly available, not only in archival form but in memoirs and even secondary sources, the continual rewriting of history is imperative. In that light, I produced this book in the hope that others would take the work further and I am pleased to see this happening in Albania today. Not only do we find new young historians, but mature historians liberated from the ideological bonds of command socialism all making their own contributions to the study of this important period in Albania’s national history.
One of the other memorable aspects of producing this book was the opportunity to participate in oral history. While most of those who played an active role in the Zog period had not survived into the 1970s, there was one notable exception – Queen Geraldine. One of the professors with whom I worked at the University of California had contacts with the Egyptian royal house in exile, to which Queen Geraldine was quite close, considered the length of time the Albanian royal family had spent in Egypt following World War II. I was finally able to correspond with her and she ultimately consented to be interviewed, despite that fact that she had apparently given no interviews for many years. While she was living in Madrid at the time, she occasionally spent some of her summers at the villa of a friend on the Costa del Sol. It is here, at the Casa Ponderosa, where she received me. I stayed on the Costa del Sol for five days and we spend many pleasant hours conversing on her large balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, sipping an occasional martini. She allowed me to record our sessions so I was able to use our conversations extensively in the book. The Queen was very gracious. She also struck me as being quite intelligent with a remarkable memory for detail. She provided wonderful stories about her life with King Zog, both in Albania and in exile, which allowed me to add some personal material to the manuscript, which otherwise would have read exclusively like a political biography. While her view of the king was understandably perhaps less objective than mine, the material she provided helped me to present the king as more than simply a political figure. Meeting and being able to spend time with the Queen was certainly one of the highlights of the research process.
When the book was published in 1984 by Columbia University Press and East European Monographs it was generally well received in the United States, although there was of course not a particularly wide readership. Albania was still a little country isolated in the Balkans about which only the very few had any knowledge. Indeed, apart from reading about everything I could find, my first-hand knowledge of Albania did not come until the summer of 1989, when I was able to take an eight-day tourist trip organized by Regent tours in London. It was a time of profound change in Europe in which Albania was just beginning to participate. I had anticipated a country and people artificially removed from many of the great political, economic and social movements of the post-war period and that is certainly what I found. But I found much more as well. I arrived in the late evening from Budapest and I must admit that my first impressions were mixed. We flew through the narrow air corridor that the regime had established and one noticed immediately the lack of lights. I was reminded of flying from west to East Germany before the wall came down – even at night one knew exactly where the border was by the sudden disappearance of lights. Upon landing at what is now Mother Teresa airport, young, rough, self-important armed security agents boarded the plane to take our documents. The eight of us who had arrived where then ushered into the terminal – in what seemed like a simple two story house. Following lengthy immigration and customs formalities, we were driven to the Hotel Tirana, with its commanding view of Skanderbeg Square, and served an overly abundant meal. While the food throughout the trip was always good – there was always far too much of it. I attributed this to both natural hospitality and the need to demonstrate that Albanians wanted for nothing under the Alia regime.

But the next morning before I was afforded my real introduction to Albania in the 1980s, I walked the streets of Tirana, enchanted by the wonderful mix of interwar villas, Italian institutional architecture, and command socialist ostentation. Some of this is now gone, replaced by high rise apartments and office complexes, the inevitable blight of modernization. One hopes that where possible the authorities will at least slow the architectural transformation, saving buildings from Albania’s various historical epochs. In my mind, Hoxha’s pyramid is one those buildings that should be preserved, as are at least some of the bunkers which are iconic. Apart from the charm of the architecture, I of course noticed the slower pace and the relative quiet, there were few vehicles with transportation limited mainly to bicycles and carts. While there was a certain hesitation to talk to a foreigner, there were some who were evidently overwhelmed by a curiosity about the outside world. Through them I was confirmed in my impression of Albanians as a warm and friendly people. In the next days I had the pleasure of seeing the countryside, some of Albania’s heritage towns and archeological wonders, as well as some of the country’s astounding natural beauty. While there was of course evident security – my minibus driver was often saluted by policemen in the street and there were many off-limit areas – this hardly detracted from my appreciation for all the wonders that I saw and the Albanians I was able to meet.
The wonderful people and beautiful country re-energized my interest in Albania and encouraged me to deepen my studies. With the collapse of communism my visits increased in frequency, and I marveled at the rapid transformation of society and Albania’s efforts to establish democracy. These subsequent visits also allowing me to establish real contacts with some of Albanians academics, independent intellectuals, and journalists. These contacts further broadened my perspective and resulted in the release of the Albanian version of King Zog and the Struggle for Stability in Albania. I was literally overwhelmed by the positive response. It was personally very gratifying to learn that the Albanian public considered the book to be worthwhile, and I am also very pleased that the book is still considered an important contribution to the historiography of the period. This is certainly all that someone in my profession can ask – to make a contribution. I welcome this reprinting of the 1984 English edition, flaws and all, and I sincerely hope that others will as well.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 13, 2020 11:36