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With Yugoslav support, Mirdita, a predominantly Catholic area northeast of Tirana, declares independence under Mark Gjoni. Under an agreement with Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia would represent the Republic of Mirdita diplomatically. The Mirditans attempt to occupy part of northern Albania with Yugoslav help, but are defeated by Albanian Minister of the Interior Ahmet Zog. (Kola 2003, pp. 19)
After being unseated by a coalition under Bishop Fan Noli, and supported by Bajram Curri, former prime minister and future king Ahmet Zog stages a successful coup with Yugoslav money and personnel. In return for their support, Zog supports Yugoslav control of Kosova. (Vickers 1998, pp. 100; Kola 2003, pp. 20)
Ahmet Muhtar Bey Zogolli proclaims himself Zog I, King of the Albanians, creating an Albanian monarchy. Yugoslavia sees Zog’s title as a claim on all areas populated by Albanians, though scholars believe Zog had given up on Kosova as far back as 1913. This marks Zog’s switch from the pro-Yugoslavia camp to the pro-Italy camp, in return for Italian economic aid. (Kola 2003, pp. 20)
Vaso Cubrilovic, a historian at Belgrade University and member of Belgrade’s Serbian Cultural Club, and participant in the terrorist Black Hand group in 1914, writes a memorandum, “The Expulsion of the Arnauts” (an archaic word for Albanian in Turkish), building on the Nacertanje plan. He sees Yugoslavia’s Albanians as a strategic threat, dividing Slavic areas and controlling key river routes, “which, to a large degree, determines the fate of the central Balkans.” Cubrilovic’s proposal is justified because of the risk that “a world conflict or a social revolution” in the near future could cause Yugoslavia to lose its Albanian majority areas and because, despite earlier colonization programs, Montenegro is still overpopulated for its hardscrabble farmlands. He says that, given the current world situation, “the shifting of a few hundred thousand Albanians will not lead to the outbreak of a world war.” He foresees opposition from Italy and Albania, but says Italy is preoccupied in Africa, while Zog’s government could be bought off with money. France and the UK are also potential opponents, but he says they should be told expelling Albanians will benefit them. Cubrilovic contrasts prior “Western methods” with his preferred strategy, under which occupation “confers the right to the lives and property of the subject inhabitants.” Cubrilovic believes slow transfer of deeds impeded the prior program. Paulin Kola will later describe the memorandum as “a fuller platform for the colonization of Kosova.” Cubrilovic calls for a range of measures, from enforcing “the law to the letter so as to make staying intolerable,” such as punishments for owning wandering dogs and smuggling, and “any other measures that an experienced police force can contrive,” denying professional permits, rejecting deeds, desecrating graves, and burning villages and neighborhoods, without revealing state involvement. He says clerics and influential Kosovar Albanians should be bribed or coerced to support transfer. He proposes that the new program be implemented by the Army General Staff, a new Institute of Colonization, and a multi-ministry inspectorate. These methods would lead to the deportation and migration of Albanians to Turkey and other countries. Then Montenegrins, who Cubrilovic describes as “arrogant, irascible, and merciless people” who “will drive the remaining Albanians away with their behavior,” would be settled in Kosova. Ethnic conflict would be fanned, to “be bloodily suppressed with the most effective means” by Montenegrin settlers and Chetniks. Yugoslavia’s parliament considers the memorandum on March 7, 1937. Once Turkey agrees to accept deported Yugoslav Albanians, Albanians are limited to an untenable 0.16 hectares for each member of a family, unless their ownership is proven to the satisfaction of the authorities. Two hundred thousand to 300,000 people leave Yugoslavia during this period. Officially, 19,279 Albanians emigrate to Turkey and 4,322 emigrate to Albania between 1927 and 1939, and a few go to Arab countries, while 30,000 Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes emigrate each year. Cubrilovic remains influential in Yugoslavia through World War II. (Vickers 1998, pp. 116-120; Kola 2003, pp. 21, 100-104)
Italy occupies Albania, with 50,000 soldiers, 173 ships, and 600 bombers, facing some Albanian civilian volunteers and regular soldiers. The ruling family escapes to Greece and then the UK, though King Zog I does not abdicate. Early on the Italians face resistance from 15,000 Albanians along the coast at Durres, Vlora, Saranda, and Shengjin, as well as inland. Later, 3,000 guerillas seek refugee in the mountains and political resistance begins. Under Italian control, the Constituent Assembly soon proclaims the union of Albania with Italy and invites Italian King Emmanuel III to rule Albania. (Hoxha 1974, pp. 593-595; Kola 2003, pp. 22)
The Communist Party of Albania (CPA) organizes a conference in Peza, near Tirana, including nationalists, local leaders, Abaz Kupi representing former King Zog, the Communist Youth Organization, and female youth delegates. The conference elects a non-sectarian (Provisional) General National Liberation Council, and local councils to carry out government functions in liberated areas and organize guerrilla activities are planned. Nationalist guerrillas agree to fly the CPA’s red and black flag with a red star, as well as the Albanian double-headed eagle flag. Two months later, Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito will write to the CPA for the first time, saying the National Liberation Front should be re-formed with “different urban groups and tendencies” to broaden it. According to a Yugoslav source, in 1944 CPA leader Enver Hoxha will refer to the letter as “an historic event,” but in his 1982 memoir, The Titoites, he says the letter was too late to matter. (Kola 2003, pp. 27-28)
Following an initial meeting on July 23 in Zall i Herrit, representatives of the National Liberation Council meet with the Balli Kombetar leadership at Mukje, Kruja district, on August 1 and 2. CPA Political Bureau member Ymer Dishnica leads a 12-member delegation, including non-communists Abaz Kupi and Myslim Peza. The Ballist delegation includes their chair, Mit-hat Frasheri. According to Enver Hoxha, the NLC delegation is told that unity must be based on the Balli Kombetar fighting the occupation and not continuing to fight the NLC’s forces or the CPA, then there could be “a broad conference to lay on the table and discuss many problems concerning unity.” Hoxha’s goal is to persuade the Balli Kombetar to fight the Italians and join the NLC, at the same time preventing it from being a rival military and political force. The result of the meeting is a plan to create a Committee for the Salvation of Albania, with each side having six representatives, by August 8. The Committee is to lead the guerrilla war until an independent, democratic, and “ethnic Albania” (including Albanian areas left out of the 1913 borders) is established. The Committee plans to dissolve when a provisional government is established. An election with universal suffrage is planned, to establish a constitutional assembly to determine Albania’s post-liberation government. During this time, Mussolini’s government loses power in Italy, so the delegates also call for a declaration of independence. Each side signs, with final approval pending from their organizations, and a proclamation signed by the Committee and the Ballists, and not mentioning the NLC or fascism, is released. The NLC rejects the agreement. Hoxha later says “Our comrades [at Mukje] did not know how to defend the line of the National Liberation Front, but fell right into the lap of the ‘Balli Kombetar‘… what they talked about there was ‘independent Albania’ and ‘ethnic Albania,’ and the war of today was forgotten.” He sees the proclamation of independence as a Ballist grab for credit and a way to “blot out April 12, 1939, because three quarters of the Ballists had recognized the Accord of the Crown [giving it to Italy], while we had never recognized it.” Yugoslav sources claim Hoxha tries to prevent open armed struggle with the Balli Kombetar. Miladin Popovic reportedly says: “[T]his union [with the Ballists] cannot be accepted. We are being strengthened with each passing day.… Then, this ethnic Albania! Impossible!” Dishnica claims that he acts at Mukje on directives from the CPA leadership. Subsequently, Abaz Kupi abandons the NLC and creates the Legaliteti, arguing that Zog is Albania’s legitimate leader. (Hoxha 1974, pp. 172-189; Kola 2003, pp. 41-44)
For most of the war, Britain ignores Albania, and does not recognize a government in exile under Ahmet Zog. Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha will later say that Greece would have considered such a move a hostile act by the British. By 1942 at the latest, the British expected a Balkan Federation of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia to be formed after liberation. The War Office sends a memo to an office in Bari, Italy, in 1944 admitting that Britain cannot stop the partisans from winning political power and seeking Soviet assistance, so, “We must therefore aim at strengthening our position with partisans now in order that after the war we may be able to influence the partisan government.” By this point, envoys from the Special Operations Executive division, as well as some American envoys, are with the major Albanian political groups and they are receiving British aid. The envoys to the Partisans accept the War Office’s decision, but those with other groups believe more should have been done, up to a British or American landing in the fall of 1944 as happened in Greece. British army officer Julian Amery will later write: “Firstly, it was wrong to abandon the Albanians to Hoxha’s evil regime and Stalin’s imperial designs. Secondly, [Vlora] and [Sazan Island] control the Strait of Otranto, the entrance to the Adriatic, an important naval gateway.” (Kola 2003, pp. 67-70)
A press conference in Paris announces the formation of a National Unity Committee, which includes the Balli Kombetar (National Front), represented by Mit’hat Frasheri, the Legaliteti (Legality), represented by Abaz Kupi, and former King Zog. There is more counter-revolutionary guerilla activity in Yugoslavia than in Albania, which the Yugoslavs attribute to Ballists. After Albania’s break with Yugoslavia the year before, the British and American governments decide to focus on Albania in their plans to use nationalism to end Soviet influence in eastern Europe. They want to do this without revealing their involvement and avoiding another Greek invasion of Albania. Therefore they deny involvement in the formation of the National Unity Committee and the US government says the National Unity Committee is a subcommittee of the Committee for Free Europe. (Kola 2003, pp. 97-99)
The Party of Labor of Albania’s newspaper, Zeri i Popullit, prints an article on April 8, condemning Yugoslavia’s police actions and the treatment of Yugoslav Albanians, and supporting the protest demands. It also says, “The London and Versailles Treaties, which settled the frontiers between Yugoslavia and Albania, can no longer be imposed to the detriment of the Albanian people.” PLA First Secretary Enver Hoxha may be the anonymous author of the article. A Zeri i Popullit article two weeks later says hundreds were killed, wounded, missing, or arrested, and that it is Albania’s right to condemn Yugoslavia’s repeated actions, which it has not done officially. Zeri i Popullit points to Yugoslavia’s charges about the treatment of Croats and Slovenes across its border in Carinthia, which the article compares to Albanian concerns about Kosovar Albanians. Albania denies seeking to annex Kosova. The Yugoslav government sees these articles as evidence that Albania is behind the demonstrations, after initially blaming domestic and Western sources. As a result, previously increasing economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries will be reduced. On April 29, Lazar Kolisevski, a member of the Yugoslav Presidency, presents a report to a meeting of the Presidency and the Federal Council for the Protection of the Constitutional Order, charging that the PLA caused the demonstrations, which were “hostile and counter-revolutionary,” and sought unification with Albania. Kolisevski calls nationalism the greatest threat to Yugoslavia and says “economic nationalism,” economic divisions between groups in Yugoslavia, is the main cause of friction, which a Zeri i Popullit article also pointed out.
Allegedly PLA-Linked Kosovar Groups - Several allegedly PLA-linked organizations will be blamed for the protests: the Revolutionary Movement of Albanian Unification (whose leader, Adam Demaci, has been in jail since 1975), the Red Popular Front (considered closer to the PLA), eight “irredentist” groups arrested before the events, and the Albanian Communist Marxist-Leninist Party in Yugoslavia (represented at the 8th Congress of the PLA, in September 1981, and having almost the same program as the PLA). Besides these “extremists,” Kosovo President Xhavid Nimami blames “Ballists” led by Abaz Ermeni and “Zogists” led by Leka Zog, Zog I’s son, and equates calls for “united Albanians” to “United Serbs,” etc., saying they would destroy Yugoslavia. In 1997 an anonymous high-ranking official will allege that a meeting of officials and professors was held in Tirana to propose inciting Kosovars to seek more rights. Albanian anti-communist scholar Paulin Kola will suggest that this was done to distract Albanians from economic problems caused by the break in relations with China in the late ‘70s. Others will allege that Albania’s Sigurimi security agency organized the demonstrations, through ties with Albanians in Western Europe, especially Switzerland. Some Kosovars will say they received support from Albanians, but not from the Albanian government. Kola will point to the alleged role of the ex-communist Socialist Party of Albania in the formation of the KLA in the ‘90s as evidence that Albania was behind the 1981 events. In 1992-1993 and 2001 interviews, Xhafer Shatri will tell Kola that he thought the March 1981 demonstrations were unplanned. On the other hand, Albania benefits from trade with Yugoslavia and Yugoslavia acts as a buffer against the USSR. Albania will repatriate 249 Kosovar Albanian asylum seekers back to Yugoslavia from 1981 to 1983.
Alleged Soviet Involvement - In late April, Yugoslavia’s Fadil Hoxha says “Greater Albanian nationalism” would destabilize the Balkans as much as other nationalisms, and implies that the USSR wants to destabilize the Balkans to undermine the Non-Aligned Movement. In June, Zeri i Popullit will accuse the USSR of trying to use Serbia’s crackdown to cause problems in the Balkans and NATO. (Vickers 1998, pp. 202-207, 211-212; Kola 2003, pp. 158-160, 163)
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