2nd International Conference on “The Albanians in Montenegro”
THE ALBANIANS IN MONTENEGRO:
Minority vs. Majority Politics
in an Era of Democratic Transition
ROCHESTER, MICHIGAN, NOVEMBER 1, 2014 – The 2ND International Conference on “The Albanians in Montenegro” concluded today on the campus of Oakland University with a historic presentation of scholarly research. Hosted by the Department of Political Science and International Studies Program, along with several Albanian-American associations, the event attracted students, scholars, community leaders, business professionals and political elites from across the United States and Europe.
This year’s conference brought together researchers in the fields of academia, government and international law who joined forces to address the recurring issues plaguing Albanians in Montenegro. From our outstanding keynote speakers, to the large number of abstracts received, the 2014 Conference was a resounding success. Building on the first conference in NY, this event continues to provide scholars with the opportunity to present issues plaguing Montenegro’s failed policies towards inclusion of the Albanian minority.
The conference featured research on how Albanian communities in Montenegro continue to be victimized by state policies aimed at forced assimilation and emigration, limited access to education and employment, economic underdevelopment, absence of decentralized government and various other systemic programmes designed to stymie the Albanian language, culture and heritage. The presenters successfully demonstrated that many of the commitments aimed at protecting minorities have come up short and not translated into law and policy. As a result, data confirmed that Albanians fear that their place in a “union” with Europe will not improve their future status, and a programme of “smoking mirrors” – to conceal the reality of botched liberties and equal rights – will continue until the Albanian population is a non-factor.
The conference featured two major works by professors Viktor N. Ivezaj and Shinasi A. Rama, as well as a significant number of presentations from speakers discussing a number of issues and problems associated with the identity of Albanians, minority policies, and foreign influences and native states.
After the welcoming speeches by Professor Paul Kubicek and Professor Ivezaj, NYU professor Shinasi Rama analyzed the evolution of the identity of Montenegrins, and by bringing forth historical evidence, argued that Montenegrins are a complex ethnic group that had two common elements, the fight against the Ottomans and the Orthodox religion. Rama argued that they were not an ethnic group, but instead were connected with the idea of the state, and in the process of expansion of this state, and long after independence, they never stopped their attempt to clear the various minorities. Today, the Montenegrin state is trying to build a Montenegrin nationality and ethnicity and making a great effort to assimilate others into the Montenegrin nationality. In the case of Albanians, who do not share with them religion, traditions, connection with the state, nor the language, Montenegrins have pursued a policy to divide and conquer, assimilation and the exclusion through immigration, etc. This has serious consequences for Albanians as a minority living in their own land.
Professor Viktor Ivezaj (WSU) introduced a dual-theory and argued that ethnic discrimination in Montenegro exists as a product of “ethnic polarization,” manufactured by the state, and not so much a result of ancient hatreds. He contends that if ethnic polarization is not reversed the Albanian minority in Montenegro will continue to foster negative private preferences against the state that, when expressed publicly, will catch Montenegro by surprise and have negative connotations for social, political and economic development.
Dr. Nail Draga (Ulqin) offered a distinct analysis of Montenegro’s census taken between 1948 and 2011. He presented evidence that Montenegro’s official population numbers do not support the actual structure of the population, pointing towards flaws in the collection, analysis and reporting data. Draga’s research suggested that the methodology used by the census office in Montenegro is aimed at diminishing the Albanian population to the point where they are a non-factor.
Agata Biernat (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Turin Poland) focused her research on the Malësia region and the politics of local-self-governance, where she examined the contemporary methods of political participation used by Albanians to influence the political system of Montenegro to achieve their goal and restoring the Tuzi municipality.
Sabina Osmanovic (University of Shkodra) presented a survey study she carried out in the Albanian-inhabited regions of Montenegro. Her study assessed how Albanians responded to a series of survey questions related to (a) the promises Montenegro made just preceding the referendum of 2006 and (b) their responses to how well Montenegro fulfilled those promises eight years later in 2014. She concluded that Albanians remain disenfranchised in all spheres of social, political and economic society while feeling that Montenegro has reneged on its promises of a better future.
Angjell Gojcaj (University of Shkodra) presented a contemporary analysis of the sociopolitical discriminatory policies perpetuated by the Montenegrin government. His study focused on three stages of rights – the right to national symbols, right to political representation in local level governance, and the right on employment. Relying on international legal statutes, monographs and reports, he justified the absence of equality of treatment for individuals and groups belonging to ethnic Albanians.
Grid Rroji (CUNY) explored the effects of Albania’s lackluster support for the rights of ethnic Albanians in Montenegro for regional security and stability, and concluded that the deterioration of human rights situation in Montenegro, coupled with Albania’s lack of support for ethnic Albanian minorities in neighboring states represents a constant threat to the peaceful future of Montenegro as well as regional security.
Paul Kubicek (OU) assessed the role of the EU in the minority rights arena, with a particular focus on the status of ethnic Albanians in Montenegro. He provided a list of priorities and suggestions, its engagement with both the government and civil society, and compliance from Montenegro authorities. He concluded that although Montenegro seems to be adhering to minority rights on paper, there are underlying issues related to minority rights that Montenegro must address before it moves closer to EU integration.
Professor Rama analyzed the role of the Albanian Diaspora from Montenegro and showed how they influenced the US administration and other organizations. Rama pointed to the growing role of the diaspora for conditioning the behavior of politicians and awareness of the Albanian-American community, as well as the construction of facilities that are working with the administration of the civil society to convey and clarify the situation of Albanians in Montenegro.
Several Albanian-American Associations attended this year’s event, including the Plavë-Guci Foundation, Albanian-American Association “Malësia e Madhe” and the Albanian-American Association “Ana e Malit”. Supporters who were not able to attend but contributed to the event were the Humanitarian Fund Malësia, Ded Gjon Luli Foundation, the Dom Simon Filipaj Foundation and the Albanian-American Association “Kraja”.
The 2014 Conference may be in the books, but the editorial staff is working hard to publish a book that includes the research papers presented at this conference. In addition, the organizing committee is already getting ready for the 3rd international conference in Montenegro in 2016. This will mark Montenegro’s 10-year independence and the conference will continue its objective of highlighting the sociopolitical issues that affect Albanians one decade later. In fact, we have already begun contacting our academic colleagues in Montenegro, United Kingdom, Albania Kosova and the United States to ensure a successful transition in 2016.
The organizing committee would like to thank all of those who made the 2014 conference a success, especially the scholars, Albanian-American Associations and the Albanian-American Student Organization. We look forward to seeing you all in 2016!