Biking up and down to the immigration and employment offices to gather all my documents to extend my residency permit here (not so easy when you’re self-employed), I discovered that the main boulevard in Tirana has been decorated by Albanian flags and large banners stating “I <3 Çamëria.” At both ends of the boulevard there are large letters placed on the two public squares with a similar message. This week apparently is the “Week of the History and Culture of Çamëria,” a part of northern Greece which is considered by nationalists to be part of a larger, natural, or ethnic Albania, which I discussed before. Obviously, this week the nationalists are not the only ones thinking so.
Shpëtim Idrizi, leader of the PDIU party, which promotes itself as the “guardian” of Çam interests, stated that this week “we are remembering the martyrs of Çamëria. This week is of all Albanians, because Çamëria is of all Albanians.”
Now, without the discussing the massacre of the muslim Çams by the Greek forces after they had helped them to expel the Nazis from their territory (or the muslim Çams that fought with the Nazis against the orthodox Greeks) , I would just like to point out that this gesture from the Albanian side (last year their was a public, graphic photo exhibition of the “genocide”) may be yet another stage in the increasing tension between Albanian and Greek nationalists, and the insistent claims of the latter on what they call “Northern Epirus,” which encompasses southern Albania. For example, 3 times Olympic weightlifting champion Pirro Dhima (or Pyrros Dimas), a Greek national born in Albania, stated that “Greece should not forget Northern Epirus.” The recent rise of the extreme right “Golden Dawn” party with the recent elections is bound to bring up the issue of Çamëria vs. Northern Epirus more often, a 1986 article published by Golden Dawn even goes as far to claim that Albanians are just Greeks (the opposite will never be claimed I think, unless it’s pointed out the Byzantine Emperor Justinian was Illyrian).
Also, the Greek Orthodox church makes insistent claims on Northern Epirus as falling within the religious jurisdiction of Janina (a city in Çamëria, and important locus for Albanian nationalism), whereas an important moment in the formation of the Albanian nation was the establishment of autocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church by Fan Noli, which obviously claims its own jurisdiction across Albanian territory (and possibly Çamëria).
Moreover, the exuberant celebration of Çam culture on the Boulevard of the National Martyrs may also point to rise of Albanians nationalism throughout the political landscape, triggered by the emergence of the nationalist “Red-Black Alliance” (sounds terrifying in English) and their entering the national elections next year for the first time (if the party leader is able to survive all the court cases against him).
As a final point within this cluster of nationalist tropes, it should be pointed out that the Bureau of Statistics still hasn’t released the results of last year’s census, which recorded also the ethnicity and religion of the citizens. The release of such results, which will no doubt be attacked as “manipulated,” will open yet another episode in the identity politics of Albania, reinforce Greek claims on Albania (based on religious or ethnic data), and so on. To be continued.