Category Archives: National identity

I ❤ Çamëria

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Çamëria is the ethnically Albanian region extending from Albania’s Saranda district into some Greek districts. Before starting my Fulbright project I knew that there were a lot of Albanians living and working in Greece (when I traveled there my first summer in Peace Corps, I seemed to hear Albanian spoken all around me), but not that there was a region where Albanians had historically settled and lived.

How many Cham Albanians live in this region of Greece depends on who you ask. I’ve read a lot of Miranda Vicker’s writing on Albania, and recall her stressing the Albanian population in Çamëria in Greece. She estimates that about 40,000 Cham Albanians are living in Greece, while the Greeks say that the area is now inhabitated mostly by Greeks, in part because of an Albanian exodus around the Second World War. (If you’re interested, here’s the wikipedia page on Çamëria, and here’s the page on Cham Albanians.)

This is just to give you a little background on the photos. Ever since I moved to Tirana, I’ve been meaning to take a photo of some “I ❤ Çamëria” graffito. I’d only seen it in one place, though, about a 25 minute walk from my apartment, and never seem to have my camera when I’m going by there. Last week I noticed that the “I ❤ Çamëria” graffiti was popping up everywhere, along the major streets around the Bllok where I live. And then yesterday, along Tirana’s main boulevard, up went “I ❤ Çamëria” banners interspersed with banners showing the double-headed eagle from Albania’s flag. On my way for a coffee today, I stopped and took photos of all the Çamëria banners, graffiti, posters, and displays I saw along the boulevard. I’m waiting to see if Balkan Insight is going to write anything about this, since I’m curious about how all the Çamëria love is going to go over with Greece.

In front of one of Tirana’s landmarks, the Pyramid

The banners, heading towards Skenderbeu Square

Look how far they go – all the way down the boulevard!

A display along the main boulevard

Kosova!

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As another former Macedonia PCV has suggested in all her posts referencing Kosovo (first in the “Doughnut tour” of the Balkans, looping around Kosovo, then in her visit to the “Doughnut hole” itself), this Albanian state has a real allure for my group of volunteers. Until a few months ago Peace Corps Volunteers weren’t allowed to travel to Kosovo because of security concerns. By the time the travel ban was lifted I was in my last three months of service and not allowed to leave Macedonia, meaning that my years of promises to friends that I would visit Prishtina (Kosovo’s capital, where many of them went to university) with them were for naught.

Finally, though, I hit up Kosovo on an impromptu tour. Monday and Tuesday were Albanian holidays (Independence Day and Liberation Day), making it a pretty easy decision to drop all my vague weekend plans (reading, sending emails, drinking some coffees, reading some more) in favor of getting the 4 p.m. bus to Peja. We landed in Peja late Saturday night and on Sunday explored the town – drinking Peja beer (of course), learning the different types of Peja that are available (big bottle, small bottle, grapefruit flavor, and non-alcoholic/zero calorie/pineapple flavor), and taking photos of the Albanian flags in nearly every store window. Because we were there on a Sunday of a holiday weekend there wasn’t much going on; stores were closed, and we couldn’t tour the beer factory because it too was closed. It was nice to be out of Tirana, though, and to discover that Kosovo, like Macedonia, is a whole lot colder than Tirana, and very into displaying the double-headed eagle of the Albanian flag. (Fun fact: From 1969 until Kosov adopted its new flag in 2008, Kosovar Albanians flew the Albanian flag as their national flag.)

Monday morning we caught a bus to Kosovo’s capital, Prishtina, where there was a street fair and music. At night they had programs celebrating Independence Day, Dita e Pavarësisë. Again, interesting and fun to see Albanian nationalism at play in a country bordering Albania; in some ways, Kosovo made me feel more at home than Albania does, in that it looks (in number of Albanian flags if nothing else) a little more like the part of Macedonia I lived in.

On Tuesday I caught the 4am bus back to Tirana, arriving just in time to spend the rest of the day laying on my sofa sleeping. As Katie wrote, Kosovo doesn’t feel particularly exotic to me after two years living in an Albanian town in Macedonia, but it was nice to finally pay the country a visit – even more so to see it as it celebrated such major Albanian holidays.