Thursday, November 17, 2005

Albania

Cicero's great friend, Atticus, spent most of his life away from Rome. In fact he spent most of his life on his estates in what is now called Albania. The correspondence between the two friends was life long and covered a huge range of political and philosophical ideas as well as the exchanges that are more usual between friends of such long standing.

Cicero has now received an invitation to celebrate the life of a great mediaeval figure of Balkan history: George Kastrioti, nicknamed Skanderbeg. Skanderbeg was a war leader who successfully resisted the advance of Ottoman Turkey into the region. His citadels across Albania are a now picturesque reminder of (still) more turbulent days. Of course in the current more febrile climate of the modern Balkans even the events of 500 years ago still have a modern resonance. Thus Kastrioti, as an "ethnic Albanian" (a nomenclature that he would have probably failed to understand, still less to claim) has been promoted as the prototypical Albanian hero. Statues of the mounted leader adorn public squares, not least Skanderbeg Square in Tirana, stamps, bank notes, flags- few can escape the image of this fierce warrior. Skanderbeg has been evoked at almost every point in Albanian history.

Cicero has now been invited to celebrate the life of the great man- but the bright spot is that it is not the Albanian government that has made the invitation. Despite the recent enmity between neighbours, and the well documented hostility between Albanians and their Slavic neighbours, it is the government of Montenegro that wishes to celebrate the life of the great Albanian. Cicero finds this strangely reassuring. Cicero looks forward to a time when the Illyria of Atticus - a borderless and peaceful part of Europe- may be restored.

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