About Albania


Q. So, where is Albania really?

Albania is in the Balkans Region

Lekë Dukagjini from Gjecov's 1989 translation of the Kanun
Lekë Dukagjini from Gjecov’s 1989 translation of the Kanun


Q. Who the heck is Lek?

Lekë Dukagjini, a chief of the powerful Dukagjin clan, famous for codifying ancient cultural law in the 1400’s.


Q. What is the Kanun?

The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini or Law of Lek, or simply the Code, is the ancient body of law and customs as set down by a Dukagjin chief in the 1400’s. The Code covers a wide range of village concerns: from marriage and family roles, through rogue goats, the setting of boundaries, and the village miller, to fines for theft and the blood feud. Some of its scope can be seen in the chapter headings of Spinning Wool.

Q. Is the Albanian blood feud still alive?

At the core of the Kanun lies the interlocked nexus of personal honor, given word, and blood—the final enforcer of justice in ancient times in the mountains where there was no state rule of law. The Kanun has of late been enjoying a revival. In some pockets, mostly in remote mountain villages, so has the blood feud; although, as headman Dragu points out in Spinning Wool, modern interpretations, without benefit of the elders council, are frequently warped. While in Shkodër, the author talked with some of the staff at Drejtësi dhe paqe (Justice and Peace), one of the organizations actively working to put the practice to rest by reconciling active disputes via old negotiating routes.

For a picture of the author with her hostess at a kulla in the mountain village of Theth, see Deborah Rice. Kullas are refuge towers, once dotted all over the highlands, in which targeted blood victims could hide by day, hoping to avoid their fate. Now marked men are more likely to move, frequently to the poor sector of a large city.


Q. What’s an “Albanian Virgin”?

Traditional Albanian culture has a remarkable institution through which a woman may elect—or her parents for her—to live and function as a man in all ways, except that she/ he must abstain from sex and marriage.

For a detailed examination of this practice with current day examples, see Antonia Young’s fascinating ethnographic study, Women Who Become Men.


Skanderbeg's statue in Tiranë with Deborah's friends Vildan Plepi and Antonia Young
Skanderbeg’s statue in Tiranë with Deborah’s friends Vildan Plepi and Antonia Young


Q. Skanderwhat?

Skanderbeg, short for Iskander Beg, in turn short for Alexander Bey, the name given to Albanian noble son Gjergj Kastriot when he was sent as a hostage to overlord Turkey for military training—which he used against them when he returned to Albania and organized feuding clan leaders to hold off the Turks until 1479, when they took Rozafat Castle.

For a picture of the author at Rozafat Castle, see Deborah Rice.


Q. When did Albania become a nation?

Albania declared its autonomy in 1912, after the second Balkan War, and was recognized by the European powers in 1913.


Q. Who is Albania’s most famous author?

Ismail Kadare, winner of the first-ever International Man Booker Prize, and multiple nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His Broken April is a moving and beautiful book which takes us into the world of a young man who is the next target in a blood feud not of his making.

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