Social Organization and Self-Government of Albanians according to the Costumary Law

Seminararbeit, 2011

18 Seiten



1. The beginnings of self-organization of the Albanian nation under the costumary law

2. Common and legal resources for organizing Albanian self-government in the Middle Ages

3. Albanians self-government under the costumary law from the nineteenth century until today

4. Some forms of social organization and self-government of Albanians under costumary law in recent centuries

5. The consequences for the albanian nation from foreign governments, as well as its efforts

6. Some examples of organizationfor national self-government based on the albanian costumary law

7. Conclusion

8. Literature

The beginnings of self-organization of the albanian nation under the common law

Albanians as well as other nations have protected its identity by preserving the tradition, culture and its ancient customs. One of the most essential importance to maintain its authenticity and origin is obviously the common law or the code (Kanun). The common law or the costumary law is not a phenomenon only of Albanians, but also existed at ther nations, as it was the case with French who had costumary laws, that have been applied the traditions of southern and northern France (droit canonique or coutume et du nord du Sud ) that were not a creativity of one person, but the laws of the territorial assemblies before the French revolution[1]. This phenomenon throughout history appeared also to many ther nations. These customary laws are designed to survive the assimilation and foreign occupation and to regulate legal civil and criminal relations.

The Albanian customary law is established over centuries and millennia, it is believed in the basic material data that autochthony of Albanians dates from the middle Paleolithic, which includes the period back thousands of years[2], transferring those rules orally from generation to generation by maintain the authenticity and authorship in their content, for which these rules became mandatory, and gain the legal character and subject to be respected faithfully by Albanians themselves[3].

In the history of self-organization of the Albanian kation it is noticed that as a primeval body was the head of the tribe. This body was known as a meeting of all members of the tribe, which has examined important issues within and outside the tribe with other tribes. In the Bronze Age woman had lost the dominant role in the family and in society. The basis of society in this period became the great patriarchal family with the council of elders as an important body. This consisted of the heads of patriarchal families or brotherhoods[4].

Albanian history on organization of self-government recognizes also the Councils of elders, who are known in the history of the Illyrians as an institute that administred in each tribe and were called plakoni and pleqësi (elders)[5], that later implented and improveed the laws and those were developed through public processes, where security of the evidences was made by witnesses’ oaths of both sides in the conflict, the defendant and the plaintiff and in the end they gave the decision regarding the specific issue[6].

The other which acted with more extensive powers was the general meeting of nation who had the right to approve or demolish any council decision, and temporary body the military leader, who operated only during the war, while in peace was a ordinary member of the tribe. It is characteristic that the military leaders of the tribe continued their activities in the period of Turkish occupation in the Albanian territories were called Bajraktarë[7].

As for the general meeting of the people or the general assembly of the tribe[8] or village is important to note that its decisions were crucial, since without its approval no change can be made in any existing law, and could apply any death penalty or deportation without approval of the general Assembly[9].

From VII-XII century B.C Illyrians marked important steps in economic development, thanks to trade relations who expanded contacts with other nations through their sailing ships, which is concluded, that they were the best builders at that time[10], so, because of these new social economic circumstances was formed kindred instead of herds that were men of blood and of a common economy[11]..

In the period after the conquest of Illyria by Rome in 168 B.C, with the loss of Gentius, the last Illyrian king who ruled in Shkodra in the years 181-168 B.C and definitely in 9 BC in addition to applied roman imperial laws, customary law were applied also, where Albanian hospitality was greatly appreciated[12]..

Therefore, for Albanians in this period, it’s known that during their history due to different occupation, have been forced to develop a parallel or dual system of justice[13]. On one side was operating brought state laws as well as religious of colonial countries, and on the other hand, the Albanian traditional customary law, established by silent consent, or with repeated use by the people, that regulated the different criminal, civil and legal relations. All this was done for reasons of not capitulating and preserving autochthonal Albanian identity. Such cases, which were created and retained fanatically to the present day are, for example. in Albanian codes, such as the Code of Lek Dukagjini which states that "the Albanian house belongs to God and their guests[14], " or in the code of Skanderbeg in Article IV, indent. 653 that:"you should always lead an accompanying friend" 15

Illyrian population characteristic was that friend's needs were upon their own, when visitors came, adopted knowledge and their habits and went back from places they were coming to expand its cultural influence, and have never killed or destroyed "enemy in escape", or on behalf of the god or their gods, especially in mountainous areas. These rules continued to apply also after separation of the Roman Empire, into two parts in 395, the Albanian lands remained under the East Roman Empire, were Byzantine laws were applied for about 1000 years and the Albanian customary criminal law by the court of the elderly, which was unknown to Byzantine law, and even that was inconsistent with it[15].The beginnings of self-government based on autochthonal customary law are known after the final conquest of the Illyrians (as the ancestors of the Albanians) from the Roman Empire at the beginning of our era. First Occupation of Illyria (Albania), came from the Roman Empire, which lasted no less, but over seven centuries by remained Illyrian faith. Aspects and rules of the ancient Albanian customary law is easier to find in the mountainous region of northern Albania, since these territories were unaffected by the attacks, and somehow Illyrian population gained more large autonomy as the territory was governed by ethnic traditions, despite the cities where invader was able to create a feudal regime and exercise more influence to make assimilation to that population.

Common and legal resourcesfor organizingAlbanianself-government inthe Middle Ages

Albanian medieval history documents the many codes which were applied to govern in different rural areas of Albania. In territories where Albanian people lived there were some codes (kanune), but the most distinguished was the code of Leke Dukagjini[16], which presents more popular summary and the most maintained source of the Albanian customary law, which has been implemented in northern Albania and Kosovo. The first contribution to observe the existence of the Code of Leke Dukagjini and the Code of Skanderbeg wss given by Austrian Albanologue Johann Georg Hahn (1811-1869), who besides that, concluding that Albanians are descendants of the Illyrians, he wrote in 1867 in second book dedicated to Albania, that he has noted that there were significant differences between the Code of Alexander and that of Skanderbeg, but had not mentioned which are those substantial changes[17].

In the southern areas of Albania customary traditional law through the Code of Laberia arrived in fragmentary, and according to historical data is considered that this autonomous province since the century. XV-XVI was ruled on the basis of customary law[18]. However, the code, which has remained as the most comprehensive traditional organization of the Albanian government is Kanun of Lek Dukagjin. This code has significant historical value, ethnic and social, once served as a law that has regulated all social and legal relations in Northern Albania and Kosovo. But it should be noted that the general principles of customary law were identical to all other Albanian codes, such as the code of Scanderbeg, and the code of the Laberia Mountains, which have operated in Albanian areas.

At the time when the code acted in Albanian territories, it could not considered any written law, because there was no Albanian state, but the Ottoman occupation. Therefore, the code takes very large values, because it decied for the Albanian people the right and obligations. Their rights were for example; that every man is equal to another, regardless of age, gender, physical changes (size, appearance), wealth status, region, provincial, etc. Obligations were for ex: given oath (besa), which wase held and respected with accuracy, the hospitality of the people known or unknown at any time and no matter how long it takes the stay of guests, the escorting to a safe place for guests, then accepting the decisions of councils of elders as court decisions, that should be implemented, then in case of an armed uprising against the enemies of the country responded to the invitation of Bajraktari, army leader, to participate in the war and to suspend revenge or blood feud during the development of the war.

Although the code and application of Albanian customary law was opposed by invaders such as were the Romans, Turks, Byzantines, Slavs, the Greeks, and from any other occupator of Albania, even by the communist dictatorship, have lived as one of the most precious treasure of Albanian people, as it has been the strongest weapon of ideological, spiritual survival and to govern through centuries of wars with the barbarians

The Albanian customary law defended Albanians , especially in rural northern Albania and part of Kosovo (Dukagjini), not to be assimilated, not to be islamized, not to be turks, but remain deeply with Albanian spirit, culture and illyrian habits . Therefore, this unwritten Albanian law has served in Kosovo as a law that has regulated all legal areas in Albanian regions of the country, even when the state was not yet born as a concept. In this respect, heritage and preservation as a sacred of the laws of the code by Albanian generations, clearly shows that despite significant divisions between the Albanian tribes, the code and its laws and equally respected by all.

Besides these codes with more general character of action there were other specific codes which influenced and had particular character because were created in the closer regions from unwritten sources of customary law. Therefore, the purpose of establishing these regional codes was that to be slowly passed in the written sources of the costumary law, and at the same time to reform the codes and adapt to new social relations, because the old rules did not respond to conditions and circumstances of the development in this period. As the most mentioned of them its worth mentioning: the code of Has of Dibra, the code of Gjakova Highland, the code of Kurbin, the code of Çermenikës, the code of Luma[19], the code of Idriz Sulit[20], the code of Bendes[21] etc.

This variety of codes has influenced that during history there were clashes and revenge between groups, which is still happening here and there in various areas of our country. It is noted that where social development has been faster, there was presented written law and slowly disappeared customary law, and where this development has stopped, there has remained more of customary law, this came into consideration in Kosovo due to very slow dynamics of social and economic development.

It is characteristic that after the mid-fourteenth century in particular in the 1360 - 1421 self-organization among the Albanians was more effective. In this period it was distinguished the family Balshaj that were the first family rulers of first princedom of Albanian feudal family. They had fought against Serbian and Byzantine rule. Balshaj during the years 70-80 in XIV century achieved to unite for the first time most of the Albanian lands in one state from Himara, Vlora, Berat, up beyond Buna until Prizren. So, the whole territory which was called "Arberi", was specified as a land linked by language, customs, and cultural, economic and political relations[22]. Balshajt were originally from the town Balëz near Shkodra. In krisovulat that had drawn great attention was paid to given oath (besa)[23]. Where it is noted "based on our given oath (besa) this tax obligation is forgiven and it will not be taken for as long as we live," then in a letter of Lek Dukagjini (1410-1481) who was prince of Dukagjini[24] nga viti 1446 kur i vdiq i ati Pal Dukagjini, që u ka dërguar raguzinëve në vitin 1387 ku shkruhej „ju shkruaj me besën time dhe të vëllaut tim, ejani lirisht ne token time, mos kemi frikë për asgjë...“, pastaj edhe në marrëveshjen tregtare të përfunduar në mes të Gjon Kastriotit dhe Republikës së Raguzës since 1446 when his father Pal Dukagjini died, who sent to ragusa people in 1387 that read "I write to you with my and my brother’s oath, come freely to my land, don’t be afraid of anything ...", then also in trade agreement concluded between Gjon Kastrioti and the Republic of Ragusa[25] on February 25, 1420 as garantee for the fulfillment of the obligation comes into consideration oath/ besa where it said this : "And so I have given oath whoeverhas to come to my place in Shufada, in case of any damage done or harm until Prizren, Me, mister Gjon and my sons will pay them.”[26].

Since the fifteenth century until the establishment of the Albanian state in 1912, the Albanian customary law was challenging[27] of sheriat law[28] applied by ottoman empire in many civil-judicial, family-marriage and inheritance field[29], despite the difficulties created by religious and regional-politics divisions creating a unity with itself historically formed on the basis of origin, language, common spiritual and cultural formation which led to its economic social and politico-cultural development, that made Albanian people to able to resist Turks assimilation[30].



[2] Homer: "Pelasgians were the native people who lived in their land," cited by "Albania- devided nation, "I, pg. 116: History of Albanian nation, pg. 44.

[3] Halili, Ragip, Criminal sanctions under the common law in Kosovo, Prishtina 1985, pg. 34-35.

[4] History of Albania, Tirana, 1959, Volume I, f47.

[5] Frashëri. Sami, Shqipëria c´ka qenë, cështë e c’do të bëhet?, Prishtina, 2007, fq.21.

[6] Hasluck, Margaret, Albanian Code, translation from English Leka Ndoja, Tirana, 2005, fq.20-21.

[7] Albanian word "bajrak" in Albanian language dictionary (Tirana, 1980. f.84) is explained in this way:"BAJRA/K -U - Ë, - ËT and - QE, - QET 1. Year. Flag. 2. hist, Military unit and later administrative unit that was established in land separation in some provinces of Albania where were remains of Patriarchal tribe organization and which were replaced with this organization. 3.etnogr. red handekerchief with flowers it was used as a flag by weding guests when they went to take the bride ". – word "bajraktar" in this dictionary (p.84) is explained:'BAJRAKTAR- 1 -Ë, - ËT, 1.vjet. flag-bearer 2. Hist head of bajrak...3. etnogr. Wedding guest who hold the wedding bajrak,when they went to take the bride.

[8] The customary law operated in a society with strong tribal ties with a simple structure where the family was the basic cell, the expansion and separation of families created brotherhood and some brotherhood together created the tribe

[9] Hasluck, Margaret , ibid, fq. 20-21.

[10] Krahe, Hans, Die Sprache der Illyrier, I Teil, Wiesbaden, 1955, fq. 14.

[11] The History of Albania, Tirana,1959, volume I, page. 40.

[12] Pseudo-Skymnos, Periegesis, 422-425, Carolus Müller, Geographi Graeci minores, Vell.I, Paris, 1885, f.214, ne Stipcevic, Aleksander “Illyrians, history, life, culture “, Prishtina 1980,page. 8.

[13] Laurasi. A,/ Zaganjori. Xh,/EleziI/ Nova.K,: History of the state and law in Albania,Chapter VI Custumary Albanian law, page. 231, Tirana 2007.

[14] The Code of Lekë Dukagjini, Tirana, 1999, page. L 5, 65.

[15] Elezi, Ismet, Hysi, Vasilika, Criminal Politics, Tirana 2006, fq. 52-53.

[16] Lekë Dukagjini (1410-1481), was named according to his name. he was a prince ans comrade of Scanderbeg. The code was applied and it is still applied in these regions: Lezha mountains, Mirditë, Shala, Shoshë and Nikaj, Mertur, also in Dukagjin areain the west part of the Republic of Kosovo. This code was summarized and codified in the end of XIX century and in the beginning of XX century by Shtjefën Gjeçovi.

[17] Elezi, Ismet,”Knowledge on Albanian wide customary law”, Prishtina 2003,f.31. extracted from Han. J. G. Albanische Studien Wien 1867 (text in Albanian) page. 21. Johan George von Hahn is one of first who argumented the thesis of illlyrian descent of Albanians. Hahn found an old stone with a carved text in albania that it is believed to be in Albanian language .

[18] Elezi, Ismet, Customary Laberia law, Tirana 2002, fq. 21.

[19] This code has been sumarrizes by Shefqet Hoxha and Aleks Laurasi.

[20] This code is a reformo f the code of Laberia, otherwise it was called “shartet e Idriz Sulit“, Idriz Sulli was born about 1710-1715 in a middle family in village Zhulat of Gjirokastra, centro inhabited with 300 houses at that time, he is distinguished for reforms by elders of South Province Vilayet.this reform have to do with sanction of private property on livestock, then changes related to marriage, in this manner that now had rigat man as well as women to solve the marriage in a uniliteral way without death punishment. Without divorce from one women , didnt have rigat to get marrie with another . it allowed the women participation in produktive work , that noted objectively oine step foreward to liberization from pressure and her unequality with husband.

[21] This lokal code is summarized and commented by Haxhi Goci.

[22] History of Albanian Nation,for secondary schools, Tirana 1998, page. 48-49.

[23] It is a given word in customary law, which in those social conditions without state was as a legal mechanism to regulate relations with great ethical value bettwenn them, therefore in Albanian codes, besa/oath played an important role, and it was regulated in accurate way its definition about whom besa is given, when it is given , it types, responsibilities in case of infrigment.

[24] Dukagjini family ruled in mauntanous province of lezha, mirdita and Dugagjini stretching from east until Prizren

[25] Ragusa is actual Dubrovniku , this city had the attribute of city-state since 1181.

[26] Laurasi, Aleks, Albanian feudal princedoms ofXII-XV-century in History of State and law in Albania, Tirana 2007, p. 93. Extracted from selected sources about Albania history, Volume, 190-191.

[27] Ulqini Kahreman, Bajraku in old social organization, Tirana, 1991, page. 16.

[28] Noun Sheriat comes from the word sherie, that means right way, the way of the right faith or the way of salvation. Sources of Sheriat Law are divided in those elementary which are: 1)Kur’an, 2)Hadith (sunnet) or Tradition 3)Ixhma or doctrine and 4) Kijas or legal anology as in those additional: Er-rei and urf-adet- , that had additional chrachter if elementary sources were missing and were solved based on counsciosness , rightoues or rationality.

[29] Medzele i Ahkjami serije, Sarajevo 1906, par.1192-1233, translation in Serbian.

[30] Zavallani, Tajar, “History of Albania”, London 1966, page. 53-54.

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Social Organization and Self-Government of Albanians according to the Costumary Law
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LL.M. Islam Qerimi (Autor:in)Vjollca Salihu (Autor:in), 2011, Social Organization and Self-Government of Albanians according to the Costumary Law, München, GRIN Verlag,


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