Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blood feud

“This belongs in a history text book, not an event occurring in the middle of Europe in 2010.”

So spoke the director of the Evangelical Alliance in Albania. We attended a rally on Saturday morning in the middle of Tirana, joining with 1000s from churches across Albania to protest the killing of a pastor in Shkodra. My husband worked with the pastor's sister in law. The pastor himself has left a wife, a 6 yr old & a 9 yr old. (Incidentally, the poster above says "No to blood feuds, yes to life.") The woman on the podium is the pastor's wife.

The killing was the result of a blood feud. (I'll tell you the story in a moment)

It was incredibly moving & yet incredibly surreal,because of what it was about. I've been teaching Romeo &Juliet this term & have got the students to research blood-feuds in Albania & compare it to 16th century Verona. It really has brought the play to life as they are living in a context where “ancient grudge break(s) to new mutiny” & “civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Amazing, a 400 year old text, & it's still happening.

There isn't much history of protesting in Albania. I think it's the fear legacy of the communists probably. But the churches came out in force on Saturday morning to commemorate this brave man who died as a result of this anachronistic practice that still rages on in Albania.

In 2010. In a European country. One which is desperate to join the EU. It is scarcely credible.

Blood feuds were an ancient device (pre FIFTEENTH century) for resolving conflicts & bringing about 'justice'. It has been common in many cultures but rarely has it been so formally codified as it has in Albania in the Kanun (The Code) the code governed all aspects of life in the northern clans (marriage, property,taxes) & the 2 most important aspects were (& still are) Honour & Hospitality The Kanun also attempted to regulate revenge killings & reconcile feuds between rival clans.

If a man is killed by someone in a rival clan (even accidentally), then the family of the murdered man must preserve family honour by killing a member of the rival clan, preferably the murderer himself, but failing that any close male relative. It isn't rocket science to work out that surely that means eventually both clans will die out. But this went on for generations.

The Kanun method of ending blood-feud was 'besa' a truce brought about by negotiation; a marriage between families (Friar Lawrence's intention in Romeo & Juliet), a Meal of Blood truce, or the payment of a 'tribute' (that's cash not compliment) But it didn't always work & wasn't always permanent. And so the cycle would begin again involving the male members of society. This led to men locking themselves in a 'lock-in' tower for years sometimes, till a blood feud was resolved. Such as this one.

This is in Thethi, the only remaining one in Albania which is accessible to visitors. They wd climb up, pull the ladder up, climb up to the next floor & pull the ladder up again. With very little light & only slits for windows, it must have been a miserable existence. Because the women aren't vulnerable in a blood-feud, they would bring food to their men folk.

Communism suppressed blood-feuds pretty comprehensively for 45 years, (they were pretty good at suppression).However, they re-emerged in the 1990s & have become a serious & ongoing problem. The Code excludes women & children from revenge killing, but, whether because the Kanun code was maintained orally, (not written down until the 19th century), or whether it is just blood lust, is hard to say but the ancient Kanun customs have taken on insidious interpretations. Many young boys cannot go to school to leave their house (the Kanun says you are safe in your house but if you leave it you can be killed. Furthermore any male relative is now fair game, no matter how distant. In fact women & children have also been killed on occasion too.

The Director of the Evangelical Alliance who organised the rally, appeared on TV with four young Albanian boys who are “in blood”. Victims of a blood feud. They appeared on a talk show under police escort, wearing black hoods. One boy described how he had never left his house in 13 of his 14 years. This was his 2nd time out. He has had no education. The government pay the family 5000 Lek 'compensation' There are currently about 1350 families still caught up in a blood-feud.

Shkodra is particularly badly affected by blood-feuds. It is 2 hours north of the capital. The system of 'besa' has broken down too. One well known activist, of the Reconciliation Missionaries group who had helped negotiate hundreds of reconcilaitions between families, was himself murdered in 2004. A revenge killing of different sort.

The pastor in Shkodra had an uncle who had murdered someone. He was very careful for about 4 years, but then said that he was a pastor & he needed to attend to his people & church & couldn't do his job in hiding, & shouldn't live in fear. He had actually been interviewed on camera about it all a few months before but at a conference, not on TV. He had said that if he was killed, then at least that would save the live of the 23 other male members of his family as the family have said they do not intend to continue revenge killings to retaliate. He was shot in broad daylight outside his church office in the middle of a busy street.

Oh & get this. The mother of the murdered man, which precipitated the feud, would say to her other son every day for 7 years as she put his meal in front of him.

“How can you sit there & eat when your brother's death goes unavenged?”

It really is like something out of Shakespeare isn't it? It was Lady Capulet in her feud who called for Romeo's death “I beg for justice...Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live.”

The man was caught (& will be out of prison in 10 years if he's good). Albanians have told me that the sense of honour is so strong that people don't mind being caught, in fact they are proud of what they have done for the family honour.

Of course many Albanians are appalled by this practice too & are desperate for their country to move into the 21st century, but so much here thwarts that goal. The government need to take it seriously of course & clamp down. But how do you begin to change attitudes? Suppression clearly didn't work, you have to change hearts.

Well, that's what Pastor Proj's life was about. He preached reconciliation & forgiveness. And love. He is a modern martyr & his death has certainly had a big impact. I hope it is not in vain.


Mwa said...

What an awful thing. We've had some honour killings in Belgium in the last few years as well. Let's hope they stop everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating and dreadful. Thank you for a sensitive description.

Iota said...

Wow, I had no idea. It really is like Romeo and Juliet.

I hope that man's death was not in vain.

nappy valley girl said...

That sounds terrifying.
I guess the Western equivalent would be gang feuds - definitely some of those going on in New York and London. Not about family but still about loyalty to your 'brethren' - linked by blood or otherwise.

PantsWithNames said...

I find it interesting that the concept of blood feuds are so much stronger in Albania than other Balkan countries such as Bosnia. The Bosnians talk about it a bit, mainly in the 'thank goodness we don't have that here, we'd never manage to get over the civil war' but they also look down on the Albanians because of it.

Great post, explained a lot of the issues surrounding it.

BTW - have you read Antigone and Me which also talks a bit about blood feuds in Albania?

Michelloui said...

Wow, this was an amazing post--informative, interesting and incredibly sad. I thought it was also interesting how you mention two completely different messages taken from Shakespeare--the one you teach and the one that mother taught. Well done to you for your efforts with your students.