The problem of the origin of the Albanian People and their language

Obelisk to the pioneers of the Albanian language

Obelisk to the pioneers of the Albanian language

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Introduction

The article below was first published in New Albania, No 4, 1977. It addresses the somewhat complex issue of the origin of the Albanian people and the roots of the Albanian language – a language very different from all others in the surrounding area. It is included here to give some background to the obelisk to this topic in Gjirokastra, which was posted some time ago. That post looked at the images and what they signified, this article puts more flesh on the bones of that explanation and answers some of the questions that might arise from the particular images.

The problem of the origin of the Albanian People and their language

by Professor Eqrem Çabej

When the problem of the origin of a people is raised, it will be examined and solved more readily from the aspect of the perseveration and continuity of its language than from the ethnic viewpoint, because language, more than other elements, is the characteristic which distinguishes one people from the others. However for any people of any country or period, such a problem is complex and in the Albanian conditions it is especially complicated. It is complex because, as we know, in the formation of a people as an independent entity with its individual features which distinguish it from other peoples, various circumstances of a geographic nature and multiple historical, ethnical, economical, cultural and linguistic processes, play a part. It is complicated because in this field of Albanian Studies the lack of historical sources and documents is keenly felt. However, despite this poverty of sources, with the constant care of the Party of Labour of Albania and comrade Enver Hoxha, the new Albanian science is striving to get to the solution of this problem with the means at its disposal. And in this field it has achieved lasting results which have taken their place in the field of international science. Because of the complex nature of the problem the method to be applied must also be complex. A number of scientific disciplines must collaborate on it. In particular historical geography, history, linguistics, ethnography and prehistoric archaeology are involved in this. The results in any one of these fields should be taken into account and duly appreciated by the other disciplines, should be combined with their results so that wide range of facts can be gathered together into a few general principles, into a few more reliable facts, in order to arrive at some sort of synthesis.

The Albanians are autochthonous or native to the Balkan Peninsula since they have been living there since early prehistoric times. Together with the Greeks, they are the most ancient people in this region; they are heirs to the ethnical situation of the period of antiquity in this part of South-eastern Europe. Under these circumstances, the question as to where the Albanian people originated can be put in other words: Under what name were the forefathers of the Albanians, that people which has spoken the language from which the present Albanian is derived, known in the Balkans in ancient times? Hence, from which ancient people of this Peninsula do the present Albanians descend?

During the last century the hypothesis was very widespread that the Albanians were the descendants of the Pellasgians. This hypothesis or theory, founded by foreign scholars, was re-echoed far and wide among the Albanian poets and writers in Albania and Italy. It found fertile soil in the ideas of romanticism which spread later in South-eastern Europe, at a time when other literary trends had emerged in the West. Subsequently the Pellasgian theory was refuted. In Greek and Roman documents, the Pellasgians are mentioned as a pre-Greek ethnical stratum no longer in existence during the ancient period. Authors like Herodotus and Strabo speak of them as of a more ancient period and describe them as barbarians, that is, not Greeks, and having a language different from the Greek language. They place them in the zone of the Aegean Sea, principally in Thessaly spreading on one side towards Epirus and on the other side towards Asia Minor, towards Crete and other islands of the Aegean zone. Meanwhile, they are presented everywhere as a legendary people, shrouded in the mists of mythology, a people without concrete historical consistency. Although in later periods there has been some acceptance of their connection with the Illyrians and Thracians, it must be said that such ethnic and linguistic element as may, with considerable reserve, be called Pellasgian, for many reasons, including those of a geographical character, is in no way sufficient to provide any scientific basis for accepting a Pellasgian origin of the Albanian people.

Proceeding from a more realistic basis, in order to clear up the problem of the origin of the Albanians, we shall turn, first of all, to history as the continuation of the prehistoric situation in the Balkan Peninsula. In the period of antiquity, this part of Southern Europe was inhabited by a number of peoples, different from the present ones and differing from one another. It is known that the western regions of the Peninsula were inhabited by the Illyrians, the eastern regions by the Thracians, the southern regions by the Greeks, and the centre by the Macedonians, who were different from the Greeks and spoke a language of their own, according to Herodotus a ‘barbarian language’, that is, not Greek. Leaving aside some minor populations, like the Iranic tribes in the eastern part of the Peninsula and certain Celtic tribes in the north-western and central regions, this was the ethnic situation during the Greco-Roman epoch. Hence the question arises: from which of these peoples do the Albanians descend, from which of these languages does the Albanian language descend? In this problem, the Greeks, or the Hellenes as they were called at that time, are automatically excluded as a different people from the Albanians. Likewise excluded are the ancient Macedonians, as a relatively small people and geographically more remote from the Albanian language region, although, because of the territorial affinity, some links cannot be completely denied. Under these circumstances, there are two peoples, the Illyrians and Thracians, who can be considered as the ancestors of the Albanians.

The Illyrians were one of the major peoples of ancient Europe. Leaving aside their distribution in prehistoric times, during the historical period they extended from Istria near Triest in the north-west and from the regions near the banks of the Danube in the north, to the Gulf of Arta in Gameria in the south to a city which at that time, was called Ambria. Thus, the Illyrian tribes inhabited the present regions of Albania together with Qameria, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dalmatia and Croatia, hence, all the eastern seaboard of the Adriatic with its respective hinterland. The Messapians and Iapygians of Apulia in Southern Italy are, by all indications, Illyrian tribes as well. In the east the Illyrian tribes extended up to the banks of the Vardar and Morava rivers in Northern Macedonia, to Kosova, a region which in ancient times was called Dardania, and to a part of present Serbia. In those regions the Illyrians bordered the Thracian tribes and here and there were mixed with them. The Thracians, too, were one of the major peoples of ancient Europe. Herodotus calls them the greatest people next to the Indes. They extended from the borders of the Illyrians in the west up to the shores of the Black Sea in the east, from the Aegean in the south to the Carpathian mountains in the north. Thus they included part of present-day Greece and European Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania and part of Hungary and Poland. Because of the lack of source material, mentioned above, we are able to discover very little about the fate of these peoples and their component tribes, and the further back we probe into antiquity the more this obscurity deepens. We know, for instance that the concept and name Illyrian came and was spread only after some time, emerging from a population of this name and including tribes with ethnic and linguistic affinity. In Homer’s epics this name does not appear. The names of individual peoples, like those of the Dardanians and the Peonians, who in historical times lived to the north of the Macedonians, appear on the historical scene much earlier than the general name, Illyrians. It is known, also, that under the influence of the Greco-Roman civilization and, especially, during the long period of the domination of the Roman Empire, these ancient peoples of the Balkans were eventually partly hellenized and many of them romanized. In other words, without being wiped out as peoples, they were assimilated, gave up their own language and in some regions adopted the Greek language and even more of them, the Latin language. This took place especially in cities, in administrative and military centres where the Romans had established their garrisons. However in mountain regions this assimilation was not carried out completely. The local population preserved its ethnic character and mother tongue for a longer time. Some of these peoples entirely escaped romanization. Living evidence of this is the Albanian people, who must be the descendant of one of these unromanized peoples or tribes.

The question of the paternity or line of descent of a present-day people from an ancient people, of a known modern language from an extinct ancient language, is quite simple when we have relatively accurate knowledge of the ancient people and their language. But, as we have said, in connection with the Albanians and the Albanian language this problem remains specially difficult. Because of the lack of written documents, the ancient languages of the Balkans are little known or entirely unknown. From the language of the Thracians there are a few inscriptions, from the language of the Illyrians of the Balkans up till now not a single inscription has been found. The inscriptions of the Messapians of Southern Italy can be read but up till now the interpretation of them remains uncertain. From both these languages, Illyrian and Thracian, certain so-called glossa remain, that is, few words quoted by Greek and Roman authors, together with their meanings, given in Greek and Latin. There are also quite a large number of names of places and persons engraved on stone or quoted in texts by classical authors, the majority of them of unclear linguistic significance and meaning, among which modern scholars have found a free field for what are often arbitrary judgements. Thus the two languages in question remain almost unknown by us. We do not know their linguistic structure, grammatical system, or their vocabulary. Under these circumstances the means for comparison are missing. We lack the key to compare the material of the Albanian language with that of the two languages in question.

This being the case, the criterion of the language must be considered together with the geographical and historical situation. From the standpoint of historical geography it is known that the present Albanians inhabit those regions where the Illyrian tribes used to live in ancient times. From the historical point of view, it has been rightly pointed out. as far back as two centuries ago, that there is no fact, no historical reference, to show that the Albanians come from somewhere else, that they settled on this territory at a given historical period, for instance, towards the end of antiquity or during the early mediaeval period. Under these circumstances, common sense urges acceptance of the idea that the Albanian people is native, autochthonous, in these regions, if not as far back as the dawn of prehistoric times, at least since the period of antiquity. These two reasons, that of their inhabiting the former Illyrian territory and that of autochthony, automatically give rise to the idea that the present Albanians are the descendants of the Illyrian tribes of the south and that the Albanian language is the continuation of one of the ancient Illyrian dialects. Indeed it can be said that the burden of the argument falls more heavily on those who deny the Illyrian origin of the Albanians and of their language rather than on those who accept it. In this connection, it cannot be accidental that the name of the Illyrian tribe, the Albanoi, which the astronomer and geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria in Egypt, mentions during the second century of our era in the region between Durres and the Candavia mountains in Central Albania continues to exist in the form of Arbër, Arbën, Arbëresh, Arbënesh, the name by which Albania and the Albanians were known in the Middle Ages, is alive to this day. From the linguistic viewpoint, to these circumstances must be added the fact that the continuity of the names of cities, mountains and rivers of the Albanian territory of the ancient days in their present forms has developed in conformity with the phonetic rules of the Albanian language. These include such comparisons as Scardus – Shar, Scodra – Shkodra, Drivastum – Drisht, Pirustae – Qafa e Prushit, Lissu – Lesh, Isammus – Ishëm, Ishm, Dyrrachium – Durrës, Aulon – Vlonë, Vlorë, Thyamis – Çam and others. This also is evidence of the Illyrian autochthony of the Albanian people, because this development from the ancient forms of these names to the present forms cannot be explained except by means of the Albanian language. It cannot be explained either by means of the Roman or Slav languages or by any other language of the Balkan region. There are also other data from the field of linguistics of the Illyrian continuity, such as the identity between a number of names of early Illyrians and present-day Albanians. Apart from this, those few words which are known from the Illyrian language can be clearly explained by the Albanian language. And many words in Messapian inscriptions can be explained by our language. In this way the date of historical geography and of the language supplement each other. There are also a number of parallels of an ethnographic character which we shall not go into here. From the field of archaeology it is worth mentioning that in certain prehistoric settlements on the Albanian territory a continuity of the material culture can be seen, a continuity from ancient epochs to the early mediaeval period. This fact adds weight to the geographical, historical and linguistic arguments already mentioned.

As regards the Thracians and their language, on the evidence of certain historical and linguistic data (place names with Thracian features), the presence of Thracian elements in the north-western part of the Balkan Peninsula and especially along the southern Adriatic coastal regions was pointed out long ago. They must have long been mixed with Illyrian elements, but we are unable to tell from the Illyrians and the Thracians who were natives and who newcomers. In conclusion, for historical reasons also, one can say that the Illyrian element lies at the basis of the formation of the Albanian ethnos, although there may have been a Thracian component also, but certainly of smaller dimensions. At the present stage of knowledge it is difficult to determine how the process of this ethnic and linguistic formation took place and in what territorial and historical circumstances it took place. The result of the process, which is the Albanian people and their language, can be seen more clearly than the course of development which was traversed until the present situation was brought about.

Eqrem Çabej (1908-1980) was a linguist and academic specialising in the origin of the Albanian language. His name was given to the University of Gjirokastra when it was declared as such at the end of 1991.

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The Socialist Cultural Revolution and the People’s National Culture

Myrteza Fushekati - Before the demonstration

Myrteza Fushekati – Before the demonstration

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The reproduction of this article is part of an ongoing, occasional series of arguments in support of the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania from the late 1960s through the 1970s. A previous article was an excerpt from a report by Enver Hoxha.

The Socialist Cultural Revolution and the People’s National Culture

by Professor Zija Xholi

The creation of a new culture, the spreading of it among the broad masses, the revolutionary ideological formation of the working people, is one of the most fundamental tasks of the construction of socialism and, at the same time, one of the greatest achievements following the people’s revolution.

More than three decades have passed since the day when our people, led by the Party of Labour of Albania, embarked on the road of the cultural revolution – sufficient time to draw up some conclusions and to discover some of its distinctive characteristics.

The first characteristic of our cultural revolution, that which immediately strikes the eye from analysis of the factors which have conditioned its success, is that it began and developed as a consequence of the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat led by the Communist Party.

Second, a characteristic of the cultural revolution, one brilliant result of it, is the free participation, in ever growing proportions of the broad masses of the people in the frontal progress of technology, science, art and culture in general. The creative capacities, the talents of the people, once hampered and stifled, are now able to express themselves and develop freely. Through their efforts and talent, the masses have become the decisive factor of the cultural revolution which is taking place in our country.

The ultimate reason for the unprecedented extension of the decisive role of the masses in the development of culture too, should be sought in the elimination of oppression and the exploitation of man by man, as well as in the place the masses occupy in the system of socialist material production, where they are not only the decisive productive force but also the decisive responsible, organizing and directing force as well. Socialism stripped work of its drudgery once and for all and restored to it all its intrinsic moral and intellectual values. The creative activity in the most varied fields of art, in song, dance, theatre, variety, in which thousands of workers and peasants, young men and young women take part, most of them without training in art schools is evidence of the great art latent in the bosom of the people, of the marvellous artistic talents of our people which were waiting for the moment when they could burst free and pour out in a torrent.

At all times our people have been creative and they continue to create today, but in the conditions of the socialist construction, their creative works are radically different from those of the past. Freed from oppression and exploitation, today, our people enjoy ever increasing well-being, have more free time at their disposal, and this allows them to concern themselves more and more with the problems of culture. The principle that before you can philosophize you must have food and drink, is of special importance in this field. Besides this, the participation of the masses in cultural work enjoys the aid, support and organization of many specialized institutions and of the whole society in general. And finally, our culture is no longer created by masses who had never been inside a school but by masses who have an ever higher educational and cultural’ level. This brings about that, with the transition to socialism, the decisive creative role of the masses in the field of culture increases and manifests itself in broad proportions. This means that in socialism the people’s culture is raised to new, high levels never seen before.

Third, another characteristic of the cultural revolution, another of its brilliant results, is the elimination of the cultural monopoly of the feudal-bourgeoisie, the changing of culture from the monopoly of a select minority, a limited elite, into the property of the broad masses. It is a fact that in antagonistic society the working masses have developed themselves intellectually mainly through their work and productive activity, while they have received just as much schooling, theory and science as the exploiting ruling classes have needed to exploit them more thoroughly. The socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat put an end to this situation once and for all. Education, theory and science have been returned to the working masses, to those who, with their efforts and talents, keep socialist society alive and carry it forward in all directions.

The years of our People’s State Power have been years of a real offensive by an entire people, young and old, men and women to master technology, to conquer the bastions of knowledge, of arts and science, to turn our whole life into culture. The stages of the ceaseless march towards culture, expressions of its successes are the total elimination of illiteracy, the compulsory eight-year schooling, the abolition of religious teaching, the creation of higher education, the flowering of art in all its variety, song and dance, painting and sculpture, comedy and drama. The educational and cultural reality of our society is expressed by the following significant figures: whereas in 1938, the total number of pupils and students attending school was 56,000, today that number has risen to 700,000 which means that one-third of the population attend school.

Fourth, the cultural revolution does not aim at the educational and intellectual development or at the rejuvenation and progress of the life of only a minority of the population, of only one social stratum, to the detriment of the broad masses, or of only the cities to the detriment of the countryside. Its task is to ensure that education becomes the property of all, that the cultured life is taken up by everybody and enters every household, not only in the cities but also in the countryside, without creating special positions and privileges for any individual or stratum, a task which it is accomplishing better and better every day.

But the most fundamental characteristic of our cultural revolution, that which sets the tone for our education and culture and which marks a real revolution in them is their socialist content, their frankly Marxist- Leninist socialist tendentiousness.

Our socialist culture, like every other culture closely linked with classes and in the service of their struggle, cannot stand aloof from ideology and not be inspired by ideology. There is not, and never can be, any culture standing aloof from or above ideology. Culture for culture’s sake, pure culture, is simply a fraud which the bourgeoisie and the revisionists perpetrate in order to create that culture which best serves their selfish class interests. Therefore, the whole problem is not that culture should be divorced from ideology, for this is impossible, but that it must be based on the revolutionary ideology of the proletariat in opposition to the reactionary ideology of the bourgeoisie.

The Party of Labour of Albania strives to have no culture which is divorced from the mission of developing and perfecting the revolutionary ideological outlook of the working people and, on the other hand, to have no revolutionary ideological formation which is not based on the broadest and most accurate knowledge. This makes the cultural revolution part and parcel of the ideological revolution, makes them two sides of a single process, the process of the revolutionary education and re-education of the working people, the process of the formation of the new man of socialist society.

Naturally, the creation of the new socialist culture, the revolutionary ideological formation, immediately raised the problem of what to do about classical culture, the world culture heritage and, first and foremost, the culture of our own people, with their customs and traditions.

In the cultural revolution, the Party of Labour of Albania has faithfully followed the teachings of Lenin, who stressed that one can emerge from darkness only by utilizing the whole treasury of world culture, all the valuable achievements which mankind has created under the yoke of capitalist society, of the society of landlords and of bureaucrats. From its very first steps, our culture has striven consistently to take from world culture whatever is revolutionary and scientifically sound, whatever responds best to the requirements of the stage of development of our country. Consistently adhering to this orientation, our culture has maintained and continues to maintain a critical, stand towards world culture, taking from it only its scientific, materialist, democratic and popular ideas, and discarding its clerical, mystical idealist ideas, and any others which implant lack of confidence in life and man, which look down upon work and the working masses, which justify oppression, exploitation and obscurantism.

No matter how valuable the world cultural heritage may be, it is insufficient for the education and formation of the man of our society. In this, the first place is, and should be, occupied by the cultural heritage and traditions of our own people. In culture, too, the communists combine, the most consistent internationalism (they prize the progressive culture created by every people) with the purest of patriotism (they are the most ardent champions of the culture and traditions of their own people).

In place of the nihilist policy of denigration towards the culture and tradition of our people pursued by the reactionary ruling classes of the old, overthrown feudal-bourgeois order, the working class and its Marxist-Leninist Party have worked out a new policy, the policy of defending, preserving, and further enriching the popular culture and the first traditions of our people. At the foundation of this policy and the rich experience of our people in this field, are the Marxist-Leninist ideas of comrade Enver Hoxha, that our people have created a culture and art of a clear national character which constitutes a priceless heritage which must be kept pure and developed further; that the new socialist culture is linked with a thousand threads with the culture of the people; that the revolutionary content of the new socialist culture has not dropped like manna from heaven, nor has it been brought in a suitcase from abroad, but it has been inherited from our forefathers, its foundations are deep in the people; that the study of the cultural traditions of our people is not done simply for the purpose of knowing the past of our people but also for the purpose of learning from the experience of our forefathers in conformity with the new conditions and requirements of our socialist society; and finally, that a critical class attitude should be maintained towards the culture and traditions of our people from the past, on the basis of the idea that every creative work of every epoch has been tendentious, is inspired by the ideas of the time, bears the brand of the class struggle and of the ideology of its own time, therefore, it cannot be taken as a whole and inserted into the new life and culture just as it is.

Socialist culture is not something in itself, created apart from the people and handed to them from outside, but a culture indissolubly linked with them, which responds to their requirements, their spirit, and their traditions. There is no socialist culture in general, no culture created by someone which can be served up ready to any nation which is building socialism, but a socialist culture of a given nation which gives it its richness and this does not consist simply of its form, but enters deep into the content of this culture. Socialist culture, taken in its broadest sense, has emerged and developed in close collaboration with the culture of the people. In its essence it is a socialist and a national culture.

Guided by the teachings of comrade Enver Hoxha, our socialist culture is proving in practice that proletarian partisanship, which requires that every cultural manifestation must be viewed from the angle of the interests of the working class and analyzed from the standpoint of Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the national tradition, which requires that everything good and valuable, everything close to the aspirations of the workers, created by the people in the past, must be preserved, far from opposing each other, are, on the contrary complementary arid dialectically linked with each other. Our socialist culture is enriched by the great artistic, ideo-philosophic values which our people have brought to culture, while through the socialist culture, the rational tradition is cleansed of negative elements which may have penetrated it under the influence of negative economic and social factors of the past, and is further enriched with the new experience which has emerged under socialism.

Our concern to discover, uphold and evaluate the best traditions of one’s own people’s culture also stems from a political demand, from the demand to ensure the free development of the people, which is the first premise of any genuine socialist construction. The attempts, which the two super-powers are making today in one way or another, to impose their own language, as allegedly the best language, their own culture, as allegedly the richest culture, their pretensions that culture today is moving towards its ‘internationalization’, towards the disappearance of specific cultures, implying the Americanization or Russification of the cultures of the other peoples, are in essence, expressions of the national egotism and great state chauvinism of the two super-powers, their favorite means for the conquest of the peoples and establishing their hegemony. Therefore, under these circumstances, faced with the imperialist designs of the two superpowers, the revolutionary Leninist principle must be stressed and applied that for the life and existence of each nation, political vigilance and ensuring its defence from any armed aggression and the preservation of its cultural identity and mother tongue are equally important. If a people loses its cultural physiognomy, if it does not hold on to its traditions, if it allows its mother tongue to be forgotten, it has ceased to be a nation in itself.

If we oppose the ideological and cultural aggression of the bourgeois-revisionist world, we do this in the name of freedom and independence, in the name of the correct and rapid development of our socialist culture, but by no means in the name of national exclusiveness. National narrowness and xenophobia are alien to our revolutionary ideology and our new culture. Our socialist culture has utilized and continues to utilize the progressive culture of all peoples, but not by sacrificing our mother tongue, the best traditions, and the cultural heritage of our own people, but while emphasizing and prizing them. With this heritage our people will take their place in world culture. Any other assimilation of the culture of one people by another, made to the detriment of the national language and finest national traditions, under whatever name it is called, is, in reality, a chauvinist design to impose the domination and hegemony of one nation over other nations, whether they live within a multi-national state or are separated by national boundaries.

What does the traditional culture of the people, with which the new socialist culture is linked, represent? What has our nation contributed in the field of culture?

Our people came to power and to real freedom with a rich material, social and spiritual cultural heritage. In it are expressed the people’s capacity to live on, indomitable in any circumstances, no matter how difficult, their talent and inextinguishable desire for a free and independent life without oppression and exploitation. But the extremely difficult historical circumstances under which they had to fight for their very existence, the anti-national and anti-popular ideological pressure and influence of the invaders and the reactionary classes, on the background of the great backwardness and poverty, are also expressed in it. These circumstances make the culture we have inherited from the past a mixture of progressive and reactionary elements, with light and darkness. However, the progressive values exceed the non-progressive ones in force and breadth, the elements of light greatly predominate over those of darkness. It is the progressive values which give the culture of our people its characteristic tone. This distinctive characteristic of the culture of our people has its own explanation which is, as comrade Enver Hoxha stresses, ‘through the centuries, the people of our small country have always been guided by the progressive ideas of liberty and the defence of liberty, by the ideas of just wars against oppressors, against the rapacious imperialist ideologies of foreigners’.

Our people have been obliged to lead an intensive life in their struggle for existence and self-defense, have had to face up all sorts of events. Naturally they have had to act and think, to create a definite concept about many phenomena of nature and life, about griefs and joys. For well-known reasons they have not done this in writing, have not fixed it in books or treatises, but have formulated it by word of mouth, transmitting and enriching it from one district to another, from one generation to another for centuries on end. This has made up our wealth of folklore, which is our unwritten encyclopedia, a living testimony of the talent and wisdom of our people. The historian and philosopher, the anonymous writer and artist, speak collectively through hundreds of legends and songs of heroes, through thousands of aphorisms and proverbs, through thousands upon thousands of songs of valour and love, of work and exile, of weddings and deaths. This remains an immortal monument of the culture of our people, a source of learning and inspiration for the artist and the writer, for the philosopher and thinker of our own days, for the new socialist culture as a whole.

At the present time, when anti-communist ideology has swamped the book market and audiences in the bourgeois-revisionist world, when hideous fashions and decadent trends in art and literature are assailing the tastes of the youth and the masses from all sides, the reality of the new culture of our people assumes a special value and significance. By its existence and flowering it is showing that the present decadent and degenerate culture is not an inevitable evil from which no one can escape. Meanwhile, in its practice, our culture shows how the bourgeois revisionist ideological aggression can be coped with, how a culture in the service of the liberation of the working people from oppression and exploitation, a culture which will preserve the real values of the people and raise them to a higher level and oppose everything which degrades man morally, aesthetically and philosophically, can be created.

The national features, the national background of socialist culture, the appreciation of the cultural heritage created by our people, are that force which in culture facilitates and accelerates the cultural revolution, while in politics it helps the people get a better appreciation of their own value and strength, to cope better with any aggression from whatever direction it may come. Indeed, this is the most important function and the most profound meaning of every genuine culture – to help the people to recognise their own worth, to multiply their efforts in their struggle for a better and more just life, in their struggle for socialism and communism.

This article is reproduced from New Albania, No 3, 1977.

All emphasis is from the original.

Zija Xholi, Albanian philosopher. Member Academy of Science, Albanian Trade Union (member General Council 1967-1972, member Presidium 1972-1976, Chairman Culture Department 1977-1990), Albanian Philosophical Association (Chairman 1991).

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A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid

Checkpoint gates

Checkpoint gates

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The report reproduced below was published by B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – at the beginning of January 2021. It is presented as it was in the original. (However, there’s a broken link in the original pdf on page 5 – permit required.)

A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid

More than 14 million people, roughly half of them Jews and the other half Palestinians, live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea under a single rule. The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area, separated by the Green Line. One regime, inside the borders of the sovereign State of Israel, is a permanent democracy with a population of about nine million, all Israeli citizens. The other regime, in the territories Israel took over in 1967, whose final status is supposed to be determined in future negotiations, is a temporary military occupation imposed on some five million Palestinian subjects.

Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality. This state of affairs has existed for more than 50 years – twice as long as the State of Israel existed without it. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice. Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that these are not two parallel regimes that simply happen to uphold the same principle. There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.

When B’Tselem was founded in 1989, we limited our mandate to the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, and refrained from addressing human rights inside the State of Israel established in 1948 or from taking a comprehensive approach to the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Yet the situation has changed. The regime’s organizing principle has gained visibility in recent years, as evidenced by the Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People passed in 2018, or open talk of formally annexing parts of the West Bank in 2020. Taken together with the facts described above, this means that what happens in the Occupied Territories can no longer be treated as separate from the reality in the entire area under Israel’s control. The terms we have used in recent years to describe the situation – such as “prolonged occupation” or a “one-state reality” – are no longer adequate. To continue effectively fighting human rights violations, it is essential to examine and define the regime that governs the entire area.

This paper analyzes how the Israeli regime works to advance its goals in the entire area under its control. We do not provide a historical review or an evaluation of the Palestinian and Jewish national movements, or of the former South Africa regime. While these are important questions, they are beyond the purview of a human rights organization. Rather, this document presents the principles that guide the regime, demonstrates how it implements them and points to the conclusion that emerges from all of this as to how the regime should be defined and what that means for human rights.

Divide, separate, rule

In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. A key method in pursuing this goal is engineering space differently for each group.

Jewish citizens live as though the entire area were a single space (excluding the Gaza Strip). The Green Line means next to nothing for them: whether they live west of it, within Israel’s sovereign territory, or east of it, in settlements not formally annexed to Israel, is irrelevant to their rights or status.

Where Palestinians live, on the other hand, is crucial. The Israeli regime has divided the area into several units that it defines and governs differently, according Palestinians different rights in each. This division is relevant to Palestinians only. The geographic space, which is contiguous for Jews, is a fragmented mosaic for Palestinians:

  • Palestinians who live on land defined in 1948 as Israeli sovereign territory (sometimes called Arab-Israelis) are Israeli citizens and make up 17% of the state’s citizenry. While this status affords them many rights, they do not enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens by either law or practice – as detailed further in this paper.
  • Roughly 350,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, which consists of some 70,000 dunams [1 dunam = 1,000 square meters] that Israel annexed to its sovereign territory in 1967. They are defined as permanent residents of Israel – a status that allows them to live and work in Israel without needing special permits, to receive social benefits and health insurance, and to vote in municipal elections. Yet permanent residency, unlike citizenship, may be revoked at any time, at the complete discretion of the Minister of the Interior. In certain circumstances, it can also expire.
  • Although Israel never formally annexed the West Bank, it treats the territory as its own. More than 2.6 million Palestinian subjects live in the West Bank, in dozens of disconnected enclaves, under rigid military rule and without political rights. In about 40% of the territory, Israel has transferred some civilian powers to the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, the PA is still subordinate to Israel and can only exercise its limited powers with Israel’s consent.
  • The Gaza Strip is home to about two million Palestinians, also denied political rights. In 2005, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, dismantled the settlements it built there and abdicated any responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian population. After the Hamas takeover in 2007, Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip that is still in place. Throughout all of these years, Israel has continued to control nearly every aspect of life in Gaza from outside.

Israel accords Palestinians a different package of rights in every one of these units – all of which are inferior compared to the rights afforded to Jewish citizens. The goal of Jewish supremacy is advanced differently in every unit, and the resulting forms of injustice differ: the lived experience of Palestinians in blockaded Gaza is unlike that of Palestinian subjects in the West Bank, permanent residents in East Jerusalem or Palestinian citizens within sovereign Israeli territory. Yet these are variations on the fact that all Palestinians living under Israeli rule are treated as inferior in rights and status to Jews who live in the very same area.

Detailed below are four major methods the Israeli regime uses to advance Jewish supremacy. Two are implemented similarly throughout the entire area: restricting migration by non-Jews and taking over Palestinian land to build Jewish-only communities, while relegating Palestinians to small enclaves. The other two are implemented primarily in the Occupied Territories: draconian restrictions on the movement of non-citizen Palestinians and denial of their political rights. Control over these aspects of life lies entirely in Israel’s hands: in the entire area, Israel has sole power over the population registry, land allocation, voter rolls and the right (or denial thereof) to travel within, enter or exit any part of the area.

A. Immigration – for Jews only:

Any Jew in the world and his or her children, grandchildren and spouses are entitled to immigrate to Israel at any time and receive Israeli citizenship, with all of its associated rights. They receive this status even if they choose to live in a West Bank settlement not formally annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory.

In contrast, non-Jews have no right to legal status in Israeli-controlled areas. Granting status is at the almost complete discretion of officials – the Minister of the Interior (within sovereign Israel) or the military commander (in the Occupied Territories). Despite this official distinction, the organizing principle remains the same: Palestinians living in other countries cannot immigrate to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, even if they, their parents or their grandparents were born and lived there. The only way Palestinians can immigrate to areas controlled by Israel is by marrying a Palestinian who already lives there – as citizen, resident or subject – as well as meeting a series of conditions and receiving Israeli approval.

Israel not only hampers Palestinian immigration but also impedes Palestinian relocation between the units, if the move – in the perception of the regime – would upgrade their status. For instance, Palestinian citizens of Israel or residents of East Jerusalem can easily relocate to the West Bank (although they risk their rights and status in doing so). Palestinians in the Occupied Territories cannot obtain Israeli citizenship and relocate to Israeli sovereign territory, except for in very rare instances, which depend on the approval of Israeli officials.

Israel’s policy on family unification illustrates this principle. For years, the regime has placed numerous obstacles before families in which each spouse lives in a different geographical unit. Over time, this has impeded and often prevented Palestinians marrying a Palestinian in another unit from acquiring status in that unit. As a result of this policy, tens of thousands of families have been unable to live together. When one spouse is a resident of the Gaza Strip, Israel allows the family to live there together, but if the other spouse is a resident of the West Bank, Israel demands they relocate permanently to Gaza. In 2003, the Knesset passed a Temporary Order (still in force) banning the issuance of Israeli citizenship or permanent residency to Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who marry Israelis – unlike citizens of other countries. In exceptional cases approved by the Minister of the Interior, Palestinians from the West Bank who marry Israelis may be granted status in Israel – yet it is only temporary and does not entitle them to social benefits.

Israel also undermines the right of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories – including East Jerusalem – to continue living where they were born. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the status of some 250,000 Palestinians in the West Bank (East Jerusalem included) and the Gaza Strip, in some cases on the grounds they had lived abroad for more than three years. This includes thousands of East Jerusalem residents who moved mere miles east of their homes to parts of the West Bank that are not officially annexed. All these individuals were robbed of the right to return to their homes and families, where they were born and raised.

B. Taking over land for Jews while crowding Palestinians in enclaves:

Israel practices a policy of “Judaizing” the area, based on the mindset that land is a resource meant almost exclusively to benefit the Jewish public. Land is used to develop and expand existing Jewish communities and build new ones, while Palestinians are dispossessed and corralled into small, crowded enclaves. This policy has been practiced with respect to land within sovereign Israeli territory since 1948 and applied to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967. In 2018, the underlying principle was entrenched in Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People, which stipulates that “the State considers the development of Jewish settlements a national value and will take action to encourage and promote the establishment and reinforcment of such settlements.”

Inside its sovereign territory, Israel has enacted discriminatory laws, most notably the Absentee Property Law, allowing it to expropriate vast tracts of Palestinian-owned land, including millions of dunams in communities whose residents were expelled or fled in 1948 and were barred from returning. Israel has also significantly reduced the areas designated for Palestinian local councils and communities, which now have access to less than 3% of the country’s total area. Most of the designated land is already saturated with construction. As a result, more than 90% of land in Israel’s sovereign territory is now under state control.

Israel has used this land to build hundreds of communities for Jewish citizens – yet not a single one for Palestinian citizens. The exception is a handful of towns and villages built to concentrate the Bedouin population, which has been stripped of most of its proprietary rights. Most of the land on which Bedouins used to live has been expropriated and registered as state land. Many Bedouin communities have been defined as ‘unrecognized’ and their residents as ‘invaders.’ On land historically occupied by Bedouins, Israel has built Jewish-only communities.

The Israeli regime severely restricts construction and development in the little remaining land in Palestinian communities within its sovereign territory. It also refrains from preparing master plans that reflect the population’s needs, and keeps these communities’ areas of jurisdiction virtually unchanged despite population growth. The result is small, crowded enclaves where residents have no choice but to build without permits.

Israel has also passed a law allowing communities with admission committees, numbering hundreds throughout the country, to reject Palestinian applicants on grounds of “cultural incompatibility.” This effectively prevents Palestinian citizens from living in communities designated for Jews. Officially, any Israeli citizen can live in any of the country’s cities; in practice, only 10% of Palestinian citizens do. Even then, they are usually relegated to separate neighborhoods due to lack of educational, religious and other services, the prohibitive cost of purchasing a home in other parts of the city, or discriminatory practices in land and home sales.

The regime has used the same organizing principle in the West Bank since 1967 (including East Jerusalem). Hundreds of thousands of dunams, including farmland and pastureland, have been taken from Palestinian subjects on various pretexts and used, among other things, to establish and expand settlements, including residential neighborhoods, farmland and industrial zones. All settlements are closed military zones that Palestinians are forbidden from entering without a permit. So far, Israel has established more than 280 settlements in the West Bank (East Jerusalem included), which are now home to more than 600,000 Jews. More land has been taken to build hundreds of kilometers of bypass roads for settlers.

Israel has instituted a separate planning system for Palestinians in the West Bank, chiefly designed to prevent construction and development. Large swathes of land are unavailable for construction, having been declared state land, a firing zone, a nature reserve or a national park. The authorities also refrain from drafting adequate master plans reflecting the present and future needs of Palestinian communities in what little land has been spared. The separate planning system centers on demolishing structures built without permits – here, too, for lack of choice. All this has trapped Palestinians in dozens of densely-populated enclaves, with development outside them – whether for residential or public use, including infrastructure – almost completely banned.

C. Restriction of Palestinians’ freedom of movement

Israel allows its Jewish and Palestinian citizens and residents to travel freely throughout the area. Exceptions are the prohibition on entering the Gaza Strip, which it defines “hostile territory,” and the (mostly formal) prohibition on entering areas ostensibly under PA responsibility (Area A). In rare cases, Palestinian citizens or residents are permitted to enter Gaza.

Israeli citizens can also leave and reenter the country at any time. In contrast, residents of East Jerusalem do not hold Israeli passports and lengthy absence can result in revocation of status.

Israel routinely restricts the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and generally forbids them from moving between the units. Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to enter Israel, East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip must apply to the Israeli authorities. In the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded since 2007, the entire population is imprisoned as Israel forbids almost any movement in or out – except in rare cases it defines humanitarian. Palestinians who wish to leave Gaza or Palestinians from other units who wish to enter it must also submit a special application for a permit to the Israeli authorities. The permits are issued sparingly and can only be obtained through a strict, arbitrary mechanism, or permit regime, which lacks transparency and clear rules. Israel treats every permit issued to a Palestinian as an act of grace rather than the fulfillment of a vested right.

In the West Bank, Israel controls all the routes between the Palestinian enclaves. This allows the military to set up flying כcheckpoints, close off access points to villages, block roads and stop passage through checkpoints at will. Furthermore, Israel built the Separation Barrier within the West Bank and designated Palestinian land, including farmland, trapped between the barrier and the Green Line as “the seam zone.” Palestinians in the West Bank are barred from entering this zone, subject to the same permit regime.

Palestinians in the Occupied Territories also need Israeli permission to go abroad. As a rule, Israel does not allow them to use Ben Gurion International Airport, which lies inside its sovereign territory. Palestinians from the West Bank must fly through Jordan’s international airport – but can only do so if Israel allows them to cross the border into Jordan. Every year, Israel denies thousands of requests to cross this border, with no explanation. Palestinians from Gaza must go through Egyptian-controlled Rafah Crossing – provided it is open, the Egyptian authorities let them through, and they can undertake the long journey through Egyptian territory. In rare exceptions, Israel allows Gazans to travel through its sovereign territory in an escorted shuttle, in order to reach the West Bank and from there continue to Jordan and on to their destination.

D. Denial of Palestinians’ right to political participation:

Like their Jewish counterparts, Palestinian citizens of Israel can take political action to further their interests, including voting and running for office. They can elect representatives, establish parties or join existing ones. That said, Palestinian elected officials are continually vilified – a sentiment propagated by key political figures – and the right of Palestinian citizens to political participation is under constant attack.

The roughly five million Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories cannot participate in the political system that governs their lives and determines their futures. Theoretically, most Palestinians are eligible to vote in the PA elections. Yet as the PA’s powers are limited, even if elections were held regularly (the last were in 2006), the Israeli regime would still rule Palestinians’ lives, as it retains major aspects of governance in the Occupied Territories. This includes control over immigration, the population registry, planning and land policies, water, communication infrastructure, import and export, and military control over land, sea and air space.

In East Jerusalem, Palestinians are caught between a rock and a hard place. As permanent residents of Israel, they can vote in municipal elections but not for parliament. On the other hand, Israel makes it difficult for them to participate in PA elections.

Political participation encompasses more than voting or running for office. Israel also denies Palestinians political rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of association. These rights enable individuals to critique regimes, protest policies, form associations to advance their ideas and generally work to promote social and political change.

A slew of legislation, such as the boycott law and the Nakba law, has limited Israelis’ freedom to criticize policies relating to Palestinians throughout the area. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face even harsher restrictions: they are not allowed to demonstrate; many associations have been banned; and almost any political statement is considered incitement. These restrictions are assiduously enforced by the military courts, which have imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and are a key mechanism upholding the occupation. In East Jerusalem, Israel works to prevent any social, cultural or political activity associated in any way with the PA.

The division of space also hampers a unified Palestinian struggle against Israeli policy. The variation in laws, procedures and rights among the geographical units and the draconian movement restrictions have separated the Palestinians into distinct groups. This fragmentation not only helps Israel promote Jewish supremacy, but also thwarts criticism and resistance.

No to apartheid: That is our struggle:

The Israeli regime, which controls all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, seeks to advance and cement Jewish supremacy throughout the entire area. To that end, it has divided the area into several units, each with a different set of rights for Palestinians – always inferior to the rights of Jews. As part of this policy, Palestinians are denied many rights, including the right to self-determination.

This policy is advanced in several ways. Israel demographically engineers the space through laws and orders that allow any Jew in the world or their relatives to obtain Israeli citizenship, but almost completely deny Palestinians this possibility. It has physically engineered the entire area by taking over of millions of dunams of land and establishing Jewish-only communities, while driving Palestinians into small enclaves. Movement is engineered through restrictions on Palestinian subjects, and political engineering excludes millions of Palestinians from participating in the processes that determine their lives and futures while holding them under military occupation.

A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime. Israeli apartheid, which promotes the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians, was not born in one day or of a single speech. It is a process that has gradually grown more institutionalized and explicit, with mechanisms introduced over time in law and practice to promote Jewish supremacy. These accumulated measures, their pervasiveness in legislation and political practice, and the public and judicial support they receive – all form the basis for our conclusion that the bar for labeling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met.

If this regime has developed over many years, why release this paper in 2021? What has changed? Recent years have seen a rise in the motivation and willingness of Israeli officials and institutions to enshrine Jewish supremacy in law and openly state their intentions. The enactment of Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People and the declared plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank have shattered the façade Israel worked for years to maintain.

The Nation State basic law, enacted in 2018, enshrines the Jewish people’s right to self-determination to the exclusion of all others. It establishes that distinguishing Jews in Israel (and throughout the world) from non-Jews is fundamental and legitimate. Based on this distinction, the law permits institutionalized discrimination in favor of Jews in settlement, housing, land development, citizenship, language and culture. It is true that the Israeli regime largely followed these principles before. Yet Jewish supremacy has now been enshrined in basic law, making it a binding constitutional principle – unlike ordinary law or practices by authorities, which can be challenged. This signals to all state institutions that they not only can, but must, promote Jewish supremacy in the entire area under Israeli control.

Israel’s plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank also bridges the gap between the official status of the Occupied Territories, which is accompanied by empty rhetoric about negotiation of its future, and the fact that Israel actually annexed most of the West Bank long ago. Israel did not follow through on its declarations of formal annexation after July 2020, and various officials have released contradicting statements regarding the plan since. Regardless of how and when Israel advances formal annexation of one kind or another, its intention to achieve permanent control over the entire area has already been openly declared by the state’s highest officials.

The Israeli regime’s rationale, and the measures used to implement it, are reminiscent of the South African regime that sought to preserve the supremacy of white citizens, in part through partitioning the population into classes and sub-classes and ascribing different rights to each. There are, of course, differences between the regimes. For instance, the division in South Africa was based on race and skin color, while in Israel it is based on nationality and ethnicity. Segregation in South Africa was also manifested in public space, in the form of a policed, formal, public separation between people based on skin color – a degree of visibility that Israel usually avoids. Yet in public discourse and in international law, apartheid does not mean an exact copy of the former South African regime. No regime will ever be identical. ‘Apartheid’ has long been an independent term, entrenched in international conventions, referring to a regime’s organizing principle: systematically promoting the dominance of one group over another and working to cement it.

The Israeli regime does not have to declare itself an apartheid regime to be defined as such, nor is it relevant that representatives of the state broadly proclaim it a democracy. What defines apartheid is not statements but practice. While South Africa declared itself an apartheid regime in 1948, it is unreasonable to expect other states to follow suit given the historical repercussions. The response of most countries to South Africa’s apartheid is likelier to deter countries from admitting to implementing a similar regime. It is also clear that what was possible in 1948 is no longer possible today, both legally and in terms of public opinion.

As painful as it may be to look reality in the eye, it is more painful to live under a boot. The harsh reality described here may deteriorate further if new practices are introduced – with or without accompanying legislation. Nevertheless, people created this regime and people can make it worse – or work to replace it. That hope is the driving force behind this position paper. How can people fight injustice if it is unnamed? Apartheid is the organizing principle, yet recognizing this does not mean giving up. On the contrary: it is a call for change.

Fighting for a future based on human rights, liberty and justice is especially crucial now. There are various political paths to a just future here, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, but all of us must first choose to say no to apartheid.

In the UK: The Palestine Solidarity Campaign

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