Ocuppation of the territories inhabited by Albanians
The Italian occupation of Albania
In April 1939, Italian forces occupied Albania. The occupation was the result of an ultimatum that demanded the union of Albania and Italy, underlying which was the desire to join Albania to Italy. King Zog rejected this ultimatum, which gave Mussolini his excuse to attack Albania. On the 7th of April 1939, nearly 40,000 Italian soldiers landed at Albania's main ports: Drac, Valona, Saranda and Shengin. The resistance of the unprepared and poorly equipped Albanian army was quickly overcome and the next day the fascist army marched into Tirana. In the meantime, King Zog left the country.
On the 16th of April an improvised “constitution-making assembly” was called that ended the Albanian monarchy and nullified the constitution, declaring the “unification” of Albania and Italy under the crown of the Italian Emperor Emanuel III. The quisling Albanian government, headed by Shefket Verlaci, was formed the same day. Even though Albania had lost its national independence, it was still treated as an autonomous constitutional monarchy within fascist Italy.
Fascist occupation of the surrounding areas inhabited by Albanians
After the capitulation of the kingdoms of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941, fascist forces started to tear apart the occupied countries. At the Ciano-Ribbentrop meeting at the Vienna conference in April 1941, occupied Albania gained from Yugoslavian territories parts of what is today western Macedonia and Kosovo. In addition to these territories Albania also received northern Epir from Greece, where there was also a considerable Albanian population. In this way the territory of Albania was almost doubled in size. The Italian fascists and their local allies presented this territorial increase as a fulfilment of the desires of the Albanians through the ages to achieve national unification within their ethnic borders.
Responsibility for organising government in the Kosovo and Macedonian parts of ethnic Albania was given to the High Civilian Commissariat for Kosovo, Debar and Struga, headed by Fejzi Alizoti (a minister of the quisling government). Later, this Commissariat was replaced with the so-called "Ministry for Liberated Areas", which operated until February 1943.
Four prefectures were formed from the liberated territories: Prizren, Pec, Debar and Prishtina. Quislings were placed in the highest prefecture positions, their appointment being the responsibility of the government in Tirana. Numerous Italian military and police forces were also stationed on these territories. The Albanian population living on the territories of Kosovo and Macedonia that went under Bulgarian control remained outside the Italian occupational zone. This included the areas around Uroshevac, as well as the towns and areas around: Kachanik, Vitina, Gnjilane, Preshevo, Bujanovac, Skopje and Kumanovo.
Life was very different for Albanians in the Bulgarian occupational zone, compared to the Italian occupational zone. The Bulgarian fascistic government introduced the Bulgarian language as an official language, and the entire administration was Bulgarian. Students had to attend school in Bulgarian, which was part of the policy to “Bulgarise” the population. The Bulgarian regime conducted repressive measures on the occupied population, helped by strong police and administrative apparatus, which was not supported by the local population.
The benefits from the Italian occupation to the territories outside Albania
Even though the unification was performed under the cover of fascism, it still had a considerable historical significance for the Albanian population in Kosovo and Western Macedonia. The Albanian language was declared an official language, along with Italian. For the first time schools in Albanian were opened, the use of national symbols was officially permitted and political organisation on a national basis was allowed. The local administration was in the hands of the Albanians, and there were Albanians in the local police force as well.
This autonomy was enjoyed by the Albanians even after the capitulation of Italy in 1943, when Germany took over power in Albania.
Reactions to the fascist occupation
Despite the national and territorial benefits brought about by the fascist government, it was still perceived as an occupying force by the Albanians. The first signs of unrest appeared immediately after the annexation - during 1939 and 1940 public demonstrations were organised in all the major Albanian cities, and there were instances of sabotage against Italy's war preparations. The attempted assassination of the Italian king Emmanuel III during his visit to Tirana in May 1941 was a particularly strong expression of displeasure. However, organised armed resistance to the fascist government in Albania only begun in the spring of 1942 after the formation of the first partisan companies led by the Communist Party of Albania.
Signs of Albanian dissatisfaction with the fascist occupation also appeared in western Macedonia and Kosovo. For example, in the major towns in Kosovo, the celebration of the Day of the Albanian Flag in 1941 was used for anti-fascist demonstrations. Organised armed resistance in these territories was also led by the Communists (the Communist Party of Yugoslavia - CPY).
THE FIGHT TO LIBERATE ALBANIA
The formation of the Communist Party of Albania (CPA) and the National Liberation Movement (NLA)
The main role in the organisation of the armed resistance in Albania was played by the Communist Party of Albania (CPA). After several failed attempts it was finally formed on November 8th 1941, with the help of instructors from the CPY. Enver Hoxha was elected as party secretary, and a Central Committee of 11 members was also constituted.
The Communist ideas of social justice and a class free society spread by the CPA were best received by the poorer Albanians and within certain intellectual circles, which in turn led to the majority of CPA members being either from poor villages in the south of the country or dissatisfied intellectuals from the cities.
The CPA appeared before the people with a declaration that showcased it's programme, the basis of which was the organisation of an armed national, liberating and anti-fascist resistance. The goal of this resistance was the reinstating of Albania's national independence and the establishment of a democratic social regime after the liberation. The first armed actions by the Communists began in the spring of 1942, and for several months there were clashes with the Italian forces in all major cities.
In September 1942, the Albanian Communists formed the National Liberation Front, also known as the National Liberation Movement (NLA). Even though this movement was dominated by the Communists, it also had people of different political denominations. In only a few months the armed fighting of partisan units, almost entirely under the control of the National Liberation Movement, spread throughout the entire country.
The formation of Balli Kombetar
The successes of the National Liberation movement, and particularly the CPA, worried the nationalistic circles in Albania, which were still holding back. In November 1942 a number of individuals from these circles, mostly intellectuals an anti-monarchists, formed the secret organisation Balli Kombetar (National Front) in Tirana. This organisation, which was both nationalistic and anti-communist, was headed by Midhat Frasheri and Ali Klissura.
From the records of Balli Kombetar
The organisation Balli Kombetar chose its path in its very beginnings, on the 7th of April 1939, when it gathered patriots and honest people around it. We will repeat once more what we are fighting for and why we fight:
1. We fight for the red-black flag and Albanian rights
2. We fight for a free Albania, ethnic and democratic based on contemporary social values
3. We fight for an Albania with freedom of speech and thought
4. We fight for an economically stable Albania
8. We fight for an Albania that will punish ruthlessly the traitors, anti-patriots, those who sold out, those who profiteer
Albania to the Albanians
Liberty or death
Membership and support for Balli Kombetar came from the large landowners and wealthier villagers. They stood behind economic and social reform in the country and the establishment of a regime modelled after the west-European countries. The basic goal of the organisation was to form an independent Albania within its ethnic borders, which would include territories wider than those defined in 1941. Although its proclaimed goal was anti-occupational, the organisation refrained from direct clashes with the fascist army.
The clash between CPA and Balli Kombetar
The successes of the Allied Forces in Europe and the fall of Mussolini in Italy influenced attempts to bridge the gap between Balli Kombetar and the CPA, in order to resist the Italian occupation together. The main initiators of an alliance between these two organisation were the military missions of the Allied Forces in Albania. On the 2nd of August 1942, the leaders of Balli Kombetar and the National Liberation Movement met in the village of Mukaj, where they formed the Committee for the Salvation of Albania, which was meant to form the new government after the liberation of the country.
However, these attempts to bring the two sides closer at the meeting in Mukaj failed. Even though all the delegates present in Mukaj agreed that Albania should retain its ethnic borders after the war, while the people should additionally decide what kind of regime they want for the country, the national liberation movement, under the influence of the CPY, did not accept the agreement and thereby widened the gap between the two sides to the point of open clashes. Besides fighting the fascists, the CPA opened a front against Balli Kombetar; Balli Kombetar focused its activities on the fight with the Communist forces, applying a waiting policy as far as the fascist government went.
Besides an ideological conflict, these two organisations quickly found themselves in open armed conflict as well. After their capitulation the new Italian government decided that all weapons belonging to the Italian army in Albania should be handed over to the partisans. Balli Kombetar opposed this and, near Gjirokastra, fighting started between the partisans and Italians on one side and a Balli Kombetar company from Valona on the other. All 33 fighters of the company were killed.
The replacement of Italian occupation with German occupation
After the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, Albania was occupied by the German army. German forces controlled all the major cities, the coast and the main transport routes, while the forces of the resistance withdrew to the mountains. Berlin declared that it would recognise the independence of a neutral Albania and organised an Albanian government and police. The German government very rarely interfered in the ruling of the Albanian government. However, they also gave silent support to the joining of Kosovo to Albania. Members of Balli Kombetar and other nationalists began to cooperate with the German powers, and several key figures from this organisation gained high-ranking positions in the new regime.
On the other hand, the National Liberation Movement continued its fight even against the German occupation. This gained them further sympathies from the masses and enabled them to create larger military formations (brigades), and to organise the work of the National Liberation Councils.
The failure of the meeting in Mukaj and the German occupation also resulted in the creation of new political organisations towards the end of 1943, such as “Legaliteti” which supported the return of King Zog to Albania.
The liberation of Albania
In the beginning of 1944, the national liberation army was becoming more and more numerous and was achieving more and more successes within the territory of the entire country. These successes spurred the National Liberation Movement to call a congress in Permet, which was attended by around 200 delegates with various political determination. Following the example of Yugoslavia, the delegates founded the Anti-Fascist National Liberation Committee (ANLC) as the highest legislative and executive organ of the national sovereignty. At the same time, the Congress forbade King Zog to return to the country and decided not to recognize any government formed abroad.
The last phase of the fight to liberate Albania began in September 1944. The German forces and their allies managed to remain in only a few cities and isolated areas. During September and October came the liberation of all the main cities in southern Albania (such as Berat, Korca and Gjirokastra) while Tirana was constantly attacked. During these military victories, on the 20th of October 1944 in the liberated city of Berat, the second congress of the Anti-Fascist National Liberation Committee was held and the first democratic government of Albania was elected, headed by Colonel General Enver Hoxha. At the congress the Declaration on Citizen's Rights was unanimously accepted.
Immediately after the congress in Berat the final actions for the ultimate liberation of Albania began. Towards the end of November, after difficult fights lasting almost a month, Tirana was finally liberated. A couple of days later Skadar was liberated as well, which marked the final liberation of Albania. The Albanian partisans, considering themselves as part of a larger anti-fascist coalition, continued their fights against Hitler's army outside the borders of Albania, on the territory of allied Yugoslavia.
After taking power into their own hands, the Communist leaders, headed by Enver Hoxha, immediately started actions to eliminate their political and ideological enemies, rival leaders and members of former governments that could, in any way, threaten the position of the Communists were sentenced as war criminals at show trials.
The national liberation war in Albania is one of the most significant events in the history of the Albanian people. It was a liberation war of a national, democratic and popular nature that returned to Albania its national independence and placed it in the lines of the large anti-fascist coalition.
THE FIGHT OF ALBANIANS OUTSIDE ALBANIA
Participation in the anti-fascist resistance
A large number of Albanians were actively involved in the partisan detachments formed in Kosovo by the CPY. The partisan detachment “Zenel Hajdini” executed a number of guerilla actions, one of the largest of which was on January 3rd 1943, when an Italian war column was attacked on the road from Prizren to Uroshevac. Another Albanian detachment was “Emin Duraku”, headed by Fadil Hoxha, which carried out a number of important actions.
Despite the victories achieved by these partisan detachments in Kosovo, they were more limited than the CPY as their actions were carried out under very difficult circumstances, mostly due to a strong internal reaction and anti-communist resistance. Considering the existing anti-Yugoslavian mood, part of the Albanian population refused to join the resistance movement, which caused particular problems for partisan actions.
Part of the Albanians in western Macedonia joined the armed resistance led by the CPY, and later by the Communist Party of Macedonia (CPM). The first partisan company consisting solely of Albanians was formed in the middle of July 1943. It strongly agitated the Albanian population, leading to the influx of new Albanian fighters. This number increased further after the capitulation of Italy, when entire Albanian carbine companies, which used to act within the Italian occupational system, defected to the resistance. Some of their fighters became distinguished commanders of large military units, as is the case with Hamdi Dema and Tom Gjela. The commander of the Debar partisan detachment, Hadzi Leshi (also known as Captain Leshi) was particularly respected and popular with the Albanian population.
With the anti-fascist resistance in Macedonia flaring up, several Albanian brigades were formed. The Albanian detachments from Debar and Kichevo were known as the 4th Albanian Brigade, led by Nejat Agoli and Jafer Kodra. Later this brigade was renamed the 7th Albanian Assault Brigade, with around 2,500 fighters, who participated in the liberation of Struga, Kichevo, Gostivar and Tetovo.
The Albanians from Macedonia contributed greatly not only to the liberation of Macedonia, but also to the final operations in the liberation of Yugoslavia. Famous Albanians - national heroes that died during the anti-fascist struggle - include Bajram Shabani, born in Lipkovo, and Ibe Palikukja and Liman Kaba, from Debar.
Aspirations for national unification
The participation of Albanians in organised armed resistance was motivated by the position of the CPY that the Albanians in Kosovo, after the end of the war, should be able to independently decide their status. The CPY held this position as early as the congress in Dresden in 1928, and it was confirmed at the congress in Zagreb in 1940 directly before the beginning of the war. The Albanians believed that when the war was over they would be able to decide their own future. This is why, when the CPY began to form partisan detachments in Kosovo, they were joined by some of the Albanians.
Some of the Albanians in Kosovo and western Macedonia leaned towards the nationalistic organisation Second League of Prizren, which was formed right after the capitulation of Italy in order to fight for the unification of all territories inhabited by Albanians. Several companies acted in the name of this organisation and they entered direct military confrontation with the partisans.
The position of the Albanians at the end of the war
With the spread of the National Liberation movement in Kosovo at the beginning of 1944, a conference was held in the village Bujane, where the National Liberation Aseembly for Kosovo was formed. 43 Albanian and 6 Serbian and Montenegran delegates participated in the conference. Mehmed Hohxa was elected president, while Fadil Hoxha, Javid Nimani and others were elected as members. The most important document from this historic conference was the Resolution in which, amongst other things, it was indicated that all the peoples of Yugoslavia - including the Albanians - would be given the right to self-determination all the way to separation, and that the execution of this right would be guaranteed by the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and its allies.
Considering that the decisions from the Bujane conference offered the opportunity to realise the ages old aspiration of the Albanian people for national and territorial unification, they were received with massive approval by the Albanian population in Kosovo. However, the decisions from the Bujane conference were not realised as, at the first regular congress of the National Liberation Assembly in July 1945 in Prizren a resolution was adopted , with acclamation, but actually pressured by the CPY, that would join Kosovo to federal Serbia.
The Albanians who had participated in the national liberation movement in Macedonia were expected to participate in the political establishment of the Macedonian state. However, at the first plenary session of the Anti-Fascist Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia (also known as ASNOM) on the 2nd of August 1944, which is treated as the beginning of the Macedonian statehood, from the seven envisaged Albanian delegates only two participated. This session adopted the acts to constitute the Macedonian state, according to which Macedonia is declared as a country of the Macedonians while the Albanians gained the status of a national minority. These decisions went against the basic principles of equality under which the national liberation war was led, which caused the Albanian population to lose trust in the institutions of the new Macedonian government. There are well known cases where distinguished Albanians, who had led partisan detachments during the war, were liquidated after the war for openly opposing the decisions of the new Macedonian government.
As a result of the clashes and hostility between the partisan units and the companies acting in the name of the “Second League of Prizren” during the war, the new government began repressing the Albanian population. Having been falsely accused of collaborating with the fascist government, a large number of civilians from the area around Skopje, Tetovo and Kichevo fell victim to these repressions.
The dissatisfaction this caused in the Albanian population was used by nationalistic Albanian groups, which continued their anti-communist fight on the territory of Macedonia even after the end of the war. In April 1945, the National Democratic Albanian Organisation was formed in Macedonia, which acted through to 1947 when its leaders were sentenced to death and shot.