Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), RAS, St. Peterburg, RUSSIA
THE IMAGE OF RUSSIA IN ALBANIA
For a considerably long time the Western Balkans have been included to the outlook of Russia. It goes without saying that the Russian impact on the Albanian lands due to their geographical position has not been so intense as on the Central or Eastern Balkans. However, starting from the late 1700-s, with the structural crisis of the Ottoman Empire, Russia’s interest to the Western Balkans has become prominent. To a large extent, this was the matter of politics in Serbia and Montenegro: both Russia’s and of foreign states. That what was happening in the Albanian lands could but be of great interest to the Tsar. That is why in Prizren and other Ottoman cities with the overwhelming Albanian population the Russian diplomatic missions were organized.
The next step in Albanian-Russian relationships was held in the 1920-s, when, owing to Fan Noli’s contacts with Soviet Russia, in Albania there appeared the stable groups of people tuned to the young “Soviets”, building the new life. It was the very time when the interest to Russian culture, literature, poetry and pictorial art occurred in the Albanian society.
The wide partisan movement of 1939-1944, liberation of Albania from Italian and German fascist occupants, establishment of the Communist regime contributed to many-sided relations between Albania and the SU. Till 1961-1962 the image of the Soviet Union was hugely mythologized. It was not only because of the official bombarding propaganda of Elder Brother’s successes, but also due to the real affection for Russians, appeared as a result of contacts of the time. Thousands of Albanians, having obtained higher education in the SU, returned home not only with enthusiastic recollections but also sometimes with Russian (Ukrainian and etc.) wives. The Soviet Union was perceived as the great power that was able to stand against the whole world and defend from any aggression.
The breaking up of diplomatic intercourse and any relations between the two countries, occurred in the early 1960-s, was lasting till 1991. However during all those years, regardless of the official propaganda, the majority of Albanian population kept affection and fellow feelings to the Soviet Union. The Russian language and literature were still taught at school, Russian manuals were used in teaching sciences and engineering.
The restoration of relations and diplomatic intercourse has not resulted in growing of Russia’s role in social, economical and cultural life in Albania. The development of free market economy has brought new values and priorities in the Albanian society, and now they are considered to be evident. The focus on the Western way of evolvement is now the main vector of people’s aspiration. The Russian political course in the Balkan crisis of the 1990-s has fully diminished affection to Russia on the part of Albanians (both in Albania and Kosovo). Still, the command of Russian, knowledge of the Russian culture and development of business opportunities are prestigious among Albanians (even young). With the help of state and public organizations, cultural centers, etc. the image of Russia in the Western Balkans can be constructed in a very attractive way, taking into account the positive historical background of the two-sided relations.