Sunday 28 June was the 50 year anniversary of Montenegro’s ethnic Albanian community, pledging to put an end to blood feuds.
On that day in 1970, various clans and families from the Malesija area near Podgorica, enforced the Pledge of Malesia. They vowed to renounce the ancient code that governed blood-for-blood feuds to bring an end to the merciless murders that plagued the area.
According to locals, those that agreed to the pledge have upheld their promise. Martin Ivezaj told BIRN that “we decided to make an agreement around a ‘besa’ (oath) which is part of a tradition that most Albanians respect. It’s been 50 years not and I and everyone else in Malesia can attest to how people kept their promise.
Otherwise known as “gjakmarrja”, a blood feud is the social obligation to commit murder in order to salvage the honour that was questioned by an earlier violation of any of the core morals of Albanian culture. This practice is generally considered to be in-line with the social laws laid down in the Kanun i Leke Dukagjinit, or the Kanun. This set of codes consisting of 12 books, was a non-religious code that was used by Christians and Muslims alike.
When there is an attack of a member of a family, the Kanun states that punishment of equal magnitude must be inflicted on a member of the other family. Some of the ‘crimes’ that could initiate a blood feud include violation of private property, failure to pay a debt, rape, kidnap, and of course, murder.
The punishment can extend throughout generations until the debt is paid. Those who do not give up their life or that of a family member are bound to live in their homes, never exiting the property
According to a 2018 study on blood feuds in Albania, there are 704 families affected. 591 remain in the country and 113 have left. Other sources but the figure at nearer 1600 families. Cases are most commonly found in Kukes, Shkoder, Lezhe, and sometimes Tirane and Durres.
While historically, women and children were exempt from the feuds, there have been reports in the last 20 years that they are being subjected to the same threat.
It is difficult to find exact figures of those still at risk today as there are “deep discrepancies” in the information available. Media and civil society estimate the figures to be significantly higher than those presented in Albanian government reports. Other sources claim that these figures are overinflated for personal gain.
Figures might be unreliable, but there is no doubt that blood feuds still persist in Albania.
In Montenegro however, the Albanian community initiated the truce themselves. In the first half of 1970, a board was called to meet with families, brotherhoods, and tribes. Prominent local figures including members of the Catholic church and Islamic community leaders met with citizens and spent months discussing and negotiating. After several months of talks, a final meeting was held in a local cinema in Tuzi and those in attendance agreed to stop the feuds. They also agreed that crimes should be punished by the state and not by traditional or cultural laws.
The agreement included a provision that after the criminal has served their sentence, they should be disowned by their family as he must remain guilty for all of his life.
At the time, some 40 families in Malesia were affected and some 150 had been killed as a result, outside of Montenegro.
Rexhep Lika, leader of the Muslim community in Malesia told BIRN he thinks Albanians in the region must all agree to stop the practice once and for all. He said it is up to the police and state to dole out justice.