Forgotten Spaces in border regions
Michał Piasek, Translation Megan Nagel
The DAAD field trip led the group to regions where borders have been shifted over the past centuries and new borders have been drawn. In a visible and an invisible way. The Ottoman Empire shaped the region in a special way so that not only new political borders developed but also religious. Many of these borders are invisible and four chosen locations marked on the map will be presented.
This article is a portrait of the so-called “bordercrossing” shown in four chosen locations: Debar, Dolna Gorica, Zogaj and Rreth-Libofshe. All places are located along the political border of Macedonia and Albania and Montenegro and Albania, except Rreth-Libofshe. Rreth-Libofshe represents an own special place which will be explained later. All places but Debar which is mainly Albanian speaking are located in Albania. The presented locations are all connected by the same long Ottoman history as well as many political changes in the 20th century. New political systems, migrations and regimes which had a big impact on these places. Another communality is the fact that these four places are inhabited by groups that are linguistic minorities.
Sal markja memorial park
An old graveyard on the Macedonian-Albanian border close to Debar. This place is invisible from outside but after entering the forest old Ottoman traces appear. The region was conquered by the Ottomans in 1395 and represented an important border between the League of Lezha under Gjergi Kastrioti and the Ottomans in the 15th century. It stayed under Ottoman rule until the Balkan Wars in 1912/13. Presently more than 90% of Debar’s population is Albanian speaking. Islam has the most members due to historic reasons. The members in this region are Albanians, Torbesh and Turks.
After Enver Hoxha changed the original Slavic toponyms to Albanian in the 1970s the Macedonian speaking village known as Goricë e Vogel located on Lake Prespa changed its name again in 2013, like all other places in this community. Together with eight more villages Dolna Gorica forms the only officially recognised community of a Macedonian speaking group. After numerous shifts of borders it is now located on the Albanian side of Lake Prespa. It distinguishes itself through the Macedonian speaking school and the small Orthodox church and graveyard.
Ottoman gravestones next to the mosque in Zogaj at lake Prespa
The village is located about one kilometre from the Montenegrin border. Zogaj was also under Ottoman rule after the siege of Shkodër 1578/79 until the Balkan Wars 1912/13. The traces are still visible today, as this gravestone shows. Today a small group of people speaking Serbian/Montenegrin is living in this region.
Graveyard next to the monastery “Manastiri i Shën Kozmait“ close to Rreth-Libofshe
Self-declared Serbians of Muslim faith are living in this village. They came from the region around Novi Pazar in the first third of the 20th century. This is an isolated space because the other Serbian/Bosnian speaking groups in the region Fier declare themselves as Bosniaks.
This was only a selection of the so called Forgotten Spaces along the national borders of today. There are many more churches, monasteries, graveyards etc that make the old borders from the Ottoman Era visible. These spaces (graveyards and religious buildings) also show different historic events. The questions is whether these spaces will stay forgotten or play a role in the development of these regions. At least they enrich the cultural landscape and represent material for further research.