Oliver Jens Schmitt: My book aims at rebuilding Skanderbeg's figure in Middle Ages and doesn't aim at deconstructing the historic myth

Oliver Jens Schmitt: My book aims at rebuilding Skanderbeg's figure in Middle Ages and doesn't aim at deconstructing the historic myth

 In an interview to the journalist Ben Andoni, the well-known historian Oliver Jens Schmitt shows some of the misunderstandings about his monograph but also how he saw Skanderbeg. He says he respects Skanderbeg's figure, while the aim was to rebuild the figure of the Albanian national hero in the Middle Ages.

The author does not understand today the reaction that the Albanian public and some historians had about his book. Is all that energy worthy in rejecting this extraordinary figure? "I still wonder why so many participants in this debate believed that a historian might deliberately denigrate Skanderbeg and how can one think that the years of scientific research have been devoted to the sole purpose of damaging the Albanian society.

I still maintain the impression that the ideology of the country surrounded by Enver Hoxha, extreme xenophobia, hysterical faith in the conspiracy theories and enemies, were those who placed the Albanian people under constant siege; this poisonous legacy of the Enverist era, had and still maintains a strong influence on the response of many. Under Enver Hoxha's regime, historiography was a state-owned enterprise, historians were undercontroll and fulfilled with their work a political mission. Given this experience in mind, many people still can not imagine that the historical search has been done elsewhere in quite different conditions."

The author is critical of how the history of our country is done, but here the fault is in politics and its introduction today in every aspect of Albanian life. While shedding light on the fact that his monograph had been mostly criticized by those who had not read the book at all but understood it because constituted a common phenomenon of Albania, according to Schmitt.

Mr. Schmitt, who now holds the position of the President of the Human and Social Sciences Sector and also a member of the Presidency of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, once again disputes the ethnic affiliation of Skanderbeg and explains why the nobility of Skanderbeg's time, of aristocratic dignity, had also the element of the hibridization with other ethnicities.

Oliver Jens Schmitt: My book aims at rebuilding Skanderbeg's figure in Middle Ages and doesn't aim at deconstructing the historic myth

"At the end of the Middle Ages, there was a strong Orthodox network of kinship ties in the Balkans. Politically, Byzantium was weak, but the imperial idea was alive, as did the prestige of Byzantine-Orthodox power. The linguistic or ethnic difference did not play a major role for the social elites. Like in other parts of Europe, the nobility was of multiethnic origin, and the more important it was for a noble environment, the more extensive and multiethnic it would be its kinetic network. The idea of ethnic cleansing simply did not exist in this elite environment ... ", he quotes "Milosao" as interviewed by Ben Andoni

You have done a very interesting work on our national hero and facing the Albanian public has been a bad experience. Did you expected this kind of reaction that continues to this day? Have you ever felt threatened?

"Threats came shortly after the publication of the translation into Albanian when people were sparked by Ismail Kadare, nationalist politicians and journalists, and the insults continued for quite some time. I did not expected this kind of reaction because I believe the book emphasizes Skanderbeg's importance in Balkan and European history and treats him as a major figure of his time. I still wonder why so many participants in this debate believed that a historian might deliberately denigrate Skanderbeg and how can one think that the years of scientific research have been devoted to the sole purpose of damaging Albanian society. I still maintain the impression that the ideology of the country surrounded by Enver Hoxha, extreme xenophobia, hysterical faith in the conspiracy theories and enemies, were those who placed the Albanian people under constant siege; this poisonous legacy of the Enverist era, had and still maintains a strong influence on the response of many.

Under Enver Hoxha's regime, the historiography was a state-owned enterprise, historians were under close control and fulfilled with their work a political mission. Given this experience in mind, many people still can not imagine that historical research has been done elsewhere in quite different conditions.

During these years I have been able to lecture in Prishtina and Tetovo and have discussed with students, colleagues and many people I have met during my visits to Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia. We have also discussed openly the conspiracy theories that circulated by politicians and journalists in Albania and the fact that many topics of public debate had no connection or just a vague relation to the book's content. In these personal meetings, my experience has always remained positive - mainly because of the fact that I could show that my book looks in Skanderbeg a truly impressive historical figure and described him as a major actor in late medieval European history and that I never wrote that Skanderbeg was of pure Serbian origin. I can repeat once again that this is an invention and not a thesis of my book.

In fact, the debate showed that many people discussed a book they had never read - a phenomenon that is certainly not unique or specific to Albania and can be noticed in many other cases as well. In retrospect, I believe that the debate had to do more with political dynamics, party interests and personal interests than with a genuine scientific debate about content and scientific interpretations."

Have you had any invitation from the Albanian authorities for the celebrations on Skanderbeg?

"I'm invited, unfortunately just three weeks before the celebration, to attend Skanderbeg Memorial on January 17th."

In your book, Skanderbeg is very human and gets human proportions, which make him loved and very tangible as a figure. In the preface, we talk about historical reconstruction on the basis of all usable and heavy resources. Was one of your goals to demythify Skanderbeg?

"This is one of the main misunderstandings of all the debate. The book aims to rebuild Skanderbeg's figure in the Middle Ages and does not aim at deconstructing the historic myth that naturally represents an impressive phenomenon of Albanian culture. Of course, readers are free to make conclusions and make book interpretations within the debate on national myths, even a debate that is being held in many European countries, and this is extremely important for the creation of a democratic culture in Albania. The debate in 2008/2009 showed how strong the authoritarian structures derive from the totalitarian past are still felt in Albania. Over the past ten years, unfortunately, there has been no significant improvement in this situation.

Due to the great influence of Enverist historiography and the lack of a non-Enverist tradition of the institutionalized scientific system, many people did not yet have knowledge of the mechanisms of scientific debates in the Western world but feel immediately offended by the interpretations that they do not know and which they have not learned in school. The idea that historians are not scholars paid by their universities, but agents paid by governments are still widespread and encouraged by those who write in this sense all the books invented with speculation without any evidence - and there seems to be readers who are more prepared to believe in unfounded theories than to critically reflect on the mechanisms of public debates in Albania. This is also a legacy of the totalitarian past and partly a direct consequence of the involvement of historians in political life."

Does the tomb of Skanderbeg's brother in Hilandr, in the Serbian monastery on Mount Athos, means something?

"She points out the family's relationship with the Byzantine-Orthodox tradition and her willingness to express its political and social standing in a symbol of Orthodox faith. The fact that Scanderbag chose Hilandar is linked to their connection and power network in an area (Debar) that was from the beginning of the 14th century under the Serbian crown rule. "

If we are talking about the same state structure that Skanderbeg reached, is it possible to talk about the economic mechanism that maintained this structure?
"Skanderbeg's power system was funded by trade, mainly from grain and wood exports, from subsidies from Italian powers, from plundering and raids in Ottoman territories; Skanderbeg had a bank deposit in Dubrovnik and thus had access to the Mediterranean banking system."

Skanderbeg's activity is spread out in the 15th century. It is one of the most interesting centuries of civilization. Do you think that his involvement in this century with more international touches would help the true size of this figure?

"The 15th century was the period of a major change in the Balkans and the Ottoman threat, of course, a fact that added the strategic importance of the Balkans to Central and Western Europe. This explains the great interest of Western medieval political leaders and opinion of Skenderbeg, who was considered a political ally and a symbol of Christian resistance. In addition to the Enverist scholars, who are stuck in an isolated paradigm, most scholars have tried to analyze Skanderbeg in a broader framework of European and Mediterranean dimensions."

Biography theory today provides interesting models of narratives with historical analytical views. Do you think you have achieved this in your historical account of Skanderbeg?

"There is a sophisticated debate about biography as a literary genre and academic genre with which I am very family-minded. I do not specifically dwell on these theories in my book, but the reader will find in it a detailed discussion of the methods and resources I have used."
Oliver Jens Schmitt: My book aims at rebuilding Skanderbeg's figure in Middle Ages and doesn't aim at deconstructing the historic myth Oliver Jens Schmitt: My book aims at rebuilding Skanderbeg's figure in Middle Ages and doesn't aim at deconstructing the historic myth Saturday, February 10, 2018 Rating: 5
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