A special hall in the National Historical Museum is dedicated to the Albanian National Renaissance. Visitors consider it one of the most attractive halls of the museum. It’s located on the third floor.
Numerous museum artefacts clearly indicate that the Albanians of the Renaissance period were a population that had inherited a rich tradition from their past and had
shaped a distinctive ethnic individuality. The items exhibited in this hall belong to the period from the mid-19th century to the 30s of the 20th century.
Albanian National Renaissance was a broad political-cultural movement, aiming to liberate Albanian territories and unify them into one, indipendent state, and develop the national language, education and culture. It covers the period from the years 30-40 of the 19th century until 1912, with the declaration of independence of Albania. Albanian intellectuals and merchants, who lived and worked in several European cities, became the forerunners of Renaissance ideas. The movement was urged by external factors like the chauvinist platforms of Greece and Serbia, which intended to expand their territories to the detriment of Albania. Also, an important factor was the development of agricultural economy and handicrafts in major Albanian cities, which led to the formation of the Albanian national market.
The first Albanian Renaissance activists, such as Naum Veqilharxhi, Geronimo de Rada, Kostandin Kristoforidhi, Zef Jubani, etc. wrote textbooks, as well as scientific literary works. In these writings they gave primary importance to the nurturing of Albanian language through a single, standard alphabet and insisted that it be used in the Albanian schools. One of the showcases exhibits “Evetari” of Naum Veqilharxhi, published in Romania in 1844. It is the first alphabet book (ABC book) in Albanian. In December 1877, a national committee, under the name “Central Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Albanian Nationality” (Committee of Istanbul), was set up in Instambul. Abdyl Frashëri was elected Chairman.
One of the most interesting exhibits presents an eagle made by fitting several guns together. It symbolizes one of the most important events in the history of the Albanian people – the Albanian League of Prizren (1878-1881). The idea of the eagle came from the author Fisnik Sina. This historic event is also represented by personal objects and other documents. The Treaty of St. Stefan, dated March 3, 1878 and triggered anxiety all over Albania. It was imposed on the defeated Ottoman Empire by Russia. Therefore, it strongly favoured Russia and the Slavic states of the Balkans. Almost half of Albanian territory was ceded to the Balkan Slavic countries.
Under these circumstances, among the Albanians, there began to be discussed the idea of the formation of a national, general league that would include all the Albanians irrespective of their country, religion and social status. The General Assembly started work in Prizren, on 10th June 1878. Its members decided to form a league of political and military character. The Leage of Prizren emphasised their intention to preserve and maintain the territorial integrity of Albania. The Congress of Berlin (13 June-13 July 1878) left outside Albania’s borders almost half of its territories. The Albanians heroically defended Gucia, Plava, Hoti and Gruda, but on 26th November 1880, the Ottoman forces entered Ulcinj and ceded it to Montenegro. In early 1881, the Provisional Government was formed. Some of its members were Ymer Prizreni (chairman), Shuaip Spahiu (vice president), Abdyl Frashëri, Sulejman Vokshi, etc. An important exhibit in this hall, is the doublet of the People’s Hero Mic Sokoli, who was killed in the battle of Slivova (April 1881) during the war against the Ottoman troops.
In early 1879, the commission set up by the Committee of Istanbul adopted the alphabet proposed by Sami Frasheri. In October 1879, Albanian patriots held a conference in Istanbul, and founded the Albanian cultural society, named “Society of Printing Albanian Letters”. Sami Frasheri was elected President. On 7th March 1887, the first Albanian national school opened in Korca, under the direction of Pandeli Sotiri. It was an elementary school, of national and laic character, where all lessons were taught in Albanian.
The risk of the partition of Albanian lands was becoming more serious and the demands for autonomy were not taken into account. Under the circumstances, the Albanian patriots considered it their duty to set up a new organization, similar to the League of Prizren, which would involve all the country and lead the National Movement. On 23rd January 1899 the Assembly of Peja gathered to decide on protecting the Albanian lands from the risk of partition. The Sublime Porte understood the danger that could cause an Albanian organized movement (with a national program), and took harsh measures to dissolve the Assembly. In March 1899, Sami Frasheri (1825-1904) published his work “Albania – what it was, what it is, what it will be” In this hall there are also exhibited the escritoire and a collection of books written by Sami Frashëri, one of the most prominent ideologists of the Albanian National Renaissance.
The exile societies and the Albanian diaspora, in general, played an important role. At the beginning of the 20th century the number of exiles for political and economic reasons increased. Several cultural and patriotic societies were set up in Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and the USA. To honour the major contribution of these societies, the patriotic society “Desire” of the Albanians of Sofia (Bulgaria)
made a national flag that belongs to the year 1904. With the strengthening of the national awareness, the flag became the national symbol gathering around it all the people and “they all followed it as one follows a prophet.”
The flag of the “Desire” Society of Sofia, founded on the 1st January 1893, is on display in this hall.
On the initiative of the patriot Bajo Topulli (at that time, deputy director of the Turkish high school in Manastir (Bitola), in November 1905, there was set up an Albanian secret committee named “For the freedom of Albania”. Its members were Halit Bërzeshta, Gjergj Qiriazi, Fehim Zavalani, Nuçi Naçi, etc. The purpose of secret committees was to organize the liberation movement and the struggle against foreign interference.
Immediately after the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, Albanian patriots began to set up patriotic clubs, open national schools and publish newspapers and books in Albanian, home and abroad. Within a few months there opened dozens of Albanian schools and patriotic clubs all over Albanian territories, from Kosovo to Chameria. The Congress of Manastir was held on 14th November 1908. Some of the delegates were outstanding patriots and intellectuals like Luigj Gurakuqi, Mid’hat Frasheri, Gjergj Fishta, Fehim Zavalani, Gjergj Qiriazi, etc. The Congress decided that the Albanian alphabet be as phonemic as possible and it unanimously voted for the use of both alphabets: the Stamboll alphabet and the Latin alphabet.
From 1909 until 1912, the Albanians of Kosovo and Malesi e Madhe organized mass uprisings against the Ottoman rule. On 23rd June 1911, the Assembly of Greca adopted a memorandum, which was submitted to the Sublime Porte and the Great Powers. Greca Memorandum contained 12 demands, such as the recognition of the Albanian nation, the unification of the Albanian vilayets, establishment of a civil administration with Albanian employees, freedom of learning the Albanian language and opening national schools, etc.The full satisfaction of these demands would lead to the establishment of an autonomous Albanian province.
The largest uprising of the Albanians was that of the summer of 1912. On the initiative of Hasan Prishtina, on 21st May 1912, an assembly gathered in Junik, Gjakova. After several days of discussion, the assembly decided on a general uprising. The program included the demands for the autonomy of Albania: recognition of the Albanian administration and the use of Albanian as an official language; flying the Albanian flag throughout the country, and getting the guarantee of the Great Powers that their demands will be granted. After the liberation of the city of Ferizaj, Hasan Prishtina submitted to the Sublime Porte a memorandum of 14 demands, on behalf of the Albanians. Since they received no response, the Albanian rebels entered Skopje. The national demands of Albanians urged the Balkan states to declare war on the Ottoman Empire (October 1912), and conquer the Albanian territories. Patriots like Ismail Qemali, Hasan Prishtina, Luigj Gurakuqi and others introduced the idea of protecting the Albanian lands from being partitioned.
The Meeting of the Albanian colony of Bucharest, held on 5th November 1912, did not specify clearly whether they demanded autonomy or independence. After several meetings of the Albanian delegation with senior representatives of Austro-Hungary, Ismail Qemali declared that the independence was achieved. On 28th November 1912, the National Assembly in Vlora proclaimed the Declaration of the Independence of Albania and the delegates signed the historic act of this great national event. With the Declaration of Independence, Albania won the right to be free and independent, alongside other nations and people of Europe. A copy of the Act of Declaration of Independence, and the pen used by the Albanian delegates to sign it are on display at this hall.