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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Eye for an eye, life for a life
By Chris Summers and Paulin Kola
BBC News

Two men have been sentenced for their part in murdering an Albanian man in London. The BBC News website looks at the ancient blood feuds culture which spawned it.

The killers of Denis Ceka
Shpetim Selhaka (left) and Petrit Manahasa were recently jailed

Albania is one of Europe's poorest countries - a million people have left seeking jobs since the communist regime collapsed in 1991.

The country is desperately trying to catch up with the rest of Europe and both the main political parties agree that the long-term goal is to get into the EU.

But criminality - be it blood feuds, drugs or human trafficking - remains a stain on Albania's reputation and one it is struggling to remove.

In many parts of the country, and in neighbouring Kosovo, the culture of blood feuding dates back to the 16th century and was enshrined in a series of rules enforced locally.

The best-known among them - the 16th century Kanun (or Canon) of Lek Dukagjin - re-emerged in the early 1990s after decades of suppression under the communists.

Population of 3.2 million
Gross national income per capita: 1,000 ($1,740), compared with 16,304 ($28,350) in UK.
Ruled by hardline communist regime of Enver Hoxha after 1945. He died in 1985 but communist rule only ended in 1991
In 1997 law and order collapsed for three months in the wake of a series of failed pyramid investment schemes.
Albanians are divided into Tosks (who live in the south) and Ghegs (who live in the north, and neighbouring Kosovo)

Denis Ceka, whose body was discovered near London's Heathrow airport in September 2002, was a victim of such a feud.

His killers, Petrit Manahasa and Shpetim Selhaka, were recently jailed for 20 and 19 years respectively for his murder. Both have since appealed and the sentences are not final.

Tonin Gjuraj, a university lecturer in the city of Shkodra, one of the worst affected areas of the country, has researched the issue.

He told the BBC News website: "This is a disgrace. Acts of revenge justified on the basis of the Kanun are often nothing more than common criminal offences in an area where law enforcement remains weak.

Albanian election poster
July's elections swept away Socialist prime minister Fatos Nano

"As such, they have nothing in common with the main tenets of the Kanun."

Albanian government officials play down the problem and say it has diminished significantly in recent years.

Two years ago the country's then prime minister Fatos Nano organised an initiative designed to stamp out blood feuds, which almost disappeared during the communist era but re-emerged in the early 1990s - especially in northern Albania and in neighbouring Kosovo.

Clarissa de Waal, a social anthropologist from Cambridge University, said blood feuds were one of a number of symptoms of Albania's economic conditions.

Dr de Waal, who has published a book called Albania Today: A Portrait of Post-Communist Turbulence, said blood feuds were a phenomenon you got in areas where there were few jobs, squabbles over land and only a subsistence economy.

Out of proportion?

Dr Gjuraj is concerned about the phenomenon but also fears it may be being blown out of all proportion - by Albanian non-governmental organisations keen to attract funds from foreigners mystified at the existence of the ancient practice in Europe, and by international organisations eager to prolong their mandate in the country.

Denis Ceka
Denis Ceka was followed to Britain from Albania by his killers

Dr de Waal agrees that some groups appear keen on exaggerating the problem but said a lot of Albanians did not believe jail was a quid pro quo and wanted to bring back the death penalty.

She claimed that in some cases killers have paid corrupt officials to secure freedom.

Dr de Waal said blood feuds were linked to a concept of "neighbourhood opinion" strong in Albanian communities.

She said families often get involved in blood feuds because if they did not avenge their loss they would be perceived as cowards locally.

That ethic has spread among the Albanian diaspora with groups claiming victims in Italy, Germany, Britain and the United States.

The Tirana-based Albanian Foundation for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation of Disputes said there were 2,000 murders in the country between 1997 and 2000, half of which were said to have been linked to blood feuds.


It said 150 families had been forced to stay indoors for safety.

The foundation added that in many cases entire families had been forced into vendettas as a result of the involvement of second or third cousins.

This is a disgrace. Acts of revenge justified on the basis of the Kanun are often nothing more than common criminal offences in an area where law enforcement remains weak
Dr Tonin Gjuraj
Albanian government officials are keen to stress the country has moved on a lot since 1997, when a crisis caused by failed pyramid schemes led to a three-month state of anarchy.

They say the country is working hard to improve its economy, political structure and criminal justice system and they say foreign investment is on the increase.

It may be some time before Albania is considered ready for entry to the EU and blood feud cases, like that of Denis Ceka, may continue to blight the country's image.

Blood feud theory in murder case
08 Oct 02 |  England
Six held in Albanian murder case
10 Oct 02 |  England
Equality: Albania's blood feuds
30 Mar 01 |  Europe
Country profile: Albania
27 Apr 05 |  Country profiles

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