Italy Still Views Albania Through a Colonial Lens

Italy's ambitions toward Albanian-inhabited territories started in the late-19th century when the region belonged to the Ottoman Empire. They culminated with the occupation of Albania on April 7, 1939. Eighty years have passed since the end of Italy's imperialist dreams in the Balkans, but their legacy still haunts Italian-Albanian relations.

A common trope of the Italian imperial imagination

Italian soldiers and tanks marching in Durrës April 1939. Photo: Wikipedia

In his 1872 book L'Epiro, the Italian diplomat Enrico de Gubernatis compared Albanian-inhabited territories to a dead man. According to de Gubernatis it was up to Italians to bring civilization to "these derelict lands".

Italian interest in these territories increased in the late-1880s and early-1890s, when Francesco Crispi, an exponent of the Italian-Albanian (Arbëresh) community of Southern Italy, became prime minister. Italian journalists, scholars and priest who visited Albanian-inhabited territories described them as unexplored and primitive. Vincenzo Vannutelli, a Catholic priest, asserted that Albania was probably the most barbaric region in Europe; He was terrorised by "those savage faces with sinister eyes … heavily armed" (L'Albania, 1892). Antonio Baldacci, whose imperialist gaze paid special attention to natural resources, claimed that the virginity of Albania was being unveiled by the curious hand of the scientists. He described Kanine, in the surroundings of Vlore, as a "filthy" place and a "nest of thieves".

Italians were especially drawn to the coastal town of Vlore, which was considered important for the control of the Adriatic. To legitimise their claims, colonial agents emphasized the historical legacy of...

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