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ZIG ZAGS AND CROSSROADS:

Subsequent Field Research on
the Vlachs of Albania, Summer 1995

by Tom J. Winnifrith

The Road to Gjirokastėr

I began my journey to Albania with two days in Anilion [Greece], my favourite and first Vlach village. The tunnel through the Katara pass is now completed, but the road to it is not finished. When the road is in place, Anilion will be a tourist trap, and in anticipation of this many new houses have been built and a new hotel is being built. I took with me my son who had last been in Anilion when he was ten. He is now twenty-seven and earns more than I do. He spoke English firmly all the time and was very useful in enticing into my host's bar some American tourists. I paid for their drinks. That was my only expense. Apart from English in the bar that day we heard Vlach, of course, Greek, Albanian, and Gypsy. I thought that the small children were speaking less Vlach than before. The young men whom I had heard in 1975 speaking as children still prattled merrily in Vlach. The priest and the policemen greeted me as warmly as they had on my first visit twenty years before. The Albanians on temporary permits were pleased by my few broken phrases of Albanian; they all seemed better at Greek than I was at English. The Gypsy, fluent in Vlach and Greek, taught me a few words in Gypsy. One, two, three...yek, doi, trin.

After two days in Anilion I caught the bus to Ioannina. There is now an almost hourly bus service to Kakavia on the border. The Albanians in the bus were easily distinguishable from the Greeks because of the poverty of their appearance and general shabbiness. In a bus full of small, dark men with crinkly hair, I stood out like a sore thumb, and indeed in Gjirokastėr I heard children calling me "Big Foot" after a kindly monster in some American film. In the bus everybody was very kind to me, and a genuine ethnic Greek from Glina whisked me through the iron curtain at Kakavia, designed now, alas, to keep Albanians from entering Greece rather than preventing invaders from entering Albania. It is true that I paid for our shared taxi.

Just before we reached the border there ia a wonderful view of the valley of the Drino or Dropoulli, as it is called by both Greeks and Albanians. I think the English painter Edward Lear painted a portrait of this valley; it looks like a vision of the Promised Land, and must have seemed such to Greek invaders who briefly occupied the area in both World Wars. Gjirokastėr, like Korēė, is a town to which some Greeks still lay claim, and in the case of Gjirokastėr their claims still have a certain amount of validity, because, although very little Greek is heard in the town itself, the villages between Kakavia and Gjirokastėr on the left-hand side are still Greek speaking, as are some of the slightly higher villages on the right-hand side of the road.

From a distance these villages look beautiful with handsome stone houses flowing down from the hillside. But the villages, like the valley itself, prove a disappointment on further inspection. Many of the houses are empty or ruined, the paths up to them a barren wilderness of broken stones. Some of the churches are dilapidated. The fields of the valley are uncultivated with a few mangy cattle wandering over them. There has been massive emigration from this area to Greece with an easy border crossing and it being difficult to refuse visas to Greek speakers. Ecologically this is a disaster, although at least the pill-box bunkers in Dropulli are beginning to drown in the vegetation which passes over them as it has passed over greater and better monuments in the past. There is supposed to be a medieval city called Drinopolis in this area, a successor to a Roman city called Hadrianopolis, named after the famous emperor Hadrian, in whose lifetime the Roman Empire reached its zenith, a man equally conversant in Greek and Latin.

Where does all this leave the Vlachs? I asked the question in Gjirokastėr, Enver Hoxha's birthplace, a city under the protection of UNESCO, but a city which has sadly declined and fallen since the collapse of Communism. The old houses and steep streets are magnificent, the views sublime, but there is rubbish everywhere and talk of corruption. I had my first haircut for a dollar and then went to the next door bar where I met the head of the local socialist party and saw the head of the local Gypsies. The socialist seemed vaguely keen on my work on the Vlachs, and Gjirokastėr would with Vlachs to its north, south, east and west be a good place for a pan-Vlach conference with plenty of hotel rooms available, and at the moment no ethnic problems, although there have been difficulties with Greeks further south.

In my map of Albanian Vlachs in Shattered Eagles, I said there were Vlachs to the northwest of Gjirokastėr and to the south. I have written about the Vlachs in the northeast in a previous article, and regretfully have to report that there are few Vlachs in the Greek villages south of Gjirokastėr. There are of course Vlachs in Gjirokastėr itself, and they might be able if anyone is able to organize Vlach consciousness through a conference in this area. I was repeatedly told, and gradually began to believe, that Vlachs and Albanians saw no conflict of interests between themselves, and Gjirokastėr might be a good place to prove this point.

A Day Out In Dangelli

Summer rain is like the running of a donkey, short and not very strong. So said my taxi-driver who was apparently a doctor, earning in two days from me an Albanian doctor's salary for three months. He was a better driver than a donkey expert, getting us up terrible roads in terrible weather, though we had one bad skid and were finally defeated by the mud five kilometers short of Frashėr.

I had wanted to get to Frashėr for two reasons. The Blue Guide to Albania says it has a museum dedicated to the Frashėri brothers, famous Albanian patriots, and that the population is of mixed Orthodox and Muslim stock with many inhabitants of Vlach descent. And indeed the Farsheroti or Albanian Vlachs and the Society Farsharotul are supposed to derive their name from Frashėr, although romantics still persist in believing that the name has something to do with Caesar's victory over Pompey at the battle of Pharsalia.

But the Blue Guide is not infallible. It says that Frashėr is 17 kilometers from the main road, my map said 26, the signpost said 31, and it seemed about 50 before we stopped by a lorry laying stones on the mud, which it churned up as it went along. There then followed an interesting altercation. I wanted to walk, but was told that I would not get through the mud. A man offered to rent me a horse. All parties agreed that there were no Vlachs in Frashėr. Later in the Vlach villages nearby, we learnt that the museum to the Frashėri brothers was closed, and indeed they did not seem to think much of the great Albanian patriots in these villages. Of course, my doctor-driver may have been trying to comfort his patient.

Anyhow, he earned his fee by taking me to the villages of Kutall and Kosinė just off the main road North of Permet. I had marked these as Vlach in my map included in Shattered Eagles, as indeed I had optimistically marked Frashėr, but apart from Frashėr, I think the map is basically correct. My informants in Kosinė and Kutali were friendly and informative as well as intelligent. My interest in Vlachs caused interest and pleasure, but remarkably little surprise. Kosinė had an ordinary but reasonable bar and an allegedly 17th century church with apparently a service each Sunday. Kutall, near Permet, seemed to have no public buildings, and I conducted my interviews in a battered bus into which shy children occasionally entered to speak a few words of Vlach to the strange Englishman. I made a few linguistic enquiries and found the pronunciation rather different from that I had encountered in Vlach villages near Gjirokastėr. 'I write' was sciu or scriu, and 'I am' was a splendid mine es, i.e. 'me are' according to the waiter in Kosinė.

I am no linguist, but I think Dangelli, the name for the area near Frashėr, would be a linguist's paradise. There are also several interesting churches in the area, although that at Kosinė only had modern interior decorations. Linguistic and ecclesiastical researchers might confirm what I learnt from my informants in the two villages about their history. They said that the villages had been founded in the eighteenth century by people from Lupke, a village higher up in the mountains and marked as Vlach on my map and with a church on the latest map of Albania. These Vlach inhabitants had been joined by a new wave of Vlachs settled in the 1950s and 1960s in the same fashion as many Vlachs had been settled near Gjirokastėr and Sarande. These Vlachs had been homeless or refugees from Greece. Some non-Vlachs had also been settled in the village, and indeed Kosinė in spite of its church was half Muslim. Many people from both villages worked in Greece, but all were insistent that this was the only reason why anybody would speak Greek.

The total population of the district of Permet is 41,000. I asked carefully about the number of Vlachs and was given the figure of 3,000 to 4,000. This I believe to be about right. Most of the Vlach villages I had marked were quickly recognized and it was said that a few Vlach families lived in them. Some of the villages are remote and small. Permet had some Vlachs, and it was grudgingly allowed that there might indeed be some Vlachs in Frashėr. South of Permet and not in the district of Dangelli I had marked some Vlach villages, and there may indeed be a few Greek speakers right on the border; I am not sure if this area was considered or known about by my informants. I am about halfway through an ethnic study of Southern Albania in preparation for a complete history of the area. Lack of time and an unwillingness to fund Albanian doctor-drivers indefinitely has so far prevented me from the complete investigation of the country. I know the Sarande and Gjirokastėr districts fairly well, though I have obviously not visited every village. I have now begun to scratch the surface of the Permet district and next door in the Ereske district, known by the impressive Latin name of Kolonjė. I have at any rate visited the Vlach village of Borovė. I would guess in this area there were very few Greeks and about 3,000 Vlachs. Near Korēė I made two visits recorded in Shattered Eagles and dutifully went by bus from Gjirokastėr to Korēė in 1995, although suffering from slight exhaustion. This is the area from which many members of the Society Farsharotul derive their roots, and thanks to Voskopojė we do know something of its history.

Near Korēė we have the complications of a Slav minority and the fact that there were border rectifications between Greece and Albania and Yugoslavia well after the end of the First World War. I find it is hard to guess the number of Vlach speakers, Slav speakers and Greek speakers in Korēė and Bilisht districts, but would suggest ten thousand, five hundred and one thousand as a very conservative estimate. Such figures will infuriate the Greeks who tend to lump in Slavs, Vlachs and even Orthodox Albanians into their wildly inflated figures for the total of Greeks in what they call Northern Epirus. The Greek problem, I am suggesting, only really exists in south- eastern Albania. It is the Vlachs who are more widely spread with about thirty thousand along the Southern border in addition to pockets near Vlorė, Fier and Berat as well as settlers in the large towns. A total estimate of 60,000 for the number of regular Vlach speakers in Albania is a moderate one. This figure is of course larger than the one I estimated for the Vlachs in Greece some years ago and larger than the one I currently estimate for Greeks in Albania. Of course emigration to Greece makes any estimate fairly meaningless. But it should be noted that few Albanian Vlachs have permanently settled in Greece; this was not the case with the inhabitants of some Greek-speaking villages. Again in Albania the children still spoke Vlach, and again this is not so in most Greek Vlach villages.

So, as minorities go, the Albanian Vlachs are not going under. And yet of course in material terms the inhabitants of these remote mountain villages live a miserable life, almost incomprehensible and certainly unacceptable to their American cousins. I am not a Vlach, and in my peculiar British way like to think my upbringing in the privations of war-time Britain and at an old fashioned English public school has prepared me for the rigours of travel in Albania. But I would like to do more for these brave people, other than write their history, and if anyone has any suggestions, I would be glad to receive them.

Butrint

Butrint or Buthrotum, as it was known in classical times, is, as the Vlachs are, linked to both Rome and Greece. It was clearly a Greek colony like Dyrrachium (Durres) and Apollonia (Poian). Like Dyrrachium and Appollonia it has clear links with the Roman Empire. Thus, the Roman orator Cicero stayed on the estate of his friend Atticus, probably just to the south of Buthrotum. The Roman poet Virgil wrote about Buthrotum in his Aenid, where he makes Aeneas land to find Andromache, Hector's wife, married to Hector's brother Helenus in a little imitation of Troy with plenty of rivers flowing around the site. There are plenty of rivers around Butrint. In between the wars the Italian archaeologist Ugolini, who eventually died of malaria contracted at Butrint, found evidence of a Roman presence, and some artifacts from the area were removed to Italy. Under the communist regime efforts were made to preserve the site, and it was a tourist attraction for the few visitors who were allowed into the country. It is still a tourist attraction for day trippers from Corfu, but the present regime does not quite seem to have sorted out how to work one of the few jewels in the communist crown into the diadem of the new democratic state.

I have arrived in Butrint with a kind invitation from Professor Hodges of the British school at Rome who has started a new investigation of the site. He is a Byzantinist and is busy exploring territory south of the river Pavlles for Byzantine remains. I had previously without invitation visited in Greece a not particularly distinguished site conducted by a not particularly distinguished archaeologist, and had been greeted at the bus station looking lost by a nice man who had directed me on a different journey to the house of the archaeologist. I had expected the same treatment, or slightly better, in Butrint, a very distinguished site with few houses roundabout and where Professor Hodges, supported by such backers as Lord Rothschild, is a very distinguished name.

I was in for a disappointment. The policeman at Butrint did not seem very impressed by my letter of introduction, although eventually the name of Hodges seemed to ring some kind of bell. Unfortunately, I think it was the wrong kind of bell, and Hodges had been fatally confused with Hoxha, a well-known if not the best-known Albanian name. We were told that Professor Hoxha would return to Butrint at 1:30, because he was working in the fields near Vrine across the river.

Vrine is a village which I had marked as Vlach, and at 11:30 we cranked our way across the ferry to Vrine and interviewed one of the few Vlachs in the village, largely inhabited by Tsams, the Albanian Muslim minority expelled from Greece after the end of the Second World War. They seemed on the whole less friendly and courteous than other Albanians, but we did establish that the archeological party returned for lunch at about 2:00. We crossed the ferry again, and awaited the archaeologists. Eventually at about 2:15 some Albanian archaeologists -- some of whom might have been called Hoxha -- returned to inform us that Professor Hodges was in England, that his deputy was still out in the fields, and that we had wasted a lot of time. A return journey to Vrine across the ferry confirmed his information.

But not all the time was wasted. In waiting for one or another ferry we met a Vlach from Xarrė. There are five settlements south of the river Pavlle and north of the low line of hills which constitute the Greek-Albanian border before it turns northwards away from the coast: These are Muzine, apparently Albanian orthodox; Konispol, apparently entirely Tsam or Albanian Muslim; Shkalla, mainly Vlach with some Tsams; Vrine, mainly Tsam with a few Vlachs; and Xarrė a hodgepodge, which I visited in 1994, and in which I saw a brand new mosque in 1995. The man at Butrint was a Vlach from Xarrė. He was insistent that there were lots of Vlachs in Albania, although admitting that his family had only settled in Xarrė in 1957. He was contemptuous of Greeks, but drove off in a Land Rover which I had thought belonged to Lord Rothschild, although I expect he had acquired it in Greece.

For all his faults, Enver Hoxha had tried to settle the Vlachs and Tsams in a sensible and humane way, giving these homeless people homes in sensitive areas near the border and in the plains and mountains a little further away from the border where work was required for irrigation and terracing. This was an area for potential ethnic tension between Greek and Albanian Orthodox inhabitants. The Tsams (who had come from Greece, spoke Albanian, and were not Orthodox) were clearly difficult to attach to either group, as indeed were the Vlachs, neither Greeks or non-Greeks, Albanians or non-Albanians. The homeless had reasons to be loyal to a regime which had given them homes, although I did hear complaints from individual Vlachs whose private herds had been swallowed up in the interests of the common good. With the collapse of communism the precarious ethnic and economic balance has been broken. Obviously Greek speakers in Albania find it easier to get visas to work in Greece than Tsams. Albanian Orthodox and Vlachs find it fairly easy to enter Greece if they pretend to be Greek. There is thus massive emigration from this part of Albania, and the land suffers; not everybody brings back a Land Rover. There are also problems about the ownership of the land with the latecoming Vlachs and Tsams last in the queue for claiming dues, which in many cases seemed to be based on pre-war ownership. On the whole the Tsams, definitely not in Albania before the end of the war, seemed more unpopular than the Vlachs, some of whom had had winter quarters near Butrint and Sarande before the war. And unlike the charming Vlach at Xarrė, the Tsams at Vrine seemed a graceless lot with their new-found religion (which had been suppressed under Hoxha) a further cause of ethnic conflict. I am not exactly happy about this area, although tourism may be its salvation.

Korēė

The bus from Gjirokastėr to Korēė left at 7 o'clock and took seven hours. It was one of those old Greek buses which had done yeoman service on Greek country lanes before being pensioned off for service on the main and only road between the south-west and east of Albania. This road was built by the Italians between the wars and is showing signs of wear and tear in places. It follows a very zigzag route going north-west up the Drino valley before turning southeast down the Vjose valley then bending northeast parallel to the border through Leskovik and Ersekė to Korēė. In the nineteenth century Vlachs and travellers would on horseback have cut some of these corners. It is not possible as far as I can see to cross from the Vjose valley to the Drino valley south of Kelkyre or north of the Greek border, but it is possible to find a path from Korēė to Tepelene via Kolonjė and Dangelli.

The existence of this short cut may explain the old Vlach settlements I described in my account of Dangelli. But there were plenty of Vlachs along our route. We set off with the Vlachs of Mount Lunxherise on our right-hand side, and then swung around to pass our skid mark, Kutall and Kosinė on our left. I had marked as having Vlachs various villages to the south of Permet on the right hand side of the river, but disappointingly it started raining, and I could not see whether they were large or small villages or test by enquiries of the inhabitants how many spoke Vlach. I did notice that unlike the potentially fertile, but neglected valley of the Drino, the slightly more rugged fields near the Vjose seemed well-tended. There is an easy passage via the Vjose and its tributary the Sarandoporos to Greece; indeed one can see Konitsa from Leskovik, and we are very close to villages like Samarina in the North Pindus. But the border is closed, and this easy path for Vlach migrants in the past is now barred.

At Leskovik an Evangelical missionary from Florida and his pretty pregnant wife entered the bus. I admired his zeal, but I am afraid he found me and my Albanian interpreter stony soil. We both spoke English, and were actually Protestant Christians (remarkable in Leskovik). We all three found common ground in disliking the materialism which threatens to destroy Albania. We were on less sure ground when it came to religious tolerance, which seems the only sure source of salvation in the Balkans. He seemed hostile to the Catholics for their trust in saints, and to the Orthodox for their worship of icons, to the Church of England for allowing women priests, and to various other Evangelical sects for a host of misdemeanors. He had visited practically every village in the Leskovik area, and I could not help but envy his courage and stamina, comparing ruefully his efforts to preach the Word with my own efforts to get some words from Vlachs. I was mildly annoyed that he seemed to know nothing about the history and languages of the villages he had visited; he is probably praying for my failure to see and spread the true light.

Thanks to the missionary, to whom I felt obliged to tell some tall but true traveller's tales, I was not as alert as I should have been to the country, but noted a change after the gorges of the Vjose which the road had to abandon. After Leskovik there are a series of small valleys cut off from each other by low hills. Overlooking these valleys small villages nestle. Some of these villages are Vlach, notably Borovė which I had visited in 1993; from Borovė there had been emigration to Greece, but owing to the lack of a legal border crossing emigration must be more difficult here than near Gjirokastėr, and perhaps this explains the high degree of cultivation. I had noted Barmash and Mollas as Vlach villages, but disappointingly nobody got on or off at these villages or at Borovė where I had noticed a huge new Orthodox church, almost certainly filled with icons. After Borovė there is quite a large plain of which Ersekė is the centre. Ersekė is, however, a dreary town, and I felt a bit sorry for the missionary's wife when she disembarked. He carried the suitcase, but she is not allowed to preach. There did not seem much else to do in Ersekė.

After Ersekė there is a fairly high range of hills before the road abruptly descends to the great plateau of Korēė. The bus like an aging greyhound gathered speed, but stopped to let off passengers on roads to Drenovė and Boboshticė. Both groups I noticed with great pleasure were speaking Vlach. I had visited Boboshticė in 1992 and no doubt would have received a warm welcome had I got off the bus too. But seven hours had taken their toll, and I was glad of the not exactly luxurious welcome of the Illiria Hotel in Korēė, where a single room with a shower costs 21 dollars for a foreigner and 8 for an Albanian.

It is difficult, however, to keep a Vlach hunter from his prey. Korēė, potentially an attractive town (like Gjirokastėr) with a high intellectual reputation, seemed not to have improved a great deal since 1992. Admittedly, I could not find the low bar where in 1992 I had asked modestly for a bottle of beer only to be told that this was unobtainable, but I could have raki sloshed out of plastic lemonade bottles. In its place was a gleaming white creation offering a variety of exotic drinks. I settled for retsina. I think it is again emigration to Greece which has caused Korēė to sink so low. Unlike Tirana, where bright young men set up a variety of businesses, in Korēė the bright young men leave for Greece, and only the failures remain.

I did however meet a very nice failure who agreed for five dollars to take me to the village of Mborjė. This has a famous church, said by the Blue Guide to be built in 1300 AD, said by the inhabitants to be built in 900 AD. In this instance I trust the Blue Guide, although they are overly enthusiastic about the state of the church, which is in a sad state of disrepair. Mborjė has apparently 2,000 inhabitants, of whom only 300 are Vlachs. We got the key from two nice Muslim ladies, but eventually an Orthodox Vlach came to explain the history of the village and the Vlachs. I liked him a lot, but the interview was prickly. He spoke Greek, but hotly resented the idea that he was a Greek. He was more keen to talk about the church than he was about himself, but did eventually admit that his parents had been nomads, and that he had only settled in the village during the 1950s. Such I suspect is this case with the Vlachs of Boboshticė and Drenovė, which are very close. There was a lot of destruction in this area during the war, as the villages needed new inhabitants. Villages like Dishnicė, Pleasa, Voskopojė and Vithuq are older settlements, which members of the Society Farsarotul will know from their ancestors who left the area at the beginning of this century. The guardian of the Mborjė church, helped by a bribe of which the Florida missionary would have disapproved, did agree that my list of Vlach villages in the Korēė area was correct. He agreed that Boboshticė, Vithuq, Voskopojė, and Mborjė were the only villages with famous churches. He agreed to differentiate between old Vlach settlements and new ones, a pattern I had noted in the southwest, and suggested the sixteenth century as the time the first Vlachs made homes, expanding to new settlements in the eighteenth century, joined by Hoxha's refugees in the twentieth.

Next day my kind taxi driver drove me to the Greek border at Kapshtice. The road was a long one (40 kilometres), but he only asked fifteen dollars. I gave him more. In Athens a taxi driver asked twenty dollars for a 2 kilometre ride. I gave him less. On the way to the border we passed through the villages of Dishnicė and Pleasa. I should of course have stopped and next time I will stop to pass on some messages. Both villages are on the main road and are well signposted. Pleasa has some new houses; in Dishnicė the houses are mainly old. Both villages have some of the large buildings we associate with collectives. The fields seemed well tilled unlike in March when I and my wife had passed unknowingly through these villages on our first tour of the Vlachs.

It was all much easier at the border this time. The Greeks have built a good new road from Florina and in a terrible hurry to get my plane from Athens, I caught another taxi to Florina, passing on my way the Vlach villages of Krystallopygi, Vatohori and Pisoderi and the Slav speaking village of Kota. Between the Albanian border and Florina there are two major road junctions, one leading to Kastoria, the other to lake Prespa. The country is very beautiful, full of high hills covered with oak trees. It was at a place called Fair Oaks that the Vlachs enter history in 976 AD when a Greek chronicler recounts that some Vlach travellers killed the brother of the Bulgarian emperor, Samuel. It somehow seems appropriate that as a traveller with less bloodthirsty intentions I should end my story in 1995 at this crossroads where Slav, Albanian, Greek and Vlach all meet and have met for so many centuries, but I have a few parting remarks.

CONCLUSIONS

I too have reached a crossroads in my studies of the Vlachs. I can and will continue to visit them in all parts of the globe, help them in any way possible and write books about them, either scholarly tomes or tall travellers' tales. Shattered Eagles : Balkan Fragments is a rather unsatisfactory mixture of both genres. But the limbs that once carried me for trusty miles in the boiling heat are becoming less supple, and I am really looking for a successor to take over the torch. Oddly, though political circumstances in Yugoslavia have made travel there more difficult, these circumstances have raised consciousness about minorities, and of course the collapse of communism has rendered access to Vlach minorities in countries like Albania infinitely easier.

Albania with its large, hitherto largely unrecognized Vlach population, would seem to be the place for research into their history. Communism was a more reactionary force than capitalism in protecting minorities. Vlachs were isolated in remote villages and children learnt the language of their grandparents while their parents toiled in the fields. My visits to Albania have been all to brief, and have been beset by practical difficulties, but I am beginning to understand the history of the Balkan Vlachs and even their contributions to the Balkans as a whole.

Albanian roads, along which I travel in expensive taxis or uncomfortable buses, are no guide to roads in Roman, medieval or even Ottoman times. The mule like the motor car is obstinate, but there ends their similarity. The road from Gjirokastėr to Korēė zigs and zags along river valleys. Earlier generations would have taken short cuts. The modern road was built by the Italians in between the wars for military reasons, although in fact it proved a disaster when the Italians invaded Greece in 1940 and the Greeks retaliated by capturing almost the entire length of the road, only being held back by the onset of winter and crossing the Vjose. Mussolini's alleged predecessors the Romans built the Via Egnatia which proved a better support for their imperial aims. It went from Durres or Apollonia to Salonica, carrying with it Roman civilization and the Latin language. In medieval times, as is clear from the works of the great French scholar of Albania, Alan Ducellier, other routes apart from the Via Egnatia were found to link the Adriatic coast with the interior of the Balkans. Such routes were needed for military and commercial purposes, whether the rulers of the Balkans were Byzantines or Bulgarians, Serbs or Ottomans, or whether the Balkans were divided between various factions.

These routes had to be kept open if possible in difficult weather. Guides were needed through dangerous defiles. Food and transport had to be provided, accommodation to be offered, language difficulties to be overcome, trade and barter to be arranged. It is clear from a number of sources -- Greek, Serbian, Ragusan, Venetian and Ottoman -- that Vlachs were very good at making these arrangements.

It is, therefore, not at all surprising that we find Vlachs to this day near Korēė and in Kolonjė, in Dagelli and near Berat. The low Latin of the Vlachs must have made a useful lingua franca, and of course they had no particular attachment to any of the warring factions. Admittedly, in my histories of Albania, I have only got as far back as the sixteenth century for anywhere with a continuous Vlach presence and then only at second hand in Dangelli. Many of the Vlachs I met, including all those in the southwest, and some near Korēė, knew --like some character in George Orwell's 1984-- no history before 1957 apart from a vague and bad memory of nomadism. It will not be easy to go further back than 1957 with these Vlachs, or to go back beyond 1600 with other Vlachs who were possibly not settled until this date. Greek villages like Samarina find it hard to trace their history to pre-Ottoman times. In a way, the fact that so many Vlachs like the new inhabitants of Kutall and Mborjė were settled comparatively recently with or near other Vlachs proves two important points in Vlach history. As a people they are always on the move, and thus their history is difficult to write. But they tend to move to where other Vlachs are, and this means that they have preserved themselves as an ethnic group, whose history is worth writing.


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