Kanun and Albania

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In accordance to Kanun - about a common law in Albania
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Karolina Bielenin

A common law is a set of norms, prohibitions and obligations, that functions in a tradition and - in reference to the Roman law - is the will of the people. In many countries, it became an official and institutional legislation or functions beside it. It is also taken into account while creating the international law. In Albania, the common law, so called Kanun, still exists. The term comes from Greek and means 'rule, measure'. There is also an old Albanian word 'doke' that comes from 'dukem', which means 'to occur, to behave'. So the plural form from 'doket' signifies 'a set of rules, which defines how one should behave in presence of acquaintances and strangers'. The most commonly known version is the Leka Dukagjini Kanun that comes from 15th C. It was drawn up by the Franciscan from Kosovo - Shtjefën Gjeçov - in the 30s. of 20th C. It was published after his death by his brethren. Lekë Dukagjini (1410-1481) was the Albanian priest and the companion in arms of Gjergj Kastriot Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albania. Of course, Dukagjini is not the author of the Kanun - its name comes from a set of rules collected in an area that he administered. There was a great number of Kanuns - another commonly known is the one from a smaller area - Skanderbeg's Kanun. The first notice about the Albanian law comes from the Vatican documents of 13th C. One may find the elements of Ilirs' law in Kanun, but also sharia - the Muslim law. The similarity to a set of rules from the northern Caucasus occurs. The question occurs whether Kanun has some common origin with the Caucasus one, or whether it was borrowed? Or maybe it is the evidence for the universalism of a human's thought? The common law regulates all events of life, from birth till death. It also defines precisely the laws and obligations of particular people and establishes their status in a society. A great number of law elements were used as a motif in the Albanian peoples' literature. As M.Camaj claims, Kanun is presented as a set of rules concerning the honor and the uncompromising hospitality that demands to protect even the one, with whom the householder is in a bloody revenge. Kanun became the inspiration for the Albanian Nobelist, Ismaila Kadar and his novel entitled "Blood for blood" [Polish translation from French by A.Mencwel, Warsaw 1988].

Senica, Albania, 2004, foto Waldemar Kuligowski.
During the period between the two World Wars and the communism, the Albanian authorities tried to root out murder as a form of clannish revenge, but, for instance, Enver Hod¿a during the Central Committee debate in 1981, disposed of his deputy exactly this way. After Hod¿a's regime fall, the common law returned with a double energy, especially in the Albanian Alps. The violence acts towards women, about which the Amnesty International alarms, are justified by the vitality of the law in the Albanian mountains. For instance, in 2004 father killed his daughter, because she came back home three days later than she should and refused to explain where she was. Sister of the victim said then: "Our father had the right to do it; it was his responsibility to behave in such a way, as she disgraced our family" [3]. The common law is still maintained in some regions of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. In the 60s. of previous century, the research concerning the common law was carried out in Kosovo and Metohij by Professor Nikola Pavkoviæ. He talked to both, the Serbs and the Albanians. The aims of his explorations were mainly: a traditional system of jurisdiction, oaths, keeping/breaking a given word [besa] and the woman's status in the light of the common law. As Pavkoviæ states, in Yugoslavia of the 60s., the common law was much stronger and much obeyed by the Albanians than the official one imposed by the state. Furthermore, it had a significant influence on...
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