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News 19 Sep 12

Albanians in Blood Feuds Face Excommunication

The Catholic Archdiocese of Shkodra on Tuesday said it will excommunicate anyone involved in traditional blood feuds, as concern grows about the revival of so-called honour killings.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
Church in the village of Gruda e Madhe, in the region of Shkodra, where the medieval canon of Lek Dukagjini still hods sway |  Photo by Besar Likmeta

In a statement reflecting growing concern over the level of so-called blood feuds in Albania, the Catholic Church in Shkodra, said that, “Prompted by the murders occurring among our people and in an effort to protect them the diocese has issued a decree of excommunication for all who kill or engage in blood feuds”.

Under Catholic canon law, excommunication is the ultimate censure, depriving the recipient of access to all sacraments of the Church, from baptism and mass to last unction.

Although vendettas based on the medieval code of Lek Dukagjini were outlawed in Albania for nearly half-a-century under the rule of the Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, following the breakdown of law and order in the early 1990s, after the Communist system collapsed, traditional ways of resolving conflicts resurfaced.

The scale of the problem is hard to monitor as there are deep discrepancies in statistics on blood feuds and related killings.  Local media and non-governmental organizations refer to dozens of blood-feud killings per year and to hundreds of children living in isolation as a consequence.  On the other hand, government statistics claim that such killings fell sharply over the last decade.

The Canon of Lek Dukagjin is a centuries-old code of conduct covering every aspect of life, which still holds more sway in some areas of northern Albania than the criminal code.

It lays out detailed procedures for blood feuds, loosely based on the principle of an eye-for-an-eye. When someone is killed, the victim’s family may take revenge not just against the killer himself but against all males in his extended clan.

Because of the loose nature of the rules on retribution, it’s often hard to work out who precisely is in danger.

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