Albanian Catholic Church seeks to stop blood feuds


With revenge killings on the rise, the Catholic Church issues excommunication decree.

By Beni Andoni for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 08/10/12


Catholic Church leaders in Albania said they will excommunicate Catholics who commit revenge killings, which have totaled more than 100 in the country this year. [Reuters]

In an effort to stop the rising number of blood feud murders in Albania, Catholic Church leaders issued a special decree that Catholics who commit revenge killings will be excommunicated from the church.

The church also urged Albanian judicial authorities to issue maximum penalties for murder, and revenge killings in particular. The church advocates sentencing convicted murderers to life in prison without being eligile for parole.

Gjin Marku, chairman of the nonprofit National Reconciliation Committee, which works to end blood feuds, told SETimes that as of mid-September there were 101 such killings in Albania this year. Since the 1990s, there have been more than 10,000 revenge killings in the country, according to the National Reconciliation Committee.

Blood feuds have contributed to the rising murder rate in Albania, which has more murders than any other Balkan nation, according to the Institute for Democracy and Mediation in Tirana. There were 2.7 murders per 100,000 people in 2009, and the number increased to 4 murders per 100,000 in 2011.

Luigj Mila, chief of the Justice and Peace Commission, which collaborates with the Catholic Church to reconcile feuds, said the situation in northern Albania "is extremely desperate and hopeless." He said many families are living in isolation because they fear they will be targeted in blood feuds.

"There are a lot of children who do not attend school. ... There are men who are waiting all day and every day to kill or be killed," Mila said. "This year the number of murders has been in increase suddenly and unexplainably, but in any case never welcomed."

Sources from the archdiocese said they began preparing the decree after a 17-year-old girl and her grandfather were killed by a rival family.

"People who are affected by this decree and repent or regret it later must publicly display their repentance, to repair their injustice done, to carry out the punishment prescribed by law and to receive forgiveness through sacramental confession,” said the decree, signed by bishops Angelo Massafra of Shkodra, Lucjan Avgustini of Sapa and Ottavio Vitale of Lezha.

"We are really very concerned about the high number of murders and criminal acts that are taking place in 2012," said Avgustini. "This year our concern is increasing day after day, listening to the priests who come to us know that is growing more and more domestic violence, use of force in relations between persons and revenge and blood feud."

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According to the National Reconciliation Committee, there are more than 1,300 Albanian families living in isolation and 700 children who do not attend school because they fear being targeted in blood feuds.

Rural property disputes have claimed 7,800 lives in the past two decades in the country, while others are killed in disputes over family honor or trafficking of women.

Marku said the problem is made worse by those seeking to profit from revenge killings. He said there are rumours of people colluding with one of the parties in a blood feud to lure the other party into a fatal ambush in exchange for payments of 50,000 to 100,000 euros.

“In present Albania, as in the last 100 years, there were always events and developments in front of which the others are left shocked and speechless. But I do not believe that there may be greater shock than blood feuds in 2012," Mustafa Nano, an independent analyst, told SETimes. "We, as Albanians, are already used in some way with all this happenings, even we don’t shock anymore."

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