What Are Albania’s Blood Feuds?

In Albania, tradition states that blood must flow to make amends for a crime. Nearly 1,000 families there may be living in hiding to protect children, the main targets of blood feuds.

Eye for an Eye

According to the Kanun — Albania’s civil and penal code dating back to the 15th century — a murder must be avenged by the death of a man from the murderer’s family. The only restriction is that the victim must not be killed at home. That’s why many families now live as recluses. Blood feuds fell out of use during the Communist period, but since the fall of the Soviet bloc, it has reappeared in more violent forms. Since then, even children are targeted in blood feuds. However, it is for its authorization of retaliation killings that it has become most notorious, particularly since enjoying a revival in the years following the fall of communism.

In a region where government is practically non-existent, it’s difficult to fight tradition — as this woman, whose husband was murdered, can attest. Truly a vicious circle, this tradition is said to have caused the death of several thousand people since 1992. Nearly 1000 families may be living in hiding, but the main victims are the children. Liljana Luani is a teacher. She goes from village to village, teaching classes to children who live under threat of a blood feud.

Where once code sought to regulate such blood feuds - imposing limitations on who could be killed (no women or children under the age of 16) - these aspects of the code have gradually been eroded, with the notion of vengeance overriding all others. It can be trigged by something as trivial as a dispute between neighbors or a disagreement among family; an incident that, anywhere else, might be forgotten with the passage of time or left to the authorities to resolve. Shut away, kept out of school, and depressed, several hundred children are now believed to be living with the fear of being executed.