THE signature of the "Pact of friendship and security between Italy and Albania," at Tirana on November 27, 1926, has caused widespread comment in the Balkans and considerable surprise in diplomatic circles. The excitement in Belgrade was such that the Italophile Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nintchitch, resigned, and the Jugoslavs talked of a new orientation of their foreign policy. In Greece, where the signature was announced and the text published on the eve of the entry of the new "(Ecumenical" Ministry into office, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Michalakopoulos, has cautiously watched the attitude of Great Britain and France, and the Greek press has displayed calmness and prudence. But obviously any change in the condition of Albania must directly affect her Greek and Jugoslav neighbors, and indirectly the other states of southeastern Europe.

First, let us examine the text. The preamble states the object of the Pact to be to "tighten the mutual relations of friendship and security resulting from the geographical situation" of Italy and Albania, to "contribute to the strengthening of peace," and to "maintain the political, juridical and territorial status quo of Albania." These phrases sound somewhat vague. "Peace" has not usually been "strengthened" by the intervention of a Great Power in the affairs of a Balkan state: Russia and Austria-Hungary brought "not peace but a sword" by their interference in the Serbia of the Obrenovitch dynasty; Russia's intrusion into Bulgarian politics led to the abdication of the first Prince of Bulgaria and the long social ostracism of the second; in Greece, the reign of Otho was embittered by the quarrels of the three "Protecting Powers;" German influence was largely responsible for the losses of Turkey in the late war. The principle of "the Balkan Peninsula for the Balkan peoples" is sound and nowadays generally accepted. Nor is it clear what is meant by "maintaining the political, juridical and territorial status quo." Probably, from the standpoint of Ahmed Zogu, the President of the Albanian Republic, the "maintenance" of "the political status quo" means the "maintenance" of himself in power by the strong arm of his ally, whose cannon would protect the huge mansion built for him on the hill overlooking the roadstead of Durazzo and connected (according to a local story) by a secret underground passage with the shore. Who, again, was threatening "the juridical and territorial status quo" of Albania? Neither Greece, who under the Republican system (especially under Pangalos, himself of Albanian origin) has been on particularly good terms with her smaller neighbor, nor Jugoslavia, who would scarcely have dared such an affront to the public law of Europe and was the supporter and host of Ahmed Zogu, a fugitive in Belgrade at a time when Italy was the friend of Fan Noli.

As published, the Pact consists, besides the preamble, of five articles. Article 1 repeats that "Italy and Albania recognize that every disturbance directed against the political, juridical and territorial status quo of Albania is contrary to their political interest" -- a statement admitting of wide and varied interpretation. Article 2 engages "the high contracting parties, for the safeguard of the above interest, to lend to one another their mutual support and their cordial collaboration. They also pledge themselves not to conclude with other Powers political or military agreements prejudicial to the interests of the other party, as defined in the present Pact." Yet we were informed that a similar Pact was offered to Jugoslavia by Albania! Article 3 engages both "parties to submit to a special procedure of conciliation or arbitration the questions which might divide them and which could not be settled by the ordinary diplomatic procedure." "A special convention, to be concluded with the least possible delay," was to regulate "the methods of this procedure." Article 4 fixes the duration of the Pact at five years, and permits of its denunciation or renewal "one year before its expiration." The last article provides for its ratification, and subsequent registration by the League of Nations.

Even supposing that there are no secret articles, the published text of the Pact suffices to cause alarm to the friends of Albanian independence, who did not create an independent Albania in order that it might become an Austrian, Italian or Serbian protectorate. From the time of Francesco Crispi, himself a Sicilian of Albanian origin, Italian statesmen have had their eyes directed to the opposite coast of the Adriatic, visible on a clear day from Otranto. From a much earlier period, that following the death of Skanderbeg and the Turkish conquest in the last third of the fifteenth century, Italian interests in Albania had been aroused and maintained by the considerable Albanian colonies of refugees, who had fled to Southern Italy and found there a second home. Crispi's program was not the annexation of Albania, then Turkish, but the prevention of an Austrian occupation. After the battle of Adua in 1896 and the consequent fall of Crispi, the policy of Imperialism underwent a long eclipse; but in the early years of the present century another Sicilian, the Marchese Di San Giuliano, travelled in Albania and published a little volume of "Letters from Albania," of which he made a holocaust when he became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Consequently, his book is rare, except in a German translation. Meanwhile, Italian consuls, like Millelire at Jannina and Di Gubernatis, worked for the extension of Italian influence. After the declaration of Albanian independence the six months' reign of Prince William of Wied at Durazzo was a continuous struggle between Austria and Italy, in which leading Albanians were used as pawns by the two great players. Meanwhile San Giuliano had done his best to make the Serbs evacuate Durazzo and the Montenegrins Scutari in 1913, and to throw the Greek frontier as far as possible to the south. Even a Prime Minister so little interested in foreign policy as Giolitti told Mr. Kaklamanos (the present Greek Minister in London), then Greek chargé d'affaires in Rome, that "if Greece wished to remain on friendly terms with Italy, she must not touch Valona." Consequently, Mr. Venizelos prevented the Greek troops from occupying Valona and, in 1914, obtained from the Greek parliament the cession to Albania of the islet of Saseno in the bay, which in the British days had been an appendage of the Ionian Islands, and had with them been ceded by Great Britain to Greece in 1864. At the end of 1914, the Italians occupied and fortified Saseno, perhaps on the strength of Lucan's application to it of the epithet, "Calabrian" in his Pharsalia. There they still remain, although Saseno is waterless and could be commanded by cannon planted on the Akrokeraunian Mountains. Valona and other places in Albania they evacuated under the Tirana agreement in 1921, when Giolitti was again Premier, and the late Take Jonescu, the Rumanian statesman, told the writer that he had congratulated the Italian Prime Minister on having got rid of so thankless a burden. The malaria bred in the lagoons near Valona had wrought havoc among the Italian troops, and one Italian garrison had mutinied rather than go to Albania. At that time the Albanians showed quite plainly that they did not want them, and that l'Albania farà da se. But the modern blackshirts are in many cases too young to remember the unpleasant Albanian bivouacs of the war, while to the present director of Italian policy Durazzo may seem, as it was to the ancient Romans whom he professes to imitate, the first step on that Via Egnatia which led to Salonika. Even before the advent of Fascism, it was obvious that Italian Nationalism, its intellectual predecessor, was bent upon assuming the part formerly played--but with greater experience and local knowledge -- by Austria. But the Balkan peoples did not, by dint of gigantic sacrifices, rid the Balkan peninsula of Austria in order to put Italy in her place, although Austria had in Bosnia and the Herzegovina a set of officials who on a smaller scale reproduced the British civil service of India. Yet none the less Austria was unpopular, because she was a foreign Power, alien to the national sentiment. Most peoples prefer to be worse governed by their own compatriots than to be better governed by foreigners, as Great Britain found in the Ionian Islands.

The attitude of Sir Austen Chamberlain in the present question would certainly have surprised some of his great predecessors in the British Foreign Office. His Minister in Albania, Mr. O'Reilly, foresaw what was coming and warned his chief. The fact that he had done so leaked out and reached Rome, whereupon Sig. Mussolini is said to have complained to the British Minister of Foreign Affairs. Palmerston or Curzon would have supported his subordinate. Sir Austen Chamberlain removed him from Durazzo and transferred him to Venezuela. It is, indeed, a novel experience for an Italian, or any foreign, statesman to secure the removal of a British Minister for having done his duty to the best of his ability. When Mr. O'Reilly's predecessor, Sir Harry Eyres, a diplomatist of life-long experience of the Near East, was at Durazzo, he successfully defeated intrigues against himself and occupied a paramount position in the councils of the Albanian Government because it was known that he and his collaborator, Mr. Eden, had no political axe to grind and spoke the truth frankly on all occasions. The British Foreign Minister has now simultaneously sacrificed British prestige alike in Albania and Jugoslavia, because of his regard for Sig. Mussolini. Probably the Italian Premier has modified the opinion which he expressed over his own signature in his own newspaper, the Popolo d'Italia, four weeks before he became Prime Minister: "The interest of Italy is to collaborate in the demolition of the English (sic) Empire." He now appears to act as if it were rather "the interest of Italy to collaborate with the British Empire," and to forget Malta and the rest.

The repercussion was naturally most felt in Jugoslavia. The Croats, and still more the Slovenes, who have "unredeemed" brethren under Italian rule, are unfriendly to, and suspicious of, Italy; while the Serbs, although more remote from the Adriatic, have always been inclined to chauvinism. The writer has heard the Adriatic claimed in identical phrase as "our sea" in both Rome and Belgrade, and the struggle over "the Adriatic question," arising out of the secret Treaty of London of April 26, 1915, which conceded a large part of Slav Dalmatia to the Italians but which finally was whittled down to Zara, has left a legacy of unfriendliness behind it. On the other side, unpleasant memories of the Croats during the Austrian occupation of Lombardy and Venetia, kept alive by the school-books of history, predisposed Italians to look upon their new neighbors much as they looked upon Austria. An Italian caricature represented a young and vigorous three-headed eagle floating over the Adriatic in place of the old and decrepit double-headed bird. The immediate result of the Italo-Albanian Pact has been to unite more closely the three component elements of the Triune Kingdom. Some think that it will have the further effect of throwing the Bulgarians and the Jugoslavs into each other's arms. This last event seems, however, less probable than an Italo-Bulgarian Pact with a view of encircling Jugoslavia. Historically, the Serbs and the Bulgarians, alike in mediæval and modern times, have rarely been friends -- witness the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885 and the Bulgarian attack upon Serbia during the late Armageddon. Ethnologically, the Bulgarians themselves told us during that conflict that they were not Slavs, but merely spoke a Slav language. Others believe that the Jugoslavs will now navigate towards Russia, as in the old imperial days, despite their horror of bolshevism. But in any case, Sig. Mussolini's action looks like the lighting of a match near the powder-magazine of Europe, where the last war had its origin.

A country like Albania, governed for centuries by the clan system, with four religions and only fourteen years of corporate life, will probably remain for a long time the theatre of internal conflicts. The warlike tribes of the north, who rose against the Turks in 1911, are specially likely to rebel from time to time against the central authority. Here will be the opportunity of Italy to step in, by virtue of the Pact and by an unilateral construction of the decision of the Ambassadors' Conference authorizing her to defend the interests of Albania. Having entered "to restore order," she will provoke the Jugoslavs to do likewise, and then the two rivals may meet over the prostrate body of Albania, with the direst results to Balkan or even European peace. Here the Italian dictator may find that exciting diversion which he is believed to require for the jaded palates of his younger followers. And 1927 may be his "Napoleonic Year."

Meanwhile, foreign economic interests in the country, other than Italian, will suffer, and the new protectors will have in Albania a monopoly such as the present Italian Finance Minister, Count Volpi, formerly established in Montenegro, where the tobacco manufactory at Podgoritsa, the Antivari harbor works and the Vir-Bazar railway were in his hands. A further menace to the general peace would consist in the assignment of naval bases to Italy along the Albanian coast, as has been rumored but not so far demonstrated. It is true that the shallow roadsteads of San Giovanni di Medua and Durazzo, where the writer sixteen months ago saw the sunken war steamers still sticking with their funnels out of the water, are poorish anchorages, while Italy already has one base on Saseno. But Jugoslavia would certainly chafe at this conversion of the lower Adriatic into an Italian lake, and the small but well-manned Jugoslav fleet is not despicable, for the Dalmatian sailors are among the best of the world and the numerous islands and inlets of the Dalmatian Coast excellent submarine-bases. Other greater Naval Powers might also object to this strategic closing of the Adriatic, especially after the recent establishment of the Italian naval base at Leros in the Dodecanese. Thus the Adriatic would, politically as well as physically, justify Horace's epithet of "turbid."

Sir Austen Chamberlain's own country will probably also suffer from the Italian hegemony in Albania. Thanks to the efforts and influence of Sir Harry Eyres, the Albanian Government had engaged a British officer, Col. Stirling, to draw up a scheme for reorganizing the internal administration -- a work for which the British, with their long colonial experience of undeveloped countries, were peculiarly fitted. Moreover, Major-General Sir Jocelyn Percy was appointed as Inspector-General of the Albanian gendarmerie with nine other British officers under him. Now, if we may judge from the Italian press campaign carried on against the late British Naval Mission in Greece and from the hostility of the Italians to the British Police Mission there, it is probable that the same policy will be pursued in Albania, and Ahmed Zogu will be asked to substitute Italian carabinieri officers for the British inspectors. Financially, Italy, unable to pay any but a small portion of her war debt to Great Britain, has provided a loan for Albania for public works and the improvement of communications -- a task for which the excellent Italian engineers are well fitted. The discovery of further deposits of petrol will doubtless be exploited by Italian financiers and captains of industry, to the detriment of their British and American competitors.

The Albanian Legation in Paris has published an official denial of the comments made upon the text of the Pact. Official démentis, as every student of foreign politics knows, have a very relative value. As the private secretary of a former Italian Premier once said to the writer: "A denial by the Premier would constitute the indirect confirmation of the facts denied." The present denial informs us that Albania "preserves her sovereignty," and is ready to conclude a similar Pact with other states, "notably those who are her neighbors." The published text of article 2 of the Pact would seem to make the conclusion of such another Pact somewhat difficult. In any case, as the denial states, this is "the first time that Albania has signed a Pact of reciprocal friendship and security with a Great Power." That, in itself, constitutes a modification of the Balkan status quo, by the introduction, for the first time since the last settlement of the Balkans, of a Great Power into the affairs of the peninsula. It is a return to the old system of alliances and counter-alliances, which the League of Nations was to supersede. Doubtless the League does not enjoy a wide popularity in the Balkans, where events happen rapidly and politicians are not much addicted to political theory. But Albania, of all Balkan countries, has least reason to complain of Geneva, where Fan Noli enjoyed the powerful patronage of Lord Cecil.

This Pact has given to Greece, at least, an opportunity such as she has not had before for making a new arrangement with Jugoslavia and settling the question of the "Serbian free zone" at Saloniki in a way more favorable to herself. For Jugoslavia finds herself isolated, and her natural ally is Greece, especially now that she has had, since August, 1925, direct access by rail to the Adriatic at Spalato and is therefore no longer so anxious for an outlet at Saloniki. The four Græco-Jugoslav conventions made in the last week of the Pangalos dictatorship by Mr. Rouphos, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, have never been ratified, and his successor, Mr. Argyropoulos, looking upon himself as a member of a merely service cabinet, did nothing more in the matter. Unfortunately, the death of Pashitch, the protracted ministerial crisis in Serbia, and the death of Mr. Gavrilovitch, the Jugoslav Minister in Athens, have prevented immediate negotiations for the modification of these conventions. A new Græco-Jugoslav alliance based upon mutual interests would not only be some guarantee for Balkan peace, but would enable Greece to reduce her military expenses, now amounting to 23 percent of her total expenditure.

The whole incident is typical of the unrest prevailing in Europe since the peace, which seems, after all, to be only an armed neutrality. Most European Powers are surrounded by suspicious neighbors, and Sig. Mussolini holds much the same language which William II held before the war. It may be intended only for "internal consumption," but such a method is playing with fire, for someone may take his menaces seriously. Certainly Albania, smallest and youngest among Balkan nations, though perhaps oldest among Balkan nationalities, is not worth the bones of the proverbial Pomeranian grenadier. But as the old Serbian Regent, Ristich, said, pays balkanique, pays volcanique, and a new political crater may one day be formed at Tirana, which erupts simultaneously with Vesuvius. That its ashes will be carried far is probable; they may even reach Locarno. It therefore behooves statesmen to follow carefully what is happening in Albania, and foreign ministers to believe what their conscientious representatives on the spot communicate to them, all the more because there are usually no press correspondents at Tirana and news from there is either sensational or official. The truth usually lies between the two.

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  • WILLIAM MILLER, author of "The Latins in the Levant," "The Ottoman Empire," and many other standard works on the Near East
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