2. The arrival of the Slavs into the Balkans

History accepts the arrival of Slavs into the Balkan area in the sixth century. This migration impacted on both the Slavs themselves and on the indigenous populations already living there. Illyrian-Albanian territories were reduced and the peoples living there had their ethnic origins modified in the process as a result of living together and reciprocal assimiliation.

The Slav tribes arrived in the Balkans between AD 550 and 700 and formed their state in what is today Bulgaria.Later Serbs, Croats and Slovenes established themselves in the lands of our ancestors up to the Adriatic and Ionian coasts. In the lands which are today Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, the ‘Arberian-Albanian’ people slowly disappeared before Slav inhabitants. Only in the land of today’s Albania, Kosovo and some regions of Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece did the ancient Albanian people not disappear They retained their language, their customs and their ancient culture, which Albanians handed down from generation to generation. In ancient Dardania – today’s Kosovo – the Illyrian population remained through the assimilationist policies of the Romans, the Byzantines and the Slavs. Much Illyrian-Arberian land was colonised by a range of inhabitants, particularly Slavs, which resulted in a blending of indigenous and incoming populations, which in many places meant a loss of Illyrian-Arberian identity.

[Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 5. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 23-32; Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 6. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 97-108; Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 10. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 155-161.]

The Slavs of the south initially attacked the territory of the Byzantine Empire for plunder. It was only from the middle of the sixth century that they managed to establish themselves in the Balkan peninsula, and only at the beginning of the seventh century they conquered it, finding here Greeks, Thracians, Celts and Romanised Illyrians – the latter had already accepted Roman culture and spoke a range of Latin dialects. The Slavic tribes mixed with local and neighbouring peoples, so that a small number of these peoples lost their ethnic characteristics. The local people who lived together and were gathered into larger groups were not affected by Slavic influence,the Albanians maintained their customs, their language and other national features and some of the Slavs adopted Albanian language and customs and became mixed.

[Mihaljčić, Rade. Istoria 6. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2011. page 42; Katić, Tatjana and Dušan Ilijin. Istorija za I razred gimnazije. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2013, pages 184-87.]

The German Goths, Huns and Bulgarians had attempted to establish themselves in these lands before the Slavs but none of the textbooks of these countries mention that the Slavs were not the first to establish themselves in this area in search of a better life. No other people has left traces in the Balkans like the Slavs, who destroyed an ancient civilisation’s culture, the church organisation of the Christians, and changed the ethnic make-up of the population, but their spread in the Balkans took place in small groups and without clear structures, often even commanded by non-Slav military elites.
The establishment of the Slavs in the Balkans is described in these texts as reducing the Illyrian-Arberian territory. Even if we assume the Illyrian ancestry of the Albanians, this does not mean that all Illyrian tribes who lived in the Balkan peninsula – Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia – are the ancestors of the Albanians. The claim that ‘the Albanian people remained only in Albania, Kosovo, parts of Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece’ seems to be attempting to project the distribution of today’s Albanians into the Middle Ages and across their current spread in the Balkans. This claim clashes with the information that after the arrival of the Slavs in the Balkans, part of the indigenous population moved to coastal cities, while another group found shelter in the impenetrable mountain regions, mainly in the northern areas of modern Albania.
Authors of these studies argue that the Kosovan textbooks give a one-sided presentation of the mixing of indigenous populations with the Slavs: ‘the loss of Illyrian-Arberian identity’, but the Serbian textbooks do the same thing: ‘the loss of the ethnic characteristics of the Slav tribes, who took on the language and customs of the Albanians.’ These inter-mixings were reciprocal: ‘when the Slavs settled in the Balkans, in some places the indigenous people assimilated them and in some places were assimilated by them’.

[Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo: A Short History. London: Pan Books, 2002, pages 40-44; Schmitt, Oliver. Shqiptarët – një histori midis Lindjes dhe Perëndimit. Tirana: K&B, 2012, page 49-59; Schmitt, Oliver. Kosova: histori e shkurtër e një treve qendrore ballkanike. Prishtina: Koha, 2012, pages 37-39; Schmitt, Oliver. “Monada e Ballkanit” Shqiptarët në Mesjetë. Published in the book edited by Oliver Schmitt and Eva Anne Frantz. Historia e Shqiptarëve – gjendja dhe perspektivat e studimeve. Tirana: Botimet Përpjekja, 2012, pages 67-90; Bartl, Peter. Shqipëria nga Mesjeta deri Sot. Prizren: Drita, 1999, 24-31.]