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The invention of a diaspora: the case of Arbëresh

Final Report Summary - ALBANIAN DIASPORA (The invention of a diaspora: the case of Arbëresh)

The researcher has studied the integration of Italo-Albanian communities within southern Italy's territory during the early modern period, that eventually resulted in a very cohesive minority today, the so-called Arbëresh (one among the twelve minorities officially recognized by both Italian national state and EU). Albanian migration flows to Italy began in the second half of the 15th century, coinciding with the Turkish conquest of Albania, to continue over the following centuries. The key of integration was the Union with Catholic church achieved between end of 16th and 18th centuries. In fact, on the basis of religious identity, the colonies began to develop their own language and culture. At the same time, the settlements became stable, basically endogamous and assumed the structure of a network.
Scholars have traditionally seen diasporas as means to rebuild at a later time a sort of dispersed original identity: a framework modeled on Jewish case. This research has allowed to question this idea by analyzing a more fragmented history, that of Albanian migrants in Italy, who were able to coalesce from a cultural standpoint only once they reached their host country, being previously formed by a number of very diverse people.
In the course of the field-work it has emerged also the need to expand the research to the formation of another minority currently recognized by Italy and EU, that is the so-called Grecanici, who are mostly living in Southern Calabria, the outer part of peninsular Italy. The case of Grecanici has permitted to strengthen the researcher's interpretation on construction of minorities, pushing if possible even more to challenge the actual Italian law on minorities. Grecanici are indeed a totally artificial minority, as in particular today it is very difficult to find people able to speak their language (being the linguistic criterion the very basis on which the official status of minority is granted). This case, which allow to deeply challenge our current idea of minorities, is a chapter in researcher's monograph on the subject.
Overall, it is possible to subdivide the impact of the project into two different sections: impact of scientific activities; and, more broadly, impact on society.

Impact of the research on literature/historiography
- Rethinking the field of diasporas' history, until now very concentrated on the Jewish model of diaspora. The project was actually able to show a different pattern of diaspora, consisting of a more fragmented process;
- Rethinking the history of relationships between Western and Eastern Europe in early modern period, by focusing on Albanian communities in Italy and their process of identity's construction;
- Reflecting upon the very mixed identity of territories generally considered by scientific literature as truly “western”, like southern Italy. Along this line, the research has deeply challenged the traditional historiography on the Kingdom of Naples;
- Showing how groups of various nature could create official recognized minorities in order to take advantage of special privileges granted by national and European organizations. So, ethnicity appears as an artificial creation of communities more than a 'status'.
Impact of the research on society:
- The research pointed out that regulations provided in order to officially recognize some ethnic groups as minorities (and, especially the law n. 482 issued by Italian government in 1999) have to be rethought;
- In particular, the linguistic criterion appears as very weak, in order to recognize national minorities. The research has focused on a minority, the so-called Grecanici, where only very few people are able to speak their dialect (roughly 50-100 people). Is it reasonable to officially recognize a minority including several municipalities, on the basis of such a weak criterion?
- As a consequence, this research could provide Eu and national states (especially Italy) with new tools to explore the problem of ethnic groups and how (as well as if) it would be good to recognize these latter as minorities protected by law and entitled to be funded.