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October 17, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 160
Dossier: Is the Practice of Oath-Giving Respected

Guns Stronger Than Words

by Perica Vucinic

In Tuzi, near Podgorica, a convention was held on Sunday, October 9, in which the local residents decided to prohibit the use of guns ``everywhere that human lives may be unnecessarily endangered.''

Tuzi is the center of Malesija, a mountainous region southeast of Podgorica, on Lake Skadar and very close to the Albanian border. Malesijans (traslated from the Albanian---``mountain people''), mainly Albanians, Muslim and Roman Catholic, reside in Malesija. Approximately 40,000 Albanians live in Montenegro; 10,000 of these live in Malesija, in the region that is also called ``the seven mountains of the Malesijans,'' and half of these live in low-lying Tuzi.

The decision verbally accepted by 400 tribal, clan and religious representatives prohibits the use of weapons and explosives at engagement parties and weddings, at gatherings of a tribal, religious or government character, as well as at celebrations after the birth of a male child, send-offs of young men entering the military, religious ceremonies, and at any time in public places or at any type of public happening.

With the exception of newspaper articles which have absolutely no legislative value, when the ``delegates'' left the high school hall in Tuzi where the most prominent Malesijans had gathered, there was not a single written trace that the convention had been held. Written traces were not even necessary; it was sufficient for all to give their word. And they will definitely all live up to it.

``Decisions accepted at the all-Malesijan level have never been defied,'' said Frenk Camaj, one of the organizers of the convention and a historian by profession. Djerdj Berisha, also an historian, explains that Albanians have regulated intertribal and interpersonal relations through the practice of oath-giving for centuries. Oaths are powerful and many have lost their lives for them. Such a powerful oath is called a ``besa.''

``Such verbal oaths are partriarchal, typical of a time of illiteracy,'' says Dr. Ranko Bugarski, one of the most prominent linguists in Belgrade. He explains that in later periods, when written laws are passed, oath-giving holds less significance.

Mark Camaj, a cultural historian and a Malesijan, explains that his compatriots utilize the positive aspects of tribal organization in order to reach beneficial decisions. Camaj also states that shooting at celebrations is not mentioned as desirable behavior in the Canon of Leka Djukadjini, the unwritten, common Albanian law which was first put into print during the 1930's. However, ``besa'' is one of the foundations of the Canon and the institution which governed almost all relations within a community.

``Besa'' is the cornerstone of tradition and therefore residents of Malesija proudly claim that they have all kept to their oaths given in June of 1970, when the tradition of ``blood revenge'' was reformed ``Blood revenge'' was reformed to include only the criminal and not his relatives. With that oath given 24 years ago, Malesijans approached the written, ``governmental'' law because, as Djerdj Berisha explains, the criminal is left alone until the court makes its decision. ``And meanwhile, by the time he is released from prison, the desire for revenge is less intense,'' says Berisha. Scorned and ignored, the criminal would generally have to move or would die soon after being released from jail. There has not been a single instance of revenge.

The Malesijans appear to be at a crossroads between the past and present. They appropriate behavior and unwritten laws from the past. It is understandable that they are concerned about the fate of the practice of oath-giving.

The matter of concern is whether those who have received someone's word have guns. And further: does this mean that those who have guns or any kind of power are not obligated to keep their word?

This question is merely rhetorical today and the answer is simple: ``Yes.'' Dr. Bosko Popovic, a professor of ethics at the University of Belgrade, adds: ``Those who do not possess this (weapons or power) are left with only the option of appealing to moral authority.''

According to the well-known Belgrade attorney Sava Andjelkovic, the gun is stronger than the written or spoken word. He wonders if it is normal for the mafia to enforce the payment of debts in a country with the rule of law. ``Instead of the government preventing this, it allows it, practically legalizing a mafia which acts in place of a prosecutor, judge and jury.'' Andjelkovic views the oaths given at this recent convention in Malesija as simply ``highlander romanticism.'' Those who keep their word are said to be naive and honest. Asked if he can protect such people as an attorney, Andjelkovic answers: ``When laws are made, there is no legislative body that can enforce them, so I cannot advise them to remain calm and await our winning the case. This is because both the courts and the police are corrupt.''

This attorney, in whose office we spent a lot of time discussing this topic, has a rich collection of stories regarding oaths and their power: During 1914, after the war had begun, the Kingdom of Serbia paid Germany for some cannons it had purchased; During the time of the Obrenovic dynasty in Serbia, at night Serbs took care of the shops, houses and property of Turks who had been expelled... But he adds that this was not because this was how Serbia was, but instead because the times were such.


Research on Living Conditions in Eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina (Including the Muslim Enclave of Srebrenica)

VREME brings you the results of the first research to date about war living conditions in eastern Bosnia and eastern Herzegovina: what residents are in need of and from whom they receive aid.

In the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, the residents are completely dependent upon aid given by the UNHCR.

Muslims and Serbs from this area discuss their problems.

``The most common occupation named by residents of Bijeljina, Sokolac, Zvornik, Gacko, Nevesinje and Trebinje counties is that of soldier. Except for a privileged minority, war has not been a profitable endeavor. Residents of these areas depend mainly upon aid provided by humanitarian organizations for their basic needs.''

``Every fifth citizen is hungry.''

``23 percent of all children under the age of five and 38 percent of all children under the age of one show signs of malnutrition.''

``Why does a kilo of salt cost 60 DEM in Srebrenica?''

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