Albanac, not Šiptar
“Nisam mogu da vjerujem,” said my friend. I couldn’t believe it.
He’d just returned from a trip to Tirana, Albania where he watched Albanian soccer team play Bosnia to a 1-1 draw in Euro 2012 qualifying and was retelling stories from his adventure.
“Kad smo stigli na granicu, bila je ova fraza na znaku: ‘Repulika Shqiperise,'” When we arrived at the border, the sign read: Republic of Albania.
Okay, so this wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation – follows that when you enter a country, you see that country’s name on a sign. But he continued.
“Republika šiptara!? Oni sami sebe nazivaju šiptari!” He declared incredulously. The Republic of shiptars!? They call themselves shiptars!
It was that word šiptar that had stunned him. Of course he knew that in Albanian, Albania is called Shqipëria, but it was shock to realize that the Albanian word for Albanian – someone from Albania – was shqiptar. This wasn’t because the etymology didn’t make sense (Albania – Albanian; Shqipëria – shqiptar … duh). Rather, he was surprised because in the Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian language šiptar (pronounced the same as shqiptar) is a pejorative, a slur used in place of the politically correct albanac.
“Uvijek sam mislio da je to ružna riječ, ali nije!?” I always thought that was an ugly word, but it’s not!?
I cringed – it actually is. At its best condescending, the word is often used describe Albanians – often as a primitive, boorish and uneducated people. In writing it’s generally used by often nationalistic authors, explicitly antagonistic toward Albanians, and in conversations the word carries a definite negative connotation.
I’d heard this sentiment often – mostly in conversations about bakeries in Bosnia. Locals often contemptuously comment that all bakeries are owned by Albanians, or “šiptari.” One acquaintance noted incredulously, “Onaj šiptar vozi BMW i ti nemaš auto!?” That Albanian drives a BMW, and you don’t have a car!?, as if it was some sort of sin that this uncivilized foreigner drives an expensive car, while a respectable United States citizens walks around town.
Didn’t seem so outrageous to me. The guy had some capital and business acumen – two things I haven’t got – and found a way to run a small business in a place where it’s notoriously hard to run small businesses. He’d earned the right to drive whatever car he wanted.
But what really made me cringe was the fact that in the same breath that my friend pronounced his newfound knowledge that šiptar was not a harmful word, he began relating stories about his trip that reflected significant prejudice toward Albanians.
The roads were in awful shape – gravel roads everywhere.
Tirana was dirty.
Fans didn’t know how to cheer like cultured aficionados, and, of course, in a place like that the stadium was filled to three times the safe capacity…
And so I told him, “Hey, it’s really not okay to use that word just because Albanians use it in the Albanian language.
“It’s attached to a long history of prejudice in the former Yugslav republics. Just think about how it’s used in everyday conversation. Just think about how you’re using it now.
“That would be similar to me saying, ‘Hey, the “N” word isn’t actually that bad. I just realized it’s derived from the Latin word for black and some African Americans in the United States use it to describe themselves. Just listen to rap music.'”
Well, that certainly caught him off-guard, and the conversation moved on to lighter subjects. Eventually, we headed into town, and I forgot the conversation altogether.
But later that evening, out of the blue, on our way to Pekara Nora (Bakery Nora) to buy a couple late night pastries, my buddy commented, “Hej, dobro je bilo što si rekao o crncima u Americi. Nisam tako razmišljao prije.” What you said about African Americans in the United States was good. I’d never thought about it that way before.
Then, in the bakery, as the Albanian owner handed us our food, my friend asked abruptly, “Sad sam bio u Albaniji za utakmicu – lijepa zemlja – i sam skontao da se nazivaju ‘šiptari.’ Bio sam zbunjen jer sam uvijek mislio da je to uvreda. Da li je uvredljivo da vas zovem ‘šiptar?'” I was just in Albania for a football match – beautiful country – and realized that Albanians call themselves “shiptars.” I was confused because I always thought it was an insult. Is it insulting for me to call you a shiptar.
“Ma, jeste,” responded the owner. Well, yes it is.
“Ako smijem, zašto?” my friend questioned through a mouthful of pizza. If I may ask, why?
“Zvuči neprijatno,” the owner offered. It sounds unfriendly. “To je naša riječ, i kad to ti kažeš naglasak je skroz pokvaren. Nije šip-tar nego šip-taaar,” he noted, emphasizing the correct syllable. It’s our word, and when you say it in Bosnian, the accent is all wrong. It’s not šip-tar, it’s šip-taaaaaar. “Bolje ti je da koristiš ‘albanac.'” Better to use ‘albanac.’
My friend listened intently, still munching on his ketchup covered pizza.
“Hvala što si mi to obijasnio.” Thanks for clearing that up.