Religious and national identities among Albanians in relation to Greece and Europe (CRYMUS) (completed)

The project studied Albanians who hide their ethnic and/or religious background to outsiders.

About the project

The project CRYMUS sought to understand why and how so many migrants in Greece conceal or de-emphasise their Albanian and/or Muslim background by becoming ‘Greek-Orthodox’ outwardly, by assuming Greek names, being baptised, or pretending to be Christian. The phenomenon is virtually unknown to outsiders and unexplored in research, but taps into complex issues such as Greek-Albanian diplomacy, Muslim-Christian relations, the political history of the Balkans, minority issues, religion in the contemporary world, European integration, migration, transition, and nationalism.

From a theoretical perspective, CRYMUS is a study of the role of religion in relation to other collective identities and individual meaning, which are analysed as symbolic and contextual. The prefix ‘crypto’ refers to the strategy of publicly embracing the religion with the highest status in a given context, for instance out of sheer necessity, or opportunism, while in secrecy retaining the original religion. The occurence of Muslims who have become ‘Greeks’ and ‘Christians', in Greece after the fall of Communism in Albania has a certain historical precedence in the Balkans during the Ottoman period, although with inverted roles.

The primary sources consist of ca. 50 in-depth interviews with Albanian migrants, as well as with a number of Greeks in the local communities and representatives of different religious, political, diplomatic and intellectual circles in Albania. The diversity of the migrants’ narratives suggests that the phenomenon at hand is also related to the immensely complex political and religious Albanian context. Although many of the migrants have experienced hostility to Albanians and/or Muslims while working in Greece, the question of identity change is more than a pragmatic response to assymetric power relations and structural violence. Some informants are proud of being baptised and interpret is as a sign of social inclusion in the local community, or as a happy return to the ‘authentic’, ancestral, pre-Islamic religion. A lot of the Muslim migrants tend to render religious differences irrelevant by a claiming that since ‘there is only one God’, there can be only one religion, hence Christianity and Islam are essentially the same. Some do not even consider changing names and are proud to be Albanian, but like the Greeks, while others accept their Greek names without much ado, but embrace nationalist myths which for instance depict the Albanians as descendents of the oldest civilisation in European and as a superior race.

This kind of ethnic and religious identity juggle seems quite common among the hundreds of thousands Albanian migrants in Greece. It is also highly controversial, especially in multireligious, secular, post-atheist Albania, where it fuels a variety of anti-Greek conspiracy theories of nationalist and religious nature about alleged schemes against nation and/or religion. This is particularly the case with the increasingly popular new political movement Red and Black Alliance which calls for Greater Albania, and apparently also among certain Muslims with a more fundamentalist leanings, as well as within anti-Greek Albanian Orthodox circles. Such groups are also included in the study, as well as the  project thus involves a study of the image which Albanian politicians often abroad, when they tend to focus on the country’s 'European identity', circumvent its Islamic legacy and highlight its Christian credentials.


The project was financed by The Research Council of Norway (FRIPRO).

Published Jan. 28, 2013 10:30 AM - Last modified Mar. 9, 2016 9:22 AM