Kanun (common law)

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The Kanun ( Albanian  also  Kanuni ) is the orally transmitted old customary law of the Albanians .

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When Kanun is mentioned, one usually means the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini , as this was best documented and was the first to be recorded in writing. However, there were various regional variants such as Kanun from Skanderbeg (Albanian Kanuni i Skënderbeut ), Kanun i Arbërisë , Kanun der Labëria ( Kanuni i Labërisë ) and Kanun der Malësia e Madhe ( Kanuni i Malësisë së Madhe ).

Kanun des Lekë Dukagjini

In the northern Albanian mountains the inhabitants were so isolated from the outside world by the local geographic conditions that a customary law from the Middle Ages, possibly even pre-Roman, has survived into modern times. In its most cited version, this is referred to as the Kanun des Lekë Dukagjini ( Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit ), after a powerful prince who lived in Skanderbeg's time. It is unlikely that Lekë ( Alexander ) Dukagjini (1410–1481) was the namesake or even the author of this collection of laws. Rather, Lek is the Albanian word for law (today's standard Albanian: ligj ).

The basis of the Kanun is life in the extended family, in which mostly three generations lived under one roof under the leadership of the oldest man. The collection of laws regulates the areas of law of obligations, marriage and inheritance law , criminal law as well as church , agricultural, fishing and hunting law quite comprehensively. In the area of ​​criminal law, the Kanun is still characterized by defamation , although the concept of God's peace is already known as a part of the Besa . Since the Kanun is deeply rooted in the thinking of the northern Albanian counterparts to this day , a conflict often arises between modern laws and the Kanun. Women play a marginal role in the Kanun and have hardly any rights. They are regarded as a “hose” (shakull) “in which the goods are transported”, but on the other hand they are inviolable if there is defamation.

The northern Albanians did not recognize any central rule. Disputes were settled at meetings ( Kuvend ) of the heads of families of a village or tribe, comparable to a Germanic thing or a Swiss rural community . The only worldly authority was the Kapedan ("captain"), who was always provided by the head of the Gjonmarku family . He was the leader of the Mirdites and the final authority in decisions and disputes. The rights of the privileged family and the role of the Kapedan were precisely defined in the Kanun. Every Mirdite who killed someone had to pay a levy to the Gjonmarku.

Kanun i Papazhulit

In the south of the country there was a Kanun i Papazhulit , also Kanun i Labërisë , which was only different in details and which took into account the different social, religious and social circumstances. In the less secluded southern Albania the importance and deep roots in the population were much less.


The whole Kanun is based on honor, from which numerous duties, negative aspects such as blood revenge, but also positive aspects such as hospitality and besa derive. The latter cannot be translated directly into German, but includes the terms “peace pact, alliance, ceasefire agreement, hospitable alliance, honor of the house, word of honor, oath, security guarantee, loyalty, loyalty and much more”. The besa protects those threatened by blood revenge from persecution for certain times or places and at the same time releases those who are obliged to commit blood revenge to avenge a crime. The Besa could on the one hand be arranged between people or families. It was granted, for example, for important errands, field work, family celebrations or church holidays. Usually the murderer was also granted Besa for a certain time after a blood revenge. In the besa for cattle and shepherds , tribes allowed each other to travel to the other tribal area at certain times and on certain routes. The general besa prevented all atonements in times of war.

The code of honor also resulted in around 2000 Jews fleeing the National Socialists finding refuge and protection in Albania during the Second World War . When Albania was occupied by Germany in 1943, the Albanians refused to hand over lists of Jews' names to their occupiers. In the name of the besa, many of the population not only brought Jews into their home, but also got them forged passports. Almost all Jews in Albania survived the war. Albania is the only German-occupied country in Europe that had more Jews after the Holocaust than before.

In addition, entire groups of people such as women, children or priests were also protected from persecution.

A special form of besa is that of the sworn virgins . This familial legal construct serves to compensate for the lack of a male head of the family. A woman from the family clan promises never to enter into a sexual relationship, but instead to lead a life like a man. Associated with this is the recognition of accepting this woman as the head of the family with all her rights (except the right to vote).


Kanun or Qanun is a Turkish term for a law passed by the Ottoman Sultan. The word originally comes from the Greek κανών ( canon ) and the Latin canon ("guideline").


A Kulla in Theth , northern
Albania , in which men threatened by blood revenge shut themselves up.

In the inaccessible northern Albanian mountains, the Ottomans , who occupied the country for around 500 years, never really gained power. So they couldn't introduce their laws there either. In the absence of any other state power, the Kanun was therefore able to survive into modern times.

The law, which has always been passed down orally, was first collected by the Franciscan Father Shtjefën Gjeçovi (1874–1929) at the end of the 19th century in the version of the Kanun des Lekë Dukagjin and subsequently published in parts. The first full publication appeared in Shkodra in 1933 .

During the communist dictatorship in Albania the mechanism of blood revenge was suspended ; because the state was able to enforce its jurisdiction nationwide. Since the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, blood revenge in particular has re-established itself. The young democratic state was too weak to regulate this dynamic of vigilante justice. Only the strengthening of the Albanian state after the unrest of 1997 led to a slow decline in blood feuds. Today - depending on the source - up to 15,000 Albanian families are said to be involved in blood revenge conflicts, some of which go back to incidents before the Second World War . However, the regulatory provisions of the Kanun are usually not adhered to, so that children and women are also threatened and are trapped in poor conditions at home. This weakening of the rules led Gjin Marku, chairman of the arbitration committee of the national reconciliation , to speak of a degenerate form of Kanun .

The Catholic and Islamic clergy in northern Albania consistently advocate respect for civil law and thus for the suspension of the Kanun. However, their influence is limited.

In 1990 over a million Albanians took part in various "reconciliation ceremonies" in Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. These were organized by a group around the sociologist Anton Ceta († 1995). In Albania there has been a so-called “reconciliation project” for several years, but so far with only minor successes.



  • Bardhec Berisha (translation), Martin Schällebaum (ed.): The Kanun. edition xenia, Luzern / Klina 2016, ISBN 978-3-9523769-1-1 .
  • Marie Amelie Freiin von Godin : Albanian customary law. In: Journal for Comparative Law (ZVR). Volume 56, 1ff, Volume 57, 5 ff and Volume 58, 121 ff. ( Translation without introduction by OpinioIuris )
  • Leonard Fox (ed. And translator): Kanuni i Leke Dukagjinit / The Code of Lekë Dukagjini. Gjonlekaj Publishing Company, New York 1989, ISBN 0-9622141-0-8 .
  • Kazuhiko Yamamoto: The Ethical Structure of the Kanun - is it the original form of ethics in human society? In: Illyria. No. 1425-1428, March 2005.
  • Johann Georg von Hahn : Albanian studies. 3 volumes, Jena 1854.
  • Ludwig von Thallóczy: Kanun i Lekës: a contribution to Albanian customary law. In: Illyrian-Albanian research. T. 1, 1916, pp. 409-460.
  • G. Castelletti: Consuetudini e vita sociale nelle montagne albanesi secondo il Kanun i Lek Dukagjinit. In: Studi albanesi. T. 3-4, 1933-1934, pp. 61-163.
  • C. Libardi: I primi moti patriottici albanesi nel 1910-1911-1912, specie nei Dukagjini. Trente 1935, p. 2.
  • H. Kaleshi: Turkish information about the Kanun of Leka Dukadjini. In: G. Reichenkron, A. Schmaus (ed.): The culture of Southeast Europe: its history and forms of expression. Wiesbaden 1964, pp. 103-112.
  • Albert Ramaj : Kanuni në botën gjermanofone (The Kanun in German-speaking countries). In: At Shtjefen Gjeçovi dhe Kanuni , Zagreb 2007, pp. 14-26
  • Albert Ramaj: The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. Albanian Customs Law and the Status of Women. In: marriage, family, society. Verlag Bär, Niederuzwil 2011, pp. 645–652, ISBN 978-3-9523212-6-3 .
  • S. Pupovci: Gradjanskopravni odnosi u zakoniku Leke Dukadjina (Relations de citoyenneté dans le Kanun de Lekë Dukagjini). Prishtina 1968.
  • S. Pupovci: Burimet për studimin e Kanunit të Lekë Dukagjinit (Les sources pour l'étude du Kanun de Lekë Dukagjin). In: Studime historike. 2, 1971, pp. 75-98.
  • S. Pupovci: Origjina dhe emri i Kanunit të Lekë Dukagjinit (L'origine et le nom du Kanun de Lekë Dukagjini). In: Studime historike. 1, 1972, pp. 103-128.
  • Maurus Reinkowski: Customary Law in the Multinational State: The Ottomans and the Albanian Kanun (PDF; 3.2 MB) In: Michael Kemper, Maurus Reinkowski (Ed.): Legal Pluralism in the Islamic World: Customary Law between State and Society. de Gruyter, Berlin, New York 2005.


  • Robert Elsie (Ed.): The Kanun. Dukagjini Publishing House, Peja 2001
  • Peter Zihlmann: Basel-Pristina or the blood revenge in Switzerland. Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 2007, ISBN 978-3-280-06084-1
    The factual report analyzes a court case from 2002 against the background of the Kanun from the various perspectives of those involved.



  • The Forgiveness of Blood , Drama - USA / Albania / Denmark / Italy. 2011, winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlinale 2011 for the best screenplay
  • Der Bergfürst , documentary film - Germany 2010, by Philip Vogt
  • Kanun - Blood for Honor , Documentary - Germany 2009, by Marc Wiese, winner of the main prize for documentary films at the Biarritz International Film Festival
  • Unpunished - Dossier K. , Feature film - Netherlands Belgium 2009

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. by Godin quoted in Maurus Reinkowski: Customary Law in the Multinational State: The Ottomans and the Albanian Kanun (PDF; 3.2 MB) . In: Michael Kemper, Maurus Reinkowski (ed.): Legal pluralism in the Islamic world: customary law between state and society. de Gruyter. Berlin, New York 2005
  2. Schwandner-Sievers, Stephanie: On the logic of blood revenge in Northern Albania. Honor, symbolism and legitimation of violence . In: Sociologus 46, 1996, p. 116
  3. ^ Harvey Sarner: Rescue in Albania . Brunswick Press, Cathedral City 1997, ISBN 1-888521-11-2 , pp. 1 .
  4. ^ Besa: A Code of Honor. Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust. Introduction. Yad Vashem, archived from the original on December 11, 2014 ; accessed on February 26, 2017 (English).
  5. Michael Schmidt-Neke : The Kanun of the Albanian Mountains: Background of the Northern Albanian way of life . In: Robert Elsie (Ed.): The Kanun . Dukagjini Publishing House, Peja 2001, p. 11-34 .
  6. Thomas Fuster: Albania's children locked out of life . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . No. 133 , June 12, 2010, p. 9 .
  7. ^ Jacques Semmelin: Analysis of a Mass Crime. Yugoslavia 1991-1999. Footnote 42, in: Robert Gellately , Ben Kiernan (Eds.): The specter of genocide. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / UK 2003, ISBN 0-521-52750-3 , page 364