In the days leading up to VATRA’s Convention on January 19, 2020, we decided to highlight some of the history and purpose of VATRA. The first part of the presentation is this reproduction of the introductory remarks by DIELLI’s editor at the time Q. Panariti that precedes the December 1954 publication of the Constitution and By-Laws of VATRA. With the emphasis on enlightening the young American-Albanians, the author outlines the history of VATRA from the moment of conception as “a national organization” in America that stepped up to champion Albania’s movement for independence to its prominent role in preserving our cultural heritage and advancing education through students’ scholarships and DIELLI. The second part of the presentation will be a segment of Questions and Answers.
In the present as in the past, VATRA looks at the ideals of the young generation as hope for a future that is grounded on enthusiasm as well as a long-standing experience.
ENOUGH OF ITS HISTORY TO EXPLAIN ITS PURPOSE
Although VATRA has just completed its forty-second year, the young generation of American-Albanians are not fully aware of its history. It is for their enlightenment that these lines are especially written. Albanian immigrants began to arrive in America in the first decade of the present century. Most of them were of peasant stock, some, a very few, had been small merchants in the Old country, but generally speaking they were all or nearly all illiterate folk. They had never enjoyed the fruits of democratic society as we enjoy it in this country. For centuries Albania had been under Turkish tyranny. Their one aim in life was to improve their economic status in the shortest time possible and to return to their native land.
They are lacked organizing ability and had no experience in co-operative enterprise. Their philosophy of life was based on a family relationship.
Fortunately before the first decade of the present century there arrived in this country four distinguished Albanians: Sotir Peci, a graduate of the University of Athens, Petro Nini Luarasi, a dynamic figure who, although he did not have a college degree attached to his name, was a self-made man endowed with extraordinary common sense and ability to make friends and influence people. He was a born teacher and exceedingly patriotic. In a humble way he was a veritable apostle of a rising Albanian nationalism.
A third man of genius to arrive in this country was none other than our distinguished scholar and leader, Bishop F. S. Noli.
Finally, in 1909 there came to Boston another eminent Albanian: Faik Konitza, a scholar, a gentleman, scion of an old Albanian aristocracy.
Sotic Peci was the first to lay the foundation of the Albanian nationalist movement in America by establishing the first Albanian weekly newspaper KOMBI (The Nation).
Petro Nini Luarasi spread the gospel of nationalism by distributing books and pamphlets in the Albanian language among his countrymen. These two men went back to Albania in 1908 never to return here again.
The other two, Fan. S. Noli and Faik Konitza, both first-rate savants, attended Harvard University while preparing the terrain for an ever-increasing national spirit among their compatriots.
In 1912, these two leaders with the assistance of many others, conceived the necessity of a national organization based on the federal principle, that is, with self-governing branches all over the country and with headquarters in Boston, Mass.
As the first step they merged all the existing local societies of Boston, Natick, Worcester, Mass., and as far off as Jamestown, N.Y. In April, 1912, the Pan-Albanian Federation of America, VATRA, was born. In June of the same year the organization obtained its charter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – the first Albanian society to be officially recognized in the United States.
From this humble beginning grew the might oak, familiar to most of us as just “VATRA”.
From 1012 to 1920 VATRA was, for all practical purposes, “an Albanian government in exile,” It maintained delegates in several European capitals, it gave scholarships to needy Albanian students in this country, it employed for a time an agent in New York to help Albanian immigrants, it published books and pamphlets, and in 1920 it floated a loan among its members for the Albanian government.
For a time during the First World War it published a monthly magazine in English with a view to making the Albanian people’s struggle for independence known to the American public.
Soon after America entered the First World War Bishop Fan S. Noli, as a representative of VATRA, sought and saw the late President Wilson and laid before him the Albanian viewpoint. The President promised him that he would defend Albanian when the time came – and he did. Had it not been for President Wilson, Albania would have been partitioned among Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia and would have been no Albania today.
In more recent times VATRA’s work has been charitable and cultural. Since 1945 we have sent thousands of dollars’ worth of food and medical supplies to war-torn Albania. Following early tradition we have given scholarships to needy students. Our latest achievement was the fundraising campaign to buy a home for Bishop F. S. Noli.
To preserve the Albanian cultural heritage VATRA both distributes and publishes worthwhile books in English and Albanian. Among its recent publications are three outstanding books by Bishop F. S. Noli – “Beethoven and the French Revolution” and “George Castrioti Scanderbeg” in English and Albanian, a biography of Albania’s national medieval hero. In the offing is publication of a book on Albania from manuscripts left by the late Faik Konitza.
VATRA’s organ, DIELLI, is the oldest Albanian newspaper in existence in the world and has been a significant factor in educating the Albanian people in the essential principles of democracy. The good work of DIELLI was recognized in 1947 when the Common Council for American Unity in a nation-wide contest, in which over one thousand foreign-language newspapers participated, awarded us third prize for an editorial on “Overcoming Racial Prejudices.” In July 1953 the Christian Science Monitor, in its column “Mirror of World Opinion,” reprinted an editorial from DIELLI.
We have given in a hop, skip and jump fashion significant achievements of VATRA in the past, but now the time has come when the past, glorious as it might have been, will be of no material use to the present and much less to the future. It is our firm and considered judgment that VATRA in the future should turn to youth for reinforcement and even inspiration if VATRA is to survive. We the older generation have fulfilled to a large measure our ideals by creating an independent Albania. The younger generation has ideals somewhat different from ours, just as our ideals differed from those of our predecessors, but still these ideals need co-ordination. Let us therefore merge all these ideals into one embracing purpose and move forward, blazing new trails and opening new vistas along cultural lines, using VATRA as a base of operation.
May we say to our youth that we need your enthusiasm, and you perhaps can make use of our experience. Let us join hands, let us work together as a solid team, let us combine the cultural heritage of the OLD with the ideals of the NEW – which is America.
Editor of DIELLI
Note: This forward of the December 1954 reprint of Constitution and By-Laws of the Pan-Albanian Federation of America VATRA, housed in Archbishop Fan S. Noli Library and Archive was made available thanks to Head Archivist Neka Doko.