KFOR Chronicle
Five Centuries Journey
By Capt. Rafael Gamiz
Spanish Army, MNB-SW PIO/ LNO
Photos by Lt. Piazza

From Piana Degli Albanesi to Kosovo

Kosovo Force soldiers are here on a peacekeeping mission to achieve a safe and secure environment for all citizens of the region.

But this is a very old country that has a long history and, sadly, this is not the first time that the rider of war rode through this country. This region of Europe has always been an appetizing bite for nearby empires. In the fifteenth century the Turkish invaded the Balkans, ruling the area until 1918, although Albania had reached its independence in 1912.

Portions of the population had to abandon their homes looking for a secure future, some finding it in Sicily.

Some of these nomads arrived in Palermo where King Juan II of Aragon, the island’s ruler, allowed them to stay and preserve their Greek culture. In 1488 the Albanian refugees founded a town in the south of Palermo and called it Hora.

The old Hora was named Piana degli Greki, and finally, over time it changed into Piana degli Albanesi, which is the actual name. As years passed, these citizens were able to keep their language, customs, clothes and worship with Greek tradition. A Greek Catholic bishop has had jurisdiction over all the groups observing the Byzantine rite in Sicily since 1937.

Today, Piana degli Albanessi is a tourist town of 6,000 people located 24 kilometers from Palermo where visitors can enjoy the monuments, the Byzantine iconography and the spectacle of a whole Easter in Greek rite.

What is not so well known is some of those refugees' descendants have come back to Kosovo as NATO peacekeepers with the Italian contingent in MULTINATIONAL BRIGADE SOUTH WEST, to bring relief to Kosovars and help them rebuild what was destroyed in the conflict -- the same thing their ancestors were looking for in Italy more than five centuries ago.

This is the case of Giorgio Salerno, a 21-year-old Italian soldier with the 2nd Regiment of Engineers from Piacenza (MNB SW). He was born in Palermo in 1982, but he has been living in Piana degli Albanesi, since birth.

Since arriving in Kosovo, he has served as a generator operator with 35 Italian, German and Argentinean colleagues repairing a road that connects Malisheva to Suhareka. The road officially reopened 27 July.

"Although several centuries have passed, we have never forgotten our language and traditions. We still continue to speak our language and take care of our culture and traditions. Our grandparents have always spoke this language and we continue to speak it also," he told the newspaper "Zeri" during an interview at a ceremony marking the reopening of the road.

He greeted the journalist speaking Albanian and speaking in Albanian during the interview. "It is the same typical dialect that we read in poems written by De Rada, Serembe, Gavril Dara I Riu, and other well known poets," said Asllan Bekteshi, the interviewer.

"The country is beautiful and the people love us," said Salerno, when RTK TV interviewed him 18 July.