Besa (Albanian culture)

Besa is an Albanian cultural precept, usually translated as "faith", that means "to keep the promise" and "word of honor".[1] The only word in Albania that can be translated as 'faithful' is 'besnik', derived from besa. Besnik for men and Besa for women continue to be very popular names among Albanians.


Some say that the word 'besa' traces back to the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini, a collection of laws which regulated the Albanian social, economic and religious lives, together with traditional customs and cultural practices of the Albanian society between 1400 and today. Besa is an important part of personal and familial standing and is often used as an example of "Albanianism". However, 'besa' as a cultural principle isn't a word Lek Dukagjini coined for the first time in the Kanun. 'Besa' has been an integral part of the Albanians, noted since the "Ballad of Konstandin," a song sung by Albanians in the Balkans and Arberesh of Italy, who left the country before because of the Ottoman Empire.

Besa during World War II

Besa also means taking care of those in need and being hospitable. During World War II, Albanians saved over 2000 Jews from Nazi persecution.[2] Rather than hiding the Jews in attics or the woods, Albanians gave them clothes, gave them Albanian names, and treated them as part of the family. The concept of besa is incorporated into their culture. Before World War II only about 200 Albanians were Jewish. At the end of the war about 2000 Jews were living in Albania. An award-winning feature film documentary BESA: The Promise (2012) is about American photographer Norman H. Gershman's quest to tell the story of Besa and the Albanians who saved Jews during World War II. This story was featured on CBS News Sunday Morning on November 8, 2009 for the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, which occurred on November 9, 1938.[3]


Besa related sayings include:[1]

In arts

Besa is a key theme in the novel Kush e solli Doruntinën (usually abbreviated in English to "Doruntine") (1980), by Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare.[1]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Kushova, Alma (July 21, 2004). "Besa". Open Democracy. Retrieved 2009-11-08.
  2. Tabachnick, Toby. "Besa Albanian Muslims took vow to save Jews, photographer says". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-11-08.
  3. Axelrod, Jim (November 8, 2009). "The Righteous". CBS News Sunday Morning. Retrieved 2009-11-08.

External links

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