Albanian Highlanders And Kosovo (II)

Part I

The “island societies”

As already mentioned at the very beginning of the article, the geographical position and the physical geography of the Dinaric region shaped the anthropological features of this partially isolated part of the Balkan Peninsula chaining from North Dalmatia to South Albania. In order to understand the issue of the article, a reader may compare this (Dinaric) kind of isolation with other similar regions in Europe. As an example, which might be taken as the closest one to our Balkan Dinaric subject, is the Basque region in the Mt. Pyrenees, shared by Spain and France.[1] This parallel, in principle, has to be deeply discussed in dealing with the Albanian Question in general and in KosMet in particular. Probably, alongside with the Basque case, the optimal parallel with the whole Dinaric area is going to be with the Mediterranean islands, like Crete, and in particular Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. Among all of them, the island of Sardinia comes closest to our issue on the KosMet-Albanian relations, in many respects.[2]

In all mentioned cases geographical (and, therefore, cultural) isolation has resulted in the creation of particular intra-social structures within the “island-society”. In general, the isolation implies conservation, even in some cases retardation, as compared with the regions which maintain regular links and communication with the surrounding societies and neighboring cultures. The case of retardation is, most probably, illustrated as the best example by the island of Tasmania, which in the early prehistoric epochs was a part of the Australian continent. The Tasmanians at the beginning shared with Australia’s Aborigines the same culture and possessed the same civilization-technological features. However, when the Tasmanian Peninsula separated from the rest of Australia’s continent, the isolation resulted in the conservation of the local cultural and other features but in many respect and with the retardation of the Tasmanian society.[3] When the first Europeans arrived at the island, they found the Tasmanians well retarded in comparison with neighboring Australia’s Aborigines, in material culture in particular.[4] In the extreme situations of isolation, it may result in biological extinction of a species if the number of population drops below a critical value. Furthermore, another effect, from the very evolutionary point of view, is a degeneration of the population, by intra-breeding, for instance, or intra-marriages, as witnessed by many “island-societies” in the basin of the Mediterranean Sea.

The highlanders vs the lowlanders

From the purely sociological point of view, partial or total isolation results in conserving the ethnic culture and moral values of traditional societies, formed in some cases even in the prehistoric epochs in Europe. In this respect, the focal questions to be answered are:

  • Which peculiar features of the “island-society” are preserved and how did they come about?
  • What is the difference between the “island-societies” of the Highlanders and the lowlanders (plane people) with their civilization?

First of all, a Highlander cannot develop a civilization in its strict sense, for the very reason that they have no opportunity, due to the geographical background of their societal life, to create and develop cities and live in them.[5] Their settlements (villages) appear rather scattered among the mountains, with large mutual separation and very weak inter-connections with the direct social implication that their mutual communications are rare and weak. In this point, we have to keep in our mind that the development of a civilization is, in essence, founded on three pillars: 1) Advanced qualities of individuals; 2) Relatively strong interactions among those individuals; and 3) Practical optimization of the balance of these two conditions.[6] It is here why and how the difference between the Highlanders and the lowlanders arises and exists that is probably of the crucial importance for the understanding of the relations between the Albanian highlanders and Serb lowlanders in KosMet. However, without an accurate understanding of those relations, one cannot properly understand how and why the Albanian highlanders as newcomers in the course of time became today total masters of KosMet at the expense of autochtonous Serb lowlanders who are mainly expelled from the province.

Albanian highlanders
Albanian highlanders

Generally, the highlanders appear as a collection of individuals while the lowlanders form a social system with a developed network structure, which is subjected to the social, technological, and cultural development. Mountainous regions appear extreme cases of the rural societies and both owe their technological status to acquiring the achievements of the civilized urban society of the lowlanders or plane population. Nevertheless, it is not only technology but the very living staff which the Highlanders “borrow” from the plane people. One may describe the situation in this respect as the coexistence of two weakly coupled subsystems, each with distinct almost opposing features.[7]

These features arise from different physical environments, of course. The lowlanders as a plane people live in relatively fertile areas, which provide sufficient living support in food. Their principal occupation is agriculture and cattle breeding. However, the Highlanders live on cattle grazing and plundering the plane environment that was, for instance, a traditional area of activity of the Albanians in KosMet and North Albania.  This is the perennial story of tension between cattle grazing and agricultural societies, as described, albeit in an allegorical form, in the Books of Genesis, in the story about Cain and Abel.[8] The story has been repeated thousands of time in Hollywood, of course, with the same “cast of roles”. Interestingly, the first people who were supposed to cultivate whit were Natufians, who lived in the present day Palestine, about 10.000 years ago. And if one seeks an equation of civilization it reads “whit = civilization”. The whit cultivation enabled homo sapiens to produce a surplus of food and thus open the gates to specialization, which turned out to be essential for civilization as such. The irony of history is that present-day Israelis are farmers and the Palestinians (post-nomadic) shepherds.

The severe living conditions have shaped the mental and physical structures of the Highlanders. In the region of Dinaric Alps, it means that the population is tall, slim and bony, as a rule, dolichocephalic. As a matter of illustration, almost all of the Yugoslav best tennis players, like Ivanišević, Ljubičić, Djoković, Karlović, etc are typical Dinaric people (Homo Dinaricus). In fact, it is due to the preponderance of the Dinaroids in some sports, like basketball, volleyball, handball, etc that ex-Yugoslavia and present-days her successor states are proved to be successful in these areas of activity. However, a psychological construction of Homo Dinaricus contains many aggressive features, often combined with unscrupulous and violent behavior. The severity of the physical environment has resulted in the warlike attributes of these people, as described by Dinko Tomašić, a Croat researcher from the USA, just before the WWII onwards.[9] Many Yugoslav authors have devoted their attention to the (Dinaric) character of West Balkan population, as is the case, for instance, with a famous Serbian geographer and anthropologist Jovan Cvijić,[10] and in particular with Vladimir Dvorniković in his monumental work, published just before WWII, A Characterology of the Yugoslavs.[11]

Unlike the lowlanders, where the central unit of the society appears to be either village or town, the social unit of the Highlanders is the extended family (called zadruga in the Slavonic Yugoslav case). In the Dinaric region of the Albanian speakers, the extended family is called fis. It comprises all descendants from a couple: sons with their families, unmarried daughters, and their offspring. It could amount up to a few tens in the case of the Yugoslav Slavs but even more in the case of the Albanian speakers.[12] The structure within the extended family appears strictly hierarchic, with pater familias as the supreme, unquestionable master of the community. The rules within this structure are very strict and the master of the house and family may even kill the disobedient. The rationale for this type of organization is the lack of the institution of state and its juristic role. The relationship between extended families is governed by the balance of force (fear of revenge) which each of them can exercise in the case of disputes which appear frequent and often unavoidable, mainly over pastures and women. The more guns extended family possesses, the more powerful and authoritative position of the family within the tribe is respected. The same holds for the interrelations between tribes, which are composed of all families descending from the same ancestor which can be historic personality or mythic imagination no matter.

Internal ethos within a family is composed of the archaic rules, imposed by the tribal, traditional society. In order to preserve the unity of the extended family the practice of levirate,[13] is retained. It means that if an adult member dies, his brother if he is single and adult too, marries his widow. In fact, even if the first brother is still alive, his sibling possesses in part the bride, except for outright sexual intercourse. Contrary to this evidently endogamic rule, marriage is essentially exogamic in this traditional society, but it rarely extends in practice beyond the tribal boundary. In fact, this exogamic feature has been one of the principal causes of disputes between families, resulting often in the blood feud.

KosMet and Dinaric Albanian highlanders: The blood feud

KosMet as a province (Kosovo in English, Kosova in Albanian, Kosovo-Metochia in Serbian) is a new and sometimes awkward addition to Europe, and to the rest of the world. The province, which self-proclaimed quasi-independence from Serbia in February 2008, was forged for centuries as a central part of Serbia, remote province of the Ottoman Empire and highly problematic region on the very border with Albania within two Yugoslav states. Undoubtedly, KosMet is an ancient land but only discovered by the West during the 1998‒1999 Kosovo War between local Albanian terrorists and separatists and legitimate security forces of Serbia. It first attracted the attention of the Western corporate media during the bloody destruction of ex-Yugoslavia in 1991‒1995 as the next problem to come on the agenda of solving but at that time somewhere behind the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nevertheless, despite the vast majority of books and other writings on KosMet during the last two decades the focal issue of the Kosovo knot is still not well known as the chief problem is not fully discovered and properly presented by the academicians: the struggle of the Dinaric warlike and truculent (Albanian) highlanders to occupy the province and to expel all (Serb) lowlanders for the sake to create ethnically pure Lebensraum. A KosMet’s issue today is, therefore, the best example, as Noam Chomsky noted, how belligerent Albanian newcomers from mountainous North and Central Albania (after 1689) occupied, terrorized and finally ethnically cleansed the province from its autochthonous Serb lowlanders and drastically changed, therefore, both ethnic and cultural landscape of extremely fertile and naturally reach province of South Serbia. Today, ethnic and cultural genocide over KosMet’s Serbs committed during the last three centuries by the Dinaric Albanian highlanders is reflected, for instance, by total replacement of original Slavonic-Serbian place names by artificial Albanian toponyms and above all by the production of criminal books on KosMet’s history and ethnography by quasi-academic Albanian falsifiers.[14]

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Albanians including those living in KosMet as well as was and is a blood feud. This typical remnant of the traditional society appears historically as a characteristic of the entire Dinaric region but today exists only among Albanians. In short, a blood feud imposes the obligation on the family whose member has been killed by somebody from another family, or tribe, to revenge the murdered member by killing an appropriate (male) member of the killer’s family (or tribe). The duty of revenge falls on the closest relative of the murdered, like son, brother, etc. However, the focal point of a blood feud practice is that when the blood feud is finally realized, the family of the latest victim feels obliged to revenge itself and the vicious circle never ends. Some of these blood feud conflicts extended over many generations and even grand grandsons are not protected from the revenge in blood.

The blood feud disappeared from the Slavonic area of the Dinaric Alps soon after WWII, but not entirely, as a case in Montenegro several years ago shows. However, on the contrary, in the Albanophone regions, both in Albania and KosMet, this devastating custom is still alive and became significantly revived after 1999. The family of the killer (debtor) is confined to its house and may not appear in public, without the consent of the victim’s family. According to the 2013 polls, about 1.300 families in Albania live in the conditions of internal house prison because of the blood feud.[15] If they manage to realize a public appearance it is only due to the institution of besa, a sworn word that the “outlaw” will be spared for a definite period of time. It concerns usually walking to a town, working in the field, special occasions, like weddings and other feasts, etc. Besa is a peculiar Albanian institution and is strictly obeyed by the giver of besa and condemned by the community if the latter is breaking his own given word.

The blood feud or vendetta (gjakmarrje in Albanian, literary “blood taking”), was and is a reflection of the Albanian customary law as it was codified in the 15th century in the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini.[16] The blood feud was and is practiced as a means of exercising tribal justice in wide regions of KosMet and North Albania and is a typical remnant of collective psychology of isolated and retarded highlanders. Up to WWII vendetta was practiced in Montenegro as well as under the umbrella of cosa nostra that was not a subject of any legitimate authority to deal with it. Behind vendetta is in the mind of the Highlanders the principle of “male honor” or, in other words, that male cannot cleanse his honor until he has given satisfaction in blood for a crime or infringement upon his honor or upon the honor of a member of his family. At least in the Albanian case, women are exempted from vendetta which can be applied only on the male members of the family. The blood feud usually occurs between families but, however, it can take place between entire tribes and can last for decades, even in the case that the original cause of vendetta is already forgotten.

A murder committed in revenge is in the majority of practical cases carried out according to specific customs and traditional norms and it is justified by the community in question in full. According to the rules, the murderer is obliged to inform the family of his victim about vendetta and to ensure that the body of the victim is going to be transported home together with his guns. Moreover, the murderer is even expected to attend the funeral of the victim after the arrangement of besa for 24 hrs. In practice, the vendetta can be applied to any male relative of the murderer and, therefore, as a consequence, many of the tribes in both KosMet and North Albania were once decimated by the blood feud. A practice of vendetta was revived in Albania after the fall of socialism in 1990 and in KosMet after NATO’s occupation of the province in June 1999 where today hundreds of the Albanian families remained discreetly entrapped in this bloody custom. As a matter of fact, both North Albania’s and KosMet’s Albanians traditionally were erecting high and thick walls with the loopholes around their houses in order to survive vendetta.

Albanian blood feud
Sisters of the Blood Feud: Revenge Killings in Albania

Regarding recent KosMet’s history, a crux of the matter is that local Albanians understood vendetta as a collective blood feud after 1999 against KosMet’s Serbs for something that was very much politically inflated during the 1998−1999 Kosovo War. The mentality of retarded highlanders works exactly to the direction of making stereotypes and applying collective vendetta that was, however, understood by the Western “democracies” as a part of regional ethnic culture and tradition to be respected. As a consequence, the province of KosMet is almost totally ethnically cleansed from its original inhabitants – the Serb lowlanders, who, by the way, never applied collective vendetta on KosMet’s Albanians for their three centuries terror over them.

KosMet’s Serbs and Albanians: Cosa nostra   

It is necessary to dwell in some more detail on the psychological rationale of the blood feud, for this reveals the essence of the Highlanders’ mentality and their sense of justice. When we read the first sentences of Scott Andersen’s article published in The New York Times Magazine, the first impression one gets is that of unnecessary bestiality from the murderer’s side.[17] But reading further, we came in conclusion that every move he made was a carefully calculated gesture, and sends an important message to the environment, to the eyewitnesses and via them to the broader surroundings. The first message was directed towards potential informers like: “I am furiously angry and woe to those who try to report this to the police”. The very duration of the assassination and murder’s calm and slow departure from the spot means: “I am not afraid”. Incidentally, this appears the typical behavior of mafia’s paid assassinators, as illustrated in a scene in the already cult movie The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola (1972). This gives to the murder a social character, as a sort of public execution. The principal aim is to intimidate the surroundings, especially potential avengers. The murder could have been executed in a less conspicuous manner, like an ambush around the corner, but in this case, the real point would have been missed. The public execution means: “I have the right to do this, my act is justified”. This is the message to the victim’s family (tribe), otherwise, this could be interpreted as an accident. And as the reporter from the spot (a city of Shkodër in North Albania on the very border with Montenegro) emphasizes, the immediate witnesses got the message right.

The parallel with (a Sicilian) mafia, both in Sicily (and generally Italy for that matter) and the USA is not accidental. In both cases, those clashes reveal a sad fact – that of (co)existence of two states, one official one, the other hidden, but at the same time well present in the mind of the ordinary citizens.[18] The public murders, as described above, reveal only the top of the iceberg of the organized crime, or the “law” of the traditional societies. However, the parallel goes even further. Both institutions, mafia, and the blood feud have arisen from the lack of the state. In Sicily, it was mafia who organized the resistance to the foreign rule (Spanish). In the case of Dinaric (and other semi-traditional societies) the absence of state as an institution, under foreign rule (like the Ottoman and the Austrian/Habsburg Empires), shaped the autochthonous rules of behavior, like the blood feud. When Sicily got rid of Spanish rule, the clandestine movement, mafia, remained intact and continued to exist and operates, albeit in a different direction. Likewise, when the indigenous people, like the Balkan Dinaroid highlanders, finally got their respective ”national states”, they, however, hardly noticed the change.[19]

It should be made here a comparison between these traditional customs in Albania and non-Albania’s regions populated by the Albanians, like KosMet or Montenegro and North Macedonia. In the latter cases, local ethnic Albanians, who are living there as the newcomers and emigrants from high Albania, still experience the states they live in as foreign, even hostile, whereas those living in Albania have no such a resistance to the state, except to a state as an institution (a tax collector and a legitimate power institution), as such. In fact, it makes dealing with “traditional law” even more difficult in the surrounding countries than in native Albania. But even with this difference in mind, the rationale remains the same – counterpoint between the state and the traditional society. The message of the assassinator at Shkodër described above to the surrounding people is a Cosa nostra like:

”We are in conflict with each other, but we are ‘ours’ and nobody, even the state and its law may be allowed to interfere with ‘our’ own laws”.

The victim’s relatives are thus reminded that they are part of the (traditional) sub-state, as opposed to the state they live in. Testifying at the court against the killer means a betrayal of the “ancient laws” and is strictly forbidden. In a sense, this unwritten law is a counterpart of mafia’s omerta – the rule of silence. Incidentally, this rule gave rise to naming a branch of the mafia, Cosa Nostra. The incident in Palermo in the 1860s of a wounded mafioso, who revealed to the policeman the identity of the assassinator as Cosa nostra,[20] reveals the rationale for the naming. The policeman rightly understood the message as indignant “leave me alone” or “not your business” and gave up further investigation.

lbanianFF Orthodox Church in Podujevo
An Albanian “rebel” fights the cross on the top of the Serbian church in Podujevo.

Finally, as a matter of conclusion, a parallel between intra-tribal and inter-tribal implications of the blood feud like that at Shkodër in December 1999 described above deserve the attention as, probably, a focal point of the current issue of the Kosovo knot and the Albanian-Serbian relations in the province. Namely, the former case just reflects the nature of the society with such an ethos, since all people involved in Cosa nostra belong to the same ethnic (and mental) group. Even if the killer and the victim belong to different tribes, but within the same traditional society, it is still of the local (ethnic) matter and consequences. However, if we now move to a society where the killer and the victim belong to different ethnicities (like Albanian and Serbian), one traditional (Albanian) and the other standard (Serbian), then the incident described above would have far-reaching consequences as the current KosMet’s issue clearly shows. In other words, if somebody from a traditional society (of the Dinaric Albanian highlanders) revenge to somebody from his non-traditional environment (a Serbian standard society of the lowlanders), this is a signal for the most serious alert. Even if both persons involved are from the same traditional group, the act appears the most serious intimidation to the normal environment. The least one would do after witnessing (or hearing of) the accident is to leave the region. And that was exactly what ethnic Serbs did in KosMet after the 1998−1999 Kosovo War. The Western gangsters knew very well how to exploit the psychology of the Dinaric highlanders for their geopolitical interests in this part of the Balkans.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.

Endnotes:

[1] On the Basques and the Basque Question, see in [Roger Collins, The Basques, Hoboken, Second Edition, New Jersey: Blackwell Pub, 1990; R. L. Trask, The History of Basque, New York: Routledge, 1997; Mark Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, New York: Penguin Books, 1999; M. Bryce Ternet, A Basque Story, Second Edition, Scotts Valley, California: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2009].

[2] On Sardinia, see in [Antonio Sorge, Legacies of Violence: History, Society, and the State in Sardinia, Toronto−Buffalo−London: University of Toronto Press, 2015].

[3] On Tasmania, see in [Tom Lawson, The Last Man: A British Genocide in Tasmania, New York: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2014].

[4] It was this “underdevelopment” which caused, in part, that newcomers from Europe exterminated Tasmanian autochthonous population in the second half of the 19th century. It occurred almost the same with the Aborigines in Australia. From the perspective of contemporary International Criminal Law, we can speak in both cases about the genocide as “Genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings”.  [Alexander Zahar, Göran Sluiter, International Criminal Law: A Critical Introduction, Oxford‒New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, 155]. On the history of genocide, see in [Norman M. Naimark, Genocide: A World History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017]. On the history of Australia, see in [Mark Peel, Christina Twomey, A History of Australia, Second Edition, London: Palgrave, 2018].

[5] Historically and anthropologically, a notion of “civilization” (and even of “culture”) is in connection with the towns/cities which were originally formed around the big rivers in the lowland. Classic examples are ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt.

[6] The spread of alphabet in Antiquity is historically very good example how civilizational deeds are spreading around due to the inter-cultural connections between the peoples and cultures [David W. Del Testa et al (eds.), Global History: Cultural Encounters from Antiquity to the Present, New York: Sharpe Reference, 2004, 16‒18].

[7] In this respect, see a Croat author [Dinko Tomašić, Personality and culture in Eastern European Politics, New York: G. W. Steward, 1948. Although the book is conspicuously biased against the Serbs (the author manages not to mention Croat Nazi Ustashi, for instance, though the book was published shortly after WWII), it illustrates the essential difference between the Highlanders and the lowlanders. Here we have to mention that the most notorious war criminals in Croat Nazi Ustashi camp during WWII in the Independent State of Croatia came from mountainous Dinaric (West) Herzegovina and other parts of Bosnia including and the Ustashi leader and the führer (poglavnik) Ante Pavelić (1889‒1959). He is known as the Butcher of the Balkans being responsible for mass murder of Roma, Jews, and above all of the Orthodox Serbs [Leslie Alan Horovitz, Christopher Catherwood, Encyclopedia of War Crimes and Genocide, New York: Facts On File, 2006, 343‒344]. About him, see more in [Džon K. Koks, “Ante Pavelić i ustaška država u Hrvatskoj”, Bernd J. Fišer, Balkanski diktatori: Diktatori i autoritarni vladari jugoistočne Evrope, Beograd: IPS−OP Prosveta, 2009, 229−271].

[8] This biblical episode appears a sort of “theological justification” of the plundering of the lowlanders by the Highlanders.

[9] Dinko Tomašić, “Personality Development of the Dinaric Warriors”, Psychiatry, 8, 1945, 449−493. However, we have to notice that his personal views on the Serbo-Croat disputes should be taken with a grain of salt.

[10] For instance, Jovan Cvijić, Speeches and articles, I, Chapter Dinaric Serbs (in Serbian) or “Karst and Man”, Glasnik Geografskog društva, XI, 1925 (in Serbian).

[11] Владимир Дворниковић, Карактерологија Југословена, Београд: Просвета, 2000 (First Edition in 1939).

[12] Here it has to be noticed that, for instance in KosMet, not all Albanian speakers are of ethnic Albanian origin from Albania (Arbanashes) as around 1/3 of them are Albanophone ethnic Serbs (Arnauts) [Душан Т. Батаковић, Косово и Метохија: Историја и идеологија, Друго допуњено издање, Београд: Чигоја штампа, 2007, 31−51].

[13] It is known from the biblical times.

[14] As an extremely good example of such criminal books is [Robert Elsi, Historical Dictionary of Kosova, Lanham, Maryland‒Toronto‒Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2004]. The book is overwhelmingly based on the falsification of historical truth and whitewashing historical reality of the province in the Albanian favor.

[15]  NATO’s brutal aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1999 was over by that time, but it is difficult to estimate if an awareness of the West about the essence of the dispute over KosMet between Serbs and Albanians would have changed the political decisions, had accounts like this been published before decisions were made.

[16] Shtjefën Gjeçovi, Kanuni I Lekë Dukagjinit, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

[17] “In remote northern Albania, communal life is governed by ancient codes of honor unchanged by modern notions of rights or the rule of law. That’s why Shtjefen Lamthi was gunned down in broad daylight and why his killer’s family will probably get theirs, too, someday” [Scott Anderson, „The Curse of Blood and Vengeance“, The New York Times Magazine, 1999-12-26].

[18] On the Sicilian mafia, see in [John Dickie, Cosa Nostra: A History of The Sicilian Mafia, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004].

[19] On the Balkan history, see in [Georges Castellan, History of the Balkans: From Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992].

[20] Our business in Italian.

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5 Comments
  1. Thankyou for your article on the Albanian Highlanders. Fascinating.

    For your information I append the gollowing very little known information about the aboriginal peoples of Australia. You will find yourselves edified by this further and more exact information.

    https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/history-wars/2002/06/the-extinction-of-the-australian-pygmies/

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  2. Vladislav B. Sotirović

    Dear Peter, Thank you very much indeed.

  3. You are most welcome Vladislav.

    Peter

  4. http://thesaker.is/inside-the-yellow-vests-what-the-western-media-will-not-report/

    Vladislav, Sir,

    Please read the comments section for the article above, specifically the comments by White Rabbit.

    The article is so so but those comments are dynamite.

  5. Vladislav B. Sotirović

    Dear Peter,

    Thanks a lot for your suggestion about the article.

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