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Flora Suldashi: “Castriotto d’Albanie” by Michael Schmidt-Neke

E shtune, 07.08.2010, 08:57 PM

“Castriotto d’Albanie” by Michael Schmidt-Neke


Prepared by: Flora Suldashi



Michael Schmidt-Neke PhD, is a friend of Albanians who for decades is involved in research of historical and actual events about Albania. He was born on 1956 in Baden-Baden in southern Germany. In 1975 he visited Albania for the first time. Then he went to study history and classical languages at Freiburg University, where he began to learn Albanian Language on his own as an autodidact. In the course of his exams in history, in his first endeavor in the subject of Albanian Language, he wrote an essay in the magazine “Albania” of Faik Konica. He found a full proceeding of this rare magazine of Albanian National Renaissance at the Institute for Languages of this University.


He had the honor to take part twice (around 1980) in the International Seminar, which the University of Prishtina organized every year. With a support of the Institute for Languages at the University of Bon led by Professor Johann Knobloch he established contacts with Academy of Sciences in Albania. He has a great respect for Albanian nobleman and scientist Aleks Buda, now passed away, that was heading the Academy at the time, and who invited him to do research at libraries of Tirana to prepare his dissertation on political developments in Albania between 1912 and 1939. His research was published as a book in Munich in 1986.


He was the editor in chief of a scientific manual for Albania published in 1993. Currently he is working for years in Kiel as a collaborator of parliamentary group of social democrats in Landtagun of Shlesvig Holstein, responsible for education, science and cultural affairs.


In addition to the book “The origin and development of royal dictatorship in Albania (1912 – 1939)”, he has published all constitutions of Albania in German, many articles and essays on historical and actual events related to Albania, and many terms of Albanian Encyclopedic Dictionary, which is being published by the Academy of Sciences of Albania. He is the editor and regular contributor of the Albanian-German Friendship magazine “Albanische Hefte”, and at the same time deputy chairman of this Association which plays an important role in building bridges of friendship and cooperation between Albanian and German people.


For a long time, Schmidt-Neke deals with the activities and many publications of Stepan Zanovich, a Montenegrin who used a false identity as an instrument – Castriotto d’Albanie, thus leaving dishonest blueprints in high European circles.


Stepan Zanoviç – “The Prince of Albania


The case of Stepan Zanovich is a topic which in Albanian media is very little unfolded, therefore we will pay some attention to it by bringing historical evidence from selected writings of Mr. Schmidt-Neke.


Zanovich exercised an “influence” in high European circles with false identities and his aim was to remain a mystery: We can assume that he did so for a political backdrop, especially when presenting himself to the European officials as Castriotto d’Albanie!


False Albanians in the Mozart opera


In 1970 in Vienna, Mozart’s comic opera “Cosi fan tutte“ (Thus behave all of them (women)) was performed. In this show, Lorenco da Ponte puts the focus on the faith of two boyfriends, Guglielmo and Ferrando, who mask themselves with a camouflage of Albanian nobles, to attract their girlfriends Fiordiligi and Dorabella. According to Konstance Natoshevic, now passed away, da Pontes generated this idea from his memories on alleged two Albanian rascals, well-known in Europe, Primislav and Stepan Zanovich.


STEPAN ZANOVICH – A guy from Venetian Albania


Primislav, Hanibal, Stepan and Miroslav are the sons of count Antun Zanovich. Such titles like count, were freely distributed to the Venetian Senate to secure loyalty of the predecessors in its provinces, despite that Antun is just an infamous player. “Corriger la fortune” (Correcting the fate) has an all too-clear meaning in this era: playing cards.


This history began on February 18, 1751 in Pashtrovich province to southwest of Budva, in present day Montenegro, which at the time was the most distant point of the Republic of Venice rule, known as Venetian Albania.


Stepan spent his youth in Venice. At the age of 14 he published in a book his first poem on the wedding of two Venetian nobles. When he got 18, he was expelled from Venice together with his brother, because they had attacked violently a merchant.


An uncertainty began for Stepan who remained homeless and without a family, a life where everything is put on gambling, but fortunately it was a battle for wealth extending throughout Europe. He was met for some in Rome, Torino, Firence, Paris, Lyon, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and again in Bologna, Ferrara, Trieste, Napoli for alleged studies, but always for a short time: for months, if not weeks – an extremely short period for comprehensive studies. In his youth, Primislav was his associate and instructor, but Stepan will overtake his instructor in terms of activities and with impudence.


In 1773 both were expelled from Milano, the capital city of Great Dukata of Toscana, by the order of the Grand Duke Leopold, who since 1790 until 1792 would become the Emperor of Austria. 


Both brothers had cheated a young English lord in gambling and then forced his family to pay the debt. This activity was understood by the Duke and subsequently both brothers together with the most known adventurer of the century, Giacomo Casanova, were expelled from the city, though Casanova did not have any benefit from this insolence.


Chomel & Jordan Affair – A great fraud leading to the war!


By using a false identity Peovich, the brothers manage to get a letter of recommendation from diplomatic representative of Venice in Napoli, from Simone Kavalli, addressed to the Chomel & Jordan bank in Amsterdam. By covering the debt of English lord with a receipt, they were initially successful in obtaining a loan from this bank. Of course, the family of the English lord refused to make this payment which was written off a year ago.


Acting under the mask of false good behavior, the brothers apologized for this “misunderstanding” and manage to get over to another business by convincing the Dutch bankers to invest in the “Minerva” ship, which would transport wine and expensive aroma under a trade agreement with Peovich company. Indeed, Chomel & Jordan paid out 30,000 Dutch Guldens. The outcome of this transaction led to an international conflict: the Dutch were in vain awaiting the “Minerva” ship to arrive, and it would not arrive because it never existed.


Meanwhile the Zanovichs were deported from the Netherlands, whereas the betrayed bankers address to a diplomat of Venice, who then was ambassador in London. Kavalli refused any indemnification and blamed the Dutch for carelessness and negligence.


Chomel & Jordan then made an appeal to the Senate of Venice demanding indemnification to be made from the state budget, because, Kavalli in the position of official representative of Saint Mark Republic had recommended the “Peovichs”. However, the government of Venice did not accept to take over this responsibility. The identify of “Peovichs” and Primislav and Stepan Zanovich brothers is quickly revealed, thereon in 1777 they were permanently expelled from the Venice city, and also from the territory of the Republic; their small land parcels were sold in emergency auctions in 1782. The authorities also investigate the responsibility of Kavalli and declare him not guilty.


Diplomatic conflict over the issue gets worse. The diplomacy is led by the senator Andrea Tron and senior adviser Engelbert von Berckel, who want the issue to be dealt with and resolved. At the end, after Venetian ships were blocked by the Netherlands, the state of war was declared, but fortunately it was only formal since it did not involve bloodshed. Both parties engage the German emperor Joseph II as an intermediate, but the conflict will eventually come at an end in 1785, leaving traces in the annals of diplomatic history. Chomel & Jordan demands remain without any answer. 


After this fraud, both brothers end their fruitful cooperation. Primislav disappeared without traces. After spending some years in prison in Russia on charges of falsifying money in cooperation with his other brother Hanibal, the traces of Primislav remained unknown, and it is rumored that he died as a mercenary in India.


Prince Kastrioto of Albania


Stepan is at his height of criminal energy and literary activity. He presented himself as a “philosopher”, not in today’s meaning, but as a wise man in literature who invents false identities one after another. Until 1775 he published some small volumes with poems under his real name “Stefanon Zanovich” then he distributes the false news about his death. In a letter to Voltaire, he warns of himself being close to certain death and also publishes “posthumously works”.



Following “the death” of the count Zanovich, a new hero was brought in: Stepan Hanibal – Prince Kastrioto of Albania, Prince of Montenegro, a progeny of Scanderbeg, forced out from his homeland by the Turks. For eleven years in a row, this phantasm will travel to royal yards of Europe to establish a network of contacts with the rulers of the time, including the Prussian king Frederick the Great, the Russian empress Catherine the Great and the count Mikhail Oginski, a failed candidate for the throne of Poland who transformed his palace in Slonim into an international centre of contemporary culture.


The greatest success is a short biography of Scanderbeg “The Great Kastriot of Albania”, a paperback published in French, German and Russian, and after the author’s death, in Swedish. As a short summary of the life of Gjergj Kastrioti – Scanderbeg, it is not important, but the story is combined with spreading the principles of illumines. According to the story, Scanderbeg in his bed of death advises his son how to defend the citizens’ freedom against the catholic clerks and establish a free newspaper!


At the same time, he uses other identities and positions. He uses the fact that from 1767 to 1773 Montenegro was ruled by a man (the true identity of which remains unknown to the present day) named Stjepan Mali (Shtjefёn/Stephen the Little), who was known by the Montenegrins as the former Russian Tsar III. This Tsar was overthrown by his wife, Catherine the Great, in 1762; under unclear circumstances he was killed few days after his removal. Zanovich claims that it was this Stjepan Mali, the assassination of which was just a camouflage; by publishing his biography as well.

In Europe, it was obvious that Montenegro and Albania are two different countries, therefore such a story would not correspond neither to the facts, nor to the logic.


Many European monarchs were raised with a broad culture, with French being as a language of culture and diplomacy, and had their royal yards with open doors to foreign intellectuals, scholars of philosophy and literature. Frederick not only kept a rich correspondence with Voltaire, but discussed the financial affair with Casanova. He waited for the prince Kastrioto, but with typical intelligence he soon realized that this was just a charlatan.


Zanovich and his typical foxy wisdom focused on Frederick Guilhelm, who was the son of Frederick’s brother. The young prince, differently from the king, had a soft nature and character that could be impacted upon.


Stepan devotes a series of poems and books (the Quran of predicted princes into the throne), in which he prophesized the prince as a forthcoming ideal monarch. It can be assumed that his aim was to get appointed as a high ranking official in the royal yard once the young prince would come to the throne, but he did not enjoy the coming of that day. The prince admired by Stepan ends up as the weakest king in the history of Prussia. Frederick Guilhelm II initially begun to be called as “The Beloved One” and at the end he was made fun by the people as “The Fat Nomad”.


The king eventually orders the arrest of Stepan, but he escaped from Prussia and found shelter in Slonim to the count Oginski. Relationship with the count’s sister, Genofeva Bzhostovska – Oginska is portrayed in numerous poems for “Geltrude of Poland”. “The Prince of Albania” published and republished a paperback on Poland’s future titled “Political Horoscope of Poland, Prussia, and England”.



Poems of Zanovich, mostly written in Italian or French, were often praised for elegance and poetry perfectness, but there were also some other voices. Johann von Mannlih, the official painter at the yard of duke of Zweibricken, noticed that the poems just out of printing house, which the false prince was distributing for free to his visitors, are nothing else just plagiarism of poems by marken Pompinian. This indicates the great difficulties in assessing the works of Zanovich, because his sources of reference were not known well. He wrote during an extremely fruitful era in all literary branches, and there are too few specialists who still recognized such lost authors.      


The Odyssey goes on


Zanovich resumes an Odyssey in Europe. He again appears in the Netherlands, where he is jailed for unpaid debts, but not for the Chomel & Jordan affair. He was released after interventions by the people with authority. Then he went on to deepen the friendship with personalities of Poland and travels as an associate of the count Oginski.


However, by the time, his fraudulent activities were weakening and not showing results in royal yards. Now he was living in a bourgeoisie house and implicating new friends in his fraudulent activities, which even several years after Stepan’s death continued with their pamphlets and court proceedings against each other.


In his last efforts, he tried to use political conjunctures. In the late 1784 the government of Lower Countries offered him an award if he was able to impede the entry of Montenegrin forces into the side of Austrian army in the conflict with the Netherlands, but in November 1785 the conflict came at an end.


Nevertheless, Zanovich’s charisma attracted and blinded another man; Cloots was impressed by his mysterious personality. Few months later, Cloots published a harsh polemic against Zanovich.


The undignified end of the “Prince”


Zanovich demanded compensation from the Dutch government on the ground that the Montenegrins did not side with the Austrians against the Dutch, maintaining that this was due to his merit. The authorities of Amsterdam considered this claim but rejected it. Zanovich entered into large debts and for life expenses did not pay a penny. A lender denounced him and the false prince got arrested on 4 April 1786, paid back this small debt, but the first denouncement generated a storm of other claims against him. Still worse: the memory of Chomel & Jordan affair resurfaced. The police doubted if this prince is Zanovich, who had sucked up the cases of banks in Amsterdam, causing the many years conflict between the Lower Countries and Venice. He was transferred from the prison of debtors to the one for criminals. Proceedings of investigation revealed that he was trying to hide his identity, though unsuccessfully.


By the end of his life, he remained without any support, friend, and hope. With the last money at disposal he bought a bottle of wine and with the broken glass he cut his own blood veins. On 26 May 1786 his corpse as a suicide committer was found by his guard. In absence of the family, he was denied honored burial and his corpse was thrown into a hole.




What is left?

A short life of an adventurer, a series of books and brochures, today very scarce due to nicknames of the authors that are difficult to be identified, the shadow of a suspicious figure in the books and memories of more known contemporaries than himself, from Casanova to Cloots. But, more remains to be revealed: We have referred at the beginning to the echo of Zanovich at “Cosi fan tutte” of Moxart’s opera.


Alfred Doeblin, a German author, published in 1929 perhaps the most important roman during the days, “Berlin, the Alexander Square”. At the very beginning, the hero of the roman, Franz Bieberkopf, is faced with the life of Zanovich as a parabola of positive as well as negative opportunities, which the life offers to the man.


Milo Dori, a Yugoslav writer in exile to Austria, dedicated a full roman to Stepan Zanovich, “All of my brothers” in a manner of fictitious memories of Stepan’s youngest brother, Miroslav.


And finally, although he was a charismatic manipulator of the first degree and in fact did not have any connection with Albania, Stepan Zanovich, the false and unfortunate prince of Albania, remains an important link to the chain of pan European tradition for Scanderbeg and Albania at the time when Europe did not have further clear ideas to understand the notion “Albania”.


Had there been a “Prince of Albania”, the European public could draw conclusions that he existed in a country with a correct name ALBANIA, which in one beautiful day would be liberated from the Ottoman rule.

(Vota: 5 . Mesatare: 5/5)



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