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  • Date :
  • 7/9/2003

Republic of Albania



Southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea, between Greece and Serbia and Montenegro.

Geographic coordinates:

41 00 N, 20 00 E

Map references:



total: 28,750 sq km ; land: 27,400 sq km ;Water: 1,350 sq km

Land boundaries:

total: 720 km;border countries:Greece 282 km, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 151 km, Serbia and Montenegro 287 km (114 km with Serbia, 173 km with Montenegro)


362 km


mild temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters; hot, clear, dry summers; interior is cooler and wetter


mostly mountains and hills; small plains along coast

Elevation extremes:

lowest point:Adriatic Sea 0 m
highest point: Maja e Korabit (Golem Korab) 2,753 m

Natural resources:

petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, timber, nickel

Land use:

arable land: 21%
permanent crops: 5%
permanent pastures: 15%
forests and woodland: 38%
other: 21% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land:

3,410 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards:

destructive earthquakes; tsunamis occur along southwestern coast


strategic location alongStrait of Otranto (linksAdriatic Sea to Ionian Sea and Mediterranean Sea)



3,364,571 (July 1999 est.)

Age structure:

0-14 years: 33% (male 568,642; female 530,088)
15-64 years: 61% (male 957,561; female 1,105,870)
65 years and over: 6% (male 84,280; female 118,130) (1999 est.)

Population growth rate:

1.05% (1999 est.)

Birth rate:

20.74 births/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Death rate:

7.35 deaths/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Net migration rate:

-2.93 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.08 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.07 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.87 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.71 male(s)/female
total population: 0.92 male(s)/female (1999 est.)

Infant mortality rate:

42.9 deaths/1,000 live births (1999 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 69 years
male: 65.92 years
female: 72.33 years (1999 est.)

Total fertility rate:

2.5 children born/woman (1999 est.)


noun: Albanian(s)
adjective: Albanian

Ethnic groups:

Albanian 95%, Greeks 3%, other 2% (Vlachs, Gypsies, Serbs, and Bulgarians) (1989 est.)
note: in 1989, other estimates of the Greek population ranged from 1% (official Albanian statistics) to 12% (from a Greek organization)


Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%
note: all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice


Albanian (Tosk is the official dialect), Greek


definition: age 9 and over can read and write
total population: 93%
male: NA%
female: NA% (1997 est.)


Government Structure Albania was until 1991 a communist country. From after World War II until his death in 1986, Albania was ruled with an iron fist by Dictator Enver Hoxha. In 1986 he was preceded by Ramiz Alia. Until 1991, the only legal party was the Party of Labor of Albania.

In 1990 and 1991, popular protests toppled the communist regime and the first democratic elections were held in 1991. In 1992, the second elections were held, in which the opposition (the Democratic Party) won the majority of seats.

Country name:

conventional long form: Republic of Albania
conventional short form: Albania
local long form: Republika e Shqipërisë
local short form: Shqipëria
former: People's Socialist Republic of Albania

Government type:

emerging democracy



Administrative divisions:

36 districts (rrethe, singular—rreth) and 1 municipality* (bashki); Berat, Bulqizë, Delvinë, Devoll (Bilisht), Dibër (Peshkopi), Durrës, Elbasan, Fier, Gjirokastër, Gramsh, Has (Krumë), Kavajë, Kolonjë (Ersekë), Korçë, Krujë, Kuçovë, Kukës, Laç, Lezhë, Librazhd, Lushnjë, Malësi e Madhe (Koplik), Mallakastër (Ballsh), Mat (Burrel), Mirditë (Rreshen), Peqin, Përmet, Pogradec, Pukë, Sarandë, Shkodër, Skrapar (Çorovodë), Tepelenë, Tiranë (Tirana), Tiranë* (Tirana), Tropojë (Bajram Curri), Vlorë
note: administrative divisions have the same names as their administrative centers (exceptions have the administrative center name following in parentheses)


28 November 1912 (fromOttoman Empire)

National holiday:

Independence Day, 28 November (1912)


a new constitution was adopted by popular referendum on 28 November 1998; note—the opposition Democratic Party boycotted the vote

Legal system:

has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Executive branch:

chief of state: President of the Republic Rexhep MEIDANI (since 24 July 1997)
head of government: Prime Minister Pandeli MAJKO (since 2 October 1998)
cabinet: Council of Ministers nominated by the prime minister and approved by the president
elections: president elected by the People's Assembly for a five-year term; election last held 24 July 1997 (next to be held NA 2002); prime minister appointed by the president
election results: Rexhep MEIDANI elected president; People's Assembly vote by number—total votes 122, for 110, against 3, abstained 2, invalid 7

Legislative branch:

unicameral People's Assembly or Kuvendi Popullor (155 seats; most members are elected by direct popular vote and some by proportional vote for four-year terms)
elections: last held 29 June 1997 (next to be held NA 2001)
election results: percent of vote by party—PS 53.36%, PD 25.33%, PSD 2.5%, PBDNJ 2.78%, PBK 2.36%, PAD 2.85%, PR 2.25%, PLL 3.09%, PDK 1.00%, PBSD 0.84%; seats by party—PS 101, PD 27, PSD 8, PBDNJ 4, PBK 3, PAD 2, PR 2, PLL 2, PDK 1, PBSD 1, PUK 1, independents 3

Judicial branch:

Supreme Court, chairman of the Supreme Court is elected by the People's Assembly for a four-year term

Political parties and leaders:

Albanian Socialist Party or PS (formerly the Albania Workers Party) [Fatos NANO, chairman]; Democratic Party or PD [Sali BERISHA]; Albanian Republican Party or PR [Fatmir MEHDIU]; Social Democratic Party or PSD [Skender GJINUSHI]; Unity for Human Rights Party or PBDNJ [Vasil MELO, chairman]; National Front (Balli Kombetar) or PBK [Hysen SELFO]; Movement of Legality Party or PLL [Guri DUROLLARI]; Party of National Unity or PUK [Idajet BEQIRI]; Christian Democratic Party or PDK [Zef BUSHATI]; PBSD (expansion unknown) [leader NA]; Democratic Party of the Right or PDD [Petrit KALAKULA]; Democratic Alliance or PAD [Neritan CEKA]; Social Democratic Union Party or USdS [Teodor LACO]; Albanian United Right or DBSH [leader NA]

International organization participation:


Flag description:

red with a black two-headed eagle in the center



An extremely poor country by European standards, Albania is making the difficult transition to a more open-market economy. The economy rebounded in 1993-95 after a severe depression accompanying the collapse of the previous centrally planned system in 1990 and 1991. However, a weakening of government resolve to maintain stabilization policies in the election year of 1996 contributed to renewal of inflationary pressures, spurred by the budget deficit which exceeded 12%. The collapse of financial pyramid schemes in early 1997—which had attracted deposits from a substantial portion of Albania's population—triggered severe social unrest which led to more than 1,500 deaths, widespread destruction of property, and an 8% drop in GDP. The new government installed in July 1997 has taken strong measures to restore public order and to revive economic activity and trade. The economy continues to be bolstered by remittances of some 20% of the labor force which works abroad, mostly in Greece and Italy. These remittances supplement GDP and help offset the large foreign trade deficit. Most agricultural land was privatized in 1992, substantially improving peasant incomes. In 1998,Albania probably recovered most if not all of the 7% drop in GDP of 1997.

GDP—composition by sector:

agriculture: 56%
industry: 21%
services: 23% (1997)

Population below poverty line:

19.6% (1996 est.)

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

40% (1997 est.)

Labor force:

1.692 million (1994 est.) (including 352,000 emigrant workers and 261,000 domestically unemployed)

Labor force—by occupation:

agriculture (nearly all private; but some state employed) 49.5%, private business sector 22.2%, state business sector 28.3% (including state-owned industry 7.8%); note—includes only those domestically employed

Unemployment rate:

14% (October 1997) officially, but likely to be as high as 28%


revenues: $624 million
expenditures: $996 million, including capital expenditures of $NA


food processing, textiles and clothing; lumber, oil, cement, chemicals, mining, basic metals, hydropower


5.12 billion kWh (1996)

Electricity—production by source:

fossil fuel: 4.3%
hydro: 95.7%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (1996)


wide range of temperate-zone crops and livestock


$212 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.)


asphalt, metals and metallic ores, electricity, crude oil, vegetables, fruits, tobacco


Italy, Greece, Germany, Belgium, US


$791 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.)


machinery, consumer goods, and grains


Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


$645 million (1996)

Economic aid—recipient:

$630 million (1997 pledged)


1 lek (L) = 100 qintars

Exchange rates:

leke (L) per US$1—139.93 (January 1999), 150.63 (1998), 148.93 (1997), 104.50 (1996), 92.70 (1995), 94.62 (1994)

Fiscal year:

calendar year




Telephone system:

domestic: obsolete wire system; no longer provides a telephone for every village; in 1992, following the fall of the communist government, peasants cut the wire to about 1,000 villages and used it to build fences
international: inadequate; international traffic carried by microwave radio relay from the Tirana exchange to Italy and Greece

Radio broadcast stations:

AM 16, FM 3, shortwave 4 (1998)


577,000 (1991 est.)

Television broadcast stations:

13 (1997)


300,000 (1993 est.)



total: 447 km (none electrified)
standard gauge: 447 km 1.435-m gauge (1995)


total: 18,000 km
paved: 5,400 km
unpaved: 12,600 km (1996 est.)


43 km plus Albanian sections ofLake Scutari,Lake Ohrid, and Lake Prespa (1990)


crude oil 145 km; petroleum products 55 km; natural gas 64 km (1991)

Ports and harbors:

Durres, Sarande, Shengjin, Vlore


9 (1998 est.)

Airports—with paved runways:

total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (1998 est.)

Airports—with unpaved runways:

total: 6
over 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 2
under 914 m: 2 (1998 est.)


1 (1998 est.)


Military branches:

Army, Navy, Air and Air Defense Forces, Interior Ministry Troops, Border Guards

Military manpower—military age:

19 years of age

Military manpower—availability:

males age 15-49: 763,949 (1999 est.)

Military manpower—fit for military service:

males age 15-49: 622,013 (1999 est.)

Military manpower—reaching military age annually:

males: 32,954 (1999 est.)

Military expenditures—dollar figure:

$60 million (1998)

Military expenditures—percent of GDP:

2% (1998)

Major Cities and Towns Tirana;Durrës;shkodra;kruja;vlora;gjirokastra;Korça;Saranda;Berta

Places of Interest

Butrinti;Apollonia;Bridge at Mesi in the Mat region, northern Albania; A typical lane in Vuno village;A Medieval fortress in the Albanian Alps.


The education system is presently undergoing major reform in Albania, in order to bring it into line with European standards.

Pre-School, (3-6 years)

There are over 3,400 kindergartens across Albania providing an educational program that covers physical, mental, moral and aesthetic education. Some 59% of all children attend kindergarten.

Eight year compulsory education

There are approx 1500 Primary schools which cater for 6-10 year olds.

There are approx 1700 Secondary schools which cater for 11-14 year olds.

High School Education

There are approx 500 High schools acrossAlbania, catering for 14-18 year old students. It is estimated that some 70% of all Albanian children attend High school. The objective of the High school education program is to prepare students for the possibility of entering university.

University Education

There are six universities inAlbania today, with Tirana being the primary one. The others areShkoder, Korca, Vlora, Gjirokaster and Elbasan. In addition there is an Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana.

25% of High School graduates are accepted into University.

The Albanian Language

A more concrete evidence of the Illyrian-Pelasgian origin of the Albanians is supplied by the study of the Albanian language. Notwithstanding certain points of resemblance in structure and phonetics, the Albanian language is entirely distinct from the tongues spoken by the neighboring nationalities. This language is particularly interesting as the only surviving representative of the so-called Thraco-Illyrian group of languages, which formed the primitive speech of the inhabitants of theBalkan Peninsula. Its analysis presents, however, great difficulties, as, owing to the absence of early literary monuments, no certainty can be arrived at with regard to its earlier forms and later developments. In the course of time the Albanian language has been impregnated by a large number of foreign words, mainly of ancient Greek or Latin, which are younger than the Albanian Language, but there are certain indications that the primitive Illyrian language exerted a certain degree of influence on the grammatical development of the languages now spoken in the Balkan Peninsula.

There is, however, a very striking feature in this whole matter: that the Albanian language affords the only available means for a rational explanation of the meaning of the names of the ancient Greek gods as well as the rest of the mythological creations, so as exactly to correspond with the characteristics attributed to these deities by the men of those times. The explanations are so convincing as to confirm the opinion that the ancient Greek mythology had been borrowed, in its entirety, from the Illyrian-Pelasgians. As it was mentioned before, Zeus survives as "Zot" in the Albanian language. The invocation of his name is the common form of oath among the modern Albanians. Athena (the Latin Minerva), the goddess of wisdom as expressed in speech, would evidently owe its derivation to the Albanian "E Thëna," which simply means "speech." Thetis, the goddess of waters and seas, would seem to be but Albanian "Det" which means "sea." It would be interesting to note that the word "Ulysses,"whether in its Latin or Greek form "Odysseus," means "traveler" in the Albanian language, according as the word "udhë," which stands for "route" and "travel," is written with "d" or "l," both forms being in use in Albania. Such examples may be supplied ad libitum. No such facility is, however, afforded by the ancient Greek language, unless the explanation be a forced one and distorted one; but in many instances even such forced and distorted one is not available at all.

In addition, we should not forget the fact that Zeus was a Pelasgian god, par excellence, his original place of worship beingDodona. It is estimated that of the actual stock of the Albanian language, more than one third is of undisputed Ilyrian origin, and the rest are Illyrian-Pelasgian, ancient Greek and Latin, with a small admixture of Slavic, Italian (dating from the Venetian occupation of the seaboard), Turkish and some Celtic words, too.

History of Albania

The Greeks

From the 8th to the 6th century BC the Greeks founded a string of colonies on Illyrian soil, two of the most prominent of which were Epidamnus (modern Durrës) and Apollonia (near modern Vlorë). The presence of Greek colonies on their soil brought the Illyrians into contact with a more advanced civilization, which helped them to develop their own culture, while they in turn influenced the economic and political life of the colonies. In the 3rd century BC the colonies began to decline and eventually perished. Roughly parallel with the rise of Greek colonies, Illyrian tribes began to evolve politically from relatively small and simple entities into larger and more complex ones. At first they formed temporary alliances with one another for defensive or offensive purposes, then federations and, still later, kingdoms. The most important of these kingdoms, which flourished from the 5th to the 2nd century BC, were those of the Enkalayes, the Taulantes, the Epirotes, and the Ardianes.

After warring for the better part of the 4th century BC against the expansionist Macedonian state of Philip II and Alexander the Great, the Illyrians faced a greater threat from the growing power of the Romans. Seeing Illyrian territory as a bridgehead for conquests east of the Adriatic, Rome in 229 BC attacked and defeated the Illyrians, led by Queen Teuta, and by 168 BC established effective control over Illyria .

 The Roman Empire

The Romans ruled Illyria--which now became the province of Illyricum--for about six centuries. Under Roman rule Illyrian society underwent great change, especially in its outward, material aspect. Art and culture flourished, particularly in Apollonia, whose school of philosophy became celebrated in antiquity. To a great extent, though, the Illyrians resisted assimilation into Roman culture. Illyrian culture survived, along with the Illyrian tongue, though many Latin words entered the language and later became a part of the Albanian language.

Christianity manifested itself in Illyria during Roman rule, about the middle of the 1st century AD. At first the new religion had to compete with Oriental cults--among them that of Mithra, Persian god of light--which had entered the land in the wake ofIllyrian's growing interaction with eastern regions of the empire. For a long time it also had to compete with gods worshiped by Illyrian pagans. The steady growth of the Christian community in Dyrrhachium (the Roman name for Epidamnus) led to the creation there of a bishopric in AD 58. Later, episcopal seats were established in Apollonia, Buthrotum (modern Butrint), and Scodra (modern Shkodrë). By the time the empire began to decline, the Illyrians, profiting from a long tradition of martial habits and skills, had acquired great influence in the Roman military hierarchy. Indeed, several of them went on from there to become emperors. From the mid-3rd to the mid-4th century AD the reins of the empire were almost continuously in the hands of emperors of Illyrian origin: Gaius Decius, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, and Constantine the Great.

The Byzantine Empire From Illyria to Albania

When the Roman Empire divided into east and west in 395, the territories of modern Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire. As in the Roman Empire, some Illyrians rose to positions of eminence in the new empire. Three of the emperors who shaped the early history ofByzantium (reigning from 491 to 565) were of Illyrian origin: Anastasius I, Justin I, and--the most celebrated of Byzantine emperors--Justinian I.

In the first decades under Byzantine rule (until 461),Illyria suffered the devastation of raids by Visigoths, Huns, and Ostrogoths. Not long after these barbarian invaders swept through the Balkans, the Slavs appeared. Between the 6th and 8th centuries they settled in Illyrian territories and proceeded to assimilate Illyrian tribes in much of what is nowSlovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. The tribes of southern Illyria, however--including modern Albania--averted assimilation and preserved their native tongue.

In the course of several centuries, under the impact of Roman, Byzantine, and Slavic cultures, the tribes of southernIllyria underwent a transformation, and a transition occurred from the old Illyrian population to a new Albanian one. As a consequence, from the 8th to the 11th century, the nameIllyria gradually gave way to the name, first mentioned in the 2nd century AD by the geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria, of the Albanoi tribe, which inhabited what is now centralAlbania. From a single tribe the name spread to include the rest of the country as Arbri and, finally, Albania. The genesis of Albanian nationality apparently occurred at this time as the Albanian people became aware that they shared a common territory, name, language, and cultural heritage. (Scholars have not been able to determine the origin of Shqiperia, the Albanians' own name for their land, which is believed to have supplanted the nameAlbania during the 16th and 17th centuries. It probably was derived from shqipe, or "eagle," which, modified into shqipria, became "the land of the eagle.")

Long before that event, Christianity had become the established religion in Albania, supplanting pagan polytheism and eclipsing for the most part the humanistic world outlook and institutions inherited from the Greek and Roman civilizations. But, though the country was in the fold ofByzantium, Albanian Christians remained under the jurisdiction of the Roman pope until 732. In that year, the iconoclast Byzantine emperor Leo III, angered by Albanian archbishops because they had supportedRome in the Iconoclastic Controversy, detached the Albanian church from the Roman pope and placed it under the patriarch of Constantinople. When the Christian church split in 1054 between the East and Rome, southern Albania retained its tie to Constantinople while northern Albania reverted to the jurisdiction of Rome. This split in the Albanian church marked the first significant religious fragmentation of the country.

Medieval culture

In the latter part of the Middle Ages, Albanian urban society reached a high point of development. Foreign commerce flourished to such an extent that leading Albanian merchants had their own agencies inVenice, Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik, Croatia), and Thessalonica (now Thessaloniki, Greece). The prosperity of the cities also stimulated the development of education and the arts.

Albanian, however, was not the language used in schools, churches, and official government transactions. Instead, Greek and Latin, which had the powerful support of the state and the church, were the official languages of culture and literature.

The new administrative system of the themes, or military provinces created by the Byzantine Empire, contributed to the eventual rise of feudalism inAlbania, as peasant soldiers who served military lords became serfs on their landed estates. Among the leading families of the Albanian feudal nobility were the Thopias, Balshas, Shpatas, Muzakas, Aranitis, Dukagjinis, and Kastriotis. The first three of these rose to become rulers of principalities that were practically independent of Byzantium.

The decline of Byzantium

Owing partly to the weakness of the Byzantine Empire, Albania, beginning in the 9th century, came under the domination, in whole or in part, of a succession of foreign powers: Bulgarians,Norman crusaders, the Angevins of southernItaly, Serbs, and Venetians. The final occupation of the country in 1347 by the Serbs, led by Stefan Dusan, caused massive migrations of Albanians abroad, especially to Greece and the Aegean islands. By the mid-14th century, Byzantine rule had come to an end in Albania, after nearly 1,000 years.

A few decades later the country was confronted with a new threat, that of the Turks, who at this juncture were expanding their power in the Balkans. The Ottoman Turks invaded Albania in 1388 and completed the occupation of the country about four decades later (1430). But after 1443 an Albanian of military genius--Gjergj Kastrioti (1405-68), known as Skanderbeg--rallied the Albanian princes and succeeded in driving the occupiers out. For the next 25 years, operating out of his stronghold in the mountain town of Kruj, Skanderbeg frustrated every attempt by the Turks to regain Albania, which they envisioned as a springboard for the invasion of Italy and western Europe. His unequal fight against the mightiest power of the time won the esteem of Europe as well as some support in the form of money and military aid from Naples, the papacy, Venice, and Ragusa. After he died, Albanian resistance gradually collapsed, and many Albanians fled to Italy enabling the Turks to reoccupy the country by 1506. Skanderbeg's long struggle to keep Albania free became highly significant to the Albanian people, as it strengthened their solidarity, made them more conscious of their national identity, and served later as a great source of inspiration in their struggle for national unity, freedom, and independence.

The Ottoman Empire The nature of Turkish rule

The Turks established their dominion overAlbania just as the Renaissance began to unfold in Europe, so that, cut off from contact and exchanges withWestern Europe,Albania had no chance to participate in, or benefit from, the humanistic achievements of that era. Conquest also caused great suffering and vast destruction of the country's economy, commerce, art, and culture. Moreover, to escape persecution by their conquerors, about one-fourth of the country's population fled abroad to southern Italy, Sicily, and the Dalmatian coast.

Although the Turks ruled Albania for more than four centuries, they were unable to extend their authority throughout the country. In the highland regions Turkish authorities exercised only a formal sovereignty, as the highlanders refused to pay taxes, serve in the army, or surrender their arms--although they did pay an annual tribute to Constantinople.

Albanians rose in rebellion time and again against Ottoman occupation. In order to check the ravages of Albanian resistance--which was partly motivated by religious feelings, namely, defense of the Christian faith--as well as to bring Albania spiritually closer to Turkey, the Ottomans initiated a systematic drive toward the end of the 16th century to Islamize the population. This drive continued through the following century, by the end of which two-thirds of the people had converted to Islam. A major reason Albanians became Muslims was to escape Turkish violence and exploitation, an instance of which was a crushing tax that Christians would have to pay if they refused to convert.

Islamization aggravated the religious fragmentation of Albanian society, which had first appeared in the Middle Ages and which was later used by Constantinople and Albania's neighbours in attempts to divide and denationalize the Albanian people. Hence leaders of the Albanian national movement in the 19th century used the rallying cry "The religion of Albanians is Albanianism" in order to overcome religious divisions and foster national unity.

The basis of Ottoman rule inAlbania was a feudal military system of landed estates, called timars, which were awarded to military lords for loyalty and service to the empire. As Ottoman power began to decline in the 18th century, the central authority of the empire in Albania gave way to the local authority of autonomy-minded lords. The most successful of these lords were three generations of pashas of the Bushati family, who dominated most of northern Albania from 1757 to 1831, and Ali Pasha Tepelen of Janina (now Ionnina, Greece), a colourful Oriental-type despot who ruled over southern Albania and northern Greece from 1788 to 1822. These pashas created separate states within the Ottoman state until they were overthrown by the sultan.

After the fall of the pashas, in 1831Turkey officially abolished the timar system. In the wake of its collapse, economic and social power passed from the feudal lords to private landowning beys and, in the northern highlands, to tribal chieftains called bajraktars, who presided over given territories with rigid patriarchal societies that were often torn by blood feuds. Peasants who were formerly serfs now worked on the estates of the beys as tenant farmers.

Ottoman rule in Albania remained backward and oppressive to the end. In these circumstances, many Albanians went abroad in search of careers and advancement within the empire, and an unusually large number of them, in proportion to Albania's population, rose to positions of prominence as government and military leaders. More than two dozen grand viziers (similar to prime ministers) of Turkey were of Albanian origin.

Albanian nationalism

By the mid-19th century Turkey was in the throes of the "Eastern Question," as the peoples of the Balkans, including Albanians, sought to realize their national aspirations. To defend and promote their national interests, Albanians met in Prizren, a town in Kosovo, in 1878 and founded the Albanian League. The league had two main goals, one political and the other cultural. First, it strove (unsuccessfully) to unify all Albanian territories--at the time divided among the four vilayets, or provinces, of Kosovo, Shkodr, Monastir, and Janina--into one autonomous state within the framework of theOttoman Empire. Second, it spearheaded a movement to develop Albanian language, literature, education, and culture. In line with the second program, in 1908 Albanian leaders met in the town ofMonastir (now Bitola, Macedonia) and adopted a national alphabet. Based mostly on the Latin script, this supplanted several other alphabets, including Arabic and Greek, that were in use until then.

The Albanian League was suppressed by the Turks in 1881, in part because they were alarmed by its strong nationalistic orientation. By then, however, the league had become a powerful symbol of Albania's national awakening, and its ideas and objectives fueled the drive that culminated later in national independence.

When the Young Turks, who seized power inIstanbul in 1908, ignored their commitments to Albanians to institute democratic reforms and to grant autonomy, Albanians embarked on an armed struggle, which, at the end of three years (1910-12), forced the Turks to agree, in effect, to grant their demands. Alarmed at the prospect of Albanian autonomy, Albania's Balkan neighbours, who had already made plans to partition the region, declared war on Turkey in October 1912, and Greek, Serbian, and Montenegrin armies advanced into Albanian territories.

To prevent the annihilation of the country, Albanian national delegates met at a congress in Vlorë. They were led by Ismail Qemal, an Albanian who had held several high positions in the Ottoman government. On Nov. 28, 1912, the congress issued the Vlorë proclamation, which declared Albania's independence.

Independent Albania Creating the new state

Shortly after the defeat ofTurkey by the Balkan allies, a conference of ambassadors of the Great Powers (Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Italy) convened in London in December 1912 to settle the outstanding issues raised by the conflict. With support given to the Albanians byAustria-Hungary and Italy, the conference agreed to create an independent state of Albania. But, in drawing the borders of the new state, owing to strong pressure from Albania's neighbours, the Great Powers largely ignored demographic realities and ceded the vast region of Kosovo to Serbia, while, in the south, Greece was given the greater part of Çamria, a part of the old region of Epirus centered on the Thames River. Many observers doubted whether the new state would be viable with about one-half of Albanian lands and population left outside its borders, especially since these lands were the most productive in food grains and livestock. On the other hand, a small community of about 35,000 ethnic Greeks was included within Albania's borders. (However, Greece, which counted all Albanians of the Orthodox faith--20 percent of the population--as Greeks, claimed that the number of ethnic Greeks was considerably larger.) Thereafter, Kosovo and the Çamria remained troublesome issues in Albanian-Greek and Albanian-Yugoslav relations.

The Great Powers also appointed a German prince, Wilhelm zu Wied, as ruler of Albania. Wilhelm arrived in Albania in March 1914, but his unfamiliarity with Albania and its problems, compounded by complications arising from the outbreak of World War I, led him to depart from Albania six months later. The war plunged the country into a new crisis, as the armies of Austria-Hungary, France, Italy, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia invaded and occupied it. Left without any political leadership or authority, the country was in chaos, and its very fate hung in the balance. At the Paris Peace Conference after the war, the extinction ofAlbania was averted largely through the efforts of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who vetoed a plan by Britain, France, and Italy to partition Albania among its neighbours.

A national congress, held in Lushnje in January 1920, laid the foundations of a new government. In December of that year Albania, this time with the help of Britain, gained admission to the League of Nations, thereby winning for the first time international recognition as a sovereign nation and state.

Bishop Noli and King Zog

At the start of the 1920s, Albanian society was divided by two apparently irreconcilable forces. One, made up mainly of deeply conservative landowning beys and tribal bajraktars who were tied to the Ottoman and feudal past, was led by Ahmed Bey Zogu, a chieftain from the Mat region of north-central Albania. The other, made up of liberal intellectuals, democratic politicians, and progressive merchants who looked to the West and wanted to modernize and Westernize Albania, was led by Fan S. Noli, an American-educated bishop of the Orthodox church. In the event, this East-West polarization of Albanian society was o f such magnitude and complexity that neither leader could master and overcome it.

In the unusually open and free political, social, and cultural climate that prevailed in Albania between 1920 and 1924, the liberal forces gathered strength, and, by mid-1924, a popular revolt forced Zogu to flee toYugoslavia. Installed as prime minister of the new government in June 1924, Noli set out to build a Western-style democracy inAlbania, and toward that end he announced a radical program of land reform and modernization. But his vacillation in carrying out the program, coupled with a depleted state treasury and a failure to obtain international recognition for his revolutionary, left-of-centre government, quickly alienated most of Noli's supporters, and six months later he was overthrown by an armed assault led by Zogu and aided by Yugoslavia.

Zogu began his 14-year reign inAlbania--first as president (1925-28), then as King Zog I (1928-39)--in a country rife with political and social instability. Greatly in need of foreign aid and credit in order to stabilize the country, Zog signed a number of accords with Italy. These provided transitory financial relief to Albania, but they effected no basic change in its economy, especially under the conditions of the Great Depression of the 1930s.Italy, on the other hand, viewed The social base of Zog's power was a coalition of southern beys and northern bajraktars. With the support of this coalition--plus a vast Oriental bureaucracy, an efficient police force, and Italian money--King Zog brought a large measure of stability to Albania. He extended the authority of the government to the highlands, reduced the brigandage that had formerly plagued the country, laid the foundations of a modern educational system, and took a few steps to Westernize Albanian social life. On balance, however, his achievements were outweighed by his failures. Although formally a constitutional monarch, in reality Zog was a dictator, and Albania under him experienced the fragile stability of a dictatorship. Zog failed to resolve Albania's fundamental problem, that of land reform, leaving the peasantry as impoverished as before. In order to stave off famine, the government had to import food grains annually, but, even so, thousands of people migrated abroad in search of a better life. Moreover, Zog denied democratic freedoms to Albanians and created conditions that spawned periodic revolts against his regime, alienated most of the educated class, fomented labour unrest, and led to the formation of the first communist groups in the country.

World War II

Using Albania as a military base, in October 1940, Italian forces invaded Greece, but they were quickly thrown back intoAlbania. After Nazi Germany defeated Greece and Yugoslavia in 1941, the regions of Kosovo and Çamria were joined to Albania, thus creating an ethnically united Albanian state. The new state lasted until November 1944, when the Germans--who had replaced the Italian occupation forces following Italy's surrender in 1943--withdrew fromAlbania. Kosovo was then d Albania primarily as a bridgehead for military expansion into the Balkans. On April 7, 1939, Italy invaded and shortly after occupied the country. King Zog fled to Greece.

Meanwhile, the various communist groups that had germinated in Zog's Albania merged in November 1941 to form the Albanian Communist Party and began to fight the occupiers as a unified resistance force. After a successful struggle against the fascists and two other resistance groups--the National Front (Balli Kombtar) and the pro-Zog Legality Party (Legaliteti)--which contended for power with them, the communists seized control of the country on Nov. 29, 1944. Enver Hoxha, a college instructor who had led the resistance struggle of communist forces, became the leader of Albania by virtue of his post as secretary-general of the party. Albania, which before the war had been under the personal dictatorship of King Zog, now fell under the collective dictatorship of the Albanian Communist Party. The country became officially the People's Republic of Albania in 1946 and, in 1976, the People's Socialist Republic of Albania.

The man who became the dominating figure of the Communist resistance movement almost from the beginning was the party leader Enver Hoxha (1908-85). Hoxha rose from a boiling crucible made up of several explosive ingredients: the daily travail of poorly armed and badly organized guerrilla units fighting against well-equipped and highly trained occupying armies; a nationalist determination to prevent the more powerful Yugoslav resistance movement from interfering unduly in Albanian domestic affairs; constant bickering with mainly right-wing British liaison Officers operating in Albania during the war years; and the civil war of 1943-4. Hoxha emerged from this blood-stained period as a very ambitious, ruthless, cunning and fanatical Communist guerrilla leader and politician. He also managed to combine very dogmatic Communist beliefs with fierce nationalism.

After pursuing the retreating Nazi armies from Albania and defeating their right-wing rivals the Communists set up their own government, under Hoxha's leadership, in November 1944. Unlike the Yugoslav Communists, their Albanian counterparts had no direct links withMoscow during the war. This state of affairs continued in the early post-war years, when the Albanian regime was in effect a Yugoslav satellite. But Tito and his colleagues soon discovered that their desire to makeAlbania part of the Yugoslav federation was strongly opposed by Hoxha himself. They consequently tried hard to replace him with a more pliant leader. But Hoxha employed all his Machiavellian deviousness to thwart Yugoslav efforts to topple him, and in fact succeeded in doing so. Hoxha came to display the same ruthlessness in his determination to create a one-party state. All opposition - political, economic, social and cultural - was crushed with the utmost brutality. The only group towards whom he showed any wariness or consideration during the early years was the peasants, who made up the great majority of the population. He first introduced a mild agrarian reform in order to win their support. But later, when he had consolidated his own position in the party and the country, he embarked upon a fierce campaign of full collectivization of agriculture.

The Yugoslav ambition to annexAlbania created a split within the Albanian party between a pro-Yugoslav and an anti-Yugoslav faction. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the leader of the pro-Yugoslav faction, Koci Xoxe, was appointed Minister of the Interior, thus in control of the secret police and all other security forces. The 1948 schism between Stalin and Tito suddenly gave Hoxha an opportunity to achieve three main political ambitions: to escape once and for all from Yugoslavia's clutches; eliminate pro-Tito opponents who had made life difficult for him for several years; and to establish his first direct links with Moscow. From 1948 onwards he was to embrace Stalinism with unparalleled eagerness and fervour. One could say he became one of the Soviet dictator's most natural and consistent disciples. Hoxha visited Stalin inMoscow on several occasions, when he discovered, to his delight, that there was great affinity between them. Although the Albanian leader had been a natural pro-Stalinist most of his life, the close alliance and friendship with Stalin served to confirm and reinforce all his innate domineering and bloodthirsty propensities. Both believed in absolute personal power, which was justified by a very flexible ideology which could be manipulated to suit all possible situations. Like Stalin, Hoxha was utterly determined to destroy all opponents, real or imaginary, and remove every obstacle his policies encountered. Hence under his rule every trace of natural justice, of freedom of thought and expression, as these terms are understood in the civilized world, was wiped out in his country, just as it had been in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Stalin's death in 1953 and the emergence of Nikita Khrushchev as party leader in Moscow were a severe blow to Hoxha. Not only did he lose a powerful friend and like-minded teacher, he suddenly passed under the control of a highly volatile and unpredictable political leader who held dangerous reformist ideas. Hoxha's first shock came in 1955 when Khrushchev decided to bring about reconciliation between Moscow and Yugoslavia, whose relations had remained frozen since 1948. The Albanian leader was asked to bring to an end his regime's long hostility towards Yugoslavia and establish normal relations with it. Although he made a few superficial friendly gestures towards his neighbour, Hoxha was at heart opposed to any genuine reconciliation, and he remained so mainly because he feared Tito's reformist ideas. Another greater shock was Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in his 'secret speech' of 1956. Hoxha saw this as an attack not only against the policies of his regime but also against his own personal position in the Party and government. The Soviet leader's efforts to persuade Hoxha to reform his rule and give up some of his Stalinist policies also proved ineffective. As a result, tension between Moscow and Albania steadily grew from 1955-61, when the final break occurred. The first signs of trouble in the Soviet-Albanian alliance appeared in 1960, when Hoxha sided with China in the early stages of the Soviet-Chinese ideological dispute. Matters came to a head at the international conference of 81 Communist parties held in Moscow in November 1960, where the Albanian leader openly defied Moscow by supporting China's cause. A year later Moscow broke off diplomatic relations withAlbania and stopped all economic, industrial and military aid. The Chinese quickly came to the rescue of their small ally in Europe with a package of economic help. They undertook to build 25 industrial plants in Albania with the assistance of Chinese technicians. But relations between the two countries faced great difficulties from the beginning because of their immense difference in size and the huge cultural and political chasm that divided them. Nevertheless, Mao's Cultural Revolution did have a profound impact on Hoxha: it led him to make all religious practices illegal in 1967. However, serious strains between the two countries arose when the Chinese government opened up to the USA and Yugoslavia in the early 1970's. Hoxha rejectedChina's advice that his government should do the same. The alliance finally came to an end in 1978, when Peking stopped all economic and military aid and withdrew its experts. As a result, not only was Albania left completely isolated, it was also deprived of all foreign aid it so desperately needed.

The end of the alliance withChina marked the beginning of a period of steady economic and industrial decline. Factories and industrial plants built in the 1950's with Soviet bloc aid became outdated and derelict. Shortage of new machinery and equipment led to the widespread use of manual labour in collective farms. The situation was aggravated by a highly centralized bureaucratic system and inefficient management. At the same time, incessant official propaganda exhorted people to increase production and to rely more than ever on their own efforts and on natural resources. 1985 was an important watershed for all communist countries of Europe, especially for Albania. In March, Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet Communist leader. In April, Enver Hoxha died at the age of 76, after having ruled the country almost like his private life for over 40 years. He was succeeded by Ramiz Alia, a member of the Politburo who had served for several years as Hoxha's principal deputy.

February 20th 1991, thousands of demonstrators protesting in the capital, Tirana, topple down the statue of Enver Hoxha. Religion is legalized, the religious institutions are opened and the ex-persecuted priests and hoxha's are allowed exercising their profession freely. March 31, elections are organized all over Albania. The Party of Labour (reformed as Socialist Party) wins the elections. In June: the formation of coalition government for national stability. In December the collapse of the coalition government is forced by the Democratic Party, because the Socialists are seen to be stalling on the reform programme. Fresh general election is held in March 1992, the Democratic Party wins a landslide victory with over 65% of the popular vote. In April, Dr Sali Berisha is sworn in as the new President. The new government vowed to implement a wide-ranging reform programme which will affect all aspects of life in Albania. Throughout the life of the present Government, the focus of reform has been to radically change the economic and social foundations of the country. It has achieved many of its goals, and as a consequence, the DP won a landslide victory in the General Election of 26th May 1996. The new Government has vowed to continue with its wide ranging reform program and intends to bring Albania into the the 21st Century.

Taken from:www.albania.co.uk;www.albania.com

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