Albania is a land characterized in recent times by bloody civil strife, political chaos, Stalinism and revolution. Its leaders have proven ineffective at ruling the country and its people are sunk deep into poverty. The problems have been key in causing the population of the nation to flee almost en masse to surrounding nations. The last century has seen it beaten around by its more powerful neighbors and only barely managing to survive, made into an effective vassal many times.
The full name of Albania is The Republic of Albania, and it at present could best be said to adhere to a Socialist ideology within the setting of a Republic. The land area is only 27,748 sq km (10,822 sq mi) and is mostly mountains on the interior and long stretches of sandy coast, with vineyards and farms stretched between the two.
At current, the population of Albania is only 3.5 million, with 300,000 people living in the capitol of Tirene. What the population might have been without the mass exodus of people one cannot say. Most people live in poverty, with unemployment being extremely high and the government being ineffective at relieving the problems.
At current the gross domestic product (GDP) of Albania is 2.3 billion dollars (US), equating to roughly US$863 per person. The economic growth rate is virtually non-existent and inflation is 40%. There are very few industries, with most things produced being natural resources; mining, textiles and foodstuffs are king of the Albanian economy.
Albania being a conquered area for much of history has been heavily influenced by outside peoples. The nation has been influenced mainly by the Greeks and Turks, and to a lesser degree by the Romans and Slavs.
The Albanian language is Shqipja (Albanian) and while it seems to be a very distinct branch of the Indo-European family, it borrows some words from Latin, Slavonic and Greek, as well as sharing some slight similarieties with Romanian. The exact origin of the Albanian language is not quite know, but it is generally believed to have originated from mountainous central Albania. Two main forms, Tosk and Gheg, exist simultaneously, and where only unified in writing practices in 1972 by the Congress of Orthography. Writing itself has for most of history been of a unique style, though during various times some areas and groups used the Greek, Latin and even the Turkic-Arabic systems. But overall, the writing itself was not fixed in a set form until 1909 AD. As well as Albania, some dialects of Albanian are spoken in Macedonia and southern Italy. Italian is also a well-known language in the area and many Albanians can speak it.
Religiously, Albania is a mix of types; 70% of Albanians are Sunni Muslim, 20% are Albanian Orthodox and 10% are Roman Catholic. This gives Albania the distinction of being the only European country to have a majority of its people practicing the Muslim faith.
Albania of ancient times was originally inhabited by the Illyrian tribes, who are believed to have been in Albania through the Stone Age, with no date of migration to the area. Earliest records place the Albanian capitol at Shkodra, which is now the most important northern Albanian city. Over time the coast of Albania was colonized by Thracian peoples from Greece and came to be heavily influenced by those newcomers, with cities of Epidamnus (Durres) and Apollonia being examples of Greek colonies. At the time Albania would consist of two provinces, Illyria and Epirus, and be well known for its mines. While the coastal regions were ruled by Grecian cities, especially Corinth, the interior had retained its status as an independent kingdom. Nonetheless, the Albanian people during this time began to become more and more Greek in culture.
The Roman Empire, seeing Albania as a valuable area to guarding the Adriatic Sea, attacked Albania. The area was fully under Roman control by 229 BC and would stay there for many centuries. Art and culture greatly flourished during this time and the Illyrians managed to live within the empire without becoming Roman in culture. With the rise of Byzantine Rome, Albania would fall under the direct rule of Constantinople.
It was during this time that Albania reached its greatest height. Albanian merchants were common across Europe and the economy was relatively strong. This is also the first time that Albania came to be known by its present name. The name was finally taken from the Albanoi tribe that lived in central Albania and had reached great heights in prestige. But all would not remain well for the Albanian peoples. Serbian armies invaded Northern Albania in the seventh century and by the ninth century the south as well had fallen under the control of Bulgaria.
The Middle Ages brought Venitian colonies to the coastal areas, with the city Lezhe being founded by the Venice in the eleventh century. Albania was also claimed by the Normans, beginning in 1081, who demanded control of Albania. The efforts by the Normans would continue over the centuries, until in 1272, the area fell under their control. It would not last forever like that, as in the 14th century, the Serbian king, Stephen Dušan, conquered the area.
Rule by the Serbians lasted very little time, and after the death of Dušan, the area reverted to native rule. It would remain in this state until the 15th century conquests by the Turkish began. One chieftain, Skanderbeg, supported the Turkish forces and in return was made Iskender Bey and ruler of the area. He however, would later begin to fight the Turkish advances, a conflict that would rage for many years. Though Skanderbeg died in 1468, the resistance against the Turkish continued until 1478, with the support of Venice and Naples. The resistance finally ended though due to the full occupation of Albania.
Over the next five centuries, the Albanians would make themselves a valuable part of the Ottoman Empire. Many native Albanians served in the Turkish army and bureaucracy, while some were even made pashas or beys.
Overall though, Albania became a backwater under Turkish rule. Revolts paralyzed the area many times and the economy declined considerably. By the nineteenth century, much because of the Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (1877) which gave large parts of Albania to the new Balkan nations, Albanian nationalism had become a considerable force in the area. European powers would continue to fan these flames of nationalism in Albania, as well as other Balkan areas ruled by the Turks.
Albania made its first claim to independence in 1912, during the First Balkan War. Unfortunately, the Second Balkan War, in 1913, saw Albania occupied by the Serbs and disappearing from the map again. The great powers of the time, in mediating the Balkans, granted Albania independence again, but defined it’s borders as much smaller than the Albanian peoples had hoped, trapping many native Albanians in Montenegro, Serbia and Greece. During this conference, Prince William of Wied was placed in control of the country.
World War I
Unfortunately for Albania, their leader William was forced to flee the country as World War I broke out. Albania became a battleground for Serb, Montenegrin, Greek, Italian, Bulgarian and Austrian armies. Any treaties propounded during the war called for the destruction of Albania, and it’s splitting into the control of many surrounding nations. Fortunately for the Albanians though, Woodrow Wilson’s demand of the principle of self-determination allowed Albania to exist. The Congress of Lushnje formally gave Albanian independence, in 1920, but that did not end the troubles for Albania.
Albania’s time between the two great wars was one of near anarchy. Constant feuding went on between rival groups. Ahmed Zogu, the leader of the conservative landlords, and Bishop Fan S. Noli, leader of the western-influenced liberals, were the main leaders during this time. Noli seized power in Albania in 1924, exiling Zogu, but Zogu had support in Yugoslavia. Within a year, in 1925, Zogu returned to Albania, at the head of a Yugoslav army and ousted Noli. Albania was proclaimed a republic in the same year under Zogu’s presidency, and by 1928; Zogu was King Zog of Albania.
In the meantime though Italy had been steadily increasing its control of Albania. The task was made easier by the battles between Zogu and Noli. In 1939, Italy invaded Albania, bringing the country completely under Italian control and exiling Zogu yet again. This political state would be carried into World War II.
World War II
Under Italy, the Albanians declared war on the Allies in 1940 and Albania was thrust into war. Resistance groups sprung up nearly overnight in Albania, including one extreme leftist group controlled by Enver Hoxha, which sabotaged the Axis armies in and around Albania. By 1934, a civil war was raging between the Hoxha’s forces and the non-communist forces within Albania. Albania would be liberated by the British and US forces with no influence from the USSR.
Post War Albania
Late 1944 would see Hoxha’s forces seize control of Albania and the formation of a provisional government. Elections were held in December of 1945 with no opposition to Hoxha’s party whatsoever and in 1946 Albania was proclaimed a republic and Hoxha became Premier.
The new government became close to the communist Yugoslav government under Tito, but by 1948 Albania broke with Yugoslavia, due to Tito's break with Russia. Albania now voluntarily became a satellite of the USSR. That relation though was broken when the USSR began its policy of de-Stalinization, a policy the leaders in Tirene strongly opposed.
So it was that in 1961, Albania would quit the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Relations between the USSR and Albania continued to become more strained and, by the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Albania had had enough. The Albanians left the Warsaw Treaty Organization in the same year. China was now Albania’s only ally and only source of significant aid.
The constantly growing isolation of Albania led Hoxha’s making overtures to Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy, but very little was gained. In 1977 Albania went one more step towards complete isolation form the world when it broke ties with China over the Chinese attempts at improving relations with the United States.
During the 1980’s a new man would rise to power in Albania. Ramiz Alia became president of Albania in 1982 and, following the death of Hoxha in 1985; he became first secretary of the Albanian Communist Party. At this time Alia began to strengthen ties with other nations. He made overtures to Greece and Italy most notably. By 1990, he had succeeded in reopening diplomatic channels with the USSR and by 1991; he had done the same with the United States. The government also began to relax its regulations, allowing tourism and promoting foreign trade. It also allowed the formation of the Albanian Democratic Party.
The March 1991 elections were a victory for the Communists over the Democrats. Unfortunately for those elected, the bad quality of life in Albania and the communist legacy brought them very little support from the people and many Albanians fled to Greece and Italy. The communist cabinet was forced to resign from office and new elections were held.
The 1992 elections saw the new Socialist Party (formally the communists, but under a new guise in an attempt at reform), facing off against the Democrats again. Alia resigned from his office following this decision and the Democratic leader Sali Berisha entered office as Albania’s first elected leader.
Albania at this time was a nation of poverty and want. The new government had to do something to try to improve the nation and responded by opening the market to free trade. While the Albanian economy responded somewhat, there was very little actual improvement and the poverty level, as well as unemployment, remained just as bad as before. The former communist leaders where tried during this time for abuses of power and many of the leaders, including Ramiz Alia, were jailed. Albania continued to crawl forward at a slow pace. In 1994, it joined the NATO Partnership for Peace and in 1995 it was included in the Council of Europe.
This brief period of respite was not to last. The 1996 elections were a landslide victory for Berisha and his party, but they were followed up in March of 1997 by rioting in the capitol. The pyramid investment ideas of Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi had failed horribly, hurting the already weak economy and the Albanians demanded his removal. Meksi would respond by resigning his position in the government, Berisha though was relatively unhurt politically and had begun his five-year term. He would have to appoint a socialist named Bashkim Fino to head a new government coalition.
But the revolts in the south threatened more and more of the country. The Albanian Parliament declared a state of emergency when the rebels had almost completely surrounded Tirene and Albanians began to flee to Italy and other nations. An international force finally arrived in April 1997 in an attempt to restore order to the nation. The Socialist Party would retake power in the country in elections later in the year, but it has not slowed the bleeding. Albania remains in a power struggle between powerful foes that shows no end.