Albania

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Republika e Shqipërisë
Republic of Albania
Flag of Albania Emblem of Albania
Flag Emblem
Anthem: Himni i Flamurit
Location of Albania
Capital Tirana
41°20′N 19°48′E
Largest city capital
Official languages Albanian
Government Republic
 - President Bujar Nishani
 - Prime Minister Sali Berisha
Independence from the Ottoman Empire 
 - Date November 28 1912 
Area
 - Total 28 748 km² (143rd)
11,100 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 4.7
Population
 - (July 2010 est.) estimate 2,986,952[1]
 - Density 111.1/km²
327.8/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2009 estimate
 - Total $22.839 billion
 - Per capita $7,169
HDI  (2010) 0.719 (medium)
Currency Lek (ALL)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Internet TLD .al
Calling code +355

The Republic of Albania (Albanian: Republika e Shqipërisë, or simply Shqipëria) is a Balkan country in south-eastern Europe. Its motto is "Justice is Truth in Action."

During its long history, Albania has been invaded many times. During more than 40 years of communist totalitarian rule in the late twentieth century under Enver Hoxha, Albania built over 700,000 bunkers of varying types, from simple machine-gun pillboxes to naval underground facilities and even Air Force underground bunkers, in order to help fend off further invasions.

A violent campaign to extinguish religious life in 1967 culminated in an announcement that Albania had become the world's first atheistic state, a feat touted as one of Hoxha's greatest achievements.

Contents

The transition to democracy since the collapse of the communist regime has proven challenging as successive governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, widespread corruption, a dilapidated physical infrastructure, powerful organized crime networks, and combative political opponents.


Geography

Did you know?
The capital and largest city of Albania is Tirana
Map of Albania
River in the south
Map of major rivers.
Mount Çikë in the south
Coastline in southern Albania

Albania borders Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south. All Albanian borders are artificial, established at a 1912-1913 conference of ambassadors in London. The northern and eastern borders were intended to separate Albanians from the Serbs and Montenegrins; the southeast border was to separate Albanians and Greeks; and the valuable western Macedonia lake district was to be divided among—Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia—whose populations shared the area.

It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west and a coast on the Ionian Sea to the southwest. It has a strategic location along Strait of Otranto, that links the Adriatic Sea to Ionian Sea and Mediterranean Sea.

Albania has an area of 17,864 square miles (28,750 square kilometers), or slightly smaller than the state of Maryland in the United States. Its coastline is 362 kilometers long and stretches on the Adriatic and the Ionian seas.

The lowlands of the west face the Adriatic Sea. The 70 percent of the country that is mountainous is rugged and often inaccessible. The highest mountain is Mount Korab situated in the district of Dibra, reaching up to 9032 feet (2753 meters).

The country has a mild temperate climate, with cool, cloudy, wet winters and hot, clear, dry summers. The interior is cooler and wetter. The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 44°F (7°C). Summer temperatures average 75°F (24°C), humidity is high, and the weather tends to be oppressively uncomfortable. Lowland rainfall averages from 40 inches (1000 mm) to more than 60 inches (1500 mm) annually, with the higher levels in the north. Nearly 95 percent of the rain falls in the winter.

Much of the plain's soil is of poor quality. Far from offering a relief from the difficult interior terrain, the alluvial plain is often as inhospitable as the mountains. Good soil and dependable precipitation, however, are found in intermontane river basins, in the lake district along the eastern frontier, and in a narrow band of slightly elevated land between the coastal plains and the interior mountains.

The three lakes of easternmost Albania, Lake Ohrid (Liqeni Ohrit), Big Prespa Lake (Prespa e Madhe), and Small Prespa Lake (Prespa e Vogël), are remote and picturesque.

The Drin River is the largest and most constant stream. The Semani and Vjosa are the only other rivers that are more than 100 miles (160 km) long and have basins larger than 1000 square miles (2600 square kilometers). These rivers drain the southern regions and, reflecting the seasonal distribution of rainfall, are torrents in winter and nearly dry in the summer, in spite of their length. With the exception of the Drini i Zi River, which flows northward and drains nearly the entire eastern border region before it turns westward to the sea, most of the rivers in northern and central Albania flow fairly directly westward to the sea.

In its natural state, the coastal belt is characterized by low scrub vegetation, varying from barren to dense. There are large areas of marshlands and other areas of bare, eroded badlands. Where elevations rise slightly and precipitation is regular—in the foothills of the central uplands, for example—the land is highly arable. Marginal land is reclaimed wherever irrigation is possible.

Natural hazards include destructive earthquakes, tsunamis occur along southwestern coast, floods and drought. Environmental issues include deforestation, soil erosion, as well as water pollution from industrial and domestic effluents.

Tirana is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Albania. It was founded in 1614 by Sulejman Pasha and became Albania's capital city in 1920. In 2005, its population was 585,756. Other cities are Durrës, Elbasan, Shkodër, Gjirokastër, Vlorë, Korçë and Kukës.

History

The lands that are today inhabited by Albanians were first populated in the Paleolithic Age (Stone Age), over 100,000 years ago. Remnants of the earliest settlements have been discovered in the Gajtan cavern (Shkodra), in Konispol, at Mount Dajti, and at Xara (Saranda). Primitive peoples lived in secluded groups, mainly in dry caves. They used stones and bones as their tools. Paleolithic peoples gathered fruits from plants and hunted wild animals. The population of Albanian lands increased in the Neolithic age (c. 8000 B.C.E.), marked by the rise of farming. People began to abandon caverns and settle in open areas. A number of such settlements are discovered in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, and the Republic of Macedonia.

Pelasgians

The Bronze Age (from the third millennium B.C.E.) brought change. Stockbreeding people, who came from the east around the mid-3000s B.C.E. to the early 2000s B.C.E., mixed with the indigenous peoples and thus created the Indo-European peoples of the Balkans, believed to be the ancient Pelasgians mentioned frequently by ancient writers Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides. Herodotus wrote that Pelasgians dealt with agriculture, and the sea, were excellent builders, and built the wall around the Acropolis of Athens, for which they were rewarded with lands in Attica.

Illyrians

The Illyrians were Indo-European tribesmen who appeared in the western portion of the Balkan Peninsula about 1000 B.C.E., a period coinciding with the beginning of the Iron Age. The Illyrians occupied lands extending from the Danube, Sava, and Morava rivers to the Adriatic Sea and the Sar Mountains. At various times, groups of Illyrians, such as the Messapians and Iapyges, migrated to Italy through both overland routes and the sea.

Corinthian Greek settlers from Corfu established ports on the coast at Apollonia (Pojanë, near modern Vlorë) in 588 B.C.E. and farther north at Lissos (Lezhë) and Epidamnos (modern Durrës) in 623 B.C.E.. The Illyrians living in Albania's rugged mountains, however, resisted Greek settlement, attacked coastal cities, and threatened Greek trading ships in the Adriatic Sea.

The Illyrian king, Bardyllis turned Illyria into a formidable local power in the fourth century B.C.E.. In 359 B.C.E., King Perdiccas III of Macedon was killed by attacking Illyrians. But in 358 B.C.E., Macedonia's Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, defeated the Illyrians and assumed control of their territory as far as Lake Ohrid. Alexander himself routed the forces of the Illyrian chieftain Cleitus in 335 B.C.E., and Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers accompanied Alexander on his conquest of Persia.

After Alexander's death in 323 B.C.E., independent Illyrian kingdoms again arose. In 312 B.C.E., King Glaukias expelled the Greeks from Durrës. By the end of the third century, the Illyrian king Agron had united many independent cities. Agron made Shkodër his capital and built an army and navy to protect Illyrian cities and ports. His kingdom, which stretched from Dalmatia in the north to the Vijosë River in the south, controlled parts of northern Albania, Montenegro, and Herzegovina. After Agron's death in 231 B.C.E., control of Illyria passed to his widow, Queen Teuta, under whom Illyrians attacked Roman merchant vessels plying the Adriatic Sea and gave Rome an excuse to invade the Balkans.

Roman rule

Map of Bulgaria's greatest territorial extent during the reign of Simeon I

Between 229 – 219 B.C.E., Rome overran the Illyrian settlements in the Neretva river valley and suppressed the piracy that had made the Adriatic unsafe. In 180 B.C.E., the Dalmatians declared themselves independent of the last Illyrian king Gentius, who kept his capital at Scodra. The Romans defeated Gentius at Scodra in 168 B.C.E., captured him, and brought him to Rome in 165 B.C.E. Rome finally subjugated recalcitrant Illyrian tribes in the western Balkans during the reign of Emperor Tiberius in 9 C.E., divided the lands that constitute modern-day Albania among the provinces of Macedonia, Dalmatia, and Epirus, and set up four client-republics. Later, the region was directly governed by Rome and organized as a province.

For about four centuries, Roman rule ended fighting among local tribes, established numerous military camps and colonies, latinized the coastal cities, and oversaw the construction of aqueducts and roads, including the extension of the Via Egnatia, an old Illyrian road and later a famous military highway and trade route that led from Durrës through the Shkumbin River valley to Macedonia and Byzantium.

Illyricum was later divided into the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia, the lands comprising modern-day Albania mostly being included in the former. Illyrians distinguished themselves as warriors in the Roman legions and made up a significant portion of the Praetorian Guard. Roman emperors Gaius Decius, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, and Constantine the Great were of Illyrian origin.

Christianity

A painting of Saint Paul writing his epistles.

Christianity came to Illyrian-populated lands in the first century C.E.. Saint Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province of Illyricum, and tradition holds that he visited Durrës. In 379, under Emperor Theodosius I, as part of the Prefecture of Illyricum Oriental, the southern region was divided into three provinces: Epirus Vetus, with a capital at Nicopolis (modern Preveza); Epirus Nova, with a capital at Durrës; and Praevalitania, with a capital at Shkodër. Each city formed an archdiocese.

When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in 395, Illyria east of the Drinus River (Drina between Bosnia and Serbia) including the lands that now form Albania, were administered by the Eastern Empire, but were ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. Within time, much of southern Albania, especially to the east, developed into a branch of the Orthodox Church. In 732, a Byzantine emperor, Leo III the Isaurian, subordinated the area to the patriarchate of Constantinople. For centuries thereafter, the Albanian lands became an arena for the ecclesiastical struggle between Rome and Constantinople. Remaining under Roman influence, most Albanians living in the mountainous north maintained their Roman Catholicism, whereas in the southern and central regions, the majority became Orthodox.

Barbarian invasions

The Germanic Goths and Asiatic Huns were the first to invade. The Avars attacked in 570, and the Slavic Serbs and Croats overran Illyrian-populated areas in the early seventh century. Barbarian tribesmen left the great Roman aqueducts, coliseums, temples, and roads in ruins. The Illyrians gradually disappeared as a distinct people, replaced by the Bulgars, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and Albanians. In the late Middle Ages, new waves of invaders swept over the Albanian-populated lands.

In the ninth century, the Bulgars conquered much of the Balkan Peninsula and extended their domain to the lowlands of what is now central and southern Albania. The Bulgarian leader Simeon I defeated the Byzantine army and established colonies along the Adriatic seacoast. Many Illyrians fled to the mountains, exchanging a sedentary peasant existence for the itinerant life of the herdsman. Other Illyrians intermarried with the conquerors and eventually assimilated.

But the Byzantine emperor Basil II, nicknamed the “Bulgar-slayer,” counterattacked in 1014. They smashed the Bulgarian army, seized the Adriatic ports, and conquered Epirus. These territories were far from the Byzantine capital at Constantinople, however, and Byzantine authority in the area gradually weakened. While the clans and landowners controlled the countryside, the people of the coastal cities fought against Byzantine rule. It was during this period of rebellion and turmoil that the region first came to be known as Albania.

Late middle ages

The despotate of Epirus from 1205 to 1230

The first historical mention of Albania and the Albanians appears in an account of the resistance by a Byzantine emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, to an offensive by the Vatican-backed Normans from southern Italy into the Albanian-populated lands in 1081. The Byzantine reconquest of 1083 required the help of Venice, which soon gained commercial privileges in Albanian towns as a reward. This wealthy trading city in northern Italy built fortresses and trading posts in Albania's lowlands to bolster its power. The Normans returned in 1107 and again in 1185 but were quickly expelled.

Norman, Venetian, and Byzantine fleets attacked by sea. Bulgar, Serb, and Byzantine forces came overland and held the region for years. Clashes between rival clans and intrusions by the Serbs produced hardship that triggered an exodus from the region southward into Greece, including Thessaly, the Peloponnese, and the Aegean Islands.

Divided into warring clans, the Albanians were unable to prevent the occupation of their country by outsiders. The Serbs occupied parts of northern and eastern Albania toward the end of the twelfth century and conquered Shkodër in the 1180s. In 1204, after Western crusaders sacked Constantinople, Venice won nominal control over central and southern Albania and the Epirus region of northern Greece and took possession of Durrës. A prince from the overthrown Byzantine ruling family, Michael I Komnenos Doukas, made alliances with Albanian chiefs and drove the Venetians out, and in 1204 he set up an independent Byzantine principality, the Despotate of Epirus. His successor, Theodore, conciliated the Albanian chiefs in 1216, repulsed an attack on Durrës in 1217 by western Crusaders and Venetian ships, and turned his armies eastward before being defeated in 1230 by the revived Bulgarian Empire of Ivan Asen II.

A restored Byzantine Empire smashed Bulgaria in 1246 and pushed to the north Albanian coast, where the Albanian tribes were briefly weaned away from their alliance with the Despotate of Epirus. The Byzantines gained Durrës in 1256 but lost it in 1257 to Manfred, the king of the Two Sicilies, who also acquired Vlorë and Berat in 1268. In 1272 his successor, Charles I of Anjou, the ruler of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, conquered Durrës and much of central Albania. He called his new domain the Kingdom of Albania that would last until 1336.

In the mid-1300s, Stefan Dusan, a powerful Serbian prince, conquered much of the western Balkans, including all of Albania except Durrës. Dušan drew up a legal code for his realm and crowned himself "Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Albanians." But in 1355, while leading an attack against Constantinople, Dušan suddenly died. His empire quickly broke apart, and his lands were divided between Serb and Albanian noblemen.

The constant warfare in Albania caused poverty and deadly famines. Beginning in the fourteenth century, many Albanians left their troubled homeland and migrated southward into the mountains of Epirus and to the cities and islands of Greece. Albanian exiles also built communities in southern Italy and on the island of Sicily.

Ottoman rule

Statue of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg. Skanderbeg is considered the national hero of Albania.

Ottoman supremacy in the Balkan region began in 1385 with the Battle of Savra but was briefly interrupted in the fifteenth century, when an Albanian warrior known as Skanderbeg, (a variation of the name Alexander) of the Kastrioti family allied with some Albanian chiefs and fought-off Turkish rule from 1443-1478 (although Skanderbeg himself died in 1468). Upon the Ottomans' return, a large number of Albanians fled to Italy, Greece and Egypt. Many Albanians won fame and fortune as soldiers, administrators, and merchants in far-flung parts of the empire. The majority of the Albanian population that remained converted to Islam. As the centuries passed, Ottoman rulers lost the loyalty of local pashas who governed districts on the empire's fringes, bringing challenges which threatened stability in the region. The Ottoman rulers of the nineteenth century struggled to shore up central authority, introducing reforms aimed at harnessing unruly pashas and checking the spread of nationalist ideas. Albania would be a part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912.

Birth of nationalism

By the 1870s, Balkan nationalism was growing. The Albanians, because of the link with Islam and internal social divisions, were the last of the Balkan peoples to want to leave the Ottoman Empire, because they feared that they would lose its Albanian-populated lands to the emerging Balkan states of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece.

Albanian leaders formed the League of Prizren in 1878 with the backing of Sultan Abdulhamid II, and pressed for territorial autonomy. After decades of unrest, in 1912 an uprising exploded in the Albanian-populated Ottoman territories, on the eve of the First Balkan War. When Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece laid claim to Albanian lands during the war, the Albanians declared independence.

The European Great Powers endorsed an independent Albania in 1913, after the Second Balkan War. They were assisted by Aubrey Herbert, a British Member of Parliament who passionately advocated their cause in London. As a result, Herbert was offered the crown of Albania, but was dissuaded by the British prime minister, H. H. Asquith, from accepting. Instead the offer went to William of Wied, a German prince who accepted and became sovereign of the new Principality of Albania. Albanians rebelled against the German prince and declared their independence, and established a Muslim regime under the leadership of a local warrior, Haji Qamil. The young state collapsed within weeks of the outbreak of World War I.

World War I

Albania achieved a degree of statehood after World War I, in part because of the diplomatic intercession of the United States. The country suffered from a lack of economic and social development, however, and its first years of independence were fraught with political instability. Unable to find strength without a foreign protector, Albania became the object of tensions between Italy and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (the later Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), which both sought to dominate the country.

With Yugoslav military assistance, Ahmed Bey Zogu, the son of a clan chieftain, emerged victorious from an internal political power struggle in late 1924. Under him, Albania joined the Italian coalition of Italy, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria against Yugoslavia in 1924-1927. After political intervention by the United Kingdom and France in 1927 with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the alliance crumbled. In 1928 the country's parliament declared Albania a kingdom and chose Ahmet Zogu to be the king. King Zog remained a conservative, introduced the European style of life, and initiated reforms. Zog made donations of land to international organizations for the building of schools and hospitals. Mussolini's forces overthrew King Zog when they occupied Albania in 1939.

The Second World War

Italy invaded Albania on April 7, 1939, meeting little resistance, and took control of the country. The Italians annexed parts of Montenegro, Kosovo and Northern Greece. Albanian communists and nationalists fought a partisan war against the Italian and German invasions in World War II. The Communist Party was created on November 8, 1941, with the help of Bolshevik Communist Parties, under the guidance of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. In November 1944, the communists gained control of the government under resistance leader Enver Hoxha.

Totalitarian state

Enver Hoxha.

For 41 years Hoxha created and destroyed relationships with Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and China, leaving Albania isolated, first from the capitalist West, and later from the communist East. In the mid-1960s, Albania's leaders grew wary of threats to their power from a growing bureaucracy, from erosion in party discipline, and from complaints about official wrong-doing, inflation, and low-quality goods. After Mao Zedong unleashed the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966, Hoxha launched his own cultural and ideological revolution. The Albanian leader concentrated on reforming the military, government bureaucracy, and economy as well as on creating new support for his Stalinist system. The regime abolished military ranks, reintroduced political commissars into the military, and renounced professionalism in the army. The authorities slashed the salaries of mid- and high-level officials, ousted administrators and specialists from their desk jobs, and sent such persons to toil in the factories and fields. Six ministries, including the Ministry of Justice, were eliminated. Farm collectivization spread to the remote mountains. The government attacked dissident writers and artists, reformed its education system, and reinforced Albania's isolation from European culture in an effort to keep out foreign influences.

In 1967 the authorities conducted a violent campaign to extinguish religious life. Student agitators combed the countryside, forcing Albanians to quit practicing their faith. All churches, mosques, monasteries, and other religious institutions had been closed or converted into warehouses, gymnasiums, and workshops by the year's end. The campaign culminated in an announcement that Albania had become the world's first atheistic state, a feat touted as one of Enver Hoxha's greatest achievements.

The postwar repression of clan leaders, collectivization of agriculture, industrialization, migration from the countryside to urban areas, and suppression of religion shattered traditional kinship links centered on the patriarchal family. The postwar regime brought a radical change in the status of Albania's women. Considered second-class citizens in traditional Albanian society, women performed most of the work at home and in the fields. Before World War II, about 90 percent of Albania's women were illiterate, and in many areas they were regarded as chattels under ancient tribal laws and customs. During the cultural and ideological revolution, the party encouraged women to take jobs outside the home in an effort to compensate for labor shortages and to overcome their conservatism.

Enver Hoxha died in 1985. During his totalitarian rule, about 6000 Albanian citizens were executed for political reasons. Despite this, the quality of life improved as both life expectancy and literacy showed large gains and economic growth continued until the mid 1970s.

The rise of democracy

The first massive anti-communist protests took place in July 1990. Shortly afterwards, the communist regime under Ramiz Alia carried out some cosmetic changes in the economy. At the end of 1990, after strong student protests and independent syndicated movements, the regime accepted a multiparty system. The first pluralist general elections were held on March 31, 1991, and saw the Communist Party (PPSH) win the majority. Democratic parties accused the government of manipulation and called for new elections, which were held on March 22, 1992, and resulted in a democratic coalition (composed of the Democratic Party, the Social-Democrats, and the Republican Party) coming to power.

In the general elections of June 1996 the Democratic Party won an absolute majority and the results winning over 85 percent of parliamentary seats. In 1997 widespread riots erupted after the International Monetary Fund forced the state to liberalize banking practices. Many citizens, naive to the workings of a market economy, put their entire savings into pyramid schemes. In a short while, $2-billion (80 percent of the country's GDP) had been moved into the hands of just a few pyramid scheme owners, causing severe economic troubles and civic unrest. Police stations and military bases were looted of millions of Kalashnikovs and other weapons. Anarchy prevailed, and militia and even less-organized armed citizens controlled many cities. Even American military advisors left the country for their own safety. The government of Aleksander Meksi resigned and a government of national unity was built. In response to the anarchy, the Socialist Party won the early elections of 1997 and Berisha resigned the Presidency.

However, stability was far from being restored in the years after the 1997 riots. The power feuds raging inside the Socialist Party led to a series of short-lived Socialist governments. The country was flooded with refugees from neighboring Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 during the Kosovo War. In June 2002, a compromise candidate, Alfred Moisiu, a former general, was elected to succeed President Rexhep Meidani. Parliamentary elections in July 2005 brought Sali Berisha, as leader of the Democratic Party, back to power, mostly owing to Socialist infighting and a series of corruption scandals plaguing the government of Fatos Nano.

The Euro-Atlantic integration of Albania has been the ultimate goal of the post-communist governments. Albania's European Union membership bid has been set as a priority by the European Commission. In 2006 Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, thus completing the first major step towards joining the bloc. Albania, along with Croatia and Macedonia, is also expected to join NATO.

The workforce of Albania has continued to migrate to Greece, Italy, Germany, other parts of Europe, and North America. However, the migration flux is slowly decreasing, as more and more opportunities are emerging in Albania itself as its economy steadily develops.

Government and politics

Counties (prefectures)of Albania

The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary republic with a democratic constitution. Political turmoil has continued since the ousting of the authoritarian Berisha regime in 1997, and there is little sign of consensus or cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties. Political tension remained high in 2007.

The chief of state is the president, who is elected by the People's Assembly for a five-year term (and is eligible for a second term), while the head of government is the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The council of ministers (cabinet) is proposed by the prime minister, nominated by the president, and approved by parliament

A unicameral assembly, or Kuvendi, comprises 140 seats. One hundred members are elected by direct popular vote and 40 are elected by proportional vote to serve four-year terms. Elections were last held in July 2005. Suffrage is universal for those aged 18 and over.

The judiciary comprises a constitutional court, supreme court (chairman is elected by the People's Assembly for a four-year term), and multiple appeals and district courts. The legal system is based on a civil law system. Albania has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction, but has accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Albania has extensive customary law codified in the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. Chapters cover church; the family; marriage; house, livestock, and property; work; transfer of property; the spoken word; honor; damages; crimes; judicial law; and exemptions. This customary law was strictly observed by northern highlands tribes and had priority over all other laws. Some aspects of the Kanun have caused social problems. Vengeance, for instance, was accepted as the main instrument for maintaining justice. This resulted in blood feuds that decimated the northern tribes in the early twentieth century and remains a problem in northern Albania.

Birra Tirana (pilsner beer) advertized in downtown Tirana.

Between 1990 – 1992 Albania ended 46 years of xenophobic Communist rule and established a multi-party democracy. The transition has proven challenging as successive governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, widespread corruption, a dilapidated physical infrastructure, powerful organized crime networks, and combative political opponents.

Albania has made progress in its democratic development since first holding multi-party elections in 1991, but deficiencies remain. International observers judged elections to be largely free and fair since the restoration of political stability following the collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997. In the 2005 general elections, the Democratic Party and its allies won a decisive victory on pledges of reducing crime and corruption, promoting economic growth, and decreasing the size of government. The election, and particularly the orderly transition of power, was considered an important step forward.

Albania has played a largely helpful role in managing inter-ethnic tensions in southeastern Europe, and is continuing to work toward joining NATO and the EU. Albania, with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been a strong supporter of the global war on terrorism.

Albania is divided into 12 counties (called qark or prefekturë in Albanian). Each county is subdivided into several districts: They are: 1. Berat; 2. Dibër; 3. Durrës; 4. Elbasan; 5. Fier; 6. Gjirokastër; 7. Korçë; 8. Kukës; 9. Lezhë; 10. Shkodër; 11. Tirana; 12. Vlorë.

Military

Albania built over 700,000 bunkers during the 40-year communist rule under Enver Hoxha. This purportedly would have given Albania the advantage in fighting off an invasion. The types of bunkers vary from simple machine-gun pillboxes to naval underground facilities and even Air Force underground bunkers.

As of 2004, the Albanian Air Force still had 65 MiG-19 and F-6 aircraft, although most were not operational. The last of Albania's fighter jets were withdrawn from active service in late 2005. Plans are to reduce the manpower of the Albanian Air Force to around 1,400 personnel.

The vessels of the Albanian Naval Defense Forces are comprised mostly of small torpedo boats, patrol crafts and support crafts, most of which are of former Soviet or Chinese origin. The last Albanian submarine, a Russian-built Whiskey-class submarine, was retired in 1995. The Naval Defense Forces comprised 1,600 sailors, including 500 officers. There were an additional 350 coast guard troops.

As of 2007, the land forces comprised 16,000 active personnel and 35,000 reserves, 79 battle tanks, over 200 armored personal carriers, 300 Humvees, 270 towed artillery pieces, 160 heavy mortars, and 18 multiple-rocket launchers.

Economy

View of Durrës

From 1944 to 1990, the Albanian economy was centralized, state controlled and dominated by agricultural production on state farms. Food was scarce, and the country never attained self-sufficiency. Since the fall of communism in 1990, Albania opted for a more open-market economy. The democratically elected government that assumed office in April 1992 launched ambitious economic reforms. Key elements included price and exchange system liberalization, fiscal consolidation, monetary restraint, a firm income policy, privatization of state-owned enterprises, financial sector reform, and the creation of the legal framework for a market economy and private sector activity. Most prices were liberalized and by 2007 were approaching levels typical of the region. Most agriculture, state housing, and small industry were privatized, along with transportation, services, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

However, many of the rural properties returned to former owners were barely large enough to survive on. Property disputes became common and led to blood feuding. Albania continued to have a large rural peasantry, comprising over 60 percent of the total population, and most of those families can do little more than feed themselves. Food imports remain essential.

The weir from Albania's only large scale power station.Photo by Christian Guthier

Inflation approached 20 percent in 1996 and 50 percent in 1997. 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 eight percent drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Lagging behind its Balkan neighbors, Albania is making the difficult transition to a more modern open-market economy. The government has taken measures to curb violent crime and reduce the large gray economy. The economy is bolstered by annual remittances from abroad of $600-$800 million, mostly from Albanians residing in Greece and Italy; this helps offset the towering trade deficit.

Agriculture, which accounts for about one-quarter of GDP, is held back because of lack of modern equipment, unclear property rights, and the prevalence of small, inefficient plots of land. Energy shortages and antiquated and inadequate infrastructure contribute to Albania's poor business environment, which make it difficult to attract and sustain foreign investment.

The planned construction of a new thermal power plant near Vlore and improved transmission and distribution facilities eventually will help relieve the energy shortages. Also, the government is moving slowly to improve the poor national road and rail network, a long-standing barrier to sustained economic growth. On the positive side, growth was strong in 2003-2006 and inflation is low and stable.

Following the signing of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement in 2006, European Union ministers urged Albania to push ahead with reforms, focusing on press freedom, property rights, institution building, respect for ethnic minorities and observing international standards in municipal elections.

Albania's coastline on the Ionian Sea, especially near the Greek tourist island of Corfu, is becoming increasingly popular with tourists due to its relatively unspoiled nature and its beaches. The tourism industry is growing rapidly.

General View of the Port of Durrës.

Exports totaled $1.548 billion in 2010. Export commodities included textiles and footwear; asphalt, metals and metallic ores, crude oil; vegetables, fruits, and tobacco. Export partners included Italy, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro. Imports totaled $4.59 billion. Import commodities included machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, textiles, and chemicals. Import partners included Italy, Greece, Turkey, China, Germany, and Russia.

Per capita GDP was $8,800 in 2011, giving Albania a ranking of 123 out of 194 countries. The unemployment rate was officially 13.3 percent in 2010, but may be higher due to a preponderance of near-subsistence farming.

Demographics

Street in Elbasan

There are northern Albanians, or Ghegs, and the southern Albanians, or Tosks. The Shkumbin River, which flows through the central town of Elbasan to the Adriatic Sea, divides these two groups. Although dialect and cultural differences can be substantial, both groups identify with a common national culture. The population was estimated at almost 3 million in 2010. Life expectancy at birth for the total population was 74.78 years—77.43 years for men and 80.34 years for women.

Ethnicity

About 95 percent of the population are ethnic Albanians. Greeks make up three percent, while the other two percent include Vlach, Roma (Gypsy), Evgjit, Serb, Macedonian Slav, and Bulgarian. Relations among Balkan ethnic groups have never been good. Ethnic relations between Albanians and Greeks along their border have improved, but relations between Albanians and Slavs in the former Yugoslavia have worsened. In Kosovo, the Serb conquest of the region at the beginning of the twentieth century oppressed the Albanian majority. The conflict that broke out in 1997 was between Kosovo Albanians and a hostile Serb regime in Belgrade. Since the declaration of Macedonian independence, the status of Albanians in the western part of Macedonia has been downgraded to that of a minority.

Religion

The majority of Albanians today claim to be either atheists or agnostics. No reliable data is available on active participation in formal religious services, but estimates ranged from 25 to 40 percent, leaving 60 to 75 percent of the population non-religious. The country does not have a history of religious extremism, and takes pride in the harmony that exists across religious traditions and practices. Religious pragmatism continued as a distinctive trait of the society and inter-religious marriage has been common throughout the centuries, in some places even the rule. There is a strong unifying cultural identity, where Muslims (70 percent of religious participants), and Christians (Albanian Orthodox 20 percent, Roman Catholic 10 percent) describe themselves as Albanian before anything else. This has been solidified historically by the common experience of struggling to protect their culture in the face of various outside conquerors.

In antiquity, the two main Illyrian cults were the cult of the Sun and the cult of the snake. The main festivals were the seasonal summer and winter festivals during the solstices and the spring and autumn festivals during the equinoxes. An organic system of assigning human personifications to natural phenomena was culturally developed and remnants of these still appear in everyday Albanian folklore and tradition.

The original indigenous culture continued until the Roman and Byzantine Empires crowned Christianity as official religion of the regime, thus suffusing Paganism, until both were later overshadowed by Islam, which kept the scepter of the major religion during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule from the fifteenth century]] until year 1912. Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Paganism continued in practice but less widely and openly than before. During the twentieth century both the monarchy and later the totalitarian state followed a systematic de-religionization of the nation and the national culture.

Language

Summer day celebrations in Tirana.

The Albanian language, shqip, is Indo-European without being a member of any major branch of the Indo-European family. The language adapted numerous changes through the centuries, making its origin difficult to discover. The two main dialects are Gheg and Tosk. All Albanians north of the Shkumbin, and Albanians of Montenegro, Kosovo, and most of Macedonia, speak Gheg dialects; while Albanians south of the Shkumbin, including the Albanians of Greece, south-western Macedonia, and southern Italy, speak Tosk dialects. Many Albanians are bilingual, and also fluent in English, Greek, Italian or French.

Men and women

Albania is a patriarchal society, in which women have subordinate roles. Despite legal equality and acceptance in the workforce under the communist regime, women have much less representation in public life.

Marriage and the family

Marriages are often arranged at an early age, traditionally by the parents of the groom with the help of a matchmaker. Remaining unmarried is regarded as a great misfortune. Bride kidnapping is practiced in some mountain regions; in some regions it was customary to buy a wife, and in other areas male relatives of the bride still give the groom a bullet wrapped in straw, thus signifying that the new husband is free to kill his wife if she is disobedient.

Albanian weddings are impressive, and are taken seriously. Hundreds of people may be invited to the wedding banquet, and celebrations can last for days—traditionally during the full moon to ensure offspring. Monogamy was customary, but polygamous marriages existed up to the beginning of the twentieth century in some areas, sometimes with live-in concubines. A wife was considered the property of her husband, so adultery was regarded as theft, and punished severely. Premarital and extramarital sex occurred in the northern highlands. Divorce is common.

A background of hardship and deprivation, high infant mortality, and blood feuding that decimated the male population, made reproduction the key to survival. Therefore, Albanian birthrates are higher than elsewhere in Europe. The belief is that more children, especially males, will mean more security in one's old age. Greater importance is attributed to the birth of sons, and male children were better treated.

Education

The literacy rate in Albania for the total population, age nine or older, is about 98.7 percent, according to the CIA World Fact Book 2007. Elementary education (grades one to eight), is compulsory but most students continue at least until a secondary education. Students must successfully pass graduation exams at the end of the eighth grade and at the end of the twelfth grade in order to continue their education.

Most schools are public and financed through the government, but several private schools of various levels have been opened. There are about 5,000 schools throughout the country. The academic year is divided into two semesters. The school week begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The school year begins in September and finishes around June. There is a winter break of about two to three weeks. The education system comprises:

  • Preschool education (çerdhe or kopësht): one to four years.
  • Primary education (9-vjeçare): nine years.
  • Secondary education: Regular (e mesme or gjimnaz), three years; vocational education or technical (teknike): two to five years.
  • Tertiary education: Undergraduate (e larte), four to five years; graduate, one to three years.
  • Quaternary education (doktoratë): three years

Class

Under the communist regime, which advocated the rule of a single working class, there were three classes—a ruling class comprising the families of government members; a working class including most of the population; and an underclass, comprising once-prosperous farming families, a pre-communist middle class, and dissidents. The fall of the communist regime brought revival of a system where wealth determines status.

Culture

A traditional house in Shkodër Photo by Christian Guthier

The Stalinist dictatorship of 1944–1990 demolished or transformed old towns and bazaars, churches and mosques. In their place were constructed socialist prestige buildings or uniform housing blocks. Older public buildings that survived, such as the main government ministries and the university, date from the Italian period (1930–1944).

Cuisine

Albanian cuisine is typical of the Balkans and is meat-oriented. Meat dishes include baked lamb and yogurt, veal or chicken with walnuts, fërgesë of Tirana with veal, fried meatballs (qofte të fërguara), korce kolloface, and veal with large lima beans. The main meal is mid-day and it is usually accompanied by a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, olives, olive oil, vinegar and salt. The meal includes a main dish of vegetables and meat. Seafood specialties are common in the coastal areas of Durrës, Vlorë and Sarandë.

Tahini-based halva with pistachio.

Desserts include halva, hasude, Turkish Delight, kadaif, muhalebi, revani, sultjash (rice pudding), panespanjẽ, qumẽshtor, baklava, sheqerpare, and krem karamele.

Mineral water is among the preferred non-alcoholic drinks in Albania along with carbonated beverages. Alcoholic beverages are consumed in vast quantities. There is beer (Birra Tirana), brandy, the Albanian brandy Skanderbeg is renowned in Europe, raki, a grape-based alcoholic beverage, as well as red and white wine.

Despite poverty, Albanians are very hospitable. A dinner guest will be given a large amount of food even though the host may go hungry the next day. Meals for weddings involve much meat, washed down with raki. Animals were slaughtered and roasted on a spit for religious holidays such as the Muslim celebration of Great Bayram and Christian feast days.

Literature

Frontispiece of Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi, Epirotarum principis by Marin Barleti.

Many intellectuals displaced by repeated invasions became renowned in the humanist world. These include historian Marin Barleti (1460-1513), who in 1510 published in Rome a history of Skanderbeg; or Marino Becichemi (1408-1526); Gjon Gazulli (1400-1455); Leonicus Thomeus (1456-1531); Michele Maruli (fifteenth century); and Michele Artioti (1480-1556), among others. A baptizing formula written in 1462 in Albanian script within a text in Latin by the bishop of Durrës, Pal Engjëlli, is the earliest example of written Albanian. Meshari (The Missal) by Gjon Buzuku, published by himself in 1555, is considered as the first literary work written in Albanian.

Cuneus Prophetarum (The Band of the Prophets) (1685) by Pjetër Bogdani, is a theological-philosophical treatise that considers with originality (by merging data from various sources) the principal issues of theology, a full biblical history, and the complicated problems of scholasticism, cosmogony, astronomy, pedagogy.

Voskopoja, a small village in south-eastern Albania, was in the eighteenth century a cultural and commercial center of the Aromanians (Vlachs), having notably the first printing press in the Balkans. It was razed in 1788 by Ali Pasha. Writings in Greek by T. Kavaljoti, Dh. Haxhiu, G. Voskopojari, on knowledge, philology, theology and philosophy helped in the writing and recognition of Albanian.

Pantheist and romanticist writer Naim Frashëri.

In the nineteenth century, there emerged an ideological, military, and literary national renaissance, inspired by Enlightenment ideas imported by Albanian intelligentsia from Italy, Istanbul, Bucharest, the United States, Sofia, and Cairo. The two greatest representatives of Albanian Romanticism of the nineteenth century were Jeronim De Rada (1814-1903), and Naim Frashëri (1846-1900). The first is the Albanian romantic poet, and the second is an Albanian romanticist and pantheist, who merges in his poetry the influence of Eastern poetry, especially Persian, with the spirit of the poetry of Western romanticism.

The main direction taken by the Albanian literature between the two World Wars was realism, but it also bore remnants of romanticism. The main feature of literature and arts during the communist regime was their ideology-oriented development and the elaboration of all genres, especially of the novel. The literature of this period developed within the framework of socialist realism, the only direction allowed by official policy.

Ismail Kadare at a reading in Zurich.

The dissident trend in literature was expressed in different forms in the works of Kasëm Trebeshina, Mehmet Myftiu, Ismail Kadare, Dritëro Agolli, Minush Jero, Koço Kosta, who either tried to break out the canons of the socialist realism method or introduced heretic ideas for the communist totalitarian ideology.

Albania’s best-known contemporary writer is Ismail Kadare, born in 1935 whose 15 novels have been translated into 40 languages. With the poem Përse mendohen këto male (What Are These Mountains Musing On?) 1964, Motive me diell (Sunny Motifs) 1968, Koha (Time) 1976, and especially with his prose (Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur (The General of The Dead Army) 1963, Kështjella (The Castle) 1970, Kronikë në gur (Chronicle in Stone) 1971, Dimri i madh (The Great Winter) 1977, Ura me tri harqe (The Three-Arched Bridge) 1978, Piramida (The Pyramid) 1992; and Spiritus 1996, Kadare defied the limitations of the time and revived Albanian literature with forms and motifs that integrate it into the modern streams of world literature.

Music

The palace of King Zog I in Durrës

Albanian folk music falls into three stylistic groups: the Ghegs of the north, the southern Labs, and the Tosks. The northern and southern traditions are contrasted by the "rugged and heroic" tone of the north and the "relaxed, gentle and the sweetly melodic lullabies, love songs, wedding music, work songs and other kinds of song from the south.

The Ghegs are known for a distinctive variety of sung epic poems, many of which are about Skanderbeg, a legendary fifteenth century warrior who led the struggle against the Turks, and the "constant Albanian themes of honor, hospitality, treachery and revenge." These traditions are a form of oral history for the Ghegs, which preserve and inculcate moral codes and social values. The most traditional variety of epic poetry is called Rapsodi Kreshnike (Poems of Heroes). These epic poems are sung, accompanied by a lahuta, a one-stringed fiddle.

Further south, around Dibër and Kërçovë in Macedonia, musicians use a two-stringed instrument in which one string is used for the drone and one for the melody. Though men are the traditional performers, women are increasingly taking part in epic balladry.

The city of Korca has long been the cultural capital of Albania, and its music is considered the most sophisticated in the country. Bosnian love songs sevdalinka are an important influence on the region's music that is complex, with shifts through major and minor scales with an Turkish sound and a romantic and sophisticated tone.

Albania's capital, Tirana, is the home of popular music dominated by Roma people influences and has been popularized at home and in emigrant communities internationally by Merita Halili, Parashqevi Simaku and Myslim Leli. In recent times, influences from Western Europe and the United States have led to the creation of bands that play rock, pop and hip hop among many other genres.

The most successful Albanian pop artisits are Giovanni and Sebastian. They have over 20 top-rated songs in their homeland. While success outside of this country has been limited, Giovanni has enjoyed success with such artists as Barbara Streisand, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Robin Gibb. Sebastian has produced a number of films, the most famous of which is the Albanian spoken remake of The Towering Inferno.

One pivotal composer in modern Albanian classical music was Mart Gjoka, who composed vocal and instrumental music which uses elements of urban art song and the folk melodies of the northern highlands. Gjoka's work in the early 1920s marks the beginning of professional Albanian classical music.

Later in the twentieth century, Albanian composers began to focus on ballets, opera and other styles. These included Tonin Harapi, Nikolla Zoraqi, Thoma Gaqi, Feim Ibrahimi and Shpetim Kushta. Since the fall of the Communist regime, new composers like Aleksander Peci, Sokol Shupo, Endri Sina and Vasil Tole have arisen, as have new musical institutions like the Society of Music Professionals and the Society of New Albanian Music.

Sports

The most popular sport in Albania is football (soccer) and the most followed sports event is the Football World Cup. As of September 2003, Albania was ranked 86th with 472 points by FIFA. Other played sports include basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics.

References

  • Burton, Kim. 2000. "The Eagle Has Landed." In Simon Broughton and Mark Ellingham (eds.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Penguin Books: 1-6 ISBN 1858286360
  • Carver, Robert. 1998. The accursed mountains: journeys in Albania, London: John Murray. ISBN 0719554594
  • Elsie, Robert. 1996. Studies in modern Albanian literature and culture, East European monographs, no. 455. Boulder: East European Monographs. OCLC 35736516
  • Jacques, Edwin E. 1995. The Albanians: an ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. ISBN 0899509320
  • Pipa, Arshi. 1989. The politics of language in socialist Albania, East European monographs, no. 271. Boulder: East European Monographs. ISBN 0880331682
  • Pipa, Arshi. 1990. Albanian Stalinism: ideo-political aspects, East European monographs, no. 287. Boulder: East European Monographs. ISBN 0880331844
  • Vickers, Miranda. 1999. The Albanians: a modern history. Peace Research Abstracts. 36 (2). ISSN 0031-3599

External links

All links retrieved February 7, 2013.


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