Albania - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate
INTRODUCTION OF ALBANIA
Albania (Albanian Shqipëria, “Country of the Eagle”), republic in southeastern Europe, officially known as the Republic of Albania. It lies along the northwestern edge of the Balkan Peninsula.
Separated from Italy by only 76 km (47 mi) of the Adriatic Sea, Albania, throughout its history, has been occupied by Italian powers expanding eastward into the Balkans or by Balkan powers expanding westward. In the 1500s Albania came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire (centered in what is now Turkey), and did not gain its independence until 1912. From 1944 to 1990 Albania was a staunchly Communist state, and in 1991 Albania began its transition to a democratic state and market economy. The capital and largest city is Tirana.
LAND AND RESOURCES OF ALBANIA
With a total area of 28,748 sq km (11,100 sq mi), Albania is roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts. The greatest distance from north to south is about 345 km (about 215 mi) and from east to west about 150 km (about 95 mi). Albania is bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the west, Greece to the south, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the east, Serbia to the northeast, and Montenegro to the northwest.
Natural Regions in Albania
Albania is a mountainous country in which about 70 percent of the land lies above 300 m (1,000 ft). Its mountains, which form a broad backbone from northwest to southeast, rise abruptly from the coastal lowlands to elevations of more than 2,400 m (8,000 ft). In the north are the most rugged mountains, where a massive limestone extension of the Dinaric Alps reaches inland for 40 km (25 mi) from nearby Montenegro. In the central uplands lies Mount Korab, the country’s highest peak, at 2,764 m (9,068 ft). Strong erosive forces have created bare rock surfaces, deeply incised valleys, and a scarcity of meadowlands in this region. South of the Alps, the uplands are lower and more rounded, extending southeastward in a series of plateaus and ranges that merge with the Pindus Mountains in northern Greece.
The western coastal region consists of low hills and lower reaches of valleys that open onto the coastal plain. This is Albania’s most densely populated area and comprises most of the land used for farming. Even here a series of flat areas are interrupted by hill country. Most of the soils are difficult to farm because of drainage and water-supply problems. Only the younger, lighter soils near the many rivers are easily cultivated, but are often flooded as well. Albania is subject to occasional earthquakes.
Rivers and Lakes in Albania
Albania’s longest river is the Drin, total length 282 km (175 mi), which originates at two headwaters in Serbia and the FYROM and flows through northern Albania. Other major rivers include the Seman, the Shkumbin, and the Aóös (Vjöse). Because most of Albania’s rivers flow at high elevations, they are usually mountain torrents by the time they reach the coastal plain. In the mountains, rivers have cut deep gorges with near-vertical walls as high as 90 m (300 ft) above the water. The gorges make irrigation difficult, but are well suited for the huge dams that give Albania and nearby countries cheap hydroelectric power. Along the lower course of the rivers, irrigation is also difficult because sediment-laden streams often break out of their beds and shift channels. Irrigation is feasible only in valley bottoms. Albania also shares three large lakes with neighboring states. Lake Scutari in the north lies partly in Montenegro, Lake Ohrid in the east lies partly in the FYROM, while Lake Prespa in the southeast lies in Albania, the FYROM, and Greece.
Plant and Animal Life in Albania
Some 28 percent of Albania is forested with mixed stands of willow, poplar, elm, pine, oak, and white beech trees. Many of the forests near transportation routes have been heavily logged and some have given way to sheep pastures. In these areas, the soil is either washed or blown away during the summer drought, and even in humid months the grass grows sparsely in clumps. Because of heavy grazing by livestock in the summer and the summer drought, much of Albania is unfavorable for wildlife. Wolves, deer, and boars have been pushed back into the most remote forests. Wild fowl, however, are abundant in lowland forests.
Natural Resources of Albania
Albania is rich in natural resources. The southwestern part of the country is well endowed with natural gas and petroleum. The northeastern region has large reserves of mineral deposits including chromium, copper, iron, and nickel. Large deposits of lignite (a soft, brown coal) are found near Tirana, and natural asphalt is mined near Selenicë. For centuries the forests have provided fuel in wood and charcoal.
Climate in Albania
Albania’s climate varies with topography. The coastal lowlands have a Mediterranean climate with arid, almost cloudless summers featuring high temperatures both day and night. Winters are rainy but mild, and in the southern lowlands freezing temperatures are rare. In the mountains rain falls much more often in summer, and the northern regions experience more humidity than the south. Temperatures may soar in the daytime, but nights are much cooler. In winter the mountains, like the lowlands, are subject to heavy and frequent thunderstorms, but in the mountains storms are accompanied by heavy snow.
The average temperatures in August, the hottest month, range from 17° to 31°C (63° to 88°F). In January, the coldest month, they range from 2° to 12°C (36° to 54°F). December, the wettest month, has an average rainfall of 211 mm (8.3 in) while the driest months, July and August, receive only 32 mm (1.3 in) of rain. On the coast annual rainfall averages 1,000 mm (40 in), but it may be as great as 2,500 mm (100 in) in the mountains.
Environmental Issues in Albania
Both the former Communist government and new administrations have harvested timber in vast quantities. As a result, many forests are degraded, wildlife is threatened, and farms have taken over land once forested. The effects of past deforestation, livestock grazing, and flooding have contributed to a rate of soil erosion that exceeds the natural process of new soil production. The extraction of oil and minerals has also created environmental problems, contaminating air, soil, and groundwater, particularly in central Albania. Public education about conservation, pollution controls, and recycling is limited, and the government has focused most of its resources on economic growth rather than environmental concerns. However, in the early 1990s several environmental interest groups were established, and the government created a committee to educate the public and offer solutions to environmental problems.
Joining the international community in its concern over the degradation of the environment, Albania is party to international agreements concerning biodiversity, climate change, and wetlands.
THE PEOPLE OF ALBANIA
In 2009 Albania’s population estimate was 3,639,453, resulting in an average density of 133 persons per sq km (344 per sq mi). More and more people have left rural areas for urban ones, particularly in the northern districts, such that in 2005 some 45 percent of the population lived in urban areas, compared to one-fifth in 1950. Albania has had one of the highest birth rates in Europe since the end of World War II (1939-1945) while the death rate has been one of the continent’s lowest. A high rate of population growth was state policy under the Communist regime, which viewed it as essential to Albania’s strength and prosperity.
Principal Cities of Albania
Tirana, in the central region, is the capital and largest city. Albania’s second largest city, Durrës, lies on the Adriatic coast to the west and is by far the country’s largest seaport. Other large cities include Elbasan in central eastern Albania, Shkodër in the northwest, and the port of Vlorë in the south central region.
Ethnic Groups in Albania
Albanians are among the most ancient ethnic groups in southeastern Europe. Their ancestors, the Illyrians, were an Indo-European people who settled in the Balkans long before the Greeks. Modern-day Albania consists almost exclusively of ethnic Albanians, who call themselves Shqipetars (Sons of the Eagle). Only 5 percent of Albania’s residents are of non-Albanian heritage, most of whom are Greek.
Albanians are divided by the Shkumbin River into two major dialect groups: the Ghegs in the north and the Tosks in the south. The Ghegs, who make up two-thirds of Albanians, are less intermarried with non-Albanians than the Tosks, who throughout history were more often subjected to foreign rule and other foreign influences. In the past, the Ghegs were organized in clans and the Tosks in a semifeudal society, but the Communists largely erased both types of organization. Before World War II the Ghegs dominated Albanian politics, but after the war many Tosks came to power because the new Communist government drew most of its support from Tosks.
Languages spoken in Albania
The official language of Albania is Albanian. Because Albanian evolved from the extinct Illyrian language, it is the only modern representative of a distinct branch of the Indo-European language family. Tosks and Ghegs speak different dialects of Albanian, but both groups can understand each other. Tosk became the official standard dialect under the Communists and remains so today. See Albanian Language.
Religion in Albania
With 70 percent of its population Muslim, Albania is Europe’s only predominantly Islamic state. Orthodox Christians, living mostly in southern Albania, make up 20 percent of the population, and Roman Catholics, mainly in the north, make up another 10 percent. Religious divisions in Albania are not significant, and religious tolerance is such that members of the same family sometimes belong to different religions. Most Muslim Albanians are traditional Sunnis (see Sunni Islam), but about one-fourth belong to the Bektashi sect, a tolerant, unorthodox order.
The Communist government outlawed all religions in 1967, making Albania the world’s first officially atheist country. Places of worship were closed, church property was confiscated, religious services were banned, and religious practitioners were persecuted. The ban on religion was lifted in 1990. Many churches and mosques have been rebuilt or reopened, and a growing number of people express religious beliefs.
Education in Albania
Illiteracy in Albania, which had long been widespread, was dramatically lowered by the Communists; in 2007 the literacy rate had climbed to 99 percent of the adult population. Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 13. In 2002–2003 nearly all school-age children attended primary school, but only 81 percent attended secondary school. Several universities, including the University of Tirana (founded in 1957), operate in Albania. The Communists encouraged education for women, and today enrollment rates for girls are roughly equal to those for boys in all levels of schooling.
Under Communist rule, education was also used to indoctrinate students with Communist beliefs. Before entering college, students were required to work for one year; after finishing their studies, another year of work and military training was required. After Communism collapsed, reforms removed politics and ideology from schools, although schools continue to receive large subsidies from the state. Work and military requirements were also dropped.
Way of Life in Albania
Traditional clothing consists of colorfully embroidered shirts and dresses and in some regions loose-fitting pants for women. Traditional clothing was discouraged under the Communists in favor of inexpensive, modern clothing made by the state. Since the democratic changes in government, people have more choice in clothing, particularly in urban areas. Traditional costumes are still worn in many rural and upland areas, especially among women.
The Communists greatly expanded housing in rural and urban areas. Urban homes were owned by the state, consisting chiefly of apartment blocks with attached cultural and recreational facilities and state-owned stores. In the countryside dwellings were usually one- or two-story family houses, mostly for peasants living on collective farms, and small apartment blocks for workers on state farms. As a result of post-Communist reforms, tenants in small apartments were allowed to own their homes free of charge. People who lived in larger dwellings could buy them from the state for small fees. Over the next few years, many state properties became private and a market for private homes developed. Still, housing construction in the mid-1990s did not keep pace with the country’s high rates of birth and migration to cities. As a result, some cities were overcrowded and the number of shanty dwellings grew.
The Communists ended much of the traditional, male-dominated clan system and guaranteed equal rights to women. Aspects of the clan system survived, especially in the highlands, but men there have considerably less authority today. The legal age for marriage was 18 years old for both sexes and access to divorce was equalized between spouses. However, virtually no birth control was available to women because the state wanted them to bear children. Since the democratic reforms, women have become more organized and established their own associations. Nonetheless, women’s participation in the country’s political life remains limited.
For recreation, many Albanians watch television, play sports such as soccer and volleyball, and walk in the city centers. Under Communism, state-subsidized holiday centers were provided for families, many of whom traveled to the coast or visited the mountains during the summer. However, when the subsidies were removed in 1993, vacations became too expensive for all but a few Albanians. Even fewer can afford to visit foreign countries.
Social Problems in Albania
The standard of living has improved in Albania since the collapse of the Communist system, but the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. The newly rich are mostly entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of growth opportunities, while the newly poor are those who depended on the state welfare system and, in the absence of that system, suffer. Homelessness and hunger are higher now than under the Communists. Democratic reforms in the early 1990s also brought a growth in crime, in part because controls once exercised by the state and police were lifted. The police were quickly restructured and have succeeded in stopping the worst excesses, but organized crime continues.
CULTURE OF ALBANIA
Albania’s distinctive culture also borrows from the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Slavs, and Italians, who conquered the Balkans. Despite the foreign influences, Albanian culture retains a remarkable degree of homogeneity (sameness in composition).
Literature in Albania
Under Ottoman rule (16th century to 20th century), Turkish and Greek Orthodox stories and myths played an important part in Albanian folklore. Tales were passed down through the generations in the form of heroic songs, legends, and epics. This oral tradition helped the native language and national identity survive until written texts emerged. The oldest known document in the Albanian language dates to 1462. In the late 19th century, under Ottoman rule, the brothers Naim and Sami Frasheri developed an underground Albanian literature by combining linguistic purity and patriotism. This nationalist movement inspired many writers in later decades, including lyric poet Gjergj Fishta. Another prominent nationalist writer was Fan Noli, a Western-educated Orthodox bishop and leader of the country during the 1920s. In addition to writing books, Noli translated western European books and poems into Albanian. Under the Communists, censorship was strict, topics permissible for discussion were few, and as a result, the country’s literature was deadened. After the collapse of one-party rule, literature was freed of most censorship, and many books are now published and distributed in the country. Perhaps the best-known living Albanian writer is Ismail Kadare, author of the novel The General of the Dead Army (1963).
Art and Architecture of Albania
Painting in Albania was strongly influenced by Byzantine art in the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), although by the end of the early Renaissance (15th century to 17th century) Italian influence was strong. The painting of icons (religious symbols) grew as a form of both public, or displayed, art and folk art. The style of icon painting, created in the mid-18th century, remained virtually unchanged through the early 20th century. Notable Albanian artists of the 20th century included Vangjush Mijo and Androniqi Zenge, both of whom are credited with introducing Western-style impressionism to Albania in the mid-1930s. Odhise Paskal, another 20th-century artist, sculpted Albanian heroes. Folk arts today include clothing decorated with delicate silver ornaments, wood-crafted items for the home, and woolen rugs.
The oldest architectural monuments in Albania date from the 1st millennium BC and were constructed by the Illyrians. From the middle of the 1st millennium BC through the middle of the 1st millennium AD, the Greeks and Romans who occupied Albania built structures still visible in urban and rural landscapes. In the Middle Ages, Christian religious architecture emerged in Albania’s Christian north while Islamic and Turkish-style architecture emerged in the south. Until the mid-20th century, most Albanian cities were dominated by two-story stone residences with tiled roofs. In wooded regions, houses were made of boards rather than stone; in coastal regions, they were clay, adobe or reed, with coatings of clay. Today, mass-produced Soviet-style housing predominates in urban and suburban settings while traditional architecture predominates in rural and mountainous regions.
Music and Dance in Albania
Like the literature native to Albania, Albanian folk music often contains themes of honor, loyalty, and courage. Styles range from the heroic songs of the mountains to the more musically complex lieder (a type of ballad), which is accompanied by instruments and common in the south. The most common traditional instrument is the lahute (lute), which is similar to the Slavic gusle. Also in the south, saze (small orchestras) composed of four or five instruments play music for folk dancing on special occasions. Notable folk musicians of the late 20th century included Tefta Tashko, Maria Paluca, and Gjorgjija Filce. Two of the most distinguished composers of Albanian music are Kristi Kono and writer, bishop, and political leader Fan Noli. Traditional dance is still widely practiced, especially in more remote villages. Because of Islamic influences, especially in the south, women and men often do not dance together in public.
Theater and Film in Albania
Theater was neither popular nor widespread in Albania before World War I (1914-1918). The first Albanian play, Emma, was written in 1887 by an Italo-Albanian, Anton Santori, and dealt with themes of the Albanian diaspora (migration to other countries). Instead of accurately portraying daily life, prewar drama depicted the romantic patriotism of the past. Under the Communists, theater became a weapon of propaganda, and new theaters and plays with Communist themes were encouraged. The plays, however, were subjected to more rigorous censorship than written literature, thereby crushing much creativity and stunting the growth of a native theater. Foreign theater companies were also banned. Nevertheless, a few talented playwrights, including Loni Papa, emerged in this period. In the mid-1990s theater continued to lag behind Albanian literature in its development.
Cinema is also undeveloped. During the Communist period, films, like plays, focused on heroics. Popular themes included the anti-Turk struggles of folk hero Skenderbeg, Albanian resistance to assimilation by foreigners, and the clash between tradition and change. Although there are fewer political restrictions on film today than in the Communist era, a lack of money and technical resources continues to hamper the growth of Albanian film.
Libraries and Museums in Albania
Albania is home to many museums of archaeology; local, military, and natural history; ethnography (the study of cultures); and religious and secular (nonreligious) art. Notable museums in Tirana include the National Museum of Archaeology (founded in 1948). Throughout the 20th century the holdings of Albania’s libraries grew dramatically. The country’s largest library, the National Library (1922) in Tirana, acquired many of its one million books through Communist confiscation of private libraries. The library system at the University of Tirana (1957) also features a large collection.
ECONOMY OF ALBANIA
Albania emerged from the Communist era as the poorest country in Europe. Under the Communists, the state controlled all economic activities; private ownership and private enterprise were forbidden. Because the state tended to invest in heavy industry, the popular demand for consumer goods was neglected. Furthermore, the constitution did not allow other countries to invest in or aid Albania. On the other hand, there was little unemployment since the state guaranteed almost everyone a job.
In the early 1990s Albania’s new, democratically elected leaders started a far-reaching program to reform Albania’s economy. Many state businesses were privatized, key decisions about production and demand were taken away from the state, and restrictions on trade and foreign investment were lifted. At first, between 1989 and 1992, the disruption brought by the end of the Communist era and the start of market reforms led to a steep economic decline with soaring unemployment and widespread poverty. However, in 1993 Albania’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 11 percent; in 1994 by 7 percent; and in 1995 by 6 percent—the highest growth in Europe. From 1992 to 1995 inflation dropped from a yearly average of 226 percent to 7 percent, and by 1995 the state controlled only 40 percent of the total economy. The rapid growth was due mainly to a recovery in farming spurred by rapid privatization and land reforms. In 2007 the GDP was $10.83 billion, or about $3,404.60 a person.
Foreign aid, initially critical during the economic transformation, has become less important since the recovery in farming. However, the country still relies on tens of thousands of Albanians working in Greece, Italy, and Germany who send hard currency home to support their families. While living conditions for most Albanians have improved and consumer goods and services are more available now than they were under Communism, poverty is still extensive. Other problems included a failing infrastructure, obsolete machinery, lack of raw materials, a shortage of skilled workers and managers, and poor labor discipline.
Labor in Albania
In 2007 the labor force numbered 1.4 million people. Some 42 percent of these workers were women. The largest share of the labor force, 58 percent, worked in agriculture; 14 percent worked in manufacturing, mining, and construction; and the remaining 28 percent worked in transportation, communications, trade, public administration, and various other services. The unemployment rate, which peaked at 40 percent in 1992, fell to 15 percent by 1995. However, as more people migrated from the country to cities, cities experienced a job shortage. As a result, many of the new city dwellers depend on state benefits for survival.
Under the Communist regime, free labor unions were outlawed and the ruling party tightly controlled the workplace. During 1991 the democratic government allowed independent unions to form, the most important of which is the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Albania. The former government-controlled union is now the free Confederation of Albanian Trade Unions, to which most state workers belong.
Agriculture of Albania
Under the Communists, agriculture was collectivized (worked by the people collectively) and prices were strictly controlled by the government, which oversaw 120 state farms and 420 agricultural collectives. In the early decades of Communist rule, large resources were spent on projects to reclaim, irrigate, and fertilize farms. About half the labor force worked in agriculture, and the country met nearly all food needs from its own farms, as it still does today. By the mid-1970s Albania was self-sufficient in grain production. Despite the successes, agricultural production was hindered by lack of machinery, poor management, lack of incentives for farmers, and the persistence of traditional farming methods.
A series of land reforms beginning in 1991 transformed Albanian agriculture. State farms and cooperatives were taken apart, almost all cultivated land (21 percent of the country’s total land area) was privatized, and peasants were allowed to raise crops and livestock for profit. In addition, a free market for farm produce was established, and steps were taken to modernize the farm sector. While Albania was almost totally dependent on foreign aid for food during the transition years from 1991 to 1993, by 1994 the reforms began to pay off. Production on farms grew by 15 percent that year, and farming grew from about one-third of the GDP in the 1980s to 21 percent of the GDP in 2007.
Important crops are wheat, corn, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, tobacco, fruit, and potatoes. Albanian farmers have shifted away from industrial crops like cotton, partly because the country’s textile industry is declining. Numbers of livestock, especially cattle, have grown, as has the dairy industry. Meat, more affordable than it was under the Communist regime, is becoming a more regular part of Albanians’ diets. In the mid-1990s about half of Albania’s exports were unprocessed goods, with food and cattle occupying a high percentage. However, in many villages mules and donkeys were still used for transportation and cattle still pulled farm tools.
Forestry and Fishing in Albania
Forests cover 28 percent of Albania, mostly with willow, alder, tamarisk, poplar, oak, maple, hornbeam, lime, elm, beech, and conifer. The country’s forests provide wood and fuel, as they have for centuries. Since the end of Communist rule, much of Albania’s timber harvesting and processing has been performed either by privatized businesses once owned by the state or by new businesses. The management of forests, however, remains in state hands, and in the mid-1990s forests could be cut only for domestic use. Despite Albania’s location on the Adriatic Sea, fishing is not a significant industry, and domestic markets for freshwater and saltwater food products are limited.
Mining in Albania
Albania is rich in mineral resources, including large reserves of chromium, copper, and iron-nickel. The country also has smaller deposits of gold, silver, bauxite, magnesite, and zinc. In 1994 chrome, found at Pogradec in eastern Albania and in the Drin River valley, accounted for 18 percent of all Albanian exports and was the country’s biggest earner of foreign currency. Albania is the world’s third largest producer of chromium and the only country in Europe with significant reserves, estimated at more than 33 million metric tons of recoverable ore (5 percent of known world deposits).
In 1991 and 1992 mining production collapsed and the mining workforce was halved to around 10,000 workers. Labor is now concentrated in chrome and copper, where it is believed reserves can support production until about 2025. Like the rest of the country’s industry, mining suffers from outdated equipment and technology, disruption of production and supply lines, and lack of managerial expertise. Moreover, most reserves lie in deep deposits in remote and mountainous areas of Albania’s north and east, making them more expensive to reach. The government has begun to modernize the mining sector, mostly by attracting foreign investment, but investors have not been easy to find.
Manufacturing in Albania
Between the early 1960s and the late 1980s Albania developed a diversified industrial base, but when the Communist period ended, almost all manufacturing stopped. Employment in manufacturing dropped from 325,000 in 1989 to 126,000 in 1993, and industrial output fell by 74 percent between 1990 and 1994. In 2007 industry (including manufacturing, mining, and construction) made up 20 percent of Albania’s GDP. Revival of manufacturing is vital for the country’s recovery. The country’s chief manufactured products include machinery and equipment, cement, soap, furniture, bricks, footwear, textiles, cigarettes, and electronic equipment. A growing percentage of the manufacturing sector is owned privately, and the government continues to encourage privatization. Because manufacturers still rely on obsolete equipment and technology, modernization has become a high priority for newly privatized firms.
Energy in Albania
Because of torrential rivers well suited for hydroelectric plants, Albania is largely self-sufficient in energy. However, businesses and households use more energy than in the past, and outdated and worn-out equipment is hard-pressed to meet the demand. Hydroelectric plants, mostly on the Drin, Mat, and Bistricë rivers, yield 98 percent of the country’s generating capacity. Albania has moderate oil reserves located near the central Albanian town of Berat. Of the estimated 490 million metric tons of reserves, about 10 percent has been extracted. The oil is pumped by pipeline to a large refinery near Elbasan and to the seaport of Vlorë. Natural gas is also extracted and some deposits of lignite are mined in the central and southern mountain regions.
Tourism of Albania
As a result of the government’s isolationist policies, Albania had no tourist industry until recently. However, the country’s Mediterranean coastline and mostly unspoiled mountainous interior offer great tourist potential. An estimated 2,205,000 tourists visited Albania in 2007. The major tourist destinations include Tirana, the southern coastal areas, the northern mountains, and several archaeological sites. Most tourists are Albanian emigrants from the West as well as Greeks, Italians, Germans, and other western Europeans. The country’s one international airport in Rinas, near Tirana, was renovated in the mid-1990s. If tourism continues to grow, other facilities, services, and infrastructure will also need improvements.
Foreign Trade in Albania
In the two decades after World War II, Albania traded almost exclusively with other Communist states, mostly in Eastern Europe. Following a rift with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1961, Albania shifted most of its trade to China until 1978, when a rift ended relations with China. In the late 1960s Albania renewed some economic ties with Western Europe, and after the fall of Communism, Albania conducted most of its trade with the European Union (EU). Italy is Albania’s most important trading partner, accounting for half of exports and 40 percent of imports. Other leading purchasers of exports are the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary; sources for imports are FYROM, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Greece.
In the economic decline following the end of Communist rule both imports and exports suffered, although by the mid-1990s both were again growing, with imports dominant. Exports totaled $1,043 million in 2007, while imports cost $4.07 billion, leaving Albania with a large trade deficit (the difference between exports and imports). Usually, when a country like Albania has a large trade deficit, it is cause for economic concern, but following Albania’s recession, growing imports were seen as a sign of economic recovery. Imports consist mostly of food and automobiles as well as machinery, industrial equipment, fertilizers, and consumer goods. Exports are mostly raw materials and fuels, including, in order of importance, chrome and chrome products, copper, nickel, furs, tobacco, bitumen, electricity, and petroleum. About 70 percent of all exports now come from the private sector.
Currency and Banking of Albania
Albania’s main monetary unit is the lek (90.4 leks equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). The central bank and bank of issue is the Bank of Albania, located in Tirana. Albania is one of the world’s few market economies with no domestic private banks, although there are plans to privatize two of the three commercial banks.
Transportation in Albania
Albania’s archaic transportation system is one of the biggest hurdles to economic growth. The country has 18,000 km (11,185 mi) of roads, which connect most towns and villages; however, the roads are in desperate need of repair and expansion. Private cars were banned in Albania until 1991 when there were only 50,000 registered vehicles (about 15 for every 1,000 people). Most belonged to the Communist Party elite. By 2002 the country had 70 motor vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, and automobiles had become the largest single import. Bicycles are still common and a bus system operates in most of the country. In the more remote highlands, mules and donkeys are used for transportation. Albania has 423 km (263 mi) of railroad track, much of it built in the 1940s. The rail system connects mostly industrial and mining centers, is slow and inefficient, and needs a thorough overhaul.
Albania has two main ports, Durrës and Vlorë. Durrës, 35 km (22 mi) from Tirana, handles 90 percent of Albania’s shipping. In 1996 and 1997 Rinas, the country’s only international airport, received a $30 million renovation. The growth of tourism has led to proposals for a second international airport in southern Albania.
Communications in Albania
During the Communist era, all publications as well as television and radio broadcasting were controlled by the state. The state appointed editors and journalists, censored information tightly, and used press outlets as tools of propaganda. Because of the extreme repression, no opposition publications appeared until the closing years of Communist rule. After 1991 most restrictions were lifted and an independent press began to function, although publications are often tied to specific political parties. Television and radio remain under state control, but the censorship is less severe than during the Communist period. The most important newspapers include the dailies Rilindja Demokratike, published by the Democratic Party; Zeri I Popullit, once the major newspaper of the state, now published by the Socialists; and Republika, published by the Republican Party. Other major periodicals include the weekly Drita, the monthly Nentori, and the independent, nonpartisan newspaper Koha Jonë.
Albania’s telecommunications system is inefficient and thinly spread across the country. In the mid-1990s state-owned Albanian Telecom began a major program to upgrade and expand the network. Most households have radios, and many have televisions. Only a few thousand people, mostly the newly emerging business class, have access to computers.
GOVERNMENT OF ALBANIA
From 1944 to 1991 Albania’s government was controlled completely by the Communist Party, known from 1948 as the Albanian Party of Labor (APL). The party’s preeminence was assured by the 1976 constitution, which defined the APL as the “sole leading political force of state and society” and named Marxism-Leninism as the country’s official ideology. Power was effectively consolidated in one man, Enver Hoxha. He was first secretary, or head, of the party’s Politburo (the policy-making body) from 1944 until his death in 1985. Hoxha ruled Albania with an iron fist and stifled any dissension. The party’s control over society and public institutions, which was near-absolute, was reinforced by the Sigurimi, the secret police.
After Hoxha’s death in 1985, Albania began to emerge from its isolation. Anti-Communist upheavals swept across Eastern Europe in 1989, and in 1990 Albania legalized opposition parties. In March 1991, after an interim constitution was approved, Albania held its first multiparty elections in nearly 50 years.
In November 1998 voters approved Albania’s first post-Communist constitution, which declared the country a parliamentary republic. The new constitution provides for multiparty elections and guarantees freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and organization.
Executive of Albania
A president serves as Albania’s head of state and shares control of the armed forces with the prime minister. The president is elected by the parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, to a five-year term, and is limited to two terms. The president appoints the prime minister nominated by the party or coalition of parties that has a majority of seats in the Assembly. The Assembly must then approve the appointee. If the Assembly fails to approve the president’s appointee three times, the president dissolves parliament. The president can return a proposed law to parliament for review once, but the law will take effect if a parliamentary majority then approves its passage. The prime minister is the head of government and chair of the Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The prime minister and Council of Ministers are in charge of the country’s economic, social, and cultural affairs. The president and prime minister are jointly responsible for foreign relations and security affairs.
Legislature of Albania
The People’s Assembly consists of a single house with 140 deputies, 15 less than were provided under the interim constitution. Of the total number of deputies, 100 are directly elected from districts and the other 40 are chosen from party lists according to the proportion of votes each party or coalition receives. All citizens age 18 and older are eligible to vote. The deputies serve four-year terms and the assembly meets in regular session two times per year. In addition to passing legislation, the Assembly approves the president’s appointment of the prime minister and the prime minister’s choices for the Council of Ministers.
Judiciary in Albania
In 1992 Albania extensively reorganized its judiciary. The new court system is headed by the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the president to nine-year terms with the consent of the Assembly. Below the Supreme Court are the appeals courts (one for every district court) and below the appeals courts, the district courts. Judges in appeals and district courts are appointed by the president upon the recommendations of the Higher Judicial Council, which is headed by the president and includes the chair of the Supreme Court and the minister of justice. A separate constitutional court rules on constitutional matters and consists of nine members appointed by the president with the Assembly’s consent.
Political Parties of Albania
The 1991 constitution formally created a multiparty system. The Socialist Party, which grew out of the Albanian Party of Labor (APL), officially rejected Marxism-Leninism as its guiding ideology and now supports gradual market reforms. It is influential in rural areas and among older people. The Albanian Democratic Party, which draws strong support in urban areas and from young people, advocates a market economy and the encouragement of foreign assistance and investment. Other parties include the Social Democrats; the Unity for Human Rights Party, which represents the ethnic Greek minority; and the National Front.
Local Government of Albania
Albania is divided into counties (qarqe) composed of regions (rrethe), which are subdivided into communes and municipalities. Popularly elected local peoples’ councils administer most of the economic, social, and cultural affairs of communes and municipalities. The regions are governed by regional councils. Each regional council includes the chairperson of each local council within the region, delegates from the local districts in proportion to the percentage of the region’s population each district represents, and a prefect appointed by the Council of Ministers. In 2001 there were 12 counties composed of 36 regions, subdivided into 308 communes and 65 municipalities.
Social Services in Albania
Under the Communists, rudimentary health care was free for the entire population; however, the health-care system suffered from outdated equipment, inadequate hospitals, and a severe shortage of drugs. Under the new government, all medical services are still offered free of charge, although facilities remain below standard.
Under the Communists, mortality rates dropped sharply and a number of diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria, were brought under control. Roundworm, a parasite, was still widespread in the early 1990s, particularly among rural children, and pneumonia and diarrhea remained the major causes of infant mortality. Incidence of viral hepatitis was also on the rise. Between 1990 and 1993, deaths in childbirth were cut in half, in large part because abortion was legalized and pregnant women were prohibited from working in heavy manual jobs.
Albania’s state social insurance system covers all workers free of charge. Women are entitled to 360 days of maternity leave and receive 80 percent of their salary while on leave. When workers are on sick leave, they are paid between 70 and 100 percent of their salary. Men retire between the ages of 55 and 65 years, women between 50 and 60. Pensions generally equal to 70 percent of the average monthly salary are provided for the retired and the disabled.
Defense of Albania
In 2006 the armed forces of Albania included 11,020 people. In 2006 the air force had 1,370 members, and the navy had 1,100; the number of army personnel could not be determined due to civil unrest that disrupted national command of troops early in the year. Military service is required at the age of 19 and lasts for 12 months.
International Organizations in Albania
Since 1991 Albania has become a member of several international organizations including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); all the bodies of the United Nations (UN) such as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). In 2009 Albania became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
HISTORY OF ALBANIA
Present-day Albanians probably descended from Illyrian people who lived in the southern Balkans long before Greeks, Romans, and Slavs migrated to the region. During the 7th and 6th centuries BC, the Greeks established several colonies along the Albanian coast, including Epidamnus (present-day Durrës) and Apollonia (near present-day Vlorë). By the 3rd century BC the colonies began to decline and eventually disappeared. As the Greeks left, the small Illyrian groups that predated them evolved into more complex political units, including federations and kingdoms. The most important of these kingdoms flourished between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC.
At the same time, Rome was developing on the Italian peninsula, across the Adriatic Sea from Illyria. The Romans saw Illyria as a bridgehead for eastern conquests, and in 229 BC, Rome crossed the Adriatic and attacked. By 168 BC Romans had established effective control over Illyria and renamed it the province of Illyricum. Rome ruled the region for the next six centuries, but the Illyrians resisted assimilation and their distinctive culture and language survived. Nonetheless, Illyrians gained significant influence in the Roman armed forces, and several Illyrians became Roman emperors, including Aurelian (AD 270-275), Diocletian (284-305), and Constantine the Great (306-337). Christianity was felt increasingly in Illyricum by the middle of the 1st century AD, and in 58, Saint Paul placed an apostle in charge of Epidamnus. Seats for bishops were later created in Apollonia and Scodra (present-day Shkodër).
In 395 the Roman Empire was split into a western and eastern empire, and the lands of modern Albania became part of the eastern, or Byzantine, Empire. Several Illyrians became Byzantine emperors, including Justinian I (527-565). By the 5th century Christianity had become the established religion, and Albanian Christians remained under the religious jurisdiction of the Roman pope, despite being subjects of the Byzantine Empire. In the 5th century invading Visigoths, Huns, and Ostrogoths devastated the region, and between the 6th and 8th centuries Slavic peoples settled in Illyrian territories. The Slavs assimilated many of the Illyrians in what is today Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. However, the southern Illyrian peoples, including those in modern Albania, resisted assimilation. In 732 Byzantine emperor Leo III detached the Albanian Church from Rome and placed it under the patriarch of Constantinople (now İstanbul).
From the 8th through the 11th century, Illyria gradually became known as Albania, from the Albanos group that inhabited central Albania. Scholars have been unable to determine the origins of the name Shqiperia (Country of the Eagle), by which present-day Albanians refer to their country. Scholars generally agree, however, that the name Shqiperia replaced Albania in the 16th century. In the 9th century the Byzantine Empire’s power began to weaken as Bulgarian Slavs, followed by Norman Crusaders, Italian Angevins, Serbs, and Venetians, invaded the region. After the 10th century a feudal system developed in which peasant soldiers who had served military lords became serfs on landed estates. At this time some of the region’s provinces became virtually independent of Constantinople.
When the Christian church formally split in 1054 into Eastern and Western churches, southern Albania retained its ties to the Eastern, or Orthodox, Church in Constantinople while northern Albania reverted to the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. During the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) Albanian cities expanded and commerce flourished, particularly in the Adriatic region. With urban prosperity came the growth of art, culture, and education. The Albanian language survived, but was not used in churches, government, or schools; instead, Greek and Latin remained the official languages of literature and culture.
The Serb occupation after 1347 under Stefan Dušan prompted a mass migration of Albanians to Greece. Byzantine rule disappeared by the middle of the 14th century, and in 1388 the Ottomans (centered in what is now Turkey) invaded Albania. By 1430 the Ottomans had conquered Albania, but during the 1440s Gjergj Kastrioti organized the country’s feudal lords to fight the Ottomans. Kastrioti, popularly known as Skenderbeg, successfully resisted Ottoman control for 25 years with military help from Rome, Naples, and Venice. Albanian resistance collapsed after Skenderbeg’s death, and the Ottomans reoccupied the country by 1506. About one-fourth of the country’s population fled to Italy, Sicily, and the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic. Skenderbeg’s name has been invoked throughout Albanian history to inspire national unity and independence. Today he is revered as Albania’s greatest hero.
During four centuries of extensive rule, the Ottomans failed to control all of Albania. In the highland regions, Ottoman power was weak, and the Albanians refused to pay taxes or perform military service. The Albanians staged several rebellions, partly in defense of their Christian faith. At the end of the 16th century, the Ottomans began a policy of Islamicization (conversion to Islam) as a way of preventing future unrest. By the end of the 17th century, about two-thirds of the population had converted to Islam, many to avoid the heavy tax levied against Christians. The Ottomans also extended their control through a feudal-military system, under which military leaders who were loyal to the empire received landed estates.
As Ottoman power declined in the 18th century, the power of some military lords increased. The Bushati family dominated most of northern Albania between 1750 and 1831, while Ali Pasa Tepelene ruled southern Albania and northern Greece from 1788 to 1822. These local rulers created separate states until they were overthrown by Ottoman sultan Mahmud II. A number of Albanians also rose to high positions in the Ottoman government in the 18th and 19th centuries, with more than two dozen becoming grand viziers (prime ministers).
During the 19th century, many of the conquered peoples in the Balkans increasingly wanted their own nations. In 1878 Albanian leaders met in the town of Prizren, in Kosovo, where they founded the League of Prizren (Albanian League) to promote a free, unified Albania in all Albanian-populated territories. The league also sought to develop Albanian language, education, and culture, and in 1908 Albanian leaders adopted a national alphabet based on the Latin script. Between 1910 and 1912 Albanian nationalists waged an armed struggle against the Ottomans, who had refused to give Albania autonomy (self-rule). The Ottomans were simultaneously attacked and, in 1912, defeated by Serb, Greek, and Bulgarian armies in what was later called the First Balkan War (see Balkan Wars). Albania immediately proclaimed its independence from the Ottoman Empire. At a conference following the war, Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria, France, and Italy (collectively known as the Great Powers) agreed to accept Albanian independence, but because of strong pressures from Albania’s neighbors, the Great Powers gave the Albanian-inhabited region of Kosovo to Serbia and much of the Çamëria region to Greece. Roughly half the Albanian population was left outside the country’s borders. The Great Powers also appointed a German prince, Wilhelm zu Wied, as Albania’s ruler, but he was in power only six months before the outbreak of World War I. During the war, Austrian, French, Italian, Greek, Montenegrin, and Serb armies occupied Albania, and the country lacked any political leadership. At the Paris Peace Conference after the war, United States president Woodrow Wilson vetoed a plan by Britain, France, and Italy to partition Albania among its neighbors. In 1920 Albania was admitted to the newly formed League of Nations, thereby gaining international recognition as an independent state.
During the 1920s Albania was deeply divided between two political forces. A conservative class of landowners and tribal leaders led by Ahmed Bey Zogu wished to maintain the status quo while liberal intellectuals, politicians, and merchants wanted to modernize Albania. The liberals were led by Fan S. Noli, a U.S.-educated bishop of the Orthodox church. In 1924 a popular revolt against the conservatives forced Zogu to flee to Yugoslavia. Noli became prime minister of the new government and set out to build a Western-style democracy. Six months later, suffering from internal opposition and lacking international support, Noli was overthrown by Zogu, with help from Yugoslavia. Zogu reigned for 14 years, first as president (1925-1928) and then as King Zog I (1928-1939). Zog’s dictatorial rule was marked by economic stagnation, although he helped create a modern school system and made the country somewhat more stable. Zog failed, however, to resolve the problem of land reform, and the peasantry remained impoverished.
During Zog’s reign, Italy exercised so much influence over Albania’s affairs that Albania was virtually an Italian protectorate. In April 1939, shortly before the start of World War II, Italy invaded and occupied Albania, sending Zog fleeing to Greece. After Nazi Germany defeated Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, Kosovo and Çamëria were taken from those countries and joined to Albania, which remained under Italian control until 1943 when German forces took it after the Italian surrender. The wartime state disintegrated in November 1944 when the Germans withdrew. Kosovo was then returned to Serbia (by then part of Yugoslavia) and Çamëria to Greece.
During the war, nationalists, monarchists, and Communists in Albania actively resisted Italian, German, and Albanian fascism. The Communists eventually prevailed, seizing Albania in November 1944 with help from Communists in Yugoslavia. The secretary general (later first secretary) of the Communist Party, Enver Hoxha, was installed as the country’s new leader. Supported by impoverished peasants and some intellectuals, the party launched a radical reform program that destroyed the power of landlords and nationalized industry, banks, and commercial properties. In doing so, the Communists consolidated their rule and created a state-controlled socialist society. Agriculture was collectivized, following the model established in the USSR by Joseph Stalin, and by 1967 almost all peasants worked on collective farms. The Hoxha regime also gained firm control over the northern highlands and largely eliminated the traditional patriarchal clans and tribal leadership. Women gained a more prominent place in the new order as they achieved legal equality with men.
Initially, Albania depended on Yugoslavia for economic and military aid, but it feared Yugoslav political domination. In 1948, when Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Communist bloc for ideological reasons, Albania backed the Soviet leader. Hoxha also purged Albania’s pro-Yugoslav faction, which was headed by Koci Xoxe, Hoxha’s chief rival. However, when the USSR and China argued over control of the world Communist movement in the early 1960s, Albania supported China, which Hoxha viewed as more pure in its Communism. Hoxha was also disillusioned with other Communist allies, whom he accused of abandoning the socialist revolution and seeking accommodation with the capitalist West. In 1961 diplomatic ties were broken between Albania and the USSR. Soviet aid, credits, and technical assistance, which had allowed Albania to create a modern industrial and agricultural base and enjoy a better standard of living, were cut off. China took the USSR’s place as Albania’s main trading partner and supplier of economic aid.
Until the late 1960s Albania remained virtually isolated from the rest of the world. Following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Albania sought to protect itself by renewing ties with neighboring European states and formally withdrawing from the USSR-led Warsaw Pact. During the 1970s Albania’s relations with China became strained by China’s détente (reconciliation) with the United States. In 1978 China canceled its trade agreements with, and aid to, Albania. Albania then pursued closer economic contacts with Europe, but in terms of political and social ties, Albania remained one of the most isolated countries in the world until the early 1990s.
Under Hoxha’s rule, political oppression was severe. In order to eliminate dissent, all political parties except the Communist Party (formally, the Albanian Party of Labor, or APL) were banned, and the regime periodically purged potential opponents from the ruling party. Thousands were dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned in labor camps, or killed. The state tightly controlled and censored all public institutions and organizations, including trade unions, the press, cultural associations, women’s and youth organizations, and all economic enterprises. The Sigurimi, the state security network, monitored the entire population and eliminated any signs of dissent. Few foreigners were allowed into Albania, and only the party elite could travel abroad. In 1967 all religious bodies were banned, Christian and Muslim church property was confiscated, and the country was declared the world’s first atheist state.
The only signs of opposition appeared within the ruling party itself. In 1981 Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu died under mysterious circumstances; he was suspected of leading a plot to unseat Hoxha. In 1983 the Sigurimi executed a number of former party officials. When Hoxha died in April 1985, he was replaced as first secretary of the party by Ramiz Alia, who tried to preserve the Communist system while introducing tentative reforms to revive the declining economy.
Beginnings of Democracy
As Communist rule in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989, some Albanians demanded more far-reaching reforms. The protesters included intellectuals, members of the working class, and frustrated young people. In response to growing unrest and public protests, Alia restored religious freedom, cut back the power of the Sigurimi, and adopted some market reforms and economic decentralization. In December 1990 the government endorsed the creation of independent political parties, thereby ending the Communist monopoly on power. The judicial system was reformed with the reestablishment of the ministry of justice and the reduction of capital offenses. Albanians were also granted the right to foreign travel. Throughout 1990 thousands of Albanian citizens tried to flee the country through Western embassies. A multinational relief operation arranged for the safe evacuation of more than 5,000 Albanians, and 20,000 more sailed illegally to Italy in vessels seized at civilian ports.
Meanwhile, protests in Albania continued, leading to the removal of several hard-line Communists from the government and the party Politburo. At public demonstrations in early 1991 several protesters were reportedly killed by the police. In March a general amnesty for all political prisoners was declared, and multiparty elections to the People’s Assembly took place the same month. The Communist Party and its allies won 169 of the 250 seats, while the newly formed Democratic Party won 75. The Communist victory provoked new public protests in which police killed four people in the city of Shkodër.
In April 1991 an interim constitution was passed, and the country’s name was changed from the People’s Republic of Albania to the Republic of Albania. A Communist majority in parliament elected Alia to the new post of Albanian president and economist Fatos Nano became prime minister. Following a general strike by thousands of workers, the government resigned and a coalition government was created in June. It included Communists, Democrats, Republicans, and Social Democrats. Demonstrations continued through the summer as protesters demanded the arrest of former Communist leaders and full freedom for the media. In December 1991 the coalition government collapsed and an interim administration was appointed.
New elections were held in March 1992, giving the Democrats 92 of the 140 seats in the reorganized People’s Assembly. The Socialists (the renamed Communists) won 38 seats, the Social Democrats 7, and the Greek minority Unity Party for Human Rights 2. The Assembly elected the leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, president, and Berisha appointed Aleksander Meksi prime minister. Under Berisha, several former Communist officials, including Alia and Nano, were arrested, tried for corruption and abuse of power, and sentenced to long terms. Many observers believed the trials were unfair and that Berisha had used them to conveniently get rid of rivals. Both Alia and Nano were released within a few years of their convictions. In November 1994 the Democrats proposed a new constitution to the voters, who rejected it in a national referendum. Opponents said the proposal would leave too much power in the hands of the already powerful president. The president was also accused of authoritarianism for restricting press freedoms, persecuting former Communist officials, and controlling the courts. Government supporters charged that Socialists were trying to discredit the new democracy.
Relations with the countries of the former Yugoslavia were also tense, particularly over repression of the Albanian majority in the Serbian province of Kosovo. In 1989 Serbia ended Kosovo’s autonomy, and in 1991 the ethnic Albanian leadership in Kosovo declared the province independent from Yugoslavia. Although the international community never recognized Kosovo’s independence, Albania campaigned on Kosovo’s behalf and asked the United Nations (UN) to send monitors to the region. The UN refused. In the mid-1990s Albania feared that major unrest and a military crackdown in Kosovo could lead to a massive outflow of refugees, destabilizing the entire Balkan region. Albania also disagreed with the new FYROM over its treatment of the large ethnic Albanian minority there. Albania’s leaders wanted ethnic Albanians in the FYROM to have more representation in the government, and wanted the Albanian language to have equal status with Macedonian. Nevertheless, the two governments established diplomatic relations.
General elections were held again in mid-1996, but the victory by President Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party was tainted by accusations of fraud. Opposition parties eventually boycotted the parliament, which in early 1997 elected Berisha to another five-year term. Also in early 1997, several fraudulent investment schemes failed, costing thousands of Albanians their savings. Although the government promised to partially reimburse many investors, the combination of economic disruption and political scandal prompted Albanians in several cities first to protest, then to riot. By March a sporadic rebellion had broken out and several parts of the country lacked effective government. The southern part of the country, including the cities of Vlorë and Sarandë, was controlled by local militias or armed citizens defending themselves against looters.
In order to prevent the outbreak of an all-out civil war, President Berisha appointed a Socialist, Bashkim Fano, to lead an interim government of national reconciliation. He also agreed to hold early general elections in June and pledged to resign if his party lost. The new government appealed for an international force to help restore law and order in the country. However, the multinational contingent led by an Italian commander that arrived in April was only mandated to protect the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most destitute areas of Albania.
The Socialists swept to power in the June 1997 elections, garnering 65 percent of the vote against the 19 percent drawn by the Democrats. Fatos Nano, who had regained control of the Socialist Party after his release from prison, was chosen again as prime minister. Berisha resigned in July, and the parliament elected another Socialist leader, Rexhep Mejdani, as president. The Democrats began a boycott of parliament that lasted until March 1998. In August 1997 the government announced that the army and police had restored order to Vlorë, and the multinational force left that same month. In September 1998 Prime Minister Nano resigned when his coalition could not agree on changes in his cabinet. Nano’s resignation followed riots over the assassination of a prominent Democrat. Pandeli Majko, another Socialist, replaced Nano that month.
Relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) worsened in early 1998, when conflict erupted in Kosovo over the killing of several Serbian police officers by ethnic Albanian separatists. Serbian police and Yugoslav army units attacked Kosovo civilians and battled members of the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army throughout most of 1998 and early 1999. In March 1999, after the FRY refused to sign a peace accord for Kosovo, NATO began launching air strikes against Yugoslav military targets. Serbian-led military forces only intensified their attacks on villages in Kosovo, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee. Albania, which had been forced to absorb refugees from Kosovo throughout 1998, was flooded with them in the weeks after the air strikes began. This imposed an enormous burden on the country’s fragile economy. By early June, when the Yugoslav government finally agreed to an international peace plan for Kosovo, the UN estimated that about 444,000 Kosovars had fled to Albania. Under the terms of the plan, an international peacekeeping force was posted in Kosovo to help ensure the refugees’ safe return.
Majko resigned as prime minister in October 1999, after losing a Socialist Party leadership vote. He was succeeded by Ilir Meta, a young, reform-minded leader. Meta vowed to continue the policies of the Majko government, which included promoting economic growth and pressing for Albania’s membership in the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Socialists retained their parliamentary majority after the June 2001 elections.
Meta abruptly resigned as prime minister in January 2002 following a bitter clash with Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano that split the party. Nano had accused Meta’s government of corruption and demanded sweeping changes to the cabinet. Meta’s resignation coincided with a decision of the Democratic Party to return to the parliament; the Democrats had refused to take their parliamentary seats for seven months, claiming that the June 2001 elections were rigged.
In February 2002 Socialist Party leaders selected Majko to succeed Meta as prime minister, and in June the parliament elected Alfred Moisiu to replace outgoing president Rexhep Mejdani. Moisiu, a retired general and former defense minister, assumed the presidency in July. Also in July Nano replaced Majko as prime minister. The installation of a new cabinet was intended to end months of division within the ruling Socialist Party.
In the 2005 general elections the Democratic Party, led by former president Sali Berisha, won the most seats in the People’s Assembly, and Berisha became prime minister. In 2007 the People’s Assembly elected Bamir Topi, a long-time member of parliament and the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, as president. In 2009 Albania became a member of NATO. Berisha’s Democratic Party again won the most seats in the 2009 parliamentary elections, narrowly defeating the Socialist Party. Berisha brought a Socialist splinter group, the Socialist Movement for Integration, into his governing coalition.