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State

Capital

Albania

Tirane

Shqipëria

Currency unit

Lek

Connections

Balkans

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Kosovo

Islam

Macedonia

Ottomans

War

YugoslaviaMap

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History

Sqiperie means the Land of Eagles. It is the only predominantly Muslim nation in Europe, though there are Greek Orthodox and Catholic minorities. The people were converted to Islam during the long occupation by the Ottoman Empire. The language also is unique, being descended from the ancient Illyrian language. There are two main tribes: the Tosks of the south who are mainly Muslim; the Ghegs of the north are mainly Roman Catholic. There are small groups of Greeks.

During Roman times the Illyrian people occupied a larger area than at present. They were recruited into the Roman armies and produced a number of Roman Emperors, including Diocletianus and Constantinus.

It was independent of the Turks only in 1913 following the last of the Balkan wars which expelled the Ottoman Empire from Europe (except for Thrace). There are about as many Albanians living in former Yugoslavia (Kosovo and Macedonia) as in Albania. There are Albanian settlements in Italy - a few villages.

Before the second world war it was the country least affected by modernity and continued to have almost a Homeric culture in the mountains - most of the country, similar to Afghanistan. In the second world war it was invaded by the Italians because Mussolini thought it would be easy to annex. At that time it was ruled by king Zog, who had seized power.

During the war the Albanian resistance, as in Yugoslavia and Greece, was led by the communists, though they were a small minority. At the end of the war Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hodja) took power and organized a communist state on the lines of Stalin's Soviet Union.

However, Albania remained cut off from the rest of the world. When Tito broke with Stalin in 1948, Hoxha broke with Yugoslavia, his only communist neighbor. When Khrushchov denounced Stalin at the 20th Communist Party Congress in 1956 Hoxha broke off relations with the Soviet Union and allied himself with the Chinese whom he considered more reliably communist and less given to "revisionism" (and too far away to exercise any control). Khrushchov expelled Albania from the Warsaw Pact in 1961 (there had been a Soviet submarine base). In the end even the Chinese proved revisionist and Hoxha repudiated them in 1978 so that by the time of his death in 1985 Albania was completely isolated. Religion was prohibited.

Hoxha had created a regime so terrifying and oppressive that relaxation did not occur for some years after his death. Slow trading relations did begin with Europe. The successor Ramiz Alia did authorize the building of a rail freight connection with Yugoslavia. Even in 1989 no change occurred in Albania. By August 1990 all that had happened was some demonstrations and occupations of western embassies by refugees. In September 1989 Ramiz Alia had announced some relaxation and the beginnings of some amount of private business, which put Albania on the first steps of the road of Perestroika. Albania then followed the pattern of other former Communist states.

In December 1990 the government announced the permissibility of more political parties. Riots followed. On 20 February 1991 crowds appeared on the streets and pulled down the statue of Enver Hoxha. Elections in March 1991 increased the instability.

Large numbers of Albanians escaped across the Adriatic to Italy, whose television can be picked up in Albania. The Italian government tried to send them back. Many Europeans feared that this might have been a foretaste of mass migrations by Russians and other citizens of former Communist states with collapsed economies. European aid began to arrive in the country.

Ramiz Alia finally resigned in April 1992 after the Democratic Party won parliamentary elections.

Is the country likely to evolve towards the European norm? Not very, as its ancient culture was always very separate even from its neighbors the Greeks and Serbs. It has something in common with Afghanistan in its emphasis on hospitality and blood feuds, a cultural trait shared with Sicily across the water. Several different, mostly ineffective, rulers followed.

The return of king Leka, son of the pre-1939 king Zog, is by no means impossible. He lived in exile in South Africa but did return. He seems to have fantasies of returning to power.

This poverty stricken nation may now be out of the danger of war, as it was when the Serbs threatened to expel the Albanians from Kosovo . Albanians are not at present militantly Islamic, but a war with Serbia could have been seen as an attack on Islam.

The main danger to the rest of Europe is not war but the vigorous criminal culture which has grown up in the absence of a legitimate economy. It seems unlikely that Albania could qualify for membership of the European Union, but, as with Kaliningrad, how could the EU cope with a non-member enclave if its neighbors are admitted?

Relations with Kosovo remain uncertain. How likely is future membership of the EU?

Joined NATO in 2009.

Languages

Albanian, an Indo-European language of the Illyrian family (all others extinct)

many Albanians live in Kosovo and Macedonia.

Minorities

Greek

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Politics

Until 1992 a classic Stalinist totalitarian dictatorship with single party, secret police, concentration camps, imprisonment without trial. It could have been classified as one of the seven worst regimes for human rights. (Burma, China, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Syria)

In December 1990 the government announced that a multi-party system would be allowed. However, Albania had never had a democratic system in its history. Before the Communists took power it was a kingdom with a king who ruled through his clan relatives. The possibility is that the communists will be revealed as having been another clan dictatorship and clan politics will revive with instability the result.

A multi-party election was held on 31 March 1991. The Communists won with 65% of the vote against an opposition Democratic Party. It appears that the countryside voted communist and the towns against, but Albania is still a mainly peasant country. The elections are believed to have been fair though the opposition did not have free access to the media.

Riots and disturbances broke out in the towns.

In June 1991 the Communist government resigned and an allegedly non-communist government was formed, including some members of the opposition.

Albania may be moving into a condition in which there is no effective government. It is clear that political disintegration has occurred.

A new election in March 1992 resulted in the victory of the Democratic Party. The last European ruling Communist Party then resigned. The new government expressed the wish to cooperate with Europe, adopt conventional economic policies including the private ownership of land and businesses. However, it was faced with economic chaos. A new constitution was rejected in a referendum in 1994. This leaves a rather authoritarian regime. Elections in April 1996 are not expected to allow a real choice - the opposition says it will boycott them.

The resulting government presided over a crooked financial system (in which pyramid schemes fleeced most of the citizens of their savings and property) and turned increasingly dictatorial.

Elections in July 1997 resulted in an assembly controlled by the Socialist party. Government control over the country may be improving, although some areas are still controlled by gangs and war lords. Nowhere is the rule of law very secure.

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Economics

Enver Hoxha tried to achieve autarky with almost no foreign trade, making a demonstration model of why this is impossible in the modern world. However, Albania does have tradable minerals which brought in foreign exchange. The economy is at a very backward stage.

Tourists with a taste for the pre-mechanical world were advised to rush there before it changes (too late now). But the amount of social disturbance caused by a collapsed economy may make this unwise. Thousands of Albanians have tried to escape to Italy where they are unwanted, but it is difficult for a democratic country to send refugees back to starvation.

The collapse of communism has left the economy even more devastated than in the other former communist states. Very little cultivation took place in 1991 so that famine seemed very likely without large scale food aid. The government has promised privatization of land. However, when the land was nationalized it ended clan feuds over land and overrode disputes which had been going on for centuries. These have now revived. In many places people were unwilling to cultivate until the land titles are settled. But there was still no administration which could settle them. The collective farms may well have been an improvement on the previous system. There has been much destruction of the material of the former economy. The situation is by far the worst of any in Europe, but may parallel the state of some former Soviet republics.

Some aid is coming, mainly from Islamic states.

The people were not educated in finance and were therefore vulnerable to Ponzi pyramid schemes - the early investors were paid interest from the deposits of the later, while the owners creamed off the money. When they collapsed the mass of the population was destitute and turned on the government which had failed to control the schemes (and perhaps secretly owned them).

Can a modern economy be created in this country? It is still (2003) uncertain.

 History

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Green/Ecology

 History

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 Green

 Climate

Human Rights

Albania was until the change the country with the worst human rights record in Europe. Arrests without trial, torture and absence of the rule of law placed it alongside China, Burma, Sudan, North Korea, Iraq and Syria as one of the seven worst in the world.

This may be improving as the political system moves towards democracy. However, the jails even for "ordinary" criminals are squalid.

State of Emergency following the collapse of Ponzi schemes.

The loss of human rights is not now from the government but from the criminal gangs who seem to be immune from prosecution.

Climate effects

As in the rest of southern Europe, increasing aridity is likely as the Sahara moves north.

Last revised 2/07/12


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