The tiny Republic of Albania is located on the Balkan Peninsula. It is
bordered on the south by Greece and on the north by Yugoslavia. The Adriatic
Sea washes its western shore. Albania became a Communist state in 1946. In
succeeding decades it became the poorest country of Europe. In the 1990s,
like its Eastern European neighbors, it rejected Communism. The Communist
party itself was voted out of office in March 1992.
is the smallest country on the Balkan Peninsula, with an area of only 11,
100 square miles (28, 749 square kilometers). The country is largely
mountainous, with some peaks reaching over 8, 000 feet (2, 500 meters) in
height. The highest mountain is Korab at 9, 026 feet (2, 751 meters). The
only lowland area, which is located along the coast, occupies about a
quarter of the total area of the country and contains about half the
The country has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry
summers and mild, wet winters. The seasonal nature of the rainfall affects
the flow of the rivers. In winter they become torrents and cause severe
flooding, while in summer they are reduced to mere trickles. The longest
river is the Drin, which begins in Yugoslavia and flows for 174 miles (280
kilometers) through northern Albania. The major rivers of the south are the
Shkumbin, the Mat, and the Vijose.
Soils in general are poor, and even
in the plains they are infertile and poorly drained. Only about 20 percent
of the country's area is used for farming.
and Animal Life
Much of Albania was once forested, but little of the
original vegetation remains, due to centuries of clearing and livestock
grazing; many areas are covered with only bushes and scrub. The remaining
forests in the mountains are mainly of oak, beech, and pine. Mountain
meadows are found above the timberline. Reforestation is a primary
Because hunting was unrestricted, few wild animals
remain in Albania except in the remote forests. Among the animals are
wolves, wild hogs, bears, deer, and a few chamois (small goatlike
antelopes). Wild birds are plentiful, however. Hunting laws to preserve the
country's wildlife have now been enacted.
The people of Albania belong to two major groups, the
Ghegs, to the north of the Shkumbin River, and the Tosks, to the south. Each
group speaks its own dialect of the Albanian language. In 1972 a unified
literary (written) language was created, incorporating elements of both
dialects. Minority groups are small and consist mainly of Gypsies, some
Greeks in the south, and the Vlachs, a Romanian-speaking people. These
groups together make up only about 3 percent of the population.
the Communist regime religion was discouraged and Albania became officially
an atheistic nation, but religion-based cultural differences remain among
the population. Of those professing a faith the most numerous are Muslim,
Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox.
Albania has the smallest population
of the Balkan countries. Only about 3.3 million people live there. However,
in the late 1980s Albania had the highest rate of population increase of any
European countryabout 2 percent per year. The Albanian people are
traditionally divided into clans or tribes, each of which traces its
ancestry back to a single individual. Disputes or crimes involving other
clans often resulted in blood feuds between males in the clans.
result of almost five centuries of Turkish rule the Albanians adopted a way
of life (including clothing, building styles, and art forms) which was
similar to that of western Asia. This was especially true of the Muslim
population. In the late 20th century, however, the way of life has become
increasingly Western in style.
About two thirds of the population live
in rural areas, with the rest in a few cities that lie mainly in the
lowlands. The largest city is the capital, Tirane, with more than 200, 000
inhabitants (see Tirane). Durres has about 83, 000 inhabitants, while Vlore,
Shkoder, Korce and Elbasan are smaller. Many of these cities are of ancient
origin, and most have architectural features that reveal Turkish influence.
The Albanian economy is one of the poorest in Europe. It relies
largely on agriculture. When the Communists took control after World War II,
they abolished private land ownership. About 80 percent of agricultural land
was put into cooperatives and the rest was farmed directly by the state.
The Albanians were traditionally herders who took their herds of sheep and
goats to mountain pastures during summer. Herding is still important, but at
present crops account for two thirds of the farm products. The chief grain
crop is wheat, followed closely by corn (maize). Other important farm
products include rice, cotton, sugar beets, potatoes, vegetables, and fodder
crops. The warm summers permit the growing of olives, grapes, tobacco, and
Albania has substantial reserves of several industrial
minerals. There is sufficient oil to meet the country's requirements and
permit some export. A pipeline leads from the oil fields at Qytet Stalin to
the port of Vlore, and the nation also has several refineries. Some natural
gas is produced. There are scattered deposits of lignite (brown coal)
suitable for electric-power production. Most of the electric power of the
country is, however, obtained from hydroelectric-power stations. Among
metallic minerals chromite is the most important and is exported in
substantial quantities. Other exports of Albania include copper, iron ore,
asphalt, tobacco, fruit and vegetables, and wine. Imports are restricted
generally to the country's equipment requirements.
The development of
industry, especially oil and chemicals, is being given the highest priority
in Albania. A small iron and steel plant at Elbasan opened in 1976, and
there are several small chemical plants. Large textile combines operate at
Tirane and Berat.
Transportation, Communication, and Education
first railroad line in Albania was built in 1948 linking Tirane with Durres
on the coast and Elbasan in the interior. The main ports are Durres, Vlore,
Shengjin, and Sarande.
Albania has a somewhat limited telephone
network. There is a fairly extensive broadcasting service, however, and
television programming began in 1971. Newspaper circulation is quite
limited. There is a state university at Tirane.
1946 until 1990 political power rested entirely in the hands of Albania's
Labor (Communist) party. The party was the government, and it made all
decisions about social, economic, political, and religious matters.
Multiparty rule began and a transitional constitution was adopted in 1991,
after the fall of Communism in the rest of Eastern Europe. There are a
People's Assembly and a Presidential Council, respectively the highest
legislative and executive bodies in the country.
the Roman invasion in the 2nd century BC, the present territory of Albania
was inhabited by the Illyrians, an Indo-European people. After the collapse
of the Roman Empire in the west, Albania first came under the control of the
Byzantine Empire and later of Bulgaria and Serbia.
When the Ottoman
Turks invaded the Balkans in the late 14th century, Albania became part of
the Ottoman Empire. In spite of the fierce resistance of the Albanians, led
by their national hero Skanderbeg, the Turks ruled the country for almost
500 years. Albania did not gain its independence from the Turks until 1912.
At that time, however, the country was too weak to resist the pressures
exerted by the major European powers, which awarded to Serbia a large area
with an Albanian population.
During World War I Albania was occupied by
the warring powers, including Italy. Although these troops ultimately
withdrew, the Italians retained an interest in the country. In 1922 Ahmed
Bey Zogu became the premier. He then became president, and in 1928 he
declared himself King Zog I. After the Italians invaded in April 1939, Zog
fled the country.
During World War II the country was also occupied by
the Germans. When they retreated in 1944, a leader of the Communist-led
resistance movement, Enver Hoxha, became head of the Albanian government. In
1946 a people's republic was declared; private land was confiscated and
industry nationalized. After the war Yugoslavia virtually controlled
Albania. When Yugoslavia left the Soviet bloc in 1948, Albania broke its
ties with that country and became an ally of the Soviet Union, joining the
Warsaw Pact in 1955. Albania broke with the Soviet Union and became an ally
of China in 1961; these ties to China were severed in 1978 but were renewed
At his death in 1985 Hoxha was the longest-serving head of a
Communist country. Under his successor, Ramiz Alia, Albania slowly emerged
from the isolation that had marked the Hoxha era. Diplomatic relations were
established with many countries, and Albania began to take an active role in
Balkan affairs. In December 1990 the Democratic party was established, and
in March 1991 the first multiparty elections in 68 years were held. A
non-Communist multiparty regime took control in June 1991 as a result of a
successful strike, but amid nationwide food shortages and general
inefficiency this regime fell in December 1991. Thousands of Albanian
refugees fled to Italy in August 1991, but only a handful were allowed to
remain there. In April 1992 Sali Berisha, a heart surgeon, was elected
Albania's first non-Communist president since World War II.
1997 clashes between police forces and more than 35, 000 Albanians escalated
into widespread rioting throughout the capital city of Tirane. Angered by
the collapse of a pyramid-style private investment scheme, the protesters
set fire to government buildings and police stations throughout the city.
News of the riots spread throughout the small Balkan country, sparking
similar violent demonstrations in cities throughout Albania.
protests began on January 19, following the collapse of an investment
program led by Maksude Kademi. Kademi's pyramid-style investment plan, along
with eight similar pyramid schemes, bilked more than $1 billion from
Albanian investors. Pyramid schemes, which offer exceptionally high
investment returns at an equally exorbitant level of risk, had been outlawed
in most countries of Europe. It was estimated that one half of Albania's
citizens had invested in the nine pyramid schemes. The problem of the failed
scheme was compounded by the fact that many of the creators of the
investment plan either served in, or had ties to, the government of
President Sali Berisha, prompting the protesters to demanded immediate
elections to choose a new government. Berisha attempted to mute the popular
anger expressed toward his government by announcing that 118 people tied to
the investment schemes had been arrested and more than $230 million in
investment funds seized. Despite severe budgetary deficiencies, the
government also announced that the seized money would be used to reimburse
some of the investors.
In March, after six weeks of civil unrest, Albania fell into
full-fledged anarchy as protesters throughout the country took control of
major cities and demanded the resignation of Albanian President Sali
Berisha. Popular demonstrations that began in the aftermath of the financial
crisis became increasingly violent during February, prompting Berisha to
declare a state of emergency throughout the country on March 2. The
disbanding of the government was interpreted by many Albanians as an attempt
on the part of Berisha to gain dictatorial control over the country. Vlore,
the largest city in southern Albania, was taken over by armed rebels, and
the same happened in other towns, leaving Tirane as one of the few areas
under the government's control. In an attempt to bring the chaos to an end,
Berisha announced that he would form an interim government and hold national
elections in June 1997. He refused, however, to resign from office, as many
On March 13, the crisis in the Albanian capital
took a turn for the worse as the government attempted to bolster its
defenses by arming segments of the population. Roving bands of semiofficial
militias took to the streets of Tirane. More than 25 people were killed and
approximately 200 were wounded by sporadic gunfire. The worsening political
situation in the country prompted the governments of the United States and
many European nations to evacuate their citizens from Albania. The exodus of
foreign officials was followed by a mass exodus of Albanian citizens, as
more than 13, 000 piled onto boats and left the country in search of refuge
in Italy. (For more information, see the World History Timeline.)
mid-April, the first foreign troops began arriving in the country with the
mission of maintaining the precarious peace that had settled on the small
Balkan nation. Some 1, 200 peacekeeping troops from Italy, Spain, and France
arrived in the port city of Durres on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. These
first troops were expected to be reinforced by 4, 800 more soldiers from
Greece, Romania, Denmark, Austria, and Turkey during the next month. Wary of
the possibility of increased violence in the area, many European countries,
such as the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as the United States,
refused to aid the small group of nations, dubbed the "coalition of the
willing, " in their effort to restore stability to Albania.
peacekeeping mission arrived after much of the initial violence in Albania
began to subside. The southern half of the country, however, remained in the
hands of rebels, who repeatedly stated that they would not turn over their
weapons until President Berisha resigned from office.
Facts About Albania
Republic of Albania. Capital. Tirane. Area. 11, 100 square miles (28, 749
square kilometers). Population (1996 estimate). 3, 249, 000; 292.7 persons
per square mile (113.0 persons per square kilometer); 37.3 percent urban,
62.7 percent rural (1995 estimate). Major Language. Albanian (official).
Major Religions. Greek Orthodox, Islam, and Roman Catholicism. Literacy. 92
percent. Mountain Ranges. North Albanian Alps, Pindus Mountains. Highest
Peak. Korab, 9, 026 feet (2, 751 meters). Largest Lakes. Shkoder, Prespa,
Ohri. Major Rivers. Drin, Seman, Vijose, Shkumbin, Mat, Erzen, Buene. Form
of Government. Republic. Chief of State. President (Chairman of the
Presidium of the People's Assembly). Head of Government. Prime Minister.
Legislature. People's Assembly. Voting Qualification. 18 years of age.
Political Divisions. 26 rrethe (provinces). Major Cities (1990 estimate).
Tirane (243, 000), Durres (85, 400), Elbasan (83, 300), Shkoder (81, 800),
Vlore (73, 800). Chief Manufactured and Mined Products. Food products,
textiles, clothing, consumer products, tobacco, building materials, leather,
coal, crude petroleum, petroleum products, chromium ore, copper ore. Chief
Agricultural Products. Cropsvegetables and melons, potatoes, sugar beets,
grapes, olives, apples, oranges. Livestocksheep, goats, cattle, mules and
asses, poultry. Monetary Unit. 1 lek = 100 qindars.
The higher education system in Albania consists of eight universities, two
academies and one Higher Nursing School
Population 3, 490, 435 (July 2000 est.)
structure 0-14 years:30% (male 545, 329; female
15-64 years:63% (male 1, 056, 583; female
1, 141, 664)
65 years and over:7% (male 104, 086;
female 135, 184) (2000 est.)
Population growth rate 0.26% (2000 est.)
rate 19.47 births/1, 000 population (2000 est.)
rate 6.5 deaths/1, 000 population (2000 est.)
migration rate -10.36 migrant(s)/1, 000 population (2000
ratio at birth:1.08 male(s)/female
65 years and over:0.77 male(s)/female
total population:0.96 male(s)/female (2000 est.)
mortality rate 41.33 deaths/1, 000 live births (2000 est.)
expectancy at birth total population:71.57 years
female:74.59 years (2000 est.)
fertility rate 2.37 children born/woman (2000 est.)
groups Albanian 95%, Greeks 3%, other 2% (Vlachs, Gypsies,
Serbs, and Bulgarians) (1989 est.)
other estimates of the Greek population ranged from 1% (official
Albanian statistics) to 12% (from a Greek organization)
Religions Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%
note:all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious
observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private
Languages Albanian (Tosk is the official dialect), Greek
Literacy definition:age 9 and over can read and write
total population:93% (1997 est.)