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 population.
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
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 government goal.
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
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.
Under 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.
As a 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
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
The 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
From 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.
Before 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 in 1991.
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.
In January 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.
The 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.)
In 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.
The 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.
(See also Balkans, The.)
Facts About Albania
Official Name. 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
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
under 15 years:1.07 male(s)/female
15-64 years:0.93 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.)
note:in 1989, other estimates of the Greek population
ranged from 1% (official Albanian statistics) to 12% (from a
Religions Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman
note:all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and
religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania
began allowing private religious practice
Languages Albanian (Tosk is the official dialect), Greek
Literacy definition:age 9 and over can read and
total population:93% (1997 est.)