Albania, officially the Republic of Albania (Albanian Republika
e Shqipërisë pronounced [??'publika ? ?cip?'?i?s], or
simply Shqipëria) is a country in South Eastern Europe. Albania
borders Greece to the south-east, Montenegro to the north, Serbia
to the northeast, and the Republic of Macedonia to the east. It
has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west, and on the Ionian Sea
to the southwest.From the Strait of Otranto, Albania is less than
100 km (60 miles) from Italy.
Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy
into a market-oriented system, a potential candidate for membership
in the European Union and NATO.
Satellite image of Albania.Main article: Albania (toponym)
Albania is the Medieval Latin name of the country, which is called
Shqipëri by the inhabitants. In Medieval Greek, the name is
Albania besides variants Albaetia, Arbanetia.(OED). The ultimate
origin of the Alb- element has been traced to an Illyrian alb "hill"
cognate to the alp "mountain pasture" found in the Alpine
region. In the 2nd century BC, in the History of the World, written
by Polybius, there is mention of a city named Arbon in present-day
central Albania. The people who lived there were called Arbanios
Another suggestion is derivation from the Illyrian tribe of the
Albanoi recorded by Ptolemy the geographer and astronomer from Alexandria,
who drafted a map of remarkable significance for the history of
Illyria. This map shows the city of Albanopolis (located Northeast
In his History written in 1079-1080, Byzantine historian Michael
Attaliates was the first to refer to Albanoi as having taken part
in a revolt against Constantinople in 1043 and to the Arbanitai
as subjects of the duke of Dyrrachium. During the Middle Ages,
the Albanians called their country Arbër or Arbën and
referred to themselves as Arbëresh or Arbnesh. As early
as the 16th century, a new name for their home evolved among Albanian
people: Shqipëria, "Land of the Eagles", hence the
two-headed bird on the national flag. The name probably has its
origins in the Skanderbeg family crest.
Main article: History of Albania
Albania in Antiquity
The area of today's Albania has been populated since prehistoric
times. In antiquity, much of it was settled by the Illyrians, possible
ancestors of present-day Albanians.The modern Albanian state
comprises the southernmost part of ancient Illyria and the northern
part of ancient Epirus.
Situated as it was, surrounded by powerful, warring empires, Albania
has experienced a considerable amount of violence throughout its
history. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans swept
through, leaving their cultural mark as well as their ruins.
Archaeological research shows that the lands that are today inhabited
by Albanians were first populated in the Paleolithic Age (Stone
Age). The first areas settled were those with favourable climatic
and geographic conditions. In Albania, the earliest settlements
have been discovered in the Gajtan cavern (Shkodra), in Konispol,
at Mount Dajti, and at Saranda. Fragments of Cyclopean structures,
were discovered at Kretsunitsa, Arinishta, and other sites in the
district of Gjirokastra. The walls, partly Cyclopean, of an ancient
city (perhaps Byllis) are visible at Gradishti on the picturesque
Viosa River. Few traces remain of the once celebrated Dyrrhachium
The rediscovered Greek city of Butrint is probably more significant
today than it was when Julius Caesar used it as a provisions depot
for his troops during his campaigns in the 1st century BC. At that
time, it was considered to be an unimportant outpost, overshadowed
by the likes of the Greek colonies, Apollonia and Durrës.
Formal investigation and recording of Albania's archaeological
monuments began with Francois Pouqueville who was Napolean's consul-general
to Ali Pasha's court, and Martin Leake, who was the British agent
there. A French mission, led by Len Rey, worked throughout Albania
from 1924 to 1938 and published its results in Cahiers d'Archéologie,
d'art et d'Histoire en Albanie et dans les Balkans (Notes of Archaeology,
Art, and History in Albania and in the Balkans).
Archaeologists today are finding remains from all periods, from
the Stone Age to the early Christian era.
Another project that produced prehistoric finds, though unexpectedly,
was done in the valley of Kryegjata, close to the present-day city
of Fier and in the area of Apollonia. This excavation, a collaboration
between the University of Cincinnati and archaeologists from the
Institute of Archeology in Albania, was originally a mission to
learn about the Greek colony of Apollonia. Instead, they found evidence
of a settlement much older than that.
In 2000, the Albanian government established Butrint National Park,
which draws about 70,000 visitors annually and is Albania's second
World Heritage site.
In 2003, a synagogue dating from the 5th or 6th century AD was
uncovered in Saranda, a coastal town opposite Corfu. It was the
first time remains of an early synagogue have been found in that
area, and the history of its excavation is also noteworthy. The
team found exceptional mosaics depicting items associated with Jewish
holidays, including a menorah, ram's horn, and citron tree. Mosaics
in the basilica of the synagogue show the facade of what resembles
a Torah, animals, trees, and other biblical symbols. The structure
measures 20 by 24 metres and was probably last used in the 6th century
AD as a church.
Kingdom of Illyria
Illyrian tribes in antiquitySome scholars believe that the Albanian
people are descended from a group of tribes known as Illyrians,who,
like other Balkan peoples, were subdivided into tribes and clans.
Albanians (as one of innumerous Illyrian tribes) were named after
their city Albanopolis near a mountain called Alp 'mountain', Hittite
alpa 'white'. However to propagate the connection, the Albanian
government in the communist era adopted a policy of artificially
naming people with "Illyrian" names. The name Albania
is derived from the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Arbër,
or Arbëresh, and later Albanoi, that lived near Durrës.
The kingdom of Illyria grew from the general area of modern-day
Northern Albania and eventually controlled much of the eastern Adriatic
coastline. Scodra was its capital, just as the city is now the most
important urban center of northern Albania. The kingdom, however,
reached the zenith of its expansion and development in the 4th century
BC, when King Bardhyllus , one of the most prominent of the Illyrian
kings, united many Illyrian tribes into one Illyrian kingdom, and
attacked the Greeks of the Molossian kingdom of Epirus and the kingdom
of Macedon. Its decay began under the same ruler as a result of
the attacks made by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the
The Illyrians created and developed their culture and language
in the western part of the Balkans, where ancient writers mentioned
them in their works. The regions that the Illyrians inhabited were
expansive, encompassing the western Balkan peninsula, north to central
Europe, and east around the Lyhind Lake (Ohrid Lake). Other Illyrian
tribes also migrated and developed in Italy. Among them were the
Messapii and Iapyges. The name Illyria is mentioned in works since
the 5th century BC.
From the 8th century to the 6th century BC, the Greeks founded a
string of colonies on Illyrian soil, two of the most prominent of
which were Epidamnus (modern Durrës) and Apollonia (near modern
Fier).In the 5th century BC Dionysius I of Syracuse founded Lissus
modern day Lezhë.
Greek colonies in Southern Illyria (Lissus, Epidamnus, Apollonia)The
first and perhaps the most important of Greece's colonies in Albania
was founded at Epidamnus in 627 B.C. by Greeks from Corcyra (present-day
Corfu) and Corinth. Greek and Roman authors called it "the
Admirable City" for its temple, statues, and other monuments.
The early success of Epidamnus led to more Hellenic colonies in
the region. Butrint, situated on a hill in southern Albania, was
founded by colonists from Corfu in the sixth century B.C. Its original
name, Buthrotum, literally means "place with much cattle and
grazing land." By the fourth century B.C., Butrint had expanded
greatly and included a 5,000-seat theater. In the Aeneid, Vergil
claims that the city was founded by Aeneas himself.
Another significant colony, Apollonia, was named after the god
Apollo. It was founded in 588 B.C., and it prospered because of
its role as a link between Brundisium (now Brindisi) in Italy and
the Ancient Greek region of Epirus (now southern Albania). Many
smaller Greek settlements were established around Albania during
this time, but Epidamnus, Butrint, and Apollonia were the most important.
The colonies flourished into the Roman period, yet it was during
the Hellenistic Age that they reached their peak. From the fourth
to the second centuries B.C., the colonies (composed of both Greeks
and Illyrians) became centers of art, intellectual development,
music, and theater. Apollonia was particularly noted for its philosophy
Roughly parallel with the rise of Greek colonies, Illyrian tribes
began to evolve politically from relatively small and simple entities
into larger and more complex ones. At first they formed temporary
alliances with one another for defensive or offensive purposes,
then federations and, still later, kingdoms.
In 355 BC, war broke out against Alexander the Great to free the
eastern territories and in the meantime Apollonia was freed from
Macedonian rule. After Alexander's death in 323 BC, independent
Illyrian kingdoms again arose.
In 312 BC, King Glauka or Glaucius expelled the Greeks from Durrës.
By the end of the third century, an Illyrian kingdom based near
what is now the Albanian city of Shkodër controlled parts of
northern Albania, Montenegro, and Herzegovina. Under the rule of
King Glaukia, the Illyrian state strengthened rapidly.
King Glaukia's successors (Monun and Mytyl) strengthened the Illyrian
state economically and minted both bronze and silver coins. Soon
after the mid-3rd century BC, under the reign of Pleuratus and Agron,
the Illyrian state started to prosper again. In 231 BC, they entered
into an alliance with Acarnania and became a prominent power in
Roman and Byzantine Era
Illyricum, Roman provinceThe Romans militarily destroyed Illyrian
autonomy in 165 BC. Roman Albania was traversed by the Via Egnatia,
the Roman road that linked east with west and Rome with the far
eastern reaches of its empire.
After being conquered by the Roman Empire, Illyria was reorganized
as a Roman province. Illyricum was later divided into the provinces
of Dalmatia and Pannonia, wherein modern-day Albania is comprised
of parts of Dalmatia. Many Illyrians during Roman rule contributed
significantly to the ranks of the Prætorian Guard.
The Albanian language borrowed a great number of Latin words, mostly
religious and liturgical terms. This was due to the fact that Albania
was at first attached to the See of Rome, though the religion of
Jesus was preached to the Albanians by St. Paul himself during a
visit he made to Durrës.
In the first decades under Byzantine rule (until 461), Illyria
suffered the devastation of raids by Visigoths, Huns, and Ostrogoths.
Not long after these barbarian invaders swept through the Balkans,
the Slavs appeared. Between the 6th and 8th centuries they settled
in Illyrian territories and proceeded to assimilate Illyrian tribes
in much of what is now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
and Serbia. The tribes of southern Illyria, however, including modern
Albania, averted assimilation and preserved their native tongue.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Albania was incorporated into
the Byzantine Empire, administered from Constantinople. Albania
was under Byzantine rule until the 14th century AD when the Ottoman
Turks began to make incursions into the empire. The Ottomans captured
Constantinople in 1453, and by 1460 almost all former Byzantine
territories were in the hands of the Turks.
The Albanian state corresponds to different parts of the Roman
provinces and their subdivisions such as Macedon, Epirus nova, Epirus
vetus, Illyricum and Dalmatia. The areas these provinces would include
changed through the centuries of Roman rule.
Skanderbeg statue in Tirana, Albania.The Ottoman Turks expanded
their empire from Anatolia to the Balkans in the 14th century. By
the 15th century, the Turks had brought under subjection nearly
all of the Balkan peninsula except for a small coastal strip which
is included in present-day Albania. Albanian resistance to the Turks
in the mid-15th century won them acclaim all over Europe. Albania
became a symbol of resistance to the Ottoman Turks but suffered
an almost continuous state of warfare.
One of the most successful resistance against the invading Ottomans
was led by Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg from 1443 to 1468. In 1443
he rallied Albanian forces and drove the Turks from his homeland.
For 25 years Skanderbeg kept the Turks from retaking Albania, which
due to its proximity to Italy, could easily have served as a springboard
to the rest of Europe.
After the death of Skanderbeg, resistance continued until 1478,
although with only moderate success. The loyalties and alliances
created and nurtured by Skanderbeg faltered and fell apart, and
the Ottomans conquered the territory of Albania shortly after the
fall of Kruje's castle. Albania would remain a part of the Ottoman
Empire as the provinces of Iskodra, Manastir and Yanya until 1912.
In August 1912, Albanians rose against the Ottoman authorities
and seized Shkup (Skopje, Macedonia).The occupation of Skopje
by 20,000 Albanian tribesmen was a dramatic demonstration of Ottoman
weakness.Balkan League members followed Albanians 18 days later.Surrounded
by more poweful neighbours who enjoyed the benefit of statehood,Albanians
had no choice but to engage in the politics of conspiracy and guerrilla
Effects of the Balkan Wars
Tosk Albanians wearing traditional costumes from southern Albania.After
the Second Balkan War, the Ottomans were removed from Albania and
there was a possibility of some of the lands being absorbed by Serbia
and the southern tip by Greece. This decision angered the Italians,
who did not want Serbia to have an extended coastline, and it also
angered the Austro-Hungarians, who did not want a powerful Serbia
on their southern border. Despite Serbian, Montenegrin, and Greek
occupation forces on the ground, and under immense pressure from
Austria-Hungary, it was decided that the country should not be divided
but instead consolidated into the Principality of Albania. However,
the Austro-Italian project was not successful.
From 1925, the country was ruled by President Ahmet Zogu.
In 1928, Zogu declared himself King Zog I, meaning "bird".
Zogu, the first Albanian monarch since Gjergj Kastriot Skënderbej,
adopted the title of Scanderbeg II.
On 1 September 1928, Zogu was also declared Field Marshal of the
Royal Albanian Army . He proclaimed a constitutional monarchy similar
to the contemporary regime in Italy.
During his reign he is said to have survived over 55 assassination
attempts. One of these occurred in 1931 while Zog was visiting a
Vienna opera house for a performance of Pagliacci. The attackers
struck whilst Zog was getting into his car, and he survived by drawing
his own pistol (which he always carried) and firing back at his
would-be assassins. This is the only occasion in modern history
when a Head of State has returned fire with potential assassins.
Styling himself a European king, he married Hungarian noblewoman
Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi. His reign ended when Italian
fascists invaded Albania on 7 April 1939. The communists took power
after the Second World War. After the fall of the communist government,
his son Leka, Crown Prince of Albania and the royal family returned
to Albania on 28 June 2002.
World War II
Tirana liberated November 20, 1944Albania was one of the first countries
occupied by the Axis Powers in World War II. Mussolini 's imperial
ambitions focused on Albania. Italy's erratic army had been humiliated
in 1920 by a few thousand disorganized but fiercely patriotic Albanians,
which had driven Italy out of Vlorë. If there was a single
thread running through the fabric of Mussolini's imperial ambitions
it was the need to restore Italy's honour.
Mussolini invaded and occupied Albania, while the world was focused
on German military actions in Czechoslovakia and Poland. As Hitler
began his aggressions, the Italian dictator set his eyes on Albania
across the Adriatic from Italy. Despite some strong resistance,
especially at Durrës, Italy invaded Albania on April 7, 1939
and took control of the country. On April 12, the Albanian parliament
voted to unite the country with Italy. Victor Emmanuel III took
the Albanian crown, and the Italians set up a fascist government
under Shefqet Verlaci and soon absorbed Albania's military and diplomatic
institutions. Mussolini, in October 1940, used his Albanian base
to launch an attack on Greece. During WWII, Albanian nationalist
groups, including communist partisans, fought against the Italians
and subsequently the Germans. By October 1944 they had thrown the
Germans out, the only East European nation to do so without the
assistance of Soviet troops. The partially French-educated Enver
Hoxha became the leader of the country by virtue of his position
as secretary general of the Party of Labor (the Albanian Communist
Party). The Communist Party was created on November 8, 1941 with
the help of other Bolshevik Communist Parties.
Albania is unique in that it is the only European country occupied
by the Nazis that ended World War II with a larger Jewish population
than before the War. The Albanian response to the Holocaust is especially
notable because it was Europe's only largely Muslim country. Even
so only a Jewish family of six was deported and killed during the
Nazi occupation of Albania. Not only did the Albanians protect
their own Jews, but they provided refuge for Jews from neighboring
countries. The Albanians refused to comply and hand over lists of
Jews. Instead they provided the Jewish families with forged documents
and helped them disperse in the Albanian population.
In February 1944, when the Nazis descended upon the mountain hiding
place, not a single Jew fell into their hands. During the Holocaust,
Albania was the only country in Europe that protected and sheltered
its entire Jewish population, both native and foreign. There
was no history of ideological anti-Semitism in Albania so it was
unique in this regard. The small number of Jews in Albania also
played a key role in the possibility to protect them all. During
the Italian occupation, they were able to disperse and blend in
with the general population. However, the role of the Albanian population
as a whole in saving Jews is undeniable.[not in citation given]
The neutrality and factual accuracy of this section are disputed.
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.
From 1944 to 1991, Albania became a People's Republic and was a
one-party state in which Enver Hoxha ruled with an austere hand.
In 1961, he broke with Albania’s closest ally, the Soviet
Union, because he believed Khrushchev had abandoned the teachings
of Stalin. Subsequently, Albania’s closest ally was the People’s
Republic of China. However, when the PRC established diplomatic
relations with the United States in 1978, Hoxha denounced the Chinese
as well and decided to pursue a policy of self-reliance. The result
was not only extreme isolation but also absolute financial ruin
for Albania. An example of this may be drawn from the construction
between 1974 and 1986 of approximately 700,000 reinforced concrete
bunkers to defend against an anticipated multi-front attack. Upon
Hoxha’s death in 1985, Ramiz Alia succeeded him as both party
and state leader. Alia was Hoxha’s protégé,
but was less repressive than the former leader and began to allow
some reforms. This process was accelerated by news of the changes
in other communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Return to capitalism
The first massive anti-communist protests took place in July 1990.
Shortly afterwards, the communist regime under Ramiz Alia carried
out some cosmetic changes in the economy. At the end of 1990, after
strong student protests and independent syndicated movements, the
regime accepted a multiparty system. The first multiparty general
elections were held on March 31, 1991 and the Communist Party (PPSH)
won the majority. Opposition parties accused the government of manipulation
and called for new elections, which were held on March 22, 1992
and resulted in a coalition (composed of the Democratic Party, the
Social-Democrats, and the Republican Party) coming to power.
In 1997, widespread riots erupted after the International Monetary
Fund forced the state to liberalize banking practices. Many citizens,
naive to the workings of a market economy, put their entire savings
into pyramid schemes. In a short while, $2 billion (80% of the country's
GDP) had been moved into the hands of just a few pyramid scheme
owners, causing severe economic troubles and civic unrest. Police
stations and military bases were looted of millions of Kalashnikovs
and other weapons. The insurrection temporarily prevailed, and
militia and even less-organized armed citizens controlled many cities.
The government of Aleksander Meksi resigned and a government of
national unity was built following pressure from nearby national
governments. The Socialist Party won the early elections of 1997
and Berisha resigned the Presidency.
However, stability was far from being restored in the years after
the 1997 riots. The power feuds raging inside the Socialist Party
led to a series of short-lived Socialist governments. The country
was flooded with refugees from neighboring Kosovo in 1998 and 1999
during the Kosovo War.
In June 2002, a compromise candidate, Alfred Moisiu, a former general,
was elected to succeed President Rexhep Meidani. Parliamentary elections
in July 2005 brought Sali Berisha, as leader of the Democratic Party,
back to power. The Euro-Atlantic integration of Albania has been
the ultimate goal of the post-communist governments. Albania's EU
membership bid has been set as a priority by the European Commission.
Albania, along with Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia, hopes to receive an invitation to join NATO in 2008.
The workforce of Albania has continued to migrate to Greece, Italy,
Germany, other parts of Europe, and North America. However, the
migration flux is slowly decreasing, as more and more opportunities
are emerging in Albania itself as its economy steadily develops.
Albanian emigrants have achieved great success in multiple geographies
and disciplines abroad. In particular, there is now a significant
Albanian community in the United Kingdom, in cities such as Birmingham
and Manchester. The Albanian diaspora is most prevalent in Liverpool,
where Albanian cuisine has something of a cult following. Pulitzer
prize winning journalist Caroline Thorpe, who is currently an emeritus
professor at the University of Liverpool, recently noted that 'Albanian
food has become as synonymous with Liverpool as Bill Shankley or
Counties of AlbaniaMain articles: Counties of Albania, Districts
of Albania, and Municipalities of Albania
Albania is divided into 12 counties (Albanian: official qark/qarku,
but often prefekturë/prefektura), 36 districts and 351 municipalities.
One of many beaches in Albania.Main article: Geography of Albania
Albania has a total area of 28,750 square kilometers. Its coastline
is 362 kilometres long and stretches on the Adriatic Sea and the
Ionian Sea. The lowlands of the west face the Adriatic Sea. The
70% of the country that is mountainous is rugged and often inaccessible.
The highest mountain is Korab situated in the district of Dibra,
reaching up to 2,753 metres (9,032 ft). The country has a continental
climate at its high altitude regions with cold winters and hot summers.
Besides the capital city of Tirana, which has 800,000 inhabitants,
the principal cities are Durrës, Elbasan, Shkodër, Gjirokastër,
Vlorë, Korçë and Kukës. In Albanian grammar,
a word can have indefinite and definite forms, and this also applies
to city names: both Tiranë and Tirana, Shkodër and Shkodra
Coastline in southern Albania
As of July 2007, Albania's population of 3,600,523 is growing by
0.73% per year. Albania is a largely ethnically homogeneous
country with only small minorities. Majority of the total population
is considered Albanian. Minorities include Greeks, Aromanians, Torbesh,
Gorani, Macedonian Slavs, Roma, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Balkan
Egyptians and Jews. The dominant language is Albanian, with two
main dialects, Gheg and Tosk. Many Albanians are also fluent in
English, Italian and Greek.
Main article: Religion in Albania
Christianity manifested itself in Albania during Roman rule during
the middle of the 1st century AD. At first, the new religion had
to compete with Oriental cults such as those worshiping Mithra,
the Persian god of light, which had entered the land in the wake
of Albania's growing interaction with eastern regions of the Roman
Empire. For a long time, it also had to compete with gods worshiped
by Illyrian pagans.
Orthodox church in Pogradec, AlbaniaThe steady growth of the Christian
community in Dyrrhachium (the Roman name for Epidamnus) led to the
creation there of a bishopric in 58 AD. Later, episcopal seats were
established in Apollonia, Buthrotum (modern Butrint), and Scodra
After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, Albania became politically
a part of the Eastern Roman Empire, but remained ecclesiastically
dependent on Rome. When the final schism occurred in 1054 between
the Western and Eastern churches, the Christians in southern Albania
came under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople,
and those in the north came under the purview of the Papacy in Rome.
This arrangement prevailed until the Ottoman invasions of the 14th
century, when the Islamic faith was introduced.
One of the major legacies of nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule
was the conversion of up to 60 percent of the Albanian population
to Islam. Therefore, the country emerged as a partly Muslim nation
after its independence from Ottoman rule. In the mountainous north,
the propagation of Islam was strongly opposed by Roman Catholics.
Albania was preponderantly Roman Catholic, with eighteen episcopal
Sees, some of which have an uninterrupted history from the dawn
of Christendom until today. Albania was the last Roman Catholic
bridgehead in the Balkans and the Popes were doing everything in
their power to keep it and enlarge it. Gradually, however, backwardness,
illiteracy, and the absence of an educated clergy and material inducements
weakened the resistance.
The Communist regime, during its 45 years of absolute rule, officially
banned religion, and Albania was proclaimed as the first and only
atheist state in the world. Today, with the freedom of religion
and worship, Albania contains numerous religions and denominations.
Religious fanaticism has never been a problem, with people
from different religious groups living in peace. Interreligious
marriage is very common, and an immensely strong sense of Albanian
identity has tended to bind Albanians of all religious practices
together. The Roman Catholics are mostly located in the northern
part of the country, particularly in the cities of Shkodër
and Kruja, while Orthodox Christians lived in the southern districts
of Gjirokastër, Korçë, Berat, and Vlorë. The
Muslims were spread throughout the land, although they particularly
dominated the centre. Most of them were traditional Sunnites, but
about one-quarter were members of the liberal, panentheistic Bektashi
sect, which for a time had its headquarters in Tirana.
For generations, religious pragmatism was a distinctive trait of
the Albanians. Even after accepting Islam, many people privately
remained practicing Christians. As late as 1912, in a large number
of villages in the Elbasan area, most men had two names, a Muslim
one for public use and a Christian one for private use. Adherence
to ancient pagan beliefs also continued well into the 20th century,
particularly in the northern mountain villages, many of which were
devoid of churches and mosques. A poet named Pashko Vasa (1825-1892),
known as Vaso Pasha, made the trenchant remark, later co-opted by
Enver Hoxha, that "the religion of the Albanians is Albanianism."
It is estimated that only 30-40% of Albanians actively practice
a religion. Despite such a diverse religious background, Albania
has been free of religious conflict, mainly because Albanians have
traditionally displayed a high degree of religious tolerance.
The democratically elected government that assumed office in April
1992 launched an ambitious economic reform programme to halt economic
deterioration and put the country on the path towards a market economy.
These were complemented by a comprehensive package of structural
reforms, including privatization, enterprise, and financial sector
reform, and creation of the legal framework for a market economy
and private sector activity. After severe economic contraction following
1989, the economy slowly rebounded, finally surpassing its 1989
levels by the end of the 1990s. Since prices have also risen,
however, economic hardship has continued for much of the population.
In 1995, Albania began privatizing large state enterprises.
Following the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement
in June/July 2006, EU ministers urged Albania to push ahead with
reforms, focusing on freedom of press, property rights, institution
building, respect for ethnic minorities and observing international
standards in municipal elections. Albania has made an impressive
recovery, building a modern and diversified economy. Recent administrations
have also improved the country's infrastructure and opened competition
in seaports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation,
natural gas distribution and airports. Tourism in Albania is a large
industry and is growing rapidly. The most notable tourist attractions
are the ancient sites of Apollonia, Butrinti, and Krujë. Albania's
coastline is becoming increasingly popular with tourists due to
its relatively unspoiled nature and its beaches.
The Albanian Armed Forces are overseen by the General Staff Headquarters,
and consists of Land Forces Command (Army), Naval Forces Command
(Navy), Air Defense Command, Doctrine and Training Command and Logistics
Command. In 2002, Albania's armed forces have launched a 10-year
reform program sponsored and supervised by the United States Department
of Defense in order to trim down and thoroughly modernize its current
standing force of more than 25,000 troops. Working towards NATO
membership, the Adriatic Charter countries (Albania, Croatia and
the Republic of Macedonia) are expected to join the alliance in
2008. Currently, the Albanian army participates in peacekeeping
missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq.