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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.[2]

Etymology

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.[3] 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 and Arbanitai.[4]

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 of Durrës).[5]

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.[6] During the Middle Ages, the Albanians called their country Arbër or Arbën and referred to themselves as Arbëresh or Arbnesh.[7] 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.[8] The name probably has its origins in the Skanderbeg family crest.[citation needed]


History
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.[9][10]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 (today Durrës).

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.[11]

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,[12]who, like other Balkan peoples, were subdivided into tribes and clans.[13]

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"[14] 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 Great.

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.


Greek colonies
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 school.

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 the Balkans.


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.


Ottoman occupation

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.[15]

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).[16]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 warfare.


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.


Monarchy
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.[17]

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.


Holocaust
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.[18] 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.[19]

In February 1944, when the Nazis descended upon the mountain hiding place, not a single Jew fell into their hands.[20] During the Holocaust, Albania was the only country in Europe that protected and sheltered its entire Jewish population, both native and foreign.[21] There was no history of ideological anti-Semitism in Albania so it was unique in this regard.[22] 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.[23][not in citation given][24]


People's Republic
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,[25] 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.[26]

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 the Beatles!'.


Administrative division

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.

County Districts Capital
1 Berat Berat, Kuçovë, Skrapar Berat
2 Dibër Bulqizë, Dibër, Mat Peshkopi
3 Durrës Durrës, Krujë Durrës
4 Elbasan Elbasan, Gramsh, Librazhd, Peqin Elbasan
5 Fier Fier, Lushnjë, Mallakastër Fier
6 Gjirokastër Gjirokastër, Përmet, Tepelenë Gjirokastër
7 Korçë Devoll, Kolonjë, Korçë, Pogradec Korçë
8 Kukës Has, Kukës, Tropojë Kukës
9 Lezhë Kurbin, Lezhë, Mirditë Lezhë
10 Shkodër Malësi e Madhe, Pukë, Shkodër Shkodër
11 Tirana Kavajë, Tirana Tirana
12 Vlorë Delvinë, Sarandë, Vlorë Vlorë


Geography

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 are used.


Coastline in southern Albania

Albanian riviera
Demographics
As of July 2007, Albania's population of 3,600,523 is growing by 0.73% per year.[27] 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.


Religion
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 (modern Shkodra).

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.[28] Religious fanaticism has never been a problem,[29][30] with people from different religious groups living in peace.[31] Interreligious marriage is very common, and an immensely strong sense of Albanian identity has tended to bind Albanians of all religious practices together.[32] The Roman Catholics are mostly located in the northern part of the country,[33] 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.[34] 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.[35] 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.

Economy

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.[36] 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.


Armed forces

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.[37] Working towards NATO membership, the Adriatic Charter countries (Albania, Croatia and the Republic of Macedonia) are expected to join the alliance in 2008.[38] Currently, the Albanian army participates in peacekeeping missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq.