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Albania -- Geography --

Official Name: Republic of Albania
Capital City: Tirane
Official Currency: Lek
Languages: Albanian (official), Greek
Religions: Muslim (70%), Albanian Orthodox, Catholic
Ethnicity: Albanian (95%), Greek, other
Population: 3,367,000
Land Area: 27,400 sq km
Landforms: A broad and swampy coastal plain fronts the Adriatic Sea. From there the land rises into hills and mountains. Mountains cover most of the Albania, and major ranges include the Albanian Alps, and the Korab and Pindus Mountains. Significant rivers include the Drin and Vlore.
Land Divisions: 36 districts, 1 municipality


Albania -- History --

Most scholars consider that the Albanians are direct descendants of an Illyrian tribe that was named "Albanoi" that was located in present day Albania. Some scholars dispute this. See Origin of Albanians. Some scholars have claimed that the Albanians and the Illyrians are the descendants of the ancient Pelasgians, and thus their history goes back at least 4000 years before Christ. Those who support the Illyrian-Albanian continuity theory maintain that all the Illyrian tribes except the Albanians disappeared during the Early Middle Ages under the waves of migrating barbarians. A forbidding mountain homeland and resilient tribal society enabled the Albanians to survive into modern times with their identity and their Indo-European language intact. The name Albania is said by these scholars to be derived from the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Arber, or Arbereshe, and later Albanoi, that lived near Durres. The Illyrians were Indo-European tribesmen who appeared in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula about 1000 B.C., a period coinciding with the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age. They inhabited much of the area for at least the next millennium. Archaeologists associate the Illyrians with the Hallstatt culture, an Iron Age people noted for production of iron and bronze swords with winged-shaped handles and for domestication of horses. The Illyrians occupied lands extending from the Danube, Sava, and Morava rivers to the Adriatic Sea and the Sar Mountains. At various times, groups of Illyrians migrated over land and sea into Italy, such as the Messapians and Iapyges. The Illyrians carried on commerce and warfare with their neighbors: Greeks, Paionians, Thracians, and other peoples. The Illyrians also mingled with the Thracians, another ancient people with adjoining lands on the east. In the south and along the Adriatic Sea coast, the Illyrians were heavily influenced by the Greeks, who founded trading colonies there. The present-day city of Durres evolved from a Greek colony known as Epidamnos (earlier, known as Dyrrhachion), which was founded at the end of the seventh century B.C. Another famous Greek colony, Apollonia, arose between Durres and the port city of Vlore. The Illyrians produced and traded cattle, horses, agricultural goods, and wares fashioned from locally mined copper and iron. Feuds and warfare were constant facts of life for the Illyrian tribes, and Illyrian pirates plagued shipping on the Adriatic Sea. Councils of elders chose the chieftains who headed each of the numerous Illyrian tribes. From time to time, local chieftains extended their rule over other tribes and formed short-lived kingdoms. During the fifth century B.C., a well-developed Illyrian population center existed as far north as the upper Sava River valley in what is now Slovenia. Illyrian friezes discovered near the present-day Slovenian city of Ljubljana depict ritual sacrifices, feasts, battles, sporting events, and other activities. The Illyrian kingdom of Bardhyllus became formidable local power in the fourth century B.C. In 358 B.C., however, Macedonia's Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great, defeated the Illyrians and assumed control of their territory as far as Lake Ohrid. Alexander himself routed the forces of the Illyrian chieftain Clitus in 335 B.C., and Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers accompanied Alexander on his conquest of Persia. After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., independent Illyrian kingdoms again arose. In 312 B.C., King Glaucius expelled the Greeks from Durres. By the end of the third century, an Illyrian kingdom based near what is now the Albanian city of Shkoder controlled parts of northern Albania, Montenegro, and Hercegovina. Under Queen Teuta, Illyrians attacked Roman merchant vessels plying the Adriatic Sea and gave Rome an excuse to invade the Balkans. In the Illyrian Wars of 229 and 219 B.C., Rome overran the Illyrian settlements in the Neretva River valley. The Romans made new gains in 168 B.C., and Roman forces captured Illyria's King Gentius at Shkoder, which they called Scodra, and brought him to Rome in 165 B.C. A century later, Julius Caesar and his rival Pompey fought their decisive battle near Durres (Dyrrachium). Rome finally subjugated recalcitrant Illyrian tribes in the western Balkans dwing the region of Emperor Tiberius in A.D. 9. The Romans divided the lands that make up present-day Albania among the provinces of Macedonia, Dalmatia, and Epirus. For about four centuries, Roman rule brought the Illyrian-populated lands economic and cultural advancement and ended most of the enervating clashes among local tribes. The Illyrian mountain clansmen retained local authority but pledged allegiance to the emperor and acknowledged the authority of his envoys. During a yearly holiday honoring the Caesars, the Illyrian mountaineers swore loyalty to the emperor and reaffirmed their political rights. A form of this tradition, known as the kuvend, has survived to the present day in northern Albania. The Romans established numerous military camps and colonies and completely latinized the coastal cities. They also oversaw the construction of aqueducts and roads, including the Via Egnatia, a famous military highway and trade route that led from Durres through the Shkumbin River valley to Macedonia and Byzantium. Copper, asphalt, and silver were extracted from the mountains. The main exports were wine, cheese, oil, and fish from Lake Scutari and Lake Ohrid. Imports included tools, metalware, luxury goods, and other manufactured articles. Apollonia became a cultural center, and Julius Caesar himself sent his nephew, later the Emperor Augustus, to study there. Illyrians distinguished themselves as warriors in the Roman legions and made up a significant portion of the Praetorian Guard. Several of the Roman emperors were of Illyrian origin, including Gaius Decius, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian. Christianity came to the Illyrian-populated lands in the first century A.D. Saint Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province of Illyricum, and legend holds that he visited Durres. When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in A.D. 395, the lands that now make up Albania were administered by the Eastern Empire but were ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. In A.D. 732, however, a Byzantine emperor, Leo the Isaurian, subordinated the area to the patriarchate of Constantinople. For centuries thereafter, the Albanian lands became an arena for the ecclesiastical struggle between Rome and Constantinople. Most Albanians living in the mountainous north became Roman Catholic, while in the southern and central regions, the majority became Orthodox. The fall of the Roman Empire and the age of great migrations brought radical changes to the Balkan Peninsula and the Illyrian people. Barbarian tribesmen overran many rich Roman cities, destroying the existing social and economic order and leaving the great Roman aqueducts, coliseums, temples, and roads in ruins. The Illyrians gradually disappeared as a distinct people from the Balkans, replaced by the Bulgars, Serbs, Croats, and Albanians. In the late Middle Ages, new waves of invaders swept over the Albanian-populated lands. Thanks to their protective mountains, close-knit tribal society, and sheer pertinacity, however, the Albanian people developed their distinctive identity and language. In the fourth century, barbarian tribes began to prey upon the Roman Empire, and the fortunes of the Illyrian-populated lands sagged. The Germanic Goths and Asiatic Huns were the first to arrive, invading in mid-century; the Avars attacked in A.D. 570; and the Slavic Serbs and Croats overran Illyrian-populated areas in the early seventh century. About fifty years later, the Bulgars conquered much of the Balkan Peninsula and extended their domain to the lowlands of what is now central Albania. Many Illyrians fled from coastal areas to the mountains, exchanging a sedentary peasant existence for the itinerant life of the herdsman. Other Illyrians intermarried with the conquerors and eventually assimilated. In general, the invaders destroyed or weakened Roman and Byzantine cultural centers in the lands that would become Albania. Again during the late medieval period, invaders ravaged the Illyrian-inhabited regions of the Balkans. Norman, Venetian, and Byzantine fleets attacked by sea. Bulgar, Serb, and Byzantine forces came overland and held the region in their grip for years. Clashes between rival clans and intrusions by the Serbs produced hardship that triggered an exodus from the region southward into Greece, including Thessaly, the Peloponnese, and the Aegean Islands. The invaders assimilated much of the Illyrian population, but the Illyrians living in lands that comprise modern-day Albania and parts of Yugoslavia (see Glossary) and Greece were never completely absorbed or even controlled. The first historical mention of Albania and the Albanians as such appears in an account of the resistance by a Byzantine emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, to an offensive by the Vatican-backed Normans from southern Italy into the Albanian-populated lands in 1081. The Serbs occupied parts of northern and eastern Albania toward the end of the twelfth century. In 1204, after Western crusaders sacked Constantinople, Venice won nominal control over Albania and the Epirus region of northern Greece and took possession of Durres. A prince from the overthrown Byzantine ruling family, Michael Comnenus, made alliances with Albanian chiefs and drove the Venetians from lands that now make up southern Albania and northern Greece, and in 1204 he set up an independent Byzantine principality, the Despotate of Epirus, with Ioannina as its capital. In 1272 the king of Naples, Charles I of Anjou, occupied Durres and formed an Albanian kingdom that would last until 1336, when it was conquered by Serbian king(later Tsar 1346) Dusan The Great. After Dusan`s death in 1355, the lands where divided among Serbian and Albanian noblemen. Ottoman supremacy in the Balkan region began in 1385 but was briefly interrupted in the 15th century, when Gjerg Kastrioti, an Albanian warrior known as Skanderbeg, allied with some Albanian chiefs and fought-off Turkish rule from 1443-1478 (although Kastrioti died in 1468). Upon the Ottomans' return, a large number of Albanians fled to Italy, Greece and Egypt and many of the Albanians who remained (about two-thirds of the Albanian population), submitted and converted to the Islamic faith. Many Albanians won fame and fortune as soldiers, administrators, and merchants in far-flung parts of the empire. As the centuries passed, however, Ottoman rulers lost the capacity to command the loyalty of local pashas, who governed districts on the empire's fringes, which threatened stability in the region. The Ottoman rulers of the nineteenth century struggled to shore up central authority, introducing reforms aimed at harnessing unruly pashas and checking the spread of nationalist ideas. Albania would be a part of the Ottoman Empire until the early 20th century. By the 1870s, the Sublime Porte's reforms aimed at checking the Ottoman Empire's disintegration had clearly failed. The image of the "Turkish yoke" had become fixed in the nationalist mythologies and psyches of the empire's Balkan peoples, and their march toward independence quickened. The Albanians, because of the preponderance of Muslims link with Islam and their internal social divisions, were the last of the Balkan peoples to develop a national consciousness, which was triggered by fears that the Ottoman Empire would lose its Albanian-populated lands to the emerging Balkan states--Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece. Albanian leaders formed the League of Prizren in 1878, which pressed for territorial autonomy, and after decades of unrest a major uprising exploded in the Albanian-populated Ottoman territories in 1912, on the eve of the First Balkan War. When Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece laid claim to Albanian lands during the war, the Albanians declared independence. The European Great Powers endorsed an independent Albania in 1913, after the Second Balkan War. They were assisted by Aubrey Herbert, a British M.P. who passionately advocated their cause in London. As a result, Herbert was offered the crown of Albania, but was dissuaded by the British prime minister, Herbert Asquith, from accepting. Instead the offer went to William of Wied, a German prince. The young state, however, collapsed within weeks of the outbreak of World War I. Albania achieved a degree of statehood after World War I, in part because of the diplomatic intercession of the United States. The country suffered from a debilitating lack of economic and social development, however, and its first years of independence were fraught with political instability. Unable to survive in a predatory world without a foreign protector, Albania became the object of tensions between Italy and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (the later Yugoslavia), which both sought to dominate the country. With Yugoslav military assistance, Ahmed Bey Zogu, the son of a clan chieftain, emerged victorious from an internal political power struggle in late 1924. Zogu, however, quickly turned his back on Belgrade and looked to Benito Mussolini's Italy for patronage. Under him, Albania joined the Italian coalition against Yugoslavia of Kingdom of Italy, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria in 1924-1927. After Britain's and France's political intervention in 1927 with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the allience crumbled. In 1928 Zogu coaxed the country's parliament into declaring Albania a kingdom and himself king. King Zogu remained a hidebound conservative, and Albania was the only Balkan state where the government did not introduce a comprehensive land reform between the two world wars. Mussolini's forces overthrew Zogu when they occupied Albania in 1939. Between 1941 and 1944, communist partisans fought Italian and German occupation forces as well as various nationalist Albanian groups who did not join the communists. Being communist, they had no help from the west, and only ideological help from Russia. However, they were victorious in World War II and took over the country which became communist immediately after that. Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu emerged as the dominant figures in Albania after five years of political turmoil following the end of World War II. They began to concentrate primarily on securing and maintaining their power base, and secondarily on preserving Albania's independence and reshaping the country according to the precepts of Stalinism. Throughout all rule, Hoxha engineered an elaborate cult of personality that elevated him to the status of infallible leader. When he died in 1985, grandiose nation-wide mourning ceremonies were organized. Soon after Hoxha's death, the government began to seek closer ties with the West in order to improve economic conditions, and initial democratic reforms were introduced including multi-party elections in 1991. Pursuant to a 1991 interim basic law, Albanians ratified a constitution in 1998, establishing a democratic system of government based upon the rule of law and guaranteeing the protection of fundamental human rights. In 1992 the Democratic Party took control of the country through democratic elections. What followed were deliberate programs of economic and democratic reform, but Albanian inexperience with capitalism led to the proliferation of pyramid schemes - which were not banned due to the corruption of the government. Anarchy in early 1997, as a result of the collapse of these pyramid schemes, alarmed the world and prompted intensive international mediation. Since 1992 Albania has been oriented towards the West. In 1995, Albania was accepted in the Council of Europe and has requested membership in NATO. The workforce of Albania has continued to emigrate to Greece, Italy, Europe and North America. Corruption in the government is becoming more and more obvious. The political leadership has not fulfilled the people's hope for a short and not too painful transition. The general elections of June 1997 brought the Socialists and their allies to power. President Berisha resigned from his post, and Socialists elected Rexhep Meidani as the President of the Republic. Albanian Socialist Party Chairman Fatos Nano was elected Prime Minister, a post which he held until October 1998, when he resigned as a result of the tense situation created in the country after the assassination of a prominent leader of the Democratic Party, Azem Hajdari. Pandeli Majko was then elected Prime Minister, and he served in this post until November 1999, when he was replaced by Ilir Meta. Albania approved its constitution through a popular referendum which was held in November 1998, but which was boycotted by the opposition. The general local elections of October 2000 marked the loss of control of the Democrats over the local governments and a victory for the Socialists. Although Albania has made strides toward democratic reform and maintaining the rule of law, serious deficiencies in the electoral code remain to be addressed, as demonstrated in the June 2001 parliamentary elections. International observers judged the 2001 elections to be acceptable, but the Union for Victory Coalition, the second-largest vote recipient, disputed the results and boycotted parliament until January 31, 2002. The Socialists re-elected Ilir Meta as Prime Minister in August 2001, a post which he held till February 2002, when he resigned due to party infighting. Pandeli Majko was re-elected Prime Minister in February 2002. Aside from internationally acceptable statistics, Albania shows incredible infastructural and economic improvement. Construction is at a current boom in Albania as villas, apartment complexes, offices, restaurants, and hotels are multiplying at a frantic rate. Also, due to black market trade and through other venues, Albania currently boasts the highest percentage of Mercedes Benz automobilies of any European nation. The standard of living, partially due to a large influx of capital from illicit drug-connected activities, has been steadily increasing. Even more promising is the increase in development of manufacturing and consumer-based businesses in Albania, evidenced in companies like Olim (oil products), Deka (detergents), Glina (bottled water), Birra Tirana (brewery), and Alumil (Aluminum alloys). Because Albania's fate is so tightly interwoven with developments in the Balkans, it is recommended that readers unfamiliar with the region first examine Barbara Jelavich's two-volume History of the Balkans, which provides an excellent overview as well as sections on Albania and the formation of the state. Robert Lee Wolff's The Balkans in Our Time is another entertaining survey of Balkan history. Edith Durham's High Albania and her other travelogues on Albania from the early twentieth century read like adventure novels and provide insight into the cultural underpinnings of the nationalism endemic to the Balkans. The best examination of the Albanian nationalist movement in the late nineteenth century and the creation of Albania itself are Stavro Skendi's The Albanian National Awakening and Joseph Swire's exquisitely written Albania: The Rise of a Kingdom. Anton Logoreci's The Albanians: Europe's Forgotten Survivors and Peter R. Prifti's Socialist Albania since 1944: Domestic and Foreign Developments are both solidly grounded surveys of Albania and its trials, especially after World War II. Postwar Albania, especially the last years of Enver Hoxha's regime, is well treated in Elez Biberaj's Albania.


Albania -- Economy --

Albania emerged from the Communist era as the poorest country in Europe. Under the Communists, the state controlled all economic activities; private ownership and private enterprise were forbidden. On the other hand, there was little unemployment since the state guaranteed almost everyone a job. In 1993 Albania’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 11 percent; in 1994 by 7 percent; and in 1995 by 6 percent—the highest growth in Europe. From 1992 to 1995 inflation dropped from a yearly average of 226 percent to 7 percent, and by 1995 the state controlled only 40 percent of the total economy. The rapid growth was due mainly to a recovery in farming spurred by rapid privatization and land reforms. In 2003 the GDP was $6.12 billion, or about $1,930 a person. Ňhe country still relies on tens of thousands of Albanians working in Greece, Italy, and Germany who send hard currency home to support their families. While living conditions for most Albanians have improved and consumer goods and services are more available now than they were under Communism, poverty is still extensive. Other problems included a failing infrastructure, obsolete machinery, lack of raw materials, a shortage of skilled workers and managers, and poor labor discipline.
Labor: In 2003 the labor force numbered 1.6 million people. Some 41 percent of these workers were women. The largest share of the labor force, 24 percent, worked in agriculture; 45 percent worked in manufacturing, mining, and construction; and the remaining 31 percent worked in transportation, communications, trade, public administration, and various other services. The unemployment rate, which peaked at 40 percent in 1992, fell to 15 percent by 1995. However, as more people migrated from the country to cities, cities experienced a job shortage. As a result, many of the new city dwellers depend on state benefits for survival. The former government-controlled union is now the free Confederation of Albanian Trade Unions, to which most state workers belong.
Agriculture: Important crops are wheat, corn, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, tobacco, fruit, and potatoes. Albanian farmers have shifted away from industrial crops like cotton, partly because the country’s textile industry is declining. Numbers of livestock, especially cattle, have grown, as has the dairy industry. Meat, more affordable than it was under the Communist regime, is becoming a more regular part of Albanians’ diets. In the mid-1990s about half of Albania’s exports were unprocessed goods, with food and cattle occupying a high percentage. However, in many villages mules and donkeys were still used for transportation and cattle still pulled farm tools.
Forestry and Fishing: Forests cover 36 percent of Albania, mostly with willow, alder, tamarisk, poplar, oak, maple, hornbeam, lime, elm, beech, and conifer. The country’s forests provide wood and fuel, as they have for centuries. Despite Albania’s location on the Adriatic Sea, fishing is not a significant industry, and domestic markets for freshwater and saltwater food products are limited.
Mining: Albania is rich in mineral resources, including large reserves of chromium, copper, and iron-nickel. The country also has smaller deposits of gold, silver, bauxite, magnesite, and zinc. In 1994 chrome, found at Pogradec in eastern Albania and in the Drin River valley, accounted for 18 percent of all Albanian exports and was the country’s biggest earner of foreign currency. Albania is the world’s third largest producer of chromium and the only country in Europe with significant reserves, estimated at more than 33 million metric tons of recoverable ore (5 percent of known world deposits). Labor is now concentrated in chrome and copper, where it is believed reserves can support production until about 2025. Like the rest of the country’s industry, mining suffers from outdated equipment and technology, disruption of production and supply lines, and lack of managerial expertise. Moreover, most reserves lie in deep deposits in remote and mountainous areas of Albania’s north and east, making them more expensive to reach. The government has begun to modernize the mining sector, mostly by attracting foreign investment, but investors have not been easy to find.
Manufacturing: The country’s chief manufactured products include machinery and equipment, cement, soap, furniture, bricks, footwear, textiles, cigarettes, and electronic equipment. A growing percentage of the manufacturing sector is owned privately, and the government continues to encourage privatization. Because manufacturers still rely on obsolete equipment and technology, modernization has become a high priority for newly privatized firms.
Energy: Because of torrential rivers well suited for hydroelectric plants, Albania is largely self-sufficient in energy. However, businesses and households use more energy than in the past, and outdated and worn-out equipment is hard-pressed to meet the demand. Hydroelectric plants, mostly on the Drin, Mat, and Bistrice rivers, yield 97 percent of the country’s generating capacity. Albania has moderate oil reserves located near the central Albanian town of Berat. Of the estimated 490 million metric tons of reserves, about 10 percent has been extracted. The oil is pumped by pipeline to a large refinery near Elbasan and to the seaport of Vlore. Natural gas is also extracted and some deposits of lignite are mined in the central and southern mountain regions.
Tourism and Foreign Trade: The country’s Mediterranean coastline and mostly unspoiled mountainous interior offer great tourist potential. An estimated 41,000 tourists visited Albania in 2003. The major tourist destinations include Tirana, the southern coastal areas, the northern mountains, and several archaeological sites. Most tourists are Albanian emigrants from the West as well as Greeks, Italians, Germans, and other western Europeans. The country’s one international airport in Rinas, near Tirana, was renovated in the mid-1990s. If tourism continues to grow, other facilities, services, and infrastructure will also need improvements. Italy is Albania’s most important trading partner, accounting for half of exports and 40 percent of imports. Other leading purchasers of exports are the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary; sources for imports are FYROM, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Greece.
Currency and Banking: Albania’s main monetary unit is the lek (121.9 leks equal U.S. $1; 2003 average). The central bank and bank of issue is the Bank of Albania, located in Tirana. Albania is one of the world’s few market economies with no domestic private banks, although there are plans to privatize two of the three commercial banks.
Transportation: Albania’s archaic transportation system is one of the biggest hurdles to economic growth. The country has 18,000 km (11,185 mi) of roads, which connect most towns and villages; however, the roads are in desperate need of repair and expansion. Bicycles are still common and a bus system operates in most of the country. In the more remote highlands, mules and donkeys are used for transportation. Albania has 447 km (278 mi) of railroad track, much of it built in the 1940s. The rail system connects mostly industrial and mining centers, is slow and inefficient, and needs a thorough overhaul. Albania has two main ports, Durres and Vlore. Durres, 35 km (22 mi) from Tirana, handles 90 percent of Albania’s shipping. In 1996 and 1997 Rinas, the country’s only international airport, received a $30 million renovation. The growth of tourism has led to proposals for a second international airport in southern Albania.
Communications: Television and radio remain under state control. The most important newspapers include the dailies Rilindja Demokratike, published by the Democratic Party; Zeri I Popullit, once the major newspaper of the state, now published by the Socialists; and Republika, published by the Republican Party. Other major periodicals include the weekly Drita, the monthly Nentori, and the independent, nonpartisan newspaper Koha Jone. Albania’s telecommunications system is inefficient and thinly spread across the country. In the mid-1990s state-owned Albanian Telecom began a major program to upgrade and expand the network. Most households have radios, and many have televisions. Only a few thousand people, mostly the newly emerging business class, have access to computers. A poor country by European standards, Albania is making the difficult transition to a more open-market economy. The collapse of communism in Albania came later and was more chaotic than in other east European countries and was marked by a mass exodus of refugees to Italy and Greece in 1991 and 1992. Attempts at reform began in earnest in early 1992 after real GDP fell by more than 50% from its peak in 1989. The democratically elected government that assumed office in April 1992 launched an ambitious economic reform program to halt economic deterioration and put the country on the path toward a market economy. Key elements included price and exchange system liberalization, fiscal consolidation, monetary restraint, and a firm income policy. 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. Most prices were liberalized and are now at or near international levels. Most agriculture, state housing, and small industry were privatized. Progress continued in the privatization of transport, services, and small and medium-sized enterprises. In 1995, the government began privatizing large state enterprises. Results of Albania's efforts were initially encouraging. Led by the agricultural sector, real GDP grew by an estimated 11% in 1993, 8% in 1994, and more than 8% in 1995, with most of this growth in the private sector. Annual inflation dropped from 25% in 1991 to single-digit numbers. The Albanian currency, the lek, stabilized. Albania became less dependent on food aid. The speed and vigor of private entrepreneurial response to Albania's opening and liberalizing was better than expected. Beginning in 1995, however, progress stalled, with negligible GDP growth in 1996 and a 9% contraction in 1997. A weakening of government resolve to maintain stabilization policies in the election year of 1996 contributed to renewal of inflationary pressures, spurred by the budget deficit which exceeded 12%. Inflation approached 20% in 1996 and 50% in 1997. The collapse of financial pyramid schemes in early 1997 - which had attracted deposits from a substantial portion of Albania's population - triggered severe social unrest which led to more than 1,500 deaths, widespread destruction of property, and an 8% drop in GDP. The lek initially lost up to half of its value during the 1997 crisis, before rebounding to its January 1998 level of 143 to the dollar. The new government, installed in July 1997, has taken strong measures to restore public order and to revive economic activity and trade. Albania is currently undergoing an intensive macroeconomic restructuring regime with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The need for reform is profound, encompassing all sectors of the economy. However, reforms are constrained by limited administrative capacity and low-income levels, which make the population particularly vulnerable to unemployment, price fluctuation, and other variables that negatively affect income. The economy continues to be bolstered by remittances of some 20% of the labor force that works abroad, mostly in Greece and Italy. These remittances supplement GDP and help offset the large foreign trade deficit. Most agricultural land was privatized in 1992, substantially improving peasant incomes. In 1998, Albania recovered the 8% drop in GDP of 1997 and pushed ahead by 7% in 1999. International aid has helped defray the high costs of receiving and returning refugees from the Kosovo conflict. Largescale investment from outside is still hampered by poor infrastructure; lack of a fully functional banking system; untested or incompletely developed investment, tax, and contract laws; and an enduring mentality that discourages bureaucratic initiative.


Albania -- Culture --

Albania (Albanian Shqiperia, “Country of the Eagle”) is a republic situated in southeastern Europe, officially known as the Republic of Albania. It lies along the northwestern edge of the Balkan Peninsula. Albania’s distinctive culture borrows from the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Slavs, and Italians, who conquered the Balkans. Despite the foreign influences, Albanian culture retains a remarkable degree of homogeneity (sameness in composition). Literature: Under Ottoman rule (16th century to 20th century), Turkish and Greek Orthodox stories and myths played an important part in Albanian folklore. Tales were passed down through the generations in the form of heroic songs, legends, and epics. This oral tradition helped the native language and national identity survive until written texts emerged. The oldest known document in the Albanian language dates to 1462. In the late 19th century, under Ottoman rule, the brothers Naim and Sami Frasheri developed an underground Albanian literature by combining linguistic purity and patriotism. This nationalist movement inspired many writers in later decades, including lyric poet Gjergj Fishta. Another prominent nationalist writer was Fan Noli, a Western-educated Orthodox bishop and leader of the country during the 1920s. In addition to writing books, Noli translated western European books and poems into Albanian. Under the Communists, censorship was strict, topics permissible for discussion were few, and as a result, the country’s literature was deadened. After the collapse of one-party rule, literature was freed of most censorship, and many books are now published and distributed in the country. Perhaps the best-known living Albanian writer is Ismail Kadare, author of the novel The General of the Dead Army (1963). Art and Architecture: Painting in Albania was strongly influenced by Byzantine art in the middle Ages (5th century to 15th century); although by the end of the early Renaissance (15th century to 17th century) Italian influence was strong. The style of icon painting, created in the mid-18th century, remained virtually unchanged through the early 20th century. Notable Albanian artists of the 20th century included Vangjush Mijo and Androniqi Zenge, both of whom are credited with introducing Western-style impressionism to Albania in the mid-1930s. Odhise Paskal, another 20th-century artist, sculpted Albanian heroes. Folk arts today include clothing decorated with delicate silver ornaments, wood-crafted items for the home, and woolen rugs. The oldest architectural monuments in Albania date from the 1st millennium BC and were constructed by the Illyrians. From the middle of the 1st millennium BC through the middle of the 1st millennium AD, the Greeks and Romans who occupied Albania built structures still visible in urban and rural landscapes. In the Middle Ages, Christian religious architecture emerged in Albania’s Christian north, while Islamic and Turkish-style architecture emerged in the south. Until the mid-20th century, most Albanian cities were dominated by two-story stone residences with tiled roofs. In wooded regions, houses were made of boards rather than stone; in coastal regions, they were clay, adobe or reed, with coatings of clay. Today, mass-produced Soviet-style housing predominates in urban and suburban settings while traditional architecture predominates in rural and mountainous regions. Music and Dance: Like the literature native to Albania, Albanian folk music often contains themes of honor, loyalty, and courage. Styles range from the heroic songs of the mountains to the more musically complex lieder (a type of ballad), which is accompanied by instruments and common in the south. The most common traditional instrument is the lahute (lute), which is similar to the Slavic gusle. Also in the south, saze (small orchestras) composed of four or five instruments play music for folk dancing on special occasions. Notable folk musicians of the late 20th century included Tefta Tashko, Maria Paluca, and Gjorgjija Filce. Two of the most distinguished composers of Albanian music are Kristi Kono and writer, bishop, and political leader Fan Noli. Traditional dance is still widely practiced, especially in more remote villages. Because of Islamic influences, especially in the south, women and men often do not dance together in public. Theatre and Film: Theater was neither popular nor widespread in Albania before World War I (1914-1918). The first Albanian play, Emma, was written in 1887 by an Italo-Albanian, Anton Santori, and dealt with themes of the Albanian diaspora (migration to other countries). Instead of accurately portraying daily life, prewar drama depicted the romantic patriotism of the past. Under the Communists, theater became a weapon of propaganda, and new theaters and plays with Communist themes were encouraged. The plays, however, were subjected to more rigorous censorship than written literature, thereby crushing much creativity and stunting the growth of a native theater. Foreign theater companies were also banned. Nevertheless, a few talented playwrights, including Loni Papa, emerged in this period. In the mid-1990s theater continued to lag behind Albanian literature in its development. Cinema is also undeveloped. During the Communist period, films, like plays, focused on heroics. Popular themes included the anti-Turk struggles of folk hero Skenderbeg, Albanian resistance to assimilation by foreigners, and the clash between tradition and change. Although there are fewer political restrictions on film today than in the Communist era, a lack of money and technical resources continues to hamper the growth of Albanian film. Libraries and Museums: Albania is home to many museums of archaeology; local, military, and natural history; ethnography (the study of cultures); and religious and secular (nonreligious) art. Notable museums in Tirana include the National Museum of Archaeology (founded in 1948). Throughout the 20th century the holdings of Albania’s libraries grew dramatically. The country’s largest library, the National Library (1922) in Tirana, acquired many of its one million books through Communist confiscation of private libraries. The library system at the University of Tirana (1957) also features a large collection.


Albania -- Political system, law and government --

General information: President: Alfred Moisiu (2002) Prime Minister: Sali Berisha (2005) From 1944 to 1991 Albania’s government was controlled completely by the Communist Party, known from 1948 as the Albanian Party of Labor (APL). The party’s preeminence was assured by the 1976 constitution, which defined the APL as the “sole leading political force of state and society” and named Marxism-Leninism as the country’s official ideology. Power was effectively consolidated in one man, Enver Hoxha. He was first secretary, or head, of the party’s Politburo from 1944 until his death in 1985. Hoxha ruled Albania with an iron fist and stifled any dissension. The party’s control over society and public institutions, which was near-absolute, was reinforced by the Sigurimi, the secret police. After Hoxha’s death in 1985, Albania began to emerge from its isolation. Anti-Communist upheavals swept across Eastern Europe in 1989, and in 1990 Albania legalized opposition parties. In March 1991, after an interim constitution was approved, Albania held its first multiparty elections in nearly 50 years. In November 1998 voters approved Albania’s first post-Communist constitution, which declared the country a parliamentary republic. The new constitution provides for multiparty elections and guarantees freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and organization. The Authorities: One of the representatives of the executive body of Albania is the president. He serves as Albania’s head of state and shares control of the armed forces with the prime minister. The president is elected by the parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, to a five-year term, and is limited to two terms. The president appoints the prime minister nominated by the party or coalition of parties that has a majority of seats in the Assembly. The Assembly must then approve the appointee. If the Assembly fails to approve the president’s appointee three times, the president dissolves parliament. The president can return a proposed law to parliament for review once, but the law will take effect if a parliamentary majority then approves its passage. The prime minister is the head of government and chair of the Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The prime minister and Council of Ministers are in charge of the country’s economic, social, and cultural affairs. The president and prime minister are jointly responsible for foreign relations and security affairs. The legislature includes the People’s Assembly, which consists of a single house with 140 deputies, 15 less than were provided under the interim constitution. Of the total number of deputies, 100 are directly elected from districts and the other 40 are chosen from party lists according to the proportion of votes each party or coalition receives. All citizens age 18 and older are eligible to vote. The deputies serve four-year terms and the assembly meets in regular session two times per year. In addition to passing legislation, the Assembly approves the president’s appointment of the prime minister and the prime minister’s choices for the Council of Ministers. In 1992 Albania extensively reorganized its judiciary. The new court system is headed by the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the president to nine-year terms with the consent of the Assembly. Below the Supreme Court are the appeals courts (one for every district court) and below the appeals courts, the district courts. Judges in appeals and district courts are appointed by the president upon the recommendations of the Higher Judicial Council, which is headed by the president and includes the chair of the Supreme Court and the minister of justice. A separate constitutional court rules on constitutional matters and consists of nine members appointed by the president with the Assembly’s consent. Political parties: The 1991 constitution formally created a multiparty system. The Socialist Party, which grew out of the Albanian Party of Labor (APL), officially rejected Marxism-Leninism as its guiding ideology and now supports gradual market reforms. It is influential in rural areas and among older people. The Albanian Democratic Party, which draws strong support in urban areas and from young people, advocates a market economy and the encouragement of foreign assistance and investment. Other parties include the Social Democrats; the Unity for Human Rights Party, which represents the ethnic Greek minority; and the National Front. Local Government: Albania is divided into regions (rrethe), which are subdivided into communes and municipalities. Popularly elected local peoples’ councils administer most of the economic, social, and cultural affairs of communes and municipalities. The regions are governed by regional councils. Each regional council includes the chairperson of each local council within the region. In 1998 there were 36 regions, subdivided into 310 communes and 43 municipalities. Social Services: Albania’s state social insurance system covers all workers free of charge. Women are entitled to 360 days of maternity leave and receive 80 percent of their salary while on leave. When workers are on sick leave, they are paid between 70 and 100 percent of their salary. Men retire between the ages of 55 and 65 years, women between 50 and 60. Pensions generally equal to 70 percent of the average monthly salary are provided for the retired and the disabled. Defense: In 2003 the armed forces of Albania included 21,500 people. In 2003 the air force had 3,500 members, and the navy had 2,000; the number of army personnel could not be determined due to civil unrest that disrupted national command of troops early in the year. Military service is required at the age of 19 and lasts for 12 months. International Organizations: Since 1991 Albania has become a member of several international organizations including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); all the bodies of the United Nations (UN) such as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). Albania also gained membership to the North Atlantic Cooperation Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and has participated in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.


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