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Formal Name
Republic of Albania

Local Name

Local Formal Name
Republika e Shqipėrisė

Location: Europe

Status: UN Country

Capital City: Tirana

Main Cities: Durrės, Elbasan, Shkodra, Vlorė

Population: 3,362,000    Area []: 28,750

Currency: 1 lek = 100 qindars

Languages: Albanian

Religions: Sunni Muslim, Christian



Albania (Albanian Shqipėri, meaning "Eagle's Country"), republic in southeastern Europe, located in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula; bounded on the northwest and north by Serbia and Montenegro, on the east by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, on the southeast and south by Greece, on the west by the Adriatic Sea, and on the southwest by the Ionian Sea. Albania, one of the smallest countries of Europe, has a maximum length from north to south of about 345 km (about 215 mi) and a maximum width of about 145 km (about 90 mi). The total area is 28,748 sq km (about 11,100 sq mi). Tiranė is the capital and largest city.

Land and Resources

Albania is predominantly mountainous with peaks averaging between 2100 and 2400 m (about 7000 to 8000 ft). Lowlands, which comprise less than one-quarter of the land area, are limited to a belt along the Adriatic coast north of Vlorė and to several river valleys extending inland from the coast. The rugged North Albanian Alps form the southern end of the Dinaric Alps and include Albania's highest peak, Mount Korab (2751 m/9026 ft). In the central and southern parts of the country the mountains are interrupted by high plateaus and basins. The coastal lowlands possess rich soils, but in many places the land is marshy or poorly drained.

Rivers and Lakes

Most of Albania's rivers rise in the mountainous east and flow west to the Adriatic Sea. The largest of these—the Drin, Shkumbi, and Mat—have broad valleys. Albania's three large lakes straddle its borders: in the northwest, Lake Scutari, and in the east, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.


The Adriatic coastal region has a typical Mediterranean climate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Inland, a more severe continental climate prevails, with marked seasonal temperature extremes. Average annual precipitation ranges from less than 800 mm (less than 30 in) along the eastern border to nearly 2500 mm (about 100 in) in sections of the northern mountains. Summer precipitation is scant in all parts of the country.

Vegetation and Animal Life

On the coast is found the typical Mediterranean chaparral vegetation of drought-resistant shrubs such as laurel and myrtle. Forests cover nearly 40 percent of Albania's total land area. Thick forests, however, are generally found only at higher elevations in the mountains; much of the other growth is scrub forests. Some common trees are oak, elm, pine, beech, and birch. Wildlife, found in the more inaccessible mountain regions, includes eagles, wolves, deer, and wild boars.

Mineral Resources

Albania is well endowed in mineral resources and is especially rich in high-quality chromium ores. Among the other minerals present are petroleum, copper, nickel, coal (mostly low-quality lignite), iron ore, phosphates, and natural gas.


Albania is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world; about 98 percent of its people are Albanians, a group that is believed to be descended from the Illyrians, an Indo-European people who inhabited the area in ancient times. Minority groups include Greeks (slightly less than 2 percent of the population), Gypsies, and Slavs, including Serbs and Bulgarians.

The Albanians are divided into two main branches: the Ghegs and the Tosks. The border between the two groups is roughly formed by the Shkumbi River, the Ghegs occupying the area to the north and the Tosks occupying the area to the south. The groups are distinguished by minor differences in physical traits, dialects, and customs.

Population Characteristics

The population of Albania (1995 estimate) is about 3,390,000. The country has one of the highest rates of natural increase of any European nation (1.8 percent annually in the early 1990s). Before World War II (1939-1945) the population was overwhelmingly rural; since the 1950s rapid urbanization has occurred. About 37 percent of the people live in urban areas.

Principal Cities


The capital and chief city is Tiranė, with a population (1990 esimate) of about 244,200. Other major cities are the port and industrial center of Durrės (85,400), the agricultural marketing center of Elbasan (83,300), the ancient town of Shkodėr (81,900), and the seaport of Vlorė (73,800).


The Albanian language is usually classified in the Thraco-Illyrian subfamily of the Indo-European languages and has two main dialects: Gheg, spoken in the north, and Tosk, used in the south. The Albanian population is about evenly divided into Gheg- and Tosk-speaking communities. Since the advent of the Communist government in 1944, an official language, based on Tosk dialects, has been adopted.


In 1967 the Albanian government abolished all religious institutions. In 1990, however, the prohibition was revoked and mosques and churches began to reopen. Legislation adopted in 1991 declared Albania a secular state that observes freedom of religious belief. Although a significant portion of the population are nonreligious, 65 percent of those professing a faith are Muslim, 20 percent are Orthodox, and 13 percent are Roman Catholic. Albania is the only country in Europe with a predominantly Muslim religious population.

Education and Cultural Activity

During most of the more than 400 years of Ottoman rule, the Albanian language and culture were suppressed. No Albanian-language school was permitted until the 1880s. After the Communist government came to power, Albanian culture was influenced by the Communist societies in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and China. Albania underwent a cultural revolution in the mid-1960s, and many Western influences were eliminated. The government now subsidizes handicrafts, festivals, and folk dances.


Primary education is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 7 and 15. In the early 1990s the number of students enrolled in primary schools was about 557,000. Secondary and technical schools had a total of about 206,000 students in the early 1990s. The country's four universities—Tiranė University (1957), Fan S. Noli University (1971), Tiranė Agricultural (1971), and Luigj Gurakuqi University (1991)—and five other institutes of higher education had an enrollment of about 27,000 in the early 1990s. Under the Communist government, education on both the secondary and higher levels was combined with work in factories or collective farms and military service. The literacy rate increased from 20 percent in 1939 to nearly 100 percent in the early 1990s.

Cultural Institutions

Albania has more than 3600 libraries, the most important of which is the National Library (1922) in Tiranė with 1 million volumes. Also in Tiranė are the national companies of opera, theater, and ballet and the principal museums.


Although a modern industrial base has been established by a series of five-year plans beginning in 1951, the country remains one of the poorest and least developed in Europe. By the late 1980s virtually all industry was nationalized, and farmland was either collectivized or organized into state farms. A program of economic reform was introduced by the new coalition government in 1992. Measures provided for the widespread transfer of farmland and state-owned companies and housing to private ownership. The program also called for the abolition of trade restrictions and price controls. Today Albania faces many economic challenges, including dependency on foreign aid, heavy external debt, a shortage of management and technical skills, and unemployment of as high as 30 percent. Albania relies to a large extent on remittances from 300,000 to 400,000 Albanians working outside the country.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing

About one-fifth of the country's land is arable. Major drainage and reclamation projects since the 1950s have added greatly to the total farmland. The major crops (with estimates of annual production in the early 1990s) include wheat (330,000 metric tons), vegetables and melons (248,000 metric tons), corn (200,000 metric tons), sugar beets (140,000 metric tons), and potatoes (60,000 metric tons). Grapes, olives, cotton, and tobacco are also grown. Efforts have been made to improve the poor quality of a livestock population that includes some 500,000 cattle, 1 million sheep, 800,000 goats, and 170,000 pigs. Timberlands are an important natural resource and yield wood for fuel, lumber, and veneer. In the early 1990s the total annual fish catch was 12,000 metric tons.


Mining is an important sector of the Albanian economy. In the early 1990s the annual output of crude petroleum was 19.1 million barrels, and the country has invited other European countries and the United States to assist in exploration for new reserves. Albania extracts about 5 percent of the world's production of chromite ore, with an annual output of 490,000 metric tons. Other major exploited minerals are copper, nickel, coal, iron ore, and phosphates.


Since the initiation of the five-year plans, great emphasis has been placed on the development of the formerly small manufacturing sector. Beginning in the late 1950s Albania established (first with Soviet and then with Chinese assistance) factories producing chemicals, cement, fertilizers, and machinery. Other new plants include oil refineries, textile mills, and an iron and steel mill at Elbasan. Manufactured products also include asphalt, copper items, timber, cigarettes, beer, and processed foods.


With its numerous mountain streams, Albania has great potential for developing hydroelectricity. Annual electric-power production in the early 1990s was about 5 billion kilowatt-hours, of which most was generated by hydroelectric plants.

Currency and Banking

The monetary unit of Albania is the lek (110 leks equal U.S.$1; 1993). The Albanian State Bank, which was organized in 1945, is the sole bank of currency issue; it also aids in regulating the economy. Albania's first private commercial bank since 1945 has opened as a joint venture with Swiss interests.

Commerce and Trade

The principal imports are machinery, consumer goods, and grains. Main exports are asphalt, metals and ores, electricity, crude oil, vegetables, fruits, and tobacco. In the early 1990s chief trading partners for exports were the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, and Switzerland; principal trading partners for imports were Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Exports were valued at about $45 million while imports cost about $120 million.


Albania had no railroads before 1948; Tiranė and Durrės are now linked by rail with other major industrial centers. In the early 1990s there were about 670 km (about 416 mi) of railroad and about 17,450 km (about 10,840 mi) of roads. The only navigable river is the Buenė River, in the northwest. The major ports are Durrės, Vlorė, Sarandė, and Shėngjin. Albania's one airport (at Tiranė) has flights to cities in several neighboring countries.


During the Communist period all communications media in Albania were closely controlled by the government. Those restrictions were lifted in 1991, and several new publications began. In the early 1990s there were about 525,000 radios and 246,000 television sets. Of the country's two most influential newspapers, The Voice of the People is the official organ of the central committee of the Socialist party of Albania, and the Democratic Revival is the publication of the Democratic party of Albania.


Until 1991 most workers belonged to the Central Council of Albanian Trade Unions, which was closely allied with the Communist party. After the ban against the unions was lifted in 1991, independent trade unions were established, the most important of which is The Union of Independent Trade Unions of Albania. About 1.4 million Albanians were economically active in the late 1980s. About 55 percent of the wage labor force was engaged in agriculture, 23 percent in industry, and 22 percent in services.


The constitution of 1946 proclaimed Albania a people's republic. A second constitution, enacted in 1976, was superseded in 1991 by an interim constitution that changed the name of the country to the Republic of Albania. In 1994 a new constitution was presented to the voters in a referendum, but it was rejected by 54 percent of the vote.

Executive and Legislature

Under the interim constitution of 1991, executive power rests with the president of the republic, who is commander in chief of the armed forces. The president, who is indirectly elected by the legislature, appoints the prime minister to head the Council of Ministers. The nation's first free multiparty legislative elections were held in 1991; voting for a reconstituted parliament of 140 to 150 seats (100 directly elected, the remainder chosen by proportional representation) took place in March 1992.


The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court, the members of which are elected by the People's Assembly for terms of four years. Justice is dispensed by regional and district people's courts. Judges of the lower courts are elected by members of the local governments over which they will preside.

Political Parties

From the mid-1940s through the 1980s the country's only political party was the Communist party, officially known as the Albanian Party of Labor (APL) or Workers' party. Opposition parties were legalized in December 1990. In the March 1992 election, the Democratic Party of Albania defeated the former Communists, who were running as the Socialist Party of Albania. In the mid-1990s political parties included the Green party, the Social Democratic party, the Union for Human Rights party, and the Social Democratic Union.

Local Government

Albania is divided into 27 districts. Local administration is performed by People's Councils, elected to three-year terms.

Social Services

The government provides retirement pensions, free medical care, workers' compensation, paid vacations, and other benefits for all workers and their families. Steps have been taken to correct the problem of insufficient medical personnel and facilities.


In the early 1990s Albania's army numbered about 60,000 people; navy, about 2000; and air force, about 11,000.


The Albanians are considered descendants of the Illyrians (see Illyria), an Indo-European people who settled the western part of the Balkan Peninsula at, or shortly after, the end of the Bronze Age, about 1000 BC. The Illyrians established their own states during the 5th and the 3rd centuries BC.

Ancient Times

The Adrians Kingdom, founded in the 3rd century BC, was the most prominent of the ancient states. It extended from the Dalmatian coast to the coastal regions of present-day Albania and reached the peak of its power during King Agron's reign (250-231 BC). The Adrians Kingdom became an important naval power, preying on Roman shipping and thus endangering Roman trade. In 168 BC Rome conquered the entire Illyrian Kingdom and thereafter ruled it for more than five centuries. In the beginning of the Roman occupation, Albania proper became an important center, connecting Rome with Byzantium by its Via Egnatia.

The Illyrians played an important role in the Roman Empire. Several of the emperors were of Illyrian origin, namely, Claudius II, Aurelian, Diocletian, and Probus in the 3rd century AD, Constantine the Great in the 4th century, and Justinian I in the 6th century.

Middle Ages

With the division of the Roman Empire in AD 395, Albania became part of the Eastern Empire. During this period Albanian ports, such as Durrachium (Durrės), became important trade centers.

As the power of the empire declined, the Illyrian provinces were plagued by migrating tribes vying for control of the western parts of the Balkans. The Goths and Huns came in the 4th century, the Bulgars in the 5th century, and during the 6th and 7th centuries large numbers of Slavs began to penetrate Illyrian territories. Faced with the danger of assimilation, the Albanians—who had by this time been converted to Christianity—moved southward, concentrating mainly in the rugged mountain regions, where they remained nominally under the rule of the East Roman, or Byzantine, Empire.

During the 11th and the 12th centuries Albania was overrun by the Normans, and in 1190, during a period of Byzantine weakness, the Albanian prince Progon established an independent state. This lasted until the middle of the 13th century, after which the country relapsed into disunity. In the 14th century it was conquered by the Serbs.

With the collapse of Stephan Dushan's Serbian Empire in 1355, Albania fell under the domination of local feudal lords. The Topias and the Dukagjinis ruled in the north, the Muzakas and the Shpatas in the south.

Ottoman Rule

The Ottomans invaded Albania at the end of the 14th century. Under the leadership of George (Albanian Gjergj) Kastrioti, called Scanderbeg, the Albanians waged a successful 25-year struggle against Ottoman occupation. In 1448 and in 1466 Scanderbeg repulsed large Ottoman expeditions, but after his death in 1468, Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire. A large number of Albanians immigrated to Italy, and the majority of the population converted to Islam. During the nearly five centuries of Ottoman occupation, many Albanians rose to high positions in the empire.

The Ottomans were never able to establish total control over Albania. During the latter part of the 18th century, several native princes rose to prominence. From 1775 to 1796, the Bushatis ruled the Shkodėr Duchy, extending their authority over northern and central Albania. From 1790 to 1822, Ali Pasha ruled the duchy of Janina, which extended from Vlorė and Berat to Ēamėria and Thessaly.

At the end of the 19th century nationalistic sentiments awakened. During the period of the Albanian League (1878-1881), the Albanians waged a heroic struggle to preserve their territorial integrity against encroachments from their neighbors and to win autonomy from the Ottoman Empire.


On November 28, 1912, after a series of revolts against the Ottomans, Albanian patriots led by Ismail Qemal proclaimed the country's independence. At the London Conference of December 1912, the Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Russia) recognized Albania's independence. The 1913 frontier demarcation by a special commission appointed by the Great Powers, however, excluded from Albania more than half its territory, including Kosovo and Ēamėria, and about 40 percent of its people. Today several hundred thousand Albanians live in Greece, about 500,000 live in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and nearly 1.5 million live in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, primarily in Serbia and Montenegro.

The Great Powers selected the German prince Wilhelm zu Wied as Albania's ruler. Prince Wilhelm arrived in March 1914, but because of local opposition and the outbreak of World War I, he was forced to flee the country six months later. During the war, Albania became a battlefield for the Great Powers; with the coming of peace, the country again faced the prospect of dismemberment by its neighbors. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919, however, rejected claims put forth by Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, and Italy, and Albania was saved from partition.

At the Congress of Lushnje, in January 1920, the Albanians established a provincial government and a council of regency; in December Albania joined the League of Nations. In the summer of 1921, Italy recognized Albania's independence. During the next four years Albania was beset by a fierce struggle for power among competing political factions. By 1925 Ahmet Zogu had achieved preeminence, and he ruled the country first as president, but from 1928 to 1939 as Zog I, king of the Albanians—a title that symbolically embraced the Albanian minorities in Greece and Yugoslavia. King Zog introduced broad cultural and economic reforms but entered into a political and military alliance with Italy, which was controlled by fascists. Heavy economic dependence on Italy in turn led to Italian interference in Albania's domestic and foreign affairs, and on April 7, 1939, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini sent troops to occupy Albania. King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was immediately proclaimed king of Albania.

World War II (1939-1945)

Armed resistance to the Italian troops began soon after the invasion. The few scattered Communist groups existing at the time did not participate in the resistance.

The Albanian Communist party was founded in November 1941, and Enver Hoxha, a young Western-educated schoolteacher, was elected its general secretary. The Communists launched their resistance movement against the invaders with the creation of the National Liberation Movement in September 1942 and the organization of the National Liberation Army in July 1943. The Allied command in Italy supplied material assistance.

In September 1943, preparing the ground for a seizure of power following the anticipated defeat of Germany, the Communists also launched a campaign against the nationalist organizations Balli Kombėtar (National Front) and Legaliteti (Legality Movement). After a bloody civil war, the nationalists were defeated, and by October 1944 the Communists were able to form a provisional government headed by Hoxha. A month later they seized control of the entire country.

The People's Republic

On January 11, 1946, a constituent assembly, elected the previous month, proclaimed the People's Republic of Albania. In March, a new constitution was promulgated and a new government formed, with Hoxha as prime minister. The Communist regime initiated a massive campaign of purges to eliminate real and potential opponents. Excessive wealth in private property was confiscated, all industrial plants and mines were nationalized, and a radical agrarian reform was instituted.

Relations with Neighbors

From 1944 to 1948, Albania's foreign policy was characterized by tense relations with Greece and the West and a close alliance with Yugoslavia, which included plans for Albania's absorption into Yugoslavia. In 1948, however, the USSR and Yugoslavia severed relations. Albania aligned with the USSR and subsequently received large-scale assistance from the USSR and other socialist countries. In 1949 it was admitted to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), and in 1955 it became a member of the Warsaw Pact.

In 1954 Hoxha relinquished the premiership to his deputy, Mehmet Shehu, but continued to dominate the country as head of the Albanian Communist party. Albania's relations with the Soviet bloc began to deteriorate in the mid- and late 1950s, when Hoxha refused to go along with Moscow's policies of de-Stalinization, peaceful coexistence with capitalist countries, and rapprochement with Yugoslavia.

Alliance with China

Albania's views on the most important issues affecting the socialist camp were similar to those of China, and by late 1960 the government had clearly moved toward an alliance with them. In response, the USSR and its East European allies cut off all assistance to Albania. Finally, in December 1961, the USSR broke diplomatic relations with Albania.

China immediately sent in experts to fill the gap created by the withdrawal of Soviet advisers and provided low interest credits for Albania's five-year plans. This enabled the country to defy the USSR and to proceed with its economic development.

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 caused Albania to reassess its foreign policy in general and its heavy reliance on China in particular. It normalized relations with Greece and Yugoslavia and expanded contacts with many Western and Third World nations.

Going It Alone

China's foreign policy reorientation in the early 1970s and the subsequent Chinese-American rapprochement caused a cooling off in Albanian-Chinese relations. After several public Albanian condemnations of Chinese foreign policy, China cut off all aid to its former Balkan ally in July 1978. Following the break with China, Hoxha's regime adopted a strategy of independent economic development, maintaining that reliance on foreign assistance compromises a nation's political independence. The late 1970s and early 1980s brought steady improvement in Albania's relations with Greece, Western European nations, and the less developed countries; however, the issue of the ethnic Greek minority in Albania (between 200,000 and 400,000) remained sensitive into the 1990s. Contacts with Yugoslavia were strained because of what the Albanian government alleged was mistreatment of some 2 million ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

In December 1981 the government announced that Premier Shehu had committed suicide; he was later denounced as a foreign agent, and his former supporters were purged. Adil Ēarēani was named premier in January 1982, and Ramiz Alia replaced Haxhi Lleshi as president in November. Following Hoxha's death in April 1985, Alia assumed leadership of the Communist party. Albania responded to the wave of democratization that swept across Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s by easing restrictions on religion and foreign travel, legalizing opposition political parties, and broadening contacts with the West; diplomatic relations with the United States were resumed in March 1991 after a 51-year break. After winning Albania's first free multiparty parliamentary elections, the Communists enacted a new interim charter creating the post of president of the republic, to which Alia was then elected by the People's Assembly. The Communist party, which in June changed its name to the Socialist Party of Albania, clung to power throughout 1991 but was defeated in parliamentary elections in March 1992. In April Alia resigned, and parliament elected Sali Berisha as Albania's first non-Communist president since World War II. A coalition government was formed, with Aleksander Meksi as prime minister. In July 1992 the Albanian Communist party was outlawed. Ramiz Alia was detained in September 1992 on charges of corruption and then again in August 1993 on charges of abuse of power. In July 1994 a court in Tiranė convicted and sentenced Alia to nine years in prison for the latter charges. The sentence was reduced on appeal to eight years. In August 1993 at least ten other former members of the Communist party were charged with appropriation and misuse of state funds; they were convicted in December 1993. In December 1994, Albanian voters rejected a draft constitution presented by President Berisha.

In foreign affairs, relations between Albania and China warmed substantially, with reciprocal visits by officials of the two governments in 1989 and 1990. In May 1992 Albania signed a ten-year cooperation agreement with the European Community (now the European Union). Tensions increased between Albania and Greece in the early 1990s over alleged mistreatment of the Greek minority in southern Albania and the arrest in May 1994 of five members of a Greek minority organization. They were convicted of accepting money from Greece to purchase weapons and were sentenced to prison terms of six to eight years. One person was later pardoned, and the sentences of the other four were reduced. Greece agreed to drop its threatened veto of a loan package from the European Union. Relations with Serbia and with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia also continued to be strained.