Background Notes: Central Europe, January 2006 [Secure eReader (recommended)]
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by U.S. Department of State
Description: Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs country background notes for international travelers to Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro Slovakia, and Slovenia. Each country's brief, factual background note summarizes its geography, people (population, ethnic groups, languages, health, and religion), history, culture, government and political conditions (type, political parties and principal government officials), economy (GDP; land, climate, and demographics; agriculture and natural resources; trade, industry, and investment; and transportation), defense, human rights, and foreign relations. Each country's background note also provides travel and business information, including principal U.S. officials (ambassador, public affairs officer, counselor for economic affairs, etc.); embassy location, telephone, and fax numbers; and passport information.
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Background Note: Albania
Republic of Albania
Area: 28,748 sq. km. (slightly larger than Maryland).
Major cities: Capital – Tirana
(700,000). Others – Durres (400,000),
Shkoder (81,000), Vlore (72,000). Terrain: Situated in the southwestern region of the Balkan Peninsula, Albania is predominantly mountainous but flat along its coastline with the Adriatic Sea. Climate: Mild temperate – cool, wet winters; dry, hot summers.
Population (June 2002 Institute of Statistics est.): 3,129,000.
Growth rate (2001 est.): -0.88%.
Ethnic groups (2004 Foreign Ministry and Institute of Statistics est.): Albanian 98.6%, Greeks 1.17% (Note: The 1989 census, the last official census to record ethnic data, listed the ethnic Greek population at 2%; estimates by the Greek community itself place the number as high as 10%.), others 0.23% (Vlachs, Roma, Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Egyptians, and Bulgarians). Religions: Muslim (Sunni and Bektashi) 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, and Roman Catholic 10%. (Greek Orthodox percentages would conform to the percentage of the ethnic Greek population.) Official language: Albanian. Health (2001 est.): Life expectancy – males 69.01 years; females 74.87 years. Infant mortality rate – 39.99 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Type: Parliamentary democracy. Constitution: Adopted by popular referendum November 28, 1998. Independence: November 28, 1912 (from the Ottoman Empire). Branches: Executive – President (chief of state), Prime Minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative – Unicameral People's Assembly or Kuvendi Popullor – 140 seats (100 members elected by direct popular vote; 40 by proportional vote; all serve 4-year terms). Judicial – Constitutional Court, Court of Cassation, multiple district and appeals courts. Suffrage: Universal at age 18. Main political parties; Albanian Republican Party (PR); Albanian Socialist Party (PS); Democratic Party of Albania (PD); New Democrat Party (New DP); Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI); Liberal Democratic Union Party (PBL); Movement of Legality Party (PLL); Social Democratic Party (PSD); Unity for Human Rights Party (PBDNJ).
Real GDP growth (2003): 7%. Inflation rate (2003): 2.4%. Unemployment rate (2003 est.): 15.8%. Natural resources: Oil, gas, coal, iron, copper and chrome ores.
Albania shares a border with Greece to the south/southeast, Macedonia to the east, and Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo) to the north and northeast. Eastern Albania lies along the Adriatic and Ionian Sea coastlines. Albania's primary seaport is Durres, which handles 90% of its maritime cargo.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Over 90% of Albania's people are ethnic Albanian, and Albanian is the official language. Religions include Muslim (Sunni and Bektashi), Albanian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic.
Scholars believe the Albanian people are descended from a non-Slavic, non-Turkic group of tribes known as Illyrians, who arrived in the Balkans around 2000 BC. Modern Albanians still distinguish between Ghegs (northern tribes) and Tosks (southern tribes). After falling under Roman authority in 165 BC, Albania was controlled nearly continuously by a succession of foreign powers until the mid-20th century, with only brief periods of self-rule.
Following the split of the Roman Empire in 395, the Byzantine Empire established its control over present-day Albania. In the 11th century, Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus made the first recorded reference to a distinct area of land known as Albania and to its people.
The Ottoman Empire ruled Albania from 1385-1912. During this time, much of the population converted to the Islamic faith, and Albanians also emigrated to Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey. Although its control was briefly disrupted during the 1443-78 revolt, led by Albania's national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeg, the Ottomans eventually reasserted their dominance.
In the early 20th century, the weakened Ottoman Empire was no longer able to suppress Albanian nationalism. The League of Prizren (1878) promoted the idea of an Albanian nation-state and established the modern Albanian alphabet. Following the conclusion of the First Balkan War, Albanians issued the Vlore Proclamation of November 28, 1912, declaring independence. Albania's borders were established by the Great Powers in 1913. Albania's territorial integrity was confirmed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after U.S. President Woodrow Wilson dismissed a plan by the European powers to divide Albania among its neighbors.
During the Second World War, Albania was occupied first by Italy (1939-43) and then by Germany (1943-44). After the war, Communist Party leader Enver Hoxha, through a combination of ruthlessness and strategic alliances, managed to preserve Albania's territorial integrity during the next 40 years, but exacted a terrible price from the population, which was subjected to purges, shortages, repression of civil and political rights, a total ban on religious observance, and increased isolation. Albania adhered to a strict Stalinist philosophy, eventually withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact in 1968 and alienating its final remaining ally, China in 1978.
Following Hoxha's death in 1985 and the subsequent fall of Communism in 1991, Albanian society struggled to overcome its historical isolation and underdevelopment. During the initial transition period, the Albanian Government sought closer ties with the West in order to improve economic conditions and introduced basic democratic reforms, including a multi-party system.
In 1992, after the sweeping electoral victory of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha became the first democratically elected President of Albania. Berisha began a more deliberate program of economic and democratic reform but progress on these issues stalled in the mid-1990s, due to political gridlock. At the same time, unscrupulous investment companies defrauded investors all over Albania using pyramid schemes. In early 1997, several of these pyramid schemes collapsed, leaving thousands of people bankrupt, disillusioned, and angry. Armed revolts broke out across the country, leading to the near-total collapse of government authority. During this time, Albania's already inadequate and antiquated infrastructure suffered tremendous damage, as people looted public works for building materials. Weapons depots all over the country were raided. The anarchy of early 1997 alarmed the world and prompted intensive international mediation.
Order was restored by a UN Multinational Protection Force, and an interim national reconciliation government oversaw the general elections of June 1997, which returned the Socialists and their allies to power at the national level. President Berisha resigned, and the Socialists elected Rexhep Meidani as President of the Republic.
During the transitional period of 1997-2002, a series of short-lived Socialist-led governments succeeded one another as Albania's fragile democratic structures were strengthened. Additional political parties formed, media outlets expanded, non-governmental organizations and business associations developed. In 1998, Albanians ratified a new constitution via popular referendum, guaranteeing the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights and religious freedom. Fatos Nano, Chairman of the Socialist Party, emerged as Prime Minister in July 2002.
On July 24, 2002, Alfred Moisiu was sworn in as President of the Republic. A nonpartisan figure, nominally associated with the Democratic Party, he was elected as a consensus candidate of the ruling and opposition parties. The peaceful transfer of power from President Meidani to President Moisiu was the result of an agreement between the parties to engage each other within established parliamentary structures. This "truce" ushered in a new period of political stability in Albania, making possible significant progress in democratic and economic reforms, rule of law initiatives, and the development of Albania's relations with its neighbors and the U.S.
The "truce" between party leaders began fraying in summer 2003. Progress on economic and political reforms suffered noticeably since the latter half of 2003 because of political infighting. Nationwide municipal elections were held in October 2003. Although a significant improvement over past years, there were still widespread administrative errors, including inaccuracies in the voter lists.
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