ca. 1000 B.C.
Illyrians, descendants of ancient Indo-European peoples,
settled in western part of the Balkan Peninsula.
Illyrians defeated by Philip II of Macedonia.
King Glaucius of Illyria expels Greeks from Durrės.
229 B.C. and 219 B.C.
Roman soldiers overrun Illyrian settlements in Neretva River
Roman forces capture Illyria's King Gentius at Shkodėr.
FIRST CENTURY A.D.
Christianity comes to Illyrian populated areas.
Romans, under Emperor Tiberius, subjugate Illyrians and
divide present-day Albania between Dalmatia, Epirus, and
Roman Empire's division into eastern and western parts
leaves the lands that now comprise Albania administratively
under the Eastern Empire but ecclesiastically under Rome.
FOURTH CENTURY-SEVENTH CENTURY
Goths, Huns, Avars, Serbs, Croats, and Bulgars successively
invade Illyrian lands in present-day Albania.
Illyrian people subordinated to the patriarchate of
Constantinople by the Byzantine emperor, Leo the Isaurian.
Christianity divides into Catholic and Orthodox churches,
leaving Christians in southern Albania under ecumenical
patriarch of Constantinople and those in northern Albania
under pope in Rome.
Albania and Albanians mentioned, for the first time in a
historical record, by Byzantine emperor.
Serbs occupy parts of northern and eastern Albania.
Venice wins control over most of Albania, but Byzantines
regain control of southern portion and establish Despotate
Forces of the King of Naples occupy Durrės and establish an
Albanian ruler of Durrės invites Ottoman forces to intervene
against a rival; subsequently, Albanian clans pay tribute
and swear fealty to Ottomans.
At Kosovo Polje, Albanians join Serbian-led Balkan army that
is crushed by Ottoman forces; coordinated resistance to
Ottoman westward progress evaporates.
Gjergj Kastrioti born, later becomes Albanian national hero
known as Skanderbeg.
After losing a battle near Nis, Skanderbeg defects from
Ottoman Empire, reembraces Roman Catholicism, and begins
holy war against the Ottomans.
Skanderbeg proclaimed chief of Albanian resistance.
Albanians, under Skanderbeg, rout Ottoman forces under
Sultan Murad II.
Krujė falls to Ottoman Turks; Shkodėr falls a year later.
Subsequently, many Albanians flee to southern Italy, Greece,
Egypt, and elsewhere; many remaining are forced to convert
EARLY SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
Some Albanians who convert to Islam find careers in Ottoman
Empire's government and military service.
SEVENTEENTH CENTURY-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
About two-thirds of Albanians convert to Islam.
Kara Mahmud Bushati, chief of Albanian tribe based in
Shkodėr, attacks Montenegrin territory; subsequently named
governor of Shkodėr by Ottoman authorities.
NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES
Albanian leader Ali Pasha of Tepelenė assassinated by
Ottoman agents for promoting an autonomous state.
1000 Albanian leaders invited to meet with Ottoman general
who kills about half of them.
Ottoman Sublime Porte divides Albanian-populated lands into
vilayets of Janina and Rumelia with Ottoman
First school known to use Albanian language in modern times
opens in Shkodėr.
Russia's defeat of Ottoman Empire seriously weakens Ottoman
power over Albanian-populated areas.
Treaty of San Stefano, signed after the Russo-Turkish War,
assigned Albanian-populated lands to Bulgaria, Montenegro,
and Serbia; but Austria-Hungary and Britain block the
treaty's implementation. Albanian leaders meet in Prizren,
Kosovo, to form the Prizren League, initially advocating a
unified Albania under Ottoman suzerainty. During the
Congress of Berlin, the Great Powers overturn the Treaty of
San Stefano and divide Albanian lands among several states.
The Prizren League begins to organize resistance to the
Treaty of Berlin's provisions that affect Albanians.
Society for Printing of Albanian Writings, composed of Roman
Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox Albanians, founded in
Ottoman forces crush Albanian resistance fighters at
Prizren. Prizren League's leaders and families arrested and
Ottoman authorities disband a reactivated Prizren League,
execute its leader later, then ban Albanian language books.
Albanians begin joining the Committee of Union and Progress
(Young Turks), which formed in Constantinople, hoping to
gain autonomy for their nation within the Ottoman Empire.
Albanian intellectuals meet in Bitola and choose the Latin
alphabet as standard script rather than Arabic or Cyrillic.
Albanians rise against the Ottoman authorities and seize
First Balkan War begins, and Albanian leaders affirm Albania
as an independent state.
Muslim and Christian delegates at Vlorė declare Albania
independent and establish a provisional government.
Ambassadorial conference opens in London and discusses
Treaty of London ends First Balkan War. Second Balkan War
Treaty of Bucharest ends Second Balkan War. Great Powers
recognize an independent Albanian state ruled by a
Prince Wilhelm, German army captain, installed as head of
the new Albanian state by the International Control
Commission, arrives in Albania.
New Albanian state collapses following outbreak of World War
I; Prince Wilhelm is stripped of authority and departs from
World War I ends, with Italian army occupying most of
Albania and Serbian, Greek and French force occupying
remainder. Italian and Yugoslav powers begin struggle for
dominance over Albanians.
Albanian leaders meet at Durrės to discuss presentation of
Albania's interests at the Paris Peace Conference.
Serbs attack Albania's inhabited cities. Albanians adopt
Albania denied official representation at the Paris Peace
Conference; British, French, and Greek negotiators later
decide to divide Albania among Greece, Italy, and
Albanian leaders meeting at Lushnjė reject the partitioning
of Albania by the Treaty of Paris, warn that Albanians will
take up arms in defense of their territory, and create a
Albanian government moves to Tiranė, which becomes the
Albania forces Italy to withdraw its troops and abandon
territorial claims to almost all Albanian territory.
Albania admitted to League of Nations as sovereign and
Yugoslav troops invade Albanian territories they had not
previously occupied; League of Nations commission forces
Yugoslav withdrawal and reaffirms Albania's 1913 borders.
Popular Party, headed by Xhafer Ypi, forms government with
Ahmed Zogu, the future King Zog, as internal affairs
Ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople recognizes the
Autocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church.
Zogu assumes position of prime minister of government;
opposition to him becomes formidable.
Albania's Sunni Muslims break last ties with Constantinople
and pledge primary allegiance to native country.
Zogu's party wins elections for National Assembly, but Zogu
steps down after financial scandal and an assassination
A peasant-backed insurgency wins control of Tiranė; Fan S.
Noli becomes prime minister; Zogu flees to Yugoslavia.
Zogu, backed by Yugoslav army, returns to power and begins
to smother parliamentary democracy; Noli flees to Italy.
Italy, under Mussolini, begins penetration of Albanian
public and economic life.
Italy and Albania sign First Treaty of Tiranė, which
guarantees Zogu's political position and Albania's
Zogu pressures the parliament to dissolve itself; a new
constituent assembly declares Albania a kingdom and Zogu
becomes Zog I, "King of the Albanians."
Zog, standing up to Italians, refuses to renew the First
Treaty of Tiranė; Italians continue political and economic
After Albania signs trade agreements with Greece and
Yugoslavia, Italy suspends economic support, then attempts
to threaten Albania.
Mussolini presents a gift of 3,000,000 gold francs to
Albania; other economic aid follows.
Mussolini delivers ultimatum to Albania.
Mussolini's troops invade and occupy Albania; Albanian
parliament votes to unite country with Italy; Zog flees to
Greece; Italy's King Victor Emmanual III assumes Albanian
Italian army attacks Greece through Albania.
Germany, with support of Italy and other allies defeat
Greece and Yugoslavia.
Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslav communist leader, directs
organizing of Albanian communists.
Albanian Communist Party founded; Enver Hoxha becomes first
Communist party organizes the National Liberation Movement,
a popular front resistance organization.
Noncommunist nationalist groups form to resist the Italian
Italy's surrender to Allied forces weakens Italian hold on
Albania; Albanian resistance fighters overwhelm five Italian
German forces invade and occupy Albania.
Communist partisans, supplied with British weapons, gain
control of southern Albania.
Communists meet to organize an Albanian government; Hoxha
becomes chairman of executive committee and supreme
commander of the Army of National Liberation.
Communist forces enter central and northern Albania.
Communists establish provisional government with Hoxha as
Germans withdraw from Tiranė, communists move into the
Communist provisional government adopts laws allowing state
regulation of commercial enterprises, foreign and domestic
Communist provisional government agrees to restore Kosovo to
Yugoslavia as an autonomous region; tribunals begin to
condemn thousands of "war criminals" and "enemies of the
people" to death or to prison. Communist regime begins to
nationalize industry, transportation, forests, pastures.
Yugoslavia recognizes communist government in Albania.
Sweeping agricultural reforms begin; about half of arable
land eventually redistributed to peasants from large
landowners; most church properties nationalized. United
Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration begins
sending supplies to Albania.
Soviet Union recognizes provisional government; Britain and
United States make full diplomatic recognition conditional.
In elections for the People's Assembly only candidates from
the Democratic Front are on ballot.
People's Assembly proclaims Albania a "people's republic";
purges of noncommunists from positions of power in
People's Assembly adopts new constitution, Hoxha becomes
prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, and
commander-in-chief; Soviet-style central planning begins.
Treaty of friendship and cooperation signed with Yugoslavia;
Yugoslav advisers and grain begin pouring into Albania.
British destroyers hit mines off Albania's coast; United
Nations (UN) and the International Court of Justice
subsequently condemn Albania.
Albania breaks diplomatic relations with the United States
after latter withdraws its informal mission.
Economic Planning Commission draws up first economic plan
that established production targets for mining,
manufacturing and agricultural enterprises.
UN commission concludes that Albania, together with Bulgaria
and Yugoslavia, supports communist guerrillas in Greece;
Yugoslav leaders launch verbal offensive against anti-
Yugoslav Albanian communists, including Hoxha; pro-Yugoslav
faction begins to wield power.
Albania refuses participation in the Marshall Plan of the
Albanian Communist Party leaders vote to merge Albanian and
Yugoslav economies and militaries.
Cominform expels Yugoslavia; Albanian leaders launch anti-
Yugoslav propaganda campaign, cut economic ties, and force
Yugoslav advisers to leave; Stalin becomes national hero in
Hoxha begins purging high-ranking party members accused of
"Titoism"; treaty of friendship with Yugoslavia abrogated by
Albania; Soviet Union begins giving economic aid to Albania
and Soviet advisers replace ousted Yugoslavs.
First Party Congress changes name of Albanian Communist
Party to Albanian Party of Labor.
Regime issues Decree on Religious Communities.
Albania joins Council for Mutual Economic Assistance
(Comecon); all foreign trade conducted with member
Pro-Tito Albanian communists purged.
Britain and United States begin inserting anticommunist
Albanian guerrilla units into Albania; all are unsuccessful.
A new constitution is approved by People's Assembly. Hoxha
becomes minister of defense and foreign minister.
Albania and Soviet Union sign agreement on mutual economic
Hoxha relinquishes post of prime minister to Mehmet Shehu
but retains primary power as party leader.
Albania becomes a founding member of the Warsaw Pact.
After Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech" exposes Stalin's
crimes, Hoxha defends Stalin; close relations with Soviet
Union become strained.
Large amounts of economic aid from Soviet Union, East
European countries, and China begin pouring into Albania.
Khrushchev visits Albania.
Albania sides with China in Sino-Soviet ideological dispute;
consequently Soviet economic support to Albania is curtailed
and Chinese aid is increased.
Hoxha rails against Khrushchev and supports China during an
international communist conference in Moscow.
Hoxha harangues against the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia at
Albania's Fourth Party Congress.
Soviet Union breaks diplomatic relations; other East
European countries severely reduce contacts but do not break
relations; Albania looks toward China for support.
Albanian regime introduces austerity program in attempt to
compensate for withdrawal of Soviet economic support; China
incapable of delivering sufficient aid; Albania becomes
China's spokesman at UN.
Hoxha hails Khrushchev's removal as leader of the Soviet
Union; diplomatic relations fail to improve.
Hoxha initiates Cultural and Ideological Revolution.
Albanian Party of Labor "open letter" to the people
establishes egalitarian wage and job structure for all
Hoxha regime conducts violent campaign to extinguish
religious life in Albania; by year's end over two thousand
religious buildings were closed or converted to other uses.
Albania condemns Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia,
subsequently Albania withdraws from Warsaw Pact.
Hoxha begins criticizing new Chinese regime after Mao's
A new constitution promulgated superceeding the 1950
version; Albania becomes a people's socialist republic.
Top military officials purged after "Chinese conspiracy" is
China terminates all economic and military aid to Albania.
Hoxha selects Ramiz Alia as the next party head, bypassing
Shehu, after rebuke by Politburo, dies, possibly murdered on
Alia becomes chairman of Presidium of the People's Assembly.
Hoxha begins semiretirement; Alia starts administering
Alia featured as party's and country's undisputed leader at
Ninth Party Congress.
Greece ends state of war that existed since World War II.
Albania and Greece sign a series of long-term agreements.
Alia, addressing the Eighth Plenum of the Central Committee,
signals that radical changes to the economic system are
Ninth Plenum of the Central Committee; demonstrations at
Shkodėr force authorities to declare state of emergency.
Alia declares willingness to establish diplomatic relations
with the Soviet Union and the United States.
The Secretary General of the UN visits Albania.
Regime announces desire to join the Conference on Security
and Cooperation in Europe. People's Assembly passes laws
liberalizing criminal code, reforming court system, lifting
some restrictions on freedom of worship, and guaranteeing
the right to travel abroad.
Unemployment throughout the economy increases as a result of
government's reform measures; drought reduces electric-
power production, forcing plant shutdowns.
Young people demonstrate against regime in Tiranė, and 5,000
citizens seek refuge in foreign embassies; Central Committee
plenum makes significant changes in leadership of party and
state. Soviet Union and Albania sign protocol normalizing
Government abandons its monopoly on foreign commerce and
begins to open Albania to foreign trade.
Alia addresses the UN General Assembly in New York.
Tiranė hosts the Balkan Foreign Ministers' Conference, the
first international political meeting in Albania since the
end of World War II. Ismail Kadare, Albania's most prominent
writer, defects to France.
University students demonstrate in streets and call for
dictatorship to end; Alia meets with students; Thirteenth
Plenum of the Central Committee of the APL authorizes a
multiparty system; Albanian Democratic Party, first
opposition party established; regime authorizes political
pluralism; draft constitution is published; by year's end,
5,000 Albanian refugees had crossed the mountains into
First opposition newspaper Rilindja Demokratike begins
publishing. Thousands of Albanians seek refuge in Greece.
Albania and the United States reestablish diplomatic
relations after a thirty-five year break. Thousands more
Albanians attempt to gain asylum in Italy.
First multiparty elections held since the 1920s; 98.9
percent of voters participated; Albanian Party of Labor wins
over 67 percent of vote for People's Assembly seats;
Albanian Democratic Party wins about 30 percent.
Communist-dominated People's Assembly reelects Alia to new
presidential term. Ministry of Internal Affairs replaced by
Ministry of Public Order; Frontier Guards and Directorate of
Prison Administration are placed under the Ministry of
Defense and the Ministry of Justice, respectively. People's
Assembly passes Law on Major Constitutional Provisions
providing for fundamental human rights and separation of
powers and invalidates 1976 constitution. People's Assembly
appoints commission to draft new constitution.
Prime Minister Nano and rest of cabinet resign after trade
unions call for general strike to protest worsening economic
conditions and killing of opposition demonstrators in
Shkodėr. Coalition government led by Prime Minister Ylli
Buti takes office; Tenth Party Congress of the Albanian
Party of Labor meets and renames party the Socialist Party
of Albania (SPA); Albania accepted as a full member of CSCE;
United States secretary of state, James A. Baker, visits
Sigurimi, notorious secret police, is abolished and replaced
by National Information Service.
Up to 18,000 Albanians cross the Adriatic Sea to seek asylum
in Italy; most are returned. People's Assembly passes law on
economic activity that authorizes private ownership of
property, privatizing of state property, investment by
foreigners, and private employment of workers.
United States Embassy opens in Tiranė. Albania joins
International Monetary Fund.
Coalition government dissolves when opposition parties
accuse communists of blocking reform and Albanian Democratic
Party withdraws its ministers from the cabinet. Prime
Minister Bufi resigns and Alia names Vilson Ahmeti as prime
minister. Alia sets March 1992 for new elections.
Albanian People's Assembly prevents OMONIA, the party
representing Greek Albanians, from fielding candidates in
the elections planned for March.
Albanian Democratic Party scores decisive election victory
over the Socialist Party of Albania in the midst of economic
freefall and social chaos.
Sali Berisha, a leader of the Albanian Democratic Party,
becomes the first democratically elected president.
Albania signs Black Sea economic cooperation part with ten
other countries, including six former Soviet republics.
Socialist Party of Albania gains significantly in local
Former President Alia and eighteen other former communist
officials, including Nexhmije Hoxha, arrested and charged
with corruption and other offenses.
Albania joins the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Albania recognizes the former Yugoslav Republic of
President Berisha and President Momir Bulatovic of
Montenegro meet in Tiranė to discuss ways of improving
Greece recalls its ambassador for consultations after series
of border incidents and alleged human rights abuses in
Albania - History
"THE ALBANIAN PEOPLE have hacked their way through history,
sword in hand," proclaims the preamble to Albania's 1976 Stalinist
constitution. These words were penned by the most dominant figure in
Albania's modern history, the Orwellian postwar despot, Enver Hoxha. The
fact that Hoxha enshrined them in Albania's supreme law is indicative of
how he--like his mentor, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin--exploited
his people's collective memory to enhance the might of the communist
system, which he manipulated for over four decades. Supported by a group
of sycophantic intellectuals, Hoxha repeateded transformed friends into
hated foes in his determination to shape events. Similarly, he rewrote
Albania's history so national heroes were recast, sometimes overnight,
as villains. Hoxha appealed to the Albanians' xenophobia and their
defensive nationalism to parry criticism and threats to communist
central control and his regime and justify its brutal, arbitrary rule
and economic and social folly. Only Hoxha's death, the timely downfall
of communism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, and the collapse
of the nation's economy were enough to break his spell and propel
Albania fitfully toward change.
The Albanians are probably an ethnic outcropping of the Illyrians, an
ancient Balkan people who intermingled and made war with the Greeks,
Thracians, and Macedonians before succumbing to Roman rule around the
time of Christ. Eastern and Western powers, secular and religious,
battled for centuries after the fall of Rome to control the lands that
constitute modern-day Albania. All the Illyrian tribes except the
Albanians disappeared during the Dark 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
their Indo-European language intact.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Ottoman Turks swept
into the western Balkans. After a quixotic defense mounted by the
Albanians' greatest hero, Skanderbeg, the Albanians succumbed to the
Turkish sultan's forces. During five centuries of Ottoman rule, about
two-thirds of the Albanian population, including its most powerful
feudal landowners, converted to Islam. 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. Soon pressures created by emerging national
movements among the empire's farrago of peoples threatened to shatter
the empire itself. The Ottoman rulers of the nineteenth century
struggled in vain to shore up central authority, introducing reforms
aimed at harnessing unruly pashas and checking the spread of nationalist
Albanian nationalism stirred for the first time in the late
nineteenth century when it appeared that Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria,
and Greece would snatch up the Ottoman Empire's Albanian-populated
lands. In 1878 Albanian leaders organized the Prizren League, which
pressed for autonomy within the empire. After decades of unrest and the
Ottoman Empire's defeat in the First Balkan War in 1912-13, Albanian
leaders declared Albania an independent state, and Europe's Great Powers
carved out an independent Albania after the Second Balkan War of 1913.
With the complete collapse of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian
empires after World War I, the Albanians looked to Italy for protection
against predators. After 1925, however, Mussolini sought to dominate
Albania. In 1928 Albania became a kingdom under Zog I, the conservative
Muslim clan chief and former prime minister, but Zog failed to stave off
Italian ascendancy in Albanian internal affairs. In 1939 Mussolini's
troops occupied Albania, overthrew Zog, and annexed the country.
Albanian communists and nationalists fought each other as well as the
occupying Italian and German forces during World War II, and with
Yugoslav and Allied assistance the communists triumphed.
After the war, communist strongmen Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu
eliminated their rivals inside the communist party and liquidated
anticommunist opposition. Concentrating primarily on maintaining their
grip on power, they reorganized the country's economy along strict
Stalinist lines, turning first to Yugoslavia, then to the Soviet Union,
and later to China for support. In pursuit of their goals, the
communists repressed the Albanian people, subjecting them to isolation,
propaganda, and brutal police measures. When China opened up to the West
in the 1970s, Albania's rulers turned away from Beijing and implemented
a policy of strict autarky, or self-sufficiency, that brought their
nation economic ruin.
Albania - THE ANCIENT ILLYRIANS
THE ANCIENT ILLYRIANS
Source: Based on information from R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N.
Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, New York, 1970,
95; Herman Kinder and Werner Hilgemann, The Anchor Atlas of World
History, 1, New York, 1974, 90, 94; and Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 15, New York, 1975, 1092.
Mystery enshrouds the exact origins of today's Albanians. Most
historians of the Balkans believe the Albanian people are in large part
descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who, like other Balkan peoples,
were subdivided into tribes and clans. The name Albania is derived from
the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Arber, or Arbereshė, and later
Albanoi, that lived near Durrės. 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.
The Illyrians carried on commerce and warfare with their neighbors.
The ancient Macedonians probably had some Illyrian roots, but their
ruling class adopted Greek cultural characteristics. 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 Durrės evolved from a Greek
colony known as Epidamnos, which was founded at the end of the seventh
century B.C. Another famous Greek colony, Apollonia, arose between Durrės
and the port city of Vlorė.
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
The Illyrian kingdom of Bardhyllus became a formidable local power in
the fourth century B.C. In 358 B.C., however, Macedonia's Philip 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 Durrės. By the end of the third
century, an Illyrian kingdom based near what is now the Albanian city of
Shkodėr 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
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 Shkodėr,
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 Durrės (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 Durrės through the
Shkumbin River valley to Macedonia and Byzantium (later Constantinople
--see Glossary). 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
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 Diocletian
(284-305), who saved the empire from disintegration by introducing
institutional reforms, and Constantine the Great (324-37)--who accepted
Christianity and transferred the empire's capital from Rome to
Byzantium, which he called Constantinople. Emperor Justinian
(527-65)--who codified Roman law, built the most famous Byzantine
church, the Hagia Sofia, and reextended the empire's control over lost
territories- -was probably also an Illyrian.
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 Durrės. 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
Albania - THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS AND THE MIDDLE AGES
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS AND THE MIDDLE AGES
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
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
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 Durrės. 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 principality, the Despotate of Epirus, with Janina (now
Ioannina in northwest Greece) as its capital. In 1272 the king of
Naples, Charles I of Anjou, occupied Durrės and formed an Albanian
kingdom that would last for a century. Internal power struggles further
weakened the Byzantine Empire in the fourteenth century, enabling the
Serbs' most powerful medieval ruler, Stefan Dusan, to establish a
short-lived empire that included all of Albania except Durrės.
Albania - THE ALBANIAN LANDS UNDER OTTOMAN DOMINATION, 1385-1876
THE ALBANIAN LANDS UNDER OTTOMAN DOMINATION, 1385-1876
The expanding Ottoman Empire overpowered the Balkan Peninsula in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. At first, the feuding Albanian clans
proved no match for the armies of the sultan
(see Glossary). In the fifteenth century, however, Skanderbeg united the
Albanian tribes in a defensive alliance that held up the Ottoman advance
for more than two decades. His family's banner, bearing a black
two-headed eagle on a red field, became the flag under which the
Albanian national movement rallied centuries later.
Five centuries of Ottoman rule left the Albanian people fractured
along religious, regional, and tribal lines. The first Albanians to
convert to Islam were young boys forcibly conscripted into the sultan's
military and administration. In the early seventeenth century, however,
Albanians converted to Islam in great numbers. Within a century, the
Albanian Islamic community was split between Sunni
(see Glossary) Muslims and adherents to the Bektashi
(see Glossary) sect. The Albanian people also became divided into two
distinct tribal and dialectal groupings, the Gegs and Tosks. In the
rugged northern mountains, Geg shepherds lived in a tribal society often
completely independent of Ottoman rule. In the south, peasant Muslim and
Orthodox Tosks worked the land for Muslim beys, provincial rulers who
frequently revolted against the sultan's authority. In the nineteenth
century, the Ottoman sultans tried in vain to shore up their collapsing
empire by introducing a series of reforms aimed at reining in
recalcitrant local officials and dousing the fires of nationalism among
its myriad peoples. The power of nationalism, however, proved too strong
Albania - The Ottoman Conquest of Albania
The Ottoman Conquest of Albania
The Ottoman Turks expanded their empire from Anatolia to the Balkans
in the fourteenth century. They crossed the Bosporus in 1352, and in
1389 they crushed a Serb-led army that included Albanian forces at
Kosovo Polje, located in the southern part of present-day Yugoslavia.
Europe gained a brief respite from Ottoman pressure in 1402 when the
Mongol leader, Tamerlane, attacked Anatolia from the east, killed the
Turks' absolute ruler, the sultan, and sparked a civil war. When order
was restored, the Ottomans renewed their westward progress. In 1453
Sultan Mehmed II's forces overran Constantinople and killed the last
The division of the Albanian-populated lands into small, quarreling
fiefdoms ruled by independent feudal lords and tribal chiefs made them
easy prey for the Ottoman armies. In 1385 the Albanian ruler of Durrės,
Karl Thopia, appealed to the sultan for support against his rivals, the
Balsha family. An Ottoman force quickly marched into Albania along the
Via Egnatia and routed the Balshas. The principal Albanian clans soon
swore fealty to the Turks. Sultan Murad II launched the major Ottoman
onslaught in the Balkans in 1423, and the Turks took Janina in 1431 and
Arta on the Ionian coast, in 1449. The Turks allowed conquered Albanian
clan chiefs to maintain their positions and property, but they had to
pay tribute, send their sons to the Turkish court as hostages, and
provide the Ottoman army with auxiliary troops.
The Albanians' resistance to the Turks in the mid-fifteenth century
won them acclaim all over Europe. Gjon Kastrioti of Krujė was one of
the Albanian clan leaders who submitted to Turkish suzerainty. He was
compelled to send his four sons to the Ottoman capital to be trained for
military service. The youngest, Gjergj Kastrioti (1403-68), who would
become the Albanians' greatest national hero, captured the sultan's
attention. Renamed Iskander when he converted to Islam, the young man
participated in military expeditions to Asia Minor and Europe. When
appointed to administer a Balkan district, Iskander became known as
Skanderbeg. After Ottoman forces under Skanderbeg's command suffered
defeat in a battle near Nis, in present-day Serbia, in 1443, the
Albanian rushed to Krujė and tricked a Turkish pasha into surrendering
him the Kastrioti family fortress. Skanderbeg then reembraced Roman
Catholicism and declared a holy war against the Turks.
On March 1, 1444, Albanian chieftains gathered in the cathedral of
Lezhė with the prince of Montenegro and delegates from Venice and
proclaimed Skanderbeg commander of the Albanian resistance. All of
Albania, including most of Epirus, accepted his leadership against the
Ottoman Turks, but local leaders kept control of their own districts.
Under a red flag bearing Skanderbeg's heraldic emblem, an Albanian force
of about 30,000 men held off brutal Ottoman campaigns against their
lands for twenty-four years. Twice the Albanians overcame sieges of Krujė.
In 1449 the Albanians routed Sultan Murad II himself. Later, they
repulsed attacks led by Sultan Mehmed II. In 1461 Skanderbeg went to the
aid of his suzerain, King Alfonso I of <"http://worldfacts.us/Italy-Naples.htm">Naples, against the kings of
Sicily. The government under Skanderbeg was unstable, however, and at
times local Albanian rulers cooperated with the Ottoman Turks against
him. When Skanderbeg died at Lezhė, the sultan reportedly cried out,
"Asia and Europe are mine at last. Woe to Christendom! She has lost
her sword and shield."
With support from Naples and the Vatican, resistance to the Ottoman
Empire continued mostly in Albania's highlands, where the chieftains
even opposed the construction of roads out of fear that they would bring
Ottoman soldiers and tax collectors. The Albanians' fractured
leadership, however, failed to halt the Ottoman onslaught. Krujė fell
to the Ottoman Turks in 1478; Shkodėr succumbed in 1479 after a
fifteen-month siege; and the Venetians evacuated Durrės in 1501. The
defeats triggered a great Albanian exodus to southern Italy, especially
to the kingdom of Naples, as well as to Sicily, Greece, Romania, and
Egypt. Most of the Albanian refugees belonged to the Orthodox Church.
Some of the émigrés to Italy converted to Roman Catholicism, and the
rest established a Uniate
Church (see Glossary). The Albanians of Italy significantly
influenced the Albanian national movement in future centuries, and
Albanian Franciscan priests, most of whom were descended from émigrés
to Italy, played a significant role in the preservation of Catholicism
in Albania's northern regions.
Albania - Albanians under Ottoman Rule
Albanians under Ottoman Rule
The Ottoman sultan considered himself God's agent on earth, the
leader of a religious--not a national--state whose purpose was to defend
and propagate Islam. Non-Muslims paid extra taxes and held an inferior
status, but they could retain their old religion and a large measure of
local autonomy. By converting to Islam, individuals among the conquered
could elevate themselves to the privileged stratum of society. In the
early years of the empire, all Ottoman high officials were the sultan's
bondsmen the children of Christian subjects chosen in childhood for
their promise, converted to Islam, and educated to serve. Some were
selected from prisoners of war, others sent as gifts, and still others
obtained through devshirme, the tribute of children levied in the
Ottoman Empire's Balkan lands. Many of the best fighters in the sultan's
elite guard, the janissaries
(see Glossary), were conscripted as young boys from Christian Albanian
families, and high-ranking Ottoman officials often had Albanian
In the early seventeenth century, many Albanian converts to Islam
migrated elsewhere within the Ottoman Empire and found careers in the
Ottoman military and government. Some attained powerful positions in the
Ottoman administration. About thirty Albanians rose to the position of
grand vizier, chief deputy to the sultan himself. In the second half of
the seventeenth century, the Albanian Köprülü family provided four
grand viziers, who fought against corruption, temporarily shored up
eroding central government control over rapacious local beys, and won
several military victories.
The Ottoman Turks divided the Albanian-inhabited lands among a number
of districts, or vilayets. The Ottoman authorities did not initially
stress conversion to Islam. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
however, economic pressures and coercion produced the conversion of
about two-thirds of the empire's Albanians.
The Ottoman Turks first focused their conversion campaigns on the
Roman Catholic Albanians of the north and then on the Orthodox
population of the south. For example, the authorities increased taxes,
especially poll taxes, to make conversion economically attractive.
During and after a Christian counteroffensive against the Ottoman Empire
from 1687 to 1690, when Albanian Catholics revolted against their Muslim
overlords, the Ottoman pasha of Pec, a town in the south of present-day
Yugoslavia, retaliated by forcing entire Albanian villages to accept
Islam. Albanian beys then moved from the northern mountains to the
fertile lands of Kosovo, which had been abandoned by thousands of
Orthodox Serbs fearing reprisals for their collaboration with the
Most of the conversion's to Islam took place in the lowlands of the
Shkumbin River valley, where the Ottoman Turks could easily apply
pressure because of the area's accessibility. Many Albanians, however,
converted in name only and secretly continued to practice Christianity.
Often one branch of a family became Muslim while another remained
Christian, and many times these families celebrated their respective
religious holidays together
As early as the eighteenth century, a mystic Islamic sect, the
Bektashi dervishes, spread into the empire's Albanian-populated lands.
Probably founded in the late thirteenth century in Anatolia, Bektashism
became the janissaries' official faith in the late sixteenth century.
The Bektashi sect contains features of the Turks' pre-Islamic religion
and emphasizes man as an individual. Women, unveiled, participate in
Bektashi ceremonies on an equal basis, and the celebrants use wine
despite the ban on alcohol in the Quran. The Bektashis became the
largest religious group in southern Albania after the sultan disbanded
the janissaries in 1826. Bektashi leaders played key roles in the
Albanian nationalist movement of the late nineteenth century and were to
a great degree responsible for the Albanians' traditional tolerance of
During the centuries of Ottoman rule, the Albanian lands remained one
of Europe's most backward areas. In the mountains north of the Shkumbin
River, Geg herders maintained their self-governing society comprised of
clans. An association of clans was called a bajrak,
(see Glossary). Taxes on the northern tribes were difficult if not
impossible for the Ottomans to collect because of the rough terrain and
fierceness of the Albanian highlanders. Some mountain tribes succeeded
in defending their independence through the centuries of Ottoman rule,
engaging in intermittent guerrilla warfare with the Ottoman Turks, who
never deemed it worthwhile to subjugate them. Until recent times, Geg
clan chiefs, or bajraktars, exercised patriarchal powers, arranged
marriages, mediated quarrels, and meted out punishments. The tribesmen
of the northern Albanian mountains recognized no law but the Code of
Lek, a collection of tribal laws transcribed in the fourteenth century
by a Roman Catholic priest. The code regulates a variety of subjects,
including blood vengeance. Even today, many Albanian highlanders regard
the canon as the supreme law of the land.
South of the Shkumbin River, the mostly peasant Tosks lived in
compact villages under elected rulers. Some Tosks living in settlements
high in the mountains maintained their independence and often escaped
payment of taxes. The Tosks of the lowlands, however, were easy for the
Ottoman authorities to control. The Albanian tribal system disappeared
there, and the Ottomans imposed a system of military fiefs under which
the sultan granted soldiers and cavalrymen temporary landholdings, or
timars, in exchange for military service. By the eighteenth century,
many military fiefs had effectively become the hereditary landholdings
of economically and politically powerful families who squeezed wealth
from their hard-strapped Christian and Muslim tenant farmers. The beys,
like the clan chiefs of the northern mountains, became virtually
independent rulers in their own provinces, had their own military
contingents, and often waged war against each other to increase their
landholdings and power. The Sublime
Porte (see Glossary) attempted to press a divide-and-rule policy to
keep the local beys from uniting and posing a threat to Ottoman rule
itself, but with little success.
Albania - Local Albanian Leaders in the Early Nineteenth Century
Local Albanian Leaders in the Early Nineteenth Century
The weakening of Ottoman central authority and the timar system
brought anarchy to the Albanian-populated lands. In the late eighteenth
century, two Albanian centers of power emerged: Shkodėr, under the
Bushati family; and Janina, under Ali Pasha of Tepelenė. When it suited
their goals, both places cooperated with the Sublime Porte, and when it
was expedient to defy the central government, each acted independently.
The Bushati family dominated the Shkodėr region through a network of
alliances with various highland tribes. Kara Mahmud Bushati attempted to
establish an autonomous principality and expand the lands under his
control by playing off Austria and Russia against the Sublime Porte. In
1785 Kara Mahmud's forces attacked Montenegrin territory, and Austria
offered to recognize him as the ruler of all Albania if he would ally
himself with Vienna against the Sublime Porte. Seizing an opportunity,
Kara Mahmud sent the sultan the heads of an Austrian delegation in 1788,
and the Ottomans appointed him governor of Shkodėr. When he attempted
to wrest land from Montenegro in 1796, however, he was defeated and
beheaded. Kara Mahmud's brother, Ibrahim, cooperated with the Sublime
Porte until his death in 1810, but his successor, Mustafa Pasha Bushati,
proved to be recalcitrant despite participation in Ottoman military
campaigns against Greek revolutionaries and rebel pashas. He cooperated
with the mountain tribes and brought a large area under his control.
Ali Pasha (1741-1822), the Lion of Janina, was born to a powerful
clan from Tepelenė and spent much of his youth as a bandit. He rose to
become governor of the Ottoman province of Rumelia, which included
Albania, Macedonia, and Thrace, before establishing himself in Janina.
Like Kara Mahmud Bushati, Ali Pasha wanted to create an autonomous state
under his rule. When Ali Pasha forged links with the Greek
revolutionaries, Sultan Mahmud II decided to destroy him. The sultan
first discharged the Albanian from his official posts and recalled him
to Constantinople. Ali Pasha refused and put up a formidable resistance
that Britain's Lord Byron immortalized in poems and letters. In January
1822, however, Ottoman agents assassinated Ali Pasha and sent his head
to Constantinople. Nevertheless, it took eight more years before the
Sublime Porte would move against Mustafa Pasha Bushati. The sultan sent
an Ottoman general to Bitola (then called Monastir, in Macedonia), where
he invited 1,000 Muslim Albanian leaders to meet him, and in August 1830
Reshid Pasha had about 500 of the Albanian leaders killed. He then
turned on Mustafa Pasha, who surrendered and spent the rest of his life
as an official in Constantinople.
After crushing the Bushatis and Ali Pasha, the Sublime Porte
introduced a series of reforms, known as the tanzimat, which were aimed
at strengthening the empire by reining in fractious pashas. The
government organized a recruitment program for the military and opened
Turkish-language schools to propagate Islam and instill loyalty to the
empire. The timars officially became large individual landholdings,
especially in the lowlands. In 1835 the Sublime Porte divided the
Albanian-populated lands into the vilayets of Janina and Rumelia and
dispatched officials from Constantinople to administer them. After 1865
the central authorities redivided the Albanian lands between the
vilayets of Shkodėr, Janina, Bitola, and Kosovo. The reforms angered
the highland Albanian chieftains, who found their privileges reduced
with no apparent compensation, and the authorities eventually abandoned
efforts to control them. Ottoman troops crushed local rebellions in the
lowlands, however, and conditions there remained bleak. Large numbers of
Tosks emigrated to join sizable Albanian émigré communities in
Romania, Egypt, Bulgaria, Constantinople, southern Italy, and later the
United States. As a result of contacts maintained between the Tosks and
their relatives living or returning from abroad, foreign ideas began to
seep into Albania.
Albania - NATIONAL AWAKENING AND THE BIRTH OF ALBANIA, 1876-1918
NATIONAL AWAKENING AND THE BIRTH OF ALBANIA, 1876-1918
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 Prizren
League 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, and the European Great Powers
endorsed an independent Albania in 1913, after the Second Balkan War.
The young state, however, collapsed within weeks of the outbreak of
World War I.
Albania - The Rise of Albanian Nationalism
The Rise of Albanian Nationalism
The 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War dealt a decisive blow to Ottoman power
in the Balkan Peninsula, leaving the empire with only a precarious hold
on Macedonia and the Albanian-populated lands. The Albanians' fear that
the lands they inhabited would be partitioned among Montenegro, Serbia,
Bulgaria, and Greece fueled the rise of Albanian nationalism. The first
postwar treaty, the abortive Treaty
of San Stefano (see Glossary) signed on March 3, 1878, assigned
Albanian-populated lands to Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria.
Austria-Hungary and Britain blocked the arrangement because it awarded
Russia a predominant position in the Balkans and thereby upset the
European balance of power. A peace conference to settle the dispute was
held later in the year in Berlin.
The Treaty of San Stefano triggered profound anxiety among the
Albanians meanwhile, and it spurred their leaders to organize a defense
of the lands they inhabited. In the spring of 1878, influential
Albanians in Constantinople--including Abdyl Frasheri, the Albanian
national movement's leading figure during its early years--organized a
secret committee to direct the Albanians' resistance. In May the group
called for a general meeting of representatives from all the
Albanian-populated lands. On June 10, 1878, about eighty delegates,
mostly Muslim religious leaders, clan chiefs, and other influential
people from the four Albanian-populated Ottoman vilayets, met in the
Kosovo town of Prizren. The delegates set up a standing organization,
the Prizren League, under the direction of a central committee that had
the power to impose taxes and raise an army. The Prizren League worked
to gain autonomy for the Albanians and to thwart implementation of the
Treaty of San Stefano, but not to create an independent Albania.
At first the Ottoman authorities supported the Prizren League, but
the Sublime Porte pressed the delegates to declare themselves to be
first and foremost Ottomans rather than Albanians. Some delegates
supported this position and advocated emphasizing Muslim solidarity and
the defense of Muslim lands, including present-day Bosnia and
Hercegovina. Other representatives, under Frasheri's leadership, focused
on working toward Albanian autonomy and creating a sense of Albanian
identity that would cut across religious and tribal lines. Because
conservative Muslims constituted a majority of the representatives, the
Prizren League supported maintenance of Ottoman suzerainty.
In July 1878, the league sent a memorandum to the Great Powers at the
Congress of Berlin, which was called to settle the unresolved problems
of Turkish War, demanding that all Albanians be united in a single
Ottoman province that would be governed from Bitola by a Turkish
governor who would be advised by an Albanian committee elected by
The Congress of Berlin ignored the league's memorandum, and Germany's
Otto von Bismarck even proclaimed that an Albanian nation did not exist.
The congress ceded to Montenegro the cities of Bar and Podgorica and
areas around the mountain villages of Gusinje and Plav, which Albanian
leaders considered Albanian territory. Serbia also won
Albanian-inhabited lands. The Albanians, the vast majority loyal to the
empire, vehemently opposed the territorial losses. Albanians also feared
the possible loss of Epirus to Greece. The Prizren League organized
armed resistance efforts in Gusinje, Plav, Shkodėr, Prizren, Prevesa,
and Janina. A border tribesman at the time described the frontier as
"floating on blood."
In August 1878, the Congress of Berlin ordered a commission to trace
a border between the Ottoman Empire and Montenegro. The congress also
directed Greece and the Ottoman Empire to negotiate a solution to their
border dispute. The Great Powers expected the Ottomans to ensure that
the Albanians would respect the new borders, ignoring that the sultan's
military forces were too weak to enforce any settlement and that the
Ottomans could only benefit by the Albanians' resistance. The Sublime
Porte, in fact, armed the Albanians and allowed them to levy taxes, and
when the Ottoman army withdrew from areas awarded to Montenegro under
the Treaty of Berlin, Roman Catholic Albanian tribesmen simply took
control. The Albanians' successful resistance to the treaty forced the
Great Powers to alter the border, returning Gusinje and Plav to the
Ottoman Empire and granting Montenegro the mostly Muslim
Albanian-populated coastal town of Ulcinj. But the Albanians there
refused to surrender as well. Finally, the Great Powers blockaded Ulcinj
by sea and pressured the Ottoman authorities to bring the Albanians
under control. The Great Powers decided in 1881 to cede Greece only
Thessaly and the small Albanian-populated district of Arta.
Faced with growing international pressure "to pacify" the
refractory Albanians, the sultan dispatched a large army under Dervish
Turgut Pasha to suppress the Prizren League and deliver Ulcinj to
Montenegro. Albanians loyal to the empire supported the Sublime Porte's
military intervention. In April 1881, Dervish Pasha's 10,000 men
captured Prizren and later crushed the resistance at Ulcinj. The Prizren
League's leaders and their families were arrested and deported.
Frasheri, who originally received a death sentence, was imprisoned until
1885 and exiled until his death seven years later. In the three years it
survived, the Prizren League effectively made the Great Powers aware of
the Albanian people and their national interests. Montenegro and Greece
received much less Albanian-populated territory than they would have won
without the league's resistance.
Formidable barriers frustrated Albanian leaders' efforts to instill
in their people an Albanian rather than an Ottoman identity. Divided
into four vilayets, Albanians had no common geographical or political
nerve center. The Albanians' religious differences forced nationalist
leaders to give the national movement a purely secular character that
alienated religious leaders. The most significant factor uniting the
Albanians, their spoken language, lacked a standard literary form and
even a standard alphabet. Each of the three available choices, the
Latin, Cyrillic, and Arabic scripts, implied different political and
religious orientations opposed by one or another element of the
population. In 1878 there were no Albanian-language schools in the most
developed of the Albanian-inhabited areas-- Gjirokastėr, Berat, and
Vlorė--where schools conducted classes either in Turkish or in Greek
(see Education: Pre-Communist Era, ch. 2).
Albanian intellectuals in the late nineteenth century began devising
a single, standard Albanian literary language and making demands that it
be used in schools. In Constantinople in 1879, Sami Frasheri founded a
cultural and educational organization, the Society for the Printing of
Albanian Writings, whose membership comprised Muslim, Catholic, and
Orthodox Albanians. Naim Frasheri, the most-renowned Albanian poet,
joined the society and wrote and edited textbooks. Albanian émigrés in
Bulgaria, Egypt, Italy, Romania, and the United States supported the
society's work. The Greeks, who dominated the education of Orthodox
Albanians, joined the Turks in suppressing the Albanians' culture,
especially Albanian-language education. In 1886 the ecumenical patriarch
of Constantinople threatened to excommunicate anyone found reading or
writing Albanian, and priests taught that God would not understand
prayers uttered in Albanian.
The Ottoman Empire continued to crumble after the Congress of Berlin.
The empire's financial troubles prevented Sultan Abdül Hamid II from
reforming his military, and he resorted to repression to maintain order.
The authorities strove without success to control the political
situation in the empire's Albanian-populated lands, arresting suspected
nationalist activists. When the sultan refused Albanian demands for
unification of the four Albanian-populated vilayets, Albanian leaders
reorganized the Prizren League and incited uprisings that brought the
Albanian lands, especially Kosovo, to near anarchy. The imperial
authorities again disbanded the Prizren League in 1897, executed its
president in 1902, and banned Albanian- language books and
correspondence. In Macedonia, where Bulgarian-, Greek-, and
Serbian-backed terrorists were fighting Ottoman authorities and one
another for control, Muslim Albanians suffered attacks, and Albanian
guerrilla groups retaliated. In 1906 Albanian leaders meeting in Bitola
established the secret Committee for the Liberation of Albania. A year
later, Albanian guerrillas assassinated Korēė's Greek Orthodox
In 1906 opposition groups in the Ottoman Empire emerged, one of which
evolved into the Committee of Union and Progress, more commonly known as
the Young Turks, which proposed restoring constitutional government in
Constantinople, by revolution if necessary. In July 1908, a month after
a Young Turk rebellion in Macedonia supported by an Albanian uprising in
Kosovo and Macedonia escalated into widespread insurrection and mutiny
within the imperial army, Sultan Abdül Hamid II agreed to demands by
the Young Turks to restore constitutional rule. Many Albanians
participated in the Young Turks uprising, hoping that it would gain
their people autonomy within the empire. The Young Turks lifted the
Ottoman ban on Albanian-language schools and on writing the Albanian
language. As a consequence, Albanian intellectuals meeting in Bitola in
1908 chose the Latin alphabet as a standard script. The Young Turks,
however, were set on maintaining the empire and not interested in making
concessions to the myriad nationalist groups within its borders. After
securing the abdication of Abdül Hamid II in April 1909, the new
authorities levied taxes, outlawed guerrilla groups and nationalist
societies, and attempted to extend Constantinople's control over the
northern Albanian mountainmen. In addition, the Young Turks legalized
the bastinado, or beating with a stick, even for misdemeanors, banned
carrying rifles, and denied the existence of an Albanian nationality.
The new government also appealed for Islamic solidarity to break the
Albanians' unity and used the Muslim clergy to try to impose the Arabic
The Albanians refused to submit to the Young Turks' campaign to
"Ottomanize" them by force. New Albanian uprisings began in
Kosovo and the northern mountains in early April 1910. Ottoman forces
quashed these rebellions after three months, outlawed Albanian
organizations, disarmed entire regions, and closed down schools and
publications. Montenegro, preparing to grab Albanian-populated lands for
itself, supported a 1911 uprising by the mountain tribes against the
Young Turks regime that grew into a widespread revolt. Unable to control
the Albanians by force, the Ottoman government granted concessions on
schools, military recruitment, and taxation and sanctioned the use of
the Latin script for the Albanian language. The government refused,
however, to unite the four Albanian-inhabited vilayets.
Albania - The Balkan Wars and Creation of Independent Albania
The Balkan Wars and Creation of Independent Albania
The Albanians once more rose against the Ottoman Empire in May 1912
and took the Macedonian capitol, Skopje, by August. Stunned, the Young
Turks regime acceded to some of the rebels' demands. The First Balkan
War, however, erupted before a final settlement could be worked out.
Most Albanians remained neutral during the war, during which the Balkan
allies--the Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks--quickly drove the Turks to
the walls of Constantinople. The Montenegrins surrounded Shkodėr with
the help of northern Albanian tribes anxious to fight the Ottoman Turks.
Serb forces took much of northern Albania, and the Greeks captured
Janina and parts of southern Albania.
An assembly of eighty-three Muslim and Christian leaders meeting in
Vlorė in November 1912 declared Albania an independent country and set
up a provisional government, but an ambassadorial conference that opened
in London in December decided the major questions concerning the
Albanians after the First Balkan War in its concluding Treaty of London
of May 1913. One of Serbia's primary war aims was to gain an Adriatic
port, preferably Durrės. Austria-Hungary and Italy opposed giving
Serbia an outlet to the Adriatic, which they feared would become a
Russian port. They instead supported the creation of an autonomous
Albania. Russia backed Serbia's and Montenegro's claims to
Albanian-inhabited lands. Britain and Germany remained neutral. Chaired
by Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, the ambassadors'
conference initially decided to create an autonomous Albania under
continued Ottoman rule, but with the protection of the Great Powers.
This solution, as detailed in the Treaty of London, was abandoned in the
summer of 1913 when it became obvious that the Ottoman Empire would, in
the Second Balkan War, lose Macedonia and hence its overland connection
with the Albanian-inhabited lands.
In July 1913, the Great Powers opted to recognize an independent,
neutral Albanian state ruled by a constitutional monarchy and under the
protection of the Great Powers. The August 1913 Treaty of Bucharest
established that independent Albania was a country with borders that
gave the new state about 28,000 square kilometers of territory and a
population of 800,000. Montenegro, whose tribesmen had resorted to
terror, mass murder, and forced conversion in territories it coveted,
had to surrender Shkodėr. Serbia reluctantly succumbed to an ultimatum
from Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy to withdraw from northern
Albania. The treaty, however, left large areas with majority Albanian
populations, notably Kosovo and western Macedonia, outside the new state
and failed to solve the region's nationality problems.
Territorial disputes have divided the Albanians and Serbs since the
Middle Ages, but none more so than the clash over the Kosovo region.
Serbs consider Kosovo their Holy Land. They argue that their ancestors
settled in the region during the seventh century, that medieval Serbian
kings were crowned there, and that the Serbs' greatest medieval ruler,
Stefan Dusan, established the seat of his empire for a time near Prizren
in the mid-fourteenth century. More important, numerous Serbian Orthodox
shrines, including the patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church, are
located in Kosovo. The key event in the Serbs' national mythology, the
defeat of their forces by the Ottoman Turks, took place at Kosovo Polje
in 1389. For their part, the Albanians claim the land based on the
argument that they are the descendants of the ancient Illyrians, the
indigenous people of the region, and have been there since before the
first Serb ever set foot in the Balkans. Although the Albanians have not
left architectural remains similar to the Serbs' religious shrines, the
Albanians point to the fact that Prizren was the seat of their first
nationalist organization, the Prizren League, and call the region the
cradle of their national awakening. Finally, Albanians claim Kosovo
based on the fact that their kinsmen have constituted the vast majority
of Kosovo's population since at least the eighteenth century.
When the Great Powers recognized an independent Albania, they also
established the International Control Commission, which endeavored to
exert its expand its authority and elbow out the Vlorė provisional
government and the rival government of Esad Pasha Toptani, who enjoyed
the support of large landowners in central Albania and boasted a
formidable militia. The control commission drafted a constitution that
provided for a National Assembly of elected local representatives, the
heads of the Albanians' major religious groups, ten persons nominated by
the prince, and other noteworthy persons. The Great Powers chose Prince
Wilhelm of Wied, a thirty-five-year-old German army captain, to head the
new state. In March 1914, he moved into a Durrės building hastily
converted into a palace.
After independence local power struggles, foreign provocations,
miserable economic conditions, and modest attempts at social and
religious reform fueled Albanian uprisings aimed at the prince and the
control commission. Ottoman propaganda, which appealed to uneducated
peasants loyal to Islam and Islamic spiritual leaders, attacked the
Albanian regime as a puppet of the large landowners and Europe's
Christian powers. Greece, dissatisfied that the Great Powers did not
award it southern Albania, also encouraged uprisings against the
Albanian government, and armed Greek bands carried out atrocities
against Albanian villagers. Italy plotted with Esad Pasha to overthrow
the new prince. Montenegro and Serbia plotted with the northern
tribesmen. For their part, the Great Powers gave Prince Wilhelm, who was
unversed in Albanian affairs, intrigue, or diplomacy, little moral or
material backing. A general insurrection in the summer of 1914 stripped
the prince of control except in Durrės and Vlorė.
Albania - World War I and Its Effects on Albania
World War I and Its Effects on Albania
Political chaos engulfed Albania after the outbreak of World War I.
Surrounded in by insurgents Durrės, Prince Wilhelm departed the country
in September 1914, just six months after arriving, and subsequently
joined the German army and served on the Eastern Front. The Albanian
people split along religious and tribal lines after the prince's
departure. Muslims demanded a Muslim prince and looked to Turkey as the
protector of the privileges they had enjoyed. Other Albanians became
little more than agents of Italy and Serbia. Still others, including
many beys and clan chiefs, recognized no superior authority. In late
1914, Greece occupied southern Albania, including Korēė and Gjirokastėr.
Italy occupied Vlorė, and Serbia and Montenegro occupied parts of
northern Albania until a Central Powers offensive scattered the Serbian
army, which was evacuated by the French to Thessaloniki.
Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces then occupied about two-thirds of
Under the secret Treaty of London signed in April 1915, the Triple
Entente powers promised Italy that it would gain Vlorė and nearby lands
and a protectorate over Albania in exchange for entering the war against
Austria-Hungary. Serbia and Montenegro were promised much of northern
Albania, and Greece was promised much of the country's southern half.
The treaty left a tiny Albanian state that would be represented by Italy
in its relations with the other major powers. In September 1918, Entente
forces broke through the Central Powers' lines north of Thessaloniki,
and within days Austro-Hungarian forces began to withdraw from Albania.
When the war ended on November 11, 1918, Italy's army had occupied most
of Albania; Serbia held much of the country's northern mountains; Greece
occupied a sliver of land within Albania's 1913 borders; and French
forces occupied Korēė and Shkodėr as well as other with sizable
Albanian populations, regions such as Kosovo, which were later handed
over to Serbia.
Albania - INTERWAR ALBANIA, 1918-41
INTERWAR ALBANIA, 1918-41
Albania achieved real statehood after World War I, in part because of
the diplomatic intercession of the United States. The country suffered
from 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 (Yugoslavia), which were both bent on
controlling the country. With the kingdom's 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 Mussolini's Italy for
patronage. In 1928 Zogu coaxed the country's parliament to declare
Albania a kingdom and name him king. King Zog remained a hidebound
conservative, and Albania was the only Balkan state where the government
did not see fit to introduce a comprehensive land reform between the two
world wars. Mussolini's forces finally overthrew Zog when they occupied
Albania in 1939.
Albania - Albania's Reemergence after World War I
Albania's Reemergence after World War I
Albania's political confusion continued in the wake of World War I.
The country lacked a single recognized government, and Albanians feared,
with justification, that Greece, Yugoslavia, and Italy would succeed in
extinguishing Albania's independence and carve up the country. Italian
forces controlled Albanian political activity in the areas they
occupied. The Serbs, who largely dictated Yugoslavia's foreign policy
after World War I, strove to take over northern Albania, and the Greeks
sought to control southern Albania. A delegation sent by a postwar
Albanian National Assembly that met at Durrės in December 1918 defended
Albanian interests at the Paris Peace Conference, but the conference
denied Albania official representation. The National Assembly, anxious
to keep Albania intact, expressed willingness to accept Italian
protection and even an Italian prince as a ruler so long as it would
mean Albania did not lose territory.
In January 1919, the Serbs attacked the Albanian inhabitants of
Gusinje and Plav with regular troops and artillery after the Albanians
had appealed to Britain for protection. The Serb forces massacred some
of the Albanians and forced about 35,000 people to flee to the Shkodėr
area. In Kosovo the Serbs subjected the Albanians to brutalities,
stripped them of territory under the guise of land reform, and rewarded
Serb colonists with homesteads. In response, Albanians continued
guerrilla warfare in both Serbia and Montenegro.
In January 1920, at the Paris Peace Conference negotiators from
France, Britain, and Greece agreed to divide Albania among Yugoslavia,
Italy, and Greece as a diplomatic expedient aimed at finding a
compromise solution to the territorial conflict between Italy and
Yugoslavia. The deal was done behind the Albanians' backs and in the
absence of a United States negotiator.
Members of a second Albanian National Assembly held at Lushnjė in
January 1920 rejected the partition plan and warned that Albanians would
take up arms to defend their country's independence and territorial
integrity. The Lushnjė National Assembly appointed a four-man regency
to rule the country. A bicameral parliament was also created, appointing
members of its own ranks to an upper chamber, the Senate. An elected
lower chamber, the Chamber of Deputies, had one deputy for every 12,000
people in Albania and one for the Albanian community in the United
States. In February 1920, the government moved to Tiranė, which became
One month later, in March 1920, President Woodrow Wilson intervened
to block the Paris agreement. The United States underscored its support
for Albania's independence by recognizing an official Albanian
representative to Washington, and in December the League of Nations
recognized Albania's sovereignty by admitting it as a full member. The
country's borders, however, remained unsettled.
Albania's new government campaigned to end Italy's occupation of the
country and encouraged peasants to harass Italian forces. In September
1920, after a siege of Italian-occupied Vlorė by Albanian forces, Rome
abandoned its claims on Albania under the 1915 Treaty of London and
withdrew its forces from all of Albania except Sazan Island at the mouth
of Vlorė Bay. Yugoslavia pursued a predatory policy toward Albania, and
after Albanian tribesmen clashed with Serb forces occupying the northern
part of the country, Yugoslav troops took to burning villages and
killing and expelling civilians. Belgrade then recruited a disgruntled
Geg clan chief, Gjon Markagjoni, who led his Roman Catholic Mirditė
tribesmen in a rebellion against the regency and parliament. Markagjoni
proclaimed the founding of an independent "Mirditė Republic"
based in Prizren, which had fallen into Serbian hands during the First
Balkan War. Finally, in November 1921, Yugoslav troops invaded Albanian
territory beyond the areas they were already occupying. Outraged at the
Yugoslav attack and Belgrade's lies, the League of Nations dispatched a
commission composed of representatives of Britain, France, Italy, and
Japan that reaffirmed Albania's 1913 borders. Yugoslavia complained
bitterly but had no choice but to withdraw its troops. The so-called
Mirditė Republic disappeared.
Albania - Social and Economic Conditions after World War I
Social and Economic Conditions after World War I
Extraordinarily undeveloped, the Albania that emerged after World War
I was home to something less than a million people divided into three
major religious groups and two distinct classes: those people who owned
land and claimed semifeudal privileges and those who did not. The
landowners had always held the principal ruling posts in the country's
central and southern regions, but many of them were steeped in the same
Oriental conservatism that brought decay to the Ottoman Empire. The
landowning elite expected that they would continue to enjoy precedence.
The country's peasants, however, were beginning to dispute the landed
aristocracy's control. Muslims made up the majority of the landowning
class as well as most of the pool of Ottoman-trained administrators and
officials. Thus Muslims filled most of the country's administrative
In northern Albania, the government directly controlled only Shkodėr
and its environs. The highland clans were suspicious of a constitutional
government legislating in the interests of the country as a whole, and
the Roman Catholic Church became the principal link between Tiranė and
the tribesmen. In many instances, administrative communications were
addressed to priests for circulation among their parishioners.
Poor and remote, Albania remained decades behind the other Balkan
countries in educational and social development. Illiteracy plagued
almost the entire population. About 90 percent of the country's peasants
practiced subsistence agriculture, using ancient methods and tods, such
as wooden plows. Much of the country's richest farmland lay under water
in malaria-infested coastal marshlands. Albania lacked a banking system,
a railroad, a modern port, an efficient military, a university, or a
modern press. The Albanians had Europe's highest birthrate and infant
mortality rate, and life expectancy for men was about thirtyeight years.
The American Red Cross opened schools and hospitals at Durrės and Tiranė,
and one Red Cross worker founded an Albanian chapter of the Boy Scouts
that all boys between twelve and eighteen years old were subsequently
required to join by law. Although hundreds of schools opened across the
country, in 1938 only 36 percent of all Albanian children of school age
were receiving education of any kind.
Despite the meager educational opportunities, literature flourished
in Albania between the two world wars. A Franciscan priest, Gjergj
Fishta, Albania's greatest poet, dominated the literary scene with his
poems on the Albanians' perseverance during their quest for freedom.
Independence also brought changes to religious life in Albania. The
ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople recognized the autocephaly of the
Albanian Orthodox Church after a meeting of the country's Albanian
Orthodox congregations in Berat in August 1922. The most energetic
reformers in Albania came from the Orthodox population who wanted to see
Albania move quickly away from its Muslim, Turkish past, during which
Christians made up the underclass. Albania's conservative Sunni Muslim
community broke its last ties with Constantinople in 1923, formally
declaring that there had been no caliph
(see Glossary) since the Prophet Muhammad himself and that Muslim
Albanians pledged primary allegiance to their native country. The
Muslims also banned polygamy and allowed women to choose whether or not
to wear a veil.
Albania - Government and Politics
Government and Politics
Albania's first political parties emerged only after World War I.
Even more than in other parts of the Balkans, political parties were
evanescent gatherings centered on prominent persons who created
temporary alliances to achieve their personal aims. The major
conservative party, the Progressive Party, attracted some northern clan
chiefs and prominent Muslim landholders of southern Albania whose main
platform was firm opposition to any agricultural reform program that
would transfer their lands to the peasantry. The country's biggest
landowner, Shefqet Bey Verlaci, led the Progressive Party. The Popular
Party's ranks included the reform-minded Orthodox bishop of Durrės, Fan
S. Noli, who was imbued with Western ideas at his alma mater, Harvard
University, and had even translated Shakespeare and Ibsen into Albanian.
The Popular Party also included Ahmed Zogu, the twenty-four-year-old son
of the chief of the Mati, a central Albanian Muslim tribe. The future
King Zog drew his support from some northern clans and kept an armed
gang in his service, but many Geg clan leaders refused to support either
Interwar Albanian governments appeared and disappeared in rapid
succession. Between July and December 1921 alone, the premiership
changed hands five times. The Popular Party's head, Xhafer Ypi, formed a
government in December 1921 with Noli as foreign minister and Zogu as
internal affairs minister, but Noli resigned soon after Zogu resorted to
repression in an attempt to disarm the lowland Albanians despite the
fact that bearing arms was a traditional custom. When the government's
enemies attacked Tiranė in early 1922, Zogu stayed in the capital and,
with the help of the British ambassador, repulsed the assault. He took
over the premiership later in the year and turned his back on the
Popular Party by announcing his engagement to the daughter of the
Progressive Party leader, Shefqet Beg Verlaci.
Zogu's protégés organized themselves into the Government Party.
Noli and other Western-oriented leaders formed the Opposition Party of
Democrats, which attracted all of Zogu's many personal enemies,
ideological opponents, and people left unrewarded by his political
machine. Ideologically, the Democrats included a broad sweep of people
who advocated everything from conservative Islam to Noli's dreams of
rapid modernization. Opposition to Zogu was formidable. Orthodox
peasants in Albania's southern lowlands loathed Zogu because he
supported the Muslim landowners' efforts to block land reform; Shkodėr's
citizens felt shortchanged because their city did not become Albania's
capital, and nationalists were dissatisfied because Zogu's government
did not press Albania's claims to Kosovo or speak up more energetically
for the rights of the ethnic Albanian minorities in present-day
Yugoslavia and Greece.
Zogu's party handily won elections for a National Assembly in early
1924. Zogu soon stepped aside, however, handing over the premiership to
Verlaci in the wake of a financial scandal and an assassination attempt
by a young radical that left Zogu wounded. The opposition withdrew from
the assembly after the leader of a radical youth organization, Avni
Rustemi, was murdered in the street outside the parliament building.
Noli's supporters blamed the murder on Zogu's Mati clansmen, who
continued to practice blood vengeance. After the walkout, discontent
mounted, and by July 1924 a peasant-backed insurgency had won control of
Tiranė. Noli became prime minister, and Zogu fled to Yugoslavia.
Fan Noli, an idealist, rejected demands for new elections on the
grounds that Albania needed a "paternal" government. In a
manifesto describing his government's program, Noli called for
abolishing feudalism, resisting Italian domination, and establishing a
Western-style constitutional government. Scaling back the bureaucracy,
strengthening local government, assisting peasants, throwing Albania
open to foreign investment, and improving the country's bleak
transportation, public health, and education facilities filled out the
Noli government's overly ambitious agenda. Noli encountered resistance
to his program from people who had helped him oust Zogu, and he never
attracted the foreign aid necessary to carry out his reform plans. Noli
criticized the League of Nations for failing to settle the threat facing
Albania on its land borders.
Under Fan Noli, the government set up a special tribunal that passed
death sentences, in absentia, on Zogu, Verlaci, and others and
confiscated their property. In Yugoslavia Zogu recruited a mercenary
army, and Belgrade furnished the Albanian leader with weapons, about
1,000 Yugoslav army regulars, and refugee troops from the Russian Civil
War to mount an invasion that the Serbs hoped would bring them disputed
areas along the border. After Noli's regime decided to establish
diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, a bitter enemy of the
Serbian ruling family, Belgrade began making wild allegations that the
Albanian regime was about to embrace Bolshevism. On December 13, 1924,
Zogu's Yugoslav-backed army crossed into Albanian territory. By
Christmas Eve, Zogu had reclaimed the capital, and Noli and his
government had fled to Italy.
Zogu quickly smothered Albania's experiment in parliamentary
democracy. Looking after the interests of the large landowners, clan
chiefs, and others with a vested interest in maintaining the old order,
he undertook no serious reform measures. The parliament quickly adopted
a new constitution, proclaimed Albania a republic, and granted Zogu
dictatorial powers that allowed him to appoint and dismiss ministers,
veto legislation, and name all major administrative personnel and a
third of the Senate. On January 31, Zogu was elected president for a
seven-year term. Opposition parties and civil liberties disappeared;
opponents of the regime were murdered; and the press suffered strict
censorship. Zogu ruled Albania using four military governors responsible
to him alone. He appointed clan chieftains as reserve army officers who
were kept on call to protect the regime against domestic or foreign
Albania - Italian Penetration
Belgrade, in return for aiding Zogu's invasion, expected repayment in
the form of territory and influence in Tiranė. It is certain that Zogu
promised Belgrade frontier concessions before the invasion, but once in
power the Albanian leader continued to press Albania's own territorial
claims. On July 30, 1925, the two nations signed an agreement returning
the town of Saint Naum on Lake Ohrid and other disputed borderlands to
Yugoslavia. The larger country, however, never reaped the dividends it
hoped for when it invested in Zogu. He shunned Belgrade and turned
Albania toward Italy for protection.
Advocates of territorial expansion in Italy gathered strength in
October 1922 when Benito Mussolini took power in Rome. His fascist
supporters undertook an unabashed program aimed at establishing a new
Roman empire in the Mediterranean region that would rival Britain and
France. Mussolini saw Albania as a foothold in the Balkans, and after
the war the Great Powers in effect recognized an Italian protectorate
In May 1925, Italy began a penetration into Albania's national life
that would culminate fourteen years later in its occupation and
annexation of Albania. The first major step was an agreement between
Rome and Tiranė that allowed Italy to exploit Albania's mineral
resources. Soon Albania's parliament agreed to allow the Italians to
found the Albanian National Bank, which acted as the Albanian treasury
even though its main office was in Rome and Italian banks effectively
controlled it. The Albanians also awarded Italian shipping companies a
monopoly on freight and passenger transport to and from Albania.
In late 1925, the Italian-backed Society for the Economic Development
of Albania began to lend the Albanian government funds at high interest
rates for transportation, agriculture, and public-works projects,
including Zogu's palace. In the end, the loans turned out to be
In mid-1926 Italy set to work to extend its political influence in
Albania, asking Tiranė to recognize Rome's special interest in Albania
and accept Italian instructors in the army and police. Zogu resisted
until an uprising in the northern mountains pressured the Albanian
leader to conclude the First Treaty of Tiranė with the Italians in
November 1926. In the treaty, both states agreed not to conclude any
agreements with any other states prejudicial to their mutual interests.
The agreement, in effect, guaranteed Zogu's political position in
Albania as well as the country's boundaries. In November 1927, Albania
and Italy entered into a defensive alliance, the Second Treaty of Tiranė,
which brought an Italian general and about forty officers to train the
Albanian army. Italian military experts soon began instructing
paramilitary youth groups. Tiranė also allowed the Italian navy access
to the port of Vlorė, and the Albanians received large deliveries of
armaments from Italy.
Albania - Zog's Kingdom
In 1928 Zogu secured the parliament's consent to its own dissolution.
A new constituent assembly amended the constitution, making Albania a
kingdom and transforming Zogu into Zog I, "King of the
Albanians." International recognition arrived forthwith, but many
Albanians regarded their country's nascent dynasty as a tragic farce.
The new constitution abolished the Senate, creating a unicameral
National Assembly, but King Zog retained the dictatorial powers he had
enjoyed as President Zogu. Soon after his coronation, Zog broke off his
engagement to Shefqet Bey Verlaci's daughter, and Verlaci withdrew his
support for the king and began plotting against him. Zog had accumulated
a great number of enemies over the years, and the Albanian tradition of
blood vengeance required them to try to kill him. Zog surrounded himself
with guards and rarely appeared in public. The king's loyalists disarmed
all of Albania's tribes except for his own Mati tribesmen and their
allies, the Dibra. Nevertheless, on a visit to Vienna in 1931, Zog and
his bodyguards fought a gun battle with would-be assassins on the Opera
Zog remained sensitive to steadily mounting disillusion with Italy's
domination of Albania. The Albanian army, though always less than
15,000-strong, sapped the country's funds, and the Italians' monopoly on
training the armed forces rankled public opinion. As a counterweight,
Zog kept British officers in the Gendarmerie despite strong Italian
pressure to remove them. In 1931 Zog openly stood up to the Italians,
refusing to renew the 1926 First Treaty of Tiranė. In 1932 and 1933,
Albania could not make the interest payments on its loans from the
Society for the Economic Development of Albania. In response, Rome
turned up the pressure, demanding that Tiranė name Italians to direct
the Gendarmerie; join Italy in a customs union; grant Italy control of
the country's sugar, telegraph, and electrical monopolies; teach the
Italian language in all Albanian schools; and admit Italian colonists.
Zog refused. Instead, he ordered the national budget slashed by 30
percent, dismissed the Italian military advisers, and nationalized
Italian-run Roman Catholic schools in the northern part of the country.
By June 1934, Albania had signed trade agreements with Yugoslavia and
Greece, and Mussolini had suspended all payments to Tiranė. An Italian
attempt to intimidate the Albanians by sending a fleet of warships to
Albania failed because the Albanians only allowed the forces to land
unarmed. Mussolini then attempted to buy off the Albanians. In 1935 he
presented the Albanian government 3 million gold francs as a gift.
Zog's success in defeating two local rebellions convinced Mussolini
that the Italians had to reach a new agreement with the Albanian king. A
government of young men led by Mehdi Frasheri, an enlightened Bektashi
administrator, won a commitment from Italy to fulfill financial promises
that Mussolini had made to Albania and to grant new loans for harbor
improvements at Durrės and other projects that kept the Albanian
government afloat. Soon Italians began taking positions in Albania's
civil service, and Italian settlers were allowed into the country.
Through all the turmoil of the interwar years, Albania remained
Europe's most economically backward nation. Peasant farmers accounted
for the vast majority of the Albanian population. Albania had
practically had no industry, and the country's potential for
hydroelectric power was virtually untapped. Oil represented the
country's main extractable resource. A pipeline between the Kuēovė oil
field and Vlorė's port expedited shipments of crude petroleum to
Italy's refineries after the Italians took over the oil-drilling
concessions of all other foreign companies in 1939. Albania also
possessed bitumen, lignite, iron, chromite, copper, bauxite, manganese,
and some gold. Shkodėr had a cement factory; Korēė, a brewery; and
Durrės and Shkodėr, cigarette factories that used locally grown
During much of the interwar period, Italians held most of the
technical jobs in the Albanian economy. Albania's main exports were
petroleum, animal skins, cheese, livestock, and eggs and prime imports
were grain and other foodstuffs, metal products, and machinery. In 1939
the value of Albania's imports outstripped that of its exports by about
four times. About 70 percent of Albania's exports went to Italy. Italian
factories furnished about 40 percent of Albania's imports, and the
Italian government paid for the rest.
Albania - Italian Occupation
As Germany annexed Austria and moved against Czechoslovakia, Italy
saw itself becoming a second-rate member of the Axis. After Hitler
invaded Czechoslovakia without notifying Mussolini in advance, the
Italian dictator decided in early 1939 to proceed with his own
annexation of Albania. Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III criticized the
plan to take Albania as an unnecessary risk.
Rome, however, delivered Tiranė an ultimatum on March 25, 1939,
demanding that it accede to Italy's occupation of Albania. Zog refused
to accept money in exchange for countenancing a full Italian takeover
and colonization of Albania, and on April 7, 1939, Mussolini's troops
invaded Albania. Despite some stubborn resistance, especially at Durrės,
the Italians made short shrift of the Albanians. Unwilling to become an
Italian puppet, King Zog, his wife, Queen Geraldine Apponyi, and their
infant son Skander fled to Greece and eventually to London. 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 service into Italy's.
After the German army defeated Poland, Denmark, and France, a
still-jealous Mussolini decided to use Albania as a springboard to
invade Greece. The Italians launched their attack on October 28, 1940,
and at a meeting of the two fascist dictators in <"http://worldfacts.us/Italy-Florence.htm">Florence, Mussolini
stunned Hitler with his announcement of the Italian invasion. Mussolini
counted on a quick victory, but Greek resistance fighters halted the
Italian army in its tracks and soon advanced into Albania. The Greeks
took Korēė and Gjirokastėr and threatened to drive the Italians from
the port city of Vlorė. The chauvinism of the Greek troops fighting in
Albania cooled the Albanians' enthusiasm for fighting the Italians and
the Greeks, and Mussolini's forces soon established a stable front in
central Albania. In April 1941, Germany and its allies crushed both
Greece and Yugoslavia, and a month later the Axis gave Albania control
of Kosovo. Thus Albanian nationalists ironically witnessed the
realization of their dreams of uniting most of the Albanian-populated
lands during the Axis occupation of their country.
Albania - WORLD WAR II AND THE RISE OF COMMUNISM, 1941-44
WORLD WAR II AND THE RISE OF COMMUNISM, 1941-44
Between 1941 and 1944, communist partisans and nationalist guerrillas
fought Italian and German occupation forces, and more often each other,
in a brutal struggle to take control of Albania. Backed by Yugoslavia's
communists and armed with British and United States weaponry, Albania's
partisans defeated the nationalists in a civil war fought between
Italy's capitulation in September 1943 and the withdrawal of German
forces from Albania in late 1944. Military victory, and not the lure of
Marxism, brought the Albanian communists from behind the coulisses to
center stage in Albania's political drama. While Albanian writers never
tired of pointing out that the communists "liberated" Albania
without a single Soviet soldier setting foot on its territory, they
often neglected to mention that the communist forces in Albania were
organized by the Yugoslavs and armed by the West or that the Axis
retreat from Albania was in response to military defeats outside the
Albania - The Communist and Nationalist Resistance
The Communist and Nationalist Resistance
Faced with an illiterate, agrarian, and mostly Muslim society
monitored by Zog's security police, Albania's communist movement
attracted few adherents in the interwar period. In fact, the country had
no fully fledged communist party before World War II. After Fan Noli
fled in 1924 to Italy and later the United States, several of his
leftist protégés migrated to Moscow, where they affiliated themselves
with the Balkan Confederation of Communist Parties and through it the
Communist International (Comintern), the Soviet-sponsored association of
international communist parties. In 1930 the Comintern dispatched Ali
Kelmendi to Albania to organize communist cells. But Albania had no
working class for the communists to exploit, and Marxism appealed to
only a minute number of quarrelsome, Western-educated, mostly Tosk,
intellectuals and to landless peasants, miners, and other persons
discontented with Albania's obsolete social and economic structures.
Forced to flee Albania, Kelmendi fought in the Garibaldi International
Brigade during the Spanish Civil War and later moved to France, where
together with other communists, including a student named Enver Hoxha,
he published a newspaper. Paris became the Albanian communists' hub
until Nazi deportations depleted their ranks after the fall of France in
Enver Hoxha and another veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Mehmet
Shehu, eventually rose to become the most powerful figures in Albania
for decades after the war. The dominant figure in modern Albanian
history, Enver Hoxha rose from obscurity to lead his people for a longer
time than any other ruler. Born in 1908 to a Muslim Tosk landowner from
Gjirokastėr who returned to Albania after working in the United States,
Hoxha attended the country's best college-preparatory school, the
National Lycée in Korēė. In 1930 he attended the university in
Montpelier, France, but lost an Albanian state scholarship for
neglecting his studies. Hoxha subsequently moved to Paris and Brussels.
After returning to Albania in 1936 without earning a degree, he taught
French for years at his former lycée and participated in a communist
cell in Korēė. When the war erupted, Hoxha joined the Albanian
partisans. Shehu, also a Muslim Tosk, studied at Tiranė's American
Vocational School. He went on to a military college in Naples but was
expelled for left-wing political activity. In Spain Shehu fought in the
Garibaldi International Brigade. After internment in France, he returned
to Albania in 1942 and won a reputation for brutality fighting with the
In October 1941, the leader of Communist Party of the Yugoslavia,
Josip Broz Tito, dispatched agents to Albania to forge the country's
disparate, impotent communist factions into a monolithic party
organization. Within a month, they had established a Yugoslav-dominated
Albanian Communist Party of 130 members under the leadership of Hoxha
and an eleven-man Central Committee. The party at first had little mass
appeal, and even its youth organization netted few recruits. In
mid-1942, however, party leaders increased their popularity by heeding
Tito's order to muffle their Marxist-Leninist propaganda and call
instead for national liberation. In September 1942, the party organized
a popular front organization, the National Liberation Movement (NLM),
from a number of resistance groups, including several that were strongly
anticommunist. During the war, the NLM's communist-dominated partisans,
in the form of the National Liberation Army, did not heed warnings from
the Italian occupiers that there would be reprisals for guerrilla
attacks. Partisan leaders, on the contrary, counted on using the lust
for revenge such reprisals would elicit to win recruits.
A nationalist resistance to the Italian occupiers emerged in October
1942. Ali Klissura and Midhat Frasheri formed the Western-oriented and
anticommunist Balli Kombetar (National Union), a movement that recruited
supporters from both the large landowners and peasantry. The Balli
Kombetar opposed King Zog's return and called for the creation of a
republic and the introduction of some economic and social reforms. The
Balli Kombetar's leaders acted conservatively, however, fearing that the
occupiers would carry out reprisals against innocent peasants or
confiscate the landowners' estates. The nationalistic Geg chieftains and
the Tosk landowners often came to terms with the Italians, and later the
Germans, to prevent the loss of their wealth and power.
With the overthrow of Mussolini's fascist regime and Italy's
surrender in 1943, the Italian military and police establishment in
Albania buckled. Albanian fighters overwhelmed five Italian divisions,
and enthusiastic recruits flocked to the guerrilla forces. The
communists took control of most of Albania's southern cities, except
Vlorė, which was a Balli Kombetar stronghold, and nationalists attached
to the NLM gained control over much of the north. British agents working
in Albania during the war fed the Albanian resistance fighters with
information that the Allies were planning a major invasion of the
Balkans and urged the disparate Albanian groups to unite their efforts.
In August 1943, the Allies convinced communist and Balli Kombetar
leaders to meet in the village of Mukaj, near Tiranė, and form a
Committee for the Salvation of Albania that would coordinate their
guerrilla operations. The two groups eventually ended all collaboration,
however, over a disagreement on the postwar status of Kosovo. The
communists, under Yugoslav tutelage, supported returning the region to
Yugoslavia after the war, while the nationalist Balli Kombetar advocated
keeping the province. The delegates at Mukaj agreed that a plebiscite
should be held in Kosovo to decide the matter; but under Yugoslav
pressure, the communists soon reneged on the accord. A month later, the
communists attacked Balli Kombetar forces, igniting a civil war that was
fought for the next year, mostly in southern Albania.
Germany occupied Albania in September 1943, dropping paratroopers
into Tiranė before the Albanian guerrillas could take the capital, and
the German army soon drove the guerrillas into the hills and to the
south. Berlin subsequently announced it would recognize the independence
of a neutral Albania and organized an Albanian government, police, and
military. The Germans did not exert heavy-handed control over Albania's
administration. Rather, they sought to gain popular support by backing
causes popular with Albanians, especially the annexation of Kosovo. Some
Balli Kombetar units cooperated with the Germans against the communists,
and several Balli Kombetar leaders held positions in the
German-sponsored regime. Albanian collaborators, especially the
Skanderbeg SS Division, also expelled and killed Serbs living in Kosovo.
In December 1943, a third resistance organization, an anticommunist,
anti-German royalist group known as Legality, took shape in Albania's
northern mountains. Legality, led by Abaz Kupi, largely consisted of Geg
guerrillas who withdrew their support for the NLM after the communists
renounced Albania's claims on Kosovo.
Albania - The Communist Takeover of Albania
The Communist Takeover of Albania
The communist partisans regrouped and, thanks to freshly supplied
British weapons, gained control of southern Albania in January 1944. In
May they called a congress of members of the National Liberation Front
(NLF, as the movement was by then called) at Pėrmet, which chose an
Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation to act as Albania's
administration and legislature. Hoxha became the chairman of the
council's executive committee and the National Liberation Army's supreme
commander. The communist partisans defeated the last Balli Kombetar
forces in southern Albania by mid-summer 1944 and encountered only
scattered resistance from the Balli Kombetar and Legality when they
entered central and northern Albania by the end of July. The British
military mission urged the nationalists not to oppose the communists'
advance, and the Allies evacuated Kupi to Italy. Before the end of
November, the Germans had withdrawn from Tiranė, and the communists,
supported by Allied air cover, had no problem taking control of the
capital. A provisional government the communists had formed at Berat in
October administered Albania with Enver Hoxha as prime minister, and in
late 1944 Hoxha dispatched Albanian partisans to help Tito's forces rout
Albanian nationalists in Kosovo.
Albania stood in an unenviable position after World War II. Greece
and Yugoslavia hungered for Albanian lands they had lost or claimed. The
NLF's strong links with Yugoslavia's communists, who also enjoyed
British military and diplomatic support, guaranteed that Belgrade would
play a key role in Albania's postwar order. The Allies never recognized
an Albanian government in exile or King Zog, nor did they ever raise the
question of Albania or its borders at any of the major wartime
conferences. No reliable statistics on Albania's wartime losses exist,
but the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration reported
about 30,000 Albanian war dead, 200 destroyed villages, 18,000 destroyed
houses, and about 100,000 people left homeless. Albanian official
statistics claim somewhat higher losses.
Albania - COMMUNIST ALBANIA
Official Albanian scribes and artists presented the history of
communist Albania as the saga of a backward, besieged people marching
toward a Stalinist utopia. The actual story of communist Albania is,
however, quintessentially dystopian, a bleak inventory of bloody purges
and repression, a case study in betrayal and obsessive xenophobia, a
cacophony of bitter polemics with real and fantasized enemies that the
outside world barely took time to notice.
After five years of party infighting and extermination campaigns
against the country's anticommunist opposition, Enver Hoxha and Mehmet
Shehu emerged as the dominant figures in Albania. The duumvirate
concentrated primarily on securing and maintaining their power base and
secondarily on preserving Albania's independence and reshaping the
country according to the procrustean precepts of orthodox Stalinism. In
pursuit of these goals, the communist elite co-opted or terrorized the
entire Albanian population into blind obedience, herding them into
obligatory front organizations, bombarding them with propaganda, and
disciplining them with a police leviathan untrammeled by anything
resembling legal, ethical, religious, or political norms. Hoxha and
Shehu dominated Albania and denied the Albanian people the most basic
human and civil rights by presenting themselves, as well as the
communist party and state security apparatus they controlled, as the
vigilant defenders of the country's independence. After Albania's break
with Yugoslavia in late 1948, Albania was a client of the Soviet Union.
Following the Soviet Union's rapprochement with Tito after Stalin's
death, Albania turned away from Moscow and found a new benefactor in
China. When China's isolation ended in the 1970s, Albania turned away
from its giant Asian patron and adopted a strict policy of autarky that
brought the country economic ruin. But through it all, Hoxha engineered
an elaborate cult
of personality (see Glossary) whose spokesmen elevated his persona
to the status of a god-man. When he died in 1985, few Albanian eyes were
Albania - Consolidation of Power and Initial Reforms
Consolidation of Power and Initial Reforms
A tiny collection of militant communists moved quickly after World
War II to subdue all potential political enemies in Albania, break the
country's landowners and minuscule middle class, and isolate Albania
from the noncommunist world. By early 1945, the communists had
liquidated, discredited, or driven into exile most of the country's
interwar elite. The internal affairs minister, Koci Xoxe, a pro-Yugoslav
erstwhile tinsmith, presided over the trial and the execution of
thousands of opposition politicians, clan chiefs, and members of former
Albanian governments who were condemned as "war criminals."
Thousands of their family members were imprisoned for years in work
camps and jails and later exiled for decades to miserable state farms
built on reclaimed marshlands. The communists' consolidation of control
also produced a shift in political power in Albania from the northern
Gegs to the southern Tosks. Most communist leaders were middle-class
Tosks, and the party drew most of its recruits from Tosk-inhabited
areas, while the Gegs, with their centuries-old tradition of opposing
authority, distrusted the new Albanian rulers and their alien Marxist
In December 1945, Albanians elected a new People's Assembly, but only
candidates from the Democratic Front (previously the National Liberation
Movement then the National Liberation Front), the renamed NLM, appeared
on the electoral lists, and the communists used propaganda and terror
tactics to gag the opposition. Official ballot tallies showed that 92
percent of the electorate voted and that 93 percent of the voters chose
the Democratic Front ticket. The assembly convened in January 1946,
annulled the monarchy, and transformed Albania into a "people's
republic." After months of angry debate, the assembly adopted a
constitution that mirrored the Yugoslav and Soviet constitutions. Then
in the spring, the assembly members chose a new government. Hoxha, the
Albanian Communist Party's first secretary, became prime minister,
foreign minister, defense minister, and the army's commander in chief.
Xoxe remained both internal affairs minister and the party's
organizational secretary. In late 1945 and early 1946, Xoxe and other
party hard-liners purged moderates who had pressed for close contacts
with the West, a modicum of political pluralism, and a delay in the
introduction of strict communist economic measures until Albania's
economy had more time to develop. Hoxha remained in control despite the
fact that he had once advocated restoring relations with Italy and even
allowing Albanians to study in Italy.
The communists also undertook economic measures to expand their
power. In December 1944, the provisional government adopted laws
allowing the state to regulate foreign and domestic trade, commercial
enterprises, and the few industries the country possessed. The laws
sanctioned confiscation of property belonging to political exiles and
"enemies of the people." The state also expropriated all
German- and Italian-owned property, nationalized transportation
enterprises, and canceled all concessions granted by previous Albanian
governments to foreign companies.
The government took major steps to introduce a Stalinist-style
centrally planned economy in 1946. It nationalized all industries,
transformed foreign trade into a government monopoly, brought almost all
domestic trade under state control, and banned land sales and transfers.
Planners at the newly founded Economic Planning Commission emphasized
industrial development, and in 1947 the government introduced the Soviet
In August 1945, the provisional government adopted the first sweeping
agricultural reforms in Albania's history. The country's 100 largest
landowners, who controlled close to a third of Albania's arable land,
had frustrated all agricultural reform proposals before the war. The
communists' reforms were aimed at squeezing large landowners out of
business, winning peasant support, and increasing farm output to avert
famine. The government annulled outstanding agricultural debts, granted
peasants access to inexpensive water for irrigation, and nationalized
forest and pastureland. Under the Agrarian Reform Law, which
redistributed about half of Albania's arable land, the government
confiscated property belonging to absentee landlords and people not
dependent on agriculture for a living. The few peasants with
agricultural machinery were permitted to keep up to forty hectares of
land; the landholdings of religious institutions and peasants without
agricultural machinery were limited to twenty hectares; and landless
peasants and peasants with tiny landholdings were given up to five
hectares, although they had to pay nominal compensation. Thus tiny
farmsteads replaced large private estates across Albania. By mid-1946
Albanian peasants were cultivating more land and producing higher corn
and wheat yields than ever before.
Albania - Albanian-Yugoslav Tensions
Until Yugoslavia's expulsion from the Cominform
(see Glossary) in 1948, Albania acted like a Yugoslav satellite and Tito
aimed to use his choke hold on the Albanian party to incorporate the
entire country into Yugoslavia. After Germany's withdrawal from Kosovo
in late 1944, Yugoslavia's communist partisans took possession of the
province and committed retaliatory massacres against Albanians. Before
World War II, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia had supported
transferring Kosovo to Albania, but Yugoslavia's postwar communist
regime insisted on preserving the country's prewar borders. In
repudiating the 1943 Mukaj agreement under pressure from the Yugoslavs,
Albania's communists had consented to restore Kosovo to Yugoslavia after
the war. In January 1945, the two governments signed a treaty
reincorporating Kosovo into Yugoslavia as an autonomous province.
Shortly thereafter, Yugoslavia became the first country to recognize
Albania's provisional government.
In July 1946, Yugoslavia and Albania signed a treaty of friendship
and cooperation that was quickly followed by a series of technical and
economic agreements laying the groundwork for integrating the Albanian
and Yugoslav economies. The pacts provided for coordinating the economic
plans of both states, standardizing their monetary systems, and creating
a common pricing system and a customs union. So close was the
Yugoslav-Albanian relationship that Serbo-Croatian became a required
subject in Albanian high schools. Yugoslavia signed a similar friendship
treaty with Bulgaria, and Marshal Tito and Bulgaria's Georgi Dimitrov
talked of plans to establish a Balkan federation to include Albania,
Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Yugoslav advisers poured into Albania's
government offices and its army headquarters. Tiranė was desperate for
outside aid, and about 20,000 tons of Yugoslav grain helped stave off
famine. Albania also received US$26.3 million from the United Nations
Relief and Rehabilitation Administration immediately after the war but
had to rely on Yugoslavia for investment and development aid.
The Yugoslav government clearly regarded investment in Albania as
investment in the future of Yugoslavia itself. Joint Albanian-Yugoslav
companies were created for mining, railroad construction, the production
of petroleum and electricity, and international trade. Yugoslav
investments led to the construction of a sugar refinery in Korēė, a
food-processing plant in Elbasan, a hemp factory at Rrogozhine, a fish
cannery in Vlorė, and a printing press, telephone exchange, and textile
mill in Tiranė. The Yugoslavs also bolstered the Albanian economy by
paying three times the world price for Albanian copper and other
Relations between Albania and Yugoslavia declined, however, when the
Albanians began complaining that the Yugoslavs were paying too little
for Albanian raw materials and exploiting Albania through the joint
stock companies. In addition, the Albanians sought investment funds to
develop light industries and an oil refinery, while the Yugoslavs wanted
the Albanians to concentrate on agriculture and raw-material extraction.
The head of Albania's Economic Planning Commission and one of Hoxha's
allies, Nako Spiru, became the leading critic of Yugoslavia's efforts to
exert economic control over Albania. Tito distrusted Hoxha and the other
intellectuals in the Albanian party and, through Xoxe and his loyalists,
attempted to unseat them.
In 1947 Yugoslavia's leaders engineered an all-out offensive against
anti-Yugoslav Albanian communists, including Hoxha and Spiru. In May
Tiranė announced the arrest, trial, and conviction of nine People's
Assembly members, all known for opposing Yugoslavia, on charges of
antistate activities. A month later, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia's
Central Committee accused Hoxha of following "independent"
policies and turning the Albanian people against Yugoslavia. Apparently
attempting to buy support inside the Albanian Communist Party, Belgrade
extended Tiranė US$40 million worth of credits, an amount equal to 58
percent of Albania's 1947 state budget. A year later, Yugoslavia's
credits accounted for nearly half of the state budget. Relations
worsened in the fall, however, when Spiru's commission developed an
economic plan that stressed self-sufficiency, light industry, and
agriculture. The Yugoslavs complained bitterly, and when Spiru came
under criticism and failed to win support from anyone in the Albanian
party leadership, he committed suicide.
The insignificance of Albania's standing in the communist world was
clearly highlighted when the emerging East European nations did not
invite the Albanian party to the September 1947 founding meeting of the
Cominform. Rather, Yugoslavia represented Albania at Cominform meetings.
Although the Soviet Union gave Albania a pledge to build textile and
sugar mills and other factories and to provide Albania agricultural and
industrial machinery, Stalin told Milovan Djilas, at the time a
high-ranking member of Yugoslavia's communist hierarchy, that Yugoslavia
should "swallow" Albania.
The pro-Yugoslav faction wielded decisive political power in Albania
well into 1948. At a party plenum in February and March, the communist
leadership voted to merge the Albanian and Yugoslav economies and
militaries. Hoxha, to the core an opportunist, even denounced Spiru for
attempting to ruin Albanian-Yugoslav relations. During a party Political
Bureau (Politburo) meeting a month later, Xoxe proposed appealing to
Belgrade to admit Albania as a seventh Yugoslav republic. When the
Cominform expelled Yugoslavia on June 28, however, Albania made a rapid
about-face in its policy toward Yugoslavia. The move surely saved Hoxha
from a firing squad and as surely doomed Xoxe to one. Three days later,
Tiranė gave the Yugoslav advisers in Albania forty-eight hours to leave
the country, rescinded all bilateral economic agreements with its
neighbor, and launched a virulent anti-Yugoslav propaganda blitz that
transformed Stalin into an Albanian national hero, Hoxha into a warrior
against foreign aggression, and Tito into an imperialist monster.
Albania entered an orbit around the Soviet Union, and in September
1948 Moscow stepped in to compensate for Albania's loss of Yugoslav aid.
The shift proved to be a boon for Albania because Moscow had far more to
offer than hard-strapped Belgrade. The fact that the Soviet Union had no
common border with Albania also appealed to the Albanian regime because
it made it more difficult for Moscow to exert pressure on Tiranė. In
November at the First Party Congress of the Albanian Party of Labor
(APL), the former Albanian Communist Party renamed at Stalin's
suggestion, Hoxha pinned the blame for the country's woes on Yugoslavia
and Xoxe. Hoxha had had Xoxe sacked as internal affairs minister in
October, replacing him with Shehu. After a secret trial in May 1949,
Xoxe was executed. The subsequent anti-Titoist purges in Albania brought
the liquidation of fourteen members of the party's thirty-one-person
Central Committee and thirty-two of the 109 People's Assembly deputies.
Overall, the party expelled about 25 percent of its membership.
Yugoslavia responded with a propaganda counterattack, canceled its
treaty of friendship with Albania, and in 1950 withdrew its diplomatic
mission from Tiranė.
Albania - Deteriorating Relations with the West
Deteriorating Relations with the West
Albania's relations with the West soured after the communist regime's
refusal to allow free elections in December 1945. Albania restricted the
movements of United States and British personnel in the country,
charging that they had instigated anticommunist uprisings in the
northern mountains. Britain announced in April that it would not send a
diplomatic mission to Tiranė; the United States withdrew its mission in
November; and both the United States and Britain opposed admitting
Albania to the United Nations (UN). The Albanian regime feared that the
United States and Britain, which were supporting anticommunist forces in
the civil war in Greece, would back Greek demands for territory in
southern Albania; and anxieties grew in July when a United States Senate
resolution backed the Greek demands.
A major incident between Albania and Britain erupted in 1946 after
Tiranė claimed jurisdiction over the channel between the Albanian
mainland and the Greek island of Corfu. Britain challenged Albania by
sailing four destroyers into the channel. Two of the ships struck mines
on October 22, 1946, and forty-four crew members died. Britain
complained to the UN and the International Court of Justice which, in
its first case ever, ruled against Tiranė.
After 1946 the United States and Britain began implementing an
elaborate covert plan to overthrow Albania's communist regime by backing
anticommunist and royalist forces within the country. By 1949 the United
States and British intelligence organizations were working with King Zog
and the fanatic mountainmen of his personal guard. They recruited
Albanian refugees and émigrés from Egypt, Italy, and Greece; trained
them in Cyprus, Malta, and the Federal Republic of Germany (West
Germany); and infiltrated them into Albania. Guerrilla units entered
Albania in 1950 and 1952, but Albanian security forces killed or
captured all of them. Kim Philby, a Soviet double agent working as a
liaison officer between the British intelligence service and the United
States Central Intelligence Agency, had leaked details of the
infiltration plan to Moscow, and the security breach claimed the lives
of about 300 infiltrators.
A wave of subversive activity, including the failed infiltration and
the March 1951 bombing of the Soviet embassy in Tiranė, encouraged the
Albanian regime to implement harsh internal security measures. In
September 1952, the assembly enacted a penal code that required the
death penalty for anyone over eleven years old found guilty of
conspiring against the state, damaging state property, or committing
Albania - Albania and the Soviet Union
Albania and the Soviet Union
Albania became dependent on Soviet aid and know-how after the break
with Yugoslavia in 1948. In February 1949, Albania gained membership in
the communist bloc's organization for coordinating economic planning,
the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon). Tiranė soon
entered into trade agreements with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary,
Romania, and the Soviet Union. Soviet and East European technical
advisers took up residence in Albania, and the Soviet Union also sent
Albania military advisers and built a submarine installation on Sazan
Island. After the Soviet-Yugoslav split, Albania and Bulgaria were the
only countries the Soviet Union could use to funnel war matériel to the
communists fighting in Greece. What little strategic value Albania
offered the Soviet Union, however, gradually shrank as nuclear arms
Anxious to pay homage to Stalin, Albania's rulers implemented new
elements of the Stalinist economic system. In 1949 Albania adopted the
basic elements of the Soviet fiscal system, under which state
enterprises paid direct contributions to the treasury from their profits
and kept only a share authorized for self-financed investments and other
purposes. In 1951 the Albanian government launched its first five-year
plan, which emphasized exploiting the country's oil, chromite, copper,
nickel, asphalt, and coal resources; expanding electricity production
and the power grid; increasing agricultural output; and improving
transportation. The government began a program of rapid
industrialization after the APL's Second Party Congress and a campaign
of forced collectivization of farmland in 1955. At the time, private
farms still produced about 87 percent of Albania's agricultural output,
but by 1960 the same percentage came from collective or state farms.
Soviet-Albanian relations remained warm during the last years of
Stalin's life despite the fact that Albania was an economic liability
for the Soviet Union. Albania conducted all its foreign trade with
Soviet European countries in 1949, 1950, and 1951 and over half its
trade with the Soviet Union itself. Together with its satellites, the
Soviet Union underwrote shortfalls in Albania's balance of payments with
long-term grants (see Dependence
on the Soviet Union, 1948-60, ch.3).
Although far behind Western practice, health care and education
improved dramatically for Albania's 1.2 million people in the early
1950s. The number of Albanian doctors increased by a third to about 150
early in the decade (although the doctorpatient ratio remained
unacceptable by most standards), and the state opened new medical
training facilities. The number of hospital beds rose from 1,765 in 1945
to about 5,500 in 1953. Better health care and living conditions
produced an improvement in Albania's dismal infant mortality rate,
lowering it from 112.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1945 to 99.5
deaths per 1,000 births in 1953 (see Medical
Care and Nutrition, ch. 2). The education system, considered a tool
for propagating communism and creating the academic and technical cadres
necessary for construction of a socialist state and society, also
improved dramatically. The number of schools, teachers, and students
doubled between 1945 and 1950. Illiteracy declined from perhaps 85
percent in 1946 to 31 percent in 1950. The Soviet Union provided
scholarships for Albanian students and supplied specialists and study
materials to improve instruction in Albania. The Enver Hoxha University
at Tiranė was founded in 1957 and the Albanian Academy of Sciences
opened fifteen years later. Despite these advances, however, education
in Albania suffered as a result of restrictions on freedom of thought.
For example, education institutions had scant influence on their own
curricula, methods of teaching, or administration (see Education
Under Communist Rule, ch. 2).
Stalin died in March 1953, and apparently fearing that the Soviet
ruler's demise might encourage rivals within the Albanian party's ranks,
neither Hoxha nor Shehu risked traveling to Moscow to attend his
funeral. The Soviet Union's subsequent movement toward rapprochement
with the hated Yugoslavs rankled the two Albanian leaders. Tiranė soon
came under pressure from Moscow to copy, at least formally, the new
Soviet model for a collective leadership. In July 1953, Hoxha handed
over the foreign affairs and defense portfolios to loyal followers, but
he kept both the top party post and the premiership until 1954, when
Shehu became Albania's prime minister. The Soviet Union, responding with
an effort to raise the Albanian leaders' morale, elevated diplomatic
relations between the two countries to the ambassadorial level.
Despite some initial expressions of enthusiasm, Hoxha and Shehu
mistrusted Nikita Khrushchev's programs of "peaceful
coexistence" and "different roads to socialism" because
they appeared to pose the threat that Yugoslavia might again try to take
control of Albania. Hoxha and Shehu were also alarmed at the prospect
that Moscow might prefer less dogmatic rulers in Albania. Tiranė and
Belgrade renewed diplomatic relations in December 1953, but Hoxha
refused Khrushchev's repeated appeals to rehabilitate posthumously the
pro-Yugoslav Xoxe as a gesture to Tito. The Albanian duo instead
tightened their grip on their country's domestic life and let the
propaganda war with the Yugoslavs grind on. In 1955 Albania became a
founding member of the Warsaw
Treaty Organization (see Glossary), better known as the Warsaw Pact,
the only military alliance the nation ever joined. Although the pact
represented the first promise Albania had obtained from any of the
communist countries to defend its borders, the treaty did nothing to
assuage the Albanian leaders' deep mistrust of Yugoslavia.
Hoxha and Shehu tapped the Albanians' deep-seated fear of Yugoslav
domination to remain in power during the thaw following the Twentieth
Party Congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union's in 1956,
when Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes in his "secret
speech." Hoxha defended Stalin and blamed the Titoist heresy for
the troubles vexing world communism, including the disturbances in
Poland and the rebellion in Hungary in 1956. Hoxha mercilessly purged
party moderates with pro-Soviet and pro-Yugoslav leanings, but he toned
down his anti-Yugoslav rhetoric after an April 1957 trip to Moscow,
where he won cancellation of about US$105 million in outstanding loans
and about US$7.8 million in additional food assistance. By 1958,
however, Hoxha was again complaining about Tito's "fascism"
and "genocide" against Albanians in Kosovo. He also grumbled
about a Comecon plan for integrating the East European economies, which
called for Albania to produce agricultural goods and minerals instead of
emphasizing development of heavy industry. On a twelve-day visit to
Albania in 1959, Khrushchev reportedly tried to convince Hoxha and Shehu
that their country should aspire to become socialism's
Albania - Albania and China
Albania and China
Albania played a role in the Sino-Soviet conflict far outweighing
either its size or its importance in the communist world. By 1958
Albania stood with China in opposing Moscow on issues of peaceful
coexistence, de-Stalinization, and Yugoslavia's "separate road to
socialism" through decentralization of economic life. The Soviet
Union, other East European countries, and China all offered Albania
large amounts of aid. Soviet leaders also promised to build a large
Palace of Culture in Tiranė as a symbol of the Soviet people's
"love and friendship" for the Albanians. But despite these
gestures, Tiranė was dissatisfied with Moscow's economic policy toward
Albania. Hoxha and Shehu apparently decided in May or June 1960 that
Albania was assured of Chinese support, and they openly sided with China
when sharp polemics erupted between China and the Soviet Union. Ramiz
Alia, at the time a candidate-member of the Politburo and Hoxha's
adviser on ideological questions, played a prominent role in the
The Sino-Soviet split burst into the open in June 1960 at a Romanian
Workers' Party congress, at which Khrushchev attempted to secure
condemnation of Beijing. Albania's delegation, alone among the European
delegations, supported the Chinese. The Soviet Union immediately
retaliated by organizing a campaign to oust Hoxha and Shehu in the
summer of 1960. Moscow cut promised grain deliveries to Albania during a
drought, and the Soviet embassy in Tiranė overtly encouraged a
pro-Soviet faction in the APL to speak out against the party's
pro-Chinese stand. Moscow also apparently involved itself in a plot
within the APL to unseat Hoxha and Shehu by force. But given their tight
control of the party machinery, army, and Shehu's secret police, the
Directorate of State Security (Drejtorija e Siguimit te
Shtetit--Sigurimi), the two Albanian leaders easily parried the threat.
Five pro-Soviet Albanian leaders were eventually tried and executed.
China immediately began making up for the cancellation of Soviet wheat
shipments despite a paucity of foreign currency and its own economic
Albania again sided with China when it launched an attack on the
Soviet Union's leadership of the international communist movement at the
November 1960 Moscow conference of the world's eighty-one communist
parties. Hoxha inveighed against Khrushchev for encouraging Greek claims
to southern Albania, sowing discord within the APL and army, and using
economic blackmail. "Soviet rats were able to eat while the
Albanian people were dying of hunger," Hoxha railed, referring to
purposely delayed Soviet grain deliveries. Communist leaders loyal to
Moscow described Hoxha's performance as "gangsterish" and
"infantile," and the speech extinguished any chance of an
agreement between Moscow and Tiranė. For the next year, Albania played
proxy for China. Pro-Soviet communist parties, reluctant to confront
China directly, criticized Beijing by castigating Albania. China, for
its part, frequently gave prominence to the Albanians' fulminations
against the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, which Tiranė referred to as a
Hoxha and Shehu continued their harangue against the Soviet Union and
Yugoslavia at the APL's Fourth Party Congress in February 1961. During
the congress, the Albanian government announced the broad outlines of
the country's Third Five-Year Plan (1961-65), which allocated 54 percent
of all investment to industry, thereby rejecting Khrushchev's wish to
make Albania primarily an agricultural producer. Moscow responded by
canceling aid programs and lines of credit for Albania, but the Chinese
again came to the rescue.
After additional sharp exchanges between Soviet and Chinese delegates
over Albania at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Twenty-Second
Party Congress in October 1961, Khrushchev lambasted the Albanians for
executing a pregnant, pro-Soviet member of the Albanian party Politburo,
and the Soviet Union finally broke diplomatic relations with Albania in
December. Moscow then withdrew all Soviet economic advisers and
technicians from the country, including those at work on the Palace of
Culture, and halted shipments of supplies and spare parts for equipment
already in place in Albania. In addition, the Soviet Union continued to
dismantle its naval installations on Sazan Island, a process that had
begun even before the break in relations.
China again compensated Albania for the loss of Soviet economic
support, supplying about 90 percent of the parts, foodstuffs, and other
goods the Soviet Union had promised. Beijing lent the Albanians money on
more favorable terms than Moscow, and, unlike Soviet advisers, Chinese
technicians earned the same low pay as Albanian workers and lived in
similar housing. China also presented Albania with a powerful radio
transmission station from which Tiranė sang the praises of Stalin,
Hoxha, and Mao Zedong for decades. For its part, Albania offered China a
beachhead in Europe and acted as China's chief spokesman at the UN. To
Albania's dismay, however, Chinese equipment and technicians were not
nearly so sophisticated as the Soviet goods and advisers they replaced.
Ironically, a language barrier even forced the Chinese and Albanian
technicians to communicate in Russian. Albanians no longer took part in
Warsaw Pact activities or Comecon agreements. The other East European
communist nations, however, did not break diplomatic or trade links with
Albania. In 1964 the Albanians went so far as to seize the empty Soviet
embassy in Tiranė, and Albanian workers pressed on with construction of
the Palace of Culture on their own.
The shift away from the Soviet Union wreaked havoc on Albania's
economy. Half of its imports and exports had been geared toward Soviet
suppliers and markets, so the souring of Tiranė's relations with Moscow
brought Albania's foreign trade to near collapse as China proved
incapable of delivering promised machinery and equipment on time. The
low productivity, flawed planning, poor workmanship, and inefficient
management at Albanian enterprises became clear when Soviet and East
European aid and advisers were withdrawn. In 1962 the Albanian
government introduced an austerity program, appealing to the people to
conserve resources, cut production costs, and abandon unnecessary
In October 1964, Hoxha hailed Khrushchev's fall from power, and the
Soviet Union's new leaders made overtures to Tiranė. It soon became
clear, however, that the new Soviet leadership had no intention of
changing basic policies to suit Albania, and relations failed to
improve. Tiranė's propaganda continued for decades to refer to Soviet
officials as "treacherous revisionists" and "traitors to
communism," and in 1964 Hoxha said that Albania's terms for
reconciliation were a Soviet apology to Albania and reparations for
damages inflicted on the country. Soviet-Albanian relations dipped to
new lows after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when
Albania responded by officially withdrawing from the alliance.
Albania - The Cultural and Ideological Revolution
The Cultural and Ideological Revolution
In the mid-1960s, Albania's leaders grew wary of a threat to their
power by a burgeoning bureaucracy. Party discipline had eroded. People
complained about malfeasance, inflation, and low-quality goods. Writers
strayed from the orthodoxy of socialist realism, which demanded that art
and literature serve as instruments of government and party policy. As a
result, after Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution in China in 1965,
Hoxha launched his own Cultural and Ideological Revolution. The Albanian
leader concentrated on reforming the military, government bureaucracy,
and economy as well as on creating new support for his Stalinist system.
The regime abolished military ranks, reintroduced political commissars
into the military, and renounced professionalism in the army. Railing
against a "white-collar mentality," the authorities also
slashed the salaries of mid- and high-level officials, ousted
administrators and specialists from their desk jobs, and sent such
persons to toil in the factories and fields. Six ministries, including
the Ministry of Justice, were eliminated. Farm collectivization spread
to even the remote mountains. In addition, the government attacked
dissident writers and artists, reformed its education system, and
generally reinforced Albania's isolation from European culture in an
effort to keep out foreign influences.
In 1967 the authorities conducted a violent campaign to extinguish
religious life in Albania, claiming that religion had divided the
Albanian nation and kept it mired in backwardness. Student of agitators
combed the countryside, forcing Albanians to quit practicing their
faith. Despite complaints, even by APL members, all churches, mosques,
monasteries, and other religious institutions had been closed or
converted into warehouses, gymnasiums, and workshops by year's end. A
special decree abrogated the charters by which the country's main
religious communities had operated. The campaign culminated in an
announcement that Albania had become the world's first atheistic state,
a feat touted as one of Enver Hoxha's greatest achievements (see Hoxha's
Antireligious Campaign, ch. 2).
Traditional kinship links in Albania, centered on the patriarchal
family, were shattered by the postwar repression of clan leaders,
collectivization of agriculture, industrialization, migration from the
countryside to urban areas, and suppression of religion. The postwar
regime brought a radical change in the status of Albania's women.
Considered second-class citizens in traditional Albanian society, women
performed most of the work at home and in the fields. Before World War
II, about 90 percent of Albania's women were illiterate, and in many
areas they were regarded as chattels under ancient tribal laws and
customs. During the Cultural and Ideological Revolution, the party
encouraged women to take jobs outside the home in an effort to
compensate for labor shortages and to overcome their conservatism. Hoxha
himself proclaimed that anyone who trampled on the party's edict on
women's rights should be "hurled into the fire." (see Social
Structure under Communist Rule, ch. 2)
Albania - The Break with China and Self-Reliance
The Break with China and Self-Reliance
Albanian-Chinese relations had stagnated by 1970, and when the Asian
superpower began to reemerge from isolation in the early 1970s, Mao and
the other Chinese leaders reassessed their commitment to tiny Albania.
In response, Tiranė began broadening its contacts with the outside
world. Albania opened trade negotiations with France, Italy, and the
recently independent Asian and African states, and in 1971 it normalized
relations with Yugoslavia and Greece. Albania's leaders abhorred China's
renewal of contacts with the United States in the early 1970s, and its
press and radio ignored President Richard Nixon's trip to Beijing in
1972. Albania actively worked to reduce its dependence on China by
diversifying trade and improving diplomatic and cultural relations,
especially with Western Europe. But Albania shunned the Conference on
Security and Cooperation in Europe and was the only European country
that refused to take part in the Helsinki Conference of July 1975. Soon
after Mao's death in 1976, Hoxha criticized the new leadership as well
as Beijing's pragmatic policy toward the United States and Western
Europe. The Chinese retorted by inviting Tito to visit Beijing in 1977
and ending assistance programs for Albania in 1978.
The break with China left Albania with no foreign protector. Tiranė
ignored calls by the United States and the Soviet Union to normalize
relations. Instead, Albania expanded diplomatic ties with Western Europe
and the developing nations and began stressing the principle of
self-reliance as the keystone of the country's strategy for economic
development. However, Hoxha's cautious opening toward the outside world
stirred up nascent movements for change inside Albania. As the
dictator's health slipped, muted calls arose for the relaxation of party
controls and greater openness. In response, Hoxha launched a series of
purges that removed the defense minister and many top military
officials. A year later, Hoxha purged ministers responsible for the
economy and replaced them with younger persons.
As Hoxha's health declined, the dictator began planning for an
orderly succession. He worked to institutionalize his policies, hoping
to frustrate any attempt his successors might make to venture from the
Stalinist path he had blazed for Albania. In December 1976 Albania
adopted its second Stalinist constitution of the postwar era. The
document "guaranteed" Albanians freedom of speech, the press,
organization, association, and assembly but subordinated these rights to
the individual's duties to society as a whole. The constitution
enshrined in law the idea of autarky and prohibited the government from
seeking financial aid or credits or from forming joint companies with
partners from capitalist or revisionist communist countries. The
constitution's preamble also boasted that the foundations of religious
belief in Albania had been abolished.
In 1980 Hoxha turned to Ramiz Alia to succeed him as Albania's
communist patriarch, overlooking his long-standing comrade-in-arms,
Mehmet Shehu. Hoxha first tried to convince Shehu to step aside
voluntarily, but when this move failed Hoxha arranged for all the
members of the Politburo to rebuke him for allowing his son to become
engaged to the daughter of a former bourgeois family. Shehu allegedly
committed suicide on December 18, 1981. It is suspected, however, that
Hoxha had him killed. Hoxha, obviously fearing retaliation, purged the
members of Shehu's family and his supporters within the police and
military. In November 1982, Hoxha announced that Shehu had been a
foreign spy working simultaneously for the United States, British,
Soviet, and Yugoslav intelligence agencies in planning the assassination
of Hoxha himself. "He was buried like a dog," the dictator
wrote in the Albanian edition of his book, The Titoites.
Hoxha went into semiretirement in early 1983, and Alia assumed
responsibility for Albania's administration. Alia traveled extensively
around Albania, standing in for Hoxha at major events and delivering
addresses laying down new policies and intoning litanies to the
enfeebled president. When Hoxha died on April 11, 1985, he left Albania
a legacy of repression, technological backwardness, isolation, and fear
of the outside world. Alia succeeded to the presidency and became legal
secretary of the APL two days later. In due course, he became a dominant
figure in the Albanian media, and his slogans appeared painted in
crimson letters on signboards across the country. The APL's Ninth Party
Congress in November 1986 featured Alia as the party's and the country's
* * *
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. No reader on Albanian affairs, in fact no
student of the former communist world, should overlook With Stalin, The
Titoites, or Enver Hoxha's other official works, which would be right at
home shelved beside George Orwell's Animal Farm and other works in the
genre of dystopian fiction. (For further information and complete
citations, see <"Bibliography.htm">Bibliography.)
Albania - The Society and its Environment
The Society and its Environment
EUROPE'S LEAST-DEVELOPED country, Albania is located along the
central west coast of the Balkan Peninsula. Albania's Adriatic and
Ionian coasts are adjacent to shipping lanes that have been important
since early Greek and Roman times. Tiranė, the capital and largest
city, is less than an hour by air from eight other European capitals and
barely more than two hours from the most distant of them. Yet, in large
part because of its rugged terrain and, in recent times, it Stalinist
regime, Albania remained isolated from the rest of Europe until the
Large expanses of mountainous and generally inaccessible terrain
provided refuge for the Albanian nation and permitted its distinctive
identity to survive throughout the centuries, in spite of successive
foreign invasions and long periods of occupation. Kinship and tribal
affiliations, a common spoken language, and enduring folk customs
provided continuity and a sense of community. Foreign influence was
inevitable, however. Additions and modifications to the language were
made as a result of Latin, Greek, Slavic, and Turkish contacts. Lacking
an organized religion as part of their Illyrian heritage, Albanians
adopted the Muslim, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic faiths brought to them
by their conquerors.
Following the Italian and German occupations of World War II, Albania
was subjected to more than forty-six years of authoritarian rule, from
which it was emerging, materially and spiritually impoverished, in 1992.
Its churches and mosques had been destroyed, the school system was a
shambles, hospitals struggled with extreme shortages of basic medical
supplies, and the hungry, dejected people had come to rely entirely on
foreign food aid and other forms of assistance. With the collapse of
communism, a democratically elected government faced the formidable
challenge of ending decades of self-imposed isolation, restoring public
order, and improving social conditions for the more than 3.3 million
people of Albania.
Albania - GEOGRAPHY
Albania, with a total area of 28,750 square kilometers, is slightly
larger than the state of Maryland. It shares a 287- kilometer border
with the Yugoslav republics of Montenegro and Serbia to the north, a
151-kilometer border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to
the north and east, and a 282- kilometer border with Greece to the south
and southeast. Its coastline is 362 kilometers long. The lowlands of the
west face the Adriatic Sea and the strategically important Strait of
Otranto, which puts less than 100 kilometers of water between Albania
and the heel of the Italian "boot."
The distinct ethnic character of the Albanian people and their
isolation within a generally definable area underscored their demands
for independence in the early twentieth century. In some places,
however, the mingling of different ethnic groups complicated the
determination of national borders. Kosovo, across the northeastern
Albanian border, was a Serbian-governed province, although ethnic
Albanians made up over 90 percent of its population. Many Albanians
still regarded Kosovo's status as an issue. Greeks and Albanians lived
in the mountains on both sides of the southeastern Albanian boundary.
Neither Greece nor Albania was satisfied with the division of nations
effected by their common border.
With the exception of the coastline, all Albanian borders are
artificial. They were established in principle at the 1912-13 conference
of ambassadors in London. The country was occupied by Italian, Serbian,
Greek, and French forces during World War I, but the 1913 boundaries
were essentially reaffirmed by the victorious states in 1921. The
original principle was to define the borders in accordance with the best
interests of the Albanian people and the nationalities in adjacent
areas. The northern and eastern borders were intended, insofar as
possible, to separate the Albanians from the Serbs and Montenegrins; the
southeast border was to separate Albanians and Greeks; the valuable
western Macedonia lake district was to be divided among the three
states- -Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia--whose populations shared the
area. When there was no compromise involving other factors, borderlines
were chosen to make the best possible separation of national groups,
connecting the best marked physical features available.
Allowance was made for local economic situations, for example, to
prevent separation of a village from its animals' grazing areas or the
markets for its produce. Political pressures also were a factor in the
negotiations, but the outcome was subject to approval by powers having
relatively abstract interests, most of which involved the balance of
power rather than specific economic ambitions.
Division of the lake district among three states required that each
of them have a share of the lowlands in the vicinity. Such an artificial
distribution, once made, necessarily affected the borderlines to the
north and south. The border that runs generally north from the lakes,
although it follows the ridges of the eastern highlands, stays sixteen
to thirty-two kilometers west of the watershed divide. Because
negotiators at the London conference declined to use the watershed
divide as the northeast boundary of the new state of Albania, a large
Albanian population in Kosovo was incorporated into Serbia.
In Albania's far north and the northeast mountainous sections, the
border connects high points and follows mountain ridges through the
largely inaccessible North Albanian Alps, known locally as Bjeshkėt e
Namuna. For the most part, there is no natural boundary from the
highlands to the Adriatic, although Lake Scutari and a portion of the
Bunė River south of it were used to mark Albania's northwest border.
From the lake district south and southwest to the Ionian Sea, the
country's southeast border goes against the grain of the land, crossing
a number of ridges instead of following them.
Albania - Topography
The 70 percent of the country that is mountainous is rugged and often
inaccessible. The remainder, an alluvial plain, receives precipitation
seasonally, is poorly drained, and is alternately arid or flooded. Much
of the plain's soil is of poor quality. Far from offering a relief from
the difficult interior terrain, the alluvial plain is often as
inhospitable as the mountains. Good soil and dependable precipitation,
however, are found in intermontane river basins, in the lake district
along the eastern frontier, and in a narrow band of slightly elevated
land between the coastal plains and the interior mountains.
In the far north, the mountains are an extension of the Dinaric Alps
and, more specifically, the Montenegrin limestone plateau. Albania's
northern mountains are more folded and rugged, however, than most of the
plateau. The rivers have deep valleys with steep sides and arable valley
floors. Generally unnavigable, the rivers obstruct rather than encourage
movement within the alpine region. Roads are few and poor. Lacking
internal communications and external contacts, a tribal society
flourished in this area for centuries. Only after World War II were
serious efforts made to incorporate the people of the region into
Albanian national life. A low coastal belt extends from the northern
boundary southward to the vicinity of Vlorė. On average, it extends
less than sixteen kilometers inland, but widens to about fifty
kilometers in the Elbasan area in central Albania. In its natural state,
the coastal belt is characterized by low scrub vegetation, varying from
barren to dense. There are large areas of marshlands and other areas of
bare, eroded badlands. Where elevations rise slightly and precipitation
is regular--in the foothills of the central uplands, for example--the
land is highly arable. Marginal land is reclaimed wherever irrigation is
Just east of the lowlands, the central uplands, called Ēermenikė by
Albanians, are an area of generally moderate elevations, between 305 and
915 meters, with a few points reaching above 1,520 meters. Shifting
along the faultline that roughly defines the western edge of the central
uplands causes frequent, and occasionally severe, earthquakes.
Although rugged terrain and points of high elevation mark the central
uplands, the first major mountain range inland from the Adriatic is an
area of predominantly serpentine rock (which derives its name from its
dull green color and often spotted appearance), extending nearly the
length of the country, from the North Albanian Alps to the Greek border
south of Korēė. Within this zone, there are many areas in which sharp
limestone and sandstone outcroppings predominate, although the ranges as
a whole are characterized by rounded mountains.
The mountains east of the serpentine zone are the highest in Albania,
exceeding 2,740 meters in the Mal Korab range. Together with the North
Albanian Alps and the serpentine zone, the eastern highlands are the
most rugged and inaccessible of any terrain on the Balkan Peninsula.
The three lakes of easternmost Albania, Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa, and
Prespa e Vogėl, are remote and picturesque. Much of the terrain in
their vicinity is not overly steep, and it supports a larger population
than any other inland portion of the country. Albania's eastern border
passes through Lake Ohrid; all but a small tip of Prespa e Vogėl is in
Greece; and the point at which the boundaries of three states meet is in
Lake Prespa. Each of the two larger lakes has a total surface areas of
about 260 square kilometers, and Prespa e Vogėl is about one-fifth as
large. The surface elevation is about 695 meters for Lake Ohrid and 855
meters for the other two lakes.
The southern mountain ranges are more accessible than the serpentine
zone, the eastern highlands, or the North Albanian Alps. The transition
to the lowlands is less abrupt, and the arable valley floors are wider.
Limestone, the predominant mineral, is responsible for the cliffs and
clear water of the coastline southeast of Vlorė. Erosion of a blend of
softer rocks has provided the sediment that has caused wider valleys to
form in the southern mountain area than those characteristic of the
remainder of the country. This terrain encouraged the development of
larger landholding, thus influencing the social structure of southern
Albania - Drainage
Nearly all of the precipitation that falls on Albania drains into the
rivers and reaches the coast without even leaving the country. In the
north, only one small stream escapes Albania. In the south, an even
smaller rivulet drains into Greece. Because the topographical divide is
east of the Albanian border with its neighbors, a considerable amount of
water from other countries drains through Albania. An extensive portion
of the basin of the Drini i Bardhė River, called Beli Drim by Serbs,
basin is in the Kosovo area, across Albania's northeastern border. The
three eastern lakes that Albania shares with its neighboring countries,
as well as the streams that flow into them, drain into the Drini i Zi.
The watershed divide in the south also dips nearly seventyfive
kilometers into Greece at one point. Several tributaries of the Vjosė
River rise in that area.
With the exception of the Drini i Zi, which flows northward and
drains nearly the entire eastern border region before it turns westward
to the sea, most of the rivers in northern and central Albania flow
fairly directly westward to the sea. In the process, they cut through
the ridges rather than flow around them. This apparent geological
impossibility occurs because the highlands originally were lifted
without much folding. The streams came into existence at that time. The
compression and folding of the plateau into ridges occurred later. The
folding process was rapid enough in many instances to dam the rivers
temporarily. The resulting lakes existed until their downstream channels
became wide enough to drain them. This sequence created the many
interior basins that are typically a part of the Albanian landform.
During the lifetime of the temporary lakes, enough sediment was
deposited in them to form the basis for fertile soils. Folding was
rarely rapid enough to force the streams into radically different
The precipitous fall from higher elevations and the highly irregular
seasonal flow patterns that are characteristic of nearly all streams in
the country reduce the economic value of the streams. They erode the
mountains and deposit the sediment that created the lowlands and
continues to augment them, but the rivers flood when there is local
rainfall. When the lands are parched and need irrigation, the rivers
usually are dry. Their violence when they are full makes them difficult
to control, and they are unnavigable. The Bunė River is an exception.
It is dredged between Shkodėr and the Adriatic Sea and can be
negotiated by small ships. In contrast to their history of holding fast
to their courses in the mountains, the rivers constantly change channels
on the lower plains, making waste of much of the land they create.
The Drin River is the largest and most constant stream. Fed by
melting snows from the northern and eastern mountains and by the more
evenly distributed seasonal precipitation of that area, its flow does
not have the extreme variations characteristic of nearly all other
rivers in the country. Its normal flow varies seasonally by only about
one-third. Along its length of about 282 kilometers, it drains nearly
5,957 square kilometers within Albania. As it also collects from the
Adriatic portion of the Kosovo watershed and the three border lakes
(Lake Prespa drains to Lake Ohrid via an underground stream), its total
basin encompasses about 15,540 square kilometers.
The Seman and Vjosė are the only other rivers that are more than 160
kilometers long and have basins larger than 2,600 square kilometers.
These rivers drain the southern regions and, reflecting the seasonal
distribution of rainfall, are torrents in winter and nearly dry in the
summer, in spite of their length. This variable nature also
characterizes the many shorter streams. In the summer, most of them
carry less than a tenth of their winter averages, if they are not
Although the sediment carried by the mountain torrents continues to
be deposited, new deposits delay exploitation. Stream channels rise as
silt is deposited in them and eventually become higher than the
surrounding terrain. Shifting channels frustrate development in many
areas. Old channels become barriers to proper drainage and create swamps
or marshlands. It is difficult to build roads or railroads across the
lowlands or otherwise use the land.
Irrigation has been accomplished on a small scale by Albanian
peasants for many years. Large irrigation projects were not completed,
however, until after World War II, including the Vjosė-Levan-Fier
irrigation canal, with an irrigation capacity of 15,000 hectares, and
the reservoir at Thanė reservoir, in Lushnjė District, with an
irrigation capacity of 35,100 hectares. In 1986 nearly 400,000 hectares
of land, or 56 percent of the total cultivated area, were under
irrigation, compared with 29,000 hectares, or 10 percent of the total
cultivated area, in 1938.
Albania - Climate
With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands
backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying
at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter
and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic regions for so
small an area. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean
weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. In both
the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies markedly from north to
The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 7° C. Summer
temperatures average 24° C, humidity is high, and the weather tends to
be oppressively uncomfortable. In the southern lowlands, temperatures
average about five degrees higher throughout the year. The difference is
greater than five degrees during the summer and somewhat less during the
Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation
than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in the
mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the
weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly
winds blow much of the time. Average summer temperatures are lower than
in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but daily
fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in the interior
basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights are almost always
Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of the
prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental air
mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain rises,
the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical currents
initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause frequent
thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by high local winds
and torrential downpours.
When the continental air mass is weak, Mediterranean winds drop their
moisture farther inland. When there is a dominant continental air mass,
cold air spills onto the lowland areas, which occurs most frequently in
the winter. Because the season's lower temperatures damage olive trees
and citrus fruits, groves and orchards are restricted to sheltered
places with southern and western exposures, even in areas with high
average winter temperatures.
Lowland rainfall averages from 1,000 millimeters to more than 1,500
millimeters annually, with the higher levels in the north. Nearly 95
percent of the rain falls in the winter.
Rainfall in the upland mountain ranges is heavier. Adequate records
are not available, and estimates vary widely, but annual averages are
probably about 1,800 millimeters and are as high as 2,550 millimeters in
some northern areas. The seasonal variation is not quite as great in the
The higher inland mountains receive less precipitation then the
intermediate uplands. Terrain differences cause wide local variations,
but the seasonal distribution is the most consistent of any area.
Albania - POPULATION
The average annual growth rate of the Albanian population for the
period 1960-90 was 2.4 percent, or approximately three to four times
higher than that of other European countries. Population growth was
actively encouraged by the government, which deemed it "essential
for the further strengthening and prosperity of socialist society."
Albania had a population of 3,335,000 in July 1991, compared with
2,761,000 in mid-1981 and 1,626,000 in 1960. The most sparsely populated
Balkan country until 1965, Albania attained a population density of 111
inhabitants per square kilometer in 1989--the highest in the Balkans.
The 1991 growth rate was 1.8 percent.
In 1991 Albania had a birth rate of 24 per 1,000, and its death rate
had declined from 14 per 1,000 in 1950 to 5 per 1,000. A concomitant of
the reduced death rate was an increase in life expectancy. Official
Albanian sources indicated that average life expectancy at birth
increased from fifty-three years in 1950 to seventy-two years for males
and seventy-nine years for females in 1991. The population was among the
most youthful in Europe, with an average age of twenty-seven years, and
the fertility rate--2.9 children born per woman--was one of Europe's
Albania was the only country in Europe with more males than females.
The disparity in the male-to-female ratio, which was 1,055:1,000 in
1970, had increased to the point where males accounted for 51.5 percent
of the population in 1990, This discrepancy was attributed in part to a
higher mortality rate among female infants, caused by neglect and the
traditional deference accorded male progeny. Losses in World War II,
estimated by the United Nations at 30,000 persons, or 2.5 percent of the
population, apparently had little influence on the ratio of males to
Gegs and Tosks
<"49.htm">Greeks and Other
<"50.htm">Albanians in Kosovo
<"51.htm">Languages and Dialects
Updated population figures for Albania.
Albania - Ethnicity
Gegs and Tosks
Among ethnic Albanians are two major subgroups: the Gegs, who
generally occupy the area north of the Shkumbin River, and the Tosks,
most of whom live south of the river. The Gegs account for slightly more
than half of the resident Albanian population. Ethnic Albanians are
estimated to account for 90 percent of the population.
The Gegs and Tosks use distinct dialects; there are also linguistic
variations within subgroups. Well into the twentieth century, ethnic
clans exercised extensive local authority, particularly in the north.
Some progress was made during the reign of King Zog I (1928-39),
however, toward bringing the clans under government control and
eliminating blood feuds.
After taking power in 1944, the communist regime imposed controls
intended to eliminate clan rule entirely and waged a continuing struggle
against customs and attitudes that believed to impede the growth of
socialism. Blood feuds were repressed. Party and government leaders, in
their effort to develop national, social, and cultural solidarity in a
communist society, publicly tended to ignore ethnic differences.
Communist leader Enver Hoxha, first secretary of the Albanian Party
of Labor and head of state until his death in 1985, who came from the
south and received the bulk of his support during World War II from that
area, frequently gave preference to persons and customs of Tosk origin.
Most party and government executives were Tosk speakers and of Muslim
background. The Gegs, who had dominated Albanian politics before 1945,
were educationally disadvantaged by the adoption of a "standard
literary Albanian language," based on the Tosk dialect.
Because of their greater isolation in the mountainous areas of the
north, the Gegs held on to their tribal organization and customs more
tenaciously than did the Tosks. As late as the 1920s, approximately 20
percent of male deaths in some areas of northern Albania were
attributable to blood feuds. Under the unwritten tribal codes, whose
purview included the regulation of feuds, any blow, as well as many
offenses committed against women, called for vengeance. Permitting a
girl who had been betrothed in infancy to marry another, for example,
could set off a blood feud. The besa, a pledge to keep one's word as a
solemn obligation, was given in various situations and sometimes
included promises to postpone quarrels. A man who killed a fellow
tribesman was commonly punished by his neighbors, who customarily would
burn his house and destroy his property. As fugitives from their own
communities, such persons were often given assistance by others.
A man who failed to carry out the prescribed vengeance against a
member of another tribe or that individual's relatives was subjected to
ridicule. Insult was considered one of the gravest forms of dishonor,
and the upholding of one's honor was the primary duty of a Geg. If the
individual carried out the required act of vengeance, he was in turn
subject to retribution by the victim's relatives. Women were excluded
from the feud and, when a man escorted a woman, he too was considered
inviolable. In other respects, however, a woman's lot in society
generally was one of deprivation and subjugation.
The isolation from influences beyond his community and the constant
struggle with nature tended to make the male Geg an ascetic.
Traditionally his closest bonds were with members of his clan. Obstinate
and proud, the Gegs had proved themselves, ruthless and cruel fighters.
Visitors from outside the clan generally were suspect, but every
traveler was by custom accorded hospitality.
Less isolated by geography and enjoying slightly less limited contact
with foreign cultures, Tosks generally were more outspoken and
imaginative than Gegs. Contacts with invaders and foreign occupiers had
left an influence and, before 1939, some Tosks had traveled to foreign
countries to earn money to buy land, or to obtain an education. The clan
or tribal system, which by the nineteenth century was far less extensive
in the south than in the north, began to disappear after independence
was achieved in 1912.
More about the <"47.htm">Population
Albania - Greeks and Other Minorities
Greeks and Other Minorities
The Greek minority, Albania's largest, has deep roots in the
country's two southeasternmost districts, Sarandė and Gjirokastėr, in
an area many Greeks call Northern Epirus. Estimates of the size of the Greek population in 1989 varied
from 59,000, or 1 percent of the total (from the official Albanian
census); to 266,800, or 8 percent (from data published by the United
States government); to as high as 400,000, or 12 percent (from the
"Epirot lobby" of Greeks with family roots in Albania). Greeks
were harshly affected by the communist regime's attempts to homogenize
the population through restrictions on the religious, cultural,
educational, and linguistic rights of minorities. Internal exile and
other population movements served as instruments of policy to dilute
concentrations of Greeks and to deprive Greeks of their status as a
recognized minority. Despite improvements in Greco-Albanian relations
during the late 1980s and a significant increase in cross-border visits,
reports of persecution, harassment, and discrimination against Greeks,
as well as other minorities, persisted.
Smaller ethnic groups, including Bulgarians, Gypsies, Jews,
Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, and Vlachs, altogether accounted for
about 2 percent of the total population. Persons of Macedonian and
Bulgarian origin lived mostly in the border area near Lake Prespa. The
Vlachs, akin to modern Romanians, were most numerous in the Pindus
Mountains and in the districts of Fier, Korēė, and Vlorė. A few
persons of Serbian and Montenegrin derivation resided around the city of
Shkodėr. There were small Jewish communities in Tiranė, Vlorė, and
Korēė; and Gypsies were scattered throughout the country.
More about the <"47.htm">Population
Albania - Albanians in Kosovo
Albanians in Kosovo
Large numbers of ethnic Albanians lived outside the country, in
Italy, Greece, Turkey, the United States, and especially in Yugoslavia
or its former republics. Estimates based on Yugoslav census data indicated that the
number of Albanians in Yugoslavia in 1981 totaled more than 1.7 million,
or almost 8 percent of the country's total population, of which about 70
percent resided in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, 20 percent in
Macedonia, and 9 percent in Montenegro. The predominantly Albanian
Kosovo had the highest birthrate in Europe and one of the highest in the
world: 29.9 per 1,000 in 1987. Persons under twenty-seven years old
accounted for 60 percent of Kosovo's total population, and students--a
reservoir of political ferment--over 30 percent. In 1981 only 12 percent
of the Albanian population in Kosovo was employed.
Student protests over living conditions in early 1981 led to bloody
riots throughout Kosovo, which accelerated the exodus of Serbs and
Montenegrins. The number of departures totalled 60,000 between 1981 and
1991. Haunted by the specter of secession, the Serbian government
resorted to repressive measures, culminating in the revocation of
Kosovo's autonomous status in July 1990. Hundreds of Albanian activists
were tried and imprisoned, and a campaign was launched to entice Serbs
to settle in Kosovo. Serbian authorities suspended publication of the
Albanianlanguage daily Rilindja, alleging that it had become a
"mouthpiece" of Albanian nationalists. Thousands of students
and parents protested the introduction of a Serbian-language standard
curriculum for all middle and secondary schools. As a result of the
curriculum's implementation, many Albanian-language schools had to be
closed. At Kosovo's University of Pristina, student placements were
reserved, in disproportion to the population, for ethnic Serbs and
Montenegrins--many from outside Kosovo. (Even though a number of these
reserved places were not filled in the fall of 1990, Albanian applicants
were denied admission to the university.) Discrimination against
Albanians seeking employment or housing was rampant.
More about the <"47.htm">Population
Albania - Languages and Dialects
Languages and Dialects
The Albanian language is spoken by nearly all inhabitants of Albania,
as well as by the vast majority of the population of neighboring Kosovo.
Greeks, Macedonians, and other ethnic groups in Albania used their
ancestral languages, in addition to Albanian, to the extent that this
right could be exercised. Ethnic minorities, according to the testimony
of many émigrés, were in the past forbidden to speak their own
languages in public.
A member of the Indo-European family of languages, modern Albanian is
derived from ancient Illyrian and Thracian. Additions and modifications
were made as a result of foreign contacts, beginning in the
pre-Christian era. The most significant of these changes were the result
of Latin influence during the centuries of Roman domination, and Italian
influences resulting from trade with Venice during the Renaissance and
from Italian hegemony over Albania in more recent times. Contributions
also were made by the Greeks, Turks, and Slavs. Because the first
written documents in Albanian did not appear until the fifteenth
century, tracing the early development of the language is difficult.
Beginning in the fifteenth century and continuing over a period of
some 450 years, the repressive policies of the Ottoman Empire rulers
retarded language development. Writing in Albanian was forbidden, and
only the Turkish or Greek languages could be used in schools. Émigré
Albanians, particularly those living in Italy, helped keep the written
forms of language alive. Until the nineteenth century, the language was
sustained in Turkishdominated areas largely by verbal communication,
including ballads and folk tales.
By the early twentieth century, more than a dozen different alphabets
were being used by Albanians. Some were predominantly Latin, Greek, or
Turko-Arabic. Many were a mixture of several forms. It was not until
1908 that a standardized orthography was adopted. The Latin-based
alphabet of twenty-six letters, approved at that time by a linguistic
congress at Monastir (now Bitola, in Macedonia), was made official by a
government directive in 1924 and continued to be in use in the early
The two principal Albanian dialects are Geg, spoken by about
two-thirds of the people, including almost all Albanians in Kosovo, and
Tosk, used by the remaining third. Within each dialect, there are
subdialects. Despite the variations that have developed in the many
isolated communities, Albanians generally communicate well with each
During the 1920s and 1930s, the government attempted to establish the
dialect of the Elbasan area, which was a mixture of Geg and Tosk, as the
official language. The local dialects persisted, however, and writers
and even officials continued to use the dialect of their association.
After Hoxha acceded to power, the Tosk dialect became the official
language of the country. Some scholars saw the imposition of
"standard" Albanian as a political scheme to denigrate the Geg
dialect and culture.
More about the <"47.htm">Population
Albania - Settlement Patterns
In the early 1990s, Albania remained predominantly rural, with about
65 percent of the population living in villages or the countryside.
Urban dwellers, whose proportion of the national population had
increased from one-fifth to almost one-third between 1950 and 1970,
accounted for about 34 percent in the 1980s. Rural-to-urban migration was contained as a result of the
regime's aggressive programs, initiated during the Third Five-Year Plan
(1961-65), to restrict urban growth, build up agriculture, and
accelerate rural development. (The campaign to improve rural living
conditions is best exemplified by the expansion of the electric-power
network to every village in the country by the winter of 1970.) The
average village grew from about 400 residents in 1955 to nearly 700 in
The most heavily settled areas were in the western part of the
country, in particular the fertile lowlands. In 1987 population density
ranged from 30 persons per square kilometer in the eastern district of
Kolonjė to 281 persons per square kilometer in the coastal district of
Durrės. The proportion of urban dwellers was highest in the districts
of Tiranė (67 percent), Durrės (49 percent), and Vlorė, which had 47
percent (see table
Several factors contributed to the pattern of settlement. Large
expanses of mountains and generally rugged terrain complicated
construction of land transportation routes. In many areas, large
concentrations of people could not be supported because of poor soil and
a lack of water during part of the year. Minerals and other natural
resources generally were not readily accessible or were otherwise
difficult to exploit.
Of the sixty-six cities and towns in Albania, nine had populations
greater than 25,000 in 1987. Tiranė, the capital and largest city, grew
from about 60,000 inhabitants in 1945 to 226,000 in 1987, largely
because of the expansion of industry and government bureaucracy. Located
on the inner margin of the coastal plain, the capital is surrounded by
an area of relatively good soil. Tiranė was the country's main
political, industrial, educational, and cultural center. Other major
towns were Durrės, the principal port, Elbasan, Shkodėr, and Vlorė.
About 44 percent of all towns had fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.
More about the <"47.htm">Population
Albania - SOCIAL SYSTEM
Traditional Social Patterns and Values
The social structure of the country was, until the 1930s, basically
tribal in the north and semifeudal in the central and southern regions.
The highlanders of the north retained their medieval pattern of life
until well into the twentieth century and were considered the last
people in Europe to preserve tribal autonomy. In the central and
southern regions, increasing contact with the outside world and
invasions and occupations by foreign armies had gradually weakened
Traditionally there have been two major subcultures in the Albanian
nation: the Gegs in the north and the Tosks in the south. The Gegs,
partly Roman Catholic but mostly Muslim, lived until after World War II
in a mountain society characterized by blood feuds and fierce clan and
tribal loyalties. The Tosks, whose number included many Muslims as well
as Orthodox Christians, were less culturally isolated mainly because of
centuries of foreign influence. Because they had came under the rule of
the Muslim landed aristocracy, the Tosks had apparently largely lost the
spirit of individuality and independence that for centuries
characterized the Gegs, especially in the highlands.
Until the end of World War II, society in the north and, to a much
lesser extent, in the south, was organized in terms of kinship and
descent. The basic unit of society was the extended family, usually
composed of a couple, their married sons, the wives and children of the
sons, and any unmarried daughters. The extended family formed a single
residential and economic entity held together by common ownership of
means of production and common interest in the defense of the group.
Such families often included scores of persons, and, as late as 1944,
some encompassed as many as sixty to seventy persons living in a cluster
of huts surrounding the father's house.
Extended families were grouped into clans whose chiefs preserved
patriarchal powers over the entire group. The clan chief arranged
marriages, assigned tasks, settled disputes, and set the course to be
followed concerning essential matters such as blood feuds and politics.
Descent was traced from a common ancestor through the male line, and
brides usually were chosen from outside the clan. Clans in turn were
grouped into tribes.
In the Tosk regions of the south, the extended family was also the
most important social unit, although patriarchal authority had been
diluted by the feudal conditions usually imposed by the Muslim bey
Social leadership in the lowlands was concentrated in the hands of
the semifeudal local tribal bey and pasha
(see Glossary). The region around Tiranė, for example, was controlled
by the Zogolli, Toptani, and Vrioni families, all Muslims and all owners
of extensive agricultural estates. Ahmed Zogu, subsequently King Zog I,
was from the Zogolli family. Originally pashas ranked slightly higher
than beys, but differences gradually diminished and just the term bey
remained is use. In the northern highlands, the bajraktars
(see Glossary) was the counterpart of the bey and enjoyed similar
hereditary rights to titles and positions.
The Geg clans put great importance on marriage traditions. According
to custom, a young man always married a young woman from outside his
clan but from within his tribe. In some tribes, marriages between
Christians and Muslims were tolerated, but as a rule such unions were
A variety of offenses against women could spark blood feuds. Many
females were engaged to marry in their infancy by their parents. If
later a woman did not wish to marry the man whom the parents had chosen
for her and married another, in all likelihood a blood feud would ensue.
Among the Tosks, religious beliefs and customs were more important than
clan and tribal traditions in the regulation of marriage.
For centuries, the family was the basic unit of the country's social
structure. To a great extent, the privacy of the family supplanted that
of the state. Children were brought up to respect their elders and,
above all, their father, whose word was law within the confines of his
Upon the death of the father, family authority devolved upon his
oldest son. The females of the household occupied an inferior position;
they were confined at home, treated like servants, and not allowed to
eat at the same table with the men. When the time came for sons to set
up their own households, all parental property was distributed equally
among them. Females owned no property and did not have the right to seek
divorce. In northern Albania, the ancient Code of Lek permitted the
husband "to beat his wife and to bind her in chains if she defies
his words and orders."
Geographical conditions affected Tosk social organization. Southern
Albania's accessibility led to its coming much more firmly under Ottoman
control. In turn, the Ottoman Empire's rule resulted in the breakup of
the large, independent, family landholdings and their replacement by
extensive estates owned by powerful Muslims, each with his own retinue,
fortresses, and large cohort of tenant peasants to work his lands. These
landowners' allegiance to the sultans was secured by the granting of
administrative positions either at home or elsewhere in the Ottoman
The consolidation of the large estates was a continuous process.
Landowning beys would entrap peasants into their debt and thus establish
themselves as semifeudal patrons of formerly independent villagers. In
this way, a large Muslim aristocracy developed in the south, while the
majority of the Tosk peasants assumed the characteristics of an
oppressed social class. As late as the 1930s, two-thirds of the best
land in central and southern Albania belonged to large landowners.
The tribal society of the Geg highlanders contrasted sharply with
that of the passive, oppressed Tosk peasantry, most of whose members
lived on the large estates of the beys and were often represented in the
political arena by the beys themselves. This semifeudal society survived
in the south well into the twentieth century. After independence was
achieved in 1912, however, a small Tosk middle class began to develop,
which, in the early 1920s, finding common interests with the more
enlightened beys, played a major role in attempts to create a modern
society. But in 1925 Ahmet Zogu curbed Tosk influence and cemented his
power in the tribal north by governing through influential tribal and
clan chiefs. To secure the loyalty of these chiefs, he placed them on
the government payroll and sent several back to their tribes with the
military rank of colonel. In 1928 a new constitution declared Albania a
kingdom and Zogu the monarch. King Zog I ruled until the Italian
invasion in 1939.
Albania - Social Structure under Communist Rule
Social Structure under Communist Rule
Albania's general class structure at the time of the communist
takeover in 1944 consisted of peasants and workers, who made up the
lower class, and a small upper class. Representing over 80 percent of
the total population, most peasants lived at no better than subsistence
level. Nonagricultural workers numbered about 30,000 persons, most of
whom worked in the mines and in the small handicraft industries. The
upper class, whose capital was invested mostly in trade, commerce, and
the Italian industrial concessions, comprised professional people and
intellectuals, merchants with small and medium-sized enterprises,
moneylenders, and well-to-do artisans. Industrialists also belonged to
the upper class, although generally they owned very small industries and
The clergy of the major religious denominations did not form a
distinct social group. Members of the higher clergy typically were
upper-class intellectuals; income from the fairly extensive church
estates and state subsidies provided them with a comfortable, but not
luxurious living. The rank-and-file clerics, however, were of peasant
origin, and most of their parishes were as impoverished as the peasant
households they served.
A new social order was legally instituted in Albania with the
adoption of the first communist constitution in March 1946, which
created a "state of workers and laboring peasants" and
abolished all ranks and privileges based on heredity (such as those
enjoyed by tribal chiefs and the beys), position, wealth, or cultural
standing. According to the constitution, all citizens were equal,
regardless of nationality, race, or religion.
Communist spokesmen listed three principal social classes as
prevalent in the early years of the regime: the working class, the
laboring peasants, and the so-called exploiting class, that is, the
landowners in the agricultural economy and the bourgeoisie in trade. The
"exploiting class" was liquidated during the early stages of
the regime. The bourgeoisie was destroyed by the nationalization of
industry, transport, mines, and banks, as well as by the establishment
of a state monopoly on foreign commerce and state control over internal
trade. The feudal landlords disappeared with the application of the
agrarian reforms of 1945-46. These steps were followed by a program of
rapid industrialization, whose result was the creation of a substantial
working class. A program of agricultural collectivization had as its
stated goal the formation of a homogeneous peasant class. Eventually all
individual farmers were collectivized, the artisan collectives were
converted to state industrial enterprises, the number of private traders
was reduced to a minimum, and members of the clergy who avoided
imprisonment or execution were sent to work either in industrial plants
or agricultural collectives.
Aside from the workers and peasants, the only group to which the
Tiranė authorities continued to give special attention was the
intelligentsia. Usually termed a layer or stratum of the new social
order, the intelligentsia was considered by the communist regime to be a
special social group because of the country's need for professional,
technical, and cultural talent. To justify this special attention,
ideologists often quoted Lenin to the effect that "the
intelligentsia will remain a special stratum until the communist society
reaches its highest development."
The communist regime, however, transformed the social composition of
the intelligentsia. From 1944 to 1948, this transformation involved
purging a number of Western-educated intellectuals, whom the regime
deemed potentially dangerous, as well as some high-level communist
intellectuals who were suspected of having anti-Yugoslav or pro-Western
sentiments. The remaining intellectuals were "reeducated" and
employed in training new personnel for work in industry, government
service, and the party bureaucracy. As a rule, the subsequent generation
of intellectuals, toed the communist party line. A notable exception was
Albania's foremost writer, Ismail Kadare, who managed to walk a
tightrope between conformity and dissent until his defection to France
The theoretical egalitarian social order had little in common with
the real class structure that existed in the country until 1991, when
the communist party lost its monopoly on power. In fact, there existed
different classes and gradations of rank and privilege, beginning with
an upper class composed of the party elite, particularly Political
Bureau (Politburo) and Central Committee members. In this category were
also leaders of the state and mass organizations, and high-ranking
officers of the military and internal security forces. Top party
officials and their families received special medical care, exclusive
housing in a protected compound in Tiranė, free food and liquor,
vacation allowances, entertainment subsidies, and many other
perquisites. At government expense, they purchased stylish French and
Italian clothing, cosmetics, appliances, and vacation homes. An inquiry
conducted by Albania's newly formed coalition government in 1991
concluded that "the former party leadership created for itself
every opportunity to acquire privileges and enrich itself while the
people were deceived by bogus and cynical propaganda about a struggle
against privileges, luxury, and inequality."
Just below the Politburo and the Central Committee were the vast
party and government bureaucracies, professional people and
intellectuals, and managers of state industrial and agricultural
enterprises. The top party elite was distinct from the lower party and
state functionaries in terms of privileges, influence, authority, and
responsibility. The group of lower party and state officials were bound
together by the economic privileges and prestige that went with their
positions and membership in, or sympathy for, the Albanian Party of
Labor, as the communist party was called from 1948 to 1991. These
officials all benefited from their association with the regime and
enjoyed educational and economic advantages denied the rest of the
population. Below this group were the rank-and-file party members, whose
leadership role was constitutionally guaranteed. Aside from the prestige
they enjoyed as party members, however, their privileges and economic
benefits did not differ much from those of the next lower class in the
social structure, the workers.
Constituting an estimated 47 percent of the total population in 1985,
the working class (which, according to the official classification,
included rural dwellers employed by state farms) was created after the
communist seizure of power and composed almost wholly of peasants.
Although under constant pressure to increase productivity, exceed
production norms, and perform "volunteer" labor, workers were
entitled to an annual two-week paid vacation. State-subsidized rest
houses for this purpose were established at various locations across the
The regime's policy of complete agricultural collectivization
deprived peasants of their landholdings, except for tiny personal plots,
and required them to work on collective farms. Despite government
attempts to equalize the wages of peasants and workers, peasant income
remained approximately at subsistence level. One or two members of a
peasant family would often engage in rural nonagricultural occupations,
such as mining or forestry, that offered superior wages and benefits.
Soon after adoption of the constitution of 1946, new laws were
implemented regulating marriage and divorce. Marriages had to be
contracted before an official of the local People's Council. After 1967,
religious wedding ceremonies were forbidden. The minimum age for
marriage was set at sixteen for women and eighteen for men. Because
marriage was now supposed to be based on the full equality of both
spouses, the concept of the father as head of the family, recognized by
precommunist civil law and considered essential to Albanian family life,
was officially deprived of legitimacy. A husband and wife now had the
legal right to choose their own residence and professions. However,
marriage to foreigners was prohibited except with the permission of the
The new divorce laws were designed to facilitate proceedings. The
separation of spouses was made grounds for divorce, and in such cases a
court could grant a divorce without considering related facts or the
causes of the separation. Either spouse could ask for a divorce on the
basis of incompatibility of character, continued misunderstandings,
irreconcilable hostility, or for any other reason that disrupted marital
relations to the point where cohabitation had become intolerable.
Certain crimes committed by the spouse, especially so-called crimes
against the state and crimes involving moral turpitude, were also
recognized as grounds for divorce. In divorce cases, custody of children
was granted to the parent "with better moral and political
conditions for the children's proper education."
About 27,400 marriages were contracted in 1987, about 8.9 per 1,000
inhabitants. There were more than 2,500 divorces in the same year, or
about 0.8 per 1,000 inhabitants.
Article 41 of the 1976 constitution guaranteed women equal rights
with men "in work, pay, holidays, social security, education, in
all sociopolitical activity, as well as in the family." About 33
percent of the party's active members in 1988 were women, as well as
over 40 percent of those elected to the people's councils. Nearly
one-half of the country's students were women. Statistics showed that
women accounted for 47 percent of the work force.
Despite progress during the communist regime, significant
inequalities remained. In 1990 only one full member of the ruling
Politburo was a woman. In agriculture the predominantly female work
force generally had male supervisors. Women were underrepresented in
certain professions, particularly engineering. Furthermore, until 1991,
abortions were illegal and women were encouraged to have "as many
children as possible," in addition to working outside the home.
Some traditional practices, such as the presentation of dowries and
arranged marriages, reportedly were condoned by the authorities.
Throughout its existence, the communist regime persisted in its
campaign against the patriarchal family system. In the mountainous
north, where vestiges of traditional tribal structures were particularly
prevalent, the local patriarchs were detained and the property of their
clans was appropriated. Patriarchalism, according to party propaganda,
was the most dangerous internal challenge to Albanian society.
Albania - RELIGION
One of the major legacies of nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule
was the conversion of up to 70 percent of the Albanian population to
Islam. Therefore, at independence the country emerged as a predominantly
Muslim nation, the only Islamic state in Europe. No census taken by the
communist regime after it assumed power in 1944 indicated the religious
affiliations of the people. It has been estimated that of a total
population of 1,180,500 at the end of World War II, about 826,000 were
Muslims, 212,500 were Orthodox, and 142,000 were Roman Catholics. The
Muslims were divided into two groups: about 600,000 adherents of the Sunni
(see Glossary) branch and more than 220,000 followers of a dervish order
known as Bektashi
(see Glossary), which was an offshoot of the Shia
(see Glossary) branch. Bektashism was regarded as a tolerant Muslim sect
that also incorporated elements of paganism and Christianity.
Christianity was introduced during Roman rule. After the division of
the Roman Empire in 395, Albania became politically a part of the
Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, but remained ecclesiastically dependent
on Rome. When the final schism occurred in 1054 between the Roman and
Eastern churches, the Christians in southern Albania came under the
jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople
(see Glossary), and those in the north came under the purview of the
papacy in Rome. This arrangement prevailed until the Ottoman invasions
of the fourteenth century, when the Islamic faith was introduced. The
apostasy of the people took many decades.
In the mountainous north, the propagation of Islam was strongly
opposed by Roman Catholics. Gradually, however, backwardness,
illiteracy, the absence of an educated clergy, and material inducements
weakened resistance. Coerced conversions sometimes occurred, especially
when foreign Roman Catholic powers, such as the Venetian Republic, were
at war with the Ottoman Empire. By the close of the seventeenth century,
the Catholics in the north were outnumbered by the Muslims.
After the Ottoman conquest, thousands of Orthodox Christians fled
from southern Albania to Sicily and southern Italy, where their
descendants, most of whom joined the Uniate
Church (see Glossary), still constitute a sizable community.
Large-scale forced conversions of the Orthodox Christians who remained
in Albania did not occur until the seventeenth century and the
Russo-Turkish wars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pressure
was put on this group because the Ottoman Turks considered its members
sympathetic to Orthodox Russia. The situation of the Orthodox adherents
improved temporarily after the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (1774), in
which Russia was recognized as the protector of the Orthodox followers
in the Ottoman Empire. The most effective method employed by the Ottoman
Turks in their missionary efforts, especially in the central and
southern parts of the country, was the creation of a titled Muslim class
of pashas and beys who were endowed with both large estates and
extensive political and administrative powers. Through their political
and economic influence, these nobles controlled the peasants, large
numbers of whom were converted to Islam either through coercion or the
promise of economic benefits.
In the period from independence to the communist seizure of power,
the Muslim noble class constituted Albania's ruling elite, but this
group never interfered with religious freedom, which was sanctioned by
the various pre-World War II constitutions. These constitutions had
stipulated that the country have no official religion, that all
religions be respected, and that their freedom of exercise be assured.
These provisions reflected the true feelings of the people who, whether
Muslim, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, were generally tolerant in
For generations, religious pragmatism was a distinctive trait of the
Albanians. Even after accepting Islam, many people privately remained
practicing Christians. As late as 1912, in a large number of villages in
the Elbasan area, most men had two names, a Muslim one for public use
and a Christian one for private use. Adherence to ancient pagan beliefs
also continued well into the twentieth century, particularly in the
northern mountain villages, many of which were devoid of churches and
mosques. A Roman Catholic intellectual, Vaso Pashko (1825-92), made the
trenchant remark, later co-opted by Enver Hoxha, that "the religion
of the Albanians is Albanianism."
<"57.htm">The Revival of
Albania - Hoxha's Antireligious Campaign
Hoxha's Antireligious Campaign
A dogmatic Stalinist, Hoxha considered religion a divisive force and
undertook an active campaign against religious institutions, despite the
virtual absence of religious intolerance in Albanian society. The
Agrarian Reform Law of August 1945, for example, nationalized most
property of religious institutions, including the estates of
monasteries, orders, and dioceses. Many clergy and believers were tried,
tortured, and executed. All foreign Roman Catholic priests, monks, and
nuns were expelled in 1946.
In January 1949, almost three years after the adoption of the first
communist constitution, which guaranteed freedom of religion, the
government issued a far-reaching Decree on Religious Communities. The
law required that religious communities be sanctioned by the state, that
they comply with "the laws of the state, law and order, and good
customs," and that they submit all appointments, regulations, and
bylaws for approval by the government. Even pastoral letters and parish
announcements were subject to the approval of party officials. Religious
communities or branches that had their headquarters outside the country,
such as the Jesuit and Franciscan orders, were henceforth ordered to
terminate their activities in Albania. Religious institutions were
forbidden to have anything to do with the education of the young,
because that had been made the exclusive province of the state. All
religious communities were prohibited from owning real estate and from
operating philanthropic and welfare institutions and hospitals.
Although there were tactical variations in Hoxha's approach to each
of the major denominations, his overarching objective was the eventual
destruction of all organized religion in Albania. In the late 1940s and
1950s, the regime achieved control over the Muslim faith by formalizing
the split between the Sunni and Bektashi sects, eliminating all leaders
who opposed Hoxha's policies, and exploiting those who were more
tractable. Steps were also taken to purge all Orthodox clergy who did
not yield to the demands of the regime, and to use the church as a means
of mobilizing the Orthodox population behind government policies. The
Roman Catholic Church, chiefly because it maintained close relations
with the Vatican and was more highly organized than the Muslim and
Orthodox faiths, became the principal target of persecution. Between
1945 and 1953, the number of priests was reduced drastically and the
number of Roman Catholic churches was decreased from 253 to 100. All
Catholics were stigmatized as fascists, although only a minority had
collaborated with the Italian occupation authorities during World War
The campaign against religion peaked in the 1960s. Inspired by
China's Cultural Revolution, Hoxha called for an aggressive
cultural-educational struggle against "religious superstition"
and assigned the antireligious mission to Albania's students. By May
1967, religious institutions had been forced to relinquish all 2,169
churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines in Albania, many of which were
converted into cultural centers for young people. As the literary
monthly Nendori reported the event, the youth had thus "created the
first atheist nation in the world."
The clergy were publicly vilified and humiliated, their vestments
taken and desecrated. Many Muslim mullahs and Orthodox priests buckled
under and renounced their "parasitic" past. More than 200
clerics of various faiths were imprisoned, others were forced to seek
work in either industry or agriculture, and some were executed or
starved to death. The cloister of the Franciscan order in Shkodėr was
set on fire, which resulted in the death of four elderly monks.
All previous decrees that had officially sanctioned the nominal
existence of organized religion were annulled in 1967. Subsequently, the
1976 constitution banned all "fascist, religious, warmongerish,
antisocialist activity and propaganda," and the penal code of 1977
imposed prison sentences of three to ten years for "religious
propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious
literature." A new decree that in effect targeted Albanians with
Christian names stipulated that citizens whose names did not conform to
"the political, ideological, or moral standards of the state"
were to change them. It was also decreed that towns and villages with
religious names must be renamed. Thus, in the southern areas populated
by ethnic Greeks, about ninety towns and places named after Greek
Orthodox saints received secular names.
Hoxha's brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal
worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith
clandestinely, risking severe punishment. Individuals caught with
Bibles, icons, or other religious objects faced long prison sentences.
Parents were afraid to pass on their faith, for fear that their children
would tell others. Officials tried to entrap practicing Christians and
Muslims during religious fasts, such as Lent and Ramadan, by
distributing dairy products and other forbidden foods in school and at
work, and then publicly denouncing those who refused the food. Clergy
who conducted secret services were incarcerated; in 1980, a Jesuit
priest was sentenced to "life until death" for baptizing his
nephew's newborn twins.
Albania - The Revival of Religion
The Revival of Religion
In the 1980s, officials grudgingly began to concede that the campaign
against religion had not been entirely successful, and indeed probably
was counterproductive. A sociological study revealed that over 95
percent of the country's young people were choosing spouses of the same
religious background, whereas, prior to the antireligious onslaught,
marriages between Muslims and Christians were not uncommon. Albania's
government also became more sensitive to the barrage of criticism from
the international community. Hoxha's successor, Ramiz Alia, adopted a
relatively tolerant stance toward religious practice, referring to it as
"a personal and family matter." Émigré clergymen were
permitted to reenter the country in 1988 and officiate at religious
services. Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, visited Tiranė in 1989,
where she was received by the foreign minister and by Hoxha's widow. In
December 1990, the ban on religious observance was officially lifted, in
time to allow thousands of Christians to attend Christmas services.
Religious leaders estimated that 95 percent of all mosques and
churches had been razed or gutted during the years of communist rule. A
few had been spared and designated as "cultural monuments."
Others, such as the Roman Catholic cathedral in Shkodėr, were converted
to sports arenas. The status of the clergy was equally appalling; the
number of Roman Catholic priests, for example, had declined from 300 in
1944, when the communists took to power, to thirty by early 1992. In
1992 plans were under way to restore the houses of worship, seminaries
were being reopened, and several Islamic countries had sent teachers to
provide religious instruction to young Albanian Muslims who knew
virtually nothing about their religion. "Hoxha destroyed the human
soul," an official of Albania's new noncommunist government
observed, adding, "This will take generations to restore."
Albania - EDUCATION
As late as 1946, about 85 percent of the people were illiterate,
principally because schools using the Albanian language had been
practically nonexistent in the country before it became independent in
1912. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottoman rulers had
prohibited use of the Albanian language in schools. Turkish was spoken
in the few schools that served the Muslim population. These institutions
were located mainly in cities and large towns. The schools for Orthodox
Christian children were under the supervision of the Constantinople
Ecumenical Patriarchate. The teachers at these schools usually were
recruited from the Orthodox clergy, and the language of instruction was
Greek. The first school known to use Albanian in modern times was in a
Franciscan seminary that opened in 1861 in Shkodėr.
From about 1880 to 1910, several Albanian patriots intent on creating
a sense of national consciousness founded elementary schools in a few
cities and towns, mostly in the south, but these institutions were
closed by the Ottoman authorities. The advent of the Young
Turks (see Glossary) movement in 1908 motivated the Albanian
patriots to intensify their efforts, and in the same year a group of
intellectuals met in Monastir to choose an Albanian alphabet. Books
written in Albanian before 1908 had used a mixture of alphabets,
consisting mostly of combinations of Latin, Greek, and Turkish-Arabic
The participants in the Monastir meeting developed a unified alphabet
based on Latin letters. A number of textbooks soon were written in the
new alphabet, and Albanian elementary schools opened in various parts of
the country. In 1909, to meet the demand for teachers able to teach in
the native tongue, a normal school was established in Elbasan. But in
1910, the Young Turks, fearing the emergence of Albanian nationalism,
closed all schools that used Albanian as the language of instruction.
Even after Albania became independent, schools were scarce. The
unsettled political conditions caused by the Balkan wars and by World
War I hindered the development of a unified education system. The
foreign occupying powers, however, opened some schools in their
respective areas of control, each power offering instruction in its own
language. A few of these schools, especially the Italian and French
ones, continued to function after World War I and played a significant
role in introducing Western educational methods and principles.
Particularly important was the National Lycée of Korēė, in which the
language of instruction was French.
Soon after the establishment of a national government in 1920, which
included a ministry of education, the foundation was laid for a national
education system. Elementary schools were opened in the cities and some
of the larger towns, and the Italian and French schools that had opened
during World War I were strengthened. In the meantime, two important
American schools were founded--the American Vocational School in Tiranė,
established by the American Junior Red Cross in 1921, and the American
Agricultural School in Kavajė, sponsored by the Near East Foundation.
Several future communist party and government luminaries were educated
in the foreign schools: Enver Hoxha graduated from the National Lycée
in 1930, and Mehmet Shehu, who would become prime minister, completed
studies at the American Vocational School in 1932.
In the 1920s, the period when the foundations of the modern Albanian
state were laid, considerable progress was made toward development of a
genuinely Albanian education system. In 1933 the Royal Constitution was
amended to make the education of citizens an exclusive right of the
state. All foreign-language schools, except the American Agricultural
School, were either closed or nationalized. This move was intended to
stop the rapid spread of schools sponsored directly by the Italian
government, especially among Roman Catholics in the north.
The nationalization of schools was followed in 1934 by a farreaching
reorganization of the entire education system. The new system called for
compulsory elementary education from the ages of four to fourteen. It
also provided for the expansion of secondary schools of various kinds;
the establishment of new technical, vocational, and commercial secondary
schools; and the acceleration and expansion of teacher training. The
obligatory provisions of the 1934 reorganization law were never enforced
in rural areas because the peasants needed their children to work in the
fields, and because of a lack of schoolhouses, teachers, and means of
The only minority schools operating in Albania before World War II
were those for the Greek minority living in the district of Gjirokastėr.
These schools too were closed by the constitutional amendment of 1933,
but Greece referred the case to the International Permanent Court of
Justice, which forced Albania to reopen them.
Pre-World War II Albania had no university-level education and all
advanced studies were pursued abroad. Every year the state granted a
limited number of scholarships to deserving high school graduates, who
otherwise could not afford to continue their education. But the largest
number of university students came from well-to-do families and thus
were privately financed. The great majority of the students attended
Italian universities because of their proximity and because of the
special relationship between the Rome and Tiranė governments. The
Italian government itself, following a policy of political, economic,
military, and cultural penetration of the country, granted a number of
scholarships to Albanian students recommended by its legation in Tiranė.
Soon after the Italians occupied Albania in April 1939, the education
system came under complete Italian control. Use of the Italian language
was made compulsory in all secondary schools, and the fascist ideology
and orientation were incorporated into the curricula. After 1941,
however, when guerilla groups began to operate against the Italian
forces, the whole education system became paralyzed. Secondary schools
became centers of resistance and guerrilla recruitment, and many
teachers and students went to the mountains to join resistance groups.
By September 1943, when Italy capitulated to the Allies and German
troops invaded and occupied Albania, education had come to a complete
Albania - Education under Communist Rule
Education under Communist Rule