Monday, October 17, 2011

Republic of Albania

Albania is a mystery to most people. All that I really knew was that we went to war with them in the movie Wag the Dog. Fiction's what I have discovered.

In Albanian the country is called Shqipëria. The Republic of Albania is a bit smaller than Maryland. Its capital city is Tirana. Albania sits in Southeast Europe and has a population close to 3 million people. It shares borders with Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. Italy is only 72 km (45 miles) away across the Adriatic. For a long time Albania was the most isolated country in Europe.

Albanians are descended from Illyrians who came to the Balkans around 2000 BC. Ancient Illyria fell to Rome in 165 BC and then came under Byzantine rule in 395 AD when the Roman Empire split in two. Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1385-1912 during which time most of the people converted to Islam. In 1912, Albania finally became an independent state.

In 1939, Italy invaded and occupied the country until the Germans took over in 1943. After WWII, the communists, led by Enver Hoxha, took over and that's when things get weird. Under Hoxha, Albania became an ultra-Stalinist state. In 1948, Albania broke off relations with Yugoslavia because of Yugoslav desires to absorb the country. It was a close ally of the Soviet Union until 1961 when Albania broke off diplomatic relations and became allies with China.

Like China, Albania had its own cultural revolution in 1967. People were transferred to remote areas while younger party members were given leading positions. Agriculture was completely collectivized. There was such a huge clamp down on religious activity that Albania declared itself the world's 1st atheist state. People were unable to give their children religious names without having to answer to the authorities.

In 1968, Albania quit the Warsaw Pact in protest of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Albania then embarked on a self-reliant defense policy. People had to construct concrete bunkers from where they could defend the country from an external invasion. The country is still littered with around 700,000 of these things. Then in 1978, the Albanian-Chinese alliance came to an end and Albania became even more isolated.

Hoxha died in 1985 and the system continued to fall apart. In 1992, the first free elections ended 47 years of xenophobic communist rule. In 1999, the struggling country had to deal with 465,000 refugees escaping the Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign in Kosovo.

Today Albania is a parliamentary democracy and has joined NATO. Albania wants to join the EU but its application for candidate status was rejected because it has not yet met all of the requirements to join. The country needs to continue fighting organized crime and government corruption, reform property rights, encourage media freedom and protect minority rights. Although the population is mostly secular, Albania, along with Kosovo and Turkey, is one of the only three Muslim-majority countries in Europe. Albania is still one of the poorest countries in Europe.

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