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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 6,124 4,695 4,100 109
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,740 1,380 1,340 120
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Albania

Update No: 161 - (27/10/10)

South we go
Albania is in the South Stream gas pipeline, which will carry Russian gas to south eastern Europe.

Vladimir Titov says Russia will consider extending the planned pipeline to the small Balkan country, according to an Albanian government statement. Albania is not currently linked to any international gas pipelines.

Titov spoke after talks with Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

South Stream will deal a blow to the rival Nabucco pipeline, which is supported by the U.S. and the European Union.

Austria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Croatia have signed onto South Stream, which will lead under the Black Sea to Bulgaria. The joint venture between Russia's Gazprom and Italy's Eni will open in 2015.

Anti-mafia collaboration with Italy
There is a major problem in Albania, the mafia, which has extensive ramifications in Italy. Progress is being made in combating this scourge.

Prosecutors in the southern town of Vlora seized the property of Albino Prudentino, one of the top mafia bosses in southern Italy, on October 4th. Acting on instructions from across the Adriatic, authorities seized the Artur resort, just outside Tirana, and a restaurant in Vlora. Prudentino was arrested there in a joint crack down on organised crime, with Italian authorities. Last month, a court in the southern Italian town of Lecce issued a warrant on charges of criminal mafia-style collaboration, drug trafficking and kidnapping. Albanian police said seven other members of the Sacra Corona Unita mafia organisation were also arrested. Prudentino allegedly established a base in Vlora, renting two shops and a casino as a cover. His property was seized based on Albania's anti-mafia law. Investigators are looking at companies in which shareholders include relatives of Albanian government officials.


Wisdom via Wisdom
Through decades of Communist isolation, Albanians had little reason to laugh. Authorities imposed a ruthless ban on most forms of free expression, outlawed religion, overseas travel, and Western movies - making one curious exception.

British slapstick comedian Norman Wisdom was the only Western entertainer shown on Albanian television during the grim years under paranoid dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania from 1941 to 1985.

The acrobatic funny man — who apparently amused Communist authorities with his portrayal of the downtrodden Englishman — died in Britain at the age of 95 on October 18 after suffering a series of strokes.

Albanians, from the country's current leader to ordinary citizens who lived under Communism, paid tribute to the man who made them laugh.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha said he was "deeply saddened" at Wisdom's death, describing the actor on Tuesday as the nation's "most beloved entertainer."

Wisdom was known in Albania for his role as Norman Pitkin, a clumsy underdog battling adversity, with his trademark cloth cap worn sideways.

"Pitkin brought us light during our time of darkness. He made us laugh during our bleak childhoods under the Communist regime," said Albert Rakipi, a 49-year-old charity worker.

Wisdom twice visited Albania after the fall of Communism 1990, and was surprised at the reception he got.

"We knew he was popular here and in other countries, but we didn't realize the type of reaction he would get when he got out there. It was just like the Beatlemania of the 60's," Johnny Mans, Wisdom's agent, told the AP. "They just wanted to kiss him and touch him. Even people up in the mountains, shepherds and such, knew who he was. It was an amazing experience to visit Albania with Norman and I will never forget it."

Wisdom, also an accomplished singer and musician, grew up in poverty, spent most of his childhood in foster homes, and found himself a homeless teenager in London before joining the army as a means or survival. He became a full-time entertainer after leaving the military, launching a varied career in film and music.

He acted in Broadway in the 1960s, when he was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in the comedy "Walking Happy." His filmed included "Trouble in Store" in 1953 and "The Night They Raided Minsky's" in 1968, which he made in Hollywood. His subsequent career was largely based in television.

He specialized in family-friendly slapstick comedy in the 1950s and 1960s — in his role at Pitkin, which Albania's authorities considered safe to show their audience. "Norman Wisdom always played the character that was downtrodden by bosses of big companies but was always successful in the end," Wisdom's agent Mans said. "I believe Hoxha's thoughts were that Communism was the downtrodden character with the capitalists keeping them down."

Albania was the most isolated among Europe's former communist regimes, severing all ties with the West as well as the Soviet-dominated East. During Communism, many Albanians didn't have a television in their home, and those who did could only watch one state-run, black-and-white channel filled with news programs advertising the regime's achievements in agriculture and education.

On rare occasion, it would show Italian films and Hollywood epics like the 1960 Oscar-winning movie "Spartacus," but Pitkin movies remained the national favourite.

"He was the source of humour in our homes, a glimpse of the Western world that we could not taste ourselves, living in isolated Albania," said Vladimir Mollaj, a 49-year-old owner of a fish restaurant in Albania's capital, Tirana.

On one of his visits to Albania in 2001, Wisdom watched England play Albania at soccer. His trip overshadowed the presence of soccer star David Beckham, and to please the home crowd Wisdom watched the match in a jersey made stitching together the national team shirts of England and Albania. Sulejman Starova, coach of Tirana soccer club, and then secretary-general of the country's soccer federation, remembered Norman showing up at the match.

"We lost the match 2-0," he said. "But he helped Albania play a great game."


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