Books on Albania
Update No: 109 - (29/06/06)
People and history
A profile of Albania's people and history is useful at this time of great
transition, with a new government in place. What are the characteristics of the
country on which it is impinging?
Over 90% of Albania's people are ethnic Albanian, and Albanian is the official
language. Religions include Muslim (Sunni and Bektashi), Albanian Orthodox, and
Scholars believe the Albanian people are descended from a non-Slavic, non-Turkic
group of tribes known as Illyrians, who arrived in the Balkans around 2000 BC.
Modern Albanians still distinguish between Ghegs (northern tribes) and Tosks
(southern tribes). After falling under Roman authority in 165 BC, Albania was
controlled nearly continuously by a succession of foreign powers until the
mid-20th century, with only brief periods of self-rule.
Following the split of the Roman Empire in 395, the Byzantine Empire established
its control over present-day Albania. In the 11th century, Byzantine Emperor
Alexius I Comnenus made the first recorded reference to a distinct area of land
known as Albania and to its people.
The Ottoman Empire ruled Albania from 1385-1912. During this time, much of the
population converted to the Islamic faith, and Albanians also emigrated to
Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey. Although its control was briefly disrupted
during the 1443-78 revolt, led by Albania's national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti
Skenderbeg, the Ottomans eventually reasserted their dominance, after his death.
In the early 20th century, the weakened Ottoman Empire was no longer able to
suppress Albanian nationalism. The League of Prizren (1878) promoted the idea of
an Albanian nation-state and established the modern Albanian alphabet. Following
the conclusion of the First Balkan War, Albanians issued the Vlore Proclamation
of November 28, 1912, declaring independence. Albania's borders were established
by the Great Powers in 1913. Albania's territorial integrity was confirmed at
the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after US President Woodrow Wilson dismissed
a plan by the European powers to divide Albania among its neighbours. In
retrospect, that would have made Serbia's Kosovo look like a side show, when the
forces of independence got to work since the 1990's.
During the Second World War, Albania was occupied first by Italy (1939-43) and
then by Germany (1943-44). After the war, Communist Party leader, Enver Hoxha,
through a combination of ruthlessness and strategic alliances, managed to
preserve Albania's territorial integrity during the next 40 years, but exacted a
terrible price from the population, which was subjected to purges, shortages,
repression of civil and political rights, a total ban on religious observance,
and increased isolation. Albania adhered to a strict Stalinist philosophy,
eventually withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact in 1968 and alienating its final
remaining ally, China in 1978.
Following Hoxha's death in 1985 and the subsequent fall of Communism in 1991,
Albanian society struggled to overcome its historical isolation and
underdevelopment. During the initial transition period, the Albanian Government
sought closer ties with the West in order to improve economic conditions and
introduced basic democratic reforms, including a multi-party system.
In 1992, after the sweeping electoral victory of the Democratic Party, Sali
Berisha, became the first democratically elected President of Albania. Berisha
began a more deliberate program of economic and democratic reform but progress
on these issues stalled in the mid-1990s, due to political gridlock. At the same
time, unscrupulous investment scams defrauded investors all over Albania using
pyramid schemes. In early 1997, several of these pyramid schemes collapsed,
leaving thousands of people bankrupt, disillusioned, and angry. Armed revolts
broke out across the country, leading to the near-total collapse of government
authority. During this time, Albania's already inadequate and antiquated
infrastructure suffered tremendous damage, as people looted public works for
building materials. Weapons depots all over the country were raided and emptied.
The anarchy of early 1997 alarmed the world and prompted intensive international
Order was restored by a UN Multinational Protection Force, and an interim
national reconciliation government oversaw the general elections of June 1997,
which returned the Socialists and their allies to power at the national level.
President Berisha resigned, and the Socialists elected Rexhep Meidani as
President of the Republic.
In 1999 the nation gained much international respect by the way in which they
'took in' 450,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovar refugees from Milosevic's Serbian
'Security' troops' ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Kosovo. This also brought
into their previously almost 'unknown' country, so long bypassed by mainstream
history, large numbers of International agency refugee and relief personnel,
NGOs and some 8,000 NATO troops who immediately did a good job by clearing off
Albania's highways the brigand-controlled highway-robbery checkpoints, that had
plagued travellers for many years.
During the transitional period of 1997-2002, a series of short-lived
Socialist-led governments succeeded one another as Albania's fragile democratic
structures were strengthened. Additional political parties formed, media outlets
expanded, non-governmental organizations and business associations developed. In
1998, Albanians ratified a new constitution via popular referendum, guaranteeing
the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights and religious
freedom. Fatos Nano, Chairman of the Socialist Party, emerged as Prime Minister
in July 2002.
On July 24th 2002, Alfred Moisiu was sworn in as President of the Republic. A
nonpartisan figure, nominally associated with the Democratic Party, he was
elected as a consensus candidate of the ruling and opposition parties. The
peaceful transfer of power from President Meidani to President Moisiu was the
result of an agreement between the parties to engage each other within
established parliamentary structures. This "truce" ushered in a new
period of political stability in Albania, making possible significant progress
in democratic and economic reforms, rule of law initiatives, and the development
of Albania's relations with its neighbours and the US
The "truce" between party leaders began fraying in summer 2003.
Progress on economic and political reforms suffered noticeably since the latter
half of 2003 because of political infighting. Nationwide municipal elections
were held in October 2003. Although a significant improvement over past years,
there were still widespread administrative errors, including inaccuracies in the
The July 3rd 2005 general elections were considered a step in the right
direction in terms of Albania's consolidation of democracy. The Democratic Party
and its allies returned to power in a decisive victory, pledging to fight crime
and corruption, decrease the size and scope of government, and promote economic
growth. Their leader, Sali Berisha, was sworn in as Prime Minister in September
New government forms
The EU and the United States duly welcomed the new government in Albania,
headed by the Democratic Party (DP) and led by Berisha. The cabinet was sworn in
on September 11th last year after receiving parliamentary approval the day
"The EU welcomes the conclusion of the election process in Albania, which
has resulted in the first peaceful transfer of power since the fall of
communism,'' the British presidency of the EU at the time said in a statement.
It urged lawmakers to begin implementing changes meant to "direct the
country towards integration into Europe" -- particularly, boosting the rule
of law and moving ahead with electoral reform.
The date of the new government's formation, four years exactly after 9:11, is
poignant. Albania has been a staunch ally in the struggle against terrorism,
Tirana being a haunt of Islamic terrorists hoping to penetrate Europe by the
back door of the only country on the continent, Turkey excepted, with an
overwhelming 70% Moslem population, which being said should be qualified by the
fact that after 45 years of communism, the Albanian version of Islam is moderate
The United States, through Ambassador Marcie Ries, had greeted the
"successful parliamentary elections and the power shifting
transition," which she said at the time demonstrated the progress of
democracy. Her comments had come during a meeting with Berisha, during which she
presented him with a message of congratulations from US President George W.
According to a White House press release, Bush told Berisha that his country
should be proud of the peaceful transfer of power. He called on the new
parliament and government to move forward with anti-corruption efforts and with
creating a better business environment. He also thanked Albania for its
contribution to the global war on terror.
Berisha, meanwhile, has already met with World Bank experts to discuss the
country's further economic development. At a seminar in the coastal city of
Durres, he urged the Bank to assist the cabinet in implementing its programmes,
including the key objective of fighting corruption.
Berisha vows radical measures against crime, corruption
Prime Minister Berisha vowed radical measures to fight crime and corruption,
during a news conference on 10th May. He said his government is drafting severe
penalties against individuals or structures with proven links to organised
Also under consideration are budgetary changes aimed at allocating more funds to
the police, as well as possible changes to the penal code, which would tighten
sanctions against those trafficking women and children.
In other news, local media reports suggest ties between Albania and China have
grown strained over a case involving five Chinese Uighur Muslims, who were
released recently from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay and given asylum in
Albania. According to the Albanian News, US authorities did not send them back
to China, in light of human rights concerns there. China continues to seek their
Albania's path to membership improves
Albania has one of the lowest standards of living in Europe, although it is
no longer the poorest country on the continent after years of 7% annual growth
of GDP in the 2000s. That dubious distinction belongs now to Moldova.
The European Union and Albania signed a stabilisation and association agreement
in May, the first step on the western Balkan state's path to EU membership.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg also gave the green light for a trade
deal with Tirana. The 25-nation bloc has urged Albania to improve its public
administration, create an independent judicial system and continue reforms to
attract more foreign investment.
Albania must also fight corruption and organised crime - a major undertaking -
and ensure media freedom, the EU demanded. In March, the European Commission
said it wanted the 25 EU members to give the go-ahead to the new agreement,
which aims to bring Albania closer to the EU and provides for help with reform.
The EU and Albania have been negotiating the deal since 2003. The agreement must
be ratified by the Albanian government, each of the 25 EU members and the
European Parliament before it comes into force.
Out of the six countries of the western Balkans, Slovenia is now in full
membership, Croatia and Macedonia have concluded stabilisation and association
agreements with the EU and achieved the status of EU membership candidates.
Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are negotiating similar deals with the EU.
OK on sale of BKT's 60% to Turkish consortium
Albania's Central Bank has approved the sale of 60 per cent of the local
privately held National Commercial Bank (BKT) to a Turkish consortium,
Calik-Seker Konsorsiyum Yatirim, the news agency reporter.gr reported.
The central bank's approval was one of the conditions for the finalisation of
the deal. In mid-April, 2006 BKT requested that Albania's central bank rule on
the sale of the stake, the news report said. The Calik-Seker consortium, based
in Istanbul, was formed by Calik group and Turkish Sekerbank. Its main business
is investing in bank units and providing consultancy services on bank
organisation, management and business. BKT, which is currently the
second-largest bank in Albania in terms of assets, was established in July 1997
by the state-run Albanian Commercial Bank (BTSH) and the Commercial Bank of
Albania (BKSH). It started operations in 1998.
EBRD to finance power rehabilitation
Korporata Elektroenergjetike Shqiptare (KESH) has applied for and intends to
use the proceeds of a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development (EBRD) towards the parallel financing of the rehabilitation of six
transmission substations crucial to the operation of Albania's transmission
system and to its participation in the regional energy market, www.reporter.gr
This infrastructure development is part of an overall series of improvements
needed in Albania and elsewhere in Southeast Europe for respective domestic
purposes. It will also assist the region to achieve greater integration with the
EU as planned under the ECSEE Treaty leading to a single electricity market. The
proposed project has a total estimated cost of US$52 million and is due to be
completed before July 31 2009. Tendering for the bank-financed packages is
expected to begin in the third-quarter 2006. The bank-financed packages will be
procured as single-point responsibility supply-and-install contracts with fixed
price, it was reported.
Plans for privatisation of Power Co. KESH
Albania plans to privatise state-owned power incumbent, KESH, by June, according
to a statement made by Deputy Minister of Economy, Trade and Energy, Gjergji
Bojaxhi, New Europe reported.
Firstly, the Government plans to privatise the distribution arm of KESH within
two years at the latest. KESH is a state-owned monopoly with production,
transmission and distribution sectors, but lags in investments, consumer
non-payment of bills and a lack of generation capacity. Albania's national
energy strategy posted annual consumption of around 6.6 TWh, with 4.1 TWh
generated domestically, news reports said. However, 98 per cent of this comes
from hydro power plants, so the quantity of imports or amount of load shedding
from major consumers depends on river conditions.
Italian companies investments at 9.5 million Euro
The investments of Italian companies in Albania amounts to some 9.5 million
Euro, according to the local office of the Italian Foreign Trade Institute
(ICE), ANSAmed reported recently.
The most dynamic economic sectors are: building materials, housing, textiles,
clothing, footwear, assemblage of electric parts and motors, wood processing,
pharmaceuticals, services, food and agriculture. The biggest concentration, or
75 per cent of Italian investors, is in Tirana, Durres and Kavaja. Fifteen per
cent are in Scutari, Puke and Kukes. After a decrease of Italian presence in the
past, there is now renewed enthusiasm from Italian small and medium enterprises
returning to the Albanian market. The Marches region's imports from Albania
amount to some 25 million Euro, or 0.5 per cent of the region's total imports.
Exports to Albania stand at some 52 million Euro, 0.6 per cent of the total
exports. As many as 17 per cent of the foreigners with residence permits in
Marches are Albanians, five per cent of Albanians legally living in Italy.