Introduction

Albania , officially the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeast Europe, bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west and on the Ionian Sea to the southwest. It is less than 72 km (45 mi) from Italy, across the Strait of Otranto which connects the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea.

The present territory of Albania was part of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia, Macedonia and Moesia Superior. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Europe following the Balkan Wars, Albania declared independence in 1912 and was recognized the following year. The Kingdom of Albania was invaded by Italy in 1939, which formed Greater Albania, before becoming a Nazi German protectorate in 1943. The following year, a socialist People's Republic was established under the leadership of Enver Hoxha and the Party of Labour. Albania experienced widespread social and political transformations in the communist era, as well as isolation from much of the international community. In 1991, the Socialist Republic was dissolved and the Republic of Albania was established.

Albania is a parliamentary republic. The country's capital, Tirana, is its financial and industrial heartland, with a population of about 800,000. Free-market reforms have opened the country to foreign investment, especially in the development of energy and transportation infrastructure. Albania has a high HDI and provides universal health care system and free primary and secondary education to its citizens. Albania is an upper-middle income economy with the service sector dominating the country's economy, followed by the industrial sector and agriculture.

Albania is a member of the United Nations, NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the World Trade Organization. It is one of the founding members of the Energy Community, Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and the Union for the Mediterranean. It is also an official candidate for membership in the European Union.


Understand

While the relative majority of the people in Albania are of Muslim heritage (55-65%), according to the polls, around 35% of the Albanians are agnostics; 22% are atheists; 19% are Muslim; 15% are Orthodox; 8% are Catholics and 1% are of other religions. "Mixed" marriages are very common.

Traditional Albanian culture honors the role and person of the guest. In return for this place of honor, respect is expected from the guest. Albanians enjoy the long walks in the city streets, drinking coffee, and among the younger generations, participating in nightlife activities such as cafe lounging and dancing.

Albania is a poor country by European standards.

Demographics

According to the 2011 Census results, the total population of Albania is 2,821,977 with a low Fertility rate of 1.49 children born per woman. The fall of the Communist regime in 1990 Albania was accompanied with massive migration. External migration was prohibited outright in Communist Albania while internal migration was quite limited, hence this was a new phenomenon. Between 1991 and 2004, roughly 900,000 people have migrated out of Albania, about 600,000 of them settling in Greece. Migration greatly affected Albania's internal population distribution. Population decreased mainly in the North and South of the country while it increased in Tirana and Durrës center districts. According to the Albanian Institute of Statistics, the population of Albania is 2,893,005 as of 1 January 2015.

Issues of ethnicity are a delicate topic and subject to debate. "Although official statistics have suggested that Albania is one of the most homogenous countries in the region (with an over 97 per cent Albanian majority) minority groups (such as Greeks, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Roma and Vlachs/Aromanians) have often questioned the official data, claiming a larger share in the country's population.

 The last census that contained ethnographic data (before the 2011 one) was conducted in 1989.

Albania recognizes three national minorities, Greeks, Macedonians and Montenegrins, and two cultural minorities, Aromanians and Romani people. Other Albanian minorities are Bulgarians, Gorani, Serbs, Balkan Egyptians, Bosniaks and Jews. Regarding the Greeks, "it is difficult to know how many Greeks there are in Albania. The Greek government, it is typically claimed, says that there are around 300,000 ethnic Greeks in Albania, but most western estimates are around 200,000 mark (although EEN puts the number at a probable 100,000)." The Albanian government puts the number at only 24,243." The CIA World Factbook estimates the Greek minority at 0.9% of the total population and the US State Department uses 1.17% for Greeks and 0.23% for other minorities. However, the latter questions the validity of the data about the Greek minority, due to the fact that measurements have been affected by boycott.

According to the 2011 census the population of Albania declared the following ethnic affiliation: Albanians 2,312,356 (82.6% of the total), Greeks 24,243 (0.9%), Macedonians 5,512 (0.2%), Montenegrins 366 (0.01%), Aromanians 8,266 (0.30%), Romani 8,301 (0.3%), Balkan Egyptians 3,368 (0.1%), other ethnicities 2,644 (0.1%), no declared ethnicity 390,938 (14.0%), and not relevant 44,144 (1.6%).

Macedonian and some Greek minority groups have sharply criticized Article 20 of the Census law, according to which a $1,000 fine will be imposed on anyone who will declare an ethnicity other than what is stated on his or her birth certificate. This is claimed to be an attempt to intimidate minorities into declaring Albanian ethnicity, according to them the Albanian government has stated that it will jail anyone who does not participate in the census or refuse to declare his or her ethnicity. Genc Pollo, the minister in charge has declared that: "Albanian citizens will be able to freely express their ethnic and religious affiliation and mother tongue. However, they are not forced to answer these sensitive questions". The amendments criticized do not include jailing or forced declaration of ethnicity or religion; only a fine is envisioned which can be overthrown by court.

Greek representatives form part of the Albanian parliament and the government has invited Albanian Greeks to register, as the only way to improve their status. On the other hand, nationalists, various intellectuals organizations and political parties in Albania have expressed their concern that the census might artificially increase the number of Greek minority, which might be then exploited by Greece to threaten Albania's territorial integrity.

Religion

According to the 2011 census, 58.79% of Albania adheres to Islam, making it the largest religion in the country; Christianity is practiced by 17.06% of the population, and 24.29% of the total population is either non-religious, belongs to other religious groups, or are 'undeclared'. Both the Albanian Orthodox church and the Bektashi Sufi order refused to recognize the 2011 census results regarding faith, with the Orthodox claiming that 24% of the total population are Albanian Orthodox Christians rather than just 6.75%. Before World War II, 70% of the population were Muslims, 20% Eastern Orthodox, and 10% Roman Catholics. According to a 2010 survey, religion today plays an important role in the lives of only 39% of Albanians, and Albania is ranked among the least religious countries in the world. A 2012 Pew Research Center study found that 65% of Albanian Muslims are non-denominational Muslims.

The Albanians first appeared in the historical record in Byzantine sources of the late 11th century. At this point, they were already fully Christianized. Islam came for the first time in the 9th century to the region which is known as Albania today. It later emerged as the majority religion during the centuries of Ottoman rule, though a significant Christian minority remained. After independence (1912) from the Ottoman Empire, the Albanian republican, monarchic and later Communist regimes followed a systematic policy of separating religion from official functions and cultural life. Albania never had an official state religion either as a republic or as a kingdom. In the 20th century, the clergy of all faiths was weakened under the monarchy, and ultimately eradicated during the 1950s and 1960s, under the state policy of obliterating all organized religion from Albanian territories.

The Communist regime that took control of Albania after World War II persecuted and suppressed religious observance and institutions and entirely banned religion to the point where Albania was officially declared to be the world's first atheist state. Religious freedom has returned to Albania since the regime's change in 1992. Albania joined the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in 1992, following the fall of the communist government, but will not be attending the 2014 conference due a dispute regarding the fact that its parliament never ratified the country's membership. Albanian Muslim populations (mainly secular and of the Sunnibranch) are found throughout the country whereas Albanian Orthodox Christians as well as Bektashis are concentrated in the south and Roman Catholics are found in the north of the country.

The first recorded Albanian Protestant was Said Toptani, who traveled around Europe, and in 1853 returned to Tirana and preached Protestantism. He was arrested and imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities in 1864. Mainline evangelical Protestants date back to the work of Congregational and later Methodist missionaries and the work of the British and Foreign Bible

The Evangelical Alliance, which is known as VUSh, was founded in 1892. Today VUSh has about 160 member congregations from different Protestant denominations. VUSh organizes marches in Tirana including one against blood feuds in 2010. Bibles are provided by the Interconfessional Bible Society of Albania. The first full Albanian Bible to be printed was the Filipaj translation printed in 1990.

Seventh-day Adventist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah's Witnesses also have a number of adherents in Albania.

Albania was the only country in Europe where Jewish population experienced growth during the Holocaust. After the mass emigration to Israel since the fall of Communist regime, only 200 Albanian Jews are left in the country today.

According to 2008 statistics from the religious communities in Albania, there are 1119 churches and 638 mosques in the country. The Roman Catholic mission declared 694 Catholic churches. The Christian Orthodox community, 425 Orthodox churches. The Muslim community, 568 mosques and 70 Bektashi tekkes.

Economy

Albania's transition from a socialist centrally planned economy to a capitalist mixed economyhas been largely successful. "Formal non-agricultural employment in the private sector more than doubled between 1999 and 2013," notes the World Bank, with much of this expansion powered by foreign investment.

In 2012, Albania's GDP per capita (expressed in purchasing power parity) stood at 30% of the EU average, while AIC (Actual Individual Consumption) was 35%. Albania, Cyprus, and Poland were the only countries in Europe to record economic growth in the first quarter of 2010. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted 2.6% growth for Albania in 2010 and 3.2% in 2011. Unemployment has fluctuated around the 15% mark for the last decade.

Agriculture remains the most significant sector of the economy. It employs 47.8% of the population, and about 24.31% of the land is used for agricultural purposes. Domestic farm products accounted for 63% of household expenditures and 25% of exports in 1990.

As part of the pre-accession process of Albania to the EU, farmers are being aided through IPA 2011 funds to improve Albanian agriculture standards. Albania produces significant amounts of tobacco, olives, wheat, maize, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, sugar beets, grapes; meat, honey, dairy products, and traditional medicine and aromatic plants, figs(13th largest producer in the world)  and sour cherries. Albania's proximity to the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea give the underdeveloped fishing industry great potential. World Bank and European Community economists report that Albania's fishing industry has good potential to generate export earnings because prices in the nearby Greek and Italian markets are many times higher than those in the Albanian market. The fish available off the coasts of Albania are carp, trout, sea bream, mussels, and crustaceans.

Nearly all the country's electricity is generated by ageing hydroelectric power plants, which are becoming more ineffective due to increasing droughts. There has been much private investment in a new generation of hydroelectric plants, such as Devoll Hydro Power Plant and the Ashta hydropower plant. Albania and Croatia have discussed the possibility of jointly building a nuclear power plant at Lake Shkoder, close to the borderwith Montenegro, a plan that has gathered criticism from Montenegro due to seismicity in the area. In addition, there is some doubt whether Albania would be able to finance a project of such a scale with a total national budget of less than $5 billion. However, in February 2009 Italian company Enel announced plans to build an 800 MW coal-fired power plant in Albania, to diversify electricity sources.

The country has large deposits of petroleum and natural gas, and produced 26,000 barrels of oil per day in the first quarter of 2014 (BNK-TC). Natural gas production, estimated at about 30 million m3, is sufficient to meet consumer demands.

Other natural resources include coal, bauxite, copper and iron ore. Albania has the largest onshore oil reserves in Europe.

Tourism is gaining in its share of Albania's GDP, with visitors growing every year. Exports increased 300% during 2008–14, although their contribution to the GDP is still moderate (the value of exports per capita stands at $1,100). Albania's growth slowed in 2013, though tourism continued its dramatic expansion, and FDI maintained its upward trend as the government continued its modernization program.

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