Albania, Europe, was the 104th country / autonomous region I visited and now only the new countries that were previously part of the Soviet Union remain for me to have visited all of Europe’s countries.
According to areacodesexplorer, Albania, one of Europe’s smallest countries, is located in the Balkans and has long interested me. I have deliberately refrained from traveling here because the country belongs to a region that has often been affected by unrest. After trips to Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, I thought the time was ripe to also visit Albania to see what this country has to offer a traveler. I was pleasantly surprised by my tour of this small mountainous and scenic country which also has some cultural attractions to offer.
Unfortunately, there are not many guide books to choose from when planning your trip in Albania. The only one that was reasonably good that I found is published by an English publisher, but it is also somewhat out of date, I discovered during the trip. Information can also be found online. Rental car is good to have access to because the bus connections to smaller places are difficult to sort out for those who do not speak Albanian.
After studying the guidebook, visiting various websites with information about Albania and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, I decided on the following approach; visits to the capital Tirana and to the cities of Ebasan, Korca, Gjirokastra, Saranda and Berat as well as to the World Heritage Butrint in the southern part of the country. To get to these cities, I rented a car in Tirana. I visited the cities of Shkodra and Durres using local buses.
With this arrangement, I was able to visit most of Albania’s sights and world heritage sites in Butrint, Gjirokasta and Berat. The car journey took me through beautiful nature and impressive mountain massifs. In total, I drove 1,140 kilometers on the, often very bad, Albanian roads. My journey began and ended in Tirana.
Albania history in brief
The Albanians are believed to be descended from the Illyrians, an Indo-European people who lived on the western side of the Balkan Peninsula around the year 1,000 BC (late Bronze Age). The Romans began invading what we now call Albania in the 200s BC and had finally defeated the rebellious Illyrian tribes in 9 AD. When the Roman Empire was divided in 395, Albania became part of the Eastern Roman Empire Byzantium.
The Turks, the Ottomans, began the conquest of Albania in the late 14th century, but the Albanian national hero Georg Kastriota, often called Skanderbeg, was able to unite the tribes into united resistance. For a quarter of a century they managed to withstand the Ottomans. Ten years after Skanderbeg’s death in 1468, Albania was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire and remained, despite several uprisings, under Turkish rule until 1912.
From the struggle for the right to use the Albanian language, an increasingly strong Albanian nationalism and more organized resistance developed during the second half of the 19th century. However, several uprisings were crushed.
Some important years in the history of Albania 1900 – 1999
States of the Balkans; Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro, declared war on the Ottoman Empire. During the war, several of them claimed Albanian territory, which led to Muslim and Christian leaders declaring Albania an independent state in November.
At the peace talks in London in May, Albania was recognized as independent. However, about half of the Albanian population ended up in neighboring countries. Serbia got the province of Kosovo, among others, and Greece got other Albanian territories.
As regent of Albania, the great powers appointed the Prussian Prince Wilhelm of Wied. The popular resistance and the outbreak of the First World War made him leave the country after only six months
After the First World War, Albania was threatened by a new division, which the Albanians managed to avert at the Paris Peace Conference
During several years of internal strife, Ahmed Zogu, a clan chief from northern Albania, seized power with the help of Serbia, among others.
Ahmed Zogu proclaimed King of Albania under the name Zog I. He entered into a military and political alliance with fascist Italy
The Italians occupied Albania and had a Greater Albania established, including Kosovo and the Albanian parts of Macedonia. The king fled abroad with the treasury
The Albanian Communist Party was formed
In the autumn, the Italian occupation forces were replaced by German troops.
In July, a partisan army was set up on the initiative of the Communist Party. The partisans and other armed organizations with nationalists and royalists fought among themselves while trying to drive out the occupying power
The Communists won the Civil War. In October, they formed a provisional government led by Enver Hoxha. Shortly afterwards, the partisans had driven out all foreign troops
When World War II was over, an election was held in December in which only communists participated
The People’s Republic of Albania was formed and a friendship agreement with Yugoslavia was signed
Yugoslav leader Tito planned a union between Yugoslavia and Albania. The idea was to merge Albania with Kosovo into the seventh republic of Yugoslavia
When Moscow broke with the Yugoslav government, the merger plans were shelved and Albania instead became a strong partner with the Soviet Union, which was allowed to build a naval base in the city of Durres.
After the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated and the Albanian government began to approach Yugoslavia instead.
Albania broke off relations with the Soviet Union and instead established contact with China. The Soviet Union was forced to leave the base in Durres and Soviet aid was replaced by a Chinese one. This hampered the country’s economy and led to demands for change. Prime Minister Hoxha responded with a series of purges in the leadership
Albania distanced itself from China when China established relations with the United States and sought to improve relations with Yugoslavia
Chinese aid ceased and Albania’s international isolation became almost total. Albania’s constitution prohibited the government from borrowing money abroad and receiving aid. Nor were foreign companies allowed to establish themselves in Albania
Enver Hoxha’s regime aroused the disgust of the outside world, which further contributed to Albania’s isolation. No Eastern European country has gone as far as Albania in imitating Stalin’s coercion and terrorism. Thousands of “class enemies” were executed, imprisoned, deported within the country or interned in labor camps. At the same time, the Albanian leader became the subject of a fanatical cult of personality
Enver Hoxha passed away and was succeeded by Ramiz Alia, who pursued a cautious reform policy. However, Albania remained Europe’s poorest country and Albanians’ dissatisfaction with the regime increased
The political changes that led to the fall of communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe also reached Albania and more and more Albanians tried to leave the country, while demands for democracy increased in
. The Communists received two-thirds of the votes. The newly elected parliament recognized the right to, among other things, private property, freedom of expression and emigration. A new presidential post was introduced and Ramiz Alia was appointed president
The unrest in the country continued, however. The government was forced to resign after a few weeks
In June, a coalition government took office that included both major parties. Communists change name to Albanian Socialist Party (PSSH)
The country’s economy collapsed. The lack of food led to looting and famine and people emigrated on a large scale. The government was forced to resign and new elections were called for March. In this the opposition won. The PDS formed a government together with two small parties. President Alia was succeeded by PDS leader Sali Berisha The
Berisha regime launched a campaign to eradicate communism. The assets of the old Communist Party were confiscated and trials were launched against several former Communist leaders
The leader of the Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for abusing international aid. The Socialist Party claimed that Nano had been imprisoned for political reasons
In the run-up to the election, the government’s political opponents were harassed. Laws were introduced to exclude Communist-era executives from public office. Many of the Socialist Party’s politicians were affected, while the government’s sympathizers were protected. Yet Sali Berisha herself was a member of the Communist Party during the Hoxha era. The
Democratic Party won the election in May. Several parties boycotted the election and protested against election fraud, which was confirmed by international observers. A new coalition government was formed, dominated by the Democratic Party
Berisha began to control more and more autocratically and gain full control over the media. Independent newspapers and the political opposition were constantly harassed by the security police
Serious protests erupted when the so-called pyramid schemes collapsed. The Pyramid Games were a kind of investment fund that functioned more or less like a chain letter. Many were completely destitute when the pyramids collapsed. Subsequently, protests against the government spread throughout the country and great lawlessness prevailed. The government asked the outside world for help to restore order and was forced to call new elections.
In the June election, the Socialist Party gained its own majority in parliament. Rexhep Mejdani, Secretary General of the Socialist Party, was appointed new President. The main task of the new government was to restore order, collect all the weapons that were in circulation, deal with the many gangs of bandits and dissolve the rebel councils that ruled several places in the south, and succeeded in part with this
1998 – 1999
During the unrest in the province of Kosovo and NATO’s military intervention, some
450,000 Kosovo Albanians fled to Albania