Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, but was conquered by Italy in 1939. Communist partisans took over the country in 1944. Albania allied itself first with the USSR (until 1960), and then with China (to 1978). In the early 1990s, Albania ended 46 years of xenophobic Communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven challenging as successive governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, widespread corruption, a dilapidated physical infrastructure, powerful organized crime networks, and combative political opponents. Albania has made progress in its democratic development since first holding multiparty elections in 1991, but deficiencies remain. International observers judged elections to be largely free and fair since the restoration of political stability following the collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997; however, there have been claims of electoral fraud in every one of Albania's post-communist elections. In the 2005 general elections, the Democratic Party and its allies won a decisive victory on pledges to reduce crime and corruption, promote economic growth, and decrease the size of government. The election, and particularly the orderly transition of power, was considered an important step forward. Albania joined NATO in April 2009 and is a potential candidate for EU accession. Although Albania's economy continues to grow, the country is still one of the poorest in Europe, hampered by a large informal economy and an inadequate energy and transportation infrastructure.
Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%
note:percentages are estimates; there are no available current statistics on religious affiliation; all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice
president elected by the Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); four election rounds held between 8 and 20 July 2007 (next election to be held in 2012); prime minister appointed by the president
unicameral Assembly or Kuvendi (140 seats; 100 members elected by direct popular vote and 40 by proportional vote to serve four-year terms)
last held on 28 June 2009 (next to be held in 2013)
percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PD 68, PS 64, LSI 4, other 4
note:Parliament in November 2008 approved an electoral reform package that transformed the electoral system from a majority system to a regional proportional system; the code also established an electoral threshold limiting smaller party representation
Agrarian Environmentalist Party or PAA [Lufter XHUVELI]; Christian Democratic Party or PDK [Nard NDOKA]; Communist Party of Albania or PKSH [Hysni MILLOSHI]; Democratic Alliance Party or AD [Neritan CEKA]; Democratic Party or PD [Sali BERISHA]; G99 Political Movement [Erion VELIAJ]; Liberal Union Party or BLD [Arjan STAROVA]; National Front Party (Balli Kombetar) or PBK [Artur ROSHI]; New Democratic Party or PDR [Genc POLLO]; Republican Party or PR [Fatmir MEDIU]; Social Democracy Party of Albania or PDSSh [Paskal MILO]; Social Democratic Party or PSD [Skender GJINUSHI]; Socialist Movement for Integration or LSI [Ilir META]; Socialist Party or PS [Edi RAMA]; Socialist Party 1991 [Petro KOCI]; Union for Human Rights Party or PBDNj [Vangjel DULE]
Citizens Advocacy Office [Kreshnik SPAHIU]; Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania or KSSH [Kastriot MUCO]; Front for Albanian National Unification or FBKSH [Gafur ADILI]; Mjaft Movement; Omonia [Jani JANI]; Union of Independent Trade Unions of Albania or BSPSH [Gezim KALAJA]
red with a black two-headed eagle in the center; the design is claimed to be that of 15th-century hero George Castriota SKANDERBERG, who led a successful uprising against the Turks that resulted in a short-lived independence for some Albanian regions (1443-1478); an unsubstantiated explanation for the eagle symbol is the tradition that Albanians see themselves as descendants of the eagle; they refer to themselves as "Shkypetars," which translates as "sons of the eagle"
Albania, a formerly closed, centrally-planned state, is making the difficult transition to a more modern open-market economy. Macroeconomic growth averaged around 6% between 2004-08, but declined to about 4% in 2009. Inflation is low and stable. The government has taken measures to curb violent crime, and recently adopted a fiscal reform package aimed at reducing the large gray economy and attracting foreign investment. The economy is bolstered by annual remittances from abroad representing about 15% of GDP, mostly from Albanians residing in Greece and Italy; this helps offset the towering trade deficit. The agricultural sector, which accounts for over half of employment but only about one-fifth of GDP, is limited primarily to small family operations and subsistence farming because of lack of modern equipment, unclear property rights, and the prevalence of small, inefficient plots of land. Energy shortages because of a reliance on hydropower, and antiquated and inadequate infrastructure contribute to Albania's poor business environment and lack of success in attracting new foreign investment needed to expand the country's export base. The completion of a new thermal power plant near Vlore has helped diversify generation capacity, and plans to upgrade transmission lines between Albania and Montenegro and Kosovo would help relieve the energy shortages. Also, with help from EU funds, the government is taking steps to improve the poor national road and rail network, a long-standing barrier to sustained economic growth.
general assessment: despite new investment in fixed lines teledensity remains low with roughly 10 fixed lines per 100 people; mobile-cellular telephone use is widespread and generally effective; combined fixed-line and mobile-cellular teledensity is now exceeds 100 per 100 persons
offsetting the shortage of fixed line capacity, mobile-cellular phone service has been available since 1996; by 2003, two companies were providing mobile services at a greater teledensity than some of Albania's neighbors; Internet broadband services initiated in 2005; Internet cafes are popular in Tirana and have started to spread outside the capital
country code - 355; submarine cable provides connectivity to Italy, Croatia, and Greece; the Trans-Balkan Line, a combination submarine cable and land fiber-optic system, provides additional connectivity to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Turkey; international traffic carried by fiber-optic cable and, when necessary, by microwave radio relay from the Tirana exchange to Italy and Greece (2009)
2 public television networks, one of which transmits by satellite to Albanian-language communities in neighboring countries; more than 60 private television stations operating; many viewers can pick up Italian and Greek TV broadcasts via terrestrial reception; cable TV service is available; 2 public radio networks and roughly 50 private radio stations; several international broadcasters are available (2008)
the Albanian Government calls for the protection of the rights of ethnic Albanians in neighboring countries, and the peaceful resolution of interethnic disputes; some ethnic Albanian groups in neighboring countries advocate for a "greater Albania," but the idea has little appeal among Albanian nationals; the mass emigration of unemployed Albanians remains a problem for developed countries, chiefly Greece and Italy
increasingly active transshipment point for Southwest Asian opiates, hashish, and cannabis transiting the Balkan route and - to a lesser extent - cocaine from South America destined for Western Europe; limited opium and expanding cannabis production; ethnic Albanian narcotrafficking organizations active and expanding in Europe; vulnerable to money laundering associated with regional trafficking in narcotics, arms, contraband, and illegal aliens