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. The 2009 general elections resulted in no single party gaining a majority of the 140 seats in Parliament, and the Movement for Socialist Integration (LSI) and the Democratic Party (DP) combined to form a coalition government, the first such in Albania's history. The Socialist Party (SP) has, in effect, boycotted Parliament since it convened in September 2009 and has called for investigations into alleged electoral fraud in the June 2009 elections. 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 three-fifths 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 deputies; 100 deputies elected directly in single member electoral zones with an approximate number of voters; 40 deputies elected from multi-name lists of parties or party coalitions according to their respective order; elected for a 4-year term)
last held on 28 June 2009 (next to be held in 2013)
percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PD 68, PS 65, LSI 4, other 3
Constitutional Court consists of 9 members appointed by the president with the consent of the Assembly who serve 9-year terms (chairman is elected by the People's Assembly for a four-year term); the High Court members appointed by the president with the consent of the Assembly for a 9-year term; note - there are also courts of appeal and courts of first instance
Democratic Party or PD [Sali BERISHA]; New Democracy Party or PDR [Genc POLLO]; Party for Justice and Integration or PDI [Shpetim IDRIZ]; Republican Party or PR [Fatmir MEDIU]; Social Democracy Party or PDS [Paskel MILO]; Social Democratic Party or PSD [Skender GJINUSHI]; Socialist Movement for Integration or LSI [Ilir META]; Socialist Party or PS [Edi RAMA]; Unity for Human Rights Party or PBDNJ [Vangjel DULE]
Red and Black Alliance [Kreshnik SPAHIU]; Front for Albanian National Unification or FBKSH [Gafur ADILI]; Mjaft Movement [Elton KACIDHJA]; Omonia [Vasil BOLLANO]; 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 SKANDERBEG, 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 3% in 2009-10. 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. Remittances, a significant catalyst for economic growth have declined from 12-15% of GDP to 9% of GDP in 2009, mostly from Albanians residing in Greece and Italy; this helps offset the towering trade deficit. The agricultural sector, which accounts for almost 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. FDI is among the lowest in the region, but the government has embarked on an ambitious program to improve the business climate through fiscal and legislative reforms. 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
offsetting the shortage of fixed line capacity, mobile-cellular phone service has been available since 1996; by 2010 multiple companies were providing mobile services and mobile teledensity exceeded 130 per 100 persons; Internet broadband services initiated in 2005 but growth has been slow; 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)
3 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 25 private radio stations; several international broadcasters are available (2010)
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