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A Brief Historical Overview

Albania, in the southeastern corner of Europe, has been populated since prehistoric times and was settled by the Illyrians, possible ancestors of present-day Albanians, in Paleolithic times.Situated where it is and surrounded by powerful, warring empires, Albania has seen a lot of violence throughout its history. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans swept through, leaving their mark and their ruins.

The Kingdom of Illyria (1225-167 B.C.)

In its beginning, the kingdom of Illyria comprised the actual territories of modern Albania but in the course of its development, it extended all along the eastern littoral of the Adriatic Sea. Scodra was its capital, just as she is now the capital of Northern and Central Albania.

The earliest known king of Illyria was Hylli who is recorded to have died in the year 1225 B. C. The kingdom, however, reached the zenith of its expansion and development in the fourth century B. C., when King Bardhyllus, one of the most prominent of the Illyrian kings, united under his scepter the kingdoms of Illyria, Molossia and a good part of Macedonia.But its decay began under the same ruler as a result of the attacks made on it by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.

The Illyrians created and developed their culture, language and anthropological features in the western part of the Balkans, where ancient writers mention them in their works. The regions that the Illyrians inhabited are expansive. They include the entire western peninsula, north to central Europe, south to the Ambracian Gulf (Preveza, Greece), and east around the Lyhind Lake (Ohrid Lake). Other Illyrian tribes also migrated and developed in Italy. Among them were the Messapii and Iapyges. The name 'Illyria' is mentioned in works since the fifth century BC while some tribe names are mentioned as early as the twelfth century BC by Homer. The ethnic formation of the Illyrians, however, is much older.

The beginning of Illyrian origins in by the fifteenth century BC, from the mid-Bronze Age, when Illyrian ethnic features began to form. By the Iron Age, the Illyrians were fully distinct and had inherited their developing anthropological features and language from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The old theory that the Illyrians came from Central Europe during the seventh to ninth centuries has been disproved by studies performed following World War II. The fact that graves with urns, characteristic of Central Europe, are not found in Illyrian settlements severely damages the theory. Central European influence on the Illyrians is a result of cultural exchanges and movement of artisans.[8]

In the first decades under Byzantine rule (until 461), Illyria suffered the devastation of raids by Visigoths, Huns, and Ostrogoths. Not long after these barbarian invaders swept through the Balkans, the Slavs appeared. Between the 6th and 8th centuries they settled in Illyrian territories and proceeded to assimilate Illyrian tribes in much of what is now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. The tribes of southern Illyria, however including modern Albania averted assimilation and preserved their native tongue.

Communist Leadership (Socialist Republic)

From 1944 to 1991, Albania was a one-party state in which Enver Hoxha ruled with an iron hand. In 1961 he broke with Albania’s closest ally, the Soviet Union, because he believed Khrushchev had abandoned the teachings of Stalin. Subsequently, Albania’s closest ally was the People’s Republic of China. However, when the PRC established diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 1978, Hoxha denounced the Chinese as well and decided to pursue a policy of self-reliance. The result was not only extreme isolation but also absolute financial ruin for Albania. An example of this may be drawn from the construction between 1974 and 1986 of approximately 700,000 reinforced concrete bunkers to defend against an anticipated multi-front attack.

Upon Hoxha’s death in 1985, Ramiz Alia succeeded him as Party and state leader. Alia was Hoxha’s protégé, but was less repressive than the former leader and began to allow some reforms. This process was accelerated by news of the changes in the other Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. There are statistics which show that during this period about 6000 Albanian citizens were executed for political reasons[citation needed]Despite this, the quality of life improved as both life expectancy and literacy showed large gains and economic growth continued until the mid 1970s.

The Return to Capitalism

The first massive anti-communist protests took place in July 1990. Shortly afterwards, the communist regime under Ramiz Alia carried out some cosmetic changes in the economy. At the end of 1990, after strong student protests and independent syndicated movements, the regime accepted a multiparty system. The first multiparty general elections were held on March 31, 1991 and saw the Communist Party (PPSH) win the majority. Opposition parties accused the government of manipulation and called for new elections, which were held on March 22, 1992 and resulted in a coalition (composed of the Democratic Party, the Social-Democrats, and the Republican Party) coming to power.

In the general elections of June 1996 the Democratic Party won an absolute majority and the results, winning over 85% of parliamentary seats. In 1997 widespread riots erupted after the International Monetary Fund forced the state to liberalize banking practices. Many citizens, naive to the workings of a market economy, put their entire savings into pyramid schemes. In a short while, $2 billion (80% of the country's GDP) had been moved into the hands of just a few pyramid scheme owners, causing severe economic troubles and civic unrest. Police stations and military bases were looted of millions of Kalashnikovs and other weapons. Anarchy prevailed and militia and even less-organized armed citizens controlled many cities. The government of Aleksander Meksi resigned and a government of national unity was built. In response to the anarchy, the Socialist Party won the early elections of 1997 and Berisha resigned the Presidency.

However, stability was far from being restored in the years after the 1997 riots. The power feuds raging inside the Socialist Party led to a series of short-lived Socialist governments. The country was flooded with refugees from neighboring Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 during the Kosovo War. In June 2002, a compromise candidate, Alfred Moisiu, a former general, was elected to succeed President Rexhep Meidani. Parliamentary elections in July 2005 brought Sali Berisha, as leader of the Democratic Party, back to power, mostly owing to Socialist infighting and a series of corruption scandals plaguing the government of Fatos Nano.

The Euro-Atlantic integration of Albania has been the ultimate goal of the post-communist governments. Albania's EU membership bid has been set as a priority by the European Commission. On 2006 Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement the EU, thus completing the first major step towards joining the bloc. Albania, along with Croatia and Macedonia, is also expected to receive an invitation to join NATO in 2008.

The workforce of Albania has continued to migrate to Greece, Italy, Germany, other parts of Europe, and North America. However, the migration flux is slowly decreasing, as more and more opportunities are emerging in Albania itself as its economy steadily develops.

Source: Wikipedia


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