Scholars believe the Albanian people are descended from a non-Slavic,
non-Turkic group of tribes known as Illyrians, who arrived in the Balkans
around 2000 BC. Modern Albanians still distinguish between Ghegs (northern
tribes) and Tosks (southern tribes). After falling under Roman authority
in 165 BC, Albania was controlled nearly continuously by a succession of
foreign powers until the mid-20th century, with only brief periods of self-rule.
Following the split of the Roman Empire in 395, the Byzantine Empire
established its control over present-day Albania. In the 11th century,
Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus made the first recorded reference
to a distinct area of land known as Albania and to its people.
The Ottoman Empire ruled Albania from 1385-1912. During this time, much
of the population converted to the Islamic faith, and Albanians also emigrated
to Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey. Although its control was briefly disrupted
during the 1443-78 revolt, led by Albania's national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti
Skenderbeg, the Ottomans eventually reasserted their dominance.
In the early 20th century, the weakened Ottoman Empire was no longer
able to suppress Albanian nationalism. The League of Prizren (1878) promoted
the idea of an Albanian nation-state and established the modern Albanian
alphabet. Following the conclusion of the First Balkan War, Albanians issued
the Vlore Proclamation of November 28, 1912, declaring independence. Albania's
borders were established by the Great Powers in 1913. Albania's territorial
integrity was confirmed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after U.S.
President Woodrow Wilson dismissed a plan by the European powers to divide
Albania amongst its neighbors.
During the Second World War, Albania was occupied first by Italy (1939-43)
and then by Germany (1943-44). After the war, Communist Party leader Enver
Hoxha, through a combination of ruthlessness and strategic alliances, managed
to preserve Albania's territorial integrity during the next 40 years, but
exacted a terrible price from the population, which was subjected to purges,
shortages, repression of civil and political rights, a total ban on religious
observance, and increased isolation. Albania adhered to a strict Stalinist
philosophy, eventually withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact in 1968 and even
alienating its final remaining ally, China in 1978.
Following Hoxha's death in 1985 and the subsequent fall of Communism
in 1991, Albanian society struggled to overcome its historical isolation
and underdevelopment. During the initial transition period, the Albanian
Government sought closer ties with the West in order to improve economic
conditions and introduced basic democratic reforms, including a multi-party
In 1992, after the sweeping electoral victory of the Democratic Party,
Sali Berisha became the first democratically elected President of Albania.
Berisha began a more deliberate program of economic and democratic reform
but progress on these issues stalled in the mid-1990s, due to political
gridlock. At the same time, unscrupulous investment companies defrauded
investors all over Albania using pyramid schemes. In early 1997, several
of these pyramid schemes collapsed, leaving thousands of people bankrupt,
disillusioned, and angry. Armed revolts broke out across the country, leading
to the near-total collapse of government authority. During this time, Albania's
already inadequate and antiquated infrastructure suffered tremendous damage,
as people looted public works for building materials. Weapons depots all
over the country were raided. The anarchy of early 1997 alarmed the world
and prompted intensive international mediation.
Order was restored by a UN Multinational Protection Force, and an interim
national reconciliation government oversaw the general elections of June
1997, which returned the Socialists and their allies to power at the national
level. President Berisha resigned, and the Socialists elected Rexhep Meidani
President of the Republic. Between 1997 and 2002, a series of short-lived
governments succeeded one another. Fatos Nano, Chairman of the Socialist
Party, has been Prime Minister since July 2002.
During the transitional period of 1997-2002, Albania's fragile democratic
structures were strengthened. Additional political parties formed, media
outlets expanded, non-governmental organizations and business associations
developed. In 1998, Albanians ratified a new constitution via popular referendum,
guaranteeing the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights
and religious freedom.
On July 24, 2002, Alfred Moisiu was sworn in as President of the Republic.
A nonpartisan figure, nominally associated with the Democratic Party, he
was elected as a consensus candidate of the ruling and opposition parties.
The peaceful transfer of power from Meidani to Moisiu was the result of
an agreement between the parties to engage each other within established
parliamentary structures. This "truce" ushered in a new period of political
stability in Albania, making possible significant progress in democratic
and economic reforms, rule of law initiatives, and the development of Albania's
relations with its neighbors and the U.S.
Nationwide municipal elections were held in October 2003. Although a
significant improvement over past years, there were still widespread administrative
errors, including inaccuracies in the voter lists. The “truce” between
party leaders began fraying in summer 2003. Progress on economic and political
reforms suffered noticeably during the latter half of 2003 because of political
infighting. However, in December 2003, Prime Minister Nano reasserted his
leadership of the ruling Socialist Party and appointed a new Cabinet.