Social and Economic Conditions after World War I
Extraordinarily undeveloped, the Albania that emerged after World
War I was home to something less than a million people divided
into three major religious groups and two distinct classes: those
people who owned land and claimed semifeudal privileges and those
who did not. The landowners had always held the principal ruling
posts in the country's central and southern regions, but many
of them were steeped in the same Oriental conservatism that brought
decay to the Ottoman Empire. The landowning elite expected that
they would continue to enjoy precedence. The country's peasants,
however, were beginning to dispute the landed aristocracy's control.
Muslims made up the majority of the landowning class as well as
most of the pool of Ottoman-trained administrators and officials.
Thus Muslims filled most of the country's administrative posts.
In northern Albania, the government directly controlled only
Shkodėr and its environs. The highland clans were suspicious of
a constitutional government legislating in the interests of the
country as a whole, and the Roman Catholic Church became the principal
link between Tiranė and the tribesmen. In many instances, administrative
communications were addressed to priests for circulation among
Poor and remote, Albania remained decades behind the other Balkan
countries in educational and social development. Illiteracy plagued
almost the entire population. About 90 percent of the country's
peasants practiced subsistence agriculture, using ancient methods
and tods, such as wooden plows. Much of the country's richest
farmland lay under water in malaria-infested coastal marshlands.
Albania lacked a banking system, a railroad, a modern port, an
efficient military, a university, or a modern press. The Albanians
had Europe's highest birthrate and infant mortality rate, and
life expectancy for men was about thirtyeight years. The American
Red Cross opened schools and hospitals at Durrės and Tiranė, and
one Red Cross worker founded an Albanian chapter of the Boy Scouts
that all boys between twelve and eighteen years old were subsequently
required to join by law. Although hundreds of schools opened across
the country, in 1938 only 36 percent of all Albanian children
of school age were receiving education of any kind.
Despite the meager educational opportunities, literature flourished
in Albania between the two world wars. A Franciscan priest, Gjergj
Fishta, Albania's greatest poet, dominated the literary scene
with his poems on the Albanians' perseverance during their quest
Independence also brought changes to religious life in Albania.
The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople recognized the autocephaly
of the Albanian Orthodox Church after a meeting of the country's
Albanian Orthodox congregations in Berat in August 1922. The most
energetic reformers in Albania came from the Orthodox population
who wanted to see Albania move quickly away from its Muslim, Turkish
past, during which Christians made up the underclass. Albania's
conservative Sunni Muslim community broke its last ties with Constantinople
in 1923, formally declaring that there had been no caliph
(see Glossary) since the Prophet Muhammad himself and that Muslim
Albanians pledged primary allegiance to their native country.
The Muslims also banned polygamy and allowed women to choose whether
or not to wear a veil.
Data as of April 1992