The Society and its Environment
EUROPE'S LEAST-DEVELOPED country, Albania is located along the
central west coast of the Balkan Peninsula. Albania's Adriatic
and Ionian coasts are adjacent to shipping lanes that have been
important since early Greek and Roman times. Tiranė, the capital
and largest city, is less than an hour by air from eight other
European capitals and barely more than two hours from the most
distant of them. Yet, in large part because of its rugged terrain
and, in recent times, it Stalinist regime, Albania remained isolated
from the rest of Europe until the early 1990s.
Large expanses of mountainous and generally inaccessible terrain
provided refuge for the Albanian nation and permitted its distinctive
identity to survive throughout the centuries, in spite of successive
foreign invasions and long periods of occupation. Kinship and
tribal affiliations, a common spoken language, and enduring folk
customs provided continuity and a sense of community. Foreign
influence was inevitable, however. Additions and modifications
to the language were made as a result of Latin, Greek, Slavic,
and Turkish contacts. Lacking an organized religion as part of
their Illyrian heritage, Albanians adopted the Muslim, Orthodox,
and Roman Catholic faiths brought to them by their conquerors.
Following the Italian and German occupations of World War II,
Albania was subjected to more than forty-six years of authoritarian
rule, from which it was emerging, materially and spiritually impoverished,
in 1992. Its churches and mosques had been destroyed, the school
system was a shambles, hospitals struggled with extreme shortages
of basic medical supplies, and the hungry, dejected people had
come to rely entirely on foreign food aid and other forms of assistance.
With the collapse of communism, a democratically elected government
faced the formidable challenge of ending decades of self-imposed
isolation, restoring public order, and improving social conditions
for the more than 3.3 million people of Albania.
Data as of April 1992