Geography

Albania

September 27, 2012, 8:36 am
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Mount Dajti of the Dinaric range overlooks Tirana. Source: CIA World Factbook

Albania is a nation of 3 million people in the Balkans region of Southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea to the west and and Ionian Sea to the southwest, between Greece in the south and Montenegro and Kosovo to the north.

Albania's primary seaport is Durres, which handles 90% of its maritime cargo.

Its major environmental issues include:

  • deforestation;
  • soil erosion;
  • water pollution from industrial and domestic effluents.

It is susceptible to destructive Earthquakes; tsunamis occur along southwestern coast; floods; and, drought.

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) contested the results of the 2009 parliamentary elections and the 2011 local 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

Albabia has a strategic location along Strait of Otranto which links the Adriatic Sea to Ionian Sea and Mediterranean Sea.

Geography

Location: Southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea, between Greece in the south and Montenegro and Kosovo to the north

Geographic Coordinates: 41 00 N, 20 00 E

Area: 28,748 sq km (27,398 sq km land and 1,350 sq km water)

Land Boundaries: 717 km (Greece 282 km, Republic of Macedonia 151 km, Montenegro 172 km, Kosovo 112 km)

Coastline: 362 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea to 12 nautical miles;
continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation

Natural Hazards:

Terrain:  mostly mountains and hills; small plains along coast. The highest point is Maja e Korabit (Golem Korab) 2,764 m and lowest point is the Adriatic Sea 0 m.

Climate: mild temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters; hot, clear, dry summers; interior is cooler and wetter

Source: NASA

Ecology and Biodiversity

Ecoregions of Albania. Source: World Wildlife Fund

  1. Illyrian deciduous forests encompass coastal areas on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. This ecoregion is actually comprised of three distinct forest types, two of which are broadleaf and one of which is a mixed conifer/broadleaf plant community. The region has a relatively high floral endemism rate with many relict and narrow range species. Faunal diversity is high, and a number of IBAs (Important Bird Areas) and threatened SPECs (Species of European Concern) are found within the region. Illegal logging, illegal hunting, and uncontrolled plant harvesting have destroyed extensive forest areas that have been relatively intact until recently.
     
  2. Pindus Mountains mixed forests  extend geographically in a north-south direction from the mountain ranges of the Peloponese to the central Greek Parnasos, Smolikas, and Olympus, to northern Albania and western Republic of Macedonia.
     
  3. Balkan mixed forests  occur just in eastern of Albania
     
  4. Dinaric Mountains mixed forests encompass the northwest-southeast Balkan mountain ranges, from the eastern Alps to the northern Albania massifs. These forests are among the largest and most continuous tracts of forested habitat remaining for large carnivores in Europe. The flora has a relatively high endemism rate with many relict and restricted range species.

See also:

People and Society

caption Skanderbeg Square in the center of Tirana as viewed from the city's clock tower.
caption Under Communism, everything was grey and dreary. Today, Tirana's buildings are splashed with color; these are apartment buildings.
caption The town of Kruje is renowned as the hometown of Skanderbeg, Albania's national hero. The 15th-century military leader is remembered for his prolonged but successful struggle against the Ottoman Empire.
caption Sunset over the Dinaric Alps.

Population: 3,002,859 (July 2012 est.)

Ethnic groups: Albanian 95%, Greek 3%, other 2% (Vlach, Roma (Gypsy), Serb, Macedonian, Bulgarian) (1989 est.). Note: in 1989, other estimates of the Greek population ranged from 1% (official Albanian statistics) to 12% (from a Greek organization)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 21.4% (male 337,364/female 303,669)
15-64 years: 68.1% (male 996,666/female 1,043,472)
65 years and over: 10.5% (male 148,151/female 165,345) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.28% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 12.38 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 6.25 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -3.33 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 77.59 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.48 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Albanian (official - derived from Tosk dialect), Greek, Vlach, Romani, Slavic dialects

Literacy (age 9 and over can read and write)98.7%

Urbanization: 52% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of 2.3% (2010-15 est.)

History

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. 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 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 Skenderbeu, the Ottomans eventually reasserted their dominance.

The League of Prizren (1878) promoted the idea of an Albanian nation-state and established the modern Albanian alphabet, updating a language that survived the hundreds of years of Ottoman rule despite being outlawed. By the early 20th century, the weakened Ottoman Empire was no longer able to suppress Albanian nationalism. Following the conclusion of the First Balkan War, Albanians issued the Vlore Proclamation of November 28, 1912, declaring independence and the Great Powers established Albania's borders 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 among 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 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 system.

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.

A UN Multinational Protection Force restored order, 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 as President of the Republic.

During the transitional period of 1997-2002, a series of short-lived Socialist-led governments succeeded one another as 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. Fatos Nano, Chairman of the Socialist Party, emerged as Prime Minister in July 2002.

On July 24, 2002, Alfred Moisiu was sworn in as President of the Republic. A nonpartisan figure, he was elected as a consensus candidate of the ruling and opposition parties. The peaceful transfer of power from President Meidani to President 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 United States.

The "truce" between party leaders began to fray in summer 2003 and progress on economic and political reforms suffered noticeably due to political infighting. The municipal elections of 2003 and national elections of 2005 were an improvement over past years, adding to the consolidation of democracy despite the continued presence of administrative errors and inaccuracies in voter lists.

In 2005, the Democratic Party and its allies returned to power, pledging to fight crime and corruption, decrease the size and scope of government, and promote economic growth. Their leader, Sali Berisha, was sworn in as Prime Minister on September 11, 2005. On July 20, 2007, President Bamir Topi was elected by Parliament for a 5-year mandate, succeeding Moisiu.

On June 28, 2009, Albania held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) described these elections as progress over past elections and found that the elections met most OSCE standards. However, ODIHR noted that they did not fully meet OSCE standards and observers noted problems, including misuse of national and municipal government resources by both sides for campaign purposes, shortcomings in electoral preparations for vote counting, and evidence of proxy voting, media bias, and pressure on public sector employees to participate in campaign events. The 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 opposition Socialist Party (SP) boycotted Parliament from September 2009 to February 2010, alleging electoral fraud. A series of international efforts aimed at resolving the stalemate have been unsuccessful. The Socialist Party continued a partial boycott of Parliament, voting on only a handful of laws in which the party had a specific interest, such as a December 2010 proposal to set up an investigative committee on the 2009 elections. (The measure was defeated.) This political deadlock has seriously hampered Albania's European Union (EU) aspirations. In November 2010, Albania was granted entry into the visa liberalization regime for the Schengen zone. However, at the same time the European Commission issued a negative opinion on Albania's application for EU candidate-country status and laid out a list of conditions still to be fulfilled.

Domestic political tensions came to head in January 2011, leading to concerns within the international community of broader government instability. In mid-January, the revelation of a video purportedly showing LSI Chairman Ilir Meta orchestrating corrupt deals with then-Minister of Economy and Finance Dritan Prifti further fueled SP complaints about government corruption and calls for anti-government protest. The SP vowed protest action to “bring down” the government and employed rhetoric suggesting a willingness to use violence, drawing parallels with pro-democracy movements gripping northern Africa and the Middle East at that time. An SP-organized rally of party supporters on January 21 quickly turned violent, with protesters attacking police and setting fire to cars in the vicinity, and eventually storming the Presidential Palace compound. Police responded with water cannon and Republican Guard forces opened fire, killing two protestors at the time and fatally wounding two more. The Prosecutor General immediately opened an investigation into the incident and issued a subpoena for Republican Guard officers. The U.S. Government, its European partners, and the OSCE urgently called for a return to calm and for the Prosecutor General to conduct a thorough and evenhanded investigation into the events. As of August 2011 the investigation had made little headway.
 

The May 2011 local elections drew intense international focus, as SP reluctance to fulfill pre-election preparations gave rise to fears it would boycott the election in favor of unspecified protest action. The elections took place as scheduled; the campaign was spirited and vigorously contested, with voter participation high for local elections. In a majority of the districts, voting and counting occurred technically well. However, the Central Election Commission’s (CEC) decision in the Tirana mayoral race to count contested ballots reversed preliminary results showing three-time mayor and Socialist Party leader Edi Rama ahead by 10 votes in favor of ruling Democrat Party candidate Luzim Basha. The process undermined public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the CEC as an institution.

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.

Government

Government Type: parliamentary democracy

Capital: Tirana (capital) - population 433,000 (2009)

Administrative Structure: 12 counties (qarqe, singular - qark);

  1. Berat
  2. Diber
  3. Durre
  4. Elbasan
  5. Fier
  6. Gjirokaster
  7. Korce
  8. Kukes
  9. Lezhe
  10. Shkoder
  11. Tirane
  12. Vlore

Independence Date: 28 November 1912 (from the Ottoman Empire)

Legal System: civil law system except in the northern rural areas where customary law known as the "Code of Leke" prevails. Albania has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; accepts International Criminal Court (ICCt) jurisdiction.

Foreign Relations

Albania is currently pursuing a path of greater Euro-Atlantic integration. Its primary long-term goals are to gain EU membership and to promote closer bilateral ties with its neighbors and with the United States. Albania is a member of a number of international organizations, as well as multiple regional organizations and initiatives, including NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the UN, the Stability Pact, the Adriatic Charter, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). In June 2006, Albania and the EU signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step to EU membership, which focuses on implementing essential rule of law reforms and curbing corruption and organized crime. Albania filed its application for EU candidacy on April 28, 2009 but has not yet been granted candidate status. In November 2010, the European Commission issued a negative opinion of Albania’s EU accession efforts, listing conditions still to be met by Albania--first of which is a demonstration of political will to enact needed reform.

caption Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source Wikimedia Commons

Albania maintains good relations with its neighbors. It re-established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, and maintains excellent relations with Montenegro, which gained its independence after the dissolution of the Serbia and Montenegro union in 2006. Albanian, Macedonian, and Italian law enforcement agencies are cooperating with increasing efficiency to crack down on the trafficking of arms, drugs, contraband, and human beings across their borders. Albania has also arrested and prosecuted several ethnic Albanian extremists on charges of inciting interethnic hatred in Macedonia and Kosovo. Tensions occasionally arise with Greece over the treatment of the Greek minority in Albania or the Albanian community in Greece, but overall relations are good.

International Environmental Agreements

Albania is party to international agreements on Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, and Wetlands.

Water

Total Renewable Water Resources: 41.7 cu km (2001)

Freshwater Withdrawal: 1.71 cu km/yr (27% domestic, 11% industrial, 62% agricultural)

Per capita: 546 cu m/yr (2000)

Access to improved sources of water: 97% of population

Access to improved sanitation: 98% of population

Agriculture

Agricultural products: wheat, corn, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, sugar beets, grapes; meat, dairy products

Irrigated Land: 3,650 sq km (2008)

Resources

Natural Resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, bauxite, chromite, copper, iron ore, nickel, salt, timber, hydropower

Land Use:

arable land: 20.1%
permanent crops: 4.21%
other: 75.69% (2005)

Economy

Albania's economy has improved substantially over recent years and has outperformed many other countries in the region. However, it is still considered one of the poorest countries in Europe.

According to preliminary data by the World Bank's Poverty Assessment Program, 12.4% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2008, marking a considerable improvement from 25.4% in 2002; this decline in poverty levels was due mainly to higher per capita GDP.

Albania was the last of the central and eastern European countries to embark on democratic and free market reforms, and it started from a disadvantaged position due to Hoxha's catastrophic economic policies. The democratically elected government that assumed office in April 1992 launched an ambitious economic reform program meant to halt economic deterioration and put the country on the path toward a market economy. However, the collapse of the infamous pyramid schemes in 1997 and the instability that followed were a tremendous setback. The country subsequently recovered and is aggressively pursuing its Euro-Atlantic integration agenda. In June 2006, the Albanian Government signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union, the first step in the EU accession process. In April 2009, Albania became a NATO member country and at the same time submitted its application for EU membership, both considered major milestones in the country’s history.

Albania’s economy has improved markedly over the last decade; reforms in infrastructure development, tax collection, property law, and business administration are progressing. Despite the effects of the recent global financial crisis and economic downturn, the country has outperformed many other countries in the region. During 2006-2009 the average growth rate was 5.5%, while for 2010 the Government of Albania anticipated growth reaching 4.1% (the IMF predicted 2.7%).

Albania still ranks as one of the poorest countries in Europe according to major income indicators, although per capita GDP figures do not fully capture remittance income from the extensive network of Albanians abroad and income from the informal market, which the IMF estimates at 30%-40% of GDP. Remittances, a significant catalyst for economic growth in the past, have experienced a decline over the last few years after peaking in 2007. The Bank of Albania estimates that remittances fell by 6% in 2009 compared to 2008, and their share of GDP declined to 9% in 2009; mostly from Albanians residing in Greece and Italy; this helps offset the towering trade deficit. The reduction continued during the first three quarters of 2010, though on a smaller scale.

The Albanian banking sector survived the global financial crisis with sufficient liquidity, and the system has recovered from the sharp decline in deposits at the start of the crisis. Fiscal and monetary discipline has kept inflation relatively low, averaging roughly 2.6% per year during 2006-2009. The average inflation rate was expected to reach 3.6% for 2010, still within the Central Bank target of 3 plus or minus 1%. According to official estimates, the unemployment rate as of September 2010 was 13.52%.

Albania has put in place a liberal foreign investment regime, and the government is working to better the business climate through fiscal and legislative reforms and infrastructure improvements. FDI has increased significantly over the last few years and in 2009 reached almost $1 billion, up from $262 million in 2005. The Government of Albania has invested almost U.S. $2 billion in the country’s main road corridors, and it has pledged to invest at least another billion until 2013. Electricity supply has also improved, while the distribution system has been privatized.

Trade
Albania continues to be an import-oriented economy and, despite reforms, its export base remains small, narrow, and undiversified. In 2010 imports averaged 39% of GDP and exports 13%, while export volume was approximately one-third the size of imports. Trade volume in 2010 increased by 20%, with imports increasing by 11.4% and exports by 56%. Exports and imports have continued to pick up 2011. As of June 2011, exports rose by 20.3% year-on-year while imports rose by 15.5%.

The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) signed with the EU in June 2006 was the first step in Albania's EU accession process, and a related Interim Trade Agreement entered into force the following December. On December 19, 2006, Albania joined other countries in the region and signed the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA.) Albania also has free trade agreements with Turkey (signed in 2006 and entered into force on May 2008) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA member states are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).

The EU remains Albania’s main trading partner, providing 64.1% of Albania’s imports and receiving 70.2% of exports as of September 2010. Trade with Italy and Greece, although steadily declining since 2008, continues to represent the largest share of EU trade, with a combined 40.8% of imports and 56.4% of exports as of September 2010. Other major trading partners include Turkey, China, and Germany. The impact of CEFTA in Albania’s trade with member countries has been small.

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.

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. (see Energy profile of the Balkans and Energy profile of Southeastern Europe)

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.

The country will continue to face challenges from increasing public debt, approaching its statutory limit of 60% of GDP.

Strong trade, remittance, and banking sector ties with Greece and Italy make Albania vulnerable to spillover effects of the global financial crisis.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $24.99 billion (2011 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $13.3 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $7,800 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 20.2%
industry: 19.5%
services: 60.3% (2011 est.)

Industries: food processing, textiles and clothing; lumber, oil, cement, chemicals, mining, basic metals, hydropower

Currency: Leke (ALL)

Glossary

Citation

Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Albania. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/171640

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