Albania is a Mediterranean country in southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Montenegro in the north, Kosovo in the north-east — both still formally part of Serbia-Montenegro, the Republic of Macedonia in the east, and Greece in the south, has a coast on the Adriatic Sea in the west, and a coast on the Ionian Sea in the southwest. The country is an emerging democracy and is formally named the Republic of Albania.
Albania became part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires before succumbing to a wave of invaders in the Middle Ages, losing most of its original population and finally becaming a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1478. Although its most famous leader Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeg, the Albanian National Hero, put up years of resistance to Ottoman rule, the Ottomans nonetheless secured control of the country and held it for the next 450 years. During this time, many of its people converted to Islam. After the First Balkan War, Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, becoming a principality.
In 1914, the great powers agreed to try and unify Albania under a neutral prince, but Prince William of Weid proved an unsuccessful leader and came into conflict with his War Minister, Essed Pasha (a former warlord who had ruled much of central Albania). Essed was supported by Italy and Serbia and the prince by Austria-Hungary, and the resulting rebellion saw Essed flee to Italy, then return as his men beseiged Prince William in Durrës. Prince William left Albania in September 1914, only six months after his arrival, while bands of Greek bandits effectively ruled the south of the country. From 1928 on, the country was ruled by King Zog I until 1938, when it was annexed by Italy.
During World War II, the Italians tried to invade Greece from Albania in October 1940. The invasion was a fiasco that had to be rescued by the Germans, whose invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 enabled Italy to annex the Albanian-inhabited territories of Kosovo and Western Macedonia. The Albanians resented Italian occupation but generally welcomed the incorporation of the Albanian-inhabited parts of Yugoslavia. As a result, a violent form of fascism set in most of the country, especially in the northern provinces.
The Albanian Communist Party, created by Tito in 1941 and led by the Serbs Dusan Mugosa and Miladin Popovic, had few followers among the Albanians and achieved little until the Germans retreated in 1944. It took over the country in November 1944 under the leadership of Enver Hoxha. Tito intended to include Albania, with Kosovo, in a Yugoslav and possibly Balkan federation, but the Albanian Communists followed Stalin as he broke with Tito in June 1948.
After its break with Yugoslavia, Albania remained a client state of the Soviet Union. Following the Soviet Union's rejection of Stalinism beginning in 1956, Albania turned away from Moscow and found a new benefactor in the People's Republic of China. When China ended its international isolation in the 1970s, Albania turned away from its Asian patron as well, and adopted a strict policy of autarky – aiming to cut itself off from the rest of the world.
In 1985, Hoxha died and Ramiz Alia took his place. Initially, Alia tried to follow in Hoxha's footsteps, but Eastern Europe was already changing: Mikhail Gorbachev had appeared in the Soviet Union with new policies (glasnost and perestroika). The totalitarian regime was pressured by the US and Europe and the hate of its own people. After Nicolae Ceauşescu (the communist leader of Romania) was executed in a revolution, Alia knew he would be next if changes were not made. He signed the Helsinki Agreement (which was signed by other countries in 1975) that respected some human rights. He also allowed pluralism, and even though his party won the election of 1991 it was clear that the change would not be stopped. In 1992 the general elections were won by the Democratic Party with 62% of the votes.
Since 1990 Albania has been oriented towards the West, was accepted in the Council of Europe, is included in NATO's Partnership for Peace program and is a candidate to NATO membership. The workforce of Albania has continued to emigrate to Greece, Italy, Europe and North America. Corruption in the government is becoming more and more obvious. The politicians have not fulfilled the people's hope for a short and not too painful transition.