History & Background
The Republic of Albania is a southeastern European country on the Adriatic Sea bordered by Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Albania occupies an area of 28,752 square kilometers (11,101 square miles). Except for the coastline, the terrain is rugged and mountainous. Forests and woodlands comprise nearly 40 percent of the country. Approximately 21 percent of the nation is arable land. Principal natural resources include petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, timber, nickel, and hydropower. Throughout the twentieth century, Albania remained one of the poorest and least developed nations in Europe. Rail service did not exist until 1948. In 2000 the per capita GDP was approximately $1,300 compared to $13,000 in neighboring Greece.
The population in 2000 was estimated at 3.5 million, 98 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians making the country one of the most homogenous nations in the world. The national language is Albanian, a blend of two historic dialects, Gheg and Tosk. The literacy rate is estimated at 98 percent. The population is 70 percent Muslim, 20 percent Albanian Orthodox, and 10 percent Roman Catholic. Mosques and churches reopened in 1990, having been closed in 1967 by the former Communist government. In the 1990s an estimated 300,000 Albanians (10 percent of the population) emigrated with the majority seeking employment in Greece and Italy.
Prior to the twentieth century, Albania was subject to foreign domination. Albanian culture and language were suppressed during a 400-year occupation by the Turks. Albanian language schools were not permitted until the 1880s. During the Balkan War of 1912, Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire but remained a feudal society plagued by pervasive poverty, blood feuds, epidemics, and widespread illiteracy.
In 1939 Italy annexed Albania. Following Italy's surrender to the Allies in 1943, German troops briefly occupied the country. In 1944 Enver Hoxha, a former school teacher and General Secretary of the Communist Party, assumed power and ruled Albania until his death in 1985.
Hoxha's rigidly Stalinist regime was determined to transform Albania from a traditional agrarian society into an industrialized socialist state. All lands and properties were seized by the government. Private ownership was so restricted that Albanians were prohibited from owning personal automobiles until 1991. The Directorate of State Security, the Sigurimi, ruthlessly suppressed dissent. State enterprises were highly centralized. Aided by the Soviets, the government drained swamps, opened vocational schools, built roads, and constructed factories. Despite these accomplishments and an improvement in the general standard of living, Albania remained impoverished and largely dependent on economic aid, advisors, and beneficial trade agreements supplied by other Communist countries.
Refusing to alter Albania's ideological course, Hoxha became successively disillusioned with Communist countries that departed from orthodox Marxist-Leninism. In 1948 he broke relations with neighboring Yugoslavia when Tito rejected Moscow's leadership. In 1961 he severed relations with the Soviet Union, objecting to Khrushchev's de-Stalinization policy. Albania then aligned itself with the People's Republic of China, becoming its sole ally throughout the 1960s. In the 1970s Hoxha denounced China for resuming diplomatic relations with the West. In response, China terminated all trade and economic aid to Albania in 1978. Hoxha, devoid of allies, pursued an isolationist program, maintaining Albania as a bastion of xenophobic Stalinism into the 1980s.
Hoxha's successor Ramiz Alia sought to preserve the Communist system while liberalizing its administration. He opened Albania to foreign investors, expanded diplomatic relations with the West, allowed Albanians to travel abroad, restored religious freedom, and limited the actions of the Sigurimi. But as other Communist governments collapsed throughout Eastern Europe in 1989, Alia recognized the need for change. In 1990 he endorsed the creation of independent political parties, ending 45 years of Communist monopoly. In 1991 Albania restored diplomatic relations with the United States.
In 1992 the Democratic Party won a decisive electoral victory. The new government launched a number of reforms intending to integrate Albania into the European economy. Decades of isolation, however, prevented Albania from developing the social, technological, and educational institutions needed to participate in the free market. The collapse of its highly centralized system caused a severe depression. In 1997 hundreds of thousands of Albanians lost their savings in failed pyramid schemes. In the ensuing unrest, approximately 1,500 Albanians were killed. In 1999 nearly 500,000 ethnic Albanians, victims of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, sought refuge in Albania, further straining the country's resources. The turmoil in Kosovo, however, focused international attention on Albania, spurring greater interest in assistance and exchange programs.
Albania's educational system reflects the nation's history. The Communist regime saw education as an essential instrument in building a socialist state. The 1946 Communist constitution placed all schools under state authority. The Education Reform Law of 1946 dictated that Marxist-Leninist principles would permeate all textbooks and made the eradication of illiteracy a primary objective of the new school system. In addition to providing seven years of compulsory education and four years of secondary education, the law called for a network of vocational and teacher training schools. In 1949 the government passed a law requiring all illiterate citizens between the ages of 12 and 40 to attend classes in reading and writing. Local people's councils developed special courses for peasants and the armed forces developed similar classes for illiterate military personnel. These compulsory programs were highly successful, raising the literacy rate from an estimated 20 percent in 1945 to more than 95 percent by the mid-1980s. In addition the Hoxha government fused elements of the Gheg and Tosk dialects to create a common language. Though previously denied education, girls were given equal access to all levels of schooling.
In the early 1950s Soviet advisors played a major role in developing Albania's educational system. Schools, vocational programs, and teacher training were modeled on Soviet examples. Following Albania's break with the Soviet Union, Russian elements in the nation's schools were purged. In the 1960s the school system was reorganized into four categories: preschool, a general eight-year program, secondary, and higher education. The eight-year program stressed Marxist ethics and values. Vocational programs placed emphasis on producing highly skilled technical workers. Graduate students were required to complete a nine-month probationary period in industrial production and three months military training.
The democratically elected government views education as important in helping Albania end its cultural, political, and economic isolation and participate in the European economy. The Ministry of Education is seeking, despite the nation's lack of resources, to improve the quality of schools, introduce new teaching methods, and open intellectual discourse with the rest of the world.
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