Introduction to Albania and Kosovo


 Flag of Albania


    Map of Albania


This introduction provides some background information on Albania and Kosovo.  Kosovo is a region of Serbia but the population is primarily composed of ethnic Albanians.  Albanian is the dominant language of the region.






The Republic of Albania is a Balkan country in Southeastern Europe. It borders Montenegro on the north, the Serbian province of Kosovo on the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia on the east, and Greece on the south. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west and a coast on the Ionian Sea to the southwest. Despite having a troubled history, the country has been classified as an emerging democracy since the 1990s.


Albania consists of mostly hilly and mountainous terrain, with the highest mountain, Korab in the district of Dibra, reaching up to 2,753 metres (9,032 ft). The country mostly has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Besides the capital city of Tirana, which has 800,000 inhabitants, the principal cities are Durrės, Elbasan, Shkodėr, Gjirokastėr, Vlorė, Korēė and Kukės.


Albania is divided into twelve counties (officially qark/qarku, but often prefekturė/prefektura), sometimes translated as prefecture). Each county is subdivided into several districts.



Kosovo is a province in southern Serbia which borders Albania and has been under United Nations administration since 1999. While Serbia's nominal sovereignty is recognized by the international community, in practice Serbian governance in the province is virtually non-existent. The province is governed by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the local Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, with security provided by the NATO-led Kosovo Forces (KFOR).

Kosovo borders Montenegro, Albania and the Republic of Macedonia. The province's capital and largest city is Priština.  Kosovo has a population of around two million people, predominantly ethnic Albanians, with smaller populations of Serbs, Turks, Bosniaks and other ethnic groups.





Albania is composed of a blend of religions and cultures.  The majority of the population is comprised of ethnic Albanians who are mostly Muslims. Minorities include Greeks, Serbs, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Roma (Gypsies), Vlach, Bosniaks and Italians. The dominant language is Albanian, with two distinct dialects, Gheg and Tosk. Many Albanians are also fluent in English, Greek and Italian.


Kosovo's total population is estimated between 1.9 and 2.2 million with Albanians making up nearly 90 percent and Serbs at 7 percent of the ethnic population. 


Et'hem  Bey Mosque at night                              


Et'hem Bey Mosque at night                           Gjerovica/Đeravica is the highest peak of the Kosovo province's part of the Prokletije mountain range.

As a part of the Ottoman Empire, Albania became a mostly Muslim territory. During the Communist era, religion was prohibited, and Albania was proclaimed as the only officially atheist country in the world, claiming its national "faith" to be Communist. Today, with the freedom of religion and worship, Albania contains numerous religions and denominations; however, religious affiliation is hard to determine as most people prefer to be identified as secular or non-religious. Statistics vary from different sources: around 70% are Muslim, with over 20% being Bektashi Shi'a Muslims; about 20% are said to be Orthodox Christian, and 10% Roman Catholic. Other main religions of the world also have some small representation in Albania. Religious fanaticism has never been a problem, with people from different religious groups living in peace. Intermarriage across religions is very common, and an immensely strong sense of Albanian identity has tended to bind Albanians of all religious practices together.




Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. According to the Bank of Albania, per capita income was U.S. $2,550 in 2005. The official unemployment rate is 14%, and 18% of the population lives below the poverty line.  Almost 60% of all workers are employed in the agricultural sector, although the construction and service industries have been expanding recently; the latter boosted significantly by ethnic Albanian tourists from throughout the Balkans. The GDP is comprised of agriculture (approx. 24%), industry (approx. 13%), service sector (approx. 39%), transport and communication (12%), construction (11%), and remittances from Albanian workers abroad--mostly in Greece and Italy (approx. 14%).

Albania was the last of the central and eastern European countries to embark upon democratic and free market reforms. Since the fall of communism in 1990, Albania has launched economic programs towards a more open-market economy.   The democratically elected government that assumed office in April 1992 launched an ambitious economic reform program to halt economic deterioration and put the country on the path toward a market economy. Key elements included price and exchange system liberalization, fiscal consolidation, monetary restraint, and a firm income policy.  These were complemented by a comprehensive package of structural reforms, including privatization, enterprise, and financial sector reform, and creation of the legal framework for a market economy and private sector activity. Most prices were liberalized and are now approaching levels typical of the region.  Most agriculture, state housing, and small industry were privatized, along with transportation, services, and small and medium-sized enterprises. After severe economic contraction following 1989, the economy slowly rebounded, finally surpassing its 1989 levels by the end of the 1990s.  Since prices have also risen, however, economic hardship has continued for much of the population. In 1995, Albania began privatizing large state enterprises. Since 2000, Albania has experienced a more rapid expansion of its economy.

In recent years the Albanian economy has improved, although infrastructure development and major reforms in areas such as tax collection, property laws, and banking are proceeding slowly. Between 2001 and 2005, Albania experienced an average 5.8% annual growth in GDP. Fiscal and monetary discipline has kept inflation relatively low, averaging roughly 2.5% per year between 2003 and 2005.

Following the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement in June/July 2006, European Union ministers urged Albania to push ahead with reforms, focusing on press freedom, property rights, institution building, respect for ethnic minorities and observing international standards in municipal elections.

Albania's trade imbalance is severe. In 2005, Albanian trade was U.S. $1.8 billion in imports, and U.S. $350 million in exports. Albania has concluded Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Macedonia, Croatia, UNMIK (Kosovo), Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia, and Moldova. In April 2006, these bilateral agreements were replaced by a multiregional agreement based on the CEFTA model. However, combined trade with all these countries constitutes a small percentage of Albania's trade, while trade with EU member states (notably Greece, Italy, and Turkey) accounts for nearly 68%.

Business growth is further hampered by Albania's inadequate energy and transportation infrastructure. The capital, Tirana, generally receives electricity most of the day, but constant power outages plague every other major city, small town and rural village.

Albania's coastline on the Ionian Sea, especially near the Greek tourist island of Corfu, is becoming increasingly popular with tourists due to its relatively unspoiled nature and its beaches. The tourism industry is growing rapidly.


Kosovo’s official currency is the Euro and is used by UNMIK and the government bodies. The Serbian Dinar is used in the Serbian populated parts.

The economy is hindered by Kosovo's still-unresolved international status, which has made it difficult to attract investment and loans. The province's economic weakness has produced a thriving black economy in which smuggled petrol, cigarettes and cement are major commodities. The prevalence of official corruption and the pervasive influence of organized crime gangs have caused serious concern internationally. The United Nations has made the fight against corruption and organized crime a high priority, pledging a "zero tolerance" approach.



Although recent steps have been taken to improve the transportation infrastructure, Albania has a limited railway system and just one domestic airport. Because of the mountainous terrain, goods traveling overland must spend hours traversing the relatively sparse network of switchback roads, many of them of poor quality, to reach destinations that are relatively close.

In the early 1990s, the rock-strewn roadways, unstable rail lines, and obsolete telephone network crisscrossing Albania represented the remnants of the marked improvements that were made after World War II.  For years, peasants needed special passes to visit nearby districts, and until 1990 the government banned private ownership of automobiles. Urban mass transit consisted primarily of bus lines for ferrying workers between home and work.  In the last decade, many of the country roads were either being repaired or have been repaired. The construction of the north-south and east-west are almost completed. By 2007 the main cities will have been linked and a new highway system linking Tirana with Priština, Podgorica, Skopje and Athens will have been completed. In 2004 a deal was signed to connect the port of Durres with City of Priština in Kosovo with a six lane highway. Construction has begun and the highway is expected to be finished by 2008.




The unicameral People's Assembly (Kuvendi Popullor) consists of 140 seats, 100 of which are determined by direct popular vote. The remaining seats are distributed by proportional representation. All members serve 4-year terms. The Speaker of Parliament has two deputies, along with 13 parliamentary commissions, to legislate Albanian affairs.

The President is the head of state and elected by a three-fifths majority vote of all Assembly members. The President serves a term of 5 years with the right to one re-election. Although the position is largely ceremonial, the Constitution gives the President authority to appoint and dismiss some high-ranking civil servants in the executive and judicial branches, and this authority can have political implications.

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and approved by a simple majority of all members of the Assembly. The Prime Minister serves as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers (cabinet), which consists of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and other ministers. Members of the Council of Ministers are nominated by the Prime Minister and approved by the President.

Albania's civil law system is similar to that of other European countries. The court structure consists of a Constitutional Court, a Supreme Court, and multiple appeal and district courts. The Constitutional Court is comprised of nine members appointed by the Assembly for one 9-year term. The Constitutional Court interprets the Constitution, determines the constitutionality of laws, and resolves disagreements between local and federal authorities. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal and consists of 11 members appointed by the President with the consent of the Assembly for 9-year terms. The President chairs the High Council of Justice, which is responsible for appointing and dismissing other judges. The High Court of Justice is comprised of 15 members--the President of the Republic, the Chairman of the High Court, the Minister of Justice, three members elected by the Assembly, and nine judges of all levels elected by the National Judicial Conference.

The remaining courts are divided into three jurisdictions: criminal, civil, and military. There are no jury trials under the Albanian system of justice. A college of three judges, who are sometimes referred to as a "jury" by the Albanian press, renders court verdicts.


UN Security Council Resolution 1244 placed Kosovo under transitional UN administration pending a determination of Kosovo's future status. This Resolution entrusted UNMIK with sweeping powers to govern Kosovo, but also directed UNMIK to establish interim institutions of self-governance. Resolution 1244 permits Serbia no role in governing Kosovo and since 1999 Serbian laws and institutions have not been valid in Kosovo. NATO has a separate mandate to provide for a safe and secure environment.

A UN-led political process began in late 2005 to determine Kosovo's future status. Belgrade has proposed that Kosovo be highly autonomous and remain a part of Serbia. Belgrade officials have repeatedly said that an imposition of Kosovo's independence would be a violation of Serbia's sovereignty and therefore contrary to international law. Pristina asserts that Kosovo should become independent, arguing that the violence of the Milosevic years has made continued union between Kosovo and Serbia not viable.


The building of the Government of                                   UNMIK Head Quarters - Priština       

Kosovo in Prishtina/Priština.



Before 1944: One of the major legacies of nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule was the conversion of up to 70 percent of the Albanian population to Islam. Therefore, at independence the country emerged as a predominantly Muslim nation, the only Islamic state in Europe. It has been estimated that of a total population of 1,180,500 at the end of World War II, about 826,000 were Muslims, 212,500 were Orthodox, and 142,000 were Roman Catholics. The Muslims were divided into two groups: about 600,000 adherents of the Sunni branch and more than 220,000 followers of a dervish order known as Bektashi, which was an offshoot of the Shia branch. Bektashism was regarded as a tolerant Muslim sect that also incorporated elements of paganism and Christianity.

Christianity was introduced during Roman rule. After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, Albania became politically a part of the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, but remained ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. When the final schism occurred in 1054 between the Roman and Eastern churches, the Christians in southern Albania came under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople, and those in the north came under the purview of the papacy in Rome. This arrangement prevailed until the Ottoman invasions of the fourteenth century, when the Islamic faith was introduced. The apostasy of the people took many decades.

In the mountainous north, the propagation of Islam was strongly opposed by Roman Catholics. Gradually, however, backwardness, illiteracy, the absence of an educated clergy, and material inducements weakened resistance. Coerced conversions sometimes occurred, especially when foreign Roman Catholic powers, such as the Venetian Republic, were at war with the Ottoman Empire. By the close of the seventeenth century, the Catholics in the north were outnumbered by the Muslims.

In the period from independence to the communist seizure of power, the Muslim noble class constituted Albania's ruling elite, but this group never interfered with religious freedom, which was sanctioned by the various pre-World War II constitutions. These constitutions had stipulated that the country have no official religion, that all religions be respected, and that their freedom of exercise be assured. These provisions reflected the true feelings of the people who, whether Muslim, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, were generally tolerant in religious matters.

Religious leaders estimated that 95 percent of all mosques and churches had been razed or gutted during the years of communist rule. A few had been spared and designated as "cultural monuments." Others, such as the Roman Catholic cathedral in Shkodėr, were converted to sports arenas. The status of the clergy was equally appalling; the number of Roman Catholic priests, for example, had declined from 300 in 1944, when the communists took to power, to 30 by early 1992. In 1992 plans were under way to restore the houses of worship, seminaries were being reopened, and several Islamic countries had sent teachers to provide religious instruction to young Albanian Muslims who knew virtually nothing about their religion. "Hoxha destroyed the human soul," an official of Albania's new noncommunist government observed, adding, "This will take generations to restore."


Unrestored Roman Catholic Church converted       Priest with previously hidden artifacts

by the communist regime into an industrial

facility and reclaimed in 1991 by local Catholics.



Gegs and Tosks

Among ethnic Albanians are two major subgroups: the Gegs, who generally occupy the area north of the Shkumbin River, and the Tosks, most of whom live south of the river. The Gegs account for slightly more than half of the resident Albanian population. Ethnic Albanians are estimated to account for 90 percent of the population.

The Gegs and Tosks use distinct dialects; there are also linguistic variations within subgroups. Well into the twentieth century, ethnic clans exercised extensive local authority, particularly in the north. Some progress was made during the reign of King Zog I (1928-39), however, toward bringing the clans under government control and eliminating blood feuds.

After taking power in 1944, the communist regime imposed controls intended to eliminate clan rule entirely and waged a continuing struggle against customs and attitudes that believed to impede the growth of socialism. Blood feuds were repressed. Party and government leaders, in their effort to develop national, social, and cultural solidarity in a communist society, publicly tended to ignore ethnic differences.

Because of their greater isolation in the mountainous areas of the north, the Gegs held on to their tribal organization and customs more tenaciously than did the Tosks. As late as the 1920s, approximately 20 percent of male deaths in some areas of northern Albania were attributable to blood feuds. Under the unwritten tribal codes, whose purview included the regulation of feuds, any blow, as well as many offenses committed against women, called for vengeance. Permitting a girl who had been betrothed in infancy to marry another, for example, could set off a blood feud. The besa, a pledge to keep one's word as a solemn obligation, was given in various situations and sometimes included promises to postpone quarrels. A man who killed a fellow tribesman was commonly punished by his neighbors, who customarily would burn his house and destroy his property. As fugitives from their own communities, such persons were often given assistance by others.

A man who failed to carry out the prescribed vengeance against a member of another tribe or that individual's relatives was subjected to ridicule. Insult was considered one of the gravest forms of dishonor, and the upholding of one's honor was the primary duty of a Geg. If the individual carried out the required act of vengeance, he was in turn subject to retribution by the victim's relatives. Women were excluded from the feud and, when a man escorted a woman, he too was considered inviolable. In other respects, however, a woman's lot in society generally was one of deprivation and subjugation.

The isolation from influences beyond his community and the constant struggle with nature tended to make the male Geg dedicate his life to a pursuit of contemplative ideals. Traditionally his closest bonds were with members of his clan. Obstinate and proud, the Gegs had proved themselves, ruthless and cruel fighters. Visitors from outside the clan generally were suspect, but every traveler was by custom accorded hospitality.

Less isolated by geography and enjoying slightly less limited contact with foreign cultures, Tosks generally were more outspoken and imaginative than Gegs. Contacts with invaders and foreign occupiers had left an influence and, before 1939, some Tosks had traveled to foreign countries to earn money to buy land, or to obtain an education. The clan or tribal system, which by the nineteenth century was far less extensive in the south than in the north, began to disappear after independence was achieved in 1912.


Albanian cuisine consists of local dishes from around the country of Albania. Many of these dishes are typical of the Balkans and indeed the Mediterranean, but some are local specialties. The main meal of the Albanians is lunch and it is usually accompanied by a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olives, olive oil, vinegar and salt.

The daily diet of most Albanians includes milk and cheese, vegetables and bread. Meat, eggplants, peppers, olives and tomatoes are frequently part of Albanian dishes. Feta cheese and a coarse white cheese called djathe i bardhe are common. Albanians also eat lots of fruit. 

Turkish dishes have influenced Albanian cooking. Shishqebap (shish kebab), romstek (beef patties) and qofte (meatballs) are popular grilled foods. Other popular Albanian foods include bourek or byrek (layers of pastry filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables), pilaf (a dish made with rice and cheese) and faszle (white bean soup). Beef stew and roast meat with sour cream or yogurt are common. A dessert popular in the city of Gjirokaster is hoshaf, which is made with figs.

Breakfast is usually bread and jam with tea and milk and sometimes eggs. The midday meal is the main meal of the day. It usually includes soup, salad, meat, and vegetables. Instead of a sweet dessert, most people will finish the meal with fresh fruit or nuts. However, akullore (ice cream) is popular in summer. In the cities, many people have their evening meal in a restaurant.

A guest in an Albanian home may be offered Turkish coffee and raki, a clear strong brandy made from grapes. In Kruja, people enjoy boza, a thick drink made with cornmeal, sugar and water. When Albanians gather in coffeehouses or bars, they may toast each other by saying "Gėzuar!"

Lunch also includes a main dish of vegetables and meat. Seafood specialties are also common in the coastal areas of Durrės, Vlorė and Sarandė.



The literacy rate in Albania for the total population, age 9 or older, is about 93%. Elementary education is compulsory (grades 1-8), but most students continue at least until a secondary education. Students must successfully pass graduation exams at the end of the 8th grade and at the end of the 12th grade in order to continue their education.

Most schools are public and financed through the government, but recently several private schools of various levels have been opened. There are about 5000 schools throughout the country. The academic year is divided into two semesters. The school week begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The school year begins in September and finishes around June. There is a winter break of about two to three weeks.