The origins of today’s Albania can be traced back two-and-a-half millennia with the settling of the Illyrians in the region, the people who most agree the modern Albanians are descended from. Part of the mighty Ottoman Empire from the end of the 14th century until the beginning of the 20th, and the only people to expel Nazi Germany without any assistance from a foreign army in 1944, Albania’s most recent long-term incarnation was as a post-war Communist country almost complexly isolated from the rest of the world. The plucky Albanian people have been struggling with their own unique version of democracy and capitalism for the last three decades, and it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to happen next.

4th century
The Roman Empire is divided in 395AD. The territory of today’s Albania falls into the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire.
14th century
The Ottomans invade what’s now Albania in 1385, a rule lasting over 500 years.
15th century
Skanderbeg, the Albanian leader, wages a war of independence against the Ottomans starting in 1443, and enjoys remarkable success in keeping them at bay until his death in 1468.
19th century
After numerous crushed uprisings and the Russian victory over the Ottoman Empire, the Prizren League is founded in 1878 to fight for Albanian autonomy

20th century
Local uprisings break out in 1909-1912. Albanians proclaim independence in Vlora on November 28, 1912. The Treaty of London recognises Albania in 1913, but Kosovo is given to Serbia. In 1914 Italy invades Albania. In 1920, Albania regains independence. In 1925, Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli becomes president, but in 1928 he proclaims Albania a kingdom and crowns himself King Zog I. He cooperates with the Italians, who invade again in 1939, occupying Albania until 1943 when Nazi Germany takes over until their retreat in November 1944. Albania becomes the only Nazi-occupied country to have more Jews living in it at the end of the conflict than when it began. The Communist-led National Liberation Front takes power. Yugoslavia, Albania’s erstwhile ally, tries to absorb the country, causing Albania to break with Belgrade in 1948. After 1956, when most of Eastern Europe undergoes de-Stalinisation, Albania maintains a hard line stance. It criticises the Soviet Union, with which it breaks relations in 1961. In 1968 Albania withdraws from the Warsaw Pact and cultivates relations with Communist China. Imitating Beijing, Albania purges ‘reactionary’ influences. In its own version of the Cultural Revolution in 1967, it outlaws religion, closes all 2169 of the country’s churches and mosques and becomes the only atheist state in the world. In 1978 the country’s leaders condemn China as revisionist and Albania is left with no friends. Party head
Enver Hoxha dies on April 11, 1985.

Post-Communist Albania

After Communism collapses throughout Eastern Europe, Communist Party leader Ramiz Alia announces cautious democratisation in March. The People’s Assembly reverses the ban on religion and travel abroad in May. On December 12 the Democratic Party is founded. Nine days later, the authorities remove the statue of Stalin in Tirana.
In February, students at Enver Hoxha University launch a strike. Weeks of protests culminate in the toppling of Enver Hoxha’s statue in Sheshi Skënderbej. Waves of refugees flee the country in March. On March 31 the first multi-party elections in 68 years result in a victory for the Communists. In June, the faults in the economy become clear when thousands of Albanians seeking asylum in Italy commandeer ships. An estimated 100,000 Albanians flee the country in 12 months.
Collapsing pyramid schemes spark months of rioting and lawlessness in January. In June, parliamentary elections result in a landslide victory for the Socialists. President Berisha, blamed for allowing the pyramid schemes to flourish, resigns.
In response to Serb attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, NATO launches an air war on Yugoslavia on March 25. The war turns Albania into a NATO base of operations, and by May 500,000 Kosovan refugees have flooded into the country.
In October, Edi Rama, a former art lecturer and painter supported by the Socialist Party, is elected mayor of Tirana and initiates a series of projects that change the face of the city.
In July, Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party wins the national elections from Fatos Nano’s Socialists. The election results are delayed after allegations of voting irregularities and three deaths. OSCE monitors report that the elections only partially complied with international standards. Novelist Ismail Kadare wins the first international version of Britain’s Man Booker Prize.
Albania signs the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, the first step towards closer cooperation with the economic superpower.
US President George W. Bush gets a hero’s welcome on his visit to Albania.
In March, explosions in a factory used for defusing old munitions wipe out the village of Gërdec, 14km from Tirana, killing 26 and wounding nearly 300. Hundreds of houses are destroyed, windows of cars on the highway are shattered, and the blast is heard as far away as Skopje, 200km to the east.
In April Albania joins NATO. In June Berisha’s Democratic Party narrowly wins the national elections, which were marred by continuing irregularities.
The EU allows visa-free travel for Albanians to Europe’s Schengen countries.
In January, violent opposition protests erupt after a video exposes corruption by the vice prime minister Illir Meta. Three demonstrators are killed by guards at the Prime Minister’s residence.
The presidential elections turn into a farce when talks between the main party leaders Edi Rama and Sali Berisha fall apart. Two candidates withdraw before the Minister of Internal Affairs Bujar Nishani is elected with a majority of 73 votes. In November, Albania celebrates 100 years since its declaration of independence. The EU integration process stalls when the country is refused candidate member status.
Tirana mayor Edi Rama of the Socialist Party becomes prime minister, winning elections again in 2017 and 2021. He sets about gradually modernising the economy. In 2015, the 36-year-old Socialist Erion Veliaj becomes Tirana’s mayor.
On 26 November, western Albania is shaken by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake, the strongest tremor in 40 years, resulting in 51 casualties, thousands wounded and substantial damage, mainly in the Durres area.
The Covid-19 pandemic reaches Albania in March, with lockdowns lifted after a relatively short time to limit economic effects. By 2022, Albania had 275,000 cases, with nearly 3500 deaths. Vaccinations started in early 2021, but have so far reached less than half the population.
The war in Ukraine accelerates inflation, with prices of food, petrol and rents rising and resulting in demonstrations. Petrol prices are capped but are still some of the highest in Europe.

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