‘We had no time to write of love. Though we were impetuous lovers, the country needed songs of freedom.’

Dritëro Agolli, Albanian poet and politician, born 1931.

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare was ranked above the world’s other famous living authors by the judges of the first-ever Man Booker International literary prize. He said he hoped his prize would show that the Balkans could produce more than conflicts.

Once officially declared by its Communist rulers as the world’s first atheist state, Albania continues to have a mix of mainly Muslim and Christian affiliation, coexisting peacefully.

The population of Albania swelled by around half a million in 1999 when ethnic Albanians fled their homes during the Kosovo War. Most of them returned at the war’s end.

While some arrived, others continued to leave. Indeed, an estimated quarter of the population has left the country since 1990. Elements of Albania’s workforce have migrated to Greece and elsewhere, boosting the nation’s coffers with the money sent home. As new opportunities arise domestically, this migration is slowly but steadily declining.


Mediterranean coast, wild mountains: Lonely Planet placed Albania at number one in its list of top ten countries to visit in 2011, declaring that ‘Albania won’t be off the beaten track for much longer.’ The potential of a country that was hidden from the world for decades is beginning to be unlocked.
Albania A member of the ERSTE Foundation Community from Albania: Ervin Qafmolla, fellow of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence 2010

Even by Cold War standards, Albania was notoriously isolated from Western influences under its authoritarian leader Enver Hoxha, and it took a long time for it to connect with the international community.

The transition to democracy in the early 90s saw the end of Communist rule, but has not yet ushered in a new dawn of political stability or economic prosperity, with election results being disputed and poverty still prevalent. The average Albanian has only about a quarter of the wealth of the average EU citizen.

The European Commission has made Albania’s EU membership a priority since it officially applied to join in 2009. The quid pro quo will be greater efforts at reform, including tackling organised crime and protecting minority rights.

Albania has a relatively youthful population – the average age of its 3 million citizens is under 30. Like its population, a young country is making its way in the world.


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