Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)


Capital : Tirana (TiranÁ )

Size: 11 100 sq m Popn: 3 363 000


The Albanians are largely descended from the Illyrian tribes who settled in the north of the country in the C3rd BC. They fought the Romans along the Adriatic coast for a hundred years but Illyria eventually became a Roman province until the late C4th AD when it came under Byzantine rule. From the C7th to the C9th, Slav tribes such as the Bulgarians and Serbs invaded and settled. The name 'Albania' first appears around the C12th AD. It is probably derived from 'Albanoi', the name of an Illyrian tribe from the north. The Albanians called the country Arbër or Arbën and themselves Arbëresh or Arbënesh in the Middle Ages. These names are still used by some communities who emigrated to Greece and Italy.

The Ottoman Turks arrived in 1385 but Albania resisted strongly under national hero, George Kastrioti (Skanderbeg). He died in 1468 and Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire after the siege of Scutari in 1478. It remained under Turkish rule until after the First Balkan War in 1912 when representatives of the great powers met in London to decide on borders and it became a self-governing principality. Despite being 90% ethnic Albanian, the province of Kosovo was given to Serbia. The equivalent of half the population of Albania itself (over one and a half million) lives there. After WWI, during which Austria invaded the North and Italy the South, it took until the 1920s for the foreign forces to leave. In 1925, the country became a republic and in 1928, the president, Ahmed Beg Zogu, was proclaimed King Zog. His authoritarian rule was fairly peaceful but in 1939 he refused to allow Italian military use of Albanian ports and was forced into exile by Mussolini's invasion. (His son, Leka I, born in 1939, continues to campaign for reinstatement).

The little Balkan state, about the size of Wales, became a republic with a communist government in 1946. It was ruled by the communist dictator and former guerrilla leader, Enver Hoxha, until his death in 1985. He was a committed Stalinist and developed close links with the USSR from 1949-55 but broke off diplomatic relations with the Soviets in 1961 and with China in 1978. His policy of isolation meant that little was known of his totalitarian regime until it ended. Links with other communist countries such as the Soviet Union, China and neighbouring Yugoslavia, were terminated and even the mildest form of opposition severely punished. After the 'Hoxha Experiment', Albanian was left with the lowest income per capita in Europe. The Sigurimi, the Albanian secret police, were active even after Hoxha died. Hoxha seems to have been a Mao-like figure whom nobody dared to cross and his insistence that the country was envied by the world for its high standard of living was not disputed despite terrible poverty and human rights abuse. Islam and Catholicism, the main religions, were banned and all their churches and mosques shut in 1967 but are beginning to revive.

Opposition to the regime began to rise during 1990 and in July, there were street demonstrations in Tirana after which 5000 demonstrators took refuge from the government crackdown in foreign embassies. They were later allowed to leave the country. Diplomatic relations with the USSR were resumed and embassies re-established. The economy worsened and protests continued. In December, the Communist Party legalized opposition parties and religion and Sali Berisha formed the Democratic Party. After riots and demonstrations early in 1991, President Alia replaced the unpopular prime minister Adil Carcani with Fatos Nano, a reform economist, imposed presidential rule and moved tanks into Tirana. Many Albanians, fearing a right-wing coup, left for Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia. Albania was part of the anti-Communist revolution in Europe and free elections were held in March/April 1991. Despite defeat in the cities, the ruling Party of Labour of Albania gained 169 of the 250 seats in the assembly and retained power in rural communities which were reluctant to vote for change. The country was renamed the Republic of Albania and Ramiz Alia was elected as the new executive president. Fatos Nano was re-appointed prime minister in May but resigned in June and was replaced by Ylli Bufi, head of a new 'government of national stability' which also had members from opposition parties.

Albania began to receive food aid from the EC in summer 1991. Conditions were still so bad politically and economically that 20 000 people escaped to the Italian port of Brindisi but further refugees were treated so badly that they were glad to return. The Democratic Party left the coalition government which it accused of being manipulated by communists. Bufi resigned and President Alia appointed Vilson Ahmeti as the first non-Communist prime minister in December 1991. There were further elections in March 1992 and the Democrats under Sali Berisha gained over 60% of the vote. Berisha was given increased executive powers as president and Alexander Meksi became prime minister. In July 1992, several kinds of political organizations were banned and in September, Ramos Alia, the former president, was charged with abuse of power and misuse of state funds. In 1993, Hoxha's widow, Nexhmije, was imprisoned for misuse of government funds in 1985-90.

The country was in economic chaos with 70% unemployment, hospitals full of starving children and a growing dependency on Western aid. Disagreements over land ownership have paralysed agriculture and mass starvation is still a danger held off only by EC and Italian aid as are civil and political unrest. The UN intervened in 1993 to reform the police force and reduce drug trafficking. The Balkan war amongst the states of former Yugoslavia has also caused problems. Elections were held recently in which the exiled king, Leka Zog, only gained a third of the vote. There were accusations of cheating on the part of the Socialists.


Charles Topia 1368- assumes title after gaining control  
George Castriota 'Skanderbeg' c 1443-68 revolts against Turks  
John Castriota II 1468-78 son of Skanderbeg  
Zog I 1928-39 dep   Geraldine Apponigi
Leka I 1939- (in exile) son of Zog I  

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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