We find Albania’s history fascinating. The spiritual state of the country is directly tied to it’s tumultuous past. Visiting the National Museum of History helped us understand the country’s roots and critical influences.
Albania is mostly mountainous with coastal lowlands. The population is about 3.4 million (not including those who have emigrated) and contains a number of ethnic minorities. the largest of these minorities are the Romanies (“Gypsies”) and Greeks.
The Albanians have had a long, rich, and difficult history in the Balkan Peninsula. They are the descendants of the Illyrians, an ancient Indo-European people whom Paul referred to in Romans 15:19 (“from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ”). Over the centuries they have suffered under foreign rule as many other peoples, including Romans, Slavs, Serbs, and Turks have invaded them.
One of the most difficult periods of foreign rule began in the 15th century when the Ottoman Turks invaded. In 1442, George Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) united Albanians in defense against the Turks and kept them at bay for a quarter century. However, after his death, Kruje (his stronghold) fell in 1478 and Turkish occupation of the country was complete by 1501.
During this time many people were converted to Islam. The Turkish occupation also influences many other aspects of life including language and the role of women in society.
In the 19th Century the Ottoman empire began to weaken and Albania rebelled and became an independent country in 1912. When the borders were redefined in 1913, Albania lost almost half of its land (Kosovo) and population to Serbia and Greece.
In the 1920’s Fan S. Noli attempted to establish a democracy; however in 1928, Ahmed Zogu, the formed prime minister, declared himself king. During World War II, Albania was occupied by the Italians and later the Germans. Then in 1944, Enver Hoxha assumed control, beginning over four decades of Communist dictatorship.
Albania was ruled by a strong Stalinistic variety of Communism. The Albanian people became more and more isolated as their government broke off established relations with Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and China. In 1967, Albania became the first nation in history to declare itself officially atheistic. After Hoxha’s death in 1985, the Communist regime began to decline.
Finally, in 1992, Albanians elected a democratic government. After the collapse of several financial pyramid schemes in 1997, Albania was thrown into chaos. A socialist government was elected at the time and was in power until 2007 when the democratic party won the elections. The situation has been very calm since 1999. The last 10 years have seen massive changes in Albania- both good and bad. There is religious freedom, with about 70% of the population Muslim, 20% Orthodox and 10% Catholic; but materialism seems to have become the religion of choice for many. A great number of Albanians have fled to other countries in order to provide for their families. After many decades of forced atheism, most Albanians don’t take their religion seriously.
* Courtesy of the “Orientation Guide to Albania” from The Albanian Encouragement Project.