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Located on the Adriatic coast of the Balkan peninsula, Albania is a mountainous country with a population largely established along the coast. The country reformed itself into a democracy during the political shift across Europe that accompanied the collapse of the USSR, but suffered from poor economic performance, including the rise of pyramid schemes with liabilities in excess of national GDP during the 1990s. Despite democratic reforms, human rights violations continue, particularly with regards to violence against and the trafficking of children.
Albania lies on the Adriatic coast and shares borders with Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. The country is largely mountainous, but the main population centres are located along the coastal plains. The capital city is Tirana.
Population and Language
Albania is home to around 3.2 million people. The population fell significantly in the decade following the end of the communist regime, but population growth has returned to an annual rate of less than half a per cent over the past five years. Albanian is the country's official language, but sizeable proportions of the country speak Greek, Vlach, Romani and Slavic dialects.
History and Politics
From 1948 to 1985, Albania was a communist state under the leadership of Enver Hoxha. Upon the death of Hoxha his successor gradually opened up the country, eventually leading to multi-party elections in 1991. Initially, the communists retained power, but the newly formed Democratic Party (DP) rapidly increased its support base, leading to an overwhelming electoral victory the following year. The DP, under the leadership of Sali Berisha, maintained power until 1997, though it faced allegations that it was engaged in anti-democratic reforms and electoral irregularities. In 1997 anti-government protests and violence erupted which caused the government to lose control of parts of the country and cost the lives of around 1,500 people.
Following the crisis of 1997, the Socialist Party became the largest party in the Parliament and continued to be so until elections in 2005, when Berisha became Prime Minister again. The OSCE criticised the 2005 elections, but noted significant improvements in the 2009 elections that returned Berisha to power for a second consecutive term. Prime Minister Berisha is currently leading a government made up of four parties. The current President is Bamir Topi, who was elected by the Parliament in 2007 for a five year term.
Under the Albanian political system the President, elected by Parliament, is formally head of state, though the office has limited powers. The executive is largely governed by the Cabinet under the Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the largest party in the ruling coalition. The Legislature takes the form of a unitary parliament made up of 140 members elected by party list proportional representation every four years.
Albania is among the poorest countries in Europe and has struggled to recover from an insular communist regime. Rapid free market reforms took place in the early 1990s, but the transition led to serious economic difficulties. The rise of pyramid schemes in the country reached a critical level in 1996 when around two-thirds of the country had invested in schemes with liabilities that massively exceeded their assets. As the schemes collapsed, a large number of the population lost their homes or large sums of money leading, in a large part, to the violence of 1997.
The service sector has become the largest contributor to GDP (58 per cent) since the end of the communist regime, and agriculture continues to make a significant contribution (23 per cent). Albania also has substantial mineral resources which offer good economic prospects, but these will require sizeable foreign investment. Over 85 per cent of the country's trade is with EU states and, since 2005, Prime Minister Berisha has been pursuing EU membership.
Media and Civil Society
Following the end of the communist regime, civil society in Albania underwent a considerable change. Human and specialised women's rights NGOs were among the first civil society organisations to form in the country, and new organisations have continued to form. CIVICUS has reported, however, that there are limited mechanisms for government ministries and departments to engage with such organisations and there is a low level of civic participation.
Reporters Without Borders rated the country 80 out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, a ranking that indicated “noticeable problems”. Among the issues that the organisation has highlighted are fines awarded to a leading TV channel in relation to an investigative news programme, limitations on press coverage of political events and alleged intimidation of journalists.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Albania has taken a number of important steps in raising its human rights standards since the early 1990s including implementing a new Constitution with fundamental rights protections and reforming national laws to bring them into greater conformity with human rights treaties. The Committee on the Rights of the Child raised a number of concerns in relation to human rights standards for children in its 2005 observations, however, including with respect to the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual abuse affecting children, the levels of poverty in the country and the practice of trafficking and selling children.
- Constitution of Albania, Article 14(1)
- Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, "Republic of Albania, Parliamentary Elections, 3 July 2005 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report"
- Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, "Republic of Albania, Parliamentary Elections, 28 June 2009 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission and Final Report"
- Christopher Jarvis, "The Rise and Fall of Albania's Pyramid Schemes" Finance and Development, March 2000, Volume 37, Number 1
- BBC, " Albania applies for EU membership" 28 April 2009
- CIVICUS, "Civil Society Index for Albania: In search of citizens and impact" 2010
- Reporters Without Borders, "Top channel ordered to pay ex-minister record damages of 400,000 Euros" 23 June 2010
- Reporters Without Borders, "Public television prevented from covering Tirana street demo" 10 May 2010
- Reporters Without Borders, "Independent newspaper editor beaten unconscious by leading businessman" 5 November 2009
- Committee on the Rights of the Child, "Albania, Concluding Observations, March 2005"
- OHCHR, Albania Homepage
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Country Profile: Albania
- World Bank, Country Brief 2011: Albania
- Christopher Jarvis, " The Rise and Fall of Albania's Pyramid Schemes" Finance and Development, March 2000, Volume 37, Number 1
- CIVICUS, Civil Society Index for Albania: In search of citizens and impact" 2010
- Hauser Global Law School Programme, Mbaresa Veleshnja Gentry, "A Guide to Researching the Albanian Legal System"
- BBC, various news items (see footnotes)
- Reporters Without Borders, various news items (see footnotes)