Albania: Land of Sorrows

by John Sinishta

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When the Catholic Near East Welfare Association was founded in 1926, one of the countries placed in its care was Albania. This small mountainous Balkan country, about 11,000 square miles in area, is located on the eastern shores of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas between Yugoslavia and Greece. In their native language the Albanians call themselves Shqiptare, “Sons of the Eagle,” and their land Shqiperi, “Eagle’s country.” They are descendants of the ancient Illyrian tribes, regarded as the oldest inhabitants of Europe.

Although there is no historical record of the beginnings of Christianity in Albania, it had been introduced before the middle of the fourth century, and bishoprics had been established. During the Ottoman occupation, however, most of the Albanians were forced to embrace Islam, particularly in the lowlands and towns. Nonetheless they endured as a nation, preserving their language, customs and traditions, and in many places their Christian faith.

After gaining independence in 1912 from the Ottoman rule which had lasted for five centuries, Albania became a battlefield during World War I, and was occupied by Italy and Germany in turn during World War II. Albania regained her independence in 1944, but the government fell under the control of tough Communist rulers. The shift in power has brought about many changes.

Before the second World War, 95% of Albania was devoted to agriculture. Today it is 65% agricultural and 35% industrial. It produces one-sixth of the world’s copper, as well as smaller quantities of chrome, iron and nickel. Productivity has dropped below the prewar level in goats, sheep, horses and cattle, but has increased in the pig and fishing industries. Albania is and will continue to be self-sufficient in petroleum products as long as no private cars are allowed. At the present it suffers no lack of energy, and even provides some electrical power which is exported to neighboring Yugoslavia.

Since Albania was formerly a land of herds and farms with limited machinery and few factories, all rural and many urban Albanians once wore different multi-colored, handmade costumes of which they were very proud. The distinctive charm of these garments has now disappeared, since they have been replaced with work clothes in the soldierly style of Stalin or Mao Tse Tung. The government did not completely abolish this traditional style of dress, however; a few tailoring cooperatives were organized to fashion these outfits, which are used for theatrical purposes and during national and party folklore festivities.

The present regime in Albania established free national education, and claims to have eradicated illiteracy among those under 40 years of age. It has begun a state cooperative system and a medicare program; it has increased the exploitation of natural resources, especially timber and minerals, and enforced the abolition of private property. In order to accomplish its goals, it has used both voluntary and forced labor.

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Tags: Christianity Cultural Identity War Communism/Communist Albania