Albania is a mediterranean country with a coastline 362 kilometers long. Its western lowlands face the Adriatic Sea and the Strait of Otranto, only 100 km away from Italy.
Albania shares its borders with Montenegro in the north, Kosovo in the north east, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece in the south.
Albania is largely mountainous, rough and remote, but its alluvial plain is just as unwelcoming; the poor quality soil is inadequately drained, and is either parched or saturated. Good soil and regular rainfall can be found in the river basins, in the lake district along the eastern frontier, and in a strip of higher land between the coastal plains and the interior mountains. Limestone is predominant and it is responsible for the cliffs and clear water of the coastline southeast of Vlorë. The erosion of softer rocks has caused wider valleys to form in the southern mountain area, than those found elsewhere in the country.
There are three remote, picturesque lakes in the east of Albania, Lake Ohrid, Big Prespa Lake, and Small Prespa Lake. The land around them is not too steep and supports the largest population in inland Albania. Albania's eastern border passes through Lake Ohrid and the point at which the boundaries of three states meet is in Lake Prespa.
From the North Albanian Alps to the Greek border south of Korçë is an area of snake-like rock that runs almost the entire length of the country. The mountains to the east are the highest in Albania, over 2,740 meters in the Mount Korab range. The eastern highlands are amongst the most rugged and inaccessible of any terrain on the Balkan Peninsula. The central uplands are moderately elevated, barely rising above 1,520 meters. The faultline at the western edge of the central uplands causes frequent, and sometimes severe, earthquakes. The southern mountain ranges are the most accessible in Albania.
From the northern boundary to the vicinity of Vlorë, there is a low coastal belt with low scrub vegetation that can be quite dense in places. There are large marshy areas
and bare, eroded badlands. However, the land is highly productive where there is regular rainfall and marginal land is reclaimed wherever irrigation is possible.
Quite a lot of water from other countries flows through Albania, but only a couple of small rivers leave Albanian territory. Most of the rivers in northern and central Albania flow west into the sea. Nearly all of the rainfall that falls on Albania drains into these rivers flowing through deep, steep sided valleys. Unfortunately, when the arable valley lands are parched and need irrigation, the rivers are usually dry. Also, their violence when they are full makes them difficult to control and mostly unnavigable. However, the Buna River is dredged and can be negotiated by small ships to the Adratic. On the lower plains, the rivers are constantly changing channels, so preventing proper drainage and creating swamps and marshlands. It is difficult to build roads or railroads across the lowlands or otherwise use the land. The largest and least varying river is the Black Drini, 282 kilometers long, its total basin encompasses about 15,540 square kilometers. It takes water from Kosovo's watersheds and the three border lakes on its way to the sea. The only other two rivers that are more than 160 kilometers long, with basins larger than 2,600 square kilometers, are the Semani and Vjosa. In the winter they are torrents, but as with most of Albania's shorter rivers, they are almost dry in the summer.
Although Albania covers a small area it has a variety of climatic regions; from the typical Mediterranean weather of the coastal lowlands to the continental climate of the highlands. From north to south there is a marked variation in temperatures and humidity. The winters are mild and humid in the lowlands, and the summer weather is inclined to being hot and and uncomfortably humid. Temperatures are higher in the southern lowlands throughout the year.
In the interior basins and river valleys the days can be very hot, with cool nights. Average summer temperatures are lower than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher altitudes, but daily variations are greater. The cold mountain winters are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Winds blow from the north and northeast much of the time.
Albania receives a lot of rain, the heaviest rain falling in the central uplands. There are frequent thunderstorms accompanied by high winds and torrential downpours. In the lowlands the average yearly rainfall is from 1,000 millimetres to more than 1,500 millimetres, with higher rainfall in the north. Almost all of the rain falls in the winter.
Rainfall in the upland mountain ranges is heavier, between 1,800 millimetres and 2,550 millimetres in northern areas, with less seasonal variation than in the coastal area. The higher inland mountains receive less rainfall than the intermediate uplands, with less seasonal variations than any area, although differences in terrain cause wide local variations.
Albania was originally inhabited by the pre-Indo-Europeans that populated much of the Mediterranean. These first inhabitants were overrun by the Proto-Hellenic tribes that came to occupy modern-day Greece. The area was then invaded by the warlike Illyrians around 900 BC. The south Illyrian tribes were influenced by the Greek-Macedonian culture and there were several ancient Greek colonies along the Albanian coast. It then became a Roman province until the end of the 4th century AD when Albania came under Byzantine rule, which lasted until 1347. There followed about 100 years of invasions by Bulgarians, Serbs, Venetians, and finally Turks in 1385. Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1478, during this period of its history many of its people were converted to Islam.
After the First Balkan War, in 1912, Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire, becoming at first a principality, then a republic in 1925. In 1939 it was overrun by Italy and Germany. Italy annexed the Albanian inhabited territories of Kosovo and Western Macedonia, and as a result, the Italians and the Germans found collaborators to fight local nationalist and communist insurgents. The Albanian Communist Party under the leadership of Enver Hoxha took over the country in November 1944 after the Germans had retreated.
In 1985, Hoxha died and Ramiz Alia took his place. Alia signed the Helsinki Accords that respected some human rights and he also allowed pluralism. In 1992 the general elections were won by the Democratic Party with 62% of the votes. By 1997 the people had had enough of their corrupt government who had manipulated the 1996 election results. This was followed by the collapse of the fraudulent "pyramid schemes", the ensuing anarchy helping the socialist party to win the early elections of 1997. Despite this, corruption in the government has been increasing even though Albania has been accepted in the Council of Europe, is included in NATO's Partnership for Peace program and is a candidate to NATO membership.
Albania is a poor country trying to make the difficult transition from communism to a market economy. Attempts at reform only really started in early 1992 after real GDP fell by more than 50% of its 1989 level. With help from the IMF and the World Bank, Albania has been experiencing an intensive economic restructuring. Amongst its economic problems are low income levels, incompetent administration and high unemployment. The poor infrastructure and dysfunctional banking system discourage outside investors. One in five of the workforce works abroad, mostly in Italy and Greece, and the money they send home makes up an important part of the economy and helps offset the large foreign trade deficit.
The Albanian President is elected by a secret ballot of the People's Assembly. The President of the Republic acts as commander in chief of the armed forces, appoints the Prime Minister, and exercises the duties of the People's Assembly when the Assembly is not in session.
The 17 ministers of the Council of Ministers are nominated on the Prime Minister's recommendation. Executive power rests with the Council of Ministers and it is responsible for carrying out both foreign and domestic policies. It directs and controls the activities of the ministries and other state organs.
The People's Assembly has the power to decide domestic and foreign policy, declare war, ratify treaties and amend the constitution. It controls all state media and information channels, and appoints the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and his or her deputies.
There are 140 deputies in the People's Assembly, of which 100 are directly elected by an absolute majority of the voters, and 40 are chosen by their parties on the basis of proportional representation. Elections are held every 4 years.
The Judicial System
Albanian courts are each divided into three jurisdictions: criminal, civil, and military. A college of three judges renders the verdicts; there is no jury trial. The highest court of appeal consists of 11 members appointed by the People's Assembly. The President of the Republic chairs the High Council of Justice charged with appointing and dismissing other judges. The People's Assembly appoints the nine members of the Constitutional Court which interprets the constitution, determines the constitutionality of laws, and resolves disagreements between local and federal authorities.