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Part Three: Modern Albanian History

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

To recap, Albania has a very interesting history as a nation and, like so many other parts of eastern Europe has suffered from arbitrary lines drawn on a map.


The question I've asked is: how did it get to that point? Here is my very brief history of Albania told in the most succinct way I could!


In Part One I told the story behind the Princedom of Albania, however it was just one of around twelve that were established during this period of Albania's history (specifically the mid-fourteenth century) and I talked about these in Part Two.


Now in Part Three we pick up the story of modern day Albania, 450 years after the conclusion of Part Two. What happened during that time? What is today Albania was under Ottoman control, except for one Principality.


Let me kick off part three of this story by introducing the Principality of Mirdita.


One region that did manage to establish a degree of independence during the 450 years of Ottoman rule was the Principality of Mirdita, which was established around 1515.


Located in the far-northern mountainous region of Albania, the Ottoman’s elected to leave the local tribal population largely alone, especially given the local military was able to constantly repel Ottoman advances.

Women of Mirdita, c. 1890 (Source: The Photograph Collection of Baron Alexander Degrand, the Albanians Photography Project) <http://www.albanianphotography.net/degrand/index.html>

Short-lived Independence

While Mirdita remained independent the rest of Albania had to wait until 1912 to proclaim independence from the Ottoman Empire. This occurred on 28 November 1912 and sent a signal to the rest of Europe that the Ottoman Empire was not as strong as it had once been.


The next month, December 1912, the “Great Powers” convened in London to manage the fallout of this and establish the new national borders. Many of the powers did not support Albanian independence but nonetheless it was finally passed. Despite this during the First Balkan War the country was occupied by Serbia, Montenegro and Greece throwing instability into the mix and revoking Albanian independence.


Prenk Bib Doda, c. 1900

In 1912 Mirdita had been included in the Albanian declaration of independence however after the young Albanian nation was invaded by the neighbouring Balkan States, Mirdita was once again largely left to its own devices until the conclusion of the First Balkan War.


As the new nation began to re-build after the war, it looked to establish itself as independence and Prenk Bib Doda, a prominent leader in Mirdita had his eyes on the leadership of the new Albania.


The New Albanian Principality

He didn't gain the top spot however as Wilhelm of Wied (a German Prince) was selected to be the first prince of the new Albanian Principality.


Prince Wilhelm was a second cousin of the German Emperor, Wilhelm II but to be honest he was a very minor royal. Initially Wilhelm turned down the Albanian throne, but after pressure from the Austrian’s he accepted. His only link to Albania was his wife, Princess Sophie of Schonburg-Waldenburg who a distant relation to an old Albian family (though from what I’ve read it seems the families origins are more Romanian/Greek than Albanian), the family hailed from the Principality of Moldavia (1346-1859) whose territory today is split between Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.


Prince Wilhelm of Wied, 1914

The newly independent Albania with Prince Wilhelm as the first monarch, faced ongoing internal upheaval from the Greek’s and Muslim’s who now found themselves in a country they didn’t sign up for.


On 3 September 1914, barley six months after assuming control of Albania, Prince Wilhelm fled the country as his rule collapsed.


Despite this, throughout World War One (WWI), Wilhelm remained the official head of Albania until a Republic was declared in 1925.


Back in Mirdita (which was still doing its own thing despite now being part of the new Albania), Doda was assassinated at the end of WWI in 1919 and as he had no heir one of his relatives, Marka Gjoni claimed power.


Gjoni was not popular and failed to gain any support in Mirdita, instead, supported from Belgrade he declared Mirdita a Republic in 1921. Only supported by Greece and Yugoslavia, Albanian troops overthrew him and after just four months the Republic became part of Albania.


After his initial exile Gjoni, would return to have a role in local politics, as would his son who fought hard against the communists following World War Two (WWII). Many members of the Gjonmarkaj family would spend years in communist internment camps until the collapse of communism in the 1990s.


The "New" Albanian Republic became a Monarchy...Again

Returning to the wider Albanian story and the path to a Republic.

King Zog I of Albania, c. 1930

After Albania declared independence in 1925 it didn't remain in place for very long as in 1928 the parliament created the Kingdom of Albania, making the country’s President, Ahmet Zogu, King.


A close relationship was established with Italy whose fascist ruler, Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III supported the independence of the new Albanian Kingdom until Italy suddenly invaded in 1939 making Albania part of Italy.


In 1940 Albania was used as a staging post for an attempted Italian invasion of Greece which proved to be unsuccessful. In actual fact, parts of Southern Albania were lost to Greece rather than Italy gaining more territory.


In April 1941 a German invasion proved successful with the southern portion of Albania returned to Albian control. At the same time part of what today is western Macedonia, eastern Montenegro, the town of Tutin in Serbia and most of Kosovo were annexed to Albania.


From Italian and German Invasions to Becoming a Satellite State of the Soviet Union

In late 1943 the Germans began to occupy Albania however they declared Albania neutral.


Though the country was neutral internally there was instability with communist powers managing to rise to prominence and by the end of the war Albania has quickly became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. This would remain the norm until Stalin’s death in 1953 at which point Albania began to develop relations with other Communist countries such as China who helped re-build the country financially post-war.


In 1967 Albania was declared the world’s first secular state with all forms of worship having been banned during the communist era and many religious buildings and icons destroyed by the Communist regime.

This map shows Albania's position in Europe in comparison to the Soviet Union. Albania is coloured green while the Soviet Union is orange (Source: WikiCommons)

Albania’s isolation from the rest of the non-communist world ended in the early 1990s as the iron curtain came down.


The first multi-party elections took place in 1991 however this didn’t mark the start of a peaceful era for Albania with civil war breaking out in 1997 as a result of a financial collapse.


The war lasted almost seven months in which over 2,000 people were killed, around 5,000 wounded and the government was brought down as well.


United Nations (UN) forces were sent into the country to restore order and a snap election was held with the socialist government winning. Following this, the country worked extensively to become more western facing. In 2009 they were admitted to NATO and in 2014 they became an official member of the European Union.


How much changed in one small country over such a short period of history!


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FURTHER READING:


Books:

  • "The World, First Edition", Lonely Planet (2014)

  • "The Medieval World Vol. 12" (Routledge, 1997)

  • "Geographica: World Atlas and Encyclopaedia", (Random House Australia, 1999)

  • Alfred Znamierowski, "The World Enclyclopedia of Flags", (London: Lorenz Books, 2004)

Websites and articles:

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