History of Islam/Modern period/Albania

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Albania[edit | edit source]

From 1925, the country was ruled by President Ahmet Zogu who, in 1928, declared himself King Zog I,meaning "bird",the first Albanian monarch since Gjergj Kastriot Skënderbej and adopting the title of Scanderbeg II. Afterwards he was also declared Field Marshal of the Royal Albanian Army on September 1, 1928. He proclaimed a constitutional monarchy similar to the contemporary regime in Italy.

During his reign he is said to have survived over 55 assassination attempts. One of these occurred in 1931 while Zog was visiting a Vienna opera house for a performance of Pagliacci. The attackers struck whilst Zog was getting into his car, and he survived by drawing his own pistol (which he always carried) and firing back at his would-be assassins. This is the only occasion in modern history when a Head of State has returned fire with potential assassins.

Styling himself a European king, he married Hungarian noblewoman Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi. His reign ended when Italian fascists invaded Albania in April 7, 1939. The communists took power after the Second World War. After the fall of the communist government, his son Leka, Crown Prince of Albania and the royal family returned to Albania on June 28, 2002.

Albania was one of the first countries occupied by the Axis Powers in World War II. Mussolini invaded and occupied Albania, while the world was focused on German military actions in Czechoslovakia and Poland. As Hitler began his aggressions, the Italian dictator set his eyes on Albania across the Adriatic from Italy. Despite some resistance, especially at Durrës, Italy invaded Albania on April 7, 1939 and took control of the country. On April 12, the Albanian parliament voted to unite the country with Italy. Victor Emmanuel III took the Albanian crown, and the Italians set up a fascist government under Shefqet Verlaci and soon absorbed Albania's military and diplomatic institutions. Mussolini, in October 1940, used his Albanian base to launch an attack on Greece. During WWII, Albanian nationalist groups, including communist partisans, fought against the Italians and subsequently the Germans. By October 1944 they had thrown the Germans out, the only East European nation to do so without the assistance of Soviet troops. The partially French-educated Enver Hoxha became the leader of the country by virtue of his position as secretary general of the Party of Labor (the Albanian Communist Party). The Communist Party was created on November 8, 1941 with the help of other Bolshevik Communist Parties.

Albania is unique in that it is the only European country occupied by the Nazis that ended World War II with a larger Jewish population than before the War. The Albanian response to the Holocaust is especially notable because it was Europe's only largely Muslim country. Even so only a Jewish family of six was deported and killed during the Nazi occupation of Albania.Not only did the Albanians protect their own Jews, but they provided refuge for Jews from neighboring countries. The Albanians refused to comply and hand over lists of Jews. Instead they provided the Jewish families with forged documents and helped them disperse in the Albanian population.

In February 1944, when the Nazis descended upon the mountain hiding place, not a single Jew fell into their hands. During the Holocaust, Albania was the only country in Europe that protected and sheltered its entire Jewish population, both native and foreign. There was no history of ideological anti-Semitism in Albania so it was unique in this regard.The small number of Jews in Albania also played a key role in the possibility to protect them all. During the Italian occupation, they were able to disperse and blend in with the general population. However, the role of the Albanian population as a whole in saving Jews is undeniable.

From 1944 to 1991, Albania became a People's Republic and was a one-party state in which Enver Hoxha ruled with an austere hand. In 1961, he broke with Albania’s closest ally, the Soviet Union, because he believed Khrushchev had abandoned the teachings of Stalin. Subsequently, Albania’s closest ally was the People’s Republic of China. However, when the PRC established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1978, Hoxha denounced the Chinese as well and decided to pursue a policy of self-reliance. The result was not only extreme isolation but also absolute financial ruin for Albania. An example of this may be drawn from the construction between 1974 and 1986 of approximately 700,000 reinforced concrete bunkers to defend against an anticipated multi-front attack. Upon Hoxha’s death in 1985, Ramiz Alia succeeded him as both party and state leader. Alia was Hoxha’s protégé, but was less repressive than the former leader and began to allow some reforms. This process was accelerated by news of the changes in other communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. There are statistics which show that during this period about 6000 Albanian citizens were executed for political reasons.Despite this, the quality of life improved as both life expectancy and literacy showed large gains and economic growth continued until the mid 1970s.