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Albania: The Development of a Developing Country

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Albania: The Development of a Developing Country

Albania, a small country located in Southeastern Europe, is a nation that does not have a true identity Ð'- its people are Muslim and Christian, it is a country that is both and poor, it is as much urban as it is rural, and has evolved from monarchy to socialism and now to fledgling democracy. In other words, Albania and its people have seen it all. The extremes of Albanian society are vivid, and underlying tensions are evident. But Albania is not "another Yugoslavia" Ð'- there is no doubt that the internal environment of Albania has been and somewhat continues to be tense, although the breaking point has never been fully reached. Albania is a country with a fervently tense past (especially during the Cold War era), yet many people do not know about it, and few would be able to find the country on the map. Despite its beautiful during, its plentiful natural resources, and its extraordinary tradition of hospitality, Albania has always been "the most isolated country in Europe and from World War II until very recently, one of the most isolated countries on earth" ("Real Adventures Ð'- Albania" 1).

Amongst the booming economies of Europe, Albania is markedly poor, and is trying to make the difficult transition to a more modern open-market economy. In addition, the government is taking steps to encourage economic growth as well as trade. Albania, according to 2003 estimates, "has a GDP of $16.13 billion, with a per capita GDP of $4,500" ("Albania Ð'- CIA Factbook" 2) This is an improvement over the Cold War era, in which Albania's economy was a complete disaster Ð'- still, however, Albania's economy is considerably weak compared to its European neighbors. The economy is helped by "remittances from people abroad of $400-$600 million annually, mostly from Greece and Italy, and this money helps lower the sizable trade deficit" ("Real Adventures Ð'- Albania" 1). Agriculture, which accounts for half of Albania's GDP, is frequently stifled because of recurring drought and the burden of having to modernize their equipment and trying to make use of sparse land. What also complicates economic matters is that there have been severe energy shortages, and old-fashioned and highly inadequate infrastructure makes it difficult to attract large-scale foreign investment, which accounts for 18.7 % of Albania's GDP (according to 2003 estimates). The government plans to boost energy imports to alleviate the shortages and is moving rather slowly in their efforts to improve the poor national road and rail network, which has long suffocated economic growth and stability in Albania. An estimated 30 % of the population lives below the poverty line ("Albania Ð'- CIA Factbook" 3).

From 1991 until today, Albania has welcomed foreign visitors but, as the poorest country in Europe, it has attracted relatively few of them. Yet there are many reasons why the outside world should be interested in Albania and concerned for its future. Albania is a Balkan country and thus a crossroads of East and West, North and South; it is as rich in history as it is in resources. When Albania achieved independence, nearly half its population found itself outside its newly drawn borders, in what is now called "the former Yugoslavia." But Albanians are not Slavs, and the Albanian language is not Slavic. Much has been written about historic "transition" from communism, but Albania's transition is ignored in most of these accounts. According to author Anthony Clunies, this is probably because Albania's brand of communism was different from the others, and its society is more difficult for a Westerner to understand, or maybe because people didn't pay much attention to what happens in a small country in Eastern Europe (23).

The reputation for 50 years for being the hotbed of Europe's harshest brand of communism is in the past, as it ended in 1991. Writing recent history is always

problematic; an objective account of the past fifty years in Albania, where extremes and

excesses of the communist regime are recent memory, is probably impossible. But

everyone agrees in one thing: Albanian communism was not like the others. It brought this country overwhelming disasters and poverty. Albania's economy "changed drastically in the early 1990s, as the government moved from a Communist system to a more democratic organization" ("Real Adventures Ð'- Albania" 2). Albania emerged from the Communist era as the poorest country in Europe. For the first time Albanians were granted the right to foreign travel. The country still relied on tens of thousands of Albanians who work in Greece, Italy, and Germany and send money home to support their families. Throughout 1990 thousands of Albanian citizens tried to flee the country through Western embassies. A multinational relief operation "arranged for safe evacuation of more than 5000 Albanians, and 20,000 more sailed illegally to Italy in vessels seized at civilian ports" (Clunies 54).

From 1944 to 1991 Albania's government was under the complete control of the

Communist Party, with strong influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or U.S.S.R. Power was consolidated in one man, Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania

with an iron fist and stifled any dissent, much like Lenin and Stalin. After Hoxha's death in 1985, Albania began to emerge from its isolation. As Communist rule in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989, some Albanians demanded extensive reforms. In 1990 the government endorsed the creation of independent political parties. Albanian citizens had few of the guarantees of human rights and fundamental freedoms that have become standard in Western democracies. According to Anthony Clunies, Amnesty International "noted that political prisoners were tortured and beaten by the Sigurimi during investigations, and political detainees lacked adequate legal safeguards during pretrial investigations" (59). Most investigations into political offenses lasted for several months. Alia's regime "took an important step toward democracy in early May 1990, when it announced its desire to join the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, while at the same time introducing positive changes in its legal system" ("Real Adventures Ð'- Albania" 4). A prerequisite for membership in the CSCE is the protection of human rights. According to Clunies, The United Nations Human Rights Committee had severely criticized Albania for its human rights abuses in 1989 and in May 1990 the secretary general

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