A Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea, bordered by Serbia and Montenegro and Macedonia to the N and E, and Greece to the S. The Albanians, a people whose ethnic roots may have been in the Illyrian and Thracian tribes who lived nearby in ancient times, have traditionally been isolated from outside influence by their mountains, forests, and swamps. The Greeks and Romans barely left their mark on this land . Albania was under the sway of the Byzantine Empire from 395 to 1347; the Serbs made inroads in the seventh century; and 200 years later the Bulgarians controlled parts of the area. Venice colonized it in the 11th century, and Naples soon became politically dominant, remaining so until the 14th century, when it was replaced first by the Serbs and then the Turks, who introduced Islam.
Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire when Balkan nationalism swept southeastern Europe in the 19th century. In 1912 the Albanians took advantage of the first Balkan War to declare their independence. This was upset by Serbian invasion the following year. World War I brought virtual dissolution of the state as various nations and ethnic groups fought to control the territory. Independence and territorial integrity were achieved once again following the war. Liberals and conservatives vied for power in the newly independent nation, with the latter winning out in 1925. The conservative leader, Ahmed Zogu, became King Zog in 1928. In 1939 Mussolini seized Albania for Italy.
During World War II Albanian partisans, led by Enver Hoxha, although clearly communists, received aid exclusively from Great Britain and France. Thus the communist government set up in 1946 came to power without Soviet assistance—the only communist government in Europe to do this. More Stalinist than the nation that spawned Stalin, Albania broke with the USSR in 1961 and allied itself with the then more ideologically pure Chinese. Albania was the most independent communist state of Eastern Europe, one of the most isolated, and also one of the most rigidly governed and controlled. By 1990, economic conditions were so bad that antigovernment demonstrators challenged the regime. In 1992 a noncommunist government replaced the communist regime and Albania opened itself to the world. In 1997 the country fell into economic collapse as a large percentage of the population participated in a pyramid investment scheme. The economic conditions became worse after 1999 as ethnic Albanian refugees fled to Albania from ethnic strife in neighboring Kosovo, but have improved after 2000 with growth rates of 9% per year slowing somewhat after the global economic slowdown in 2002.