Wedged along the Adriatic coast between Greece and Montenegro, Albania is one of the lesser developed but most significant countries for the future of the Balkan region. With a young and growing population having an average age of 29, and larger and equally youthful ethnic Albanian populations in neighboring Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia, it is clear that the Albanian people in general will have a larger role in the years ahead.
Albania, now well into the process of modernizing infrastructure and urban areas, has come a long way since the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, who led one of the harshest of Europe’s former Communist regimes. Following the end of Communism in 1990, the country suffered a long period of transition characterized by the prominent place of corruption and organized crime in society, culminating with the collapse of pyramid schemes that led to large-scale civil violence and toppled the government.
However, the onset of the 1999 Kosovo crisis gave the country a new strategic role in its relationship with the West, and particularly the United States. The government in Tirana has since tried to play up its importance in working towards matters of regional peace and stability, though significant internal discord remains over the poor state of the economy and official corruption, meaning that Albania is not out of the woods yet.
Nevertheless, the Albanians are a proud and hospitable people, who emphasize their shared sense of nationhood over any differences caused by religion (Albanians are mainly Muslim, with Catholic and Orthodox populations as well). The national hero, Skenderbeg, defied the Ottomans and is venerated by ethnic Albanian populations elsewhere too. However, while Albania is trying to develop its tourism industry, particularly along the southern Adriatic coast, the lifting of visas for travel in the EU will probably increase emigration as people continue to look, as they have since the fall of Communism, for work abroad.
Today, the precise character of Albania’s integration with Kosovo – whether it be economic, or more formal in the years to come – is a topic of intense discussion, with the completion of a highway linking the two set to increase trade and help Kosovo access the sea. Albanian political leaders have become increasingly used by the US to coordinate regional political and security objectives.
Negative effects of narcotics smuggling and security challenges caused by returned foreign fighters; organized crime and corruption concerns; initiatives and interests of both the state and unofficial groups towards Albanian communities in neighboring states; economic development issues; the course of relations with the EU and outside states.
Forward Planning: Points of Interest
- Political power (domestically and regionally) of ruling leftist PM Edi Rama as possibly altered by a conservative Trump government in the US
- EU reform processes, and repercussions of critical EC report; economic and political relations with Turkey
- Developing energy exploration projects both on- and off-shore, with foreign partners
- Character and goals of pan-nationalist groups with regard to neighboring states like Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia.
- New identity as a security center for the region as host of a NATO Center of Excellence.