Like many countries that have been oppressed by invaders over long periods of their history, Albania is backward and undeveloped by European standards, backward even by Balkan standards. A small country measuring only about 200 miles long and 50 miles wide (about the size of Maryland), Albania is at least as mountainous as Italy.

Two thousand years ago Albania was part of the Roman province of Illyria. Albania resisted the mighty Roman legions but was overcome and conquered in 168 BC. Rome ruled the civilized world and Illyria, although a rather insignificant piece of the vast imperial realm, was at least a prosperous colony. Poor Albania has not prospered since.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the west Albania was ravaged by marauding Visigoths and Huns and subject to rule for nearly a thousand years by a variety of overlords, starting with the eastern, or Byzantine Roman Empire, and subsequently by Bulgaria and Serbia.

In the Middle Ages a new overlord, the Turks, conquered the land and ruled for another 500 years. The Albanians fought, as they had before against other invaders, and a great national hero, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, fought them off for 25 years, rallying the people and winning many battles. But after he died, the Turks completed their conquest.

Nearly three out of four Albanians are Muslims, having taken the religion of their Turkish conquerors. The remainder are Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic.

Albania finally gained its independence from the Turks in 1912 but kept it for a mere 27 years until Mussolini invaded early in World War Two. Occupied by Italians and Germans during the war, Albania once again gained independence after the defeat of the Axis Powers. But a harsh sort of independence it was. Two thousand years of foreign domination by Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, and Turks - must have seemed rather tame by comparison to national "freedom" under the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha which suppressed the people ruthlessly. Hoxha installed a Stalinist system and unleashed a wave of terror, nationalizing private property, wiping out the landed class, confiscating through taxation the assets of the bourgeoisie, persecuting the churches, and summarily executing people by the thousands. Not even the Huns did so much damage. With the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, anarchy ruled in the sorry country, and the spectacle of Albanians by the thousands packing ships and attempting forced entry into Italy is one that is difficult to forget.

Today the small, poor, backward country struggles to enter the 20th century while the rest of her European neighbors are poised to enter the 21st.

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