At the Western Balkans lies the beautiful, but previously completely closed communist state, Albania.


  • Governance: Republic
  • Capital: Tirana
  • Population: 3.2 millions
  • Religion: Islam, orthodox Christianity, catholic Christianity
  • Language: Albanian
  • Location: Balkans, Europe
  • Democracy index: Partly free, 68/100

Albania has always been characterized by great religious diversity. As much as 70 per cent of the population defines themselves as Muslims, and they live in harmony, side by side with both orthodox and catholic Christians. The harmony is expressed through the Albanian word “mesa” which means faith, to keep word or promise.  

Albanians are also proud of the iconic Mother Teresa. The famous roman-catholic nun, with Albanian heritage, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for devoting her life to helping the poor. Hospitality is also considered to be a basic Albanian value.  

The magnificent Albanian scenery extends from the northern Alps, to the Adriatic Sea in the west, to the Ionian Sea in the south-west. Although in geographical terms the country is small, it remains characterized by an exceptionally rich and varied biodiversity.  

Albania today

Albania was one of Europe’s poorest countries for a long time, and the borders were completely closed. However, since the borders opened in 1991, poverty has been cut in half. Despite economic improvement, half of the population have moved abroad in hope of a better life. Today, the political climate is characterized by strong polarization, with an opposition who boycotts the parliament. This causes the government’s constant attempts at necessary reforms, to be delayed.  

The human rights situation in Albania, has the potential to improve. Legal security and freedom of the press are among Albania’s biggest challenges – despite recent reports saying, “Albanian media are free from censorship and reprisals”. The media continue to face constant influence from the government, politicians and press owners. Although, organisations working for the LGBTI-community have experienced growth, they continue to be exposed to hatred and violence.  The government also face challenges in addressing the vendettas and blood revenge-culture which is still practiced in the country today.  


The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) helped create the Albanian Helsinki Committee in the early 90’s. It was the start of an active cooperation to improve the human rights situation in the country, through observation of elections and civil society. The “Civil Society Project”, which began in 2016, aims to counter radicalization and violent extremists. The project is a cooperation between the Norwegian and Albanian Helsinki Committees. The focus of the NHC in Albania is to improve the human rights situation, but also to involve local organisations in regional cooperation.  


Albania declared its independence in 1912, after being a part of the Ottoman Empire for around 500 years. The situation was turbulent until 1946; first as an independent republic, then as a monarchy until an Italian and later German occupation. After the second world war, Albania was a closed communist state until 1991.  

The dictator Enver Hoxha, led Albania from 1943 until his death in 1985.  During this period the country gradually closed. Four years after Hoxha gained power, Albania broke ties with the neighbouring country Yugoslavia, and instead allied with the Soviet Union.  From 1978, the Albanian borders were completely closed. However, a gradual softening of the extreme isolation occurred during the second half of the 80’s when Ramiz Alia took over as head of state.  In 1990, after major demonstrations, Alia introduced a multi-party system. The country began a careful transition towards a more democratic and liberal economic system.  


  • 1000 bc: The first Illyrians, which later became what we know as Albanians, appear in the Balkan Peninsula.  
  • 1913: The Bucharest Treaty ends the Balkan war: Albania is recognized as an independent state
  • 1937: Italy occupies Albania, later followed by German forces 
  • 1941: Enver Hoxha becomes leader of the Communist Party 
  • 1943: The Germans retire after communist resistance. Enver Hoxha becomes the new leader of Albania
  • 1947: Albania breaks all ties with Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union gives the country financial assistance 
  • 1950: Britain and the U.S support anti-communistic guerrilla groups 
  • 1978: The Albanian borders close 
  • 1991: The borders open. Independent political parties are formed, Albanians are entitled to travel abroad and thousands flee to the West 
  • 2009: Albania becomes a member of NATO