Albania (Albanian: Shqipëri/Shqipëria), officially known as the Republic of Albania (Albanian: Republika e Shqipërisë), is a small Southern European country on the shores of the Adriatic Sea - just opposite the stiletto heel of the Italian boot. The Albanian language is, much like Armenian (with which it should NOT be confused) and Greek, another one of those weird offshoots of the Indo-European family tree, with no particularly close relation to any other Indo-European language.
The Albanian word for Albania is "Shqipëria" (pronounced shchee-purr-EE-ah), usually translated as "Land of the Eagle" hence the flag, but that's actually folk-etymology. The flag comes from the Kastrioti Principality rule in the 1400s, the name became used centuries later, not the other way around. The real meaning is roughly translated 'Land of Speakers of an Intelligible Language'.
Having been passed around between the Romans, Byzantines, Greeks, Bulgarians, Sicilian-Normans, Serbs and Venetians for pretty much its entire history, Albania ended up as an isolated backwater of the Ottoman Empirenote . At the threat of losing their native culture note the people largely became Muslim note and were loyal to Ottoman rule. Albanians were often used as enforcers by the Turks, which sometimes worked but often backfired, as in the case of Muhammad Ali—sent to Egypt to enforce Ottoman rule, he ended up founding his own separate state and turning on the Turks. Or in the case of the national hero Skanderbeg, who was a Ottoman general before he went on a revolt. Lord Byron particularly admired the Albanians and considered them a counterpart culture of the Scottish Highlanders he was familiar with—from a mountainous region, wore kilts and had clans perpetually fighting each other.
When, in 1913, Turkey-in-Europe was invaded by the surrounding Christian nations, Albania was cut off. Following World War I, Albanians, helped by Great Power realpolitik, managed to remain independent of Serbia and Greece, but large numbers of Albanians were left outside the state, creating problems later. A man born Ahmet Zogolli became its prime minister from 1922-24, then its president from 1924-28 and finally King Zog of Albania until 1939. It became an Italian protectorate during the World War II. German occupation eventually followed, and the Albanian resistance distinguished themselves by collectively rallying round to protect the Jews in their midst, thanks to an extreme cultural case of Sacred Hospitality. Only one Jewish family was found and deported, and Albania was unique in Europe in ending the war with more Jews than it started with. It is for this reason that almost all Muslims that have been recognized as Righteous Among The Nations were Albanians.
After the war, Communist partisans under Enver Hoxha (pronounced "Hod-jah") took over and Albania became part of Commie Land, though Hoxha's regime wasn't part of the Warsaw Pact - they thought the Soviets were too soft, and aligned themselves with Mao Zedong's China instead. At least until they decided the Chinese had gone soft as well and decided to go it alone. Albania became the most isolated and secretive nation in Europe, a sort of European North Korea, until Hole in Flag and the revolutions that swept Europe in 1989-91.
The new, democratic Albania has had its problems. Decades of isolation and poverty have wreaked havoc on its infrastructure and economy, especially in 1997 when pretty much the entire country fell for some spectacular pyramid schemes and the end result was rioting in the streets and United Nations intervention.
Recently in Britain, Albania has become known for a Germans Love David Hasselhoff-type fondness for Norman Wisdom films. This is because they were some of the few Western media allowed in the country under Communism, because Norman Wisdom tended to play cheeky working class characters who stuck it to The Man.
In international stage, Albania is known for being among the most pro-American countries in the world. This reception dates back to World War I, when Woodrow Wilson personally supported the creation of an independent Albania. The Americans' firm commitment to protecting ethnic Albanians of Kosovo during the 1998 war did wonders for the relations as well. When George W. Bush visited the country in 2007, he was greeted with great fanfare, something notable since by this time, he was hated by virtually everyone in Europe, thanks to the Iraq War. A statue of him was even erected in 2011.
One of the few countries wholly located in Europe with a Muslim-majority population, alongside Bosnia and the still-contested Kosovo, though in practice it's more like Informed Islam more than anything, and out of all three is definitely the least religious of them all. Seriously, Hoxha's regime is infamous among the Eastern Bloc for overdoing the whole atheism thing. The religion only survives today as a Nostalgia Filter, like for example in personal names. Surprisingly, the religious life is a bit more vibrant in the Christian side, particularly the Catholic branch (having the Catholic Skanderberg and Mother Teresa as national icons helps).
- George Kastrioti also known as Skanderbeg.
- Nora of Kelmendi, a semi-fictional folk heroine.
- Muhammad Ali Pasha, founder of Egypt's last royal dynasty, was born in Greece to Albanian parents from Korçë.
- Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu,note better known to the world as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her parents were actually from Kosovo and she herself was born in Skopje in what is now North Macedonia. Nevertheless, she is highly honored in Albania; she received Albanian citizenship in 1991 and Tirana's airport was named after her.
- John and Jim Belushi were of Albanian descent; their father was an Albanian immigrant, while their mother was born in the United States to Albanian immigrants.
- Eliza Dushku, she of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse fame, is of Albanian descent on her father's side and has the country's symbolic eagle tattooed on the back of her neck. She visited her father's family there in 2006, after being invited by the prime minister. Her second visit in 2011 saw her become an Albanian citizen, while also getting honorary citizenship of Tirana and Korçë, her father's hometown.
- Enver Gjokaj is of Albanian descent on his father's side. Most famous for starring in Agent Carter, he previously costarred with the above Dushku in Dollhouse.
- Masiela Lusha, known for her poetry and television appearances (most famously on George Lopez) was born in Tirana. At the age of 5, she emigrated as a refugee and eventually settled in the United States.
Albania in fiction
- The Great Warrior Skanderbeg - A biopic revolving around the hero of the same name.
- For Your Eyes Only - The famous scene with the pistachio shells in the warehouse was set in Albania.
- Wag the Dog, in which a Washington spin doctor devises a fictional war in Albania to boost polls - released just as Albania imploded in the mid-90s.
- Taken - The slave traders who capture the main character's daughter and friend are Albanian.
- The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul - Kate at one point wonders about a lorry, in point trying to think of if it came from here. Turns out it's more carrying a cargo from the northern part of Europe...
- Harry Potter mentions Albania from time to time that it's a Chekhov's Boomerang. Voldemort spent over a decade hiding in Albanian forest after his first downfall, it's the country where Bertha Jorkins visits her family and gets herself killed so Voldemort could turn Nagini into a horcrux, and, in the final book, is the place where Voldemort found the Ravenclaw Diadem, left there by her daughter Helena, which he also turned into a horcrux by killing an Albanian Muggle. Must be noted that Albania does not have too many forests, they cut them all down (of course this could be a magical forest which is invisible to Muggles).
- The Heroes of Olympus - Nico mentions in The Blood of Olympus that something happened here shortly before he, Reyna, and Hedge teleport to Pompeii, possibly Reyna's "most humiliating incident in her long career". "Whatever happened in Albania would "stay" in Albania".
- Frank Castle goes up against the Albanian mafia's sex slave trafficking operation in Punisher: Slavers.
- The Simpsons once took in an Albanian exchange student. Unsurprisingly, he turned out to be a communist spy.
- In Casino Royale the Big Bad was to be made Albanian but it was dropped soon because of the complaints.
- Albanian gangsters show up in Grand Theft Auto IV.
- A major oil refinery is located in Vlorë in EndWar and is a possible battlefield which is, like Albania and the rest of the Balkan peninsula (Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, etc.), under Russian control by 2020, when World War III starts.
- Daredevil Season 3 features the Albanian Syndicate as secondary antagonists.
- SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs has three missions in Albania involving taking down the Sesseri, a black market syndicate.
- SEAL Team: Season 3's third episode sees Bravo Team go to the Prokletije (which translates to the "Cursed Mountains") to track down an Islamic terrorist leader who has been working with local mafiya groups to orchestrate bombings targeting Americans in the Balkans.
The Albanian flag