Albania

Understand

While the majority of people in Albania are of Muslim background, there are also large minorities of people with Christian either Orthodox or Catholic backgrounds. Many Albanians, regardless of their background, may be agnostic, and religious observance as a whole is relaxed recent polling shows that only 30 to 40 percent are observant. Marriage between people of different religious backgrounds is very common and in some places even the rule.

Traditional Albanian culture honors the role and person of the guest. In return for this place of honor, respect is expected from the guest. Albanians enjoy long walks in the city streets, drinking coffee and, among the younger generations, participating in nightlife activities such as cafe lounging and dancing.

Climate

With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic regions for so small an area. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather, whereas the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. In both the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies markedly from north to south.

The lowlands have mild winters averaging about 7°C 45°F; summer temperatures average 24°C 75°F. In the southern lowlands, temperatures average about 5°C 9°F higher throughout the year; the difference is greater than 5°C 9°F during the summer and somewhat less during the winter.

Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in the mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly winds blow much of the time. Average summer temperatures are lower than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but daily fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in the interior basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights are almost always cool.

Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of the prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental air mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain rises, the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical currents initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause frequent thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by high local winds and torrential downpours.

Recent history

Following the defeat of the Axis powers at the end of World War II, a Communist government was established, presided over by resistance leader Enver Hoxha. Albania became famous for its isolation, not just from the free market democracies of Western Europe and the United States, but also from the Soviet Union, China, and even neighboring Yugoslavia.

The Communist party relinquished power several years after Hoxha's death, and Albania established a multi-party democracy with a coalition government. The transition to democracy has proven difficult as governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism and disruptive political opponents. Today Albania is moving closer towards neo-liberalism, with EU integration as its goal; Albania signed the SAA in June 2006, thus completing the first major step towards joining the EU. In 2008, Albania received an invitation to join NATO.