Albania: picturesque country with rivers, lakes and interesting cities

Albania

Albania – the most detailed information about the country with photos. Attractions, cities of Albania, climate, geography, population and culture.

Albania (Shqipëria)

Albania is a small state located in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is one of the few traditional Muslim countries of Europe. Albania is washed by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The country borders with Serbia in the northeast, Montenegro in the northwest, Greece in the south and Macedonia in the east. Albania is a parliamentary republic and an official candidate for EU membership.

This is a fascinating country with beautiful nature and rich history, where beautiful beaches lie next to breathtaking mountain ranges and sparkling lakes, and the cities and charming villages are full of amazing ancient castles, Roman ruins, mosques and buildings of the Ottoman era. For the past three thousand years Albania was part of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire, which left an interesting imprint on its culture and architecture. For a long time the country was rather closed and only now Albania is slowly opening to tourists.

Flag of Albania

Flag of Albania

Useful information about Albania

  1. Population – 2.9 million people.
  2. Area – 28 748 sq. km.
  3. Language – Albanian.
  4. Currency – the lek.
  5. Time – UTC +2.
  6. The Albanian authorities allow visits to the country without a visa during the tourist season. Usually this period is from April to October. The exact dates vary slightly each year. Visa-free travel is allowed only for tourist and private trips. The maximum period of stay is 90 days.
  7. The capital is Tirana.
  8. Traffic is on the right.
  9. Albania is quite a safe country. It is recommended only to avoid slums. In large cities you should be careful when crossing roads.
  10. If you liked the service in a restaurant or cafe, a tip of 5-10% of the amount is a good reward to the waiter. Although this custom is not widespread everywhere and it is enough just to round up the bill.
  11. ATMs (for cash withdrawal in national currency of Albania) are available in most major cities.
  12. The Albanian holidays: January 1 – New Year’s Day, March 7 – Teacher’s Day, March 14 – Summer Festival, October 19 – Mother Teresa Day, November 28 – Independence Day, November 29 – Liberation Day, December 8 – Youth Day, December 25 – Christmas. Interestingly, the holiday dates are both major Islamic holidays and Christian Easter.

Geography and Nature

Albania is located in southeastern Europe in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. Its territory is washed by the Adriatic Sea in the northwest and the Ionian Sea in the southwest. The Strait of Otranto separates Albania from Italy. The country is part of the greater Mediterranean region. Much of the territory of Albania are mountains and hills, covered with forests. The western part is plains and lowlands. The highest point of Albania is the mountain Korab (2764 m). Albania is rich with picturesque lakes. The largest of them – Skadar (Shkoder), which is located on the border with Montenegro.

Mountain landscapes of Albania

Mountain landscapes of Albania

Albania has a rich and varied nature. In its small territory you can find flora and fauna both of temperate latitudes and typical for the Mediterranean. In the forests of Albania live lynxes, bears, gray wolves, wild cats, foxes, vultures and golden eagles. On the coast you can meet Mediterranean turtles, seals, and even flamingos in the wetlands. Forests occupy a large part of the country. Coniferous forests are dominated by fir and pine, broad-leaved – oak and beech.

In terms of physical geography the territory of Albania can be divided into three regions:

  • Coastal Albania – a long narrow strip of 10 to 30 km wide along the entire coast.
  • Northeastern Albania is a mountainous region north of the Shkumbini River.
  • Southeastern Albania is the region south of the Scumbini River.

Climate

Albania, despite its modest size, has several climatic regions. The coast is an area of Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. In the eastern and central regions the climate is continental with fairly cold winters.

The sea in Albania

The Sea in Albania

The best time to visit

The period from April to October. For a beach holiday it is best to choose July, August or September.

History

In the ancient period, Albania was inhabited by Illyrian tribes. In the 7th century BC, numerous Greek colonies were founded on the southern coast. The West in antiquity was inhabited by the Thracians. In the 3rd century BC the kingdom of Ardian was formed and ruled much of modern Albania. In the 2nd century BC it was subjugated by Rome. Albania was part of the Roman Empire until its dissolution. These territories were then part of Byzantium.

The first mentions of the Albanians date back to the 11th century. In the 12th century, their lands began to be subjugated by the Venetians and Serbs. In the 12th century the first Albanian state, Arberia, was formed. A century later it disintegrated. In 1272 the kingdom of Albania was founded, which in the 14th century was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

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Berat

Berat

The Ottoman Empire ruled Albania for five centuries. During this period, Albanians raised several major rebellions. The country did not become independent until 1912. In 1939, Albania was occupied by Italy. In 1945, the communists, led by Enver Hoxha, won the elections. In 1992 the socialist regime collapsed.

Administrative division

Administrative division of Albania

Albania is divided into 12 regions: Vlora, Berat, Korca, Durres, Dibra, Gjirokastra, Kukes, Lezha, Tirana, Shkoder, Fieri, and Elbasan. The provinces are divided into 61 municipalities.

Population

Albania is a mono-ethnic state. 95% of the population is ethnic Albanians. Large diasporas are Greeks, Romanians, Roma and Serbs. The official language is Albanian. Italian is also widely spoken. The dominant religion is Islam, which is practiced by more than half the population. Also in Albania there are many Christians, both Orthodox and Catholics.

Albanians are very hospitable. They honor their traditions, respect the elders and are often ready to help.

Transport

The international airport is located 15 minutes from Tirana. You can also get to Albania by bus from Istanbul, Athens, Sofia, and Ulcinj, as well as by ferry from Bari and Corfu, Greece.

Saranda

Saranda

Cities of Albania

    – Albania’s bustling and modern capital, which has the charm of a small town. It is a place with an unusual combination of antiquity and modernity, cosmopolitan atmosphere and tradition.
  • Elbasan is a large industrial city of little interest to tourists. – one of the oldest cities of Albania with unique Ottoman architecture.
  • Fieri is a coastal town near which are the ruins of the ancient Apollonius. – A museum city included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is the birthplace of Enver Hoxha and is famous for its magnificent architecture of the Ottoman period.
  • Korca is a city in southeastern Albania, a major cultural center of the country.
  • Shkoder is the largest city in northern Albania and is considered the capital of Albanian culture. – A lively seaside town with excellent beaches.
  • Kruja is an ancient city with a castle and an old bazaar. Known for its carpets.

Attractions in Albania

Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra is a picturesque museum town, situated 120 km from Tirana on the mountain slopes above the Drina River. It is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The old town of Gjirokastra is a magnificent example of Ottoman architecture. The settlement has been known as a trading center since the 13th century. During the Ottoman period the city developed thanks to the bazaar. In Gjirokastra one can see beautiful Ottoman houses, a colorful bazaar, remains of Roman fortifications, a 15th century fortress, Ottoman walls, a 15th century mosque and several Christian churches.

The Castle in Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra Castle

The castle at Gjirokastra is one of the largest of its kind in the Balkans. The fortress here was built as early as the 12th century, although most of the surviving structures date back to the 19th century. The castle was used as a prison during the communist period of Albanian history.

Berat

Berat

Berat is another museum city located 122 km southeast of Tirana. It is one of the oldest cities in Albania and has a whole host of ancient sites: from an ancient fortress and medieval Christian churches to the Ottoman mosques.

The abundance of old Ottoman houses in the narrow streets of the old city gives Berat a special beauty. Sometimes you can see the reflection of their many windows facing the sun. Because of this picture Berat is called the City of a Thousand Windows.

Preza Castle

The castle of Prez

Preza Castle, a medieval castle of the 15th century, is located near Tirana. It was founded in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It is known as one of the strong points of Albanian resistance to the Ottomans led by Skanderbeg.

Tet

Tet

Tet is a 19th-century stone church located among scenic mountains. This structure looks much older, thanks to its traditional architecture.

Clock Tower

Clock Tower

The Clock Tower is one of the symbols of Tirana. This construction was built by Ottoman architects in 1822. The tower has a height of 35 meters.

Butrint

Butrint

Butrint is the ruins of the ancient Greek city founded in the 4th century BC by the Greek colonists from the island of Corfu. During the ancient period it was one of the most important settlements in the Balkans, reaching its peak of prosperity and flourishing in the Byzantine period. Its most interesting sights are the antique theater of the 3rd century B.C., an ancient temple of the same period and the fragments of the fortification wall.

The ancient ruins of Butrint are rightly considered a true gem of the Adriatic. Some claim that this settlement was founded by the Trojans. But no proof of this has yet been found. For many centuries Butrint was a major trading city protected by fortifications until it was abandoned in the late Middle Ages.

Apollonia

Apollonia

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Apollonia is the ruins of an ancient Illyrian city near the town of Fieri. A large part of this ancient settlement is still buried underground. This city was founded by the Greeks in 855 BC and was an important Mediterranean polis. Its most interesting sights: the Roman colonnades, the ancient amphitheater, fragments of fortress walls and a medieval monastery.

Rosafa Fortress

Rosafa Fortress

The fortress Rosafa is the main sightseeing place of Shkoder. It was founded by the Illyrians, and then rebuilt by the Venetians and the Ottomans. Also in Shkoder you must see the magnificent mosque of Sheikh Abdullah Al Zamil.

Durres

Durres

Durres is an ancient city 38 kilometers to the west from Tirana with stunning ancient monuments. The settlement was founded by Greeks in the 7th century BC and for many centuries was considered the largest port on the Adriatic Sea. Here you can see the Byzantine wall, connected to a Venetian tower and an amphitheater in which an early Christian crypt has been found with wall mosaics of rare beauty.

Porto Palermo Castle

Porto Palermo Castle

The Castle of Porto Palermo is one of the most beautiful fortresses in the country, built during the Ottoman period.

Lake Coman

Lake Coman

Lake Coman is a stunning mountain lake that is considered one of the most picturesque places in Albania.

Accommodation

Albania is a great place for budget travel. There are quite a few hotels in most cities. Room rates start at 15 – 20 euros. Outside the cities the accommodation options are much less. Here you can usually rent an apartment or room from locals.

Cuisine

Byrek

Byrek

Albanian cuisine has a significant Turkish influence. Its main ingredients are vegetables, meat, fruits, cheese. Popular traditional dishes and products: Byrek (pie with meat or cheese), Tavë kosi (baked lamb with rice), Qofte të fërguara (fried meatballs with feta cheese), baklava. The most popular alcoholic drink is raki, which in Albania is made from mulberry and plum.

Albania

Albanian anthem

Albania offers for tourists in Europe a very rare thing – an original culture. In this country you can still find beautiful and ancient sites on the shores of the Ionian coast, you can admire the ancient city of Berat and the dramatic mountain citadels, plunge into the mad movement of the vibrant city of Tirana, sip cocktails in trendy bars listening to rock bands.

Save on a trip to Albania!

Video: Albania

Highlights

Albania is located off the coast of the Adriatic Sea, in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. The Strait of Otranto, 75 km wide, separates Albania from Italy. Albania borders on Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. The area is 28.7 thousand sq. km. The population of Albania is about 3.4 mln people. The capital is the city of Tirana.

Albania received its independence in 1912. Before that it was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. During World War II from 1939 to 1944 the country was occupied by Italy. From 1944 to 1992 Albania was ruled by the communist Albanian Labor Party, which pursued a policy of artificial isolation of the country from the outside world. The consequences are still felt today: the standard of living in Albania is one of the lowest in Europe.

Albania is a uninational country, with Albanians constituting 97% of the population. They are descendants of the ancient population of Balkans – Illyrians and Thracians. The state language is Albanian, which is not similar to any of the European languages. Most Albanians are Sunni Muslims.

Along the Albanian coast of the Adriatic stretches a low, hilly plain. In the south, east and north it is framed by high peaked mountain ranges, overgrown with forests. The highest point of the country is Mount Korabi (2,764 m). In the north of Albania, on the border with Yugoslavia, rises the North Albanian Alps. Albania partly owned by three major lakes – Lake Ohrid, Shkoder (Skadar) and Prespa. The largest rivers are Drin and Mati.

The climate in Albania is Mediterranean, with dry hot summers (24-25 ° C) and mild rainy winters (8-9 ° C). The mountains have snow for several months in the winter. The main natural attractions of Albania are the mountains, cut by deep narrow valleys, and beautiful lakes, above all the Lake of Ohrid. Albania has preserved monuments of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, fragments of Byzantine fresco paintings. The largest cities are Tirana, Durres, Shkoder, Vlora, Korcha and Elbasan.

Geographic data

Except for the coastline, it should be recognized that all of Albania’s borders were drawn artificially. They were mainly defined at the conference of ambassadors of the great powers in London (1912-1913). During World War I, Albania was occupied by Italian, Serbian, Greek and French troops, but in 1921 the victorious states largely confirmed the previously established borders. The borders were drawn in such a way as to separate the areas compactly inhabited by the Albanians from the neighboring nations – Serbs, Montenegrins and Greeks, while trying to take into account the interests of all parties and, if possible, to use the most prominent elements of the terrain when drawing the borders. The lake region of western Macedonia was divided between the three states of Albania, Greece, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

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The division of the lake region between the three states was carried out in such a way that each side received its share of the lowlands adjacent to the lakes. This artificial partition, of course, affected the boundaries to the north and south of the lakes. The boundary to the north follows the line of the mountain range to the east, but is about 16 to 32 km from the watershed. The Albanian border in the far north and northeast – where it passes through mountainous areas – is drawn in such a way that it connects the highest points of relief and follows the line of mountain ranges through the almost impassable Northern Albanian Alps (local name – Bjeshkët e Namunës). In the section of the northwestern border between the highlands and the Adriatic, natural boundaries are largely absent, except for Lake Shkoder and the section of the Buna River south of it.

To the south and southwest of the lake region in the direction of the Ionian Sea, the southeastern boundary of Albania does not follow landforms, but directly crosses several mountain ranges.

As a result of this drawing of the borders, quite a large part of the Albanian population ended up outside the national state, which subsequently led to numerous conflicts between the numerous Albanian diaspora and the authorities of the states of residence.

Attractions

The capital of Albania – Tirana – beckons for a leisurely stroll through the central streets and explore its sights. The first place to start is Skenderberg square with the monument with the same name.

Also in Tirana you should visit the Museum of National Culture of Albania. Also, be sure to visit the Museum of Natural History and the Art Gallery.

The best views of Tirana are, oddly enough, from the Cemetery of the Martyrs.

When traveling in Albania, it is worth to go to the ancient city of Shkoder. Here you should pay attention to the mosque of Sheikh Zamil Abdullah Al-Zamil. Not far from it there is a Public Museum, which has a magnificent collection of archaeological finds and unique photographs.

Shkoder itself is located on the shore of Lake Skadar, so there are a lot of restaurants with fish cuisine.

In the vicinity of Shkoder visit Lead Mosque and the fortress of Rosafa.

In the south of the country in Drin Valley is situated Gjirokastra. Here you should get acquainted with Bazar Mosque, and also visit citadel dated XIV century which towers over the city. Now it functions as a Museum of Arms. In the lower part of the city you can visit the old Turkish baths.

Durres is also rich in sights. It was founded by the Greeks and is now the second largest city in the country. The heart of the city and its calling card is the impressive amphitheater. Other interesting places to visit are Roman ruins and fortifications, as well as the Archaeological Museum.

In Durres the Venetian Towers and the Palace of Ahmet Zoga are also worth seeing.

Another Albanian city which attracts travelers is Korca. It is located on a high plateau surrounded by picturesque vegetation. The area is considered one of the cleanest places in the country.

There are no historical sites, but tourists are invited to visit several museums. For example, the Museum of Medieval Art, as well as the Museum of Education.

There is also a brewery famous for its beer festival, which is held annually in August.

Another popular among tourists city is Berat. It is famous for the fortress, which was built here in the XIV century. Also of interest to travelers will be the Muslim quarter Mangalem with its unique architecture. In the city there are very interesting churches of Holy Trinity and Evangelists.

Berat will be remembered for another detail: its narrow streets are full of old houses with many windows. Because of this it has long been called the “City of a Thousand Windows”. You may be lucky enough to see the sun reflecting in the many windows. The sight is indescribably beautiful!

Cuisine

The national cuisine of Albania is very diverse. The traditional dishes are a mixture of the traditions of the Balkans and European cooking. And the good climate creates the most favorable conditions for the growing of variety of fruits and vegetables, without which the local cuisine cannot do without.

In all regions of the country lamb or lamb baked with lemon, spices and olive oil is very popular.

Here are a few Albanian meat dishes you must try if you come here: tav elbuasani – meat baked with yogurt; fergesa tirane – liver with tomatoes and eggs, cooked in a pot; burek – puff pastry filled with meat, spinach and brynza.

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The local cuisine also includes seafood. Try the Ochre trout cooked with walnuts. This fish is found exclusively in Lake Ohrid.

The locals also cook tarator. It is a cold soup based on kefir or yogurt. You will not try anything like that anywhere else.

As desserts here prefer honey and nut sweets, fruits. Often made baklava and pudding based on figs and sheep’s milk. Albanian ice cream akullore is also served for dessert.

Of beverages, coffee is consumed here, which is notable for its strength. Of alcohol the local brandy and the herbal tune “Fernet” are especially popular.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Albania is not as good as we would like it to be. Local hotels in recent years do not reach the European level, the service leaves much to be desired.

Prices for a day of stay here start from 30 € per person. When checking in you should make sure that everything in your room works properly.

There are hotels of different levels “stars” in each city, but the greatest choice in Tirana, Durres, Berat, Shkoder.

There is another nuance associated with local hotels: booking hotels here is very problematic, because they are not members of international reservation systems. Tourists can only hope for good luck, especially in the summer, which accounts for the peak tourist season.

Entertainment and Recreation

Most Albanian beaches are sandy, but you can also find occasional beaches of pebbles. As a rule, the most comfortable beaches belong to the large hotels. But pleasingly long beaches – more than 300 km! So there is enough space for all holidaymakers.

A superb resort is the “Riviera of Flowers. This is part of the Ionian coast from Vlore to Saranda. The resort is a combination of small and very clean beaches and old mansions, converted into hotels. And yet here is the freshest mountain air and always blows a light sea breeze.

The most popular beaches on the Ionian coast are Velipoya, Durres, Golemi, Lezha and Divyaka.

For family holidays are excellent beaches on the Adriatic Sea. The best resort of the Albanian Adriatic is Dermi. It is famous for its crystal clear water, golden sandy beaches, picturesque nature and clean mountain air.

Not far from Dermi there is a small secluded beach of incredible beauty. The road to it is not easy to find, but if you try very hard, you can find a narrow path that leads to this amazing beach.

Two other beautiful beaches on this coast are Durres (one of the biggest Albanian beaches) and St. John (perfect for young couples).

Outdoor enthusiasts can go mountain climbing in the mountains of Albania, and people interested in speleology can explore the many caves.

Fans of opera can visit the annual Mary Cry Festival, which is held in the capital of Albania.

There are not many nightclubs here. Most of them are located in Durres and Saranda.

Shopping

From a trip you always want to take something to remember. And a trip to Albania, of course, is no exception. Souvenirs can be bought in specialized stores or in the city markets. What mostly tourists buy as a memento of this country? Usually it is all sorts of copper items, wooden pipes, colorful embroidery, national musical instruments handmade by local craftsmen. Often from Albania are brought rakija – the local vodka.

The prices for all goods for foreigners are higher than for locals, but practically everywhere you can bargain.

Transport

The urban public transport in Albania is buses and route taxis with low fare which you have to pay directly to the driver.

As for intercity transport, there are buses and marshrutkas. However, there are certain nuances: you will not find a bus station here. There is no timetable either. In such a situation, only locals can help you.

The situation with rail transport in Albania leaves much to be desired. The country’s trains are in poor condition, running extremely slowly, and there are no restrooms. It is also worth considering that there are only a few lines, and the intervals between trains are very long.

Since the country has access to two seas, many coastal cities have ports. The main one is in Durres: ferries to Italy go from here.

There are also cabs in the cities, which are easiest to find by the hotels. Catching a car in the middle of the street in the city is extremely difficult: an outstretched hand is not perceived here. It is better to negotiate the cost of travel at once.

Another option for traveling around the cities of Albania is to rent a car. Renting a car is easy enough: you need to have a driver’s license and a credit card. True, the rent is possible only in major cities, and it will cost you from $ 25 a day.

Communications

In Albania there are two mobile operators: Albanian Mobile Communications and Vodafone Albania. Mobile communications are of good enough quality here. There are problems with landline telephony and Internet access. Phones from which you can call outside the country, there are only on the streets of major cities. Also an international call can be made from a hotel or post office.

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There are Internet cafes in large cities and tourist centers.

Major Russian mobile operators offer roaming in Albania.

Security

Today in Albania a tourist can feel completely safe. And yet, as in any other country that is popular with tourists, caution does not hurt.

First, you should avoid buying expensive things (phones, watches) from street vendors, because they are often stolen.

Secondly, remember that the water here is quite clean, but it is recommended to drink bottled.

Before entering the country is necessary to be vaccinated against typhoid and polio.

To visit the country requires medical insurance, because tourists here are free only first aid.

Business

A profitable area for investment today is the real estate market in Albania. Here is a very cheap construction, and house prices are gradually beginning to rise due to increased demand.

It is also profitable to do business here as a tourist or service industry. The country is just beginning to gain popularity among tourists, so there is every opportunity, and most importantly, the need for development of tourism infrastructure.

Real Estate

The real estate market in Albania is very promising. And in recent years, it is beginning to pay more attention to the Russians.

Perhaps one of the most important advantages of the Albanian real estate market are low prices. They are much lower than in the neighboring countries. This also applies to those properties that are located in the resort towns.

The low prices can be explained by the low price of the land. In addition, there are many agencies that sell real estate directly from developers.

By law, the buyer himself may not be present at the transaction: it will be enough only his authorized representative.

Tips for the tourist

Albanians are quite conservative, so it is better not to argue with them on the subject of religion or politics. It is also recommended to avoid topics of polygamy and same-sex marriages.

The norm among them is a kiss on the cheek when meeting even unfamiliar people.

If you meet locals with a child, you should compliment his parents, but we advise you to refrain from complimenting a girl or a woman.

The Albanians shake their heads if they approve, and nod if they deny. However, in large cities this tradition is gradually coming to naught.

Tipping is the main source of income for the staff. Usually they make 10 % of the bill and are given directly to the waiter.

Visa Information

Russian citizens need a visa to visit Albania. You can get it in the Embassy of the Republic of Albania in Moscow, Mytnaya Street, 3. You can be contacted at: + (495) 982 38 52.

If you have a Schengen visa category C, you can visit Albania without a visa, but only for up to 30 days.

The consular fee is only 5 €. Payment should be made in Russian rubles when submitting documents.

Political structure of Albania

The head of state is the president.

The parliament of the country is unicameral National Assembly (140 seats). 100 deputies are elected by majoritarian system in single-mandate districts (in two rounds), 40 – by party lists with four percent threshold. The term of deputies is 4 years.

The first parliament of Albania was created in 1920 during the struggle for independence of the country and against its partition at the Paris Peace Treaty between Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia.

In 1928 the parliament was dissolved and Albania was proclaimed a kingdom.

In 1944 universal suffrage was introduced. In 1945 parliamentary elections were held in which the Communist-led Democratic Front won 97.7% of the vote (other political forces did not participate in the election). Gradually power was concentrated in the hands of Enver Hoxha, who brutally crushed his political rivals. Before 1956, Albania maintained relations with the Soviet Union, as opposed to Yugoslavia, but after the 20th Congress of the CPSU, a policy of political isolation was adopted. Relations were maintained only with the PRC and Romania. The country lived in constant readiness for war: every family was obliged to build a bomb shelter. Religion and the wearing of beards were forbidden.

After the death of Enver Hoxha, the new leader, Ramiz Aliya, began a policy of cautious economic reforms and expanding relations with other countries.

In 1990, adopted a multi-party system. The Socialist Party (representing mainly the industrialized southern regions, the leader is Fatos Nano) and the Democratic Party (representing mainly the north, the leader is Sali Berisha, former personal doctor of dictator Hoxha) alternately succeeded each other in power. An attempt was made to convict former leader Ramiz Alia, but he was released from prison as a result of street riots.

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