achieved real statehood after World War I, in part because
of the diplomatic intercession of the United States. The country
suffered from debilitating lack of economic and social development,
however, and its first years of independence were fraught
with political instability. Unable to survive in a predatory
world without a foreign protector, Albania became the object
of tensions between Italy and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats,
and Slovenes (Yugoslavia), which were both bent on controlling
the country. With the kingdom's military assistance, Ahmed
Bey Zogu, the son of a clan chieftain, emerged victorious
from an internal political power struggle in late 1924. Zogu,
however, quickly turned his back on Belgrade and looked to
Mussolini's Italy for patronage. In 1928 Zogu coaxed the country's
parliament to declare Albania a kingdom and name him king.
King Zog remained a hidebound conservative, and Albania was
the only Balkan state where the government did not see fit
to introduce a comprehensive land reform between the two world
wars. Mussolini's forces finally overthrew Zog when they occupied
Albania in 1939.
Reemergence after World War I
political confusion continued in the wake of World War I.
The country lacked a single recognized government, and Albanians
feared, with justification, that Greece, Yugoslavia, and Italy
would succeed in extinguishing Albania's independence and
carve up the country. Italian forces controlled Albanian political
activity in the areas they occupied. The Serbs, who largely
dictated Yugoslavia's foreign policy after World War I, strove
to take over northern Albania, and the Greeks sought to control
southern Albania. A delegation sent by a postwar Albanian
National Assembly that met at Durrës in December 1918
defended Albanian interests at the Paris Peace Conference,
but the conference denied Albania official representation.
The National Assembly, anxious to keep Albania intact, expressed
willingness to accept Italian protection and even an Italian
prince as a ruler so long as it would mean Albania did not
January 1919, the Serbs attacked the Albanian inhabitants
of Gusinje and Plav with regular troops and artillery after
the Albanians had appealed to Britain for protection. The
Serb forces massacred some of the Albanians and forced about
35,000 people to flee to the Shkodër area. In Kosovo
the Serbs subjected the Albanians to brutalities, stripped
them of territory under the guise of land reform, and rewarded
Serb colonists with homesteads. In response, Albanians continued
guerrilla warfare in both Serbia and Montenegro.
January 1920, at the Paris Peace Conference negotiators from
France, Britain, and Greece agreed to divide Albania among
Yugoslavia, Italy, and Greece as a diplomatic expedient aimed
at finding a compromise solution to the territorial conflict
between Italy and Yugoslavia. The deal was done behind the
Albanians' backs and in the absence of a United States negotiator.
of a second Albanian National Assembly held at Lushnjë
in January 1920 rejected the partition plan and warned that
Albanians would take up arms to defend their country's independence
and territorial integrity. The Lushnjë National Assembly
appointed a four-man regency to rule the country. A bicameral
parliament was also created, appointing members of its own
ranks to an upper chamber, the Senate. An elected lower chamber,
the Chamber of Deputies, had one deputy for every 12,000 people
in Albania and one for the Albanian community in the United
States. In February 1920, the government moved to Tiranë,
which became Albania's capital.
month later, in March 1920, President Woodrow Wilson intervened
to block the Paris agreement. The United States underscored
its support for Albania's independence by recognizing an official
Albanian representative to Washington, and in December the
League of Nations recognized Albania's sovereignty by admitting
it as a full member. The country's borders, however, remained
new government campaigned to end Italy's occupation of the
country and encouraged peasants to harass Italian forces.
In September 1920, after a siege of Italian-occupied Vlorë
by Albanian forces, Rome abandoned its claims on Albania under
the 1915 Treaty of London and withdrew its forces from all
of Albania except Sazan Island at the mouth of Vlorë
Bay. Yugoslavia pursued a predatory policy toward Albania,
and after Albanian tribesmen clashed with Serb forces occupying
the northern part of the country, Yugoslav troops took to
burning villages and killing and expelling civilians. Belgrade
then recruited a disgruntled Geg clan chief, Gjon Markagjoni,
who led his Roman Catholic Mirditë tribesmen in a rebellion
against the regency and parliament. Markagjoni proclaimed
the founding of an independent "Mirditë Republic"
based in Prizren, which had fallen into Serbian hands during
the First Balkan War. Finally, in November 1921, Yugoslav
troops invaded Albanian territory beyond the areas they were
already occupying. Outraged at the Yugoslav attack and Belgrade's
lies, the League of Nations dispatched a commission composed
of representatives of Britain, France, Italy, and Japan that
reaffirmed Albania's 1913 borders. Yugoslavia complained bitterly
but had no choice but to withdraw its troops. The so-called
Mirditë Republic disappeared.
in return for aiding Zogu's invasion, expected repayment in
the form of territory and influence in Tiranë. It is
certain that Zogu promised Belgrade frontier concessions before
the invasion, but once in power the Albanian leader continued
to press Albania's own territorial claims. On July 30, 1925,
the two nations signed an agreement returning the town of
Saint Naum on Lake Ohrid and other disputed borderlands to
Yugoslavia. The larger country, however, never reaped the
dividends it hoped for when it invested in Zogu. He shunned
Belgrade and turned Albania toward Italy for protection.
of territorial expansion in Italy gathered strength in October
1922 when Benito Mussolini took power in Rome. His fascist
supporters undertook an unabashed program aimed at establishing
a new Roman empire in the Mediterranean region that would
rival Britain and France. Mussolini saw Albania as a foothold
in the Balkans, and after the war the Great Powers in effect
recognized an Italian protectorate over Albania.
May 1925, Italy began a penetration into Albania's national
life that would culminate fourteen years later in its occupation
and annexation of Albania. The first major step was an agreement
between Rome and Tiranë that allowed Italy to exploit
Albania's mineral resources. Soon Albania's parliament agreed
to allow the Italians to found the Albanian National Bank,
which acted as the Albanian treasury even though its main
office was in Rome and Italian banks effectively controlled
it. The Albanians also awarded Italian shipping companies
a monopoly on freight and passenger transport to and from
late 1925, the Italian-backed Society for the Economic Development
of Albania began to lend the Albanian government funds at
high interest rates for transportation, agriculture, and public-works
projects, including Zogu's palace. In the end, the loans turned
out to be subsidies.
mid-1926 Italy set to work to extend its political influence
in Albania, asking Tiranë to recognize Rome's special
interest in Albania and accept Italian instructors in the
army and police. Zogu resisted until an uprising in the northern
mountains pressured the Albanian leader to conclude the First
Treaty of Tiranë with the Italians in November 1926.
In the treaty, both states agreed not to conclude any agreements
with any other states prejudicial to their mutual interests.
The agreement, in effect, guaranteed Zogu's political position
in Albania as well as the country's boundaries. In November
1927, Albania and Italy entered into a defensive alliance,
the Second Treaty of Tiranë, which brought an Italian
general and about forty officers to train the Albanian army.
Italian military experts soon began instructing paramilitary
youth groups. Tiranë also allowed the Italian navy access
to the port of Vlorë, and the Albanians received large
deliveries of armaments from Italy.
1928 Zogu secured the parliament's consent to its own dissolution.
A new constituent assembly amended the constitution, making
Albania a kingdom and transforming Zogu into Zog I, "King
of the Albanians." International recognition arrived
forthwith, but many Albanians regarded their country's nascent
dynasty as a tragic farce. The new constitution abolished
the Senate, creating a unicameral National Assembly, but King
Zog retained the dictatorial powers he had enjoyed as President
Zogu. Soon after his coronation, Zog broke off his engagement
to Shefqet Bey Verlaci's daughter, and Verlaci withdrew his
support for the king and began plotting against him. Zog had
accumulated a great number of enemies over the years, and
the Albanian tradition of blood vengeance required them to
try to kill him. Zog surrounded himself with guards and rarely
appeared in public. The king's loyalists disarmed all of Albania's
tribes except for his own Mati tribesmen and their allies,
the Dibra. Nevertheless, on a visit to Vienna in 1931, Zog
and his bodyguards fought a gun battle with would-be assassins
on the Opera House steps.
remained sensitive to steadily mounting disillusion with Italy's
domination of Albania. The Albanian army, though always less
than 15,000-strong, sapped the country's funds, and the Italians'
monopoly on training the armed forces rankled public opinion.
As a counterweight, Zog kept British officers in the Gendarmerie
despite strong Italian pressure to remove them. In 1931 Zog
openly stood up to the Italians, refusing to renew the 1926
First Treaty of Tiranë. In 1932 and 1933, Albania could
not make the interest payments on its loans from the Society
for the Economic Development of Albania. In response, Rome
turned up the pressure, demanding that Tiranë name Italians
to direct the Gendarmerie; join Italy in a customs union;
grant Italy control of the country's sugar, telegraph, and
electrical monopolies; teach the Italian language in all Albanian
schools; and admit Italian colonists. Zog refused. Instead,
he ordered the national budget slashed by 30 percent, dismissed
the Italian military advisers, and nationalized Italian-run
Roman Catholic schools in the northern part of the country.
June 1934, Albania had signed trade agreements with Yugoslavia
and Greece, and Mussolini had suspended all payments to Tiranë.
An Italian attempt to intimidate the Albanians by sending
a fleet of warships to Albania failed because the Albanians
only allowed the forces to land unarmed. Mussolini then attempted
to buy off the Albanians. In 1935 he presented the Albanian
government 3 million gold francs as a gift.
success in defeating two local rebellions convinced Mussolini
that the Italians had to reach a new agreement with the Albanian
king. A government of young men led by Mehdi Frasheri, an
enlightened Bektashi administrator, won a commitment from
Italy to fulfill financial promises that Mussolini had made
to Albania and to grant new loans for harbor improvements
at Durrës and other projects that kept the Albanian government
afloat. Soon Italians began taking positions in Albania's
civil service, and Italian settlers were allowed into the
all the turmoil of the interwar years, Albania remained Europe's
most economically backward nation. Peasant farmers accounted
for the vast majority of the Albanian population. Albania
had practically had no industry, and the country's potential
for hydroelectric power was virtually untapped. Oil represented
the country's main extractable resource. A pipeline between
the Kuçovë oil field and Vlorë's port expedited
shipments of crude petroleum to Italy's refineries after the
Italians took over the oil-drilling concessions of all other
foreign companies in 1939. Albania also possessed bitumen,
lignite, iron, chromite, copper, bauxite, manganese, and some
gold. Shkodër had a cement factory; Korçë,
a brewery; and Durrës and Shkodër, cigarette factories
that used locally grown tobacco.
much of the interwar period, Italians held most of the technical
jobs in the Albanian economy. Albania's main exports were
petroleum, animal skins, cheese, livestock, and eggs and prime
imports were grain and other foodstuffs, metal products, and
machinery. In 1939 the value of Albania's imports outstripped
that of its exports by about four times. About 70 percent
of Albania's exports went to Italy. Italian factories furnished
about 40 percent of Albania's imports, and the Italian government
paid for the rest.
Germany annexed Austria and moved against Czechoslovakia,
Italy saw itself becoming a second-rate member of the Axis.
After Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia without notifying Mussolini
in advance, the Italian dictator decided in early 1939 to
proceed with his own annexation of Albania. Italy's King Victor
Emmanuel III criticized the plan to take Albania as an unnecessary
however, delivered Tiranë an ultimatum on March 25, 1939,
demanding that it accede to Italy's occupation of Albania.
Zog refused to accept money in exchange for countenancing
a full Italian takeover and colonization of Albania, and on
April 7, 1939, Mussolini's troops invaded Albania. Despite
some stubborn resistance, especially at Durrës, the Italians
made short shrift of the Albanians. Unwilling to become an
Italian puppet, King Zog, his wife, Queen Geraldine Apponyi,
and their infant son Skander fled to Greece and eventually
to London. On April 12, the Albanian parliament voted to unite
the country with Italy. Victor Emmanuel III took the Albanian
crown, and the Italians set up a fascist government under
Shefqet Verlaci and soon absorbed Albania's military and diplomatic
service into Italy's.
the German army defeated Poland, Denmark, and France, a still-jealous
Mussolini decided to use Albania as a springboard to invade
Greece. The Italians launched their attack on October 28,
1940, and at a meeting of the two fascist dictators in Florence,
Mussolini stunned Hitler with his announcement of the Italian
invasion. Mussolini counted on a quick victory, but Greek
resistance fighters halted the Italian army in its tracks
and soon advanced into Albania. The Greeks took Korçë
and Gjirokastër and threatened to drive the Italians
from the port city of Vlorë. The chauvinism of the Greek
troops fighting in Albania cooled the Albanians' enthusiasm
for fighting the Italians and the Greeks, and Mussolini's
forces soon established a stable front in central Albania.
In April 1941, Germany and its allies crushed both Greece
and Yugoslavia, and a month later the Axis gave Albania control
of Kosovo. Thus Albanian nationalists ironically witnessed
the realization of their dreams of uniting most of the Albanian-populated
lands during the Axis occupation of their country.