Albania in crisis: Legacy of conflict and misrule

When it comes to rulers, Albania has never had much luck. Although famed down the centuries for its proud, fiercely independent-minded people, the country did not achieve autonomy until 1912 but suffered under successive waves of conquerors from Byzantium, Serbia and Turkey.

The only true national hero was Giorgi Kastrioti, a 15th-century warrior who kept the Turks out of the country for 40 years. But even Kastrioti, more commonly known by his Turkish epithet Skanderbeg, could not forge an independence movement and the country fell to the Turks shortly after his death.

Albania became a country in its own right at the beginning of the century. Two years into independence the First World War broke out and the Italians moved in for six years. Thereafter, a power-hungry autocrat called Ahmed Zogu seized control and had himself crowned King Zog. Then followed more Italian occupation, more war, a civil conflict pitting Communists against royalists against republicans, and finally a 45-year period of Stalinist- inspired paranoid isolationism under the quirky dictator, Enver Hoxha.

Albania had plenty to be paranoid about. Chunks of what might have been considered its natural territory, in Kosovo and Macedonia, were ceded to Yugoslavia and the country remained an uncertain satellite of the Belgrade authorities for several decades thereafter.

The Communist period ended in 1990 in mass strikes and street protests. After a series of fragile transition governments, democracy at last arrived in April 1992 with the election victory of Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party.

But Mr Berisha's colleagues deserted him, accusing him of reverting to Hoxha-like authoritarian tactics, and within three months his government crashed to defeat in local elections.

Albania has reverted to depressing historical precedent ever since. This time, though, the people have tasted contact with different values. That may not be enough to sustain them through what promise to be some turbulent months ahead, but it may yet be the key to better luck in the future.