Albania

   During World War I, Italy offered hospitality to the provisional Albanian government in Durazzo (Durres), an Albanian port city over which Italy had established a de facto protectorate. Austria seized the city in February 1916. Control over Albania’s inhospitable mountains was hotly contested by Austrian and Italian forces until the war’s end.
   By 1926, the mutual assistance Treaty of Tirana ensured that Albania had become, in effect, an Italian protectorate: The banking system and much of its commercial life were already operating under Italian auspices and financing. Within a year, the prime minister was crowned as Zog I. In 1931, large Italian loans under Italian supervision put most of Albania’s economy under effective Italian control while purporting to modernize an abysmally poor and undeveloped country. The Italian response to a brief attempt by Zog to loosen Italy’s hold was to send the Italian fleet to browbeat him into submitting to even greater Italian influence over Albania’s army, schools, and economy. By the mid-1930s, most officers in the Albanian army were Italian. Germany’s 1938 Anschluss with Austria and subsequent annexation of Czechoslovakia prompted Benito Mussolini to consider redressing the Balkan imbalance by directly annexing Albania. Italy’s sudden invasion in April 1939 forced Zog to leave for Greece, while a new Albanian Constituent Assembly asked for union with Italy, a request to which King Victor Emmanuel III readily acceded. In the following year, the virtual dismemberment of Romania by the Soviet occupation of (formerly Russian) parts of Romania and by cessions of other territories to Hungary and Bulgaria led Mussolini to ask Greece for the right to use Greek bases in the event of hostilities. When the request was refused, Italy invaded Greece from Albania on 28 October 1940.
   Within a month, the Greeks had not only repelled the Italians but had occupied a quarter of Albania and taken nearly 30,000 Italian prisoners, obliging Germany to send 50,000 troops to Italy’s assistance. Together with British defeats of Italian forces in Africa, this resulted in Italian prestige plummeting, and Mussolini’s hopes of waging a parallel war in the Mediterranean independently of Germany were dashed. Hereafter Italy was to be the subordinate partner in a relationship that continued to cost Germany manpower and materiel.
   When the postwar isolation of a rigidly Stalinist Albania came to an end in the late 1980s, thousands sought to leave. They naturally turned to the closest European nation. An overnight ferry ride was all that separated them from entry into the European Community and to the wealth of Western opportunities. Italy suddenly found itself having to deal with boatloads of illegal, undocumented Albanian immigrants seeking refuge from deprivation. Police wearing surgical gloves herded the new arrivals into soccer stadiums and loaded them on buses to be shipped to northern cities and to Rome, where, they were told, they would be provided with work permits and helped to find housing and employment. However, stunned Albanians were then put on other buses and sent to airports for flights back to Tirana. Thereafter, they were reluctant to accept at face value any Italian official assurances. Beginning in early March 1997, the disintegration of the Albanian state led Italy to begin evacuating Italian and European nationals. On 14 April 1997, Italy accepted the United Nations Security Council invitation to lead a coalition of forces from France, Greece, Hungary, Rumania, and Spain to protect humanitarian-aid deliveries.
   See also Immigration.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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