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People, Language & Religion


Generally regarded as descendants of the ancient Illyrians, the Albanians make up about 95% of the population. Ethnic Greeks comprise as much as 3% of the populace. Other groups, including Aromanians (Vlachs), Torbesh, Gorani, Macedonians, Roma, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Serbs, Balkan Egyptians and Jews, make up the remaining 2%. The Albanians themselves fall into two major groups: the Ghegs in the north and the Tosks in the south, divided by the Shkumbin River.


Albanian (Shqip), an independent member of the Indo-European family of languages derived from both ancient Illyrian and ancient Thracian, has been greatly modified by Latin, Slavonic, Greek and Turkish influences. It was not until 1908 that a common Latin alphabet was established for Albanian. In addition to letters of the English alphabet, Albanian uses the diacritics ç (representing the sound of ch in church) and ë (the sound of i in dirt). Other unusual letter values are c (the sound of ts in gets), x (the sound of ds in woods), xh (the sound of j in jaw), j (the sound of y in yet), q (the sound of ky in stockyard), and y (the sound of the German ü). There are two distinct dialects – Gheg, spoken in the north, and Tosk, spoken in the south. During the period between World Wars I and II, Gheg was officially favoured as standard Albanian; after World War II, because the principal leaders of the regime were southerners, Tosk became the standard. Greek is spoken by a minority in the southeast border area.


Historically, Islam has been the majority religion of Albania, despite Communist efforts to enforce an atheistic, secular state. In 1967, the government closed more than 2,100 mosques, churches, monasteries, and other places of worship and declared the country an atheist state. Subsequent complaints in the official press about the survival of religious customs (refusal to eat pork on the part of Muslims, failure to work at Easter on the part of Christians) suggest that the official abolition of public religion had by no means ended private observance. In 1990 and 1991, official opposition to religious activities came to an end, and churches and mosques were selectively allowed to reopen. Albania is now a self-proclaimed secular state that allows freedom of religion. In the total population, the percentage of Muslims remains stable at roughly 65% to 70%, including Sunni Islam and members of the Bektashi school (Shi'a Sufism). Since 1925, Albania has been considered the world centre of the Bektashi school. About 20% of the population are members of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania (Albanian Orthodox) and about 10% are Roman Catholic. There are a few small Protestant groups.

Geographically, most Muslims are found in the centre of the country, with a few groups to the south. Citizens in the south are mainly Orthodox while northerners are generally Catholic. The Greek minority in the south is Orthodox.

The 1998 constitution calls for freedom of religion; however, the four main groups of Sunnis, Bektashis, Orthodox and Catholics, have maintained a heightened degree of social recognition and status due to their historical presence within the country.





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