Albania is probably Europe's most backward country. The explanation of this, as of the stage of progress in other countries, is not to be found in any one fact. The situation of the country in a region of high and inaccessible mountains certainly has a great deal to do with the matter. So does the Mediterranean climate in so far as it is less stimulating to man and less favorable for crops than is a more steadily rainy climate with cooler summers. Race and religion may play some part, although as to these it is difficult to speak. And finally the long-continued rule of the Turks has not been of much use in helping the country to escape from its unhappy economic and social conditions. In the past Albania has not always been thus, for in the ancient Illyrian period it was comparatively prosperous. How much of the change is due to human conduct and how much to such matters as changes of climate, deforestation, the washing away of the soil, or the alteration of the ethnic composition of the population, it is impossible to say.
The inaccessibility of Albania is conspicuous. High mountain ranges, representing the continuation of the Dinaric Mountains toward Greece, and sometimes rising above 9,000 feet, quite effectively isolate the country by land. The low-lying coast with its lagoons not only hinders the development of good harbors, but hampers contact with the interior because it is so malarial. An increase in the amount of malaria and other diseases may have helped to make Albania relatively more backward now than in the past. Only the southern part has a firm coast, but here it becomes rocky, rising steeply out of the sea, and this again impedes access to the interior.
Valona, where the rocky section joins the low coastal plain, has the only harbor of any significance. Whatever economic strength the country has is based on agriculture and sheep-raising. Between the mountain ranges lie basins of great agricultural value. It is in these as well as on the once densely populated plain along the shore that future development may be expected to focus. The prevailing Mediterranean climate causes the products of the coastal plain, which extends a considerable distance inland, to be essentially the same as those of southern Italy. The westward exposure of the country, however, causes the rainfall to increase inland and to be abundant on the western slope of the high mountains, even in summer. Accordingly dense forests of the central European type, comprising beeches, oaks, and conifers, cover much of the mountains and promise a valuable source of future income. Corn is the principal crop of the plain; wheat, oats, and barley thrive better in the mountain basins. Olive trees cover the slopes near the Adriatic Sea, with citrus fruits and grapes.
An important source of livelihood is stock-raising, the herds and flocks being driven to the mountain meadows during the summer, and returned to the plain when winter comes on. Cattle, and in particular sheep, do well; and cheese, wool, and pelts are export products of importance. The basin of Koritza has been considerably influenced by emigrants who have returned from America, and its prosperity illustrates what can be done when peace prevails and modern methods are employed. Mineral resources that once were famous now lie unused, but hold promise for the future.
Large landholdings predominate, except in the high mountain sections. Political dissension among the various tribes, the lack of a common language, and the confusion of religions would hamper progress even if the geographic conditions were more favorable. About 68 per cent of the people are Moslems, 11 per cent Roman Catholics, and 20 per cent members of the Albanian Orthodox Church.