Social and Economic Conditions After World War I
Extraordinarily undeveloped, the Albania that emerged after World War I was home to something less than a million people divided into three major religious groups and two distinct classes: those people who owned land and claimed semifeudal privileges and those who did not. The landowners had always held the principal ruling posts in the country's central and southern regions, but many of them were steeped in the same Oriental conservatism that brought decay to the Ottoman Empire. The landowning elite expected that they would continue to enjoy precedence. The country's peasants, however, were beginning to dispute the landed aristocracy's control. Muslims made up the majority of the landowning class as well as most of the pool of Ottoman-trained administrators and officials. Thus Muslims filled most of the country's administrative posts.
In northern Albania, the government directly controlled only Shkodėr and its environs. The highland clans were suspicious of a constitutional government legislating in the interests of the country as a whole, and the Roman Catholic Church became the principal link between Tiranė and the tribesmen. In many instances, administrative communications were addressed to priests for circulation among their parishioners.
Poor and remote, Albania remained decades behind the other Balkan countries in educational and social development. Illiteracy plagued almost the entire population. About 90 percent of the country's peasants practiced subsistence agriculture, using ancient methods and tods, such as wooden plows. Much of the country's richest farmland lay under water in malaria-infested coastal marshlands. Albania lacked a banking system, a railroad, a modern port, an efficient military, a university, or a modern press. The Albanians had Europe's highest birthrate and infant mortality rate, and life expectancy for men was about thirtyeight years. The American Red Cross opened schools and hospitals at Durrės and Tiranė, and one Red Cross worker founded an Albanian chapter of the Boy Scouts that all boys between twelve and eighteen years old were subsequently required to join by law. Although hundreds of schools opened across the country, in 1938 only 36 percent of all Albanian children of school age were receiving education of any kind.
Despite the meager educational opportunities, literature flourished in Albania between the two world wars. A Franciscan priest, Gjergj Fishta, Albania's greatest poet, dominated the literary scene with his poems on the Albanians' perseverance during their quest for freedom.
Independence also brought changes to religious life in Albania. The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople recognized the autocephaly of the Albanian Orthodox Church after a meeting of the country's Albanian Orthodox congregations in Berat in August 1922. The most energetic reformers in Albania came from the Orthodox population who wanted to see Albania move quickly away from its Muslim, Turkish past, during which Christians made up the underclass. Albania's conservative Sunni Muslim community broke its last ties with Constantinople in 1923, formally declaring that there had been no caliph (see Glossary) since the Prophet Muhammad himself and that Muslim Albanians pledged primary allegiance to their native country. The Muslims also banned polygamy and allowed women to choose whether or not to wear a veil.
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