Despite having a lower population (compared to some European countries), Albania is home to over 15 mafia families that control and cause the majority of organized crime in the world. Various sources place it as the first European narco-state, with the country’s mafias monopolizing the majority of international affiliations. Aside from that, Albania is rich in history and has some positive deeds, too! Here, we discuss some mind-blowing facts about the European country.

1. Blood Feuds Were Common in Albania for the Longest Time

In Albania, natives guard their honor with all they have; it is a critical component of their culture and social respectability. As such, blood feuds, locally known as Gjakmarrja, were very common for the longest time in the country’s history.

Translating to “blood-taking,” blood feuds were used to settle scores. It was a social obligation that required anyone who felt offended to kill the offender or a member of their family and salvage their honor. The code cut across everyone regardless of religion; it was practiced by Christians and Muslims alike. A blood feud is illegal today – anyone charged with a murder motivated by a blood feud can be sentenced to life in prison.

2. Women in Albania Can Identify as “Sworn Virgins” to Gain Male Privileges

In Albania, a person who is assigned female at birth can choose to become a “sworn virgin” to gain male privileges. Famously known as Balkan sworn virgins (burrnesha in Albanian), people who take this oath vow to live as men. They give up their sexual, reproductive, and social identities so they can have the same freedoms as men.

Various reasons contribute to women taking this vow. For instance, one can do so to avoid an arranged marriage, prevent a blood feud, or become an heir to family wealth in cases where there is no male to take over. The practice has since died down, with only fewer than 102 Albanian sworn virgins remaining.

3. The Number of Jewish People Residing in Albania During the Holocaust Increased

Historically, Albania is primarily a Muslim country, with the majority of the people in the region identifying with the religion. During the two-year Nazi rule, many Jewish people were killed in the holocaust, marking a dark spot in history. However, Albanians sheltered Jews from around Europe; their population increased at a time when things were thick. Only five Jews were killed in Albania at the time.

4. Albanians Were Forced to Build Many Bunkers During the Cold War

At the height of the Cold War, Albania’s president, Enver Hoxha, directed that Albanians build bunkers in anticipation of possible attacks. With hundreds of thousands of bunkers made, the country wasn’t attacked. The facilities have been converted into makeshift bars, pizzerias, and espresso bars.

5. Ettore Bugatti Refused to Sell a Car to a Former Albanian President

Ahmed Muhtar Zogoli, famously known as Zog 1, was Albania’s leader from 1922 to 1939. At one point, he inquired about the possibility of purchasing a Bugatti, but Ettore Bugatti, a popular French automobile designer and creator of the Bugatti luxury cars, refused to sell one to him. Interestingly, Bugatti cited the king’s poor table manners as one of the reasons for declining the request. Bugatti said the man’s table manners were “beyond belief.”

6. Albania’s King Zog 1 Survived More Than 55 Assassination Attempts

Even though he only ruled for about 17 years, King Zog 1 of Albania survived more than 55 assassination attempts. One of the most famous attacks was on February 23, 1924, when he was shot and wounded on his way to the Albanian parliament. Reports show about 600 blood feuds existed against the leader. King Zog 1 died in France at the Foch Hospital, Suresnes, in April 1961.

7. Albanian’s Sheltered Jews during the Holocaust Grounded by a Muslim Code of Honor

At the time of the holocaust, Albania’s majority of the population identified as Muslims. When Adolf Hitler rose to power, many Jews sought refuge in Albania, where they were welcomed with both arms. Remarkably, the assistance offered to the Jews by Albanians was grounded in a Muslim code of honor called “Besa,” which translates to “Keep the promise.”

8. The Zogist Salute Originated in Albania

The Zogist Salute is a gesture whereby the right hand is placed just above the heart with the palm facing downwards. It was first used by the Albanian military but has since spread to civilians in other countries, notably Mexico. The Zogist Salute was instituted by King Zog 1 of Albania.

9. Albania Honored John Belushi with a Stamp in 2008

John Belushi was a comedian, actor, and musician whose stellar career was cut short at 33. Even though he had American citizenship, Belushi had a strong Albanian heritage. In 2008, Albania designed a stamp in honor of the departed entertainer.

10. Shaking and Nodding the Head Have Different Meanings in Albania

In most parts of the world, nodding of the head means the person is in agreement while shaking it translates to “no.” however, in Albania, the opposite is true; shaking of the head means the individual is in agreement while nodding means they are of the contrary opinion.

11. Albania Banned Religion for Some Time

Albania banned religious activities in the country from 1967 to 1991. Despite the complaints, religious buildings, such as mosques, churches, and tekkes, were either shut down or converted into warehouses, workshops or gymnasiums.

Anyone known to be a clergy was publicly vilified and humiliated, and their vestments desecrated. About 200 clerics were imprisoned, while others were forced to try their hand at other ventures, such as agriculture. This technically made Albania the first and the only constitutionally atheist state.

12. Communist Albania Abolished Taxes

In 1969, the Communist Albania regime abolished taxation. Notably, the quality of schooling and healthcare massively improved during this time. Even the electrification campaign that had started in 1960 and scheduled for completion in 1985 was finished by 1970. Albania was among the first countries to complete electrification.

13. Albania’s Rail Transport History Is Interesting

Prior to 1947, Albania was the only European country without a standard rail service. From there, the country built over 666 kilometers (410 miles) of railway within 40 years. Enver Hoxha’s government extensively promoted its use; it was the country’s primary mode of transport at some point. The majority of the network was closed in 2020.

14. Pyramid Scheme Failures Sparked Civil Unrest in Albania

In 1997, Albania faced massive civil unrest because of failed pyramid schemes. Albanian citizens who had lost over $1.2 billion took to the streets to demand their money. The reigning government was toppled, and more than 2,000 people died.

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Last Update: May 1, 2024