by Antonina Zhelyazkova

The two world wars, the occupation periods and the frustration of the Albanian national strivings and anticipations for independence.

With the start of World War I, emerged thecontradictions between the nation's discrepant internal interests, which had taken shape depending rather on the sympathy and support for various external factors than on proper Albanian interests and unification prospects. Central Albania was stirred by mutinies against Prince Wied and his government consisting of big lords; Southern Albania, with Gjirokastër as its centre, was entirely under Greek influence and the illegitimate government of Northern Epirus established its power there. From the north and the east the territories were threatened by Serbian and Montenegrin occupation. In late October, Italy occupied Vlora and annexed it, together with the island of Saseno. Serbia and Greece were given the opportunity to annex the northern and southern parts in 1915. In early 1916, Albania was occupied by Austro-Hungarian, Italian, and French troops and this lasted till the end of the war. 

Immediately after World War I, the Entante member countries proceeded to settling the outstanding questions through signing a series of peace treaties with the defeated states. The larger part of these arrangements concerned the Balkans and drew up a new geopolitical map, which charged the region with fresh tensions, mutual claims, suppressed revenge-seeking and latent irredentism. 

Albania came out of World War I as an independent Balkan state with a surface of 27 thousand square kilometres and a population of 800,000. Its problem, however, remained the practical assertion and defence of the independence and sovereignty, for under the Secret Treaty of 1915 signed in London Italy was promised to receive Albanian territories, there were also many other external claims and internal splits in the identity and orientation of the Albanian society. 

The period between the two wars was maybe the only one ephemeral time of endeavours by the Albanians to build up an independent state and lay the foundations of their nation-integrative philosophy and practice. In December 1920, Albania was admitted to UN membership, which was in fact international recognition of the Albanian independence. 

The model of state organisation was quite naturally borrowed almost entirely from Turkey, since the century-long enjoyment of a more autonomous status (as compared to the other Balkan provinces) within the framework of the Ottoman Empire made it possible for Albania to assimilate the administrative system and have available a certain number of trained Albanians. A new electoral system, which was a copy of the Turkish one, was introduced. The administrative division, too, followed more or less the Ottoman practice. According to the observers and diplomats of the 1920s, the Albanian governors of counties and districts, the müdürs and the police officers were comparatively well trained, because they were the old and experienced former administrators of the Ottoman Empire. It is a curious fact that the reports from this period described the Albanian judicial system as effective and were impressed by the fact that it functioned irrespective of the huge influence of traditional law.92  The truth, however, is that both the administrative officers and the Albanian judges most often came from authoritative bajraktar (standard bearer) families who, by tradition, had taken care of order, government, and law enforcement for generations. In a word, as in the period of the Empire, the more or less normal functioning of the state was due to a visible or invisible symbiosis between traditional ways and modern constitutional state government.