The population is predominantly Albanians. According to
the 1989 census, they accounted for 98 percent of the
population, with minority elements of Greeks and a smaller
number of slaves, mainly Macedonians. The figures have been
questioned from both Greek and Northern Macedonian, but have
their biggest defect in underestimating the minority groups
Roma and Vlachs (Arumans). According to
Countryaah, the lack of precision in the
population statistics is reinforced by the fact that the
Albanian population has undergone a very marked, albeit
quantitatively difficult change since the fall of the
socialist regime. Population growth declined sharply in the
late 1900s as a result of declining nativity and extensive
emigration. During the 2000s it has again increased.
The other major change, which is also behind a
significant part of the uncertainty that permits population
statistics, is labor migration. The figures on the number of
Albanians, with or without a permit, are mainly in Greece
but also in Italy, but 250,000 to half a million are common
estimates. Much of this emigration, which is to some extent
seasonal, has taken place from the southern and central
parts of the country. In particular, the Greek minority
seems to have seized this opportunity. Young, well-educated
people are also over-represented among those who move. The
emigration, together with the decrease in birth rates, is
also believed to have contributed to changing the gender
distribution of the population over the course of less than
ten years from a surplus of men to a deficit.
Moving within the country has further increased
significantly. From having been regulated with domestic
passports, residence permits, household registers and
workbooks, the population is no longer subject to any legal
restrictions on geographical mobility. In particular, the
residents of the mountainous hinterland, and especially in
northern central and northeastern Albania, have taken
advantage of the new opportunities, with a rapidly growing
population in the lowlands in the west as a result.
Immigration to the larger cities, the vast majority of
which are located in the lowland areas to which many have
applied during the late 1900s and early 2000s. The capital
of Tirana is generally believed to have doubled its
population during this period, to 400,000.
The official language and mother tongue of the majority
of the population is Albanian, an Indo-European language.
The Albanian can be roughly divided into two main dialect
groups: Gaelic in northern Albania and Tuscan
in southern Albania. The boundary between the dialect areas
is considered the river Shkumbin. The written
language, gjuha letrare shqipe ('the Albanian
language of literature'), has been largely standardized
since the 1970s.
Small minorities speak Greek, Macedonian and other
Christianity has been established in the country since
the 100s. During the 11th century, the East Roman Church
conducted a mission in the area, while the Franciscans
established themselves there in the 1300s, in connection
with Venice's increasing influence.
Under Ottoman supremacy, Islam was introduced, and
several waves of Islam crossed the country in the following
centuries. Over time, Sunnis and various dervish orders,
including bektashi, which comprised about 20% of the
population, came to dominate. An autocephalic Albanian
Orthodox church was proclaimed in 1927 but was first
recognized by Constantinople in 1937.
According to the 1945 census, more than 2/3 of the
population professed Islam, 1/6 were Orthodox Christians
(concentrated in southern Albania) and 1/10 of Catholics
(mainly in the north). During the land reform in 1945, the
land holdings of the religious institutions were
confiscated. The following years entailed a growing
anti-religious policy, which largely turned to community
leaders and schools. In 1967, Albania was proclaimed the
world's first atheist state, and all public religious
practices were banned.
There is now freedom again to practice their religion,
and Islam is officially recognized as the dominant religion.
Of the population, 55% are estimated to be Sunni Muslims, 3%
Shiites, 18% Orthodox Christians, 10% Catholics and just
over 1% Protestants, but the numbers are approximate and in
reality religious participation is very low.