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Albania: Growth Rates Steady, But Emigration On Rise (Part 5)

For decades after World War II, Albanian enjoyed the fastest natural population growth rate of any country in Europe. But in the decade since the end of Albania's self-imposed Stalinist isolation, tremendous shifts have occurred in the way its population is distributed. In this last of a five-part series, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Tirana on the outcome of this year's census, the first in Albania in 12 years.

Tirana, 19 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The traditional view of the extended Albanian family containing scores of members living in a fortified "kulla," or residential stone tower, in a tightly knit collective has all but vanished from Albania's demographic landscape. Albania's harsh brand of communist rule took its toll on large families -- and on kullas.

Anarchy, poverty, and emigration in the decade since the collapse of communist rule have further contributed to diminishing the large family. Officially, the unemployment rate is 17 percent but according to economist Zef Preci, who heads the private Albanian Center for Economic Research, the real unemployment rate is between 35 and 40 percent.

A recently published World Bank assessment of poverty in Albania concluded, "Absolute poverty remains high [despite] many years of positive economic growth, and there is some evidence that conditions have worsened for those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in the last few years."

Albania's population soared by nearly 23 percent between 1979 and 1989, when it reached nearly 3.2 million. But preliminary data from the new census conducted 1 April shows a population decline.

The director of the demographic department of Albania's Institute of Statistics is Emira Galanxhi who says: "First of all, the population of Albania now numbers 3,087,000 inhabitants, which represents a 3 percent loss of population from the previous [1989] census. Being aware that Albania enjoys one of the highest population growth rates in Europe, this decrease is caused by a very intensive process of emigration."

Galanxhi estimates some 600,000 Albanians are now working abroad, mainly in Greece and Italy.

The Vital Statistics Office, a separate government institution which registers births, residency, and deaths, in contrast, estimates Albania's population at close to 4 million, but Galanxhi says this figure fails to take into account emigration or even domestic migration and so is likely to include large numbers of double counting.

The average family size in Albania is now 4.2 members, which is close to the current European standard of two parents and two children. The average age of the population has increased slightly from 26 to over 28 years since 1989.

Preliminary data from the new census show that the total fertility rate has dropped since 1989, from 3.1 children to 2.1 children per female inhabitant of childbearing age. Galanxhi says the high rate of emigration of young people is also to blame for this substantial decline, as many women of childbearing age are no longer living in the country.

This year's census also shows that some 60 percent of all households currently have four or fewer members, nearly 20 percent have five members, and nearly 21 percent have six or more members. Nevertheless, in the less-developed northeastern mountains, 33 percent of households in Kukes and over 37 percent in Diber have six or more members. Galanxhi notes that the smallest families are to be found in the traditionally more-developed, Greek-influenced south of the country and on the coast.

Galanxhi says that under communism, Albania's population was fairly static, with relatively little movement permitted by the authorities from the countryside to the cities. But in the past decade, in addition to the departure of one-sixth of the population in search of work abroad, there has also been mass domestic migration from the mountainous north and east of the country to Tirana and the coastal districts.

"The ratio between the urban population and the rural population has become greater. Today 42 percent of the country's population live in towns and cities and 58 percent are in villages, while in 1989 only 35 percent were living in towns and cities."

Galanxhi says some mountainous areas such as Tropoja, for example, have lost half their population to migration.

Tirana University sociology professor Zyhdi Dervishi says at least three urban centers are developing in Albania due to urban sprawl along the coast: Tirana, Durres, Kavaja, and Shijak; Shkodra, Lexha, and Shengjin in the north; and Vlora and Fieri in the south.

Economist Preci says internal migration has created two big problems: "First of all, some zones where there were some opportunities for development [now] cannot be exploited, cannot be put under economic circulation. And secondly, in the places where this population is newly located -- new locations -- the infrastructure has worsened. And we are facing troubles especially for energy, unemployment. And unfortunately, there are some signs that this population brought a peasant mentality. People who are coming [to the cities] don't have enough skills to adapt themselves to the labor market."

Preci says that these migrants to urban areas have a share in the crime and other social troubles plaguing Albanian urban areas. He says community values that were destroyed under communism have not been rebuilt, and so he says Albanian society remains fragmented 10 years after the transition began.