Albania is situated on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Although it has seldom existed under its own rule, and has been occupied by foreign powers for most of its history, the country has moved from a Communist system to a parliamentary democracy, with a prime minister and president. During the Cold War, Albania’s Communist government, led by longtime dictator Enver Hoxha, was hostile towards the United States, leaving the two countries without formal diplomatic ties for more than 50 years. In the 1990s, relations between the US and Albania began to normalize. Also during the 1990s, Albania became involved in the crisis in neighboring Kosovo, a largely ethnic Albanian territory inside Serbia. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into Albania from Kosovo as a result of attacks by Serbian forces and air assaults by NATO on Serbian targets. Today, Albania suffers from human rights problems, including poor prison conditions, police corruption and human trafficking. These concerns have not prevented the United States from being supportive of the country’s efforts to join NATO and the European Union.
The Albanian people are descended from a group called the Illyrians, who settled in the Balkans in 2000 BC. The Greeks arrived in the 7th century BC, trading peacefully with the Illyrians and taking control of the south (Greece still has a claim on this area today).
A career Foreign Service officer, and avid baseball fan, Alexander A. Arvizu has served as U.S. ambassador to Albania since November 10, 2010. His posting to the small European country comes after spending most of his time handling U.S. foreign policy for Asia.