Albania is located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea between Montenegro (formerly a part of Yugoslavia) and Greece.
The area was conquered in the 15th century by the Ottoman Empire and remained under Ottoman control as part of the Rumelia province until 1912, when the first independent Albanian state was declared. The residue of Ottoman Turkish influence is most obvious in the religious beliefs of the Albanian people; the majority religion is Islam. Muslim boys were circumcised at age 7 or thereabouts with all the customary festivities. The minority Catholic and Orthodox Christians did not circumcise. Jews were circumcised as their religion requires, a week after birth.
Invaded by Fascist Italy on 7th April 1939 (NB: before the official start of World War 2), the country remained occupied by Italians (not Germans) until the disintegration of the Italian Fascist state in late August 1943. Then and only then was Albania occupied by the Wehrmacht. Communist partisans, supplied with weapons air-dropped by British forces, gained control of southern Albania from January 1944 onwards. On 24th May 1944 the communists met to organise an Albanian government; Enver Hoxha became chairman of the Executive Committee and Supreme Commander of the National Liberation Movement. Hence the date on the old Coat-of-Arms of Albania.
German forces withdrew from the capital, Tirana, in November 1944 whereupon the communists took full and unopposed control. Albania became a communist state (the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania) which was dominated by Enver Hoxha until his death in 1985. Hoxha himself was a militant atheist who took pride in his attempts to create the modern world’s first truly atheist state. From 1967, all forms of public worship were banned - both Muslim and Christian. An amendment to the country’s Penal Code in 1977 imposed prison sentences of three to ten years for "religious propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious literature". No Bibles or copies of the Holy Koran existed legally and former places of worship were stripped of their religious artefacts and converted to other uses.
An old communist bunker above the spectacular Valbona Valley. Source Wikipedia.
Circumcision did not cease, however, it was encouraged for cleanliness and avoidance of infections. So boys were still circumcised routinely (and it would seem that a boy's circumcision was still an excuse for a family party). Probably many former Christians adopted the practice too, for the sake of conformity.
The communist régime collapsed in 1990 and the present Republic of Albania was founded in 1991. The country subsequently suffered a major economic failure, leading to social unrest involving mass emigration of Albanians to Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Germany and North America, but Albania survived to become a full member of NATO in 2009 and has also applied to join the European Union. However, it is likely to be some years before its economy and government meet the standards required for EU membership.
Circumcision in Albania today
Religion is no longer banned and Albanian government statistics suggest that 38% of today's population are actively practising Muslims. But circumcision remains the norm, largely for health and hygiene reasons. Of course Muslims will still make it the excuse for a family party, and even among the people who think of themselves as 'modern' traces of old tradition hang on, as this quote from The Albanian Blogger shows.
As much as I dislike the experience, I found myself again at the children's hospital, however, this time it was because our son was getting circumcised. The practice of circumcision is both a culturally accepted norm and also a 'cleanliness' suggested surgical intervention for boys in Albania. My wife and I were both comfortable with the whole idea so we went ahead and did it. Our son is only two and a half years old and we decided that this would be the best time for him as the older he gets the more conscious he will be about this experience which, judging form mine (at seven), was not something I felt good about. ..... In our case, my wife and I decided to go the slightly more modern way, where it was only a family matter with just grandparents coming to attend as both of us have to work. Though we did entertain some guests who came to know about it and wanted to pay their traditional 'respect'.
So even when trying to be modern the celebration couldn't be avoided entirely.
Albanian Government document "L'Albania oggi" (text in Italian, accessed 23.Sep.2010).
The Albanian Blogger Circumcision: an Albanian cultural tradition
Website of the European Commission, page relating to enlargement to include Albania, accessed 12.Mar.2014.
Maps courtesy of www.youreuropemap.com and the US Central Intelligence Agency.