Albania is a small, mountainous country in the Balkan peninsula, with a long Adriatic and Ionian coastline.
Along with neighbouring and mainly Albanian-inhabited Kosovo, it has a Muslim majority - a legacy of its centuries of Ottoman rule. Approaching twenty per cent of the population are Christians, divided mainly between the Orthodox and smaller Catholic denominations.
After World War II, Albania became a Stalinist state under Enver Hoxha, and remained staunchly isolationist until its transition to democracy after 1990.
The 1992 elections ended 47 years of communist rule, but the latter half of the decade saw a quick turnover of presidents and prime ministers.
Many Albanians left the country in search of work; the money they send home remains an important source of revenue.
The Republic of Albania
Population 3.2 million
Major language Albanian
Major religions Islam, Christianity
Life expectancy 74 years (men), 80 years (women)
President: Ilir Meta
Ilir Meta was elected as president by parliament in April 2017, having served as Speaker in 2013.
He joined politics in 1990 by taking part in the student movement that helped to bring about the collapse of communism in Albania.
He served as prime minister and foreign minister. Initially a member of the Socialist Party, he set up his own party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, in 2004. A target of several corruption scandals and allegations, Mr Meta has constantly denied any wrongdoing.
Prime minister: Edi Rama
Edi Rama became prime minister in September 2013, three months after elections in which his Socialist Party won a landslide victory that brought to an end eight years of conservative rule.
His party won a new mandate in elections in June 2017.
Mr Rama's main campaign pledges in 2013 were to revive Albania's ailing economy, combat widespread corruption and crime, and speed up the country's integration into the European Union.
His predecessor as prime minister, Sali Berisha, dominated the country's political scene for more than 20 years, but by 2013 the electorate appeared to have become tired of the lack of economic progress under Mr Berisha and his perceived failure to tackle organised crime.
TV is the most popular medium, but the internet is beginning to close the gap.
As well as TV networks run by public RTSH, there are three licensed national private networks and scores of local stations. Two companies offer digital terrestrial and satellite packages.
The media are generally free but press freedom groups say that self-censorship can arise from media owners' interests.
Some key dates in Albania's modern history
1939 - Shortly before the start of World War II, Italy invades. King Zog flees to Greece.
1941 - Enver Hoxha becomes head of new Albanian Communist Party.
1943 - German forces invade and occupy Albania following Italian surrender.
1944 - Germans withdraw after Communist resistance. Enver Hoxha installed as new leader.
1946 - Purges of non-communists from government positions.
1948 - Albania breaks ties with Yugoslavia; Soviet Union begins economic aid to Albania.
1955 - Albania becomes a founding member of the Warsaw Pact.
1985 - After ruling for nearly half a century, Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha dies.
1989 - Communist rule in Eastern Europe collapses.
1990 - Independent political parties formed. Albanians granted right to travel abroad.
1991 - In multiparty elections, the Communist Party and allies win 169 of the 250 seats, the newly-formed Democratic Party takes 75.
1992 - Democratic Party wins elections. Party leader Sali Berisha becomes first elected president.
1999 - Nato air strikes against Yugoslav military targets. In Kosovo thousands flee attacks by Serb forces. Mass refugee exodus into Albania.
2009 - Albania officially joins Nato and formally applies for membership of the European Union.
2014 - The European Commission recommends Albania as a candidate for European Union membership.