Past and present, ancient and modern, young and old, Muslim and Christian, rich and poor, north and south, urban and rural, monarchist and socialist: the extremes of Albanian society are vivid, it's tensions palpable. But Albania is not "another Yugoslavia:" it is more like a tensegrity framework, a stable structure of rigid poles positioned in space – and linked together by flexible cables. The cables are stressed but, barring catastrophe, they will not snap. Albania, this land that is breathtakingly beautiful, but only few Americans can tell Albania from Albany or Alabama, and fewer still would be able to find the country on the map. Despite it's spectacular and varied beauty, it's rich natural resources, and it's extraordinary tradition of hospitality, Albania has always been the most isolated country in Europe, and from World War II until very recently, one of the most isolated countries on earth.
Since 1991, Albania has welcomed foreign visitors but, as the poorest country in Europe, it has attracted relatively few of them. Yet there are many reasons why the outside world should be interested in Albania and concerned for it's future. Albania is a Balkan country and thus a crossroads of East and West, North and South; it is as rich in history as it is in resources. When Albania achieved independence, nearly half its population found itself outside its newly drawn borders, in what is now called "the former Yugoslavia." But Albanians are not Slavs, and the Albanian language is not Slavic. Much has been written about historic "transition" from communism, but Albania's transition is ignored in most of these accounts. This is probably because Albania's brand of communism was different from the others, and its society is more difficult for a Westerner to understand, or maybe because people didn't pay much attention to what happenes in a tinny little country in Easte…