Italy and Albania: a political and economic alliance, and the unification Italy-Albania in 1939 At the beginning of the twentieth century Albania existed as an agrarian society run by local chieftains, except for periodic short-lived central governments, until King Zogu, with the help of Yugoslavia, secured absolute power in December, 1924. With wide support from the people of Albania, Zogu was able to forge a strong economic alliance with Italy which strengthened the emerging centralized government and gave Albanians a sense of nationhood. For fourteen years the "Italian-Albanian alliance" developed and functioned to the benefit of both countries, ending only with the Italian invasion of Albania in April, 1939. In that year the kingdom of Italy started to "assimilate" Albania: On April 12,1939 the Albanian parliament voted to depose Zog and unite the nation with Italy "in personal union" by offering the Albanian crown to Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III (who appointed Francesco Jacomoni di San Savino, a former ambassador to Albania, to represent him in Albania as "Lieutenant-General of the King" or Viceroy). It was the first step toward the creation of a political italian entity similar to the one of the United Kingdom (where the king is the union-center between England, Scotland and Wales): Italian King Victor Emmanuel III was crowned "King of the Albanians" in addition to his title of Emperor of Ethiopia, which had been occupied three years before; and successively was considered the possibility to do the same with Montenegro in 1941 (but it was not done, because the 1943 Italian defeat in WW2 did not allowed a "united kingdom of Italy" with Italy, Albania and Montenegro united under the crown of Victor Emmanuel III) However it is noteworthy to pinpoint that in the "Treaty of London" during World War I, the Triple Entente had promised Italy central and southern Albania as a possession as a reward for fighting alongside the Entente. In June 1917, after Italian soldiers seized control of substantial areas of Albania, Italy formally declared a protectorate over central and southern Albania; however this was overturned in September 1920 when Italy was pressured by US president Wilson to remove its army from Albania. Italy was enraged with the minimal gains that she received from peace negotiations, which she regarded as having violated the Treaty of London. Italian Fascists claimed in the 1920s that Albanians were ethnically linked to Italians through links with the prehistoric Italiotes, Illyrian and Roman populations, and that the major influence exerted by the Roman and Venetian empires over Albania justified Italy's right to possess it.
The Italians adopted the existing Albanian system of prefectures (Italian:"Prefetture"). In line with the administrative structure of the rest of Italy these were also called provinces (Italian:"Provincia"). However, unlike Italy the Albanian sub-prefecture (Italian:"Sotto Prefetture") was retained. There were initially 10 "Provincie": Berati, Peshtopi, Durazzo, Elbasan, Argirocastro, Coritza, Kukesi, Scutari, Valona and Tirana. Under this was 30 sub-prefectures and 23 municipalities (Italian:"Municipalità"). Each Prefecture was run by a Prefect located in the city of the same name. In 1941, following the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, three new Prefectures were added: Kossovo, Metohija and Debar, with 5 sub-prefectures.
Following the Italian capitulation, numerous Italians (perhaps 20,000) remained in Albania. There were nearly 1,000 women among the Italian colonists and some of them remained in Albania after World War II, mainly through marriage with Albanians.
Upon the occupation of Albania and installation of a new government, the economies of Albania and Italy were connected through a customs union that resulted in the removal of most trade restrictions. Through a tariff union, the Italian tariff system was put in place in Albania. Due to the expected economic losses in Albania from the alteration in tariff policy, the Italian government provided Albania 15 million Albanian "leks" each year in compensation. Italian customs laws were to apply in Albania and only Italy alone could conclude treaties with third parties. Italian capital was allowed to dominate the Albanian economy. As a result, Italian companies were allowed to hold monopolies in the exploitation of Albanian natural resources. In 1943, the number of companies and industrial enterprises reached 430, from just 244 in 1938 and only 71 such in 1922. The degree of concentration of workers in industrial production in 1938 doubled compared with 1928 and increased further under Italian control in 1941.
Following the Italian capitulation, the occupation ceased but numerous Italians (perhaps 20,000) remained within the country. These were rounded up by the Germans and taken to Germany (many officers being shot) or else they evaded capture and adopted some disguise, for example, as agricultural laborers. A small number even joined Albanian partisan groups. Only a few collaborated with German authorities, because were fascists and adhered to the RSI of Mussolini in 1944.
There are several reasons why King Zogu was not willing to use force to confront the Italian troops. First, Zogu, did not have the support of the neighboring countries, Yugoslavia and Greece. Both of these countries did not want to supply armament to the Albanians, as they had been scared off by the Italian military capabilities. Secondly, the Yugoslav army declared that they would not enter the Albanian territory unless there was conflict in a Fifteen mile radius of the northeastern border. However, Yugoslavia was restrained from entering into Albanian territory by a previous agreement with Italy. Thirdly the Albanians showed little interest in fighting under the leadership of King Zogu. In fact, many Albanians spent their first week under Italian occupation debating whether Zogu was worth keeping as king. Zogu’s regime had failed to keep control of the local leaders because Italy had found a way to eliminate Zogu as a middleman and finance these “chieftains” directly. Whatever resistance there was to be, it would be waged by communist groups that fought tirelessly throughout the war. Mussolini was able to find a pretext in order to make his strategic invasion legitimate and as necessary as possible even from the Albanian point of view. The Italians pretended that in order to preserve peace in the Balkans it was important to overthrow the Zogu regime. It was interesting to see an Italian puppet become their number one enemy 14 years later. Zogu explained, “I knew what Italians were after and I prevented them from getting control of the country by peaceful means…international politics left us no other choice to come to an understating with Italy. But the megalomania of the fascist regime made us certain that one day we should have to fight to defend ourselves.” Interestingly, count Ciano and his clique never really had to depose Zogu as his Albanian support had already dried up. And as for “preserving peace in the Balkans,” the Italians had merely blown apart a very fragile time of Balkan quietude. As a French Journalist once said, “Pays Balkanique, Pays Vulcanique,” peace in the Balkans is like a “peaceful” volcano.
However the unification -even if nominal and done only with the king Victor Emmanuel III- was effective and accepted by the population of Italy and Albania without any real disagreement from the first day of the Italian military occupation of Albania in 1939 until September 1943. Some Albanians still remember those years as a period when they were part of western Europe and out of Balkan problems.