THE HISTORY OF INTERWAR ALBANIA is the least known of the interwar East European states. Its diminutive size does not make its history any easier to describe, however. Politically, Albania's story is complex and even mysterious. The hint of secrecy even extends to the social and economic spheres, where the lack of data is such an overwhelming problem that Albania is rarely included in studies of interwar Eastern Europe. The very fact that Albania continued to exist seems to have amazed scholars as much as it did the statesmen who rarely gave it a place in the diplomatic equations with which they struggled daily. Albania was a curiosity and in a very real sense a negative entity: it existed only because the great powers wanted it to, but they favored an independent Albania only because they could not agree upon the manner in which to divide it. Albania's existence could quickly cease upon the striking of a bargain by strangers in a far-off city, or, as actually occurred in the end, because a similar group was too preoccupied elsewhere to care.
As was noted earlier, Albania did cease to function as a political entity during World War I. There was no Albanian national government during this period; governmental affairs above the village level were in the hands of the occupying armies (which changed frequently). Further, since Prince William had fled the country before achieving even a superficial control, there was no government in exile (the prince's brief appearance as a European monarch was quickly forgotten by all concerned). At the end of hostilities in November of 1918, most of Albania was controlled by Italian forces. Since Italy at that time was hoping to annex most of the country, its military government was working to establish an administrative network that would link the villages to the central command and thus bind the Albanians to Italy.
Italian attempts to annex Albania ran into two major obstacles.