Albania Table of Contents
Figure 1. Administrative Divisions of Albania, 1992
ALBANIA, PROCLAIMED A "PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC" in 1946, was for more than forty years one of the most obscure and reclusive countries in the world. A totalitarian communist regime, led by party founder and first secretary Enver Hoxha from 1944 until his death in 1985, maintained strict control over every facet of the country's internal affairs, while implementing a staunchly idiosyncratic foreign policy. After World War II, Hoxha and his proteges imposed a Stalinist economic system, and turned alternately to Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and China for assistance, before denouncing each of these communist countries as "bourgeois" or "revisionist" and embarking on a course of economic self-reliance. Notwithstanding some notable accomplishments in education, health care, and other areas, Hoxha's policies of centralization, isolation, and repression stifled and demoralized the population, hindered economic development, and relegated Albania to a position of technological backwardness unparalleled in Europe.
Ramiz Alia, Hoxha's handpicked successor, introduced a modicum of pragmatism to policy making, but his ambiguous stance toward reform did little to ameliorate a growing social and economic crisis. Like President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of perestroika in the Soviet Union, Alia's efforts at reform were prompted, and tempered, by a commitment to preserving the system that had facilitated his accession to power. In both countries, however, the departure from traditional hard-line policies sufficed merely to unshackle the forces that would accelerate the collapse of the old system.
In December 1990, swayed by large-scale student demonstrations, strikes, and the exodus of thousands of Albanians to Italy and Greece, and fearing the prospect of a violent overthrow, Alia yielded to the popular demand for political pluralism and a multiparty system. The newly created Albanian Democratic Party (ADP), the country's first opposition party since World War II, quickly became a major political force, capturing nearly one-third of the seats in the People's Assembly in the spring 1991 multiparty election. And several months later, as the economy continued to deteriorate, the ADP participated in a "government of national salvation" with the communist Albanian Party of Labor (APL), subsequently renamed the Socialist Party of Albania (SPA). The fragile coalition government led by Prime Minister Ylli Bufi fell apart when the ADP decided to pull out in December. An interim government of nonparty members and specialists headed by Vilson Ahmeti struggled on until the ADP scored a decisive election victory on March 22, 1992, amidst economic free-fall and social chaos, receiving about 62 percent of the vote to the SPA's 26 percent. Alia resigned as president shortly afterward, paving the way for the ADP to take over the government. On April 9, Sali Berisha, a cardiologist by training and a dynamic ADP leader who had figured prominently in the struggle for political pluralism, became Albania's first democratically elected president in seventy years. The first noncommunist government, headed by ADP founding member Aleksander Meksi, was appointed four days later. This "cabinet of hope," as it was popularly dubbed, consisted mainly of young ADP activists, intellectuals without prior government experience. Unlike their communist predecessors, most of whom were of southern Albanian origin, the ministers hailed from various parts of the country. The new government made remarkable progress in restoring law and order, reforming the economy, and raising the population's standard of living. It privatized small businesses, closed down unprofitable industrial facilities, distributed about 90 percent of the land previously held by collective farms to private farmers, began to privatize housing, improved the supply of food and basic consumer goods, reduced the rate of inflation, stabilized the lek (Albania's currency unit), cut the budget deficit, and increased the volume of exports. However, more than one year after the Democrats came to power, Albania's economic plight was far from over. Its 400,000 newly registered private farmers had yet to assume full ownership rights over their land, there was insufficient investment in private agriculture, and shortages of tractors and other farming equipment continued to impede agricultural production. Approximately forty percent of the nonagricultural labor force was unemployed, corruption pervaded the state bureaucracy, and the country remained dependent on foreign food aid. In addition, partly because of the general political instability in the Balkans, particularly in the former Yugoslavia (see Glossary), direct investment from abroad was not forthcoming. Although President Berisha's "shock therapy" received the imprimatur of the International Monetary Fund (IMF-- see Glossary), it drew sharp criticism from the SPA, which had been resuscitated by significant gains in the July 1992 local elections. The SPA argued that the reforms should have been implemented gradually, that many more jobs had been eliminated than created, and that at least some of the old state-run factories should have been kept open.
In March 1993, SPA chairman Fatos Nano called on the entire cabinet to resign, accusing it of incompetence. On April 6, President Berisha, citing a need to "correct weaknesses and shortcomings" in the government's reform efforts, replaced the ministers of agriculture, internal affairs, education, and tourism (although ADP chairman Eduard Selami denied that these changes had been made in response to the opposition's demands). The new appointees included individuals with greater professional expertise and two political independents. The outgoing ministers of agriculture and internal affairs assumed other government posts. Despite the Socialist challenge, opposition from right- wing extremists, and some manifestations of discord within the ADP, there appeared to be no imminent domestic threat to the Democratic government remained in a strong position in late 1993.
In foreign policy, the unresolved question of the status of Kosovo, a formerly autonomous province of Serbia, predominated. Although in September 1991 Kosovo's underground parliament proclaimed this enclave with its large majority of ethnic Albanians a "sovereign and independent state," Albania was the only country that had officially recognized Kosovo's independence from Serbia. The Serbian government carried out a policy of systematic segregation and repression in Kosovo that some Western observers have compared with South Africa's apartheid system. Concerned that Serbia's ethnic cleansing campaigns would spread from Bosnia and Hercegovina to Kosovo and that Albania could be dragged into the ensuing confrontation (potentially a general Balkan war), President Berisha forged closer relations with other Islamic countries, particularly Turkey. In December 1992, Albania joined the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a move denounced by the SPA as a detriment to the country's reintegration with Europe. But Berisha also sought ties to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and urged repeatedly that NATO forces be deployed in Kosovo. In March 1993, NATO secretary general Manfred Wörner visited Tiranë, and later that month Albanian defense minister Safet Zhulali participated in a meeting of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in Brussels. Wörner offered various forms of technical assistance to the Albanian armed forces, though membership in NATO itself was withheld.
In April 1993, Albania granted recognition to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Important factors in relations between the two countries were the human rights of the Albanian minority in Macedonia, estimated to amount to between a fifth and a third of the population, and possible Albanian irredentism. Relations benefited from the inclusion of ethnic Albanians in the Macedonian government. Good relations were maintained with Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania as well, and steps were taken to improve relations with the neighboring Republic of Montenegro, also home to a large minority Albanian community. In September, Montenegro's president, Momir Bulatovic, met with President Berisha in Tiranë for the highest level talks between the two countries in a half-century. Attempts to expand cooperation and exchanges with Montenegro, however, were hampered by a UN embargo against the rump Yugoslavia.
Relations with Greece, Albania's ancient southern neighbor (which, for religious and historical reasons, was expected to side with Serbia in the event of war in Kosovo), deteriorated rapidly in the early 1990s. The tension stemmed primarily from two issues: the influx of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens, mostly economic immigrants, from Albania to Greece, and the treatment of ethnic Greeks in Albania. Greco-Albanian relations worsened markedly when the Albanian parliament voted in February 1992 to prevent OMONIA (Unity), the political party representing Greek Albanians, from fielding candidates in the March 1992 election. A compromise was reached, permitting OMONIA's members to register under the name of the Union for Human Rights and to have their representatives included among the candidates, but mutual recriminations persisted.
Another major setback occured in June 1993 when Albania expelled a Greek Orthodox priest for allegedly fomenting unrest among ethnic Greeks in southern Albania, and Greece retaliated by deporting 25,000 Albanian illegal immigrants. Several weeks later Greece's prime minister, Constantinos Mitsotakis, demanded "the same rights for the Greek community living in Albania as those that the Albanian government demands for the Albanian communities in the former Yugoslavia." A potential problem was posed also by the status of "Northern Epirus," the Greek-populated region in southern Albania on which Greece had made territorial claims in the past. The regional instability created by such ethnic tensions, combined with continued economic deprivation, threatened Albania's transition to democracy.
October 4, 1993
Walter R. Iwaskiw
Data as of April 1992
Albania Table of Contents