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The Break with China and Self-Reliance

Albanian-Chinese relations had stagnated by 1970, and when the Asian superpower began to reemerge from isolation in the early 1970s, Mao and the other Chinese leaders reassessed their commitment to tiny Albania. In response, Tiranė began broadening its contacts with the outside world. Albania opened trade negotiations with France, Italy, and the recently independent Asian and African states, and in 1971 it normalized relations with Yugoslavia and Greece. Albania's leaders abhorred China's renewal of contacts with the United States in the early 1970s, and its press and radio ignored President Richard Nixon's trip to Beijing in 1972. Albania actively worked to reduce its dependence on China by diversifying trade and improving diplomatic and cultural relations, especially with Western Europe. But Albania shunned the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and was the only European country that refused to take part in the Helsinki Conference of July 1975. Soon after Mao's death in 1976, Hoxha criticized the new leadership as well as Beijing's pragmatic policy toward the United States and Western Europe. The Chinese retorted by inviting Tito to visit Beijing in 1977 and ending assistance programs for Albania in 1978.

The break with China left Albania with no foreign protector. Tiranė ignored calls by the United States and the Soviet Union to normalize relations. Instead, Albania expanded diplomatic ties with Western Europe and the developing nations and began stressing the principle of self-reliance as the keystone of the country's strategy for economic development. However, Hoxha's cautious opening toward the outside world stirred up nascent movements for change inside Albania. As the dictator's health slipped, muted calls arose for the relaxation of party controls and greater openness. In response, Hoxha launched a series of purges that removed the defense minister and many top military officials. A year later, Hoxha purged ministers responsible for the economy and replaced them with younger persons.

As Hoxha's health declined, the dictator began planning for an orderly succession. He worked to institutionalize his policies, hoping to frustrate any attempt his successors might make to venture from the Stalinist path he had blazed for Albania. In December 1976 Albania adopted its second Stalinist constitution of the postwar era. The document "guaranteed" Albanians freedom of speech, the press, organization, association, and assembly but subordinated these rights to the individual's duties to society as a whole. The constitution enshrined in law the idea of autarky and prohibited the government from seeking financial aid or credits or from forming joint companies with partners from capitalist or revisionist communist countries. The constitution's preamble also boasted that the foundations of religious belief in Albania had been abolished.

In 1980 Hoxha turned to Ramiz Alia to succeed him as Albania's communist patriarch, overlooking his long-standing comrade-in-arms, Mehmet Shehu. Hoxha first tried to convince Shehu to step aside voluntarily, but when this move failed Hoxha arranged for all the members of the Politburo to rebuke him for allowing his son to become engaged to the daughter of a former bourgeois family. Shehu allegedly committed suicide on December 18, 1981. It is suspected, however, that Hoxha had him killed. Hoxha, obviously fearing retaliation, purged the members of Shehu's family and his supporters within the police and military. In November 1982, Hoxha announced that Shehu had been a foreign spy working simultaneously for the United States, British, Soviet, and Yugoslav intelligence agencies in planning the assassination of Hoxha himself. "He was buried like a dog," the dictator wrote in the Albanian edition of his book, The Titoites.

Hoxha went into semiretirement in early 1983, and Alia assumed responsibility for Albania's administration. Alia traveled extensively around Albania, standing in for Hoxha at major events and delivering addresses laying down new policies and intoning litanies to the enfeebled president. When Hoxha died on April 11, 1985, he left Albania a legacy of repression, technological backwardness, isolation, and fear of the outside world. Alia succeeded to the presidency and became legal secretary of the APL two days later. In due course, he became a dominant figure in the Albanian media, and his slogans appeared painted in crimson letters on signboards across the country. The APL's Ninth Party Congress in November 1986 featured Alia as the party's and the country's undisputed leader.

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Because Albania's fate is so tightly interwoven with developments in the Balkans, it is recommended that readers unfamiliar with the region first examine Barbara Jelavich's two-volume History of the Balkans, which provides an excellent overview as well as sections on Albania and the formation of the state. Robert Lee Wolff's The Balkans in Our Time is another entertaining survey of Balkan history. Edith Durham's High Albania and her other travelogues on Albania from the early twentieth century read like adventure novels and provide insight into the cultural underpinnings of the nationalism endemic to the Balkans. The best examination of the Albanian nationalist movement in the late nineteenth century and the creation of Albania itself are Stavro Skendi's The Albanian National Awakening and Joseph Swire's exquisitely written Albania: The Rise of a Kingdom. Anton Logoreci's The Albanians: Europe's Forgotten Survivors and Peter R. Prifti's Socialist Albania since 1944: Domestic and Foreign Developments are both solidly grounded surveys of Albania and its trials, especially after World War II. Postwar Albania, especially the last years of Enver Hoxha's regime, is well treated in Elez Biberaj's Albania. No reader on Albanian affairs, in fact no student of the former communist world, should overlook With Stalin, The Titoites, or Enver Hoxha's other official works, which would be right at home shelved beside George Orwell's Animal Farm and other works in the genre of dystopian fiction. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of April 1992

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