Uprising in Albania
by Lynn Walsh
The collapse of Albanian Stalinism
From 1992 until recently, the Western capitalist powers gave every support to Berisha, turning a blind eye to his dictatorial methods and the corruption permeating his regime. The capitalist Democratic Party, led by Berisha, was an ideal political battering ram to pulverise the old state apparatus and shatter the state-controlled economy. Although profoundly shaken by the collapse of the other Stalinist regimes, especially by the bloody overthrow of Ceausescu, the leaders of the Albanian Party of Labour (the Communist Party) under Ramiz Alia clung tenaciously to power, even while they were compelled to concede some economic and political reforms. For a while, they were able to rely on the inertia of the rural population, especially in the South. Albania was the most economically backward and isolated of all the European Stalinist states. Hoxha’s repressive, autarkic policies had induced an extremely claustrophobic political and cultural climate. The shattering of Stalinism appeared to be taking longer in Albania, and the Western powers were eager to accelerate the process. Berisha’s Democratic Party was their vehicle.
The Stalinist transformation
In the closing stages of the second world war, Albania was liberated from the retreating Nazi forces by the mass partisan movement, led by the Albanian Communist Party. There were no Soviet forces in Albania. The social transformation, with a radical land reform, nationalisation trade and industry, and the formation a totalitarian state apparatus on the Stalinist model were carried through by indigenous forces. The Albanian Communist Party was supported by the Yugoslav Communist Party, but Tito’s demand for Albania to be incorporated into the Yugoslav Federation led to a breach between Hoxha and Tito. When the Soviet-Yugoslav schism developed, Hoxha aligned with Stalin and received aid from the USSR. When Khrushchev launched "de-Stalinisation" and pursued rapprochement with the capitalist West and Yugoslavia, Hoxha then aligned himself with Mao Zedong and increasingly began to emulate the Maoist model. Hoxha presided over a brutally repressive totalitarian regime, almost completely isolated even from the other Stalinist states.
Given the previous economic backwardness of the country, the state-controlled development during the 1950s and 1960s of electricity, industry and mineral resources produced significant economic progress. The radical land reform, with the sharing out of the estates between the peasants, gave the regime a strong base. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, the regime raised the level of literacy, health, education, and general living standards. In the late 1950s, however, the bureaucratic collectivisation of the land into state-controlled "co-operatives" brought serious disruption of agriculture and left a legacy of food shortages later. Moreover, the bureaucratic economic command structure and the 1950s-technology of major industries meant that they became increasingly obsolete during the 1970s. The breach with China, when Bejing opened relations with US imperialism and the Yugoslav regime, resulted in the termination of Chinese aid to Albania in 1978, which led to a marked economic slowdown and mounting social problems. In 1990-91 Albania was still a predominantly agricultural country, with a per capita income of around $850, that is on the same level as many African countries.
The collapse of Hoxha’s regime
Hoxha maintained total personal power until his death in 1985. In 1981 he had purged his main henchman and security boss, Mehemet Shehu, who appears to have been arguing for a turn to the West for aid. On Hoxha’s death, Ramiz Alia took over and made cautious moves towards decentralisation and liberalisation. Events in Eastern Europe after 1989, however, and especially the sudden, violent overthrow of Ceausescu in Rumania, compelled the APL to move towards real changes. In November 1989 the regime released some political pressures, relaxed cultural controls and promised economic reforms and higher standards.
In the Spring of 1990 there was a massive wave of strikes and demonstrations. There was a deep slump in the economy and no sign of the promised prosperity. The regime used the security forces to violently disperse mass demonstrations and the Sigurimi (secret police) intensified its repressive activity against all the regime’s opponents. The APL leadership promised further reforms, including bonuses for workers, greater decentralisation of economic management, and more food and consumer goods. Freedom of religion was conceded and Alia promised choice of candidates in future elections. Nevertheless, Alia still rejected the idea of a multi-party system, claiming it was not appropriate for Albania.
Mass demonstrations continued during the Summer of 1990. APL hard-liners were removed from the party leadership, but Alia’s half-hearted concessions only reinforced the protest movement. Thousands began to leave the country for Italy or Greece, a flight which culminated in the mass exodus of January-March 1991. The mass protest movement against the regime intensified in December 1990, and on 11 December Alia was forced to concede the legalisation of parties for the forthcoming elections. The government ordered the removal of Stalin’s statue from Tirana’s main square.
Berisha’s regime of crisis
Dr Sali Berisha, a heart specialist, was formerly a member of the Stalinist APL, and personal physician to some of the Party’s top leaders. By 1990 he was championing the market and bourgeoise democracy. In the last days of the old regime, Berisha emerged a prominent leader of the Democratic Party, which rapidly developed as the main opposition party to the ruling APL. Formed in December 1990, when a wave of strikes and mass demonstrations forced Hoxha’s successor, Ramiz Alia, to legalise political parties, the DP was massively financed by the EU Council of Ministers (with a $160,000 grant and $50,000 loan) and other West European organisations.
The DP leaders promised that they would lead Albania out of the backward autarky of Hoxha’s Stalinism into Europe, which, they claimed, would produce a rapid rise in living standards for the people. Berisha promised a fast-track transition to western-style democracy and to the market economy through privatisation of state industries and the collective farms. The western capitalist powers clearly saw the Democratic Party as the political battering ram to pulverise the old regime and open up Albania to ‘market forces’. Western companies were eager to exploit the country’s rich chromium and oil reserves and its pool of cheap labour.
1991 opened with a series of strikes of miners, dockers, and transport workers, together with massive demonstrations of students and workers demanding democratisation. Production slumped, with industrial production down 60 percent and GDP falling below the 1976 level. There were acute food shortages. The DP and other opposition parties offered to support a wage freeze and strike ban if the elections were postpomned to May, to give them more time to prepare. Student strikes and demonstratios continued, and a massive crowd tore down Hoxha’s statute in Tirana’s Skanderberg Square. Alia’s government struggled to keep a tight grip on the government, economy and media, but had to concede reforms almost daily. They legalised the private ownership of cars and motorcycles and ended the ban on beards, previously officially regarded as an "alien manifestation".
When the first parliamentary elections were held towards the end of March 1991, however, the DP failed to gain a majority, taking only 40 per cent of the popular vote. The DP won a majority in most of the towns (defeating Alia in his Tirana constituency, for instance), but the APL retained stronger support in the south, especially amongst the predominantly rural population of small farmers and agricultural labourers. In the election Alia, in an attempt to retain power, also promised democracy, privatisation, and prosperity. There was a widespread fear among the peasantry that the break-up of the collective farms demanded by Berisha would invite the return of the landlords dispossessed in 1945, and some ex-landlords were already trying to sieze land.
Nano’s government shattered by strikes
After the APL victory, Alia (who resigned as first secretary of the APL) was elected president by parliament, and he appointed Fatos Nano as prime minister. In several cities, however, there were mass demon