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Albania Essay Research Paper Past and present

Albania Essay, Research Paper

Past and present, ancient and modern, young and old, Muslim and Christian, rich and

poor, north and south, urban and rural, monarchist and socialist: the extremes of Albanian

society are vivid, it s tensions palpable. But Albania is not another Yugoslavia: it is

more like a tensegrity framework, a stable structure of rigid poles positioned in space

and linked together by flexible cables. The cables are stressed but, barring catastrophe,

they will not snap. Albania, this land that is very beautiful, but only some Americans can

tell Albania from Albany or Alabama, and fewer still would be able to find the country on

the map. Despite it s spectacular and varied beauty, it s rich natural resources, and it s

extraordinary tradition of hospitality, Albania has always been the most isolated country in

Europe, and from World War II until very recently, one of the most isolated countries on


Since 1991, Albania has welcomed foreign visitors but, as the poorest country in

Europe, it has attracted relatively few of them. Yet there are many reasons why the

outside world should be interested in Albania and concerned for it s future. Albania is a

Balkan country and thus a crossroads of East and West, North and South; it is as rich in

history as it is in resources. When Albania achieved independence, nearly half its

population found itself outside its newly drawn borders, in what is now called the former

Yugoslavia. But Albanians are not Slavs, and the Albanian language is not Slavic. Much

has been written about historic transition from communism, but Albania s transition is

ignored in most of these accounts. This is probably because Albania s brand of

communism was different from the others, and its society is more difficult for a Westerner

to understand, or maybe because people didn t pay much attention to what happenes in a

tinny little country in Eastern Europe (Long life to your Children 118).

The legacy of fifty years of Europe s most draconian communism is the darkest

shadow of the past , that ended only in 1991. (16) Writing recent history is always

problematic; an objective account of the past fifty years in Albania, where extremes and

excesses of the communist regime are recent memory, is probably impossible. But

everyone agrees in one thing: Albanian communism was not like the others. It brought this

country overwhelming disasters and poverty. Albania’s economy changed drastically in the

early 1990s, as the government moved from a Communist system to a more democratic

organization. Albania emerged from the Communist era as the poorest country in Europe.

For the first time Albanians were granted the right to foreign travel. The country still

relied on tens of thousands of Albanians who work in Greece, Italy, and Germany and

send money home to support their families. (Jacques 294) Throughout 1990 thousands of

Albanian citizens tried to flee the country through Western embassies. A multinational

relief operation arranged for safe evacuation of more than 5000 Albanians, and 20,000

more sailed illegally to Italy in vessels seized at civilian ports. ( Albania a country study


From 1944 to 1991 Albania’s government was under the complete control of the

Communist Party. Power was consolidated in one man, Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania

with an iron fist and stifled any dissent. After Hoxha’s death in 1985, Albania began to

emerge from its isolation. As Communist rule in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989, some

Albanians demanded extensive reforms. In 1990 the government endorsed the creation of

independent political parties. (191)

Albanian citizens had few of the guarantees of human rights and fundamental

freedoms that have become standard in Western democracies. According to Amnesty

International, political prisoners were tortured and beaten by the Sigurimi during

investigations, and political detainees lacked adequate legal safeguards during pretrial

investigations. Most investigations into political offenses lasted for several months. Alia’s

regime took an important step toward democracy in early May 1990, when it announced

its desire to join the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, while at the same

time introducing positive changes in its legal system. A prerequisite for membership in the

CSCE is the protection of human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Committee

had severely criticized Albania for its human rights abuses in 1989, and in May 1990 the

secretary general of the United Nations visited Albania and discussed the issue of human

rights. The results of these efforts were mixed, but in general the leadership became more

tolerant of political dissent. The communist regime faced perhaps its most severe test in

early July 1990, when a demonstration by a group of young people in Tiran , the nation’s

capital, led about 5,000 to seek refuge in foreign embassies. (Jacques 365)

I remember for the first time when the people broke the gates of the foreign

countries embassies in Albania. That was the first step for the people to get out of there,

but the government told us that all those people who broke those gates will be punished. I

still remember the crying of the relatives of those people, they thought that their sons or

daughters would be killed, but what they didn t know was that their sons and daughters

were the first ones to brake free from a fifty year old communism, and that a very good

future was awaiting them (Marku).

To defuse the crisis in July 1990, the Central Committee held a plenum, which

resulted in significant changes in the leadership of party and state. The conservatives in the

leadership were pushed out, and Alia’s position was strengthened. Alia had already called

for privatizing retail trade, and many businesses had begun to operate privately. In a

September 1990 speech to representatives of Albania’s major social and political

organizations, Alia discussed the July crisis and called for electoral reform. He noted that a

proposed electoral law would allow all voting to take place by secret ballot and that every

precinct would have at least two candidates. The electors themselves would have the right

to propose candidates and anyone could nominate candidates for the assembly. Alia also

criticized the bureaucratic “routine and tranquility” of managers and state organizations

that were standing in the way of reform. (Jacques 230)

Despite Alia’s efforts to proceed with change on a limited, cautious basis, reform

from above threatened to turn into reform from below, largely because of the increasingly

vocal demands of Albania’s youth. On December 9, 1990, student demonstrators marched

from the Enver Hoxha University at Tiran though the streets of the capital shouting

slogans and demanding an end to dictatorship. By December 11, the number of

participants had reached almost 3,000. In an effort to quell the student unrest, which had

led to clashes with riot police, Alia met with the students and agreed to take further steps

toward democratization. The students informed Alia that they wanted to create an

independent political organization of students and youth. Alia’s response was that such an

organization had to be registered with the Ministry of Justice. The student unrest was a

direct consequence of the radical transformations that were taking place in Eastern Europe

and of Alia’s own democratic reforms, which spurred the students on to make more

politicized demands. Their protests triggered the announcement on December 11, 1990.

The day after the announcement, the country’s first opposition party, the Albanian

Democratic Party was formed.. Five of the eleven full members of the Politburo and two

alternate members were replaced. The student unrest that began in Tiran gave rise to

widespread riots in four of the largest cities in northern Albania. Violent clashes between

demonstrators and security forces took place, resulting in extensive property damage but,

surprisingly, no fatalities. On December 17, the Democratic Front’s daily newspaper,

Bashkimi, described what had occurred and then warned that such violence could lead to a

conservative backlash, suggesting that conservative forces posed a real threat to the

process of democratization in the country. (289)

In his traditional New Year’s message to the Albanian people, Alia welcomed the

changes that had been occurring in the country and claimed that 1991 would be a turning

point in terms of the economy. A constitution created a multiparty parliamentary

democracy and guaranteed freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and

organization. But despite positive signs of change, many Albanians were still trying to

leave their country. At the end of 1990, as many as 5,000 Albanians crossed over the

mountainous border into Greece. Young people motivated by economic dissatisfaction

made up the bulk of the refugees. (623)

Foreign journalists who visited Albania in spring 1990 reported that Alia enjoyed

considerable popular support as he toned down the APL s harsh rhetoric on ideological

issues and raised widespread hopes that finally Albania was on the way to rejoining

Europe (Binder). In March 1991 elections to the People’s Assembly took place. The

Communist Party and its allies dominated, but the newly formed Democratic Party won a

substantial minority of seats. In April 1991 an interim constitution was passed. Parliament

elected Alia to the new post of Albanian president. (Albania a country study 248)

Following a general strike by thousands of workers, the government resigned and a

coalition government was created in June 1991. It included Communists, Democrats,

Republicans, and Social Democrats. In December 1991 the coalition government

collapsed and an interim administration was appointed. Elections were held in March

1992, and the Democrats took control of the People’s Assembly. The assembly elected the

leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, as president. Opposition parties boycotted

the parliament, which in early 1997 elected Berisha to another five-year term. (Biberaj


Also in early 1997, several fraudulent investment schemes failed, costing thousands

of Albanians their savings. A lot of people lost everything they had: their homes, land,

money and everything else. The economic disruption and political scandal prompted

Albanians in several cities to protest and riot. A sporadic rebellion broke out, and several

parts of the country were virtually ungoverned. To prevent the outbreak of an all-out civil

war, President Berisha appointed a Socialist, Bashkim Fano, to lead a government of

national reconciliation. He also promised new legislative elections in June 1997. The

Socialist Party won control of the assembly in those elections and chose Rexhep Mejdani

as the new president. ( Albania a country study 213)

Traditional clothing consists of colorfully embroidered shirts and dresses.

Traditional clothing was discouraged under the Communists in favor of inexpensive,

modern clothing made by the state. Traditional costumes are still worn in many rural and

upland areas, especially among women. Urban homes were owned by the state, consisting

chiefly of apartment blocks with attached cultural and recreational facilities and

state-owned stores. In the countryside dwellings were usually one- or two-story family

houses, mostly for peasants living on collective farms, and small apartment blocks for

workers on state farms. People who lived in larger dwellings could buy them from the

state for small fees. Over the next few years, many state properties became private and a

market for private homes developed. Still, housing construction in the mid-1990s did not

keep pace with the country s high rates of birth and migration to cities. As a result, some

cities were overcrowded and the number of shanty dwellings grew. (220)

The Communists ended much of the traditional, male-dominated clan system and

guaranteed equal rights to women. Aspects of the clan system survived, especially in the

highlands, and people followed the Kanun of Leke Dukagjini For all their habits, laws,

and customs, the people, as a rule, have but one explanation: It is in the Canon of Lek

the law that is said to have been laid down by chieftain Leke Dukaghin As for the laws

and customs ascribed to him, the greater part obviously far earlier than the fifteenth

century, when he is said to have lived. ( Durham 63) The legal age for marriage was 18

years old for both sexes and access to divorce was equalized between spouses. However,

virtually no birth control was available to women because the state wanted them to bear

children. Since the democratic reforms, women have become more organized and

established their own associations. Nonetheless, women s participation in the country s

political life remains limited. (Binder)

Living standards have improved in Albania since the collapse of the Communist

system, but the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. The newly rich are mostly

entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of growth opportunities, while the newly poor

are those who depended on the state welfare system and, in the absence of that system,

suffer. Homelessness and hunger are higher now than under the Communists

Communications. Meanwhile, protests in Albania continued, leading to the removal of

several hard-line Communists from the government and party Politburo. (Long life to your


Although isolated for decades and ruled by a repressive regime that denied them

their most elementary rights, the Albanians have undergone significant cultural, social, and

economic transformations; they are no longer a largely uneducated peasant education,

characterized by a clan mentality, as often portrayed by the Western media. The majority

of the Albanians evidently recognize that national reconciliation, a major aspect of the

program of the Democratic Party, is the best way for the successful revival of their

poverty-stricken country. Albania is endowed with considerable mineral resources and has

a young, dynamic population, eager to join the rest of the world. Now as it enters the

post dictatorship phase, it desperately needs the assistance and friendship of the outside

world. Without that assistance, Albania s fledgling democracy may be doomed. ( Biberaj


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