Albania: At EU’s door 71 years after founding of brutal Hoxhaist regime

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Enver Hoxha fronted a brutal regime from 1946 until his death in 1985. [Andreas Lehner/ Flickr]

Albania is one of the many countries lining up to join the EU. Today marks the 71st anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania and the beginning of what would be horrible purges of non-Communists, write Alex Fiuza and Steffen Kudella.

Alex Fiuza and Steffen Kudella work at ACREurope’s Press Office.

Towards the end of the Second World War, bands of Albanian partisans, as well as nationalist and communist movements fought for their national future.

Their short-lived alliance against the Italians had given way to a nationalist-led government collaborating with Germany. Flush with western arms intended to aid their insurgency against Nazi Germany, the Communists overwhelmed the Albanian nationalists and formed the short-lived Democratic Government of Albania on 29 November 1944.

Less than two years later, on the 11 January 1946, the Communists founded the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania (PRSA).

Defeating the nationalists wasn’t the only step along the road, of course. After the Communist Party’s first secretary, Enver Hoxha, was made prime minister, the Communists were quick to bar King Zog I, the prewar ruler of Albania, from ever returning to his country.

Moreover, while many countries in the Soviet bloc started with the pretence that the Communists were in some variety of coalition government prior to becoming dictatorships, in Albania the Communists established complete control from the start.

The party also moved to collectivise farming and begin nationalising industry. Show trials purged non-Communist politicians, sentencing many to death as “enemies of the people” and consigning the rest to labour camps.

Elections for a People’s Assembly were held in December 1945, although only the Communist party could put forward candidates; they were apparently elected with a 92% turnout.

The People’s Assembly swiftly enacted a formal abolition of the monarchy, and declared a people’s republic. After months of debate and purges of moderates, a Soviet-style constitution was adopted and Hoxha became prime minister, foreign minister, defence minister and commander in chief.

Hoxha would reign until his death in 1985. His regime saw the brutal suppression of religion leading to a wipe-out of formal religion, along with an array of travesties against dissidents and his people at large.

Although lucky in receiving vast hand-outs from the Soviets and Chinese as they competed for dominance of the Soviet Sphere, Albania in common with the Soviet Bloc saw stagnant living standards and grinding poverty.

It is estimated that 100,000 people died as a result of PRSA policies, up to 25,000 of them executed.

Albania never joined the Soviet Union, nor did it become one of the Soviet’s satellite states. Instead, Hoxha broke with the USSR and the People’s Republic of China despite their support, and withdrew from the Warsaw Pact.

Upon Hoxha’s death, a man named Ramiz Alia took his place, ruling until he lost the 1992 Albanian elections. The PRSA was formally abolished with a new Albanian constitution in 1998, marking the end of a dark era, and a major step in Albania’s transition to being a functioning liberal democracy.

In 2010, the EU’s visa liberalisation programme with Albania entered into force, and Albania received EU candidate status in June 2014. This year, ACRE will be focusing on post-communism across Eastern Europe, and in Albania, in particular.