Thursday, March 31, 2011

Albania’s Long Dress Rehearsal

Twenty years after its first post-communist elections, many of those who lead this troubled country still don’t quite have the hang of democracy. From openDemocracy.

by Bernd Fischer 30 March 2011

Tomorrow Albania will mark the 20th anniversary of its first post-communist elections. It will be a rather grim milestone: a two-year political standoff has frozen the country’s progress and its leaders’ seeming inability to even live in the same political universe has one side accusing the other of stealing an election and the other side charging that the election’s losers are seeking to gain via street actions what they could not win at the ballot box. This commentary, from June 2010, examines Enver Hoxha’s legacy and in doing so offers a cogent analysis of why the habit of democracy has not yet become ingrained there.

When Enver Hoxha, Albania's long-term Stalinist dictator, was buried with honor under the socialist-realist statue of Mother Albania in the martyrs' cemetery in Tirana, the date of his death, 11 April 1985, was omitted from his tombstone. Ramiz Alia, who followed Hoxha as secretary of the ruling Albanian Party of Labor, was responsible for the omission; he argued (in a spirit that would find an echo today in Pyongyang) that such a man could never die.

It is arguably Albania’s misfortune that as the country marks the 25th anniversary of Hoxha's death – with debate and reflection rather than the enforced festivity of his era – that a plausible case can be made that Ramiz Alia was right.

True, the most brutal aspects of the Hoxha regime (and of the one-party regime that lasted until 1990-91) are long gone, including its state-of-siege isolation, its endless political murders, its prisons, its forced-labor camps, and the hardships of long internal exile. But some aspects of its authoritarian rule live on: the elite’s general disregard for the well-being of the people and for the best interests of the state, brutal and intolerant politics, and the lack of a rule of law. These have obstructed the path to Albania's self-declared goals of establishing a functioning democracy, a sustainable market economy, and Euro-Atlantic integration.


The forty years of Enver Hoxha’s rule left a heavy legacy to post-communist Albania. There is a case in his favor: that in the face of the grinding poverty of the country he inherited in 1944, he diversified the economy through a program of Soviet-style industrialization; raised the standard of living; reduced the influence of divisive factors (such as regional, clan, and occasionally religious loyalties) on Albanian society; defended Albania's territorial integrity and independence; and made specific improvements in areas such as health, education, and women's rights.

It can sound impressive, as long as the description stays on the surface and not too many details are allowed to intrude. It also leaves out one of the notable features of Hoxha’s reign: that unlike some east-central European dictators who tended to be become less hardline with age, Hoxha became more extreme and suspicious, and intent on using his extensive security apparatus centered on the dreaded Sigurimi (secret police) to penetrate the minds as well as the homes of Albanians. The citizens survived (except in rare and heroic cases) mainly by retreating into conformism and apathy, taking something of the paranoia of their all-seeing ruler into themselves.

The Albanian Party of Labor and its members fared little better, for Hoxha periodically and ruthlessly eliminated many of his colleagues; no communist regime experienced such repeated purges and decimation. As the process developed, power was restricted to a small group bound together by traditional ties of family or clan loyalty and their shared complicity in the continuing murderous purges. The regime created what has been described as a collage of fantasies; the type of place that would make a surrealist weep with joy. But if it was a fantasy, it was a brutal one.


Hoxha’s death left a vacuum that was filled by his protege, Ramiz Alia. The new leader was immediately faced with increasingly serious economic and social problems, the product of a dangerous cocktail: over-centralization compounded by inept and ideological decision-making, high birthrates, rural overpopulation, and widespread unemployment. These woes were exacerbated by inefficient enterprises, rampant corruption, and constant shortages.

Alia, who aspired to be a reforming communist, gradually lightened the most repressive aspects of the regime, and as he did so the most alienated segments of society became bolder. Alia did little more than react, tinkering with the deep structures while fundamentally trying to preserve the Hoxha system. It was already too late. Albanians watched the intensifying change across the rest of Eastern Europe; at home, deteriorating conditions led to the development of an increasingly radical and confrontational street culture of a random and anarchic character.

Sali Berisha

The final push toward transformational change came from Albania’s students, particularly those from the country’s only university, in Tirana. They, unlike the majority of intellectuals, were willing to risk showing open defiance of the system. Alia was concerned enough to send Sali Berisha, one of the first insiders to advocate political pluralism and thus assumed to possess some authority among the students, to act as mediator. Berisha skillfully used this role to commandeer and then direct the protests, which forced Alia to surrender Europe's last political monopoly. In many ways, Berisha has dominated Albania ever since.


Berisha, Albania's leading cardiologist, had been both a communist and a candidate-member of the party’s central committee. But by the time he became Albania’s president in 1992, he saw the anti-communist banner as the wave of the future and found revenge against former communists useful in distracting the population from his own record. But leaving Hoxha behind was more difficult than anyone had anticipated.

Berisha presided over profound economic and social change. He adopted the International Monetary Fund’s familiar economic "shock-therapy": privatizating, ending import restrictions, abandoning price controls, phasing out subsidies to unprofitable or even marginal businesses. The result was mass unemployment and, for the tens of thousands who had become dependent on government subsidies and services, even deeper poverty. The social changes accompanying this upheaval were also profound. Albanians were, seemingly overnight, released from one of the most restrictive and isolated social structures in Europe into the promise (and sometimes the possession) of new-found personal freedoms and commodities. Among the most welcome, with all its attendant benefits and ills, was simple mobility]: hundreds of thousands of Albanians fled abroad.

But in crucial areas, Hoxha's hold on his successors remained strong. Berisha and the rest of the Tirana elite shared an authoritarian and intolerant mindset that precluded the kind of compromise and negotiation Albania needed to move toward democracy. Berisha, his singular courage during the last stages of the old regime notwithstanding, seemed unable to distance himself from his inheritance.

Indeed, his Democratic Party became a personal vehicle for his own power as (like Hoxha) he refused to permit internal dissent and struck out against challengers with everything at his disposal (even violence), whatever the cost to Albania's fledgling democracy. His election campaigns recalled communist-era propaganda, with Berisha branding the opposition as “terrorists” and a “red front” subsidized by Albania's traditional enemies, the Serbs and the Greeks. His security forces and thugs were deployed to disrupt opposition rallies, and to harass and assault opposition supporters, candidates and even the press.


The fatal combination of these policies and the inept handling of a scandal surrounding a pyramid investment scheme swept Berisha away in 1997, amid what could be considered Europe's first successful popular armed uprising since the 19th century.

The growing unrest spread into full-scale rebellion while the army disintegrated. Berisha's brutal secret police could not prevent people from raiding abandoned armories and seizing close to a million Kalashnikov assault weapons, along with tanks, artillery pieces, and even sophisticated Chinese surface-to-air missiles. The ensuing violence caused thousands of deaths, forcing Berisha to resign in disgrace and hold new elections. The opposition came to power in a process that was a democratic disgrace, but the international community had no choice but to endorse the outcome.

The new premier, Fatos Nano, had been the communist regime’s last prime minister. He, too, was a creature of the Hoxha era, and immured in Albania's political culture of revenge and authoritarianism. Indeed, in many ways he was the embodiment of that culture: a protege of Hoxha's wife, Nexhmije, he had opposed real pluralism and a market economy until the very end of one-party rule.

Nano set his tone early; like Berisha's and indeed Hoxha's, it tended to be dogmatic, confrontational, and (initially at least) focused on score-settling. He brought old hardliners into his inner circle, sidelined many dedicated reformers, and suppressed internal party discussion. Nano, again like Berisha, also undermined the idea of an independent civil service by purging the security apparatus, the judiciary, and the state administration, and almost all ambassadors and generals.

Nano, after almost being toppled in a coup attempt engineered by Berisha, then settled into overseeing a regime of corruption that could enrich him and pay off his supporters. Once more, work essential to the good of the people was ignored. But when the neglected citizens had their chance to replace him, Berisha appeared the only available choice.


The "new" Sali Berisha, who returned to power in 2005 and has held it since, has abjured much of the violence and extremism that characterized his presidency. Some progress has been achieved, but much of the old Hoxha-ist ways linger. Too much of Berisha's energy is dedicated to enhancing his own rule through increased control of (for example) local government and ostensibly independent administrative institutions. Albania’s elections continue to be surrounded by invective and a degree of violence, often resulting in lengthy political standoffs that postpone work on much-needed reform.

True, the conduct of the parliamentary elections of 2009 was marginally better, but they were still marred by (some) pre-election violence, politicization of technical aspects, reports of voter intimidation, and widespread counting irregularities. Many domestic and international observers continue to call for urgent action on electoral and judicial reform, increased attention to government corruption and government connections with organized crime, and the strengthening of the rule of law.

The Enver Hoxha years were a story of personal and elite survival, ruthless power, pitiless repression, regular purges, and ideological zealotry. A quarter-century after his death and nearly two decades after the fall of communism, Albania is still struggling to complete its democratic transition. Its fulfillment would be the old dictator’s last and most definitive defeat.

Bernd Fischer is a specialist in Albanian history. He is the author of Albania at War, 1939-45 and Balkan Strongmen: Dictators and Authoritarian rulers of Southeast Europe. This article originally appeared on Photo from a 21 January 2011 demonstration in Tirana by Godo Godaj/Creative Commons.

Translation on Respublica

Trashëgimia enveriste në Shqipërinë e vitit 2011
Bernd Fisher
Kur diktatori stalinist i Shqipërisë Enver Hoxha u përcoll me nderime tek Varrezat e Dëshmorëve, nën statujën e monumentit Nënë Shqipëri, – data e vdekjes së tij, 11 prilli 1985, iu hoq nga varri. Ramiz Alia, i cili i shërbeu Enver Hoxhës si Sekretar i Partisë së Punës së Shqipërisë, tha se njerëz të tillë nuk vdesin kurrë. Dhe është ndoshta një fatkeqësi për këtë vend, që 25-vjet pas vdekjes së Hoxhës, mënyra si janë zhvilluar gjërat, i ka bërë shumë shqiptarë ta rimendojnë ish-periudhën komuniste si të dëshirueshme. Duket sikur Ramiz Alia kishte patur të drejtë. Vërtet, aspektet më brutale të regjimit të Hoxhës tashmë kanë kaluar me kohë, përfshirë izolimin, vrasjet politike, vuajtjen në burgje, punën e detyruar dhe vështirësitë që vinin nga internimet. Por sot, elita nuk përfill dhe nuk është e interesuar për mirëqenien e popullit, nuk punon për të mirën e vendit të vet; politika është e vrazhdë dhe jotolerante, mungesa e sundimit të ligjit është e dukshme. Këto probleme ua kanë penguar rrugën qëllimeve të vetëdeklaruara nga Shqipëria, siç është ngritja e një demokracie funksionale në vend, ngritja një ekonomie të qëndrueshme dhe integrimi euroatlantik.

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Dyzet vjet të sundimit të Enver Hoxhës, lanë një trashëgimi të zymtë për Shqipërinë post-komuniste. Por ka diçka në favor të tij. Në kushtet e një varfërie të lartë të trashëguar nga viti 1944, ai e ngriti ekonominë bazuar tek modeli sovjetik i industrializimit, përmirësoi nivelin e jetesës, reduktoi dallimet mes rajoneve në shoqërinë shqiptare, mbrojti integritetin territorial, dhe bëri përmirësime të veçanta, në fusha të tilla si shëndetësia, arsimi, si dhe në drejtim të të drejtave të grave. Mund të tingëllojë, mbresëlënëse, për aq kohë sa përshkrimi është sipërfaqësor, pra pa hyrë akoma në detaje. Sepse ky përshkrim lë jashtë një nga tiparet e dukshme të sundimit të Hoxhës. Ndryshe nga diktatorët e tjerë të Europës Lindore dhe Qendrore, me kalimin e moshës, Hoxha u bë më ekstrem dhe dyshues, duke përdorur një aparat të gjerë dhe të fortë sigurimi, policinë e fshehtë (spiunët), duke depërtuar me to deri në shtëpitë e shqiptarëve. Shqiptarët bashkëjetuan me këtë (përveç ndonjë rasti të rrallë dhe heroik) duke u karakterizuar nga konformizmi, dhe apatia, duke marrë me vete edhe pak nga paranoja e sundimtarit të tyre.

Në mënyrë periodike dhe të pamëshirshme Hoxha eleminoi disa nga kolegët e tij. Asnjë regjim komunist nuk ka përjetuar një spastrim të tillë. Ndërsa procesi ecte përpara, pushteti përqendrohej tek një grup i vogël njerëzish, me lidhje të ngushta familjare, mbështetur tek besnikëria dhe bashkëpunimi i vazhdueshëm në spastrimin e kundërshtarëve politikë. Ky regjim krijoi atë që është quajtur si një “kolazh i fantazisë”, një lloj vendi që do ta bënte një surrealist të qante nga gëzimi. Por, edhe, në qoftë se kjo do të ishte thjesht një fantazi, ishte gjithsesi e tmerrshme.

* * * * *

Sali Berisha, një nga kardiologët kryesorë të Shqipërisë, ishte komunist dhe kandidat për anëtar në Komitetin Qendror të Partisë së Punës. Por që në momentin që ai u bë president i Shqipërisë në vitin 1992, ai tundi flamurin anti-komunist, duke e deklaruar si “rruga e së ardhmes” dhe duke e përdorur për hakmarrje ndaj ish-komunistëve të tjerë. Ta lije regjimin e Hoxhës pas vetes, ishte shumë më e vështirë nga ç’mund ta kishte parashikuar dikush. Vendi bë anëtar i Fondit Monetar Ndërkombëtar, ndoqi rrugën e privatizimeve të shpejta, i dha fund kufizimeve në import, braktisi kontrollin e çmimeve etj. Por papunësia u rrit. Për dhjetëra mijëra anjerëz, varfëria sa vinte e thellohej. Qindra mijëra shqiptarë u larguan nga vendi. Dhe në shumë fusha, ndikimi i Hoxhës vazhdonte të ishte i fuqishëm. Berisha dhe pjesa tjetër e elitave në Shqipëri, treguan një mentalitet autoritar dhe jotolerant që nuk lejonte asnjë kompromis apo negociata, të nevojshme për ta çuar vendin drejt demokracisë. Berisha me gjithë guximin që kishte treguar në momentin e shkëputjes nga regjimi, dukej i paaftë për t’u shkëputur nga e kaluara e tij. Në të vërtetë, partia e tij, Partia Demokratike u bë një makinë personale për të forcuar pushtetin e vet. Njëlloj si Hoxha, ai nuk pranonte ata që nuk pajtohesin me mendimin e tij dhe goditi çdo sfidant të vetin me të gjitha mënyrat që kishte në dispozicion (përfshirë dhunën), pavarësisht nga kostoja që paguante demokracia e re e Shqipërisë. Fushatat e tij elektorale të kujtojnin propagandën komuniste të kohës, Berisha opozitarët i quante “terroristë” dhe të “frontit të kuq” të cilët, sipas tij, kishin mbështetje nga armiqtë tradicionalë, grekët dhe serbët. Forcat e tij të sigurisë dhe bandat kriminale, ndërprisnin mitingjet e opozitës, bastisnin dhe sulmonin të gjithë mbështetësit e opozitës, kandidatët, përfshirë këtu dhe shtypin.

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Sali Berisha “i ri” u kthye në pushtet në vitin 2005. Disa përparime ishin arritur, por shumë nga mënyrat e vjetra Hoxhiste vazhdonin të ishin prezente. Pjesa më e madhe e energjive të Berishës u përqëndrua në zgjerimin e pushtetit të tij, përmes një kontrolli të madh, në qeveritë vendore, dhe kinse ‘administratën e pavarur’. Zgjedhjet në Shqipëri vazhdojnë të jenë të shoqëruara me sharje dhe një shkallë të lartë dhune, shpesh rezulton të ketë ngecje të gjata në aspektin politik, duke shtyre reformat aq shumë të nevojshme për vendin. Vërtetë, zhvillimi i zgjedhjeve parlamentare të vitit 2009 ishte pak më i mirë, por ata u penguan nga dhuna parazgjedhore, politizimi i aspekteve teknike, dhuna verbale ushtruar mbi votuesit, dhe parregullsitë e shumta të vërejtura gjatë numërimit. Shumë vëzhgues vendas dhe ndërkombëtarë vazhdojnë të bëjnë thirrje urgjente për reformën zgjedhore dhe gjyqësore, luftën kundër korrupsionit, lidhjet e qeverisë me krimin e organizuar, si dhe forcimin e sundimit të ligjit.

Vitet e Enver Hoxhës ishin një histori e mbijetesës personale dhe elitare, fuqie të pamëshirshme, represioni të pamëshirshëm, internimi dhe fanatizmi ideologjik. Një çerek shekulli pas vdekjes së tij dhe gati dy dekada pas rënies së komunizmit, Shqipëria është ende duke luftuar për të përfunduar tranzicionin e saj demokratik. Përmbushja e këtij qëllimi do të ishte mposhtja përfundimtare e diktatorit të vjetër.

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