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Albania as Political Laboratory – the Development of the Albanian State during the 20th Century

By Bernd J. Fischer

Both the creation of the Albanian state and its various experiments with political structure in the twentieth century were born of political, social, and economic upheava*l. In a sense, Albania was an accidental state – hurriedly constructed in November 1912 by a group of Albanian intellectuals and local leaders to avoid the partition of Albanian lands among the victorious belligerents during the Balkan Wars. Because independence was declared during a crisis, the political structure that the Great Powers assigned to the new state also lacked the preparation and careful implementation that might have given it a greater chance for survival. This somewhat haphazard construction seemed to have provided an unfortunate model that was followed by indigenous Albanian power brokers during much of the twentieth century, who constructed personal regimes, often based upon significant personal limitations and specific world views. What we see in Albania then is the imposition of cobbled together political systems generally imported from the outside that are eventually over­ whelmed by the weaknesses of the Albanian political leadership and domestic political realities – often including the Ottoman-period heritage of inefficient bureaucracy, nepotism, regionalism, corruption, and a ready resort to violence. These factors conspired together to inhibit the construction of the stability and unity required for the creation of a viable traditional nation-state – something that has eluded the Albanians to this day.

The Principality

Albania’s first form of government, as provided by the Great Powers led by Austria -Hungary and Italy, was officially, an autonomous principality sovereign and hereditary by order of primogeniture under the guarantee of the six pow­ers.” 1 Applying a pattern used in most of the other Balkan states, the Great Powers were determined to choose a prince and construct what at least would appear to be a democratic regime. Neither was done with much care and Albania began its difficult transition from a geographical expression to a modern state under the leadership of the unfortunate Prince William of Wied. The Prince, a thirty- five years old German protestant, was primarily a soldier, with a high sense of honor and duty but whose knowledge and experience of the out­ side world, particularly the Balkans, was at best limited. Wied was deposited in Durres with a loan of 500 ,000 pounds and supposedly protected by a small personal contingent plus a small English force at Shkoder and then simply abandoned2 Albania was provided with no constitution- Wied did begin to form a cabinet of sorts, although some of the Albanian notables who were included had anything but his best interests in mind. The most dangerous was Essad Pasha, his minister of war and interior who Wied was finally able to remove but only by placing a battery of guns in the garden of the palace and training them on Essad Pasha’s villa, which happened to be next door. When it became clear that the minister was preparing to resist, three shells were fired, one exploding in the bedroom, at which point Essad Pasha’s wife appeared at the window waving a white sheet3. Essad Pasha was escorted out of the country on an Italian warship.

Despite the use of such direct tactics, the Prince had little influence outside or even inside Durres. Six months after his arrival, he left Albania never to re­ turn. The astute British traveler Mary Edith Durham commented, we may blame Wied for incompetence but only a man of unusual force of character and intimate knowledge of the land could have made headway against the powers combined against him”. She counted among this group the Great Powers who she accused of conspiring to weaken him so that he could be controlled. It is perhaps more reasonable to suggest that they did not care what happened to Albania as long as it created no trouble. Still, the Great Powers must be held responsible for the inappropriate political system with which they saddled Wied.

During the course of the First World War Albania was invaded by no less than six foreign armies that, apart from devastating much of the country, also thoroughly disrupted the institutions of the principality. Once the war came to an end, Albanian leaders- mostly chieftains from the north as well as large landowners from the south- met in Lushnje in 1920 to reform a national government. The most important outcome of this meeting was the Statutes of Lushnje, which reconstructed the principality, although adapting it somewhat to domestic conditions. Since the Prince had fought for the Germans during the war, his authority was transferred to a four-man council of regency, one from each of Albania ‘s four major religions. Once chosen, this body saw to the appointment of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a seventy-five-member chamber of deputies that technically controlled the government.  In reality, however, because of an easily manipulated electoral-college system, the chamber was made up entirely of creatures of those few tribal leaders and landowners who had convened the congress. The first prime minister, Suleiman Bey Delvina, served as a figurehead while the real power rested with the cabinet positions which had been divided among the major chieftains based upon the fire power each could muster. That the principality system was flawed, and despite the adjustments made at Lushnje still did not conform to the realities of Albanian political life, seems to have escaped only the few. Indeed, most of those who supported its construction at Lushnje considered it little more than an expedient to facilitate a temporary truce among the tribes so that Albanians could concern themselves with dealing with the foreign troops that remained in Albania after the war.

Once the outside threat was gone, the principality system rapidly came apart due primarily to one of its greatest flaws – it contained no provisions for the arbitration of old regional and local animosities. Ultimately, it appears that local leaders were willing to continue paying homage to western ideals of democracy by observing the parliamentary methods of opposition only as long as success by these means was anticipated. Once it became clear that all could not lead, political compromises designed to avert violence began to break down. Albania was shaken by coups and upheavals motivated primarily by the refusal on the part of the tribes to bend to central authority – the same issue that had at least contributed to continued instability in Albania during much of the long Ottoman period.

In 1922 Ahmet Zogu, who was to dominate Albanian politics for most of the rest of the first half of the twentieth century, became prime minister. He was the young energetic head of a medium sized tribe endowed with a large retainer of armed men, without which participation in Albanian politics in the 1920s would have been very difficult. He was also endowed with natural intelligence, an intimate knowledge of the Albanian people and his outstanding quality and the force that drove him on – a relentless opportunistic ambition. The direction in which he was driven was determined by his somewhat truncated education – mostly in Ottoman schools in Istanbul, in addition to some experience with the West, having spent much of the war years in Vienna as an unwilling guest of the Austrian government. These experiences produced in Zogu a certain duality that he applied to politics and the state structure in Albania.

Zogu’s goal was to remain in power. But that of course required some unity and stability. So, not for the first time and not for the last, Zogu’s and Albania’s needs seemed to coincide. This conferred upon Zogu the legitimacy of a nationalist, something of which he would become an ever more ardent supporter, as it became clear that the survival of his power base depended on it. For political support he had organized a political party of sorts- the Popular Party- while his opponents had meanwhile combined in the Progressive Party. Both, however, presented essentially identical vague programs supporting reform, education and the material development of the country. Initially they could not even be told apart by the makeup of the membership since elements of all facets of Albanian life could be found in both. Support for one or the other was based almost entirely on personalities. 4

During his tenure as prime minister, which lasted one year- a remarkable achievement in itself under the circumstances Zogu hoped to continue the process of power consolidation. To this end he began planning for a revision of the Statutes of Lushnja in a somewhat more authoritarian direction. The principality had by this point been completely overwhelmed by Albania’s Ottoman heritage. The administration was overburdened with officials who had little or nothing to do but to oversee the massive corruption that had continued from late Turkish times. The post- war Albanian governments that technically controlled this structure were intolerant, oppressive and violent and were accused and were likely guilty of numerous assassinations and attempted assassinations of citizens and foreigners. All of this, as it does today, frightened investors and international aid agencies without which Albania would never be able to lift itself out of its economic morass. Zogu hoped to serve his quest for increased power and provide some unity and stability for Albania by either scraping the system entirely or at least reorganizing it along more authoritarian lines- something that certainly was more appropriate for Albania in the 1920s.

Zogu’s goal of political centralization had the effect of centralizing and galvanizing an opposition- nothing more easily united Albanians in opposition than an attempt to remove regional or personal independence and prerogatives. Those who actively opposed Zogu included the Kosovars who did not appreciate his lack of enthusiasm for aggressive irredentism, and a growing number of former allies. Local army commanders and police officials turned against Zogu creating a cabinet crisis. In the midst of Zogu’s desperate attempts to form a new government, he narrowly escaped assassination- wounded in the hand and the thigh. Zogu was temporarily sidelined, in part because he needed to recover and in part because Albanian blood feud custom required that he not leave his house until the outrage had been avenged. He resigned as prime minister and hoped to play the power behind the throne but the new government was unstable and unable to address any of Albania’s myriad problems effectively. Discontent in both the North and the South grew, fanned by irredentists. Zogu’s opponents withdrew from parliament and along with some renegade military and police officials – supported by some of the principal northern chieftains – declared open revolt. The government declared general mobilization only to discover that there were few left to mobilize – after which it fled. Zogu remained and called on the citizens of Tirana [Tirane] for support but it soon became clear that they would not die for Zogu. Zogu, with his 600 retainers was forced to abandon Tirana and following light fighting with troops of several northern chieftains, Zogu withdrew into Yugoslavia.

Albania’s second major experiment with western democratic forms followed Zogu’s ouster. It was implemented by the leader of the anti- Zoguist forces, Fan Noli, a Harvard graduate who spent much of his life in the United States. He returned to Albania in 1920 as representative of the Albanian- American community fully imbued with American democratic ideas, hoping to replace the old order and its corruption, backwardness and exploitation, with westernization and modernization. He was generally considered to be a man of principle and patriotism but politically, although he led a broad coalition to oust Zogu, he was somewhat out of touch, unable to work well in the strange political environment of Albania. This was demonstrated both in his program and in his actions.

True to his principles, as soon as Noli had formed a new provisional government, with himself as prime minister, he promulgated an ambitious program that indicated the depths of both his liberalism and his naivety. It included among other points: 1) the general disarmament of the population without exception; 2) to exalt the authority of the state over any personal and extra-legal power; 3) to uproot feudalism, free the people and establish democracy definitely in Albania; 4) to introduce radical reform in both the civil and military administration; 5) to balance the budget by radical economies; 6) to ameliorate the conditions of the farmers so as to insure their economic independence; 7) to facilitate the introduction of foreign capital, protect and organize the wealth of the country; and 8) to organize the department of education on modern and practical lines so that the schools produce capable citizens, good patriots and able workers 5 . For the most part, these noble goals remained on paper. The agrarian reform that accompanied Noli’s call for the uprooting of feudalism made no progress at all. In terms of education, the most Noli could do was call a conference. The Catholics proposed the abolition of the system of nondenominational schools, a suggestion that the Moslems vehemently opposed on nationalist grounds urging that it was most undesirable in the interests of unity to emphasize religious differences among children. Mutual recriminations were interchanged and feelings ran so high that after a few days the conference was dispersed by the police. 6

Fan Noli’s lack of experience drove him to compound his mistakes. He al­ lowed his virulence against his former opponents to carry him away to the extent that he instituted a political court to exact punishment. More significantly, he failed to legalize his regime with elections. These mistakes helped to deprive him of the two elements without which the institution of such a radical program was impossible, foreign recognition and financial aid, and of course domestic political support. While some European states viewed Noli as a left- wing revolutionary, the rest were just annoyed with his critical almost badgering speeches at the League of Nations, where he unsuccessfully attempted to procure foreign aid. This failure, and the fact that he spent some months aboard in his quest, made his already difficult domestic situation even more precarious. It became clear very quickly that those who had participated in his coup had nothing but their shared dislike and envy of Zogu in common. Noli was likely the only confirmed republican in his government and his policies were far too radical for most. His agrarian reform program, for example, quickly alienated the conservative landowners, and then, because he was unable to raise the money to carry it out, he alienated the peasantry. Continuing economic hardship turned Albanians against the government as it had turned them against the previous government. In the midst of all of this Noli spent his evenings with his first love, his books and music. Noli was soon faced with defections from his government and armed revolt in the countryside. While Zogu had been able to slowly reduce random violence and the blood feud, under Noli both returned with a vengeance. Press reports indicated almost daily cases of highway robbery or murder. Kidnapping of officials for ransom be­ came common. Albania had essentially returned to conditions that had existed during the last decades of the Turkish administration.

Zogu, in the meantime, had not been idle. From his base in the Bristol hotel in Belgrade with the help of Yugoslav and British money, he recruited a small army of White Russian mercenaries and Yugoslav troops disguised as Albanians. Adding these forces to his own retainer, Zogu invaded Albania in December 1924 7. There was little fighting as Noli’s regime collapsed quickly with the prime minister himself fleeing to Italy with a group of some 500 supporters 8. His effort was perhaps noble but accomplished little of a positive nature. The obstacles he faced were certainly as formidable as those faced by William of Wied. Like Wied, Noli must essentially be viewed as a foreigner attempting to institute a foreign program. As with Wied Noli provided an important service to his successors by making it clear what they should not do.

The Republic

Once back in Tirana, Zogu began to implement what would become Albania’s next political experiment, a republic. Zogu moved quickly to liquidate those who had opposed him and had not fled and he bought off those who had remained neutral. The momentary dearth of opposition afforded him the opportunity to construct a government more in line with his own political preferences and more in step with the realities of Albanian political life. By now Zogu had significant evidence to suggest that the democratic parliamentary principality, which the Great Powers had constructed in 1912, was ill suited to local conditions. This political system had not only failed to create the basis for stable internal development but had added another dimension, that of a modified form of party politics, to the already alarming level of indigenous violence.

Now that many of his enemies were dead or in exile, Zogu was presented with a unique opportunity to create an autocratic regime. While he had often declared that this is exactly what he would do if given the opportunity, once this level of power lay within his grasp he backed away and accepted qualified authority for several reasons. Zogu’s somewhat limited education led him to believe that Europe would react with hostility to anything but an outwardly representative form of government. He also assumed that only if he restrained his desire for unqualified authority could he attract the bureaucrats who had served the previous regime. 9 But despite these fears, he knew that in order to survive and in order for Albania to progress, significant changes in the structure of the Albanian political system were necessary.

Zogu proceeded with his usual vigor. Aware that he needed to legitimize his position- something that Noli failed to do- he quickly convened a constituent assembly- naturally without the troublesome opposition. Meeting at the end of January 1925, this body replaced most of the Statutes of Lushnje with a republican constitution that, at least on the surface, looked very much like the American version. Zogu was elected president for a seven- year term and was to preside over a bicameral legislature. The major difference was that the Albanian version left almost all of the power in the hands of the president. He completely controlled the cabinet and the senate, which he appointed and dis­ missed at will. He commanded the armed forces, controlled the administration and had the sole right to initiate changes in the constitution. He also had significant control over the assembly with an unrestricted veto and the right to dis­ solve the assembly and call for fresh elections, which he could and would influence if necessary. This left only the courts in a position of partial independence, although Zogu did control judicial appointments 10.

The constituent assembly, clearly on Zogu’s initiative, also instructed the president to institute a further series of measures meant to aid in the establishment of stability. The 5.000- man army, which had become a hotbed for politicians and had been a major source of opposition to Zogu, was replaced by a smaller less formal militia. This would allow Zogu, with his enlarged personal retainer of 2,000, to personally control one of the most powerful military forces in Albania 11.

Although politics had essentially come to an end, occasional serious revolts, often motivated by a combination of agitation by Zogu’s exiled enemies funded by foreign powers and the refusal of northern elements to bend to central authority, continued to create serious problems for Zogu. These revolts also helped to convince him that the republic, despite its authoritarian nature, required adjustment. Further stability was needed and in Zogu’s mind only a monarchy with himself as king could provide it. Monarchy was something that had intrigued Zogu since childhood. In an interview with a German newspaper he tells us that as a young man he developed a special interest in the careers of Julius Caesar and Napoleon, who he admired in part because of the political changes for which they were responsible 12. One need only admires Zogu’s presidential uniform, white with gold epaulettes and a hat out of a Groucho Marx movie, to understand that his desires had changed little since his youth. In attempting to justify the change to foreigners – he was less concerned with what average Albanians thought- Zogu argued that what Albania chiefly needed and had been lacking in the past was a stable government that would encourage the people to set to work and build up a state on a firm foundation. Only the crown, which would be a permanent authority and would rise above the conflicts of personal interests and political groups, could represent the idea of continuity and create the general stability that Albania needed 13. Zogu’s principal concern was to convince the Italians to support the change, since it was Italian money that supported Zogu’s opponents. A deal was struck. Zogu agreed to sign a series of military, political and economic pacts that required him to relinquish much of his economic independence and some of his political independence. But Zogu was willing to do this based upon the assumption that the Italians could always be outwitted later. In exchange, the Italians committed themselves to supporting the construction of a monarchy, further loans to Zogu, withdrawal of support from Zogu’s enemies and- this being particularly important to Zogu- the Italians committed themselves to guaranteeing the political status quo in Albania. Zogu went on to canvas other interested states as well, still convinced that the outside world was intimately interested in internal Albanian developments. The change was greeted with a few smiles and benevolent disinterest in Europe14. Only Mustafa Kemal of Turkey objected, apparently commenting: What’s going on in Albania? Are you performing an operetta?” 15

As with his constant worry about foreign opinions, Zogu was also continually concerned about superficial legality. He therefore took great pains to insure that the change was constitutionally correct. Since parliament could not alter the republican constitution, Zogu convinced its members in June 1928 to pass an organic law providing for their own dissolution and the election of a special constituent assembly. Albanian electoral politics during the republican period was of course much less likely than it had been during the principality and in this case Zogu’s plan was carried out in a few simple steps. First several dozen possible opposition candidates were arrested and general political meetings banned. By virtue of the indirect nature of the election process, only the 1,200 members of the electoral-college actually voted and since they were all chosen by the government and paid, not a single member of the new constituent assembly was returned whose vote was not safe for Zogu 16.

Zogu also required some local enthusiasm to convince skeptics of the unanimity of his people. His first move in this direction was his acceptance in December 1927 of the title: “Savior of the Nation”17. Next Zogu decided that the unquestioning support of the cabinet was necessary. Although it is unlikely that any of the members of the government would have opposed Zogu, thereby jeopardizing their positions and perhaps their lives, since the dismissal and re­ organization of the government could be done with ease, Zogu manufactured a cabinet crisis resulting in the resignation of the entire cabinet. Within twenty­ four hours a new cabinet was formed which was quickly christened the: Marionette Cabinet” because its members appeared to be merely a collection of tools in the hands of Zogu 18.

Having taken these steps, Zogu and most of his advisors assumed that their job was done, intending simply to wave the crown in the face of the pea pie. But cooler heads prevailed and Zogu was finally convinced that the people as least needed to be informed. Konstantin Chekrezi, the editor of the Telegraph, was instructed to write a series of editorials supporting the monarchy, which, since Albania still suffered from nearly ninety percent illiteracy, probably only had limited impact. This was followed by a series of carefully stages “spontaneous demonstrations” which by the end of August had reached feverish proportions. The assembly was inundated with telegrams stimulating it to the suppression of a form of government alien to the traditions of the Albanian people.  Zogu was satisfied, although as the American minister noted wryly any reasoned observer of Albanian affairs would know at once that the people of the country, if consulted, never had any knowledge of having been approached19. The constituent assembly duly met in late August 1928 and as expected unanimously resolved that, the illustrious crown of the historical Albanian throne is offered to the Savior of the Nation under the title Zogu I, King of the Albanians 20.

Once again Zogu’s personal ambitions seem to have corresponded with the best interests of the country. In becoming king, Zogu proved himself strong enough to put through a project over the heads of an apathetic people and wise enough to wait for a moment when the internal situation was propitious and no complications with neighbors were likely to ensue. He must be given credit for the change itself, as it was basically a wise move. Certainly an Albanian republic was an anomaly whereas a monarchy with its pomp and ceremony could be better understood by people who were accustomed to owe allegiance to a chieftain or a pasha. The argument that a throne conveys the idea of permanence and continuity and that these attributes were particularly desirable in the government of a country that had been torn by internal feuds and external jealousy, as had Albania, cannot be ruled out. While it is true that tribal allegiance to Zogu was strikingly personal, the creation of the monarchy allowed the king time to either change the attitude of the chieftains or decrease their influence. The creation of the monarchy was a step in the direction of general stability.

The Monarchy

The 1928 monarchical constitution 21 corrected what Zogu saw as the flaws of the presidential constitution and left all of the power, not just most of it, in the hands of the chief executive. Although, as with Zogu’s previous political structures, this one again seemed outwardly democratic, Zogu in fact assumed virtually unrestricted legislative, judicial, and executive power. While indirect elections continued to be held, political parties were declared illegal and parliaments as a result were made up of placemen who occupied themselves in voluminous debates on issues about which Zogu was indifferent. Zogu’s judicial powers were also enhanced. Under the presidency Zogu had been able to control the judiciary only through appointments and intimidation. Now, judicial decisions were pronounced and executed in his name, doing away with what little independence the courts might have had. The primary source of his power, however, came by virtue of his executive prerogatives that he shared with no one. What Zogu created was essentially a western-oriented monarchy where the forms were western but the rule was essentially Ottoman. It was a reasonably stable, traditional, non-ideological, authoritarian dictatorship in which Zogu even allowed limited political reform provided that his own position was not threatened in the process.

This political structure gave Zogu an opportunity to achieve his subsidiary goals of modernization and westernization. Unfortunately for the country, Zogu was not up to it. Once Zogu became king a certain complacency set in and he lost the gift of energy that characterized his earlier years. He seemed to be­ come mentally sloppy, still capable of determined and obstinate action but no longer capable of thoughtful consideration of ways and means to deal with resulting difficulties. This was a particular problem because the system he constructed made him constitutionally unable to delegate authority in most cases. The entire weight of the administration, therefore, rested on his shoulders, a burden that he often found too heavy- having neither the constructive ability nor the knowledge required to deal with every situation 22. At the worst of times he resembled a small- sized, extravagant, indolent, Oriental potentate surrounded by a group of hangers- on, and members of his clan who lived upon him and whom he was unable to shake off. But still, the state he constructed provided Zogu with the centralization necessary to forcibly reduce the chaotic lawlessness of the highlands and to begin to bring the divergent elements of the country together. By the 1930s the central government was recognized in most parts of the country, allowing Zogu’s administration to collect taxes and draft recruits for the army, something that would have been considered impossible immediately following the First World War.

Zogu’s most important contribution, however, was less tangible. He created an environment that was conducive to the growth of an Albanian national consciousness, a process that is still ongoing. His resistance to the Italians, who continued their encroachment on Albania’s sovereignty, provided a focus, albeit a negative one, for growing national sentiment. While Zogu did not create a nation, he certainly facilitated steps in that direction. Those who succeeded him as leaders and resumed the effort of nation-state construction had their task made somewhat simpler as a result of the steps towards the development of Albanian nationalism for which Zogu was responsible.

When Mussolini was finally convinced that Italy would never achieve its goal of complete dominance over Albania while Zogu remained in power, he swept him away in April of 1939. Albania’s experience with war and resistance swept away the political system that Zogu had created. In 1944 the Albanians were forced to begin their state construction again under the leadership of the victor of the wartime resistance struggle, the newly created Albanian Communist Party led by Enver Hoxha. Hoxha came from a middle class Moslem family from the South who, like Zogu, spend some time studying abroad where he learned an appreciation for western literature and Marxist politics which would help shape his own version of Zogu’s political dualism. Once back in Albania he joined a small communist cell and with the formation of the party in 1941, was chosen as the secretary of the central committee. He was not the obvious choice but as a well-educated, well-spoken, dedicated, affable young man, he appeared to be the ideal compromise candidate. His political acumen, ambition and drive, seconded by a studied ruthlessness would allow Hoxha to transform his fledgling party of 130 into the principal contender for power in Albania in a matter of several years.

Hoxha’s goals were similar to Zogu’s and included securing his own position as a first priority, building the party into the principal resistance force, and constructing the foundations of a new government while the war was still in progress. As he consolidated his power Hoxha removed “liquidatory elements” by dissolving entire district committees and removing personal enemies by simply having them shot 23. In a bold stroke, Hoxha initiated a popular front strategy at the Peze conference where the National Liberation Movement (NLM) was founded that thrust him personally into the limelight. But he was also careful not to cast his net too broadly and refused to accept most of Albania’s diverse liberal elements gambling that other strong resistance organizations outside of his control would not form. Rival organizations led by Zoguists, liberals and independent chieftains did appear, and became the principal focal point of his military efforts. But Hoxha fought the Italian and German occupiers as well gaining extensive western military aid for his efforts. His rivals, who constituted the ruling class of pre-war Albanian society, participated in very little resistance. They felt that they could only pursue military operations as long as they could provide adequate protection for their society from enemy reprisals. Failure to insure this protection would lead to the rejection of these leaders by their own society 24. Hoxha, on the other hand, had nothing to lose by resistance since enemy reprisals only gained for him new recruits. The dis­ united anti-partisan groups, in an effort to protect themselves from Hoxha were ultimately driven to cooperate with the Germans, effectively removing them­ selves as contenders for power in postwar Albania.

Postwar Albania was of course one of Hoxha’s principal preoccupations. Hoxha’s seemingly innate political acumen encouraged him to carefully prepare his dictatorship while the fighting was still underway. There are a series of milestones in this somewhat tortuous process beginning with the Peza conference where the NLM was founded. This meeting began the process of constructing regional and local administrations in the form of councils that did much to spread Hoxha’s influence. Parallel to the NLM meetings, Hoxha convened meetings of the party to strengthen his own internal position. After receiving Comintern approval, Hoxha called the first national conference of the Albanian Communist Party in March 1943 that elected a permanent central with Hoxha continuing as first secretary. The conference also called for the creation of a regular army of national liberation to be controlled by the communists 25. The general council of the NLM naturally agreed and Hoxha became the principal political commissar. With each meeting Albania comes closer to becoming a state, and Hoxha further solidifies his position.

The next major step in September 1943, was the second conference of the NLM at Labinot that strengthened and expanded the local and regional councils that in some areas began to govern towns and entire districts being proclaimed the “only people’s power” 26. In 1944 with the outcome of the war no longer in doubt, Hoxha stepped up his political activity. At the end of May 1944 Hoxha called an NLM congress at Permet which chose a standing committee, and several months later in Berat the second session of this congress transformed the committee into a provisional government with Hoxha acting as prime minister. At the second plenum of the party, also in Berat, Hoxha survived the first dangerous challenge to his leadership mounted by Yugoslavs, who developed the view that Hoxha was a bourgeois nationalist, and their allies on the Albanian politburo. In defense Hoxha moved further to the left and perpetuated the mentality of struggle emphasizing the notion of enemies everywhere, externally and internally. This state of siege mentality became a critical feature of his ideology and characterized Hoxha’s regime until his death in 1985.

The People’s Republic

The command socialist form of Hoxha’s state was soon established. Building on the many wartime conferences and plenums, once the Germans had gone Hoxha quickly constructed a system with intelligence and brutality. The initial steps included Special People’s Tribunals for the physical removal or silencing of the remaining elements of the pre-war elite, and the construction of a particularly large security service 27. With the enhanced personal security these measures provided, Hoxha moved to the creation of a permanent government. While democracy and free elections had constituted an important part of Hoxha’s propaganda, once he assumed power these promises became considerably less important 28. Hoxha created a democratic front out of the wartime NLM dominated by communists. Unlike much of the rest of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, however, Albania did not experience a post-war coalition government, principally because no government in exile had ever been recognized. In the first election in 1945, because only front candidates could stand for office, the front swept to power with 93 % of the vote. When the new national constituent assembly met in early 1946, it formally abolished the monarchy, proclaimed Albania to be a people’s republic within the prewar frontiers and approved a new constitution along Stalinist lines. Hoxha held the posts of general secretary of the party, president of the Democratic Front, prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, and commander-in-chief. A compliant People’s Assembly was created, supplemented by compliant local People’s Councils. While the major players shifted or disappeared on occasion during the Hoxha years, and two new constitutions were introduced, the Stalinist political structure changed little until Hoxha’s death.

The Yugoslavs were correct in assuming that Hoxha was a nationalist – something that he could not abandon even if he had wanted to. When Hoxha came to power, he was faced with the task of rebuilding Albania on the foundation, or what was left of it, laid by Zogu. Like Zogu, his main goal was essentially predetermined. In its simplest sense Hoxha’s principal task, aside from staying in power, was the creation of a viable independent nation-state and what he colorfully described as the monolithic unity […) of the Albanian people” 29. What Hoxha created then, as a German historian has commented, is a reversal of the Leninist idea of national form and socialist content – Hoxha established a state with a socialist form and a nationalist content 30.

Despite the violent Stalinist state of siege rhetoric Hoxha adopted, he essentially had little choice but to become as ardent a nationalist as Zogu had been, not particularly difficult for Hoxha since he had strong nationalist tendencies in any case. As with Zogu, Hoxha looked to outside forms, this time from the West in terms of some of his intellectual stimulation and the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in terms of forms, both of which were adapted to local conditions and Hoxha’s unique personality, and in a way eventually overwhelmed by them.

While the structure was therefore rapidly put in place, actual consolidation of the dictatorship took somewhat longer. During the 1940s and early 1950s Koci Xoxe, the minister of the interior, and Xoxe’s Yugoslav protectors, repeatedly attacked Hoxha. Hoxha survived as a result of the Soviet- Yugoslav split and quickly eliminated all of those associated with Xoxe . Hoxha was also subjected to a series of bungled CIA/SIS plots that parachuted Albanian emigres into Albania. Moscow, which likely got its information from master- spy Kim Philby, informed Hoxha allowing him to arrest and execute hundreds. In 1956 he survived the de- Stalinization purges that decimated the ranks of Eastern European leaders. By 1957 Hoxha had removed most of his dangerous rivals and was able to consolidate his dictatorship, but at the cost of increasing paranoia resulting in what one writer has called “cultish craziness” 31. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands of concrete bunkers that Hoxha built in the 1970s to deter his ever- increasing enemies list. While there were further threats to his leadership, none were as significant as those he had already survived.

Hoxha consolidated his position with bloodshed- less perhaps than Tito but the principal difference here is that Tito eventually mellowed while Hoxha’s paranoia and extremism increased 32. Ultimately Hoxha, too, began to look something like an Oriental despot, served loyally only by his relatives and ex­ tended family. By the late 1950s more than half of the fifty- three members of the central committee of the party were related. The party leadership, which was increasingly bound together by common complicity in murderous purges, had become Hoxha’s clan- Hoxha had essentially adapted Stalinism to local conditions 33. Despite Hoxha’s western education, the nepotism, clannishness, and violence of the late Ottoman period characterized Hoxha’s regime as well- and it is perhaps no accident that some of his biographers have chosen such colorful titles as “the Red Sultan” or “the Pharaoh of Socialism” to emphasize this connection.

Many observers have suggested that the Hoxha years witnessed important achievements in terms of political structure and stability. He is credited with the reduction of the impact of divisive factors on Albanian society, such as regional loyalties, the traditional North-South division, and religious differences. These achievements were in part accomplished, it has been suggested, through the completion of the process of nation-state construction, building on the achievements of King Zogu 34. Hoxha is also credited with the development of a strong sense of nationalism fostered in part by his successful maintenance of Albania ‘s territorial integrity 35.

While more study is needed on this question, from the perspective of nearly twenty years after Hoxha’s death, it would seem that most, if not all, of these achievements were offset by Hoxha’s rigid ideological conformity, extreme isolation, as well as horrific legacy of terror. With the collapse of communism in 1991, Albania was convulsed by a violent rejection of everything associated with Hoxha making Albania ‘s transition to its next political phase much more difficult than that experienced by other Eastern European states. Albanians have violently rejected the various aspects of Hoxha’s ideology and the symbols thereof- beginning with the basic authority of the central government. The mass exodus of the best and the brightest- some twenty percent of the population has fled since 1990- will make this transition all the more difficult. Albanians, in a way, have found it necessary to reinvent themselves once again. Unlike in the other Balkan states where significant rebuilding was necessary, Albania has had to build from the ground up, a task made more difficult by the weak level of civic nationalism. In rejecting Hoxha’s violent, ruthless nationalism, Albanians seem to have replaced it with a return to regionalism and even a certain anti- nationalism that is inhibiting the construction of an Albanian version of civil society. Perhaps this process can best be described as a re­ Ottomanization of Albania. It seems clear that of the various Albanian political configurations discussed here, Hoxha’s regime did the most damage to long­ term Albanian unity and political stability.

The various political experiments that Albania endured during the course of the twentieth century offer lessons for newly developing states in the twenty first century. Some are obvious – including the dangers of importing foreign political concepts wholesale, without carefully adapting them to domestic conditions. Other lessons are perhaps more subtle including the managing of domestic world views which adversely affect the search for stability. The Albanian political experience also points to the dangers of acting upon a people as twentieth century Albanian political leaders tended to do. In the meantime Albania’s difficult transition, now in its second decade, continues. There is some irony in the fact that Albania is still attempting to construct a basic, traditional nation-state as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many of its neighbors meanwhile, seem to be moving beyond that structure. Perhaps Albania’s future lies in following that lead.


1.Stavro Skendi, The Political Evolution of Albania (New York: Mid-European Studies Center of the National Committee for a Free Europe, Mimeographed Series, March 8, 1954) 3.

2.Miranda Vickers, The Albanians. A Modern History (London 1995) 83.

3.Joseph Swire, Albania. The Rise of a Kingdom (London 1929) 215.

4.Bernd Fischer, King Zog and the Struggle for Stability in Albania (New York 1984) 27.

5.Swire, Albania 434 and Great Britain, Public Record Office, Foreign Office (here­ after FO) 371/9639 (C10882/48/43): Durres, 30 June 1924.

6.Bernd Fischer, Fan Noli and the Albanian Revolutions of 1924, East European Quarterly 22 (June 1988) 2, 12.

7.Swire, Albania 445.

8.FO 371/10654 (C808/52/90): Tirana, 29 December 1924.

9.FO 371/11209 (C929/929/90) Durres, 16 January 1926 and FO 371/10656 (C1865/1062/90) Durres, 27 January 1925 and Ekrem Viera, Lebenserinnerungen (Munchen 1973) 213.

10.Skendi, Political Evolution 9.

11.FO 371.11209 (C929/929/90): Durres, 16 January 1926 and Auswartiges Amt (hereafter AA) Politische Abteilung II B, lnnere Verwaltung 2, Bd. 1: Tirana, 2 March 1925.

12.National-Zeitung (Berlin) 14. September 1928.

13.FO 371/12845 (C6346/1019/90): Durres, 20 April 1928.

14.Richard Busch- Zantner, Albanien. Neues Land im lmperium (Leipzig 1939) 151.

15.FO 371/12846 (C8052/1090/90): Durres, 23 October 1928 and FO 371/12846(C8371/1090/90): Constantinople, 1 November 1928 and FO 371/12846 (C8804/1090/90): Durres, 20 November 1928 and James Tomes, The Throne of Zog. In: History Today, September 2001, 47.

16.Joseph Roucek, Characteristics of Albanian Politics, Social Science (January 1935) 73 and The Times (London) 14 December 1928.          .

17.AA Politische Abteilung II, Pol. 2, Bd. 1: Tirana, 14 December 1927.

18.FO 371/12847 (C4051/1355/90): Durres, 18 May 1928.

19.United States Department of State 875 .88/260: Tirana, (No. 491), 15 August 1928.

20.FO 371/12846 (C7017/1090/90): Durres, 8 September 1928.

21.Leka, the current pretender to the throne, declared this constitution to be in effect following the referendum on the monarchy held in 1997, which he claims the Socialists stole from him.

22.FO 371/15148 (C1412/1412/90): Durres, 24 February 1931 and FO 371/15149 (C6736/6736/90): Durres, 25 August 1931.

23.Institute of Marxist- Leninist Studies at the Central Committee of the Party of Labor of Albania, History of the Party of Labor of Albania (Tirana: Naim Frasheri, 1971) 99 and Bernd Fischer, Albania at War. 1939-1945 (London 1999) 230.

24.Captured German Records, National Archives, Washington D. C., roll T120 340 AA Nr. 1607, 27 May 1944 and FO 371/48079 (R399/101/5): 5 November 1944.

25.Nicolas Pano, The People’s Republic of Albania (Baltimore 1968) 50 f.

26.Luan Omari, The People’s Revolution in Albania and the Question of State Power (Tirana 1986) 63.

27.Eventually involving 3.5 % of the population at a cost of 10 to 11 % of the GNP (see Ramadan Marmullaku, Albania and the Albanians [London 1975] 70.)

28.FO 371/4356 R1471/1471/90 PWE, 24 November 1944.

29.Enver Hoxha, Laying the Foundations of the New State (Tirana 1984) 5.

30.Bernhard Tonnes, Sonderfall Albanien (MCmchen 1980) 500.

31.Misha Glenny, The Balkans, 1804-1999 (London 1999) 559.

32.Lyman H. Legters, Eastern Europe: Transformations and Revolution, 1945-1991 (Toronto 1992) 526.

33.Vickers, The Albanians 181.

34.Nicholas Pano, Albania. In: The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century, ed. Joseph Held (New York 1992) 52.

35.James O’Donnell, A Coming of Age: Albania under Enver Hoxha (New York 1999) 239.

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