Isolation of Albania during the communist regime

in History

Enver Hoxha stepped in Tirana in November 1944 at the head of a Communist government, and on 2 December1945 his Democratic People’s Front of Albania was given a mandate to introduce a republican form of state power. The republic was proclaimed on 11 January1946.
In the period of 1946-1948 the Soviet economic, political and ideological model was established in Albania. The Communist Party was renamed Albanian Labour Party; it backed in full the resolution of Cominform and in practice laid the foundations not only of a one-party regime in Albania, but also of the one-man dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.

Passed was in 1967 the Decree on the Atheist State, which prohibited the three traditional religions rites in this country, the temples were demolished or profaned by being converted into storehouses, shopping places, sporting arenas, or for some other lay usage. Fear of persecution on account of observance of religious traditions was so strong that in only two or three generations people’s real memory of their traditions, of the names of the closed temples, of the meaning and philosophy of faith, was lost. In 1976 the ban on religion became an integral part of the Constitution of Albania and it definitely doomed any effort to keep, even secretly, the religious customs, morality and rites.

Even Bektashism, which has enjoyed a special place in the value system of Albanians, the southerners’ in particular, and has been described as the “fourth religion in Albania”, has become void of meaning. Today, at the end of the 20th century, a large part of the people in Southern Albania affirm they are descended from Bektashi families, but no one is capable of explaining what Bektashism is like, what its philosophical system, moral values and rituality are.

In order to achieve full control over the whole population of Albania, which had proved throughout its history to be disobedient and unsubmissive to administrative systems imposed by force, Enver Hoxha and his cronies in power took advantage of their knowledge as people that came from and belonged to the Albanian ethnos. The Albanians could be put under control only in the way described by George Orwell – through erasing their collective memory and traditions, as well as by directing the whole physical and intellectual power of society and the individual to pointless efforts (like the construction of hundreds of thousands of pillboxes and their maintenance) until morality and common sense were deformed and destroyed.

Although as a southerner Enver Hoxha tolerated in the government and at key posts Tosks from the South, he tried to eliminate the differences and unify the people from the North and the South through their complete subjugation to the Communist ideological stereotypes and clichés.98 This was achieved through the final standardisation of the language, through the schools and the overall educational system, through the military-like regime within the industrial labour collectives, generally through a drastic change in the overall social and value structure of society. Then came a schizophrenic split of personality and perceptions, familiar to the other Communist regimes too. On the one hand, it was evident that the country was being modernised, illiteracy was overcome, the number of university graduates was rising, but, on the other hand, this led to a propaganda-narrowed perspective, to the unification of minds, to stagnation and fear at all levels of political and social relations, to isolation from the world and encapsulation of the individual and the family, to an effort to survive in the privacy of self-isolation.

The chiefs of the clans and the bajraktars were ruthlessly eliminated – killed or put to prison, and precisely they were the guardians of traditions and morals and the ones that were supposed to keep the customs and collective memory for the generations.  It is small wonder then that after the fall of the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the establishment of new democratic institutions has been most retarded and most difficult in Albania. In each of the post- Communist countries, societies turned back to their own heritage and restored the democratic traditions and institutions, but the latter had either not been established in Albania, because of the short historical spans of independent existence, or if any positive heritage of self-government and collective decision-making had been present in the national traditions, it had faded away or had even been eradicated from the collective memory. In such a complex situation the Albanians put efforts to revive their national, ethnocultural, and religious identity, with the invariably concomitant danger to allow, as a result of oblivion, deformation for some ad hoc geopolitical or home policy reasons.

The international isolation in which Albania had been driven into by the dictator over the years – until his death in 1985: the break with Yugoslavia, later with the Soviet Union, with the other countries of the socialist camp, breaking with China too, led to the further loss of true awareness of their own identity. The Albanians have a numerous Diaspora in the neighbouring countries and around the world, where the memory of traditions and cultural-historical identity had been perhaps preserved better, but since they could not travel, they lived in almost full deficit of information about themselves and the world. Every attempt to obtain exterior information – listening to foreign radio stations or studying foreign languages outside the officially sanctioned places – resulted in accusations of espionage and imitation of foreign models.

Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the aspiration to put the Albanians in isolation developed into forms unheard of, when foreigners in mixed marriages were offered the alternative of either leaving the country, abandoning spouse and children, or staying, but cutting any contacts with their native country. On this subject, scholars collecting oral accounts can put down striking dramas of mothers who stayed with their children doomed to persecution and suspicions in a paranoiac country, while their relatives outside Albania had not known for over 20 years whether they were alive or not. Of course, also accounts of reverse cases, when they left the tyrannical regime in Albania, abandoning their families too, and only after 20 or 30 years fathers met for the first time their sons and grandsons.  The proportions of the evil deeds committed by a hypertrophied dictatorship and a maniacal cult of personality are sometimes beyond the grasp of even as prophetic talents as George Orwell’s.

Today Albanians are faced with an alternative of infinite complexity. On the one hand, very strong are the feeling of freedom and the desire to revive the old traditions, which have been forcefully uprooted from the public mind. The country is now open and the contacts with the Albanian Diaspora help to restore collective memory. The renewal of the differences and rivalry between the North and the South is felt in the political life, and the blood feud law compels people to emigrate and children to be hidden in basements. It is better for this reversal to the past and revival of the ancient customs to be made by scholars alone, because it is important for historical and cultural identity, but their introduction into the present-day realities would take the Albanian society back to the remote age of pre-modern times. On the other hand, Albanians long for affiliating themselves with the modern European values and fulfilling themselves in a peaceful and democratic social climate, like all other post-Communist societies in Central and South- Eastern Europe.

The problem of the maturity and consolidation of the Albanian national identity is yet to happen in the Balkans region. For it is obvious that the nation-formation and ethnocultural processes experienced by some nations in the late 18th and the 19th century, or by others like Macedonians – in the first half of the 20th century, have been taking place for the last ten or twenty years for the Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. The fall of the Berlin wall happened to the three ethnic Albanian communities in a most literal way. For several decades they have been forming an entirely mystified, verbal, and fanciful perception of each other. The democratic changes, as well as the dramatic events attending the break-up of the Yugoslavian empire, gave the Albanians an opportunity to meet, and gain an intimate knowledge of one another. In order to understand that, although they have been separated by only a frontier within the narrow Balkan stretch, they have become too different in terms of education, religion, culture and mentality, and maybe only language, ethnic memory, as well as kinship ties are what links them with one another.

Perhaps what we are to see happen in the Balkans in the first decade of the 21st century is nothing but this maturation and consolidation of the Albanian national, cultural and civil identity, as well as the difficult personal, family and social choice between tradition and postmodern European values.

Leave a Reply