History > Socialist Albania

The Stalinist state

The new rulers inherited an Albania plagued by a host of ills: pervasive poverty, overwhelming illiteracy, blood feuds, epidemics of disease, and gross subjugation of women. In order to eradicate these ills, the communists drafted a radical modernization program intended to bring social and economic liberation to Albania, thus completing the political liberation won in 1912. The government's first major act to "build socialism" was swift, uncompromising agrarian reform, which broke up the large landed estates of the southern beys and distributed the parcels to landless and other peasants. This destroyed the powerful class of the beys. The government also moved to nationalize industry, banks, and all commercial and foreign properties. Shortly after the agrarian reform, the Albanian government started to collectivize agriculture, completing the job in 1967. As a result, peasants lost title to their land. In addition, the Hoxha leadership extended the new socialist order to the more rugged and isolated northern highlands, bringing down the age-old institution of the blood feud and the patriarchal structure of the family and clans, thus destroying the semifeudal class of bajraktars. The traditional role of women--namely, confinement to the home and farm--changed radically as they gained legal equality with men and became active participants in all areas of society. In order to obtain the economic aid needed for modernization, as well as the political and military support to enhance its security, Albania turned to the communist world: Yugoslavia (1944-48), the Soviet Union (1948-61), and China (1961-78). Economically, Albania benefited greatly from these alliances: with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and credits, and with the assistance of a large number of technicians and specialists sent by its allies, Albania was able to build the foundations of a modern industry and to introduce mechanization into agriculture. As a result, for the first time in modern history, the Albanian populace began to emerge from age-old backwardness and, for a while, enjoyed a higher standard of living. Politically, Hoxha was disillusioned with his communist allies and patrons and broke with each one, charging that they had abandoned Marxism-Leninism and the cause of the proletariat for the sake of rapprochement with the capitalist West. Alienated from both East and West, Albania adopted a "go-it-alone" policy and became notorious as an isolated bastion of Stalinism. Hoxha's program for modernization aimed at transforming Albania from a backward agrarian country into a modern industrial society, and, indeed, within four decades Albania had made respectable--in some cases historic--strides in the development of industry, agriculture, education, the arts, and culture. A notable achievement was the drainage of coastal swamplands--until then breeding grounds for malarial mosquitoes--and the reclamation of land for agricultural and industrial uses. Also symbolic of the change was a historic language reform that fused elements of the Geg and Tosk dialects into a unified literary language. Political oppression, however, offset gains made on the material and cultural planes. Contrary to provisions in the constitution, during Hoxha's reign Albania was ruled, in effect, by the Directorate of State Security, known as the Sigurimi. To eliminate dissent, the government resorted periodically to purges, in which opponents were subjected to public criticism, dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned in forced-labour camps, or executed. Travel abroad was forbidden to all but those on official business. In 1967 the religious establishment, which party leaders and other atheistic Albanians viewed as a backward medieval institution that hampered national unity and progress, was officially banned, and all Christian and Muslim houses of worship were closed.



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