Monday, November 30, 2009

Few Albanians hanker for communism

By Sami Neza for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 30/11/09

When the Berlin Wall fell in Germany, Albania was still under dictatorship. Facing the pressure of events, the regime released its grip slowly, holding multiparty elections in 1991 and finally ceding power altogether the next year.

Student protests began in Tirana in December 1990, and quickly drew support from others in the Albanian capital. Communist leader Ramiz Alia, aware of the turning tide, hoped to keep the process under control.

In time, though, he and his cohorts were swept away as the country turned its back on the legacy of Enver Hoxha, the totalitarian ruler whose paranoia and uncompromising Stalinism had made Albania the most isolated nation in Europe.

"Albania has become another country since the fall of communism," says Remzi Lani, former editor of the newspaper Voice of Youth. "Nostalgia for communism in, say, Hungary is understandable. But Albania's regime was so brutal and extreme that our poverty has left no room for nostalgia."

Vladimir Karaj, a journalist at a daily newspaper in Tirana, was only six-years-old when change came to his country. He was born on April 11th, 1985 -- the day Hoxha died.

Out of fear, Karaj's parents' didn't celebrate their son's birthday for nearly six years, as it was taboo to express anything on that date except reverence for the late dictator. Such was the strength of his personality cult.

Today "people are quite richer economically, and quite richer in their personality," the journalist says.

The transition has not always been smooth. Corruption and fraud accompanied the switch to a liberalised economy. Get-rich-quick schemes, endorsed by government officials, turned sour and Albanians lost billions, triggering violent unrest.

Even today, institutional problems remain, and every year many "vote with their feet", emigrating to other countries.

Albanians "managed to demolish communism, but they are not used to the new system which they brought about themselves", says international relations student Ardit Bido.

Even with bumps in the road, however, Albanians remain bullish on democracy. "The famous phrase of [former US Secretary of State] James Baker, that 'freedom works', has proved true, Defence Minister Arben Imami told Southeast European Times. "We are a new democracy that is working; we are a member of NATO and a loyal ally of the United States."

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