Domestic Repression under Hoxha and Alia

Albania Table of Contents

Enver Hoxha was one of the last Stalinist leaders in Eastern Europe and continued to employ Stalinist techniques for controlling the population long after most other East European countries had shifted from outright terror and repression to more subtle bureaucratic-authoritarian methods. Western observers believed that no other communist country had as extensive a police and security organization relative to its size as the one that operated in Albania.

Hoxha regarded the security police as an elite group, and it underpinned the power of the ACP and then the APL during the period they dominated Albania's one-party political system. The secret police was instrumental in enabling Hoxha and the communist party to consolidate power after 1944 by conducting a campaign of intimidation and terror against prewar politicians and rival groups. Persecution of these opponents in show trials on charges of treason, conspiracy, subversion, espionage, or anti-Albanian agitation and propaganda became common. From 1948 until the early 1960s, the Ministry of Internal Affairs was involved in the search for real or alleged Yugoslav agents or Titoists in Albania, and the ministry itself was an initial battleground in the purge of Yugoslav influence. Yugoslav control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs ran deep in the years immediately following World War II. Its chief, Koci Xoxe, was part of the pro-Yugoslav faction of the party and a rival to Hoxha. In 1949, however, he was arrested, convicted in a secret trial, and executed.

Hoxha maintained a Stalinist political system even after the communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China had long since moderated their totalitarian or radical excesses. In the last years of Hoxha's life, the Directorate of State Security (Drejtorija e Sigurimit te Shtetit--Sigurimi), increased its political power, perhaps to the extent of supplanting party control. After Hoxha's death, the security forces viewed his successor, Ramiz Alia, and his modest reforms with suspicion. In the late 1980s, they reportedly supported a group of conservatives centered around Hoxha's widow, in opposition to Alia.

Under Hoxha the communist regime essentially ignored internationally recognized standards of human rights. According to a landmark Amnesty International report published in 1984, Albania's human rights record was dismal under Hoxha. The regime denied its citizens freedom of expression, religion, movement, and association although the constitution of 1976 ostensibly guaranteed each of these rights. In fact, the constitution effectively circumscribed the exercise of political liberties that the regime interpreted as contrary to the established socialist order. In addition, the regime tried to deny the population access to information other than that disseminated by the government-controlled media. The secret police routinely violated the privacy of persons, homes, and communications and made arbitrary arrests. The courts ensured that verdicts were rendered from the party's political perspective rather than affording due process to the accused, who were occasionally sentenced without even the formality of a trial.

After Hoxha's death, Alia was apparently unable or unwilling to maintain the totalitarian system of terror, coercion, and repression that Hoxha had employed to maintain his grip on the party and the country. Alia relaxed the most overt Stalinist controls over the population and instructed the internal security structure to use more subtle, bureaucratic-authoritarian mechanisms characteristic of the post-Stalin Soviet Union and East European regimes. He allowed greater contact with the outside world, including eased travel restrictions for Albanians, although the Sigurimi demanded bribes equivalent to six months' salary for the average Albanian to obtain the documents needed for a passport. More foreigners were allowed to visit Albania, and they reported a generally more relaxed atmosphere among the population as well as a less repressive political and antireligious climate. Official sources admitted that social discipline, especially among young Albanians, was breaking down in the late 1980s. The country's youth increasingly refused to accept and even openly rejected the values advanced under the official communist ideology. Moreover, small-scale rebellions were reported more frequently after Hoxha's death. Yet these developments did not alter the regime's exclusive hold on political power after the 1980s.

The dramatic collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe in 1989 apparently had a devastating effect on the internal social and political situation in Albania despite Alia's efforts to contain it. Massive demonstrations against communist rule followed by liberalization and democratization in Eastern Europe began to affect Albania in 1990. The power of the security police was successfully challenged by massive numbers of largely unorganized demonstrators demanding reforms and democratic elections. Unrest began with demonstrations in Shkodėr in January 1990 that forced authorities to declare a state of emergency to quell the protests. Berat workers staged strikes protesting low wages in May. During July 1990, approximately 5,000 Albanians sought refuge on the grounds of foreign embassies in an effort to flee Albania. The security forces reportedly killed hundreds of asylum seekers either in the streets outside foreign compounds or after they were detained, but even such extreme measures did not staunch the unrest.

In September 1990, Alia acceded to the requirements of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, committing Albania to respect the human rights and political freedoms embodied in the 1975 Helsinki Accords. When students organized demonstrations in December 1990, their demands for political pluralism received widespread support. Attempts by riot police to break up the demonstrations failed, and the party's Central Committee, in an extraordinary meeting called by Alia to discuss the growing unrest, decided not to use further force. The following year, the security forces were not in evidence at large political demonstrations and were unable to stop thousands of refugees from boarding ships bound for Italy or from crossing the border into Greece. However, the security forces attempted to maintain control by forcing the authorities to give the People's Army control over the ports of Vlorė, Durrės, Shengjin, and Sarandė. The army was ordered to clear the ports of potential refugees and to establish a blockade around them.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress