On January 11 1946, Enver Hoxha declared the People's Republic of Albania, launching the country on a path of oppression, isolation and mismanagement lasting almost half a century. By the time of the dictator's death in 1985, there were only about 2,000 cars in Albania, but approximately 700,000 reinforced concrete bunkers - an average of one per family.
The rise of communism in Albania began during World War II. Communist partisans were active in the resistance movement against first Italian and then German occupation. Enver Hoxha, who had founded the Albanian Communist Party (later the Labour Party) in 1941, became the leader of the National Liberation Army. After Albania's liberation from the Germans, he emerged as the leader of the newly formed communist state. The regime's claim to legitimacy was based in large part on its partisan roots, which it celebrated by erecting a lapidar, a memorial monument to every fallen hero, in all public places.
Hoxha's repressive regime permitted no challenge to its power or to the strict Stalinist ideas it espoused. In 1961, Hoxha broke with Albania's closest ally, the Soviet Union, because he believed Khrushchev had abandoned the teachings of Stalin. Thereafter, Albania's chief ally was the People's Republic of China. When China established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1978, Hoxha denounced the Chinese as well and decided to pursue a policy of self-reliance. Albania became the North Korea of Europe, the most isolated communist state in the world. It was the last country in Europe with monuments to Stalin (besides one in Stalin's hometown in Georgia). Hoxha's Albania was a fortress state supposedly threatened by countless foes from abroad and within. Regular purges saw thousands executed as traitors or enemies of communism. Opponents of the regime were held in notorious prisons like Tepelena, or served forced labour in copper mines like the one in Spac.
Mentality of the old regime
At the time of Hoxha's death in 1985, Albania had a population of around 3 million. It was by far the poorest country in Europe. Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer describe the Albania of that time as:
"an island of increasing poverty and demoralisation, with a rapidly disintegrating infrastructure, crumbling buildings, malnourished and poorly clad workers and peasants using primitive agricultural equipment, all surrounded by slogans reminding them that Partia mbi te gjitha (the Party is above everything).
(Albania: From Anarchy to Balkan Identity Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer 1997)
Hoxha was succeeded as communist leader by his protégé, Ramiz Alia. Alia shared Hoxha's Marxist-Leninist views but, facing an increasingly restive population and pressure from abroad, he gradually made concessions regarding political control and human rights. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, news of changes in other communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe reached Albania.
The first mass anti-communist protests took place in July 1990, forcing the regime into some cosmetic changes in economic policy. It was in vain: shortages of spare parts, aging machinery, drought and growing unrest brought the economy to a standstill. By the year's end, after strong student and trade union protests, the regime was forced to accept a multiparty system. Hoxha's gilded statue in Skanderbeg Square, Tirana, was torn down by rioters on February 20, 1991.