Albania Opens Its Borders to Foreign Nationals Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After decades of isolation under a Communist government, Albania loosened its restrictions on foreign visitors and then, in 1990, joined the Eastern European democratic revolution.

Summary of Event

Modern Albania was formed on the eve of World War I as a result of conflict among the Balkan states and the Great Powers. The linguistic nationalism that united the Albanians belied the religious distinctions of four communities—Sunni and Shiite Muslims (about 70 percent of the population), Orthodox Christians (20 percent), and Roman Catholics (10 percent). Between the world wars, the country changed from a democratic republic to a fascist-style dictatorship whose leader proclaimed himself Zog I, the king of the Albanians. Albania;government Democracy;Albania [kw]Albania Opens Its Borders to Foreign Nationals (1990) [kw]Borders to Foreign Nationals, Albania Opens Its (1990) [kw]Foreign Nationals, Albania Opens Its Borders to (1990) Albania;government Democracy;Albania [g]Europe;1990: Albania Opens Its Borders to Foreign Nationals[07550] [g]Balkans;1990: Albania Opens Its Borders to Foreign Nationals[07550] [g]Albania;1990: Albania Opens Its Borders to Foreign Nationals[07550] [c]Government and politics;1990: Albania Opens Its Borders to Foreign Nationals[07550] Hoxha, Enver Alia, Ramiz Kadare, Ismail

In 1939, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini Mussolini, Benito turned on his ally Zog and annexed Albania to Italy. Resistance to fascist occupation began and then increased in 1940 when World War II reached the Balkans. Two main groups, the democratic, Western-oriented Balli Kombetar and the Albanian Party of Labor (the Communists), founded in 1942, led this resistance while fighting each other. The Communist Party arose from the nascent labor movement under the skillful leadership of Enver Hoxha, a masterful organizer from the Muslim community who, with aid from Russian ruler Joseph Stalin Stalin, Joseph and Yugoslav resistance leader Tito, Tito was able to put together a formidable force. Hoxha then played the major role in the resistance.

After World War II, Hoxha defeated his non-Communist rivals and became ruler of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. The country’s neighbors, both Communist Yugoslavia and Western-oriented Greece, however, still had designs on its territories. Hoxha therefore welcomed Stalin’s casting Tito out of the Communist Information Bureau and became the Soviet leader’s most ardent supporter.

In 1956, Stalin’s successor, Nikita S. Khrushchev, Khrushchev, Nikita S. [p]Khrushchev, Nikita S.;de-Stalinization[destalinization] started his program of de-Stalinization, De-Stalinization[Destalinization] which included modest liberalization and even rapprochement with Tito. Hoxha distanced himself from Moscow and in 1962 broke all diplomatic and cultural relations with the Kremlin. The Albanian leader steadfastly remained loyal to the memory of Stalin and emulated both his “cult of personality” and his totalitarian regime. Culture and politics in Albania recalled those of the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. All art conformed to the doctrine of Socialist Realism. Socialist Realism The leader was glorified. Nationalism was used as a unifying factor in the process of building socialism. All books praised Stalin and Hoxha as the leaders in all fields of endeavor. Hoxha himself, in imitation of Stalin, turned out volume after volume of his thoughts and memoirs.

The totalitarian aspects of Stalinism also found root in Albania—strict censorship, imprisonment of lawbreakers, suspension of civil liberties, restrictions on the right to travel, and harsh penalties, including executions, for minor infractions. The right of private ownership, even for personal items, was the most restrictive in Eastern Europe. The government completely banned the private ownership of automobiles. Like Stalin, Hoxha tried to control every aspect of the lives of his people. He particularly tried to prevent the influx of foreign ideas, as he feared they might lead to a lessening of what he hoped would be a national resolve to move Albania quickly and directly on the path to Communism.

There were some significant differences between Hoxha’s Albania and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Whereas Stalin used the Russian Orthodox Church as a national unifier, Hoxha banned all public worship, citing Karl Marx’s dictum that religion is the opiate of the people. Moreover, the Christian churches, with their links to Rome and Athens, were the major source of dissidence in the country, and Muslim institutions wedded to the past were an impediment to modernization. Furthermore, whereas Stalin experimented with some economic forms, Hoxha held strictly to centralized planning and a collective economy. Whereas Stalin made Russia into an international power, seeking alliances and relations with all types of foreign countries, Hoxha kept Albania relatively isolated. Albania had no diplomatic relations with either the United States or the Soviet Union, but the isolation was never complete. Although Albania consistently denounced both capitalist and Warsaw Pact countries, it maintained diplomatic and economic contacts on both sides of the Iron Curtain as well as with many Third World countries.

Many of Albania’s policies reflected a nationalist rather than a Communist agenda. Albanian leaders admitted forthrightly that patriotism was one of their highest priorities, even higher than international proletarian solidarity, which they preached as well. Even the banning of religion served a national goal, as it prevented division among the communities. The economic policy of self-reliance also had a national basis. Albania had a wealth of resources but, paradoxically, had one of the poorest populations in Europe, as the resources had never been used for the benefit of the people. Starting from this low base allowed Albania to follow a program of gradual modernization and slowly rising living standards without amassing foreign debt. The policy produced some spectacular successes, but in comparison to rapid modernization occurring elsewhere in the post-World War II world economy, the country remained far behind.

In the 1970’s, Hoxha gradually reduced his power, turning the reins of government over to Ramiz Alia while Hoxha kept watch from the background. Alia made new diplomatic and commercial contacts, although relations with the Soviet Union and the United States remained closed. The government also permitted limited travel by foreign tours for citizens of those countries where Albania had diplomatic and trade missions. The authorities even allowed Americans of Albanian descent to visit the country. After Hoxha died in 1985 and Alia assumed full control, even more liberalization occurred.





The changes that swept Eastern Europe in 1989 affected Albania as well. Student demonstrations demanding liberalization began and increased during 1990. At first, Alia stood firm against any changes and tried to suppress the growing demonstrations. He then tried to keep his system intact while seeking compromises and making concessions to the growing opposition. In March, 1990, the Communist leadership introduced its own reform program, which included economic decentralization, contested elections in factories and collective farms, and public debate on some policies such as education. Rapidly trying to end what was left of Albania’s isolation, the government also reached out abroad, seeking new contacts. For the first time, direct telephone service with the West became available for ordinary Albanian citizens. In May, in the most dramatic change to that date, Alia restored the rights of Albanians to practice their religions openly and to travel abroad.

In the months that followed, Alia restored other democratic political and civil rights and facilitated the ability of foreigners, including Americans and Soviets, to visit the country. For many, especially the Albanian intelligentsia, the changes were still too slow, and the dismantling of the Communist system was not in sight. Demonstrations and protests continued, and clashes between citizens and authorities were frequent. Many Albanians attempted to leave the country, both legally and illegally, for economic as well as political reasons.

In October, 1990, the prominent Albanian writer Ismail Kadare publicly defected while in France as a protest against the continued totalitarian regime. His action inspired even larger demonstrations in the capital, Tiranë, and other Albanian cities. In the meantime, Alia’s government sought more contacts with foreign governments, particularly those of the United States and the Soviet Union. Alia invited Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, secretary-general of the United Nations, for a state visit. In August, 1990, Albania reestablished diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, and in March, 1991, did the same with the United States. The following June, Secretary of State James Baker Baker, James became the highest-ranking American official ever to visit the country.


The restoration of civil liberties, because it was delayed, did not completely satisfy the opposition to the Communist government, which was led by university faculty and students. The debate over Albania’s future also opened the floodgates to long-suppressed political discussion. The country was divided into two camps: those who supported Alia’s slow policy of reform and those who wanted to move away from Communism as quickly as possible.

The debate turned to violence. Despite government concessions, demonstrations and riots continued. Statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled. Clashes between the authorities and opposition demonstrators were a daily occurrence. In March, 1991, the government declared a state of martial law in the city of Dures, the site of some of the worst violence. Opponents of the regime complained that the secret police still had free rein and that true freedom could not occur until the police were curbed. Even Kadare, in exile, claimed he had been threatened.

In November, 1990, Alia agreed to as complete a liberation in politics and society as was taking place elsewhere in Eastern Europe. He called for a revision of the Albanian constitution that would reduce the role of the Communist Party and end the official policy of atheism and promised free elections and the introduction of free market principles into the economy. The parliament enacted legislation permitting foreign investment. The government freed political prisoners, and, in February, 1991, a new law granted independent status to the courts, one of the main demands of the opposition. Opposition political parties and newspapers appeared. The Communists, however, retained as much support as the opposition won. The former could rely on the rural population, who mistrusted the intellectuals and urbanites, the backbone of the opposition.

Elections held in the spring of 1991 kept Alia and the Communists in power. Although international observers maintained that the elections were generally fair, the opposition claimed fraud. Demonstrations followed, leading to clashes with the authorities and further violence. In June, Alia agreed to establish a coalition government with the opposition to work out a mutually acceptable solution. Despite his problems, Alia was able to bring democracy and liberalization to his country and still remain in power a year after the changes, the only Communist leader in Eastern Europe to do so.

The upheavals that the changes brought placed the country in an even worse economic situation. Many Albanians attempted to leave, chiefly for economic reasons, although some also wished to emigrate because they did not believe that the political changes were genuine or that they would last. In July, 1990, after the government introduced freedom of travel but before the easing of the visa process, thousands of Albanians trying to leave the country stormed the foreign embassies in Tiranë. The authorities of both Albania and those countries whose embassies were besieged then facilitated migration and travel.

A tremendous exodus followed. Many ethnic Greeks and some Albanians fled south into Greece, forcing Greece to close its border. Other Albanians fled on overloaded ships to southern Italy, where an Albanian community had lived for centuries. The Italian authorities, reluctant to accept these immigrants, sent some back and refused to feed the others in the hope that they would return to Albania of their own accord. A public outcry in Italy and abroad eventually forced the Italian government to relent and permit some of the refugees to stay. Refugees;Albanians Albanians who remained in their country enjoyed complete civil and political liberties, although the country was still in economic turmoil. Many Albanians continued to try to enter Italy illegally.

In 1991, Alia won a general election, but a popular movement for change gave rise to another general election in 1992 that saw the Communists ousted by the newly formed Democratic Party. Alia resigned and was succeeded by Sali Ram Berisha, Berisha, Sali the country’s first democratically elected president. Albania continued to be plagued by corruption, organized crime activity, and unemployment as its democratic system strove to set deeper roots in the years following the 1992 elections. Major instability surrounding the collapse of a rash of pyramid schemes precipitated Berisha’s resignation.

Generally free and fair elections were held in 1997, and a series of new but unstable socialist governments immediately faced the challenge of accommodating large flows of Kosovar Albanian refugees from the Kosovo conflict in 1998 and 1999. Albanian cooperation with international aid agencies was a positive factor in that crisis. In 2005, Albania once again held free and fair parliamentary elections, and the Democratic Party was returned to power, with Berisha as prime minister. Albania has seen gradual improvements in its economy as it has attempted to gain fuller integration into Europe. Albania;government Democracy;Albania

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Academy of Sciences of the PSR of Albania. The Albanians and Their Territories. Tiranë, Albania: 8 Nentori Publishing House, 1985. Presents a pro-Albanian interpretation of the history and geography of the state. Makes the case for holding the present territory against greedy neighbors and emphasizes the rights of the Albanian minorities in Greece and Yugoslavia. Reveals that nationalism rather than international socialism was the main guiding force in the country under the Communists. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bethell, Nicholas. Betrayed. New York: Time Books, 1987. Published in Britain in 1984 as The Great Betrayal. Account of the British spy Kim Philby’s role in leaking to Hoxha Western plans to overthrow his government in the late 1940’s; this was a key event in Hoxha’s establishment of power and control in Albania. Includes illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Biberaj, Elez. Albania: A Socialist Maverick. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990. Investigates the changes in Albania after Hoxha’s death and outlines the nation’s policies under Hoxha and Alia. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Albania Between East and West. London: Institute for the Study of Conflict, 1986. Offers a brief synopsis of the Albanian state shortly after Hoxha’s death. Describes the leadership and the country’s internal and foreign policies. Concludes that Albania was drifting closer to the West, despite its rhetoric of remaining equidistant from all superpowers. Includes tables and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Albania in Transition: The Rocky Road to Democracy. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999. Describes the changes in Albania’s political life since 1989. Includes tables, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoxha, Enver. The Khrushchevites: Memoirs. Tiranë, Albania: 8 Nentori Publishing House, 1979. Memoir sheds light on Hoxha’s decision to move Albania out of Moscow’s camp, his flirtation with China in the early 1960’s, and some of the mysteries of the country’s xenophobia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. With Stalin: Memoirs. Tiranë, Albania: 8 Nentori Publishing House, 1979. One of Hoxha’s most important volumes of memoirs. Explains his justification for remaining a Stalinist and outlines his philosophies and tactics. Very informative regarding Albania’s unique place in Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marmullaku, Ramadan. Albania and the Albanians. Translated by Margot Milosavljevic and Bosko Milosavljevic. London: C. Hurst, 1975. Originally written in Serbo-Croatian by a Yugoslav Albanian. Answers the claim that Hoxha’s tyrannical regime was stirring up trouble in the Kosovo region of Yugoslavia and had plans to interfere in Yugoslav domestic events. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schnytzer, Adi. Stalinist Economic Strategy in Practice: The Case of Albania. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Analysis of the Albanian economic program of planning emphasizes the role of self-reliance. Shows Albania’s achievements in steady development as well as the problems resulting from lack of outside contact. Includes tables, statistical appendixes, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vickers, Miranda, and James Pettifer. Albania: From Anarchy to a Balkan Identity. Rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 2000. Examines the events in Albania from the early 1990’s onward and analyzes the redefinition of the economic, political, and cultural identity of Albanians during this period. Includes informative appendixes, bibliography, and index.

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