Earlier this week, Albania celebrated the twenty-sixth anniversary of the fall of communism. Painful memories still remain for those who suffered under the dictatorship of 1946-1990: nearly one in every fifteen Albanians has a family member who was imprisoned or displaced by Enver Hoxha’s communist regime. Hoxha ruled the country through secret police terror from 1944 until his death in 1985 and carried out the harshest anti-religious policies in the communist bloc, even proclaiming Albania the first atheist state in the world.
A rigid Marxist-Leninist, Hoxha at first found comfort in an alliance with the Soviet Union, but after Stalin’s death, relations deteriorated and Albania began looking towards the People’s Republic of China. Chinese-Albanian relations were short-lived too, after China started establishing ties with the United States. Hoxha believed that, after Nixon’s visit, China was sliding towards imperialism—abandoning its proletarian internationalist views in favor of revisionist accommodation with the capitalist world. Hoxha turned inward and completely isolated the country, believing himself to be the last true bearer of the Marxist-Leninist standard. The country continued its economic collapse for the next decade until Hoxha’s death in 1985. His successor, Ramiz Alia, struggled to hold on to a last redoubt of communism in Europe, but the tides of freedom across the continent were too strong to resist.
On December 11, 1990, citizens gathered in Tirana to demolish the statue of the former communist dictator Hoxha. Today, only the twisted metal footprints of the statue remain. After centuries of Ottoman rule and decades of isolation under communism, Albania is still in an uphill battle to true democracy.
While Albania no longer has a one-party communist dictatorship, the communist party did not disappear altogether. In fact, two of the three main contenders in the most recent Albanian elections—both the Socialist Party and, more indirectly, the Socialist Movement for Integration—have their roots in Hoxha’s Party of Labour of Albania, originally called the Communist Party of Albania. Despite coming a long way since 1990, Albania’s Socialist Party is still the legal successor of the communists.
Given this past, it is surprising for many to hear that the Socialist Party—the legal successor to Hoxha’s communist party—is currently in power in Albania. How could this happen in a country that has fought so long and hard to join the Western world? In fact, however, Albania is not unique among former Eastern Bloc states in having political parties descended from its old communist overlords. The Hungarian Socialist Party, Germany’s Die Linke (“The Left”), and the Czech Party of Democratic Socialism are all socialist remnants of former communist ruling parties.
Why is this? Are many Europeans, even today, convinced of the rightness of planned economies and socialist policies? Or do the socialist parties benefit from personal networks of power and influence cultivated during their communist predecessors’ heydays? It is difficult to understand why countries that have suffered so much under communism are still voting for their oppressors’ successors. Don’t Albanians care?
Perhaps, a recent survey suggests, they just don’t know about the horrors of the past. Luljeta Progni, a journalist who was persecuted by the communist regime, explains that “in the last 26 years there has never been a thorough process of de-communism. Young people in the schools don’t get any information about the atrocities of the communist regime.”
For evidence, look no further than a recent survey by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) conducted by IDRA. This revealed that nearly half of the Albanians surveyed thought that communism in Albania was a “good idea but poorly implemented.” Despite the fact that a shocking 80 percent of those surveyed experienced some type of persecution under communism, a full 50 percent believed that Enver Hoxha had a positive impact, or no impact at all, on Albanian history. Interestingly enough, 44 percent cited the lack of freedom under communism as its most negative feature. The sad fact is, however, that the lack of freedom under communism was not the result of poor implementation—it was exactly what communism was designed to effect.
It appears that although Albania suffered countless atrocities under Hoxha, his legacy is being forgotten. Citizens are poorly educated—who knows if they’re even aware that the party they’re voting for emerged from a former communist party? Albania is still in the process of de-communization. This includes opening former secret police files, revealing not only the names of the victims of communism, but their persecutors too. As Albania celebrates the twenty-sixth anniversary of the fall of communism, we should hope that these will be the first steps on the way to properly educating future generations and remembering those who suffered so terribly under the Hoxha regime.