Post-War Albania - a Lesson from History
Europe's Third World Country
The story of post-war Albania, from 1945 to the present, is a tragedy. Largely, it is the story of one man, a dictator, who through misguidedness, megalomania and corruption, effectively reduced his country to the poorest and most backward in Europe, a condition from which it is still struggling to emerge.
Albania's story was played out in secrecy, behind sealed borders, with little or no outside interference. It is therefore a perfect example of the damage that can be done by corrupt and/or inept leadership that is allowed to reign unchecked. Albania can be seen as a control experiment for the world at large. What happened to Albania can happen even to Europe or America. Some would say it is happening now.
You'll forgive me if, to entertain myself, I tell Albania's story first as a verse parable, as a kind of Animal Farm, if you like. You'll probably recognise most of the main players, and I'll explain it at the end for anyone lucky enough to be too young to remember these days.
The Eagle & the Stag
War weary, they agreed, the three wise men,
to carve the aftermath of five grim years
between two ideologies. The Cheese,
victorious but broken, turned a palm
of supplication to the Rooster who,
to exorcise the guilt of tardiness,
gave alms, expected and received no thanks.
The Stag appointed henchmen to control
the South-West marches of his vast domain,
their brief, to quash all insurrection, more,
to regulate the people's thoughts and deeds.
The Titan tempered these extreme demands
with such humanity as might not goad
the Stag to intervene, and wisdom born
of understanding of his people's needs.
The Eagle took his mission to the heart.
He razed the holy places to the ground -
no man should harbour dreams beyond the State -
he burned the books and sealed the borders round
and in the nurseries had children sing
his praise, the only music he allowed.
He silenced or deported learned men
and turned the universities and schools
to propagandist mockeries. By these
and many other ploys he murdered hope,
destroyed imagination and laid waste
his trust, but caused no trouble to the Stag,
continuing thus for forty dismal years.
A model of beneficence, he bought
his people's gold with freshly printed notes
each worth its weight in paper, for the gold
was never seen again. The Stag received
the lion's share, while from some dark Swiss bank
the Eagle's family draws a pension still.
Here's what really happened
At the end of World War 2, the three wise men, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, (the Cheese, the Rooster and the Stag) carved up Europe into East and West, the East becoming Stalin's Soviet empire. The West was more or less bankrupt and was bailed out by US aid (the Marshall Plan).
Stalin placed Yugoslavia under the governance of Tito (the Titan) who held the disparate parts of his country together with a softly-softly approach. Provided only that his Christian and Muslim communities did not start fighting amongst themselves and thus attract unwanted attention from Stalin, Tito, as far as possible for a Soviet satellite state, allowed his people to get on with their lives.
Enver Hoxha (the Eagle) was given Albania to govern. Hoxha was a wholly different proposition from Tito. He was, if anything, more Stalinist than Stalin. He sealed and fortified the borders. Deported all foreigners. Destroyed all Mosques and Churches. Banned all expression of religion. Destroyed the universities, imprisoned, executed or deported all academics (dissidents). Totally controlled State Radio and later TV. He had all the school books rewritten (ghost written) with himself as author and his picture on the cover. This last was in emulation of Chairman Mao Tse Tung whose brand of revolutionary communism he latterly preferred to Stalin's own.
Having bankrupted the country culturally, he proceeded to bankrupt it financially, by buying up all the gold coinage with promisary notes (at an ostensible profit for the people, to make them sell). The gold, of course, went to Russia and Switzerland, the latter for his own personal use.Perhaps his greatest crime was to live long enough to bury his country for 40 miserable years.
Hoxha's Legacy - Modern Albania
When you fly into Tirana (Albania's capital), the first inkling you get that the country is not well is the chaos at the airport. Third world countries are characterised by incompetence caused by lack of training.Nobody seems to know what they're doing. Eventually you find the person you have to pay (dollars or euros please!) for your entry stamp. The road from the airport to Tirana is quite good and Tirana itself is not without attractive features. But you soon notice that behind the facade of the public areas, the roads and buildings are in dangerous disrepair. Also, a closer inspection of the shops reveals that there are hardly any quality goods available. This country is still very poor.
The real eye-opener is when you leave the city and head out into the rural areas. Albania is blessed with beautiful mountain scenery and a spectacular coastline (it is just across the Adriatic from the heel of Italy). But there are no proper roads. The little villages are linked by dirt tracks with boulders and potholes along the way. People travel by cars and pick-ups (mostly old and damaged), donkey carts, ox carts and motorbikes. But they don't travel far. Life is local. There is no physical or social infrastructure. Water comes from wells and diverted streams. Electricity from local generators.
Families build their own houses, with their own hands. They grow their own food and barter with neighbours. All the young men go abroad, legally or illegally, to work in Italy, Greece, France and UK to send money back to their parents, sisters and fiancees. There is nothing for them at home.
It wasn't until the break up of the Soviet empire that the extent of Albania's desolation started to become known. The country will climb back, eventually. It has to. But unlike, say, Hungary, which was poised and ready to take off, Albania as a country is like an abused child. Its problems are deep-rooted and will take a long time to heal. The abuser was Enver Hoxha.
What Hoxha did locally to Albania, is being re-enacted on a world scale by global capitalism. Have you tried redeeming your promisary notes for gold recently? Be very afraid.
Thank you for reading.
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