Albania, the small Balkan country in the south east of Europe. Today Albania is best known for tourism; beautiful nature, beaches, mountains and a rich cultural heritage. Maybe some association with Mother Teresa or with its abundance of natural resources. But I assume few associations with a dark communist past.
Albania declared independence from Ottoman rule in 1912 as the Turkish empire declined. After brief occupation by Italy and Germany during WWII a communist party was established in 1941 by Enver Hoxha. The communist loyalists took over in 1944 and aligned Albania with Russia. Albania was a Stalinist state under Hoxha and remained increasingly isolationist.
In 1948 ties with Yugoslavia were severed and economic aid was driven into Albania from the Soviet Union. Until 1950 when relations between Soviet Union and China worsened, Albania sided with China. Under Hoxha religion was eradicated from Albania and religious sites closed. The death of Hoxha in 1985 and changes already underway in Europe with the collapse of communist rule, had a big impact on Albanian society.
Albania was the last country in Europe to rid itself of communist dictatorship, one that had isolated the country for a decade. In 1990 communism in eastern Europe collapsed and independent political parties were beginning to be formed in Albania. For the first time Albanians were free to travel abroad and religious freedom was re-introduced. Finally, in 1992, 47 years of communist rule were replaced with a multi-party democracy.
Communism may have fallen but Albania remains one of Europe’s poorest countries. Still licking its wounds from darker times. Still plagued by corruption and organised crime. There were approximately 3 million Albanians living in the country and even more in outside of it. The collapse of the iron curtain and the unstable economic situation led to the Albanian diaspora. Many fled in search of work and for a better life.
Moving on from dictatorship is a long road. It remains hard to talk openly about the communist past yet traces of the dark past are everywhere. Some of the thousands of nuclear bunkers built by a paranoid Hoxha remains a defining feature of the country today. Many are being repurposed to serve as café’s, beach huts or museums to remain as a visible part of the modern economy.
Today, nowhere is the post-communist transformation more visible than in the capital Tirana. Walls, buildings, streets and public squares are adorned with bright colours. Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, ex-Mayor of Tirana and former painter, introduced a series of urban regeneration projects that have transformed the city.