In 1990 Albania had the youngest population in Europe, with the
average age at twenty-seven, Albanian youth had been discontented
and restless for some time before the regime began to make changes.
Although efforts were made to keep Albania isolated from the rest
of the world, television broadcasts from other European countries
reached Albanian citizens, and the young could see "bourgeois"
lifestyles and the political ferment that was occurring elsewhere
in Eastern Europe. In addition, the working class was suffering
the dire consequences of Albania's declining economy, and conditions
were worsened by a terrible drought in 1989. In October 1989,
workers and students in the southern district of Sarandė staged
protests against the regime's policy of work incentives, and several
protesters were arrested. A more serious protest had occurred
in May 1989 at the Enver Hoxha University at Tiranė. At first
students were simply demanding better living conditions, but their
grievances soon acquired a more political character and were treated
as a distinct threat by the regime. Although the protest eventually
ended without bloodshed, it caused the regime to reassess its
policy toward young people and to consider such measures as improving
living standards and educational facilities in order to ease the
discontent that had been building up among students (see Education
under Communist Rule, ch. 2).
Alia and his colleagues dismissed the Soviet Union's concepts
of glasnost' (see Glossary) and perestroika (see Glossary) as
irrelevant to the Albanian experience. Demonstrating his ideological
purity, Alia claimed that communism collapsed in Eastern Europe
because these states deviated from orthodox Marxism. At the Ninth
Plenum of the party's Central Committee in January 1990, however,
Alia announced some modest political reforms (see Albania's Communist
Party, this ch.). In addition, he presented limited economic reforms
that called for some management authority at state farm and enterprise
levels and for improvements in wage and price regulations to increase
the role of material incentives.
In general, Alia's reforms suggested that the party leadership
was nervous and defensive, and Alia seemed anxious to convince
the Central Committee that Albania should not follow the path
of other East European countries. Albanian leaders seemed to fear
that anything but very limited reform could lead to the social
and political upheaval that had occurred elsewhere in Eastern
Europe. But Alia's half-measures did little to improve the economic
situation or to halt the growing discontent with his regime.
Some Albanian intellectuals, such as the sociologist Hamit Beqeja
and the writer Ismail Kadare, recommended more radical changes,
particularly with regard to democracy and freedom of the press.
As their demands grew, these intellectuals increasingly clashed
with the conservatives in the party and state bureaucracy. In
October 1990, it was announced that Kadare, Albania's most prominent
writer, had defected to France. The defection dealt a blow to
Albania's image both at home and abroad, especially since the
writer had sent a letter to Alia explaining that he had defected
because he was disillusioned with the slow pace of democratic
change in the country. The official reaction to Kadare's defection
was to condemn it as a "grave offense against the patriotic and
civil conscience" of Albania, but his work continued to be published
within the country.
Data as of April 1992