Albania Seeks New Allies
By the mid-1980s,
Alia recognized that in order to ameliorate Albania's serious
economic problems, trade with the West had to be significantly
expanded. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was on
the top of the list of potential economic partners. In 1987 Albania
established diplomatic relations with West Germany, after first
dropping claims for war reparations. Albania hoped to obtain advanced
technology from West Germany, along with assistance in improving
its agricultural sector and modernizing its transportation system.
In November 1987, Albania signed an agreement with West Germany,
which enabled it to purchase West German goods at below market
prices; and in March 1989, West Germany granted Albania 20 million
deutsche marks in nonrepayable funds for development projects.
Albania initiated discussions with many private Western firms
concerning the acquisition of advanced technology and purchase
of modern industrial plants. It also asked for technical assistance
in locating and exploiting oil deposits off its coast. But the
problems for Albania in pursuing these economic aims were considerable.
The main problem was Albania's critical shortage of foreign currency,
a factor that caused Albania to resort to barter to pay for imported
goods. Tied to this problem was the economy's centralized planning
mechanism, which inhibited the production of export commodities
because enterprises had no incentive to increase the country's
foreign-exchange earnings. An even greater problem until the 1990s
was the provision in the 1976 Albanian constitution prohibiting
the government from accepting foreign aid.
In addition to paying more attention to Albania's close neighbors
and Western Europe, Alia advocated a reassessment of relations
with other East European countries. A more flexible attitude was
adopted, and relations with the German Democratic Republic (East
Germany), Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria significantly improved in
the late 1980s. In June 1989, the East German foreign minister
Oskar Fischer visited Albania; he was the first senior official
from the Soviet bloc to visit the country since the early 1960s.
Alia personally received Fischer, and a number of key agreements
were signed that led to expanded cooperation in industry and the
training of specialists. By 1990 long-term trade agreements had
been signed with most East European states. The Comecon countries
were willing to accept Albania's shoddy manufactured goods and
its low-quality produce for political reasons. After 1990, however,
when these countries were converting to market economies, they
no longer had the same willingness, which made it considerably
more difficult for Albania to obtain much-needed foreign currency.
The Albanian media, nonetheless, greeted the revolutions in Eastern
Europe with favor, covering events with an unusual amount of objectivity.
The government in Tiranė was among the first to attack Romanian
dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and to recognize the new government
in Romania. As far as the Soviet Union was concerned, however,
Albania continued to be highly critical of its former ally and
denounced Gorbachev's policy of perestroika. Apparently Albania
was also concerned about what it saw as Soviet support for Yugoslavia's
handling of the Kosovo issue. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union continued
to call for improved relations with Albania.
Albania's attitude toward the United States traditionally had
been very hostile. Relations with Washington were broken in 1946,
when Albania's communist regime refused to adhere to prewar treaties
and obligations. Alia showed a different inclination, however,
after a visit to Tiranė in 1989 by some prominent Albanian Americans,
who impressed him with their desire to promote the Albanian cause.
In mid-February 1990, the Albanian government reversed its long-standing
policy of having no relations with the superpowers. A leading
Albanian government official announced: "We will have relations
with any state that responds to our friendship with friendship."
No formal contacts between the United States and Albania existed
until 1990, when diplomats began a series of meetings that led
to a resumption of relations. On March 15, 1991, a memorandum
of understanding was signed in Washington reestablishing diplomatic
relations between the two countries. United States secretary of
state James Baker visited Albania in June 1991, following the
CSCE meeting in Berlin at which Albania was granted CSCE membership.
During his visit, Baker informed the Albanian government that
the United States was prepared to provide Albania with approximately
US$6 million worth of assistance. He announced that the United
States welcomed the democratic changes that were taking place
in Albania and promised that if Albania took concrete steps toward
political and free-market reforms, the United States would be
prepared to offer further assistance.
Alia's pragmatism was also reflected in Albania's policy toward
China and the Soviet Union. The Albanian Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs made an official visit to China in March 1989, and the
visit was reciprocated in August 1990. On July 30, 1990, Albania
and the Soviet Union signed a protocol normalizing relations,
which had been suspended for the previous twenty-nine years. The
Soviet-Albanian Friendship Society was reactivated, and Alia met
with the Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, when they
were both in New York to visit the United Nations in September
1990. No longer were the United States and the Soviet Union considered
to be Albania's most dangerous enemies.
Alia's trip to the United Nations was the first time that an
Albanian head of state had attended an official meeting in the
West. The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate to the world
that Albania had a pragmatic and new foreign policy. While at
the United Nations, Alia delivered a major foreign policy address
to the General Assembly in which he described the changes that
had taken place in Albania's foreign policy and emphasized that
his country wanted to play a more active role in world events.
In his address, Alia discussed the ongoing efforts of the Albanian
leadership to adjust the external and internal politics of Albania
to the realities of the postcommunist world.
The internal politics of Albania, driven by a collapsed economy,
social instability, and democratic ferment, portend continued
changes in the institutions of government in the early to mid-1990s
and in the relationship between the country's leaders and its
* * *
Materials on Albania are not as readily available as those on
other countries in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, a few useful monographs
on Albanian politics and government have appeared. The Albanians:
Europe's Forgotten Survivors, by Anton Logoreci, and Socialist
Albania since 1944, by Peter R. Prifti, both of which were published
during the 1970s provide useful accounts of political developments
in Albania since World War II. Albania: A Socialist Maverick,
by Elez Biberaj, offers a more up-to-date picture of the political
scene in Albania, pointing out the positive and negative aspects
of the changes taking place there. Among the more useful articles
on Albanian politics is Biberaj's "Albania at the Crossroads,"
which analyzes political events in 1991 and offers a perspective
on what might be expected for Albania's future. Also of value
are the regular articles on Albanian politics by Louis Zanga,
appearing in the Munich weekly Report on Eastern Europe, published
by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. (For further information and
complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of April 1992