Albanian Communism

In late 1944, Hoxha's partisans seized most of Albania and formed a provisional government.  The Communists held elections in December 1945 with an unopposed slate of candidates and, in 1946, proclaimed Albania a republic with Hoxha as premier.  From 1944 to 1948, Albania maintained close relations with Yugoslavia, which had helped to establish the Albanian Communist party.  After Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia broke with Stalin, Albania became a satellite of the USSR.  Albania's disapproval of de-Stalinisation and of Soviet-Yugoslav rapprochement led in 1961 to a break between Moscow and Tirana.

View of a communist stone slogan on a mountain ridge

Chinese influence and economic aid replaced Soviet, and Albania became China's only ally in Communist Eastern Europe.  Albania ceased active participation in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) and, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, withdrew from the Warsaw Treaty Organization.  In the early 1970s continuing Soviet hostility and Albanian isolation led the Hoxha regime to make overtures to neighbouring Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italy.  The alliance with China lasted until 1977 when Hoxha broke ties in protest at China's liberalisation and the U.S.-China rapprochement.

In 1967, the authorities conducted a violent campaign to extinguish religious life in Albania, claiming that religion had divided the Albanian nation and kept it mired in backwardness.  Student agitators combed the countryside, forcing Albanians to quit practicing their faith.  Despite complaints, even by APL members, all churches, mosques, monasteries, and other religious institutions had been closed or converted into warehouses, gymnasiums, and workshops by the end of the year.  The campaign culminated in an announcement that Albania had become the world's first atheistic state, a feat touted as one of Enver Hoxha's greatest achievements.

Traditional kinship links in Albania, centred on the patriarchal family, were shattered by the post-war repression of clan leaders, collectivisation of agriculture, industrialisation, migration from the countryside to urban areas, and suppression of religion.  The post-war regime also brought a radical change in the status of Albania's women.  Considered second-class citizens in traditional Albanian society, women performed most of the work at home and in the fields.  Before World War II, about 90 % of Albania's women were illiterate, and in many areas they were regarded as chattels under ancient tribal laws and customs.  During the Cultural and Ideological Revolution, the party encouraged women to take jobs outside the home in an effort to compensate for labour shortages and to overcome their conservatism.  Hoxha himself proclaimed that anyone who trampled on the party's edict on women's rights should be "hurled into the fire."
 In 1980, Hoxha turned to Ramiz Alia to succeed him as Albania's communist patriarch, overlooking his long-standing comrade-in-arms, Mehmet Shehu.  Hoxha first tried to convince Shehu to step aside voluntarily, but when this move failed Hoxha arranged for all the members of the Politburo to rebuke him for allowing his son to become engaged to the daughter of a former bourgeois family.  Shehu allegedly committed suicide on December 18, 1981.  It is suspected, however, that Hoxha had him killed.  Hoxha went into semi-retirement in early 1983, and Alia assumed responsibility for Albania's administration.  When Hoxha died on 11th  April, 1985, he left Albania a legacy of repression, technological backwardness, isolation, and fear of the outside world.  Albania was the last country in Eastern Europe during the early 1990s to undergo a transition from a totalitarian communist regime to an incipient system of democracy.

The Communist years in Gjirokastra

The National Museum of Armaments with the statue of Enver Hoxha

 The years under communism saw rapid and large scale industrialisation as a part of the regime’s Stalinist economic strategy.  A metal work factory was opened that made small items such as eating utensils as well as factories for shoes, clothing, cigarettes, refrigerators, umbrellas and other light industrial products.  Gjirokastra was declared a Museum City by the communist regime in 1961 in an effort to conserve the unique cultural heritage of the town.  As well as more specialist craftsmen, a large conscripted workforce, consisting mainly of young people and known as the volunteer youth brigades, was assembled to maintain the old town.  The extensive network of cobbled streets is an example of their work. 

The 1967 campaign to extinguish religion had a major impact on Gjirokastra.  During the Ottoman period there were 15 mosques in Gjirokastra, 13 of these survived until the communist era when all but one were destroyed.  It is suggested that the only remaining mosque managed to avoid demolition due to its status as a cultural monument.  For the remaining years of the regime the building was used to train circus acrobats as the high domed ceiling afforded the necessary space.   Nearby, what is now the Madrasah (Muslim school) was originally a Bektashi tekke.  Built in 1727, it was shut down during the 1967 clamp down.   The iconic murals that decorated the interior walls of Saint Sotirë church were also totally destroyed by the communists.   Modern framed versions of the iconic images now cover the walls, many of them by local artists.

When the communist regime fell at the end of 1990, Gjirokastra’s economy was already declining rapidly.  To achieve full employment, the communists assigned far more people to work in the already outdated and inefficient industrial complexes than were actually needed.  The collapse of the communist system resulted in the catastrophic loss of thousands of jobs in Gjirokastra.  Thousands in turn migrated either to Tirana or abroad in search of work.  In the civil unrest that followed the fall of the regime the National Armaments Museum was looted and the city’s enormous statue of Enver Hoxha was pulled down.  The site is now a restaurant car park. 

 Communist Tunnels and bunkers

During the communist era, the regime thought it prudent to ensure its survival in the event of an attack by the United States or the Soviet Union (after the early 1960s both were considered enemies).  Using the existing catacombs, they  built an extensive underground complex in Gjirokastra to protect important party members and the  military leadership against nuclear attack.  There are also numerous tunnels and shelters in the surrounding hills and ravines intended for use by the townspeople.  In addition, the regime built over 600,000 concrete bunkers as a first line of defence, many of these can be seen in the areas surrounding Gjirokastra.   

An iron mould used during
communism for bunkers production


Communist era bunkers, a characteristic sight  in the valley below Gjirokastra