Developing a left in Albania

Submitted by AWL on 3 August, 2013 - 11:14

Arlind Qori and other members of a left-wing group in Albania which calls itself simply Organizata Politike (Political Organisation, OP) came for a few days to the summer camp of the Greek revolutionary socialist group OKDE, 20-28 July 2013, and we talked with them there.

Other reports from Greece, July 2013:

They told us that their group came together after a big demonstration in January 2011, against the government then led by the Democratic Party, the more right-wing of the two main parties. The demonstration, protesting at electoral fraud and corruption, was called by the mainstream opposition party, the Socialist Party, but four people were killed by troops in Tirana.

The group now has about 30 people, some Marxists, some Trotskyists, some anarchists. They say what brings them together is anti-capitalism and a drive to break the cultural hegemony of right-wing and neo-liberal ideas in Albania.

From September 2011 to April 2012 they were able to publish a weekly paper, sold from news-stands on the basis of the news-stands keeping the sales money. They reckon a few hundred copies of each issue were bought, and the group got some new people from the effort. Then the money ran out.

Now they get new supporters mostly by way of their website, and the social centre they run. The whole group is in Tirana and there, at least, most young people have access to the internet. The group also makes it its business to buy up copies of the books by Marx and Lenin now available cheap and in large quantities second-hand in Albania, and to organise discussions round them. Most of the copies, they said, were previously owned by Stalinist bureaucrats, and are in good condition, showing few signs of having been read or even opened.

The OP people spoke excellent English. One of them had studied at Manchester University, though he was not politically active then. We asked the others how they came to speak such good English, and they shrugged and said: "In a small country, learning foreign languages is a necessity".

The Organizata Politike, they say, all there is of a left in Albania. There are three or four Hoxha-ist parties, preaching nostalgia for the regime of the old Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, but they attract only old people.

The Socialist Party, which is a party constructed from elements of the old Stalinist ruling party, denounces the Democratic Party as crazy right-wingers. The Democratic Party call the Socialist Party crypto-communists. In fact, the Albanian leftists told us, the differences of policy are as slight as those between the Tories and New Labour in Britain.

The Socialist Party, after winning the election in June 2013, says it will introduce a progressive income tax in place of the flat-rate tax in force under the Democratic Party government - but it will be only mildly progressive. The SP has also promised a free-at-the-point-use public health service, but will they introduce it?

Albania was the only country in Europe where German and Italian occupation armies were evicted during World War Two by local forces alone, without any Allied intervention. From 1944 it was a Stalinist state, under Enver Hoxha. Jealous of its autonomy, it first allied with Mao against Moscow, and then after 1976 declared China "revisionist" too.

After Hoxha died in 1985, his successor Ramiz Alia started pushing towards integration in the world market, and from 1991 managed a peaceful transition of Albania to world-market capitalism.

The transition has led to vast job cuts in mines and other large industrial units. "The majority of the Albanian working class", the OP people told us, "are emigrating to Greece or Italy, or moving to Tirana. What's expanding is the informal economy, drug dealing, remittances from Albanians working abroad, road construction (though that has been in crisis for the last two years), corruption, and privatisation".

Do people wish to have the old Hoxhaist regime back? The OP comrades raised their eyebrows: of course not. There is some admiration for some achievements of the old regime - there really was free health care and free education, unlike in Stalin's Russia or Mao's China - but those achievements were made mostly by "voluntary labour", unpaid labour conscripted by the state. And after Albania's falling-out with China in 1976-8, things went downhill.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s the nomenklatura was decimated by Stalin-scale purges.

Some of the nomenklatura, or of their children, have got rich in the new order, but mostly it is "Wild West" capitalism. A lot of the old nomenklatura have simply retired.

Foreign investment? There is some. But mostly it is asset-stripping, or the establishment only of small enterprises, like call centres. There is nothing comparable to the factories which Volkswagen has established in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and the Ukraine.

There are two union federations, one linked to the SP, one linked to the DP, both "totally corrupt" and with small memberships. Labour strikes are very rare. "The characteristic Albanian protest is the hunger strike".

About 46% of the population is still rural. It was 60% in 1991. But the people in the countryside have only small plots of land, and do not produce much for sale. A lot of food is imported, and many rural households depend on remittances from abroad or from the cities.

Albania's exports? "Minerals and people". There is a processing-for-export manufacturing sector, but only small.

How do the people who flood from the countryside to Tirana live? They build themselves houses - not shanty-towns exactly, because these are houses built of concrete, and (somehow) with electricity and water supplies, but not planned development either. Across Albania, the OP people said, a common sight is houses with one storey built and inhabited, and a second storey half-built and awaiting a new remittance from abroad to finance completion.

Maybe 80% of the population would favour reunification with Kosova (which is Albanian-inhabited, but was seized by Serbia in 1913). But the US and the EU (which continue to supervise Kosova heavily, after the 1999 war which ended with de facto independence for Kosova) don't want it, and there is no push to fight for reunification against the resistance of the US and the EU. The US and the EU do not want the complications with Serbia and with Macedonia (the population of which is one-third Albanian) which would flow from reunification. The US ambassador is a big figure in Albanian politics, with his views attended to on all questions.

There is some movement across the Kosova-Albanian border, but not much. Kosova is poorer than Albania. The OP has some contacts in Kosova, with the Vetëvendosje ("self-determination") party, a leftish movement which advocates merger of Kosova with Albania and minority rights for the Serbs living in Kosova.

Hoxha's Albania was the world's only-ever atheist state, with religious observance banned by law. Has that banning produced, in reaction, an upsurge of religiosity since then? "A little, but not much. For a while it was considered trendy among the youth to be religious, especially Catholic [Albania has been historically majority-Muslim, with a Christian minority mostly Catholic rather than Orthodox]. But now it's mostly old people who go to church or mosque".

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