Alia, Ramiz (Albania)
Ramiz Alia was President of Albania between 1982–92 but it was not until 1985, when his mentor Enver Hoxha died and he became leader of the Party of Labour, that he assumed full power. Though Hoxha’s chosen successor, he was a more pragmatic leader and pursued closer links with the outside world in an effort to halt Albania’s ever-worsening economic decline. He re-established links with the USA, USSR and China and relaxed some of the most unpopular social and political restrictions. It was too little, however, to satisfy the growing demands for reform from within Albania and in 1992 his party was defeated at the first democratic elections in decades.
Alia was born on 18 Oct. 1925 in Shkodër, Albania to a Muslim family who were originally from Kosovo. He was educated at a French school in Tirana. He joined the Albanian Communist Party (which became the Party of Labour in 1948) during World War II, and was active in its associated Army of National Liberation. Following the war he worked with the Party’s youth movement and in 1949 was elected to the Party’s Central Committee. He spent a year in the Soviet Union to receive training during the mid-1950s and returned to Albania to hold the post of Minister of Education between 1955–58. During this period he also became an alternate member of the Politburo and was called onto the Party’s Secretariat where he was put in charge of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.
Under Hoxha, Alia was heavily involved in criticizing Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and China before the respective breaks with these countries and also played a leading role in enforcing Hoxha’s will upon the Albanian people. Following Hoxha’s political manoeuvring in 1981 and 1982, during which Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu and a number of his supporters died, he was made head of Parliament. Hoxha remained as the Party of Labour’s First Secretary, but he gradually moved away from the political scene and died in 1985. Alia replaced him as head of the Party and was the country’s undisputed leader.
No longer shackled by Hoxha’s disastrous insistence on isolation, Alia began to re-establish ties with foreign partners. By the late 1980s there was contact between Albania and China, diplomatic relations with West Germany were re-instated in 1987, with the Soviet Union in 1990 (though the country had officially opposed Gorbachev’s move towards reform) and with the USA the following year. Relations with Italy and Greece were also improved. International economic aid was slow in coming because Hoxha’s 1976 constitution prohibited the acceptance of outside help. However, the country did benefit economically following its move away from isolationism.
Albania’s industrial base was short on technology but began to improve under Alia via foreign expertise and resources. Nonetheless goods and services often had to be obtained by barter. Some free-market mechanisms were introduced along with social reforms including greater freedom of movement, relaxation in restrictions of religious practice and a brake on the activities of the feared secret police.
Calls for reform continued to grow louder. In late 1990 the government was forced to permit other political parties. In a free election in March 1991 Alia’s party won convincingly and, though Alia lost his own seat, he was re-appointed President. The government collapsed in June and renamed itself the Socialist Party. Popular protests continued, a general strike was threatened and new elections were called for March 1992 in which the Socialists were defeated by a Democrat-led opposition. Alia subsequently resigned as president.
In Sept. 1992 Alia and a number of former allies were arrested on charges of corruption and in 1994 he was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment. He was released during an amnesty but was re-arrested on different charges before fleeing to Sweden in early 1997. Charges against him were dropped in Oct. 1997 and he returned to Albania the following Dec. Alia died of lung problems on 6 Oct. 2011 aged 85.