Albania's Mixed Signal

April 06, 1991

Albania's first free election since the 1920s neither threw the Communists out nor legitimized them. Rather, it split the country. The result will be somewhat like Romania and Bulgaria, with regimes that are basically Communist trying to persuade the people that they are not, without knowing how.

The Communist dictator Ramiz Alia lost for parliament in his own district in Tirana, despite marching soldiers in to vote for him there. Mr. Alia is likely to remain president of the country and head of the Party of Labor, as the Communist Party prefers to be known. Tirana and the other cities went for the opposition Democrats, but the countryside for Labor.

The government said it wanted to take the opposition into a coalition. The Democrats, despite winning less than a third of the seats, said no. "The Communists who sucked our blood for 46 years are finished," said the Democratic Party leader, Gramoz Pashko. "Within two months they will be in pieces." That is hardly the language of compromise.

For the near term, this means no respite from the crisis of confidence that has sent thousands of Albanians in panic flight for jobs to an Italy that offers them none. It means Ramiz Alia, the moderate heir to the Stalinist rule of the late Enver Hoxha, will try to hold things together longer with reduced credibility.

But one thing has changed utterly. Albania is no longer a one-party state. It has an opposition that is not afraid to oppose. The Democrats have yet to make much headway in the Communist-controlled state media or other public forums, but they have been given a license to try and they are not going to flee to Italy.

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