Alia's Pragmatism

Alia's Pragmatism

On succeeding to Hoxha's party leadership post in 1985, Alia reassessed Albania's foreign policy. He realized that it was imperative for Albania to expand its contacts with the outside world if it were to improve its economic situation. He was eager in particular to introduce Western technology, although limited foreign-currency reserves and constitutional bans on foreign loans and credits restricted Albania's ability to import technology.

Alia's public statements indicated that in pursuing his country's foreign policy objectives he would be less rigid than his predecessor and put political and economic concerns ahead of ideological ones. Thus, at the seventy-fifth anniversary of Albania's independence in 1987, Alia stated, "We do not hesitate to cooperate with others and we do not fear their power and wealth. On the contrary, we seek such cooperation because we consider it a factor that will contribute to our internal development."

In February 1988, Albania participated in the Balkan Foreign Ministers Conference, held in Belgrade. The participation was a clear sign of a new flexibility in Albania's foreign policy. During the 1960s and 1970s, Albania had refused all regional attempts to engage in multilateral cooperation, but Alia was determined to end Albania's isolation and return his country to the mainstream of world politics. This new approach entailed an improvement of relations with Yugoslavia. Indeed, Alia apparently realized that Albania had nothing to gain from confrontation with Yugoslavia over the Kosovo issue, and he ceased endorsing Kosovar demands for republic status in his public statements. The government's conciliatory approach to Yugoslavia was expressed fully in a declaration by Minister of Foreign Affairs Reis Malile at the conference. Malile said that the status of Kosovo was an internal Yugoslav problem.

Trade and economic cooperation between Albania and Yugoslavia increased greatly toward the end of the 1980s. But Kosovo again became a source of tension when the Yugoslav government imposed special security measures on the province and dispatched army and militia units in February and March 1989. These actions resulted in violent clashes between Yugoslav security forces and the Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo. Albania denounced Yugoslavia's "chauvinist policy" toward Kosovo and noted that if the oppression continued, it would adversely affect relations between Albania and Yugoslavia. For its part, Yugoslavia threatened to close down Albania's only rail link to the outside world, a move that would have caused great hardship to Albania. In December 1989, a Yugoslav newspaper reported alleged unrest in northern Albania; President Alia denounced this report and similar ones as a foreign "campaign of slander" against Albania. He denied reports of unrest and said that Yugoslavia was trying to stir up trouble to divert attention from ethnic troubles in Kosovo.

By the late 1980s, Albania began to strengthen further its relations with Greece. The substantial Greek minority in Albania motivated Greek concern for better communications with Albania. It was especially important for Greece that Albanian nationals who were ethnically Greek should be allowed to practice the Greek Orthodox religion. Greece offered Albania hopes of economic and political ties that would offset the deterioration in relations with Yugoslavia. Albania and Greece had already signed a military protocol on the maintenance and repair of border markers in July 1985. In August 1987, Greece officially lifted its state of war with Albania, a state that had existed since World War II, when Italy had launched its attack on Greece from Albanian territory. In November 1987, the Greek prime minister visited TiranŽ to sign a series of agreements with Albania, including a long-term agreement on economic, industrial, technical, and scientific cooperation. In April 1988, the two countries set up a ferry link between the Greek island of Corfu and the Albanian city of SarandŽ. In late 1989, however, their relations began to worsen when some Greek politicians began to express concern about the fate of the Greek minority in Albania, and a war of words began. This hostility marked a sharp departure from the trend over the past decade.

Albania's relations with both Turkey and Italy improved after the death of Hoxha. In May 1985, Prime Minister «arÁani sent a message to the Italian prime minister, Bettino Craxi, stating that he hoped cooperation between the two countries could be increased. In late 1985, however, there was a slight setback in Italian-Albanian relations when six Albanian citizens sought refuge in the Italian Embassy in TiranŽ and the two countries found it difficult to settle the dilemma. The six were allowed to remain in the embassy until Albania finally gave assurances that they would not be persecuted.

An important step toward ending Albania's isolation and improving its relationships with its neighbors was TiranŽ's offer to host the Balkan Foreign Ministers Conference in October 1990. The conference was a follow-up to the Belgrade conference of 1988 and was the first international political gathering to take place in Albania since the communists came to power. The conference came at a good time for the Albanian leadership, which was attempting to project a new image abroad in keeping with the democratic changes beginning to take place within the country. For Albania it was an opportunity to increase its prestige and boost its international image in the hopes of becoming a fullfledged member of the CSCE. In fact, the latter aim was not achieved by the conference, and it was not until June 1991, after a visit by CSCE staff members to observe Albania's first multiparty elections, that Albania was accepted as a full member of the CSCE.

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