Political Control

Political Control

The Albanian Party of Labor (APL) had an active and dominant organization within the armed forces until it lost its monopoly on political power in 1991. The postcommunist political complexion of the military was only beginning to evolve in early 1992. The great majority of officers in the armed services were still party members in early 1992 (the party was renamed in June 1991 as the Socialist Party of Albania).

The communist-dominated coalition government, which emerged from the spring 1991 elections, promised a sweeping military reform that included the depoliticization of the armed forces. The Political Directorate of the People's Army, however, continued to exist as part of the Ministry of Defense. The Political Directorate controlled political officers within all services and units of the armed forces. The communist leadership considered the directorate essential to ensure that the armed forces conformed with ideology as interpreted by the party.

The reliability of senior military leaders was assured by their membership in the party. All students over eighteen years of age in military schools were also party members. Younger students were members of the Union of Albanian Working Youth and were organized into the party's youth committee in the army. Political officers indoctrinated conscripts with communist ideology and the party line. Reinforcing the actions of officers and military courts, they helped ensure discipline in military units. They had authority to take action against soldiers whose attitudes or conduct was considered contrary to the efficiency or good order of the armed forces. Probably only a very few of the conscripts were party members, but nearly all were members of the youth organization.

In 1966 Hoxha abolished rank designations and uniforms, condemning them as unhealthy bourgeois class distinctions, in keeping with a similar Chinese move. This measure was intended to make the military more egalitarian by bringing officers closer to the soldiers under their command. It also reinforced party control over the military by reducing the prestige and independence of its leadership as well as its potential to become a political power center rivaling the party. Military professionalism became a secondary consideration to political reliability in determining promotions.

Since World War II, the abrupt shifts in Albanian foreign policy resulted in purges of the officer corps. Those officers trained in or closely linked with Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, or China were purged from the ranks and even executed as traitors when alliances with these countries came to an end.

Fearing a decline in his authority and party control over the People's Army, Hoxha also conducted a major purge of its senior officers during 1974. He dismissed and later executed his longtime ally and minister of defense Beqir Balluku as well as the chief of staff and chief of the political directorate. He replaced Balluku with Mehmet Shehu, who was prime minister, another close associate of many years who had established the military and security forces in the late 1940s. Shehu was a founder of the guerrilla movement during World War II who attained the rank of lieutenant general. He was its most capable military leader, but he apparently committed suicide after he and party officials tied closely to him were purged in 1981. Prokop Murra, a relatively junior candidate member of the Politburo, succeeded Shehu as minister of defense and became a full member of the Politburo in 1986. Kico Mustaqi became chief of the general staff and first deputy minister of defense, as well as a candidate member of the Politburo, in 1986.

Military influence in politics was restored to its earlier level when Mustaqi became minister of defense and a full member of the Politburo in 1990. This closer integration of the military into the political leadership may have been an effort to ensure its loyalty at a time of social unrest at home and communist disintegration in Eastern Europe. In early 1991, however, President Alia replaced Mustaqi with Muhamet Karakaci, a young former officer and deputy chief of the general staff. Alia reportedly feared that Mustaqi was planning a military coup d'état.

In November 1991, the communist-dominated coalition government reintroduced military ranks and Western-style uniforms in place of plain Chinese fatigues. It pledged to emphasize military professionalism, training, and discipline and to eliminate political indoctrination from the military. The Albanian Democratic Party called for reforms in the armed forces to include reductions in military spending, military units, and conscription and the reorganization of unit structures. It proposed and initiated an effort to establish contacts and cooperation with Western military establishments, particularly Turkey's, and to send Albanian officers to study and train in foreign military academies. The chief of staff of the People's Army attended the East-West Seminar on Military Doctrines in Vienna for the first time in 1991.

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