Albania 30 years after the fall of the‘The most radical communist regime: Has justice been restored?
‘The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.’ Hannah Arendt
Albania’s dictatorship has been estimated as one of the most severe and repressive ones in Eastern Europe (Abrahams, 2015). The establishment of the system and expansion of power during communist Albania was accompanied by imprisonments, killings, and internments of those opposing the regime in many camps and prisons built across the country. After the fall of the regime and establishment of a democratic system, there was a need for justice restoration and societal reconciliation. Based on different internal political dynamics in post-totalitarian Albania, a power shift and vacuum, but also due to the regime legacy, the process of compensation towards those politically persecuted by and victims of the former regime has been versatile.
Albania and the rise of communism: A summary
The country represents a complex case in the field of transitional justice. The former communist regime in Albania is considered by scholars as among the harshest ones in the Eastern bloc (Abrahams, 2015). The establishment of power by Enver Hoxha [i] (1945) was accompanied by repressive measures to the those posing a threat to and opposing the regime. Based on data from Institute for the Studies of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania, (ISKK, 2020), 34.135 Albanians were imprisoned during communist rule and 59.009 were deported and persecuted (ISKK, 2020). The total population in Albania based on the last census conducted during the former communist regime marks 3.2 million inhabitants (UNSTATS, 2014). Therefore, such figures of convicts and politically persecuted clearly demonstrate the repressive and severe nature of the installed regime in Albania.
Sigurimi i Shtetit (State Security) was the main institution in charge of verifying the ideological correctness of party members and ordinary citizens. It monitored private phone conversations and correspondence, and purged the party, government, military and intelligence agencies of individuals closely associated with Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and China, after Albania broke off with each of these countries (Stan, 2010).
The government took control of the economy and revoked civil liberties. In 1967, the Communist Party even banned all religious activity in the country, rendering all religion lawless. Communist tyranny left Albania among the world’s poorest countries, which was yet to be militarized to the extreme. The exact number of the victims of communism is unknown (Estonian Institute of Historical Memory, 2020).
The first steps towards Democracy
On December 8th, 1990 students began to protest in Tirana’s Student Town against the regime. These were the first attempts towards requesting a change in the regime. During three days of protesting, students were calling to meet with Ramiz Alia, who was Enver Hoxha’s successor in leading the Albanian Labour Party from 1985. Many newspapers and analysis from testimonies claim that it is unclear how the protesters, which were not part of a clearly organized movement, decided to ask for negotiations with Alia (Sejamini, 2015). However, the negotiations took place and by the beginning of 1991 a pluralistic party system had been implemented with many parties being established. The first one was Democratic Party of Albania, established in December 1990.
In the countries with negotiated transition[ii], the old elites are reframed but are still active in the public life. On the other hand, the numbers of victims of the communist dictatorship in Albania have been subject to controversial debates, precisely because of the reason that the old elites and beneficiaries of the former regime are still active in public life. Transitional Justice attempts were conducted during the beginning of transition of the country towards democracy, including compensations as a form of reparations. As Verdeja coined it, reparations can promote a number of worthy goals, including the reaffirmation of moral respect and dignity of victims (Verdeja, 2006).
The first law approved in Albania providing the former persecuted and imprisoned persons with the right of compensation passed on September (Law no 7514, 1991). This was the first step towards restoring justice in the society. Law. 7514, dated 30.9.1991 ‘For the innocence, amnesty and rehabilitation of former convicts and the politically persecuted’ acknowledges the crimes of the communist regime and grants innocence to the politically persecuted and prisoners. It explicitly states that ’over the past 45 years, many Albanian citizens have been charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned, interned or persecuted for violations of a political nature, violating their civil, social, moral and economic rights.
Despite the Law 7514 in 1991, compensations from a historical point of view in Albania have faced several phases of legal developments. Such developments coincide with political changes and governments in Albania.
Phases of Transitional Justice in Albania: Power to Political Parties
The first phase of Transitional Justice and establishment of compensation as a victim-centered TJ tool in Albania extends from 1991 until 1997. This period coincides with the governments ruled by the Democratic Party of Albania. This is considered to be the first party to have been allowed to register by Ramiz Alia and thus embraced the cause of establishing justice for the politically persecuted and victims of the former communist regime. During this phase, most laws established compensation, but also admitting that the regime had committed such crimes against humanity. This is the period during which most of the victims could voice their needs. As we will observe below, many laws were passed by the parliament in favor of compensations.
The second phase of both political and legal development starts from 1997 and continues until 2005. In 1997, Albania faced national turmoil and state collapse, caused by huge financial pyramid schemes. The pyramid scheme phenomenon in Albania is important because its scale relative to the size of the economy was unprecedented. The political and social consequences of such an event were profound. At their peak, the nominal value of the pyramid schemes' liabilities amounted to almost half of the country's GDP. Many Albanians—about two-thirds of the population—invested in them. When the schemes collapsed, there was uncontained rioting, the government fell, and the country descended into anarchy and a near civil war in which some 2,000 people were killed (Jarvis, 2000). The results of the elections of 29 June 1997 were dramatic for the Democratic Party, which managed to receive 25.0 % of votes. The Socialist Party came out as the winner of the elections with 52.75 % of votes (ShtetiWeb, 2020).
After the social unrest in 1997, the imprisoned former communist elite were set free, and later, with a Constitutional Court decision, they were declared innocent and the court ordered compensation for miscarriage of justice. There is little public information about these trials and the public has forgotten that these trials took place. The harshest punishments for the former communist elite were given in the period 1995 – 1996, in the trials under the controversial Genocide Law. However, all the convicted were set free during the 1997 social unrest (Albanian Telegraphic Agency, 1997). This phase is seen as the one which set back the issue of compensations in the political agenda of the country. Being the reformed successor of the Albanian Labor Party (LP), the Socialist Party did not have an agenda dedicated to compensations and transitional justice.
The third phase of compensations in Albania is from 2007 until 2013 as a resume of the process. The fourth one started in 2013 and is still ongoing. This is considered as the revival phase of compensations for politically persecuted people during communist Albania. However, following the chronology of events, most of the compensations are taking place from 2013 and the process is still ongoing. This means that the actual compensations are taking place almost 30 years after the fall of the communist regime, by showing thus the delayed aspect of the TJ process in Albania. The process was halted due to political interests for many years, accompanied by a divided public opinion. Currently, financial compensations are ongoing and currently the 12th installment is expected to begin (Ministry of Finance, 2020).
Main Political Parties during 30 years of (never-ending) transition
The legacies of authoritarian regimes are likely to affect the democratic pursuits of any new regime. The duration of the previous regime augments the constraints on the new regime’s ability to pursue transitional justice, because older regimes are more likely to become deeply institutionalized. This argument is specifically relevant to communist regimes, whose ideology transcends mere authoritarianism to establish the totalitarian subordination of all aspects of political, economic, and social life (Alexandra Barahona de Brito, 2001). In this light, the duration of the regime in Albania has created several socio-political legacies, especially with regard to political parties and the main actors of political and decision-making processes.
Albania’s experience with democracy started with the end of the former communist system and the country was the last one to orient towards democracy in Eastern Europe (1991). After almost fifty years of a lack of pluralism, the Democratic Party of Albania (DP) was created. The former Labor Party reformed itself and was renamed the Socialist Party of Albania (SP). These two political parties are the most important players. A third party entered the political scene in 2004, LSI (Lëvizja Socialiste për Integrim)/Socialist Movement for Integration as a faction of SP. The country has experienced several fallbacks on TJ during this period, such as the case of compensations, which has faced several changes, pauses and delays mostly because of lack of political will and dialogue. During the transition, the political sphere saw a rise in the number of political parties, mainly coming from the fragmentation of big parties. The main reasons for the fragmentation are the internal organization of the parties, which is mainly authoritarian, and secondly, the desire for individual power and narrow interests of certain individuals (Jano, 2008).
The importance of Transitional Justice in societies like Albania
Following the theories of transitional justice, helping victims restructure and repair their lives is one of the goals of transitional justice. However, the decision to create a transitional justice process varies from different factors. As Richard Wilson describes in the introduction to his case study of transitional justice in South Africa:
“The parameters of justice are framed by the historical character of authoritarian legality, by the balance of power between bellicose parties, and in concrete pacts reached during negotiations […]. Opposition movements are seldom wholly excluded, and instead are often party to decisions on amnesty, truth commissions and the limits of criminal prosecutions. Thus, the room for maneuver […] is often severely limited, as the boundaries of justice have been set at an earlier stage in the transition” (Brown, 2015)
Moreover, transitional justice almost always unfolds in deeply polarized societies. Weak institutions may need considerable time and investment before they are able to even begin addressing systematic abuses. Civil society and victims’ groups may be very articulate and organized in some places but disparate and weak in others, with less capacity to put pressure on governments to act or to engage in meaningful ways. The media may lack independence or be polarized, defending specific and divisive narratives. The international community may have a great deal of interest in the country or very little interest. Support and implementation of justice efforts will depend on all of these things and more (ICTJ, International Center for Transitional Justice, 2020).
Institutions and Compensations: A calvary of initiatives
Many institutions were created to follow the issue of justice restoration, compensation and the study of communist crimes in transitional Albania. Initially, in 1993 the Committee of former Politically Condemned and Persecuted Persons was created (CFPCP). This committee operated until 1994. Also, the Institute of Former Persecuted People was created in 1991 with the aim to operate within approved laws of compensation and justice restorations (Instituti i ish-të Përndjekurve Politikë, 2018). In addition, in 2015, the so called ‘law of files’ was introduced (Law nr.45, 2015 ). In fact, its main outcome was the establishment of Authority for Information on Former State Security Documents. This is an independent, public institution in Albania, responsible for implementing the law relating to the collection, administration, processing and use of former state security documents (The Authority for Information on Former State Security Documents, 2015)
Regarding Albania, the country has faced several phases of transitional justice and the process has not been always supported by the governments in power. Moreover, the preconditions to establish a transitional justice process have not been fully met. This is testified by the prolonged and sometimes delayed attempts to establish it, such as concrete steps of financial compensations which started initially in 1991 and were suspended from 1997 until 2005. Financial compensations have been actively distributed to beneficiaries through instalments only after 2009.
Political will has not been fully committed to the issue of transitional justice, thus creating a partial process of reparations and financial compensations; Currently speaking, the twelfth installments are being issued by the current government, following the law from 2017. However, the process has been a delayed one given the fact that almost 30 years have passed since the fall of the former communist regime. The actual process has classified the beneficiaries into two categories. The first one, considered as the primary category of beneficiaries, consists of former persecuted people who are still alive, while the second is comprised by heirs and successors of the ones who have already passed away. The twelfth installment is expected to take place within upcoming months. Moreover, the third installment has been allocated to the heirs of victims and politically persecuted who passed away (Ministry of Finance). All these developments back up the argument that, first and foremost, the process has been a delayed one in Albania.
Main takeaways: (Is) A delayed and Partial Justice (Still Justice?)
Lack of databases and common understanding of the number of victims weakens the victim-centered processes of TJ, by making it difficult to promote internal reconciliation of the society. The public disputes on data, number of victims and existence of labor and internment camps hamper the transitional justice processes.
Transitional Justice tools that have a perpetrators-centered approach such as lustration have not been successful amidst some initiated attempts. The country has not gone through a complete transitional justice process. The topic of compensations has been the most publicly discussed, and often used for short-term political powers.
While compensations are currently being implemented accordingly, internal reconciliation of the Albanian society must take place as soon as possible in order to avoid further delays and restore justice and trust in Albanian democracy. Other parallel initiatives that the country is going through back up societal reconciliation. Currently Albania is an associated country to join the EU and the Council approved opening the accession negotiations on 24 March 2020. European Integration process and accession negotiations of Albania are expected to positively impact TJ processes, given that the EU has adopted a Transitional Justice Framework under the Human Rights component (European Union).
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[i] Enver Hoxha was the country’s dictator and the First Secretary of the Labor Party of Albania, from 1945 until his death in 1985. He was succeeded by Ramiz Alia, who was in power as the leader of People’s Republic of Albania until 1991 when the regime fell. He then was acting president of the Republic of Albania from April 1991 until April 1992. Ramiz Alia, during Students’ Protests on December 1990, negotiated with their representatives to take further steps towards opening of the country and transition to democracy. [ii] Negotiated transition is an academic term introduced in 1991 by Adam Przeworski, when explaining transitions in Eastern Europe and Latin America to liberal markets. Przeworski uses game theory to explain interaction of elites with civil society actors. His work was than taken upon by Alfred Linz and Juan J. Linz to explain Democratic Transition and democratization in the countries of Eastern and South Eastern Europe, as well as Latin America. Full source in reference sections