A Different Look at Communism in Albania – Arsa Sota, Albania

As a 17 year-old Albanian, I have heard a lot about communism. For those who do not know, Albania was under the communist rule of Enver Hoxha for 45 years, from 1945 until 1990. I grew up hearing many stories about the communist period, most of them from family members during family reunions. Those who remember would discuss the differences between now and then, sharing their memories. There used to be a TV program called “Histori me zhurmues” (zhurmues were devices placed in antennas that would not allow people to listen to foreign music or watch foreign tv channels, specifically Italian TV programs) in which ex political prisoners were invited to share their stories; most of them were extremely hard to listen to, as these were stories of torture and pain.

Relatives who had lived during the communist age would bring up the topic of communism frequently. Over time, it became evident that they held a favourable view of some aspects of the old regime. It was quite unusual to hear something good about this period of time, so I was inspired and wanted to know more about the good side of communism in Albania. While interviewing my grandmother, I became aware that she knows a great deal about the topic as she spent most of her life under the single-party regime. I discovered that she used to work in the administration field of different social organizations, mostly with the “Communist Women” association. When asked about some of the things she believes were well organized during the regime, some particular qualities during the communist regime arose and surprised me.

Order and organisation were always the norm. The war against corruption was standing strong and all the institutions would function in an orderly fashion. Albania has been facing corruption for a long time, and nowadays it has undeniably become one of the country’s major problems. Unfortunately, no one seems to mind anymore.

Something else that my grandma mentioned with praise was healthcare. Even though it was not very advanced at the time, with no variety of medical drugs and a lack of appropriate equipment, it was universally free. Those working in the healthcare sector were generally well-qualified, responsible and caring. Doctors would try their best to help their patients with whatever resources they had available.

Education was also highly appreciated in the communist era. Regardless of the ideology promoted – or propagandised – within the system, education in Albania reached its peak during this period. It was free for everyone, from elementary school up to university. The stance on illiteracy was harsh and like “Likbez” (a campaign for the elimination of illiteracy in Soviet Russia) many campaigns were initiated to combat it, eventually succeeding in completely eradicating illiteracy at the time.

The unemployment rate was steadily lowering and there were hardly any unemployed citizens. Everyone was working and although the shifts were long, they were compensated. The wages were more or less the same for everyone, no matter the profession.

One of the most developed sectors during communism was the cultural one, especially in the form of cinematography and music. When we talk about communist-era culture, we need to keep in mind that everything was controlled by the party and was used for propaganda purposes. The first productions in cinematography were chronicle movies produced in 1948. The movie industry was met with unparalleled success during the 70’s and 80’s, with up to 14 movies produced in one year. During these years, movie genres became more diverse. Genres of old Albanian movies would vary from war to comedies, from drama to children’s movies. The ruling ideology did not allow for every idea to be put into a movie, but it would present and discuss many problematic issues such as corruption, marriage, divorce, education or justice, nonetheless. Music was important too. Some of the greatest voices Albania has ever heard were discovered back then and music flourished with numerous concerts being held every year.

The aforementioned facts do seem to hint to the fact that the communist era was indeed quite good for the residents. I felt the need to share these thoughts because some people do say that they sometimes miss these aspects of the regime and would definitely like to relive some of those glory days. This attitude stems from the lack of belief in our current political system and as much as people like discussing the bright side, I think no one would go back in time. Communism in Albania is also an era of 45 terrifying years for those who lived through them. Fear prevailed. People were afraid to share their opinions, joke or even wear what they wished. There was no diversity. People had to fend for themselves with what little their country had to offer them. The rest of the world was beyond reach, even though some lucky and courageous youngsters might have been able to get a signal from a few Italian TV channels.

Although certain sectors such as healthcare were paid attention to, the ideology and way of the regime would not allow these fields to further prosper: if someone had contracted a disease the doctors were not specialized to deal with, it would be much harder for them to fight it. As mentioned before, the equipment was primitive in comparison to western countries and the supplementary treatments were lacking in quality. In arts and literature, many artists and writers were persecuted for challenging the regime and sharing their thoughts and points of view. Many movies were banned for containing “inappropriate” scenes and singers would be reproved because of their clothing or even their haircut.

The motivation behind this article was my one-sided knowledge of the dark side of communism; while it’s true it was a tough era filled with haunting stories, the regime also did some good to the country. Despite being excessive, it was proven successful in educating and employing the population, strengthening urban areas, and the cultural heritage it has left to the country is of great value.

I personally feel very lucky to have been born in post-communism Albania and to have access to many resources people back then did not. For example, I would not be able to openly express my opinion on this topic and I would not be able to study a foreign language, listen to a song I want or read a book that I prefer. During communism, none of this would have been possible and there was no such thing as freedom of speech. There is nothing we can do about those 45 years spent in isolation, but we can learn from previous actions and mistakes and do our best to create a better tomorrow.

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