Partisan Politics in World War II Albania: The Struggle for Power, 1939-1944

By Manelli, Gani | East European Quarterly, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Partisan Politics in World War II Albania: The Struggle for Power, 1939-1944


Manelli, Gani, East European Quarterly


In Albania, November 29, 1944 is remembered as the day of national liberation. On that day, after five years of intense fighting and internecine political struggles, the National Liberation Movement emerged victorious. Beginning with the Italian invasion of April 1939, the Albanian people were embroiled in a seemingly endless battle to expel the Italians, and later, the Germans. Ultimately, the citizens of Albania sought to create a unified nation that was free of foreign control.

The civil war that raged in Albania from 1939 to 1944 was a three-pronged struggle in which the National Liberation Movement, the National Union, and the National Zogite Party fought one another as they sought to galvanize the population and liberate the country from foreign control. Moreover, after the arrival of the British military missions in 1943, this battle for political power became particularly intense as each party attempted to curry favor with the British in order to obtain valuable military supplies as well as to achieve a certain degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the West. A year later, the National Liberation Movement seized control of the country and established a communist dictatorship.

The British viewed the Communist-led National Liberation Movement favorably because it constantly battled the wartime enemies of Great Britain: Italy and Germany. The National Union and the National Zogite Party, as a result of their open collaboration with foreign elements (i.e., the Italians and the Germans), alienated themselves from the British. Thus, the history of Albania during World War II is, in many respects, a history of the nexus between Albanian political parties and the British military missions. The 1939-1944 period is the pivotal point in twentieth-century Albanian history. The events that transpired during this time frame determined the type of government that emerged in the post-war era.

Albania During the 1930's: A Time of Italian Domination

During the 1930's, Italy gained extensive control of the Albanian economy. Italy was Albania's chief trading partner. In 1931, Italy invested ten million gold francs in Albania. (1) On March 3, 1933, Italy allocated two million pounds sterling to expand Italian oil concessions in Albania. Throughout the decade, Italy continued to augment its control of the Albanian economy. By 1937, seventy-three percent of the foreign capital in Albania was Italian. By 1938, that figures had risen to seventy-eight percent. Until the Second World War, there was not a single Albanian bank holding domestic capital. (2)

The Albanian National Bank, founded in 1925, was dominated by Italian capital. The Agrarian Bank, founded in 1937, was under the control of the Banco di Napoli. This foreign control had disastrous effects on the Albanian people. Even by Balkan standards, the Albanians had a very poor standard of living. Poor hygiene and nutrition, and the absence of preventive medicine engendered disease and epidemics, particularly malaria in the lowland and marshy areas. There were no medical schools, and the number of doctors was quite small. As late as 1938, Albania had only one hundred fifty-five doctors, forty-four dentists, twenty-nine pharmacists, and eleven hospitals. (3) The dreadful social and economic state of the country, coupled with increasing Italian influence, created much discontent among the population. The depressed state of the economy later gave Enver Hoxha, leader the Communist Party of Albania, much "fuel for the fire" in bombastic speeches.

Discontent throughout the population was heightened by the low state of education and culture. On the eve of the Second World War, eighty-three percent of the population was illiterate. (4) Since there were no colleges or universities in Albania, anyone seeking a higher education had to go abroad. In 1937, less than one-third of school-age children received an elementary education.

The semi-colonial dependence on Italy, combined with the underdeveloped social, economic, and cultural state of the nation seemed to be an augury of the Italian invasion of Albania in April 1939. …

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