Pilgrimage to Albania
Regnery, Alfred S., The American Spectator
ALBANIA? WHY, of all the places to go in the world, would you choose to go to Albania?" That was the usual response from friends when they learned I'd just come back from this forgotten corner of Europe. I have found, I told them, that the most interesting places to visit are usually the ones furthest from the beaten path, and that was certainly the case this time.
Bordering on Greece and just across the Adriatic from southern Italy, Albania is the poorest country inEurope, about the size of Maryland but with 7,000 foot mountains. It was the most repressive Communist country in those years when repression was raised to an art form, and became, after Communism fell, the stolen car capital of the world. Its history, both before the 20th century and during it, tells one something of the sort of place it later became.
What is nowr Albania was part of the Roman Empire until it was conquered by the Slavs, later by the Bulgarians, and ultimately by the Ottoman Empire. The Turks kicked it around for centuries until the First Balkan War, in 1912. and with the dissolution of Turkish rule Albanians found themselves being invaded by Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks, all of whom wanted pieces of it. until a truce, in 1913, supervised by the Great Powers, created an independent country. But that only lasted for a year or so until the Serbs again invaded, followed closely by troops from the Habsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire, who were actually welcomed, in pursuit of the Serbs. By the end of World War I and the demise of Austria- Hungary, Albania was again thrown into turmoil, and in 1939 Mussolini's forces invaded, soon followed by the Greeks bent on defeating the Italians, The collapse of Italy in 1943 brought in the Germans, and in 1945 the place descended into Hell with the emergence of Enver Hoxha, a young resistance fighter turned Communist who eventually became head of state. The role model of Kirn Jong II. he is described by Albanians as "Stalin on steroids."
Albania started its journey into communism allied with Yugoslavia, but broke that off in 1948 because Hoxha found Tito too moderate, and signed up with Uncle Joe Stalin instead. Stalin had about the right temperament, but that love affair soured after Stalin died in 1953 and Khrushchev turned out to be a squish. So this time Albania signed up with Communist China, which lasted until 1978 when Hoxha decided Mao was a middle-of-the-roader and threw him over and decided to go it alone, friendless, at least outside of some American faculty lounges. In the meantime. Hoxha turned the place into a police state to end all police states, armed it to the teeth, built 150,000 mushroom-looking concrete bunkers to repel western infiltrators, declared the country an atheist state- the only country in the history of the world ever to be so designated- and put together an internal security apparatus that made the East German Stasi look like a bunch of pikers. He locked the place down, eliminating almost all contact with the outside world, leaving diplomatic relations with only a few Warsaw Pact countries that met the test of severity.
After Communism's fall two decades ago, Albania understandably had the most difficult time of any Eastern Bloc country in returning to freedom, and only after ten years of lawlessness, riots, organized and street crime, suppression and attempts by thousands to flee to Greece and Italy, and a pyramid scheme that practically cleaned out the country, did it achieve a degree of normality and begin to join the civilized world.
What happens, I wanted to know, when such a tyrannical place achieves liberty? What transpires when those in a designated atheistic state are allowed again to practice their faith and to worship? What are the consequences when every scintilla of entrepreneurial spirit has been crushed and people are again permitted to make a living as they see fit?
OVER A PERIOD OF 10 PAYS, traveling from one end of this little country to the other with my English friend Christopher Hancock, a professor at Oxford and an Anglican priest, often in the most primitive ways, even walking for full days at a time, staying in cheap hotels and inns and even cheaper farm houses, and talking to dozens upon dozens of every sort of person. …