Other Balkan Countries. Albania's relations with other Balkan countries are somewhat better. President Berisha has said that Albania has good relations with other former Yugoslav republics, notably Slovenia and Croatia, which do not want a Serb-Albanian conflict over Kosovo. Berisha also spoke of very good Albanian relations with Turkey, where a large Albanian minority is trying to act as a bridge builder between the two countries and heal the wounds of centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Empire. Helping the cause of reconciliation is the fact that Turkey has refrained from on against its small Albanian community.
President Ramiz Alia deserves credit for Albania's peaceful transition from communist authoritarianism to pluralistic parliamentary government. He was a very skillful leader who showed a degree of flexibility that set him apart from other communist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Romania's Ceauşescu, East Germany's Honecker, Czechoslovakia's Jakeš, and Bulgaria's Zhivkov.
But Albanian political liberalization was very slow and gradual, making it appear at times that the country would never completely discard communist rule, largely because most of Albanian society, which was rural and conservative, was not easily won over to the liberalization policies advocated by the political opposition based in the cities. The process of change, however, continued because the Alia leadership saw reform as the only chance the Albanian Communist Party had of preserving its leadership of the country into the 1990s. Alia and other Albanian communist leaders were alive to the implications for them of communist collapse everywhere else in the region, as well as in the Soviet Union.
In the postcommunist era, however, severe economic hardship is taxing the country's new democratic order to the breaking point. Despite accusations by his critics that he is becoming increasingly authoritarian--as, indeed, he is, partly in response to the pluralistic and conflict-ridden political environment that makes it difficult for him to lead and reform his country--PresidentBerisha is not a dictator. He is committed to the democratic process and does not seem ready to sacrifice the newly won liberal political institutions for the sake of moving quickly through the reforms needed to improve economic performance and raise standards of living.
So far he has managed to chart an intelligent course through the complex, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous diplomatic waters of Balkan international politics. Under his leadership, Albania seems to be moving away from the old isolationist order and developing new links with foreign countries, especially in the West, that can help Albania economically and enhance its security.