chapter  8
23 Pages

Interwar Albania

WithBernd J. Fischer

When Albania declared its independence in 1912 in the midst of the Balkan Wars, it possessed few of the preconditions required for successful state construction. There was no central government, no religious or linguistic unity, no leadership of traditional social classes, little foreign intellectual stimulus, and not even extensive discontent with foreign rule. The interwar period saw Albanian leaders struggle to achieve some stability and unity to make that state construction possible. Following the chaotic first years of independence, a powerful personality emerged to lead this struggle, Ahmed Zogu, a young tribal chieftain with sufficient firepower to establish a national presence. While maintenance of personal power was always his principal goal, the stability needed to achieve that goal coincided with Albania’s needs. Following considerable struggle, he solved the problem of political instability by doing away with politics entirely, and establishing an authoritarian kingdom, with himself as king. Albania’s myriad other problems proved more intractable. And once he became king a certain complacency set in and he lost the gift of energy that had characterized his earlier years. The results of his efforts were mixed at best. On the eve of World War Two, Albania was still burdened by primitive economic and social conditions. Impoverished peasants were still ruled over by feudal landlords, public health remained rudimentary, and the illiteracy rate hovered at 85%. Still, limited political stability had been achieved, as well as some centralization, which helped bring divergent elements of the country together. The king had created an environment conducive to the growth of an Albanian national consciousness. But when Albania was invaded in 1939 few were willing to defend the king and the system, which quickly collapsed in war and revolution. It was left to the king’s communist successors to complete the process of nation-state construction.