Personal Views

Return to Albania

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 11 March 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:676
  1. Alan Cameron

    “Acountry within sight of Italy about which less is known than the interior of America.” Edward Gibbon's comment of 200 years ago still applies to Albania, Europe's poorest nation. The country's economic and intellectual isolation was imposed by Enver Hoxha, its xenophobic, paranoid, Marxist dictator. After his death in 1985 minor liberalisation was attempted, but pressure for change became unstoppable. Many fled the country—especially to Italy. Finally, in 1992 the Democracy party, led by a cardiologist, established a fragile government.

    I had visited Albania as a tourist in 1990 when it was still controlled by the Party of Labour, but during the trip met some doctors and wrote about the experience in a personal view (BMJ 1991;302:1088). I never expected to return, but had an opportunity to revisit in 1994. Changes in the four years were staggering. Gone were the statues of Hoxha and the party slogans and the red flags. Roadside stalls were everywhere, satellite dishes sprouted from every building, and huge numbers of ancient cars roared along the ill kept roads—private cars had been banned by the regime as bourgeois.

    People looked poorer; clearly the move to a market economy had benefited a few, but the majority were worse off. Factories were devastated and land untilled. With the loss of state authority law and order had broken down and crime was rampant. Unemployment was at least 50% and there was an air of menace in the crowded streets. There may have been some advantages in the previous regime; at least everybody was …

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