Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Party

6,000 Albanians seek asylum in foreign embassies

First Published: The Workers’ Advocate, Vol. 20, No. 8, August 1, 1990.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“It won’t happen here,” the leaders of the Party of Labor of Albania have often declared, referring to the mass unrest sweeping Eastern Europe. Such things only happen in revisionist countries, they said, not in a socialist land like Albania. But in July, events in Tirana proved that Albania is not immune from the crisis gripping that region.

Of course even a revolutionary country there could face a difficult time, being small and affected by the crisis of instability around it, but Albania has made itself more open to crisis by diverging away from the socialist path. Of late, Albania has merely given lip service to opposing Soviet-style revisionism while in fact carrying out a revisionist program in foreign and home policies.

Stirrings of discontent

In early July, about 6,000 people streamed into foreign embassies in Tirana, seeking asylum abroad. At first, the people seeking refuge were attacked by police, and several were injured. Later the government allowed them to leave the country. But it condemned them in extremely harsh language, calling them disoriented, anti-patriotic, vagabonds, etc. At the same time, the government showed its worry about the situation among the masses by raising wages of lower-paid workers, agreeing to pay 80% of the wages of those on temporary layoff, etc.

It is not clear who were the people who sought asylum. They appear not to be political dissidents but those who wanted to leave for economic reasons. They think they can do better in Western Europe or North America. Part of the reason for this exodus may lie in the fact that mass unemployment is beginning to rear its head in the country.

The gulf between the PLA and the people

Some strikes and demonstrations have also been reported recently. These are hard for us to directly verify – the Albanian official press keeps a tight lid on the country’s problems and we don’t have any reliable sources there. But the embassy affair itself is a serious sign of dissatisfaction. The Party of Labor of Albania suggests that this affair was an artificial occurrence, instigated by foreign enemies. It was not supposed to represent anything internal to Albanian society. But the fact that the numbers of those seeking asylum grew into thousands so quickly – and the worry shown by the government about further mass unrest – shows that this was more than a minor incident. Six thousand people in a small country like Albania is not insignificant.

The attempt to pooh-pooh the affair as artificial and just throw curses at those leaving, as well as the reprehensible police shootings initially, has brought the gulf between the PLA and the people into the open.

New passport laws

PLA head Ramiz Alia says he doesn’t understand why these people wanted to seek asylum since the regime recently decided that people can now get passports and travel legally. True enough, the Albanians did pass such a law. And they also rescinded the law which condemned anyone defecting or leaving the country illegally as an “enemy of the people,” subject to harsh penalties. (Now it’s simply to be treated as a crime of illegal border crossing.)

But Alia’s response is too glib. For one thing, those leaving complained that only loyalists of the regime were getting passports. But even if this isn’t so, the whole way that those laws were changed suggests a far more serious problem that was bound to create cynicism and lack of confidence in the PLA.

There was no discussion about why the regime had the old laws in the first place. There was no self-criticism. New laws were simply announced and hailed as great measures of democratization. Although this implied that something was wrong earlier, there was to be no acknowledgment of that. Instead it was just proclaimed that Albanian society had reached the level of economic and cultural development which allows more respect for the rights of individual citizens. Sure.

A bad legacy from 1930’s Russia

The truth is, those laws were part of a bad legacy that the PLA – even when it was revolutionary and represented the workers and peasants – adopted from the Soviet Union of the period when it began to degenerate. In 1934, the Stalin regime, as part of many changes abandoning socialist ideas, had declared that those fleeing were to be considered enemies liable to harsh penalties, including the death penalty.

The PLA apparently picked this up after it came to power in 1944. It may have originally seen it as a weapon against counterrevolutionaries. During many revolutions in history, there have been imposed border restrictions and measures seizing the property of counterrevolutionaries who flee, etc.

But it’s one thing to take such actions during revolutions, it’s quite another to extend such measures to all citizens and keep them up for years and years. The PLA never abandoned this after it had stabilized its rule. In fact, even when it broke with the Soviet Union and criticized many features of the Soviet revisionist model, it kept such laws. The PLA seems to have found in such laws an easy way – or so it thought – of keeping problematic outside influences, imperialist or otherwise, away from the country and keeping skilled personnel at home.

Such methods don’t work

A revolutionary regime using such measures will find itself creating discontent among otherwise loyal people who want to take part in worldwide contact, something quite natural in an increasingly interconnected world. But a regime that has turned away from revolutionary ideas and practices, as the Albanians have, will sow the seeds of even greater disasters when it tries to keep up such laws. And it may give up such laws too late to prevent mass outbursts, as has happened in Albania.

There are always some people in a country who will want to emigrate abroad. Many Albanians did it over the centuries. Some will do it to connect up with broken families, some will do it to seek their fortune, and some will do it because they politically hate the regime. Putting up walls will not do away with any of these wants. A toilers’ government can’t keep its country purified by putting up restrictions on its people’s right to travel.

Unfortunately, the Albanian regime today isn’t giving up its mistaken laws against travel rights out of a desire to strengthen its revolutionary bonds with the masses. No, it does so as a sop to the masses at a time of growing crisis. It does so as part of a package of reforms turning the country on a faster road towards Western-style capitalist politics and economics.