Socialist Albania was, during the four and a half decades it existed for, a symbol of revolutionary change, an experiment of societal atheism, and remained a stronghold of revolution in a sea of hostility and reaction that was Yugoslavia, the Eastern Bloc, and the USSR. While Socialist Albania is remembered by bourgeois academics (if remembered at all) as a “despotic, isolationist country which sought to crush religion” this is neither an accurate nor fair representation. True, religion was suppressed in Albania, however the regime represented far more than that. Socialism for the Albanians represented an era of change, as women for the first time attained a sense of liberation and the country developed its economy independently and for the benefit of the whole country.
Once High Priest Were Considered Criminals
Due to the PLA’s approach to addressing religion and backwardness and the association of the church with the oppression of women, religious figures and institutions became victims of the people’s wrath. During Albania’s Cultural and Ideological Revolution, all churches were closed down and converted into hospitals, schools, storage facilities, etc. Most priests were imprisoned, with some even being killed due to the Church’s instrumental role in defending patriarchal structures in the country, to quote Peter R. Prifti:
“[We used to live] like animals. We had no houses, but only straw-covered huts blackened with soot and smoke. We shared quarters with the pig, the oxen, and the cow. Every month the priest would come to bless our huts, but nothing changed as a result of the blessings of “God”. We remained poor and destitute, with no bread to eat…Our children died from hunger, froze and from the bitter cold, and neither the priest nor “God” could help us. The only thing the priest would say to us was “Such is the will of God”” (Bashkimi, Apr. 1, 1967, in: Peter R. Prifti (1978) Socialist Albania since 1944: Domestic and Foreign Developments; p. 94)
Societal Atheism Took Hold, All Things Religion Became Illegal
Naming children religiously themed names was made illegal. Fines and prison sentences were introduced as punishment for distributing religious materials such as the Bible. Religion was not respected by the PLA, and although steps taken to curb religious influence in society were often misguided and too extreme, this reality is part of a larger picture – a picture of how production was organized and how women were promoted – and only by looking at this picture are we to have an honest view of the character of the entirety of the regime.
Women, prior to liberation in Albania by the PLA (at the time the Albanian Communist Party), were regarded as property and were completely subjugated to the will of men. Societal atheism and the ousting of the native and foreign bourgeoisie however allowed for waves of progressive structural reforms of society to take place, which dramatically improved the lives of women. Women could now own property, vote, and seek out all that life had to offer which, due to the implementation of socialism, meant increasingly greater opportunities. To quote James S O’Donnell:
“Prior to the implementation of Hoxha’s policies concerning women, these women would have had little chance, in fact, nearly zero chance, of acquiring [any] education beyond a few years of primary education at best. A career was unthinkable. The unanimous opinion of the women interviewed was that they did agree with Mr. Dako to a limited degree. Namely, the women did say having a career along with their added household tasks was quite difficult. However, they all agreed that the ability to have an education and a professional career outweighed any negative aspects of having dual responsibilities. Not one of the women yearned nostalgically for the “good old days” prior to Enver Hoxha’s government.” (O’Donnell, James S. A Coming of Age: Albania under Enver Hoxha. Boulder: East European Monographs, 1999. 104-105. Web.)
The Advancement Of Women Began
Women participated in governance at increasingly greater levels; women now had unprecedented educational opportunities (which, in Albania, was free of charge through college) and could seek advancement in the economy. Inequality between men and women, though not 100% done away with in Albania, was aggressively diminished via the regime’s emphasis placed on liberating women and allowing them to reach their fullest potentials.
The Economy Grew
Albania also revolutionized its whole economic foundation which, prior to liberation, was underdeveloped and geared towards the satisfaction of the imperial needs of Italy and Germany, and for once was now geared towards the maximum satisfaction of the needs of the Albanian people. Albanians for once now had the legal right to a job and could not be fired for being “unprofitable” whereas before unemployment was rampant, especially in urban areas where it could be as high as thirty percent. Industrial development was given primacy, and throughout this period Albania radically transformed from a backwards-agrarian society to an agricultural-industrial one, producing industrial growth rates superior to the US and the USSR. Wages consistently rose in Albania while prices for goods tended to fall gradually over time, in fact at no period during the history of Socialist Albania did the purchasing power of the population drop. The country fought off foreign encroachment, first from Yugoslavia, then from the USSR, and ensured that all revenues produced would be retained and used for the country’s own needs. This aggressive and principled anti-imperialist policy led to the complete outlawing of foreign investments in the 1976 Constitution. Neither inflation nor foreign debts nor capitalist crises existed in Albania. The accumulation of profit ceased to be the guiding force of production, as this was replaced with political objectives, that is, economic plans which were geared towards the satisfaction of the needs of society and which were drawn up through extensive participation of the working masses.
Let’s Not Repeat The Albanian Experiment. Let’s Learn From it.
In this way, the suppression of religion – while admittedly too extreme at times – was tied into a picture of the advancement of women and the fight against old patriarchal customs. It was tied to the promotion of science, utilized in the development of productive forces and technology ultimately used to the benefit of the masses. It was tied to the general betterment of society. Clearly not everything in Albania’s societal atheism social experiment were good. However, seeing such progress as a whole, it would be wrong to through everything out. The advancement of women in Albania has been huge and will, hopefully, continue to grow.