ALBANIA BECAME INDEPENDENT in 1912 when the Great Powers of Europe decided that its formation would enhance the balance of power on the continent. Small, weak, and isolated, Albania faced persistent threats of domination, dismemberment, or partition by more powerful neighbors, but struggled to maintain its independence and territorial integrity through successive alliances with Italy, Yugoslavia (see Glossary), the Soviet Union, and China. The Albanian Communist Party (ACP--from 1948 the Albanian Party of Labor) used the perception of a country under siege to mobilize the population, establish political legitimacy, and justify domestic repression. Yet it claimed success in that, under its rule, Albania's allies guaranteed its defense against external threats and were increasingly less able to dominate it or interfere in its internal affairs. After a period of isolation between 1978 and 1985, however, Albania looked to improved relations with its neighbors to enhance its security.
The modern armed forces grew out of the partisan bands of World War II, which fought the Italians and Germans as well as their rivals within the resistance. By the time the Germans withdrew their forces from Albania in November 1944, the communist-led National Liberation Front (NLF) held the dominant position among the partisan groups and was able to assume control of the country without fighting any major battles. The armed forces in 1992 were under the control of the Ministry of Defense, and all branches were included within the People's Army. Total active-duty personnel strength was about 48,000 men in 1991. Most troops were conscripted and approximately one-half of the eligible recruits were drafted, usually at age nineteen. The tanks, aircraft, and other weapons and equipment in the inventory of the armed forces were of Soviet or Chinese design and manufacture. The People's Army, consisting of professional officers, conscripted soldiers, mobilized reserves, and citizens with paramilitary training, was organized to mount a limited territorial defense and extended guerrilla warfare against a foreign aggressor and occupation army. However, it remained the weakest army in Europe in early 1992.
Albania lacked the industrial or economic base to maintain its army independently and required external assistance to support its modest armed forces. After World War II, it relied on Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, in turn, for military assistance. When Albania split from the Soviet Union in 1961, China became its main ally and supplier of military equipment. Chinese assistance was sufficient to maintain equipment previously furnished by the Soviet Union and to replace some of the older weapons as they became obsolete. However, this aid was curtailed in 1978, and Albania lacked a major external patron after that time.
After becoming first secretary of the Albanian Party of Labor and president of Albania when longtime leader Enver Hoxha died in 1985, Ramiz Alia gradually relaxed the Stalinist system of political terror and coercion established and maintained by his predecessor. The impact of changes in the Soviet Union and the subsequent collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, combined to increase pressure for internal liberalization in Albania during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs controlled the police and security forces until it was abolished and replaced by the Ministry of Public Order in April 1991. Although details of the organization of the Ministry of Public Order were not generally known, some observers believed it had the same basic components as its predecessor. They were the National Information Service (successor to the hated Sigurimi, more formally Drejtoria e Sigurimit te Shtetit or Directorate of State Security), the Frontier Guards, and the People's Police.
The security forces traditionally exerted even more rigid controls over the population than those exercised by similar forces in other East European states. However, under Alia they did not enforce the communist order as they had when Hoxha ruled Albania. Alia curtailed some of their more repressive practices, and they ultimately failed to protect the regime when the communist party's monopoly on power was threatened in 1990 and ended in 1991. In large part, that threat came from a crippled economy, shortages of food and medicine, manifestations of new political freedoms (including strikes and massive public demonstrations that occurred with impunity), and calls by the new democratic movement for eliminating repression by the security forces, releasing political prisoners, and establishing respect for human rights.
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