|Biographical detail : ||Last communist president of Albania.
The successor of Albania’s Communist dictator Enver Hoxha after his death in 1985, Ramiz Alia presided over halting often, chaotic moves towards democracy, in his country of three million people, before his own downfall in 1992.
During his presidency Alia responded to widespread discontent by introducing limited economic reforms, easing restrictions on religion – a nation that was largely Muslim – and civil liberties, and cautiously seeking ties with Western Europe and the Balkan states. He was the architect of his country’s perestroika. His background as a technocrat and industrial manager fitted him for an attempt to revitalise the flagging economy.
Nevertheless, his government began to crumble in 1989 and 1990 during the wider collapse of Soviet and Eastern European Communism. Alia managed to cling to power for two more years by granting amnesty to political prisoners, allowing multiparty elections and promising other democratic reforms. But it was too little, too late. Albania continued to lurch from crisis to crisis with a dying economy, violent protests and masses of citizens fleeing abroad. Albania’s Communist government, the last in Europe, disintegrated in 1991, and Ramiz Alia resigned as head of a coalition government in 1992. He was soon arrested.
Convicted of corruption in 1994, Alia was sentenced to nine years in prison. He served only a year but was arrested again in 1996, this time on genocide charges. Before he could be tried, however, Albania descended into anarchy in 1997. Gangs looted army depots of weapons, 1,600 people were killed and civilians cowered in their homes. Food prices soared, supplies vanished, and thousands fled the country on foot and in boats.
At the prison where Alia and other former Communists were being held pending trials, even the guards disappeared in the chaos, and he and 300 other prisoners simply walked away.
In court, where prosecutors dropped the charges against Alia and many co-defendants, his lawyer said he had gone to live with a daughter in Sweden. A 1998 letter to a newspaper in Tirana suggested that he had quietly returned to Albania. He continued, however, to write articles and appear at social events in Tirana, becoming respected as an elder statesman by Albanian society.
Ramiz Alia was born in Shkoder, in northern Albania, to working-class parents who moved to Tirana. He joined a Fascist youth organisation after Italy occupied and annexed the country in 1939. He rose through the Workers Party by his political dexterity and by the 1960s was in the ruling Politburo.