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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Albania: From Anarchy to a Balkan Identity
Miranda Vickers & James Pettifer

(New York: New York University Press, 1997)
324pp. Index. Bibl. ISBN 0-8147-8795-9. Pb.: $18.95; ISBN 0-8147-8794-0.

Albania is one of the most extraordinary cases of post-communist transition in former eastern Europe. In many ways it is unique, because a pure Stalinist regime survived almost unreformed until the late 1980s, because Albania is the poorest country in Europe and is regarded by development agencies on a par with African countries, and because of the particular history of clans and feuding which still colours Albania's political culture. Over these ancient strata a superficial Stalinist industrialisation and an equally superficial Western market democratisation have created a distinctive and fascinating political mix. For students of ethnicity, the fascination of Albania is that it is one of the three epicentres of the modern Albanian question in the Balkans, which is one of southeastern Europe's main current ethnic issues.

Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer are leading authorities on the political developments in Albania and the wider Albanian area, and this book which concentrates on the recent political history of Albania is essential reading for anyone who seriously wants to understand the problems of the region. The first chapters present the political history of Albania from 1985: the crisis of the one-party state after Enver Hoxha's death, the period of anarchy in 1990-1991, and the development of a broadly-based anti-communist movement and the Democratic Party's electoral victory in 1992. The next chapters go on to explore some of the main themes in Albania's recent development: the revival of religion, social and cultural changes, the question of Kosovo and of national unification, the Albanian communities in Macedonia and Montenegro, and the position of the ethnic minorities in Albania after communism, and Albania's international relations and defence. Finally concluding chapters bring the story up to date to 1996, by telling the story of the sharp political tensions between the Democratic and the Socialist Parties, the constitutional crisis and the 'stolen' elections of 1996.

Perhaps the authors have the subtitle in the wrong order. The book discusses the development of the pyramid finance schemes which ruined many Albanians, but it was written before the rebellion which plunged Albania into new anarchy. With northern Albania now effectively outside government control and used as a base by the Kosovo Liberation Army, and with political feuds and killings in Tirana having caused another change of leadership, Albania is far from stability.

This is an excellent modern political history. Taken in conjunction with Miranda Vickers' earlier history, Albania and the Albanians, and her more recent book, Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo (Hurst, 1998), it offers an essential historical perspective on the area.

Hugh Miall, University of Lancaster

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