A cloistered Albania prepares for succession in leadership
Enver Hoxha . . . The name is still traced with white stones on hillsides or picked out in lights atop public buildings. Since World War II, Albania and its stubbornly go-it-alone leader have been synonymous. But increasingly, another name - Ramiz Alia - is being etched in people's minds.Skip to next paragraph
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In October Mr. Hoxha reached his 75th birthday. Shortly afterward, the anniversary of one of the milestones in his career got equal acclaim.
On Nov. 8, 1941, Hoxha founded Albania's Communist Party. He has led the party ever since, and, in that capacity, has ruled the people's republic created the year after World War II ended.
As a Communist leader he rates a place in the ''Guinness Book of World Records.'' He survived all of Yugoslav leader Josip Tito's and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's efforts to topple him, plus the later hostility of the Chinese. No other leader has ruled so long.
But the durable Mr. Hoxha is preparing for the succession.
When that may occur is not yet clear. But since early this year, Albania's feisty leader has been delegating much of his workload to Ramiz Alia, a senior member of the Politburo with strong party credentials. And perhaps as significant as his standing in the party is Mr. Alia's age: At 58, he comes from a different generation.
Alia is not to be seen as a rival for power. (Albanians say Mehmet Shehu was such a contender. Mr. Shehu was prime minister for 28 years and for many years Hoxha's supposed ''crown prince.'' He died in 1981 in circumstances that have yet to be explained.)
But Mr. Hoxha seems to have been eyeing his old enemy next door, Yugoslavia, and noting the confusion under the collective leadership bequeathed it by Tito on his passing nearly four years ago.
Mr. Hoxha, with a more homogenous country, does not have to fear such centrifugal strains on the Albanian power system when he quits the scene. But he seems alive to inevitable pressures from a younger generation calling for change.
Albanian youth may not travel. But young Albanians are nonetheless exposed to some picture of a changing outside world. The proximity of Italian and Yugoslav radio and TV mean they are aware of events beyond their border - and, as this writer saw on two visits, they appear to enjoy the exposure.
These thoughts - and the Yugoslav lesson - were probably in Hoxha's mind when , at the 1981 congress, he dwelled on the need to honorably retire old comrades and rejuvenate the leadership.
Albanian diplomats insist, and recent pictures seem to show, that Hoxha remains in vigorous shape. But, with hand still on the helm, he has increasingly assumed the ''elder statesman'' role.
And throughout this year, Mr. Alia has emerged as the man likely to take over when the time comes. He clearly ranks first among several younger men involved in the rejuvenation process.
Like Mr. Hoxha, he is of Muslim parentage. He joined the Communists during the war while still at Tirana High School.
Ironically, in light of latter-day relations, Alia fought with the partisans in Yugoslavia and was decorated by them.
He rose rapidly in the party afterward: head of its youth organization until 1955, education minister for three years, a spell in foreign affairs, a secretary of the Central Committee and, after a year as candidate member, a full member of the Politburo in 1961. He has been regularly reelected to the Politburo ever since.
This year Alia has had ever widening exposure as Hoxha's ''younger ego.'' He has been stumping the country, making speeches, and having, as the Albanian news media say, ''cheek by jowl'' talks with the people to explain policy, listening to their problems and about their work.
Too little is known of internal Albanian trends to know if Alia is a ''moderate'' or intent on reform. But he sounds a younger note when he talks of progress into the 1990s. Albania, he told economic experts, had become a country ''without taxes and unemployment, with free education and medicare, a peaceful life (compared with the outside world) and a stable economy independent of aid from any quarter.'' But the future, he said, would require ''innovative thinking'' and ''new solutions.''
He is critical of outdated production practices (subsidizing lame-duck enterprises, for example), and says only modern technology can make the economy more cost-effective in producing higher quality and more profitable goods.
In its own way, Albania has made progress. It has secured a basic equality in general living standards, albeit modest. A ''fortress'' economy has been relaxed , and trade ties strengthened, with most West European countries.
But whether Hoxha's ''rejuvenation'' will lead to Alia's ''innovation'' and a still more open Albania remains a question.