Albania eases its 'go it alone' approach

''We must keep in step with the times, with the development of science and technology.'' These are the recent words of Ramiz Alia, heir apparent to the leadership of long-isolationist Albania.

Certainly Mr. Alia knows that ''keeping in step'' is something best helped by contacts with the West. Indeed, in the past few years this seriously underdeveloped country has sought business contacts and supplies - first, by entering into diplomatic ties, and later, by building economic exchanges with many noncommunist countries, including NATO neighbors and most of Western Europe , as well as third-world nations.

That is where Alia came in, seeming to bring a more pragmatic approach. He has sought trade with anyone ready to provide goods or technology in return for chrome and the other metals in which Albania is rich.

Formal relations with Australia have been restored, apparently with an eye to learning sheep-raising techniques. But these contacts should not be construed as political ''openings to the West,'' as some Westerners are reading them.

There may be less rhetoric now, 40 years after Albanian leader Enver Hoxha proclaimed the nation's liberation from Italian and German occupation Nov. 29, 1944. But Albania's ideological attitude toward the West, above all the United States, remains just as hostile as its distrust of Russia and China.

Just the same, limited trade contacts have been resumed with China to get parts for Chinese-built installations such as the textile combine at Berat.

Albania's old anti-Tito revisionism continues unabated. But, being realistic, Albania is building a railroad with Yugoslavia that will give Albania its first link with the European continental rail network, which could boost trade.

Albania has admitted more West European journalists this year than before. Shrewd observers among them indicate that conditions have improved from what this writer saw on two tours of the country in the 1970s.

People are better dressed, reports one journalist after his second trip in four years. The shops reflect greater attention to consumer needs. Motorcycles - if not yet cars - are beginning to replace the old flocks of Chinese bicycles on the nation's streets. This is part of the spinoff of diversified and Western trade and of the native effort that has made Albania a modest exporter of oil and electricity.

It also reflects a change of style that may become more pronounced even before Alia formally takes over for the 76-year-old Mr. Hoxha. But there is no likelihood that Albania will relinquish its brand of ''nonalignment,'' either now or when Hoxha leaves the scene.

For four decades Hoxha has ruled his tiny Adriatic land with an iron fist. It has been the longest uninterrupted period of independence Albanians have known in a mostly bitter history.

Three times in these 40 years, this French-educated son of a Muslim landowner from the Albanian south has successfully weathered savage challenges to his leadership, prompted first by Yugoslavia in 1948 and then in turn by the two communist giants, the Soviet Union and China.

On each occasion Hoxha liquidated powerful rivals within the party who disputed his policies. His grooming of Alia to follow him ensures a smooth transition that should keep Albania on the course Hoxha has charted.

The succession process is so well advanced that the change is much nearer than Albanian officials so far concede. Indications are that it will take place early next year.

After a lengthy break in his public appearances, Hoxha showed up last month at a big youth culture and sport display in honor of Thursday's anniversary. He was ''greeted with boundless love and profound gratitude,'' the Tirana news media said.

But Hoxha made no speech. To what extent that was because of poor health is hard to say. Albanian officials persistently dismiss rumors of a serious breakdown.

The 59-year-old Alia, a top secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee and a senior aide to Hoxha, has increasingly been the leading figure at party celebrations and other occasions.

Alia is without a doubt first among equals among Hoxha's 15 aides - 10 full members of the Communist Party Politburo and five deputy members. Throughout this year he has been on center stage as the leader's alter ego.

Alia is also to be seen as the leader within the younger generation most likely to be responsible for whatever changes might, in due course, come about with a change of top leader. (Albanian officials, of course, reject suggestions of any fundamental policy shifts.) Hoxha himself has been at pains to set down the whys and wherefores of his policies, and their merits, before he leaves the scene.

He has become one of contemporary history's most prolific writers of political memoirs. In the last six years, nine volumes have come from his pen. He has used frequently illuminating recollections and diaries of events and persons to justify stands he has taken that are at odds with the Yugoslavs, the Russians, the Chinese, and with most of the communist world in general.

Albania was to ''go it alone.''

''With our own hands'' was the slogan on building sites throughout Albania, as this writer saw in the 1970s. Not only have unfinished Chinese and Soviet projects been completed, but also new development undertaken with Albanian resources alone.

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