Albania courts West Germany in bid to improve technology

Recent trade contacts between Albania and an old wartime invader, suggest a return to normal diplomatic relations between Tirana and Bonn are not far away. Earlier this month, the small republic on the Adriatic celebrated the 73rd anniversary of its emergence as an independent state and the 41st year since liberation from Nazi occupation.

This double occasion was marked by speeches and news-media comments in which any return to normal relations with either the Soviet Union or the United States was rejected unequivocally, following the line set down by Albania's former leader, the late Enver Hoxha.

``We have clearly stated -- and we say once again,'' Prime Minister Adil Carcani told a rally of peasant cooperative farmers, ``our stand towards American imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism is clear cut and firm. . . . Their policies are a permanent threat to the freedom and independence of the peoples as well as to peace and security.''

In Tirana, it appears, a line has been drawn between what it regards as two ``imperialist'' powers -- with whom relations are unacceptable -- and Western capitalist countries such as West Germany.

The latter is widely expected to become the third major West European state with which Albania might have normal diplomatic relations. The others are Italy and France.

West Germany still balks at paying the reparations from World War II that the Albanians have always set as a prerequisite to normal relations. But, according to an Albanian diplomat, those reparations -- like the problem with the British over the return of Albanian gold filched by the Germans and in British custody since the war -- are a political issue that apparently can be subordinated to the mutual interest of good economic relations.

That in itself seems some slight shift of nuance from the totally adamant line upheld by Hoxha.

A visit to Albania last summer by Franz Joseph Strauss, West Germany's maverick conservative politician and Bavarian prime minister, was played down as a private affair, even though he had some high-level official talks.

But there have been significant sequels.

In September, a senior figure from the Bavarian Economics Ministry paid a three-day visit to Tirana. He was followed in mid-November by a group of West German businessmen who spent five days talking about specific possible areas for expanded trade and economic ties.

West Germany currently stands second to Italy in Albania's Western trade. The volume is still modest. But, given a general Western interest in one of Albania's most valuable mineral products and its own concern to modernize the industry which produces it, there is obvious scope for much more.

Albania is reckoned the world's third largest producer and its second largest exporter of chrome. A few years ago, production neared 1 million tons annually, of which 80 percent was sold to Western countries. But several adverse winters and the fact that mining must go ever deeper brought a drop in output. And outdated refining equipment also increased the price of Albanian chrome on the world market.

This is where the West Germans can help, despite the prohibition in Albania's Constitution on foreign credits, which has always been seen in Tirana as a political risk and which creates difficulties for normal trading arrangements.

But Albanian diplomats obviously believe there are ways around the problem. Just as apparently, Tirana seems prepared to delay a settlement of the reparations issue in the interest of establishing some highly useful trade contacts.

The recent West German visitors discussed trading Albanian chrome for modern mining and refining machinery. Also talked about was equipment for a planned 100-megawatt dam and a fertilizer plant.

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