Reform as a political term is not in vogue here. When it comes to Albania's system, it is emphatically denounced. And ``reform'' in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe (particularly next-door Yugoslavia) is viewed here as a disaster.
Yet, since taking over in 1985, about the same time as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Communist Party leader Ramiz Alia has hammered away at the need for new thinking and more-sophisticated social management to bring Albania up to modern standards.
``We are not going to change course [i.e., foreign policy],'' he says, ``nor change our social system.'' But shifts of emphasis are affecting both areas. These are not going to alter the system but, in the Albanian context, constitute change of quite considerable dimensions.
Fresh approaches to foreign policy have led to better relations with Western Europe than at any time since the war. In its own Balkan region, however cool Albania's dealings with its fellow communist states (Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Romania), it is on good terms with Greece and Turkey, NATO's Balkan members.
At home, change appears to be less dramatic but already makes itself felt in the regime's public attitudes, with the leadership encouraging latitude for ``openness'' in the mass media.
Newspapers, radio, and television - color since 1983 - are said by foreigners living here to be more informative than in recent years. The United States and the Soviet Union remain the targets of sharp criticism, but the rhetoric is on the whole less extravagant.
To this writer, revisiting after an interval of 15 years, the statues and busts of Joseph Stalin seem notably less ubiquitous. Former leader Enver Hoxha's place is undiminished, but - as seen widely around central and northern Albania - there are distinctly fewer placard portraits.
Mr. Alia, Hoxha's successor, seems represented by words rather than pictures.
A notable example indeed of new ``openness'' is the cinema, an industry that did not exist here before World War II. Since 1952, however, it has grown up into a studio, producing 14 feature pictures yearly as well documentaries and cartoons. ``We are not aiming to make more big movies than that, for the time being,'' says studio chief Viktor Gjika, a former director. ``Our concern now is to improve quality, not to increase output.''
This correspondent was shown the latest of last year's movies ``The Shadow Behind'' to illuminate the point that there is a distinct move on from more than 30 years preoccupation with the ``heroic'' themes of war and liberation.
``The accent now,'' he says, ``is on pictures reflecting the human makeup of our society, its problems, and questions of human relationships. Last year we made more `social' films than about the war and its aftermath.''
``Shadow'' itself marks a striking departure from the stereotyped ``socialist realism'' of the past. It is based on a novel by Diana Cuci, a talented younger Albanian writer. The book, apart from its candid human treatment, was an unwontedly open admission that, even in the puritanical moral climate ordained here, corruption in high places can and does exist.
The leading part is Agron, the young attorney who, probing a swindling case involving smuggling and sale abroad of antiques, finds the trail leads to a well-placed official - the father of his young doctor fianc'ee.
He is still more shocked when he realizes she condones her father's behavior because he intended the money he made to give the couple a comfortable start in married life. The rest of the film is the conflict between the young man's love and his moral probity; the latter wins when Agron tells the woman they cannot marry because of her refusal to condemn her parent's wrongdoing.
The picture, skillfully directed and photographed, pulled in the crowds all last year. At two lek (about 30 cents) a ticket, the box office falls far short of what Mr. Gjika needs. His budget, like all culture here, is financed by the state.
He insists that the studio has a reasonable degree of freedom on deciding on what pictures it will make. ``There is no censorship in the strict sense of the word,'' he says, but admits that ``self-censorship'' dictates what the studio can and cannot do.
Under the control of the Ministry of Education, an artistic council selects the films to be made. The council is headed by leading studio personnel and made up largely of ``respected'' movie artists and writers in what Gjika calls ``an intermingling of political and artistic control.''
``Two in three of our films will now explore social and moral issues,'' he says. ``We shall not, of course, forget our history. But we wish to concentrate on pictures touching sensitive contemporary human problems. People are showing increasingly they want pictures which relate to everyday life.''
Last in a series. Previous articles ran Jan. 27, Jan. 28, and Feb. 1.