REFORM is bringing de-Stalinization to Albania. It has been publicly proposed here - by a popular writer in the official youth newspaper - that a monument to Joseph Stalin in front of the Albanian Academy of Sciences be moved to make place for one honoring a unique 16th century native scholar in Albanian culture and language.
The new statue would be of a monk named Gjon Buzuku, who made the first translation of the Bible into Albanian only 20 years after Martin Luther's German translation in 1534.
It is also said that statues of Vladimir Lenin and Stalin will be moved from their prominence in the city center to a party museum.
Reform, however, is going deeper then a removal of statues.
Substantial de-Stalinization is also apparent in the way Stalin's doctrine may now be openly repudiated. Recently, a party paper described it as ``not belonging to us.'' Stalin's theory is no longer taught in schools and universities.
The changes here since January, when President Ramiz Alia launched the reforms, mark real departures from the rigid Stalism of four decades.
But Albania will remain Europe's last ``communist'' outpost for the foreseeable future. It is not about to copy the East Europeans' ideological U-turn or abandon its own brand of independent socialism, pursued since its 1960 break with Moscow.
But Albania is following the East European trend by scrapping many of its formerly sacred tenets and bringing substantial market-oriented changes to the economy and some ``democratization'' to the social-political field.
The process still faces tough opposition, as Mr. Alia has repeatedly warned. It comes, as in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, from an oversized bureaucracy struggling to cling to privileges and authority. Communist Party hard-liners resent the internal ``democratic'' changes and, even more, the swing to open relations with the Western world.
The Alia leadership is apprehensive of the single European market planned by the end of 1992 and does not want the country to be left out. So it is actively pressing for diplomatic relations with the European Commission and for a general trade accord.
``We are a European country,'' says Petraq Pojani, the government spokesman, firmly. ``We already have bilateral economic agreements with 11 of the Commission's 12 members.'' The exception is Britain, which is holding out for compensation for mine damage to British warships off the Albanian shore in 1946.
Another major objective is renewed relations with the United States, in abeyance since World War II. Washington is holding back, however, apparently waiting to see how solid the reforms are, especially in human rights.
It is, in fact, in human rights that some of the most striking changes have been introduced.
In 1975, Albania boycotted the Conference on European Security and Cooperation in Helsinki, dismissing it as a big-power ploy to dominate Europe. It changed its mind this year and has taken up an active observer role at the group's continuing meetings in Vienna. On Sept. 16, it announced that it is seeking full membership.
``Our aim is to accept all the rules of the conference and to accept all that has been accepted by other participant states,'' says Petrit Bushati, ambassador to Sweden and head of the observer mission.
Thus, Albania has formally endorsed much even of Helsinki's sensitive Basket Three on human rights - for example, freedom of travel and of religious conviction. A liberalized penal code is on the way. Most of an admitted 180 political prisoners have been released, officials say. The news media look steadily more open.
A new election law provides for contested popular candidacies for the first time - more than two for each parliamentary or local council seat. This is far short of multiparty democracy: There are no embryo parties waiting in the wings or alternative groups like those that mushroomed up in the East bloc during the 1980s.
Albania is not ready for sharply differing opinions, officials say.
``We are a small country, we need unity,'' says Alia. ``We cannot accept political divisions permissible in countries like Britain and France with long parliamentary traditions.''
The elections early next year may provide another test of intention. Meanwhile, the view of many independent visitors here is that Albania's reforms should be seen as breaking the domestic political ice to such an extent that they would seem to merit encouragement from outside, not pressure. A gesture of economic support maybe, while the country goes on reforming in its own gradualist way.
``We will change,'' says Foreign Minister Reiz Malile, ``but without haste and without force.''