Albania's Breakthrough

EUROPE'S last Stalinist state stepped from the shadows on Sunday when 95 percent of eligible Albanians participated in that country's first multiparty elections in over 60 years. The communists held onto power, winning about two-thirds of the 250 parliamentary seats, but the newly formed Democratic Party swept Albania's cities. In the capital of Tirana a number of prominent communists, including President Ramiz Alia, lost their seats in parliament.

Reformers have an opening in Albania. But communism is ingrained. For most of the past half-century former party chief Enver Hoxha kept his tiny land in utter isolation and poverty. Some estimate it could take 10 years for Albania to win the confidence of outside investors who can help the country rebuild.

Many Albanians aren't willing to wait. Thousands fled the country as soon as borders began to open in recent months. People have to be convinced that the country's future includes something better than its current $825 per capita gross national product.

The human-rights picture in Albania has begun to improve. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released, and President Alia has vowed to observe the 1975 Helsinki agreement on rights. That commitment will be tested as the opposition consolidates its gains. The killing of a Democratic Party leader Tuesday in the city of Shkoder showed the potential for violence.

Sunday's election was relatively fair, by most accounts. As in Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia, rural areas remained under the thumb of the communists. Initial electoral results in Albania, like those in Bulgaria, may be challenged as democratic reformers push for greater change.

Western Europe and the United States - which on March 15 restored diplomatic relations with Albania after a gap of 52 years - might like to help, but their resources are spread thin. As in other parts of Eastern and Central Europe, most of the energy for reform will have to come from within.

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