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Europe’s Last Hard-Line Communist Country Announces Reforms

May 10, 1990

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Albania has announced it will ease restrictions on travel and religion as part of a package of laws representing a break from the country’s Stalinist traditions.

Europe’s last hard-line Communist country also said it wants to join the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, in a further move from its decades-long policy of isolationism.

The proposed reforms were announced before the Albanian Parliament on Tuesday, and a report on the meeting, carried by the state ATA news agency, was made available to The Associated Press in Vienna on Wednesday.

The moves come before an expected visit to Albania on Friday by U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

In a speech to the Parliament, Deputy Premier Manush Myftiu said a new law was being drafted that would allow any Albanian to hold a passport to travel abroad. Ordinary Albanians have been forbidden to travel outside the country for more than 40 years.

He did not say when the travel law would be ready or whether there would be any other conditions for travel. It was not clear whether the move was part of the country’s bid to join the European security conference process.

Myftiu also indicated that the death penalty would no longer be applied to people attempting to flee the country illegally. He said that ″defection,″ which remains an offense, would no longer be treated as a capital crime involving betrayal of the country.

Myftiu added that Albania would no longer punish people for spreading ″religious propaganda″ and ease laws banning anti-socialist agitation.

Albania’s Communist leaders have vigorously promoted atheism. Under its former Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha, Albania banned all faiths and closed all houses of worship.

Hoxha also pursued a policy of isolationism, shunning relations with both superpowers. Albania, which broke with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in the 1960s, refused to join the European security conference, charging it meant interference in the countries internal affairs.

But since Hoxha’s death in 1985, his successor, Communist Party chief Ramiz Alia, has moved gradually to re-establish contacts abroad and introduce new policies at home.

Last month, the Communist leadership signaled Albania’s willingness to resume relations with Moscow and Washington and to establish ties with the European Economic Community.

At Tuesday’s session of Parliament, Premier Adil Carcani said his country wanted to join the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

He emphasized the country’s ″desire to join the process of European Cooperation and Security and render our possible contribution to its process.″

Carcani’s statement was believed to be the first such public pronouncement by an Albanian leader. Senior officials had previously only hinted that Albania might now consider joining the conference.

The conference - which first met in 1975 in Helsinki, Finland - groups 35 nations: all the European nations, except Albania, as well as the United States, Canada and the Soviet Union.

At the Helsinki meeting, the nations signed a key accord on European security issues, economic cooperation and human rights.

At later conference meetings, the countries adopted supplementary documents that helped stir popular demands for human rights in Eastern European countries where Communist regimes were toppled in dramatic revolutions last year.

One of the key points in the Helsinki accords is the right to free travel.

Albania, wedged between Yugoslavia and Greece, has about 3.1 million residents.

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