The rest of the world knows almost nothing about Albania, a tiny wedge of the Balkans. Isolated and erratically governed by the French-educated communist dictator Enver Hoxha throughout the Cold War, it was off-limits to the West and a ricocheting billiard ball in the communist world. Abrahams, a human rights specialist, knows the country well, having spent considerable time there since 1993, three years after the collapse of the old regime and the beginning of a wild experiment with democracy. In this intimate portrait of the country, he explains how the old regime—the last of the Eastern European communist regimes to fall—slowly crumbled and a democratic party, largely student-based, formed, faltered, and gave way to a transfigured communist party. What makes the Albanian story fascinating is that it is at once familiar and unique: the communist regime’s end in Albania resembled thosein East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the Democratic Party’s loss of liberal fervor under a not-so-democratic leader reminds one of contemporary Hungary. Also familiar is the United States’ rather clueless approach, which wrongly treated Albania as only a fragment of a larger problem, in this case the conflict over neighboring Kosovo.
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