Obituary: Adil Carcani

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Adil Carcani, politician: born Fushe-Bardha, Albania 4 May 1922; Deputy Prime Minister of Albania 1965-82, Prime Minister 1982-91; married (two daughters); died Tirana 13 October 1997.

The political career of Adil Carcani, Albania's last Stalinist prime minister, spanned the entire period of Communist rule in his country, which was inaugurated in 1944 with the departure of the German occupying forces and ended in chaos in 1991.

During all but four of those 47 years Carcani held high office. But despite his presence in the highest echelons of the Communist hierarchy, he was never considered one of the strongmen of the Albanian leadership. Indeed, the lack of any perceived challenge from Carcani was one of the main reasons for his political longevity at a time when Enver Hoxha, the paramount leader, periodically purged the leadership of potential rivals.

Like Hoxha and the majority of the future Communist ruling elite, Carcani was a Tosk, a southern Albanian. His road to the top began, as in the case of almost all of his fellow-leaders, during the Second World War, when he joined the Communist Party within a year of its foundation in 1941. He served as a divisional commissar - or political commander - in the Communist guerrilla army.

In the decade after the war Carcani's rise through the ranks was slow and unspectacular. It included stints as a deputy minister and minister of trade and industry. More importantly in a regime that was run not by the government but by the Communist Party - by then renamed the Albanian Workers' Party (AWP) - he joined the ranks of the ruling Politburo in 1956.

Nine years later he became deputy prime minister. His job was primarily to ensure that the economy continued to function somehow through the ideological twists and turns of Hoxha's foreign policy which brought first a rift with the Soviet Union in 1961 and then with China in 1978 - the two Communist giants that had successively underwritten Albania's economic development for three decades.

Carcani had next to no experience in foreign affairs or security matters when he was catapulted into the post of Prime Minister at the beginning of 1982. His promotion followed the death, in mysterious circumstances, of Hoxha's closest comrade-in-arms - and apparent rival - Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu.

Carcani was a pliant associate during what turned out to be the final phase of Hoxha's dictatorship. And following Hoxha's death in 1985, there was no surprise when the top job of AWP leader went to the head of state, Ramiz Alia, an ideologue and politician, rather than to the more technocratic administrator Carcani.

Known to many Albanians as "Tao-Tao", the name of an incompetent but harmless bear in a popular Japanese cartoon series, Carcani battled ineffectively to arrest Albania's economic decline through the 1980s. In the late 1980s there was a period of cautious opening to the rest of the world to encourage trade; but it was too little, too late. Meanwhile, the revolutions of 1989 in much of Eastern Europe set an example that the more ruthlessly repressed Albanian population eventually followed from the end of 1990.

Following pro-democracy student demonstrations in December that year Carcani was given an extra job as leader of the Democratic Front, the umbrella-group of Communist-controlled social organisations. He replaced the 70-year-old Nexhmije Hoxha - widow of the late dictator - who had resigned on grounds of her advanced age, to be succeeded, somewhat improbably, by Carcani, who was then already 68 years old.

But age was not the only thing that began to count against Carcani. He remained an orthodox Communist who could not cope with the changes unleashed in Albania. One of his last acts as a leader was to address a rally in February 1991 at which he denounced the toppling of Hoxha's giant statue in Tirana by pro-democracy demonstrators as "an ugly act which only fascists and the wild enemies of Albania could have committed".

Electoral defeat came for the AWP in March 1992 at the hands of the Democratic Party, led by Sali Berisha. Carcani did not feel at home in Albania's new democratic environment. Worse was to come in 1994 when he was put on trial, along with Ramiz Alia, for abuse of power and was given a five- year suspended sentence. His poor state of health saved him from actual imprisonment.

During his final months Carcani lived through dramatic changes in Albania - starting with the collapse of high-risk pyramid investment schemes and an uprising against Berisha's increasingly authoritarian administration. But by then the ailing Carcani took no part in shaping Albania's turbulent political life. With the collapse of Communism he became little more than a relic of the past.