Letter: Wartime roots of UK backing for Berisha

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Sir: There is a wider and deeper background to the British Conservative connection with Albania (reports, 14, 15, 24 February). It goes back to the Special Operations Executive's operations in Albania in the Second World War.

In 1944 the late Lord Amery, then a young captain, acted as a sort of political commissar with the Billy McLean/David Smiley mission, which tried to conjure resistance to the Germans from the Zogist movement in north Albania. For various reasons they failed. After the war they explained their failure by alleging that Albania had been betrayed and given over to Enver Hoxha and Communism by the folly and in some cases the treachery of fellow officers in SOE who had channelled support to the Partisans.

This became the generally accepted version of events because Julian Amery and his associates were for several decades the only members of the SOE teams from Albania who went into print. They contributed to the ill-starred effort to destabilise Enver Hoxha's Albania at the turn of the Forties and Fifties. The failure of that project has been blamed on Philby's treachery, although there are very good reasons for thinking that it would have failed without Philby's intervention. It was an early piece of ill-judged and excessive anti-Communism.

When the Communist regime began to collapse in 1991, Amery and Smiley visited Albania and became active supporters and encouragers of Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party. With the help of Lord Amery's prestigious position in British politics it was possible to mobilise some practical help for them from Conservative and eventually also from government sources. Berisha won the 1992 election and became President; and first William Bennett and later Guy Roberts were taken into his office as special advisers. The UK had no diplomatic ties with Albania until later in 1992, but President Berisha was already assured in this unofficial way of a close British connection. In so far as Sir Geoffrey Pattie has nourished that connection in the mid-Nineties, he has inherited the late Lord Amery's mantle.

The 1944 outcome was reversed in 1992. It would have been best for Albania if hard, revanchist anti-Communism had been softened from then onwards. Unfortunately it has continued to have an important place in the political ideology of President Berisha's government, and this has undoubtedly been encouraged by right-wing advice from abroad, not only advice from foreign friends but also advice from Albanian emigre communities in western countries. The main opposition party, the Socialists, have been slow in distancing themselves from their Hoxha-ist past, and this has made it easier for anti-Communism to appear still to be relevant, although it ceased to be an adequate or even a valid ideology once the Communist system had fallen apart.

The result is that Albania today is a deeply divided country, on the way to becoming once again a single-party state, without a new post-Communist constitution or an independent judiciary.

In its rush to the free market Albania has picked up some of capitalism's worst habits. The collapse of the pyramid investment schemes has precipitated a grave crisis. But even graver is the fact that, for lack of properly functioning democratic institutions, the issue is being fought out in street demonstrations and police repression. Such are the fruits of excessive Communism and excessive anti-Communism. Albania is still in the shadow of the bitter events of 1944, and influences from the UK have helped to keep it there.


Pennal, Gwynneth

The writer, a former British Ambassador to France, served with the SOE in Albania in the Second World War