COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM
After Hoxha's death in 1985, his handpicked successor, Ramiz Alia, sought to preserve the communist system while introducing gradual reforms in order to revive the economy, which had been declining steadily since the cessation of aid from former communist allies. To this end he legalized some investment in Albania by foreign firms and expanded diplomatic relations with the West. But, with the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1989, various segments of Albanian society became politically active and began to agitate against the government. The most alienated groups were the intellectuals and the working class--traditionally the vanguards of a communist movement or organization--as well as Albania's youth, which had been frustrated by years of confinement and restrictions. In response to these pressures, Alia granted Albanian citizens the right to travel abroad, curtailed the powers of the Sigurimi, restored religious freedom, and adopted some free-market measures for the economy. In December 1990 Alia endorsed the creation of independent political parties, thus signaling an end to the communists' official monopoly of power. With each concession to the opposition, the state's absolute control over Albanian society weakened. Continuing economic, social, and political instability led to the fall of several governments, and in March 1992 a decisive electoral victory was won by the anticommunist opposition led by the Democratic Party. Alia resigned as president and was succeeded by Sali Berisha, the first democratic leader of Albania since Bishop Noli. Albania's progress toward democratic reform enabled it to gain membership in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, formally bringing to an end its notorious isolation. Efforts to establish a free-market economy caused severe dislocations, but they also opened the road for Albania to obtain vast amounts of aid from developed countries. Albania was thus well on its way toward integrating its politics and institutions with the West, which Albanians have historically viewed as their cultural and geographic home.