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People's Army

As chief of both party and state, Enver Hoxha was commander in chief and had direct authority over the People's Army until his death in 1985. His successor, Ramiz Alia, also had a strong connection to the People's Army through his military career, having reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and political officer in the Fifth Division of the NLA at the age of nineteen. According to the constitution adopted in 1976, the People's Assembly, a unicameral legislative body, had authority to declare mobilization, a state of emergency, or war. This authority devolved to the president when the People's Assembly was not in session, which was more often than not under communist rule, or was unable to meet because of the exigencies of a surprise attack on Albania.

The People's Army encompassed ground, air and air defense, and naval forces. It reported to the minister of people's defense, who was a member of the Council of Ministers and was, by law, selected by the People's Assembly. The minister of defense had traditionally been a deputy prime minister and member of the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the party. He exercised day-to- day administrative control and, through the chief of the general staff, operational control over all elements of the military establishment. The chief of the general staff was second in command of the defense establishment. He had traditionally been a candidate member of the Politburo. Each commander of a service branch was also a deputy minister of defense and advised the minister of people's defense on issues relative to his service and coordinated its activities within the ministry. Each represented his service in national defense planning.

In the early 1990s plans for expanding the existing military establishment during mobilization were unclear to Western observers. Prior to the 1980s, the ground forces maintained a peacetime structure with low personnel strength and low combat readiness. Divisions would be brought to full strength and readiness through the mobilization of reserves, but the smaller brigade structure introduced in the 1980s made it unlikely that newly mobilized soldiers could be integrated into existing units in the regular ground forces in wartime. Mobilized troops were more likely to be employed as light infantry, special forces, or guerrillas rather than in more technically oriented tank, artillery, air and air defense, or naval units. However, the possibility of mobilizing a substantial segment of the population for guerrilla warfare against an aggressor was evident in the large paramilitary training program. The emphasis on paramilitary training increased after the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 demonstrated potential weaknesses in Albania's plans to meet an attack by a large, well-trained aggressor force.

The experience of the resistance to the Italian and German occupations during World War II, in which men, women, and children participated, provided the inspiration for an extensive program of paramilitary training for virtually all segments of the Albanian population. The program, which began at the end of the war, focused on young people after the early 1950s. Paramilitary training developed to the point that many fifteento nineteen-year-old youths could be organized to fight as partisan forces or to operate as auxiliary units during a national emergency. Its main purpose was, however, to provide the armed forces with conscripts who were in good physical condition and had sufficient basic military training and knowledge to enter a military unit and perform satisfactorily with a minimum of adjustment. The academic year for secondary school and university students included one month and two months of full-time paramilitary training, respectively. Paramilitary training did not exclude older Albanians, however. Until age fifty, men were obligated to spend twelve days per year in paramilitary training. Women participated for seven days per year until age forty.

Paramilitary training included extensive physical conditioning, close-order drill, hand-to-hand combat, small arms handling, demolition, and tactical exercises applicable to guerrilla operations. It was conducted in secondary schools by military officers assigned to them and also at military units to which the schools were attached for training purposes. Paramilitary programs of the communist youth organizations were similar to those conducted in the secondary schools. Albanian youths carrying rifles and machine guns marched in May Day parades. As many as 200,000 young people participated in paramilitary training each year.

The major administrative divisions of the People's Army served all three services. These divisions included the political, personnel, intelligence, and counterintelligence directorates; the military prosecutor's office; and the rear and medical services. The intelligence directorate collected and reported information on foreign armies, especially those of neighboring Yugoslavia and Greece.

The military prosecutor's office was responsible for military justice. It organized military courts composed of a chairman, vice chairman, and several assistant judges. The courts heard a variety of cases covered by the military section of the penal code. Military crimes included breaches of military discipline, regulations, and orders as well as political crimes against the state and the socialist order. Military personnel, reserves, security forces, and local police were subject to the jurisdiction of military courts.

The medical service had departments within each of the military branches providing hospital and pharmaceutical services. At the national level, it cooperated closely with the Ministry of Health, using military personnel, facilities, and equipment to improve sanitary and medical conditions throughout the country and to provide emergency medical assistance during natural disasters.

In 1966 Hoxha abolished rank designations and uniforms, condemning them as unhealthy bourgeois class distinctions, in keeping with a similar Chinese move. This measure was intended to make the military more egalitarian by bringing officers closer to the soldiers under their command. It also reinforced party control over the military by reducing the prestige and independence of its leadership as well as its potential to become a political power center rivaling the party. Military professionalism became a secondary consideration to political reliability in determining promotions.

Since World War II, the abrupt shifts in Albanian foreign policy resulted in purges of the officer corps. Those officers trained in or closely linked with Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, or China were purged from the ranks and even executed as traitors when alliances with these countries came to an end.

Fearing a decline in his authority and party control over the People's Army, Hoxha also conducted a major purge of its senior officers during 1974. He dismissed and later executed his longtime ally and minister of defense Beqir Balluku as well as the chief of staff and chief of the political directorate. He replaced Balluku with Mehmet Shehu, who was prime minister, another close associate of many years who had established the military and security forces in the late 1940s. Shehu was a founder of the guerrilla movement during World War II who attained the rank of lieutenant general. He was its most capable military leader, but he apparently committed suicide after he and party officials tied closely to him were purged in 1981. Prokop Murra, a relatively junior candidate member of the Politburo, succeeded Shehu as minister of defense and became a full member of the Politburo in 1986.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:50:48 ZULU