German politician makes surprise visit to isolated Albania. Strauss's trip reflects Tirana's wish for warmer ties with W. Europe
An unexpected visit to Albania by West German politician Franz Josef Strauss has produced a significant meeting with one of the country's top leaders. The meeting Monday between Mr. Strauss and Albanian Deputy Premier Manush Myftiu confirmed speculation that the West German's surprise presence in Albania , disclosed over the weekend, was for something more than sightseeing.
Albania's interest in Strauss, and the possibility that his visit might help to renew relations with Bonn, is the strongest pointer yet to an apparent new turn in Albanian foreign policy away from isolationism. Strauss is the first prominent West European politician to visit Albania since World War II.
It had been thought that Strauss might meet with Albania's top man, Enver Hoxha - now the longest surviving leader in the Communist world - or, failing that, with one of his senior aides. Among the latter, Mr. Hoxha now has an apparent successor-designate in the person of Ramiz Alia, a senior secretary of the party committee. Mr. Alia has lately been shouldering an increased part of Hoxha's normal responsibilities and has revealed some distinctly innovative and pragmatic economic ideas in the process.
But Mr. Myftiu is also a member of the Albanian Politburo, which places him among the 10 persons closest to Hoxha. This fact vests the meeting with considerably more substance and importance than protocol courtesy.
Throughout this year, there has been a string of indications that this Stalinist loner of the communist world is at last actively seeking to come out from its lengthy period of isolation.
The Bavarian conservative fancies himself to be an unofficial trouble-shooter in matters of Bonn's Ostpolitik, a policy currently brought to the forefront of European politics by the meeting between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and East German leader Erich Honecker scheduled to take place in West Germany next month.
Although Albania is not a member of the East bloc, it does conceivably have a place in Strauss's active interest in West Germany's relations with Communist countries.
An advance in relations with West Germany would be Albania's most important move in its recent quest for enlarged contacts with most of the West European countries and Scandanavia.
The Albanians are aware of the role Strauss has played in West German relations with Romania and East Germany, two Communist states within the Soviet bloc.
Albania, which never abandoned Stalinism, is not now on cordial terms with any other communist country.
Strauss, in advance of a visit to Romania by West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in 1983, persuaded Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu to remove obstacles to emigration rights for ethnic Germans as a necessary precondition for Bonn's continued generosity in matters of economic support.
Since then, unofficial diplomatic efforts by Strauss facilitated two big West German credits for the East Berlin government in return for an easing by East Germany of border and travel restrictions between the two Germanys.
Can it be ruled out that Strauss might now find a way to bring Albania more closely into the European economic stream?
Normal relations between Albania and West Germany have for years been blocked by disagreement over wartime reparations.
Talks at an ordinary diplomatic level on the issue recently broke off once again without progress. Albania claims it should receive reparations for wartime damage and human losses under five years of Axis occupation. West Germany has always rejected the claims as too high.
Under Albania's ideologically purist Communist Constitution, foreign aid and foreign credits - whether from West or East - are totally excluded as a means of advancing the country's economic development.
But small as Albania may be in territory and population, it does have something to offer economically.
It generates enough electricity and taps enough oil for its own needs, leaving a margin for export. And it has rich mineral resources, particularly in the rarer minerals currently in high demand, such as chrome and nickel.
Albania already uses them in its growing trade, in Western Europe and elsewhere. In the past, they figured high in its payments to the Soviet Union and China before its relations with each soured.
In the last few months, Albania has taken some steps toward expanding its European contacts. It has become a bit more open to visits by the foreign press.
And it has taken specific steps - in information and television exchange, preparing commercial air links and general economic cooperation - with countries like Austria, Italy, Greece, and Turkey that it regards as ''friendly.''
But Albania's relations with the major Western powers, such as the United States and Britain, remain in abeyance.
The British have made overtures to, and have achieved a modest trade with, Albania.
But the London government insists Albania must first pay (STR)850,000 (about Justice in The Hague for mine damage to two British warships in the Corfu Strait in 1946.
Albania continues to reject responsibility for the incident.