After the abrupt end to a somewhat improbable 17-year alliance with China, tiny revolutionary Albania is searching for a new friend and protector.
Once described as "unbreakable" the lopsided friendship between 2.5 million Albanians and 900 million Chinese has been transformed overnight into a bitter verbal feud. A mounting crescendo of Alabanian abuse directed at Peking followed China's cancellation, last month of all economic and military aid to the country that was once its only European ally.
Using powerful transmitters paid for out of Chinese aid, which Peking said totalled $5 billion, the Albanians are accusing the new Chinese leadership of "a flagrant departure from Marxism-Leninsm and collaboration with American imperialism and the international bourgeoisie." Most damning of all, China is accused of wanting to become "an imperialist superpower."
The problem now facing Albanian leader Enver Hoxha is that he has run out of potential leftist patrons. Since he came to power after leading a guerrilla uprising during Worl War II, he has made and broken alliances with three powerful Communist countries - first Yugoslavia in 1948, then the Soviet Union in 1961, and now China.
Today, apart from the ultra-leftist splinter groups which took to Hoxha for inspiration, the only communist party with which Albania maintains good relations is that of Vietnam.
Hoxha's own public solution to this predicament is simple. Denouncing speculation that it would be force back into the Soviet orbit, the Albanian Communist Pary has told its Chinese counterpart: "Albania will never submit to anybody. It will march nonstop on the road to socialism and communism illuminated by the immortal teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Our cause is just. Socialist Albania will triumph."
Brave words from a small nation that believes itself encircled by enemies. But if Albania's turbulent history as an independent nation proves anything at all, it is that it has always been a client state dependent for its survival on foreign military protection and economic assistance.
Western analysts believe that, despite the Marxist rhetoric, Albanian politics has retained much of its traditional character - based on the shifting loyalties of local chieftains for whom foreign alliances are a way of increasing their own power. It was a game played disastrously by the late King Zog who switched patrons from Yugoslavia in Italy, an alliance that culminated in the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939.
The wily Hoxha, who will be 70 in October, has been rather more successful at balancing domestic and foreign enemies off against each other - but the dangers remain the same.
There are at least two countries vitally interested in Albania: Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In moments of candor, Yugoslav officials admit that the divided loyalties of the one million Albanians living in Yugoslavia represent perhaps the biggest single potential threat to the country's stability following the death of Marshal Tito.
Yugoslavia's Albanian community has traditionally been the object of discrimination and ridicule by other Yugoslav nationalities - despite government efforts to improve the Albanian's lot. It would not be diffult for an unfriendly regime in Tirana, the Albanian capital, to exploit these accumulated resentments.
By contrast, it can be assumed that the Kremlin is interested in Albania as a means of pressure against Yugoslavia, which broke away from the Soviet bloc in 1948. It is also attracted to Albania's strategic position dominating the mouth of the Adriatic Sea just 45 miles from the Italian coast.
The Soviet Union's resumption of use of naval bases in Albania could, in turn, after the balance of power in the Mediterranean - an important consideration for U.S. policymakers.
In a recent speech, Hoxha recalled a visit in 1959 by the former Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, to the lake of Butrint in southern Albania. He said that Krushchev, after expressing cursory admiration for the orange groves and olive trees, turned on his defense minister and remarked, "What if we set up a submarine base here?"
"Ochen horosho, ochen horosho (very good)," the minister is said to have clucked. Soon afterwards, Albanian-Soviet relations deteriorated sharply and the base was never built - but Moscow's stategic interest in gaining a warm water port has remained.
The subsequent alliance with China was a valuable one for Hoxha. Apart from providing large amounts of aid, China's militant xenophobia during the 60s matched the Albanian leader's own obsessions. thousands of miles to the east, China was the ideal ally - a protector but not a predator.
Over the last five year, the premises on which this curious friendship was based have broken down. china's opening up to the outside world posed a threat to Hoxha who believes that isolation is the best guarantee of Albania's independence and his own personal power.
Under Hoxha's rule, all hint of Western influence has been suppressed in Albania, a beautiful land surrounded by lakes and mountains. Religion has officially been abolished. Decadent capitalist fads like blue jeans, pop music, and long hair are banned.
Out in the countryside, the landscape is covered with thousands of mushroom-shaped concrete pillboxes. They are intended as a deterrent to any would-be enemy, but also as a permanent reminder to Albanians of the need for constant vigilance in defense of their revolution.
A Chinese explanation for the divergent courses taken by Peking and Tirana over the last few years was given to a Yugoslav journalist by Deputy Foreign Minister Yu Chan. Accusing the Albanians of thinking they were the only true revolutionaries, he said: "They claim that all enemies are monolithic and that the revolutionary movement must also be monolithic and its ranks increasingly purged. But we believe that this only leads to our ranks becoming thinner and helping our enemies."
Whatever their reasons, the new pragmatic Chinese leadership decided to change its alliances in the Balkans. The switch will be symbolized later a desire to increase trade and other this month with the visit to Yugoslavia and Romania by Chairman Hua Kuo-feng, the first visit to Europe in many years by a Chinese Communist Party leader.
China's rapproachement with Tito may have been the final straw for Hoxha who has long regarded the Yugoslav leader as a personal enemy. The recent Albanian attack accused China of displaying "unusual zeal at interfering in the affairs of the Balkans, kindling the fire of war in this very sensitive area of Europe."
For Albania, new partners are not so readily available. In conversations with foreign journalists in Belgrade, Albanian diplomats have excluded the possibility of improving relations with either the Soviet Union or the United States - both bracketed together as imperialist superpowers.
The there are Western countries like Greece, France and Italy with whom Albania has already expressed contacts. But none of these countries are likely to provide long-term economic or military assistance of the kind Albania received from China.
Tantalizingly, while remaining totally opposed to any link with the Soviet Union under what they describe as Brezhnev social-imperialism, Albanian officials do not rule out better relations with individual Soviet bloc countries such as Hungray or Bulgaria. Sensing a possible opening, pro-Soviet "nonaligned states" like Cuba and Vietnam recently gave strong verbal support to Albania in its dispute with China.
Further complicating the picture is the fact that the three principal actors - Hoxha, Tito, and Brezhnev - are old men nearing the end of their political careers. Their successors may well take radically different attitudes towards the patchwork quilt of alliances in the Balkans.