Please join the Harriman Institute for a talk by Besnik Pula, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan.
Unlike most communist takeovers in eastern Europe, Albania's communist revolution was the result of an indigenous social movement with popular support among the peasantry. Yet, both historical discussions of Albania's communist revolution as well existing theoretical frameworks of peasant mobilization fail to explain the reasons why the communist movement succeeded in mobilizing a key segment of the peasantry, that threatened by loss of land and means of subsistence as a result of landowner pressures. My paper argues that the success of peasant mobilization is explained chiefly by the preceding period of nationalizing reforms of the socio-legal order, which dismantled traditional legal protections enjoyed by the peasantry inherited from the (pre-independence) Ottoman period. Under the impetus of Italian agribusiness interests, landowners began a process of land enclosures which stripped peasants of traditional subsistence rights, to which peasants responded by turning to the state to claim traditional legal protections. The paper demonstrates the impact of this process on the formation of a peasant political identity by contrasting the failure of the peasantry to support agrarian radicals in the short-lived revolution of 1924, while becoming the main popular force behind the communists in the 1940s. The paper concludes by underscoring the relevance of socio-legal institutions in agrarian transformations and the nationalizing state's role as an agent of politicization.
Besnik Pula is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Specializing in the areas of development, social theory, and comparative and historical sociology, he is interested in processes of long-term institutional and social change, with a comparative focus on the late Ottoman and post-Ottoman Balkans. He has been the recipient of fellowships from Fulbright, IREX, and the American Council for Learned Societies, while his work has been awarded by the Section on Comparative and Historical Sociology of the American Sociological Association. His work has appeared in Theory and Society, Nationalities Papers, and in several edited volumes. His dissertation engages in a regional comparison of peasant radicalism and state building in Albania’s transition from Ottoman province to nation-state, while his research interests include the dynamics of legal change in Ottoman successor states in the Balkans, the Middle East, and north Africa.