(b. Shkodra, Albania, 18 Oct. 1925)
Albanian; head of state 1982–92 Alia is the son of poor Muslim parents from the Gheg clan who fled Kosovo after the Balkan Wars. During the Second World War he fought in the Communist guerrilla organization, the Army of National Liberation, and attained the rank of lieutenant‐colonel. In 1949 his political career within the Albanian Labour Party (ALP—the Communist party) was advanced when he became a member of the Central Committee. From 1955 to 1958 he was Minister for Education and Culture. Then he moved to the party post of Central Committee secretary with responsibility for the Agitation and Propaganda Department. In 1966 he was elected as alternate member of the Politburo. At the end of 1981 Albania's leader, Enver Hoxha decided upon Alia as his heir instead of Mehmet Shehu. In 1982 he became a full member of the Politburo, and at the same time chairman of the People's Assembly, making him head of state.
On Hoxha's death in 1985 Alia became party First Secretary, with powers as great as his predecessor: he was head of state, head of the party, and Commander-in-Chief. He adopted a less strident style than Hoxha and displayed greater pragmatism in his approach to foreign affairs, improving contacts with the states of Western Europe and the Balkans and restoring diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and the United States. In public Alia seemed more interested in the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia than Hoxha, but in practice continued his predecessor's policy of nonintervention in Yugoslavia's internal affairs. At home, Alia initially seemed set against reform. He was not able to prevent the militancy of the Yugoslav Albanians from stimulating popular demands inside Albania, nor was he able to improve the disastrous state of the economy. Even limited change was a threat to Alia, who owed his position to Hoxha. It was only after the fall of Ceauşescu's regime in Romania at the end of 1989 that Alia took measures to prevent the growth of unrest in Albania. In May 1990 he introduced limited economic reforms and in December 1990 conceded a multi-party system of government. In March 1991 the ALP defeated four opposition parties in free elections. Though Alia was defeated in his Tirana constituency, the next month parliament appointed him President. Alia and the ALP were not able to maintain their position in the face of continuing public demands for political change and the deterioration of the economy. The Communist government fell in June 1991 and was replaced by a multi-party coalition. When the Democratic Party won an outright majority in the elections of March 1992, Alia resigned as President. He was placed under house arrest and charged with political corruption. Found guilty in 1994, he was sentenced to nine years in prison, but was released under the terms of a new criminal code in 1995. He was re-arrested in 1996 for committing crimes against humanity, but he escaped from prison during a riot in 1997 and fled from Albania. The charges were subsequently withdrawn.