Elidor Mehilli

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20122013 Forum on Peripheries

Elidor Mehilli


Ph.D., Princeton University

The Defiant Periphery: Albania from Mussolini's Mediterranean Empire to the Soviet Bloc and Mao

Based on extensive research in over fifteen archives in Albania, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, this project analyzes the emergence of the socialist Eastern bloc, or so-called Second World, through the lens of overlooked transnational exchange. The communist bloc's periphery, Albania, serves as my angle into this story. Emerging from Italian colonialism in the early 1940s, the fledgling Balkan state initially flirted with Tito's Yugoslavia but then found itself an eager Soviet satellite in a few heady years. As the Albanian example illuminates, the Soviets created, exported, and maintained a distinct material culture spanning a sixth of the globe, from Siberia to southeastern Europe: communist institutions and techniques of rule, but also factory blueprints, urban plans, and standard housing designs for politically conscious workers. Then, in the 1960s, communist Albania suddenly embraced Mao's China, which also made for far-reaching interactions and transfers. My study seeks to understand how this diffusion took place. It analyzes the interplay between center and periphery, ideology, and local power struggles, external and internal factors, indigenous aspirations of modernity, and significant geopolitical shifts. I argue that Soviet-inspired circulations amounted to a kind of socialist globalization. Socialist exchange was profoundly shaped by communist parties, planned economies, and geopolitics. Nevertheless, the Albanian case reveals that these exchanges did not necessarily translate into political cohesion within the bloc, loyalty to the center, or even, ultimately, more openness. Globalization in the communist bloc succeeded materially even as, in the end, it failed politically.