Communists ruled Albania from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s. At first, they were friends with Yugoslavia, then with the Soviet Union, then with China – but ultimately, they decided they didn’t want to be friends with anybody. Accordingly, the government banned private car ownership in the 1940s, religion in the 1960s, beards in the 1970s, and, of course, imprisoned and executed everybody that didn’t support its great reforms.
Enver Hoxha – Albania’s long-time tyrant dictator – was also afraid that somebody might invade the country. He didn’t invest in roads because invaders might have used them. Instead, he had bunkers built. There are nearly six bunkers per square kilometre and over 170,000 in the whole country.
As elsewhere, communism collapsed in the early 1990s and regular people got to grow a beard or buy a car. Hoxha and his cronies had driven Mercedes which made the brand popular as a status symbol. Besides, only a sturdy car could survive the country’s terrible roads. The brand came to dominate the market and estimates claim that 60 to 80 percent of Albania’s cars are by Mercedes.
Nowadays, other car brands are catching up but Mercedes’ dominant position is hard to break: all Albanian mechanics know how to repair them and spare parts are easy to get. Albania might be Europe’s third poorest1 country, but Mercedes – though not necessarily the most recent models – are going to command its streets for years to come.