In the Democratic Party
The Democratic leadership has begun an analysis of the causes which led to a resounding defeat in the June elections of 1997.
The more thorough the analysis the better.
And I should think that the analysis will be made with great care, without allowing the Party to wash its dirty linen in public, without allowing any reports to leak into the hands of those who threw the whole country into anarchy and brought it to the brink of disaster.
If the Party lashes out at all the culprits at this early stage, nothing will go wrong later. If the Party discards all those who caused the great disillusionment with the democratic values which it upheld, there is nothing wrong with it either. However, whatever happens in this painful process should not become a source of gossip.
When I saw some of the most prominent names in the DP, when I went through the list of candidates it fielded in the last general elections I was disheartened. I thought: "The credibility of the Party will suffer. The Party seems unable to win over reliable people."
Some of its candidates for the People's Assembly were neither fish nor fowl, and I noticed some names which struck me as totally unacceptable.
I still think that in the DP there are still many members and supporters who understand that the 1992 and 1996 election victories were not a victory for each individual who contended the elections to the People's Assembly.
The victory, in my opinion, is due to the overall atmosphere in the country, and no one should put it down as the merit of the DP (because this political Party was then and still is in an amorphous stage, and the ideas of its founders were still shaping themselves).
The victory of the DP in the two general elections (1992, 1996) was due, to a great extent, to the notorious legacy of the SP, as the direct heir of the Party of Labour (ex CPA) and the fresh memory of the shambles of its government in 1990-1992.
The victory came to the DP because the whole nation was poised for a change and because only one person in the Party was capable of galvanising the whole country. These factors should be acknowledged both by the ordinary people and by the Party members and supporters. The DP would never have achieved a victory without the individual who stamped his authority, who led the Party and the State, and guided the reform of the period 1992-1996.
Today that the DP is going through the worst period since its founding, all the darts of the opposition parties are directed against him. He is made responsible for all the mistakes and blunders of the DP and of the new Albanian State. He is pilloried for his lieutenants' errors of omission or commission. He is made answerable for everything that went wrong during the period of the democratic government. At him is hurled a rich vocabulary of abusive phrases and obscene words which no Albanian head of state has ever heard before. He is the convenient "whipping boy", while the black "cohorts" of the DP which fostered corruption, bent the arm of the law, and feathered their own nests are keeping a low profile or have abandoned him.
In this situation I believe that the wrath and venom of Berisha's enemies is directed solely against him because, on the one hand, he is the undisputed symbol of the Albanian democratic movement, and once they have tarnished and blackened his reputation it would be very easy for them to deal with the whole DP and do short work of it. On the other hand, Berisha by his very style of leadership is a magnet for attacks.
Hence it follows that the man who undertook the single-handed reform of the most backward and oppressed country in the Balkans should now be capable of dealing with the attacks on him and of shouldering his responsibilities for the situation of the country.
When everyone of us has accepted this truth we should also accept our share of responsibility. First and foremost it is important to distribute the share of wrongdoing to all those who joined the new Albanian State with an eye to their own benefit.
The DP should not wonder why it suffered a crushing defeat in the hot elections of June 1997. In this case, though, it should not seek the cause of the defeat in the inner call of the ordinary people for change of government. These elections were held in a situation of a deep moral and economic crisis which affected every single Albanian family.
In its analysis of the defeat, the DP should take into consideration not only the pre-election ticks of the socialists, not only the threats and intimidation of the armed bands on the ordinary voters, but also the internal currents and undercurrents in its ranks and amongst its supporters.
Gains from the Reform
In the conditions of a thorough institutional, economic and social reform it is only natural that painful operations would be necessary. The Albanian reform envisaged a complete transformation of the country according to the so-called "shock therapy".
The half-hearted reform which the socialist began to implement in 1991 were taken up and completely readjusted by the democratic government.
A few results of the five years of democratic government:
The land reform was carried out to completion. The agricultural economy was privatised. The farmers obtained land title deeds and saw their centuries-old dream come true: from slaves and serfs under the feudal system, from co-operative-farm members devoid of any right and material advantage, they were transformed into owners in their right.
But the joy of owning their farm land, their pasture grounds, their vineyards and their animals, was short-lived and soon became a worry. Like in the story of the rich man who worried day and night how to increase his wealth and of the poor man who led a care-free life in his poverty, the co-operative member turned capitalist farmer overnight began to complain: We were better of under Enver Hoxha. It is true that we were poor...
It is true that the state collected the produce of the fields and left us with near nothing... But we could go to sleep without a worry for anything. We were not worried about the repair of the animal shed, about the safety of the produce in the fields, about the yields of the crops... The chairman of the co-operative was in charge and it was his responsibility to look after everything.. The State was in charge and it would take care of everything... But this thing of being your own man, this is not our cup of tea... How can we make our own decisions! - they protested. - We were better of, really. It is true that we had to go to the fields at daybreak, but God is a witness that we made believe that we worked. Nowadays with Berisha it is different kettle.
My land is my own and I have to till it and sow the seed and look after the crops and tend the animals and do every damn thing myself. And I have to do it or my family will starve and the animals will crock. I admit that we had to toil in the fields all day long, but I have to say that on our way back home we managed to pinch everything that lay within reach. After all we were not stealing, we were just getting back what was our own. We have lived like that for years and years. Nowadays there is nothing I could pinch.
Despite this and the difficulties of the reform which involved a huge amount of office work, the farmers turned their attention to the honest work. And in a couple of years they discarded their "thievish" mentality which the communists had helped to implant unwittingly.
The farmer, however, is disgruntled. He would sooner blame anyone else but himself for a lean year.
I will return briefly to recollections of the year 1995.
In October my mother came as a visitor in London.
I gave her a couple of days to recover from the excitement of her first trip abroad and the joy of seeing her grandchildren. I took her out to the splendid London parks and as we strolled on Sundays she would start talking about the situation at home, about how people tried hard to make a living, about the scarcity of jobs...
Although most of what she said was a grim tale, there was no sadness or pessimism in her voice.
Then the conversation drifted to things closer to home, to the family friends in a small village up in the hills who were poor then and remained destitute until the moment that they got a piece of land which they could call their own and could farm it and raise a few dairy animals.
My father's friend, left behind his wife, two sons and a daughter. On Sundays his wife came down to town to sell a round of goat cheese, a basket of eggs, and the odd string of tobacco leaves, or a goat kid.
They have managed to beat the old poverty. They work very hard but then, as we say, "no gain without pain". The soil is very lean and it takes a lot of work and manure to make it produce enough to keep the people alive. Trepsanisht has always been like that. But then, with good hard work life is not impossible to make a decent living. And they don't complain...
But they are in a minority in their village. The villagers, nearly five hundred souls, keep complaining for everything. They had their land for free, they were exempted of dues for three years, they had all the advantages that a government could give them. And yet, they are not satisfied, they keep asking for more. Now that the three-year exemption from dues is coming to an end they are growing restless. You can't believe what they say against the government! I know what the farmers are like. They'll never be grateful to anyone at any time... I know who is egging them on against Berisha, too.
The men in the high country south of Shkumbin had secretly vowed they would make life hell for my father and would take it out on him for having cheated so many of them with promises :"We would eat from a golden plate when we liberate the country and the Party comes to power."
The Party came to power, indeed, and after having called on all honest Albanians to make the sublime sacrifice for the liberation of the country from the fascist monster, it called on them to set up the co-operative farms. Then it called on them to do voluntary work. Then it called on them to hand over all livestock to the co-operative. Then it called on them to stop raising chickens in their own yards. Then it called on them to stop calling themselves farmers and assume the honoured name of socialist agricultural workers. All this was meant for their well being, which the peasants failed to understand.
The farmers, who had been fleeced in centuries by the landowners, now were in the mercy of the "red" devil. They bowed under the weight of every invention of the communist experiment and gave up all hope of ever becoming owners of the land, as my father and his communist comrades had promised during the war.
The village priest at Gjinar cursed my father under his breath when the local communist branch sent an "educational team" to strip him of his robe and closed the village church in September 1968. He continued to curse my father all day everyday as he went out in the fields to work as other villagers did. His best friends in Trepsanisht and throughout that part of the region cursed him as if he were the only culprit for all the vicissitudes and hardships in their lives. My father had stopped going to see his friends in the region long before he died.
He did not blame the poor villagers. He knew they were right. He felt he had betrayed them, but there was nothing he could do to keep the promise he had made to them when he was young.
When the fortunes of the co-operative farm were declining fast, our friends from Trepsanisht came more and more often to town and slip unnoticed into our home, avoiding my father as much as she could. She went to the back garden with my mother and in her presence she cried bitterly and desperately. Her younger son had a bad lung problem and she did not have enough money to buy him good food and medicines. Her daughter looked like an ungrown child, and she did not have enough strength to dig in the fields and do all the hard work for the money worth of one tenth of a loaf of bread a day. Her elder son had all the burden of the house. Thank God, he was still strong although his daily diet was a chunk of corn bread and a bottle of water sweetened with one tablespoonful of sugar.
When Ramiz Alia had his brilliant idea of allowing the farmers to have a small plot of land and to raise a small number of animals and chicken it was too little too late. The damage done over decades of recklessness was beyond repair.
The farmers had become beggars, knocking at every door in the town, pleading with their old friends:
Have mercy on me and my children. Please, oh, please , buy me a loaf of black bread for my children, - was a familiar refrain.
The proud upcountry men were reduced to despair.
My mother spoke with a lump in her throat.
Before Easter this year, she sent word around with one of her sons, asking me to go and stay with her for the whole week. She's stopped coming down to town, her legs wouldn't carry her any more. She's as old as I am, - she resumed telling me about her experience in Trepsanisht in the days before the May 1996 elections.
I wanted to be alone with Tase, but it was impossible. Every single day the house was full of old acquaintances.
When I heard what some of them were saying, I couldn't believe my ears. I can't explain all that hatred against the government and against Berisha. The things they said made no sense to me, but they spoke with real anger. Then I realised they spoke the same language as the old communists, the same words as the Party comrades from Elbasan, you know who I mean. God help Sali! He's in trouble. These old-hats they are working hard everywhere, like in the old days of the war. They go round from house to house, from village to village and spread the venom against the democrats. I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears that their words stick.
I can read their minds. The farmer is never satisfied, or never says he is. They said things were bad under the beys, and they were. In 1946, when the Communist Party gave them the land they did not say they were better. Later, when the co-operative farms were set up and Enver Hoxha told them "either join in the co-operatives, or I'll write you off as kulaks", things were bad again. With the democratic government they are not happy, either, - she continued.
The farmer says to himself: Complain, always complain. Complain when it shines, complain when it rains. Complaints will always get me something from this government or from the next government. Sali gave us the land and he cannot get it back because we hold the title deeds, and then he will not even try to do so because he is a man of his word. I've got enough from Sali, he cannot give me more. Now, before he starts asking me to pay the due, I should be party with the socialists. I have a better chance of getting my own way if I play with them.
She sounded really worried. I saw that she was scared for Sali Berisha and his government. I knew her fears were not in her imagination. She had seen the old communists up and doing again in exactly the same manner as they had done when they raised the people in the war against the fascists and the nazis.
The toughest socialist activists were the old party members who had fat pensions to which they had added bonuses for this special contribution in the war and for that distinction in the construction of socialism. They were the same stiff upper-lip part of the Elbasan society who had made the law in town in the last fifty years, and who hated the democratic reform. They held their party meetings regularly under the old rules of secrecy, as they had done during the war.
They love secrecy. They love the fact that they can be useful to the Party again. They go round spreading the word of the Party and are really cocky. The have a very loose tongue, too. They vilify Sali Berisha and forget that if anyone of them whispered half a word against Enver Hoxha he would rot in jail for life...
I tried to tell my acquaintances in Trepsanisht that they were much better now with Sali. But they pooh-poohed Berisha and his Party. Talking with them was like talking to a stone wall. I tried to get them to admit that they have their land, that they have flocks of animals, that they don't have to get up at daybreak in order to go into the fields and the woods to steal. I told them that they had become better men and led a decent life. But they just wouldn't listen. I think they are too greedy. Sali Berisha's men were nowhere. This new party will have a problem...
She fell quiet, musing.
As she spoke of the poverty of the farmers under the communists I recalled a story which went around in Tirana at the time when the Party of Labour issued a new directive that ordered every farmer to hand to the co-operative all the animals they raised in their own small plot of land. the directive also enjoined that the personal plot of the farmers would be reduced by half.
Ramiz Alia went on a tour of the northern part of the country and stopped at a village which was reputed as a stronghold of the communists in the war. He met an old man who had made a name for his bravery and wisdom in the entire region. In a "cordial" talk, cheek by jowl with the people, in the style of the "brilliant" leader Enver Hoxha, he teased the old man about his covered chest. "Men in these parts do not cover their chests to the wind or turn their back to the enemy," Ramiz Alia said.
"Comrade Ramiz," the old man replied, "a man is not a man in these parts without his pork for the cold winter months. I cover my chest because you took away our pork."
I reproduced the words of my mother, who at the age of seventy-four did not hesitate to do the right thing for the infant democracy. Unfortunately for her, the joy of the victory of 1996 elections was short-lived.
Results and Consequences of the Democratic Reform
Under the democratic government the farmers got their land and enjoyed the fruit of their labour in full because they were exempt of paying taxes and dues for three years. It is not a mean achievement.
The townspeople, however, had a different story to tell. The few who had the courage to go in for trade were not doing badly, but the majority in the town had a hard time. They had given their contribution to the increase of the national wealth, whatever it was, and were entitled to expect a kind of remuneration from the new government. The DP did not hesitate to try and satisfy them, as well.
Albanian citizens had built with "voluntary" work nearly all the grim-looking blocks of flats they lived in and paid rent for them. The DP in government decided to sell the flats to them at a low price (a two-bedroom flat was bought by the tenants for 150 US dollars).
Albanians had dreamed of being and behaving like free individuals. The DP gave them the opportunity to act as free citizens in an environment freed from the shackles of dictatorship; it established the free market economy which allowed them to use their own skills and initiative without the restrictions of the laws of the socialist economy.
Albanians had dreamed of travelling abroad for business or as tourists. The DP introduced the system of passports which replaced the ID card system.
For the sake of brevity I am not going to mention everything that the Albanians achieved in the years of the Democratic government. I will stress that the changes had to do with the aspirations of the ordinary people who are guided mostly by their instincts rather than logic in what they do and what they aspire to achieve. The theories about human rights and freedoms do not mean a thing to the ordinary Albanian. He understands what they mean only when he has his own space within which he can act as a free individual.
In our society there is a cross section of the population who looked forward to the success of the democratic movement precisely because they were fully aware of the importance of a change in the situation of human rights and freedoms, including the freedom of speech and association, the freedom of religious practice and belief. This cross section is rather numerous in Albania because of the size of people with university training.
Under the circumstances, taking into account the aspirations of this part of the population, the DP began the reform on an untrodden ground. It began to explore a field in which there were no traditions from the previous governments and had to deal with concepts which were entirely new to the Albanian practice.
There was a general impression that the Parliament was proceeding towards the division of the executive from the judiciary.
The press began to be depoliticised. Instead of the party-controlled and ideologically guided newspapers, we had 130 newspapers and magazines for 3.3 million people, which is the highest number per capita of population in Europe. Most of them were independent.
The ruling party retained its monopoly of the most powerful means of propaganda - the Radio and Television.
Education and culture were changing rapidly to cater for the requirements of a new society that was no longer isolated from the world.
The Liberal Media Policy of the Democratic Government
BBC and VOA
The liberalisation process in the economy and in other walks of life did not pass without a clash of interests both in the country and in the relations of the new Albanian State with the Western world, in particular.
In the first year of its existence, the Democratic Albania, eager to take big strides in the relations with the world and to gain accession to the European organisations, made an agreement with one of the largest and highly-regarded broadcasting corporations of the world.
The famous BBC World Service, known in Albania as Radio London from its World War Two broadcasts and from its Albanian Language Section under Anton Logoreci until 1967, returned to Albania in 1993 not only with its normal short wave broadcasts but also with an FM station in the very heart of the country.
To mark the resumption of BBC broadcasts in Albanian, a ceremony was organised in February 1993 in the Hotel Dajti. The host, Mr. Andrew Taussig,, was the worse for his brandy when I shook hands with him towards the end of the reception. Mr. Tim Cooke, head of the Albanian Section, was present too. I was still working at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs then.
I had listened to BBC World Service for nearly twenty-five years. My late father listened regularly every afternoon to the Radio London broadcasts, from a MOSKWITCH wireless at the risk of his life, until the Labour Government decided to close it down for its own specific reasons, which I still fail to understand completely.
When the speaker announced that the BBC would cease its broadcasts in the Albanian language my father was so frustrated that he nearly smashed the small MOSKWITCH.
In the summer of 1990 and 1991 Durrës Beach was an unusual scene of groups of holiday-makers clustered around portable radios, aerials shooting up boldly in the presence of policemen who patrolled the area and feigned they did not notice anything, did not hear a thing. VOA and BBC boomed all around in the waterfront in the afternoon. Their message was clear. Totalitarianism was dead all over Easter Europe. Albania would soon follow suite.
I was working for the American Cultural Centre translating a book. I went out in the afternoons for a coffee with Zef in the area round the PYRAMID and often met some of my old school mates now working at the Radio and Television Centre.
One of those days, Mira Blushi, neé Shuteriqi, a fellow-student, stopped to tell me that BBC World Service would reopen its Albanian section and had advertised an entry competition. I told her I was not interested and I did not hear any more from her on that subject.
Who were admitted by the BBC and what individuals they were, this is known by the team who are still working with a contract which seems to have been renewed repeatedly over the last five years. This is known by everyone who listens to BBC three times a day, every day.
As early as the first months since it resumed its broadcasts, BBC made a not very pleasant impression among its numerous listeners in Albania, not only amongst those who were in government then. The frustration with the BBC was strongly voiced in Durrës where some people went as far as to demand that the Government annulled the agreement with the BBC.
The same Albanians who had considered BBC World Service as the temple of unbiased information, as the most reliable source of reporting world wide, began to wonder why its Albanian broadcasts were so heavily slanted against the government and so blatantly in favour of the socialist opposition. They were non-plussed by the double standards adopted by the BBC, which were against the very basic principles of fair reporting. That Radio London could go as far as that was a very unpleasant surprise for many an Albanian.
Those who dealt with and knew the strengths of the BBC were aware that to have it on one's side was a great asset, and to have its broadsides trained against you spelt disaster.
To be on your guard against the BBC is a wholesome fear, an English friend of mine once said to me and continued to speak of the role of the BBC World Service in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the Islamic Revolution. Everything had begun very simply with a BBC videocassette containing the inflammatory speeches of Ayatollah Khomeini. The rest had taken care of itself.
With regard to the stand-off between BBC Albanian Section and the Albanian government, I would like to return to the visit of President Berisha in March 1994 in London.
On the second day of his visit he was scheduled to meet the British Prime Minister. On the way to Number 10 Downing Street I insisted again with Berisha that he should leave me to handle the BBC Albanian Section issue either during the present meeting or with the FCO immediately after the conclusion of his visit.
No, - he said pointedly. - I'll raise it myself because BBC is doing a lot of damage.
He expressed his preoccupation to Mr. Major, by saying that the Albanian Section of the BBC World Service was a team of individuals who had left the Albanian Radio and Television Centre or were made redundant or were discarded as below required standards, as a group of individuals who had direct family connections with the top-shots of the overthrown regime and were openly doing the work of the communists.
The Prime Minister shrugged the questions. He said that the BBC was an independent institution and he could not interfere with the way it worked.
The Albanian Section of the BBC is a formidable team. Under the mask of BBC's celebrated impartiality and with sophisticated training in British journalism and reporting, they sniped at the Albanian government at every opportunity.
There is nothing wrong with the BBC pointing out to the inexperienced government where it went wrong, but to exaggerate its mistakes and to systematically condemn every single thing that it did, that was pouring oil in the fire. The team of Albanians at Bush House was very good at doing the latter. The question is: Was it just the Albanian team who were so biased against the government in Tirana, or was there something mor to it?
I recall that in late1993 I had difficulty in receiving "Radio London" in my flat at Eccleston Square and I gave up trying because the quality of reception was very bad. Eventually I asked Mr. Cooke whether he could think of something that might help and he said he could get a special aerial fixed for me. He repeated the promise a couple of times later that year, but never delivered. I decided I'd better forget it.
In the short period when I could listen to it I was careful to observe how the programme was built, how much space was devoted to each item and what came first in the news. I could see it was biased, but then I tended at first to excuse this position of the BBC by saying to myself that it worked by its golden mean, regardless of the amount of harm that its principles might cause.
After Easter 1994 I requested and was granted an appointment with Mr. Taussig at Bush House. Mr. Cooke was also present. After explaining the purpose of my request to see them, I said that I had listened (with some difficulty) to the report prepared by the Albanian Section about the celebration of Easter in Tirana and emphasised that the reporter had highlighted the protest of the head of the Orthodox Church, Janoulatos, against a so-called restriction imposed by the local police on the circulation in that part of the town where the midnight mass was to be celebrated.
I said I fully agreed with the report.
After making a short pause I continued that impartial reporting implied that when there were two sides involved in an event, it was only fair that the two sides should be heard (I was deliberately saying this although I knew that was teaching grandmother how to suck eggs). It would have been a credit to BBC had the Albanian Section decided to report that the Midnight Easter Mass was celebrated without a problem.
Mr. Taussig looked from the corner of his eye in the direction of Mr. Cooke, who said that he was sure the event was covered by the BBC, upon which I asked him to be kind enough to send me a copy of the tape or the transcript of the report.
He did not send anything. He did not even call to excuse himself for not sending them. This was just one of the many biased reports that the Albanian Section broadcast under the convenient cover of BBC reputed impartiality.
BBC Albanian Section continues to employ nearly all of the old team it put together in 1993, except for a couple or three who have found jobs in other departments of the same establishment.
As a linguist I cannot help noticing, also, how un-Albanian the language of the reports is. The team obviously needs a refreshment course in the Albanian language. They must build their word power soon and discard the "fashionable" Englishisms and structural loans from English, Or everything they say will be misunderstood even by their friends.
This is not the place to reproduce their blunders. And it does not take a trained linguist to understand that their Albanian language is a kind of BBC new-speak developed in the five years since they started work at Bush House. I wonder if this is the standard the BBC sets in its criteria for selection and admission to Bush House.
The Albanian language will definitely not be enriched from that contaminated source.
Back to the subject of the "impartiality" of BBC Albanian Section, I cannot help pointing out a U-turn completed overnight by the same team who profess to uphold high standards of reporting. In the last five years it was outspoken against the democratic government and reported extensively on Albanian events. During the Albanian Crisis of spring 1997, BBC and all Albanian language broadcasts of VOA and Deutsche Welle covered the uprising in Southern Albania with zest, as if there was not enough encouragement for the rebels from many different sources.
Hotel Rogner in the centre of Tirana was teeming with foreign correspondents from all over the Western world. The press core on the scene (or rather in the hotel lobbies and bars) was helping to compound the very confusion that it was supposed to be untangling. In the crowded hotel bar they exchanged information or misinformation, which they collected at best from the first man that walked in from the streets.
I was not prepared for that kind of reporting which added to the general confusion. Now that the crisis has boiled down and Berisha with his democratic government are down and out, BBC has returned to its "cool" reporting, by steering back to its golden mean.
Obviously, the Albanian team is not interested in reporting the aftermath of the crisis. It is now back to its honoured pedestal.
We Must Shoulder our Responsibilities
There are difficult moments in the history of nations. Albanians are going through one of the toughest tests at the end of the millennium.
From a simplistic point of view, the Albanian crisis of the year 1997 has its roots in the policy of the governing party and cannot be separated from the quality of the people who shouldered the responsibility of government. It is fair and just to demand an explanation from the DP for the outbreak of anarchy and rebellion.
DP supporters and followers may claim that the opposition parties have a share of the responsibility, too. There is no doubt that the opposition played a definite role in all this in order to further its aims - to capture state power - and achieved it through the armed revolution.
But it should be born in mind that the opposition is simply an opposition, whereas the governing party has all the levers of the state in its hands. The DP ruled the country from 1992 until 1996 and as a ruling party it should take upon itself the responsibilities for the insecurity it created in Albania.
The share of responsibility that goes to the opposition parties is not difficult to define. Their activists were seen in action, enciting the rebellion, leading the armed revolution and calling for the overthrow of Berisha's dictatorship even at the cost of "scorching Albania to the ground".
What Action did the DP Take to Stem the Crisis?
What were its Reactions to Signals of the Approaching Crisis?
What measures did the DP adopt to avert a catastrophe while the opposition was preparing the armed revolution and its preparations were not a secret to SHIK (National Information Service) and the people concerned about security in Government, ?
While the pyramid schemes were rapidly pushing the country towards financial disaster, and the DP had had many early warnings from experts who meant well, what did the governing party do in order to deprive the opposition of a destructive weapon?
Only a few months before the national crisis exploded the DP convinced the Albanian Head of State to make a public statement that the deposits in the money investment schemes were amongst the cleanest in the world (!). His statement did not appease the country.
Late last year I wrote to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs an open telegram in which I warned that the situation in the South was growing insecure. I went on to explain that my British sources had information that the situation in Saranda and the surrounding region was not favourable, that they could not pursue their project of investments because there were strong undeniable rumours that the region was preparing for a civil war. I could not have put the message more bluntly.
Who was Preparing the Civil War?
No one at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs showed an interest in my message. For a moment I thought they might have known. The question is, if the head of the Albanian Foreign Service knew about what was going on undercover in the South, why did he not take the matter further? Why did the governing party allow the situation to deteriorate to the point of rebellion?
While the opposition parties were busy with preparing and implementing their plans for the recapture of state power (the means justify the end), what was the governing party doing? What were its strategists and experts doing? And another question: Did the DP have strategists and experts at all?
What was done cannot be undone. The main thing is that a repeat of a similar crisis will undoubtedly bury Albania for good.
If we want to avoid a catastrophe we should understand one simple truth: the interests of Albania override the interests of political parties in their struggle for state power.
The 1997 crisis has no precedent in the modern history of the country. The world made it abundantly clear through its spokesmen that we are unable to govern ourselves, that is why Western Europe decided to resort to the same patter of solutions which were offered under King Zog in his reign (1928-1939). With a difference. Whereas under King Zog the Italian fascists of Mussolini attached advisors only to the Albanian ministers, today, under Prime Minister Nano we are getting Italian advisors not only for our ministers but also for each director of government department. This does not bode well.
What should be done?
Will the Albanian politicians keep jabbing at each other in the old way, or will they meet and explore the ways to get the country out of this predicament? If they meet and take stock of the situation, will they be able to agree that they will never overlook the interests of their country?
It is high time that the politicians should reach an agreement in order to respect the supreme institution which has a name ALBANIA and which stands above everything else. Unless the Democrats and the Socialists, the Republicans, the Ballists and the Legalists meet and distribute their parts as in a carefully studies scenario, unless they agree to play their parts in order to further the interests of Albania, our country will be in permanent danger from inside fractions and strife, from intestine war.
As long as the political scene remains a mosaic of irreconcilable ideologies, Albania will be an easy game in the hands of the foreign forces which are interested in making our weaknesses worse.
Can our political caste emerge above party interests?
Drawing from my short work experience in London, I would like to illustrate what I said earlier with an example of the politicians (who are a much talked-about, but necessary, caste in the modern world) in a country which is recognised world wide for its smooth transitions and evolution in various periods of its history - the British politicians.
I will briefly mention the attitude of the governing party and the opposition in two crucial issues:
The role of Great Britain in the EU
In my five years of observing the political developments in this country I have never noticed a fundamental split amongst the Tory, Labour and the Libdems. Over the issue of Northern Ireland they seem to agree, at least from what can be seen, and the agreement is working. Each party ostensibly supports the one agreed policy. Whether there is any disagreement or not over the way the Northern Ireland question should be solved, this is a different matter. What the politicians say and how they argue amongst themselves, that is also another matter. But they are careful to present a united "front" in the face of Sinn Fein and the IRA. They "do not wash their dirty linen in public".
When I say that there are no major disagreements amongst the three larger parties on the EU issue, as well, I can fully endorse this with the latest initiative of the ruling Labour Party who in the beginning of August 1997 came forward with an unusual proposal, namely that a Conservative, Mr. Kenneth Clark would make the best British Commissioner in EU. Labour thought that Mr. Clark could best serve British interests in Brussels.
We cannot expect our politicians to achieve in a span of six years the flexibility, broadmindedness, the maturity of the British politicians, which took years and years to be what it is today. Likewise, the Albanian People's Assembly cannot be expected to absorb the experience of the best European Parliaments in a short time.
However, there is one basic principle which should be respected and honoured: Albania is more than any party ideology. When the existence of the country is at stake the parties should discard differences and unite, no matter how far apart they stand. When the country faces the real threat of splitting along the North-South divide or Tosks and Gegs, and when the old chauvinist dreams are revived, the politicians should meet as they did for the first time on 9 March 1997 with some hesitation and without great results, and then again on 9 May 1997 with less hesitation, and abandon their parochial political interests.
President Berisha made a major concession to the opposition by proposing the holding of snap elections as a final resort, when he saw that the country was dangerously hanging on the brink of the precipice. He called fresh general elections ten months after he had publicly declared in Switzerland that elections in Albania would be held only when they were due - in the year 2000.
Berisha bent under pressure and decreed that elections would be held in June 1997 because he had no alternative, because he saw clearly that the country was approaching a civil war. He called fresh elections for the sake of Albania, knowing full well that his DP was staring defeat in the face, that it would lose power, as in fact it did. No matter what his reasons were for taking this step, at least it has the merit of upholding the principles of democracy, whereas the SP and its allies were pushing the country inexorably towards a head-on collision.
Berisha opted for elections as the only alternative when the threat of the split of the country was no longer a remote possibility. He took this step when the Western world declared through the mouth of a spokesperson for the American Administration that the foreign policy of Albania was the responsibility of Franesina (The Italian Foreign Ministry). He decided to sacrifice the interests of his party when the international community made it clear through diplomatic channels and in public pronouncements that the Albanians are not capable of governing themselves. He did so at a time when a deputy-minister in the Italian socialist government, Mr. Pasino, went so far as to call on Berisha to resign.
What was the American spokesman implying by the phrase "responsibility of Farnesina"? I read it as a warning that the USA and a number of EU member countries were giving Italy a free hand with Albania. Would it be in the form of an Italian protectorate? I dismissed the idea as a stupid revival of an old fascist dream.
What was the implication of the statement that Albanians are not in a position to govern themselves? - I read it as a blatant excuse that Albania should be reduced to an international protectorate. This is becoming clear now that we have seen all the manoeuvring over who will do what in the reconstruction and the return of law and order in Albania.
In the early stages of the crisis it looked as if Italy had obtained the go-ahead and the blessing to handle the Albanian crisis whichever way it saw fit. The Italian government promised that it would send teams advisors to every level of the Albanian government. Which is a clear indication that the much dreaded protectorate is taking shape and is being materialised.
Is there any substantial difference between the period prior to 7 April 1939 and 10 April 1997?
The 7 April invasion of Albania by the blackshirts was a natural outcome of the dependent policy pursued by the Albanian King.
The 10 April dispatch of the Multinational Force was a natural consequence of the misguided policy of the ruling party.
The country should not have been allowed to sink, but it was. The responsibility for this situation lies equally with the ruling party and with the set of politicians who were burning to get hold of the reins of power at all costs.
Let us not forget the inflammatory calls "to put Berisha's Albania to the torch" which came right across the south, from Vlora and Saranda.
Let us not forget the destruction of state institutions and systematic burning of national archives in Berat, Lushnja and elsewhere.
Let us not forget the bandit-like attacks on and the looting of valuables in the national museums, archaeological sites and art galleries.
Who was behind this planned destruction of the archives? Who was so keen to destroy the memory of the nation? Who inspired the looting of the national heritage? Who urged the inflamed crowds to turn on the courts of law and torch them?
To deprive the country of vital archives means to "delete" its memory. There was a purpose in it, in the same manner as there was a system in the wholesale destruction of national values.
Behind an action of this scale and degree of barbarity there was an ulterior aim.
What were the opposition parties aiming to achieve by instigating the armed revolt? - They simply wanted to capture state power, which they eventually did.
Why were the archives destroyed? - To create a situation in which the political parties could do short work of the results achieved by the reform of the last six years, especially in the vital area of private property and ownership.
To burn down the land title deeds of the owners meant, directly or indirectly, to bring the Albanian reform on ownership back to square one, back to where it was and what it was in the communist era, when all Albanians were slaves deprived of the right to own anything.
To burn down the records of Town Halls and courts of law meant to deprive people of written evidence of ownership and personal legal records, to place the criminal on an equal footing with the honest citizen, to wipe out an immense amount of work done painstakingly over decades.
To loot the museums of the country meant to deprive the nation of the artefacts that stand testimony of our civilisation, which is directly assisting the theses that Albanians are uncivilised shepherd tribes, who have no history or culture of their own, i.e., nothing of the ingredients that distinguish a nation from a tribal society.
To commit all these atrocities is tantamount to committing national suicide. It is grist to the mill of the anti-Albanian chauvinists.
What motives drove the political forces to openly encourage the incensed crowds to the wholesale destruction, burning and looting of the country's assets?
Their motives were selfish.
A query: What motives drove Albanians to loot and ravage the foreign humanitarian aid agencies' centres all over the country?
I will consider only one of the many cases of wanton destruction: the pillage of the centre for the terminally ill in Korça, which was built with the generous assistance of the Company of the Little Sisters of Mary in Liverpool. I find it difficult to accept that the civilised citizens of Kora were behind this ugly unprecedented act.
I must admit that there is no excuse or condoning the assault on a health centre. The hospital for the terminally ill is not a bank stashed with cash.
The perpetrators of this heinous act committed a breach of one of the ancient codes of behaviour: the rules of Albanian hospitality. Even among robbers and thieves there is a code of honour. This set of people in Korça they lacked even that.
There are scores of similar examples all over the country.
What about our tradition? Have these people forgotten who they are? Why did they allow themselves to be guided down the path of evil?
I grant that in extreme want a man would chose to steal a loaf of bread rather than allow his children to be starved to death. I grant that extreme poverty and want will sometimes drive people to extreme and unaccountable actions such as looting a food store, for example.
But to systematically loot the health centres, the homes for the aged, the orphanages and hospitals is unpardonable. It is a great sin against humanity. God forgive them.
How can the Albanian statesmen ask the foreign aid agencies to help us again to repair the damage which we inflicted to our own country in the last six months?
How can we ask the foreigners to help us when we do not know how to help ourselves?
The foreign humanitarian aid agencies, the charities all over Europe and the wider world did not hesitate to respond to the call for emergency food and medical aid of the Albanian government in the period 1991-1993 and continued with a massive effort until the eve of the rebellion. What the charities generously built for us is now lying in a heap of rubble. Suppose we did humbly ask them to help us again. Will anyone listen to our calls for assistance?
The world extended a helping hand to us since 1991, and help came in the shape of food and medicines from charities, in the shape of credits and loans and grants from the governments. Can we convince governments and charities again that what happened will never repeat itself? How can we expect governments and banks to release more credits for Albania?
I wonder what was in the minds of the people from the 125 British charities when they saw the scale of destruction in our country.
As the rebellion swept the whole country and reports of the rage came pouring into the pages of the British press and small screens, I was humbly asking them to believe that this national folly would soon subside, that people would come to their senses and stop behaving like barbarians. Obviously I was wrong. Nothing can stop this brutal force except for the law and the blue uniform of the policeman or the green uniform of the soldier.
Despite my pessimistic mood, I kept insisting with the British charities and finally 60 of them said they would resume sending aid to Albania immediately after the situation had calmed down and when and if the Government provided all guarantees that nothing like that would happen again.
In the period April-May 1997, generously assisted by the Director of Friendship Link in Cambridge, a meeting of all the British charities working in Albania was called. I did not expect so many of them to respond at that time.
After three hours of discussion at they made a decision to return to their projects in Albania, which seemed to delight the conference. In addition, I finally prevailed on everyone and got them to elect a leading body which could represent them at the British Government level and in Albania through the embassy. The U. K. Emergency Aid Committee for Albania enables the charities to co-ordinate their work and assist one another with various problems.
Although this country was then preparing for the May 1 general elections, Major Wooler, the director of Friendship Link in Cambridge, wrote on behalf of the Committee to all senior personalities in the UK, requesting greater assistance to Albania. He took the letter to Prime Minister Major by hand through an acquaintance and I saw Mr. Major's reply a week later.
Mr. George Foulkes, Minister of the Department for International Development, met the Committee twice and assured them of his Department's support.
In one of the regular monthly meetings, which was held at the Embassy on 18 June 1997, Mr. Foulkes sent Mr. Troy, Director of the Emergency and Disaster Unit, to confirm his readiness for assistance and support to the projects of the aid agencies.
We are proud about our Albanian hospitality and generosity.
The British are hospitable and generous, but they do not show their pride the way we do. They just carry on with charity work on behalf of the ill, the aged, the children, the homeless, not only in their country but also wherever there are people who need their help.
They never surrender. I saw this indomitable spirit in action since 1993, when I arrived in London, and I am confident that they will go on in this tradition, despite our folly.
I mentioned the charities and said that they, despite their nature, demanded guarantees from the Albanian government before they resumed their work.
If we turn our attention to the foreign businessman, to the foreign companies and investors, we have a similar picture. Like charities, the foreign businessmen had put time and money into our country. We saw them arrive in Tirana with great hesitation at first, in the period from 1992 till 1996.
We saw how we scared them out of our country in the spring of 1997. Can we convince them to return to Albania and do business with us again? The world is great, they say, and there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere. Why return to Albania at all?
Whether or not they return, we'll be seen in October 1997 when the donor countries meet to discuss Albania's reconstruction in Rome and in Brussels. I am afraid the conference cannot answer all the difficult questions of the foreign companies.
Even if everything goes smoothly, even if the wheel of fortune returns to our land, we should not forget the old saying: One cannot feed one's family on borrowed flour. In our situation we have to keep our whole country going on hand-outs for food and medicine. We have to rely on foreign soldiers and policemen as well. We have to rely on foreign advisers, too.
We know what it means to have foreigners to run your domestic affairs. We know all about it from our experience from 1928 until 1939.
Are we going to experiment again with the destiny of our country?
God forbid it!