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Albanian Imlosion


February-March-April 1997

The Albanian people seemed to accept the verdict of the vote in the much talked-about May 1996 general elections, despite the many accusations from the red front that the vote was stolen and allegations of election rigging and intimidation of its supporters. This is a clear indication of the degree of Albanians' awareness of the value of the "ballot" as a democratic institution. The same people who went about their business after the elections as if nothing had happened, stood up against the DP, the government the President of the Republic in February-March-April 1997, angrily demanding the return of the money which they voluntarily, as free citizens, had put in the investment schemes - the notorious pyramids.

This demonstrates that Albanians were more touchy about the value of their money than the flawed vote. When the DP was accused of having cheated the people of their vote, very few turned out in the streets to back up the opposition demonstration, and to express their own anger; and not a single shop window was broken. When the DP was accused of having stolen the 1996 vote nearly no one followed the communists in their protests. It is true that there was an unpleasant feeling when the police charged the communist demonstrators in the main square of Tirana. But nothing disturbing happened among the ordinary people.

Events took and unexpected turn against the government and the ruling party when the Democrats were accused of having stolen the money and people went into the rampage.

The SP and its allies had been waiting to see how to channel the popular. They had waited for this moment. They had hoped for and assisted in preparing this situation with the carefully-guided instructions of Fatos Nano from the prison in B'na.

With the outbreak of popular unrest in the South, the SP succeeded in turning the fury caused by the failure of the crooked pyramid schemes against the DP and President Sali Berisha. From a movement which expressed hatred against stealing of their money, the revolt took on a political colouring which the socialist opposition and its followers had wanted.

First in Vlora, Himara, Saranda, Lushnja, Berat and Kora and gradually spreading to Central and Northern Albania, a fever of arson, looting and arming overran the whole country. The destruction of the year 1991 seems like a peaceful gesture compared with the wanton ruthless violence of spring 1997 encouraged by the very people who cannot now control it.

After the disintegration of the army, and when it became clear that there was not good and strong police force either, a more disturbing situation was created when the local and foreign press produced various maps which divided the country between our neighbours.

During this turbulent period, I watched the maps with growing alarm and followed reports on the negotiations with Italy and Greece, who were either directly interested (or involved), to pacify the situation. I watched the hurricane "Brother Robber" sweep across the country, with the question haunting me everywhere: Will it be carved up by Greece or/and Italy and God knows who else?

At the same time as the division of the country was becoming more and more of a real alternative, I heard for the first time in my life an Albanian still serving the DP government admit that the best thing was for this situation to be brought to an end, division or no division.

"Won't we be better off under the Greeks than under Berisha? See what the democrats did to the people!"

Gradually after putting my confused ideas in order, I could finally work out two courses of action for our neighbours.

The recent history of the division of territories inhabited by ethnic Albanians is still fresh in people's memory . The Independence year 1912, preceded by the Northern Albanian Uprising of 1908, then the unrest of 1913 and the years of the Balkan War, World War I with invading armies from all the warring states, and finally the 1920 Congress of Lushnja which succeeded in establishing the authority of the government over the remaining Albanian territories. In that short span of time Kosova and Metohija were annexed by Serbia, Ulqin and Tivar, Plava and Gucia were "given" to Montenegro, Dibra e Madhe and Teotva and Gostivar went to Macedonia , and all of amria became part of north-western Greece.

History was about to repeat itself in 1997. Albania's patron saint seemed to have abandoned her. However, there was a slim chance of salvation, which was if the contending parties (i. e. Greece and Italy) disagreed over the division of the country.

Line-up of Forces in the Country

South of the Shkumbin River the country was up in arms against the government, the President and the DP. The insurgents armed with weapons looted from the depots of the National Army, were ready to march on Tirana in order to usurp the power of the state.

The efforts for the implementation of this strategic plan were openly supported by the leaders and activists of the smaller left-wing parties, who marched in front of the demonstrators and side by side with the rebels in Vlora and Tepelena, in Delvina and Saranda. They were seen coming from Corfu with fresh ideas and inspiration. The largest left-wing party maintained a slightly reserved position while the activists of the Social-Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance Party did all the work for it in the beginning of the anarchy. For the moment the SP did not have to go all out in support of the rebellion. The leaders of the Democratic Alliance, the followers of the communists-socialists, were doing very well with their calls: "We'd sooner scorch the whole country than allow Berisha to remain as president".

Only the leaders of the Social-Democratic, the Democratic-Alliance and the Socialist parties, as well as their advisers, are in a position to say with certainty what they were discussing with the Greek government figures then. We can only get an idea from their actions and those of a Greek deputy foreign minister, who visited Southern Albania whenever he wished, without even bothering to inform the Albanian government.

What the socialists were up to became clear in May when, in a hasty and ill-considered move, Nano, immediately after being freed by his friends from prison in B'na, left for Salonica, where he stayed for about ten days at the private villa of the Greek prime minister.

Under the circumstances, in the light of the events in the South which were closely co-ordinated and watched by our Greek neighbours, a reason for plan number one began to crystallise.

Albania is falling to pieces in the hands of the rebels. Albanians will jump at each other's throats sooner or later in a classical civil war scenario, according to their old "north-south", "Geg-Tosk" divisions.

Did the foreign press, tv and radio have a vested interest in the civil war fever?

Anticipating further developments - the outbreak of the civil war - the world around Albania was not idle. Everyone with an interest in the area watched the spiral of events. Headquarters were working at fever-pitch to rectify and update their plans. Information from the rebel territories was scanned and immediately transferred onto new maps.

If the civil-war scenario materialised, and the North took up arms to defend Berisha, the rest of Europe would intervene at the right moment for them. Military units in readiness in Italy and Greece.

At this stage they would interfere with all "appropriate" means acceptable for Western standards. SFOR was the answer which had worked in Bosnia.

If Albania did not descend into civil war, then plan No. 2 could be put into operation. The mobs, the arsenal of the Albanian army, and the general rage could be channelled into a new direction - an early election could be called using democratic means. The result was a foregone conclusion. The DP and Berisha would be wiped out. Even without going through the elections at all, the DP had been badly battered and Berisha's position was untenable. He was the "enemy" in the South. No matter what he did he could not survive the general onslaught of the left coalition. Politically, Berisha was doomed and the socialists were riding towards victory.

The southern regions of the country had descended in total anarchy. The North was "infected" gradually by the same virus. There was nothing that could stop the SP and its allies of the red front from snatching state power from the demoralised democratic forces.

The second scenario is a fact.

Both plans anticipated a victory for left-wing forces. Nothing short of a miracle could save Berisha who had been abandoned by the democratic West. The United States openly refused to recognise him as the President of the country. The American ambassadress in Tirana pointedly declined the invitation to participate in the second investiture ceremony of Berisha in the Albanian Parliament. The Americans clearly misread this move of Berisha's and interpreted it as a n effort on his part to cling to power. The more acceptable explanation for Berisha's insistence to accept the second term as President is that he was trying to save the last vestiges of Albanian democratic institutions and keep a semblance of institutionalisation in a country that was falling to pieces. Even when the Parliament was clearly a paralysed body, he insisted that it continued to hold its sessions regularly regardless of anything that went on in the country.

The South branded Berisha as a gangster, a thief and a liar. The local and foreign press with left leanings immediately seized on this and echoed it in full. The more balanced traditionalist press kept its neutrality and was not able to put the case of Berisha and his DP clearly.

The Wall Street Journal, Europe, on 2nd of July 1997, published an editorial in an effort to point out a few home truths about the June 1997 general elections in Albania.


There were no soft options for Berisha and his supporters.

First choice: Berisha could accept the support of the North in order to reduce the South, which meant pitting Gegs against Tosks. Down this road, the country would descend into civil war, resulting in the total destruction of all the work done by Albanians, to have their own independent state, and negate all the efforts of patriots who had lost their lives over the centuries for this cause.

The consequences of such a step were quite clear to Berisha.

The growing claims that Albanians was not capable of governing itself, and that the careless government was throwing the country into crisis, and that the Albanian State did not exist, were backed up with calls from Italy and Greece for Berisha's resignation.

The civil war scenario could develop according to a different pattern, in which the conflicting might line up under ideological banners, and not according to the North-South divide, or the Geg-Tosk ethnic division. This would be a faithful copy of the Albanian civil war which the communists fought during the WW II. In the new conditions, this scenario would have been much more complicated and the consequences unpredictable.

A civil war with political implications, following the previous revolutions, in which the contending parties would line up according to ideological and political allegiances, did not appear to win any support in the DP. The decision of the democratic forces against this option might have been taken in view of the fact that a civil conflict with political motivation would destroy not only the party itself but also the whole country, or because the democrats had not enough forces and were not prepared to fight a civil war of the guerrilla type which the communists had organised with success from 1939 to 1944.

Whereas a politically motivated confrontation would have ruined both the DP and the country, a traditional civil war, which was so much more likely, would finally produce a victor within a relatively short time.

The fratricidal war for political motives would be a long war of attrition and the cost would be too high for both parties.

The DP was aware that, had it opted for the civil war of whichever scenario, it would be delivering the country on a plate to the neighbours, who would then rule Albania.

The second option open to Berisha was to call early elections, although he knew that the results were a foregone conclusion to which OSCE and Greek politicians, in particular, were assisting generously.

What would this imply for the DP?
Berisha and his party would lose state power, which was already as good as lost, as things stood.

The DP, which had been voted in twice by the people in '92 and '96, had lost their confidence and support long ago. These battles were not lost in the ballot-box, but in government offices, in party HQs, in Town Halls, in the offices of the NIS and in the army. The battle for a democratic Albania was lost since 1995, when Berisha launched his first and only, but ineffectual campaign against corruption in government. He lost the battle when he promised he would deal with crime and failed to put order in the ranks of a weak police force which was ineffectual in the face of growing crime rate all over the country. The DP was in disarray already and could only keep going because the left coalition was still unable to sort out its own problems and was as yet unable to deliver the coup de grace.

The final blow came from the pyramid schemes which left the new inexperienced DP sitting on a time-bomb.