Holidays in Albania - Part 2, 1997

US citizens evacuated from Tirana, 1997
US citizens evacuated from Tirana, 1997

An eyewitness record of Albania during March, covering the confrontation between Berisha, the political parties and the rebels.

Submitted by martinh on October 26, 2006

The following article was one of two written by collaborators of "Alpha", a weekly Greek anarchist paper and published in issue 89, 7 April 1997. The first one is a report on the experiences of E.P. in the Albanian south between 20 - 25 March, plus two characteristic dialogues. The second is a detailed record of the historical events that took place in Albania during March, written by B.B., who was in Tirana for a month (25 February to 25 March) and witnessed the confrontation between Berisha, the political parties and the rebels.

The articles were posted to the internet and have been reproduced by Black Flag. There will be a necessarily fluid analysis of the situation in the next issue of Black Flag due out early May

The Albanian March

The armed popular insurrection against the corrupt regime of Sali Berisha that took Albania by storm during the first three weeks of March, makes us give it the characterisation of Albanian March. The insurgents of the South forced the totalitarian regime of the Albanian president Sali Berisha to enormous retreats and strategic sink.

On Thursday the 13th of March, the Albanian state, identified with Berisha's mechanism, has been reduced to a few square metres around the centre of Tirana and namely the Desmoret avenue. The presidential palace and the governmental buildings were all there, in both sides of the avenue. The insurgent areas of the Albanian capital were only four kilometres away and the most fluid power's state that tended to the limits of a gap lasted nearly twenty hours. The sensation of the geometrical disruption of the state authority made you speculate its impending and total collapse. After the delay of the three previous days, the northern praetorians got organised and armed under the leadership of the notorious Saban Memia. The SHIK secret services and its head, Baskim Gazidente, were Berisha's second source of support. His protection circle is strengthened by his presidential guard, consisting of the most close, faithful and related people. The terror in the northern suburbs of Tirana and the threat of a possible massacre give the ex-communists an excuse to change their policy, in fear of a popular wave of insurrection they couldn't control. These critical hours, the ex-communists, have decided optics and practice.

The organising secretary of the Socialist Party, Dokle -who had repressed the opposition's mobilizations when he was the all powerful minister of Interior, in Hoxha's regime- is very specific declaring that the Socialists are against violent and armed actions and that they seek the constitutional legitimacy of their movements. In this way they choose to compromise with Berisha and to undertake to cover the power's gap with the machinery of the ex-Hoxha's Secret Services, Sigourim. It is very clear that the ex-communists, with the experience and the tradition of the development of power mechanisms, they exploited the popular insurrection's dynamics, they saved the power system in Albania and they became the governmental partner of Berisha's Democratic Party. That's how a complex balance setting is formed: a multiform power struggle and the South decided to satisfy its demands.

From Hoxha's regime to Berisha's

After the elections of March 1992 and Berisha's accession to power, a new dominating group was formed, mainly from the northern areas of the country and Berisha's native region, that became the new cadres potential of the new Albanian power. It was a machinery of praetorians, suzerains in Tirana, with two parts: the members of the Democratic Party and the state machinery and the SHIK Secret Services. A machinery of massive terrorism. The Albanians believed in the new age that supposedly started with the political change in '92, but soon they saw their dreams, not only betrayed, but also dispersed in one night. A whole generation (majority of the Albanian people) that was raised during Hoxha's regime, believed in the false dream of the capitalistic democracy. On the contrary, they suffered from misery, poverty, emigration, racism abroad and police state in the interior. The piramidical para-banking forms, where they invested not only their dreams but also their economies looked as the only way out. Instead of better days, they watched the "country of eagles" being transformed into a "country of vultures”.

The great inequality and the interweaving interests between government officials and mafiozos, transformed Albania to a huge arena of arms and drugs contraband (with the participation of police and military forces), as well as fuel and cigarettes contraband (with the participation of cadres of the Democratic Party and the government -e.g. Skiponia company) and a washing tank of dirty money. At the opposite side, there were the masses, the agrarian population and the proletarians.

The beginning of the end
Things started to become clear after the elections of fraud and violence, of the 26th of May 1996 and the first signs that outlined the interweaving interests and the prospect of the impending end of the pyramids. The beginning of the end is marked by the report of the International Monetary Fund that pointed out the risk of collapse and threatened the government with a financial rupture between the I.M.F. and Albania. In December, the first para-bank, "Shoudia", goes bankrupt and in January, two more, "Jaferi" and "Populit", close down. The first manifestations took part in Vlore, on January 16, with the participation of simple men, immigrants and middle class.

The Albanians, who shared up their money for a better future with such a hard work, when they realised that they had been robbed by a caste of people and, since they had nothing to lose any more, they transformed their desperation and bitterness to rage against the corrupted and interweaving power of Berisha's regime. The more extensively they felt the exploitation, the more massively and dynamically they rose up against Berisha's totalitarian regime that they considered as the exclusive responsible of the fraud against the whole of the Albanian people. At the debris of such a country, one cannot protest neither with marches, nor with whistles.

Kalashnikov becomes the symbol of the Albanian people who, without any ideological base or political formation, took the lead in their life and made an evident popular insurrection threatening directly the regime. Their intentions were manifestly expressed in an event that took place in Loushnia, on January 25th, when enraged habitants attacked the president of the Democratic Party, and vice-president of the government, Tritan Sehou, and pilloried him to public with a leek in his mouth and a second one in his ass. Clashes between policemen and demonstrators took place in Tirana. On January the 30th, the opposition's parties formed the "Forum for Democracy", that is the party umbrella of the protest. On February the 6th, began the citizen's attacks to police stations In Vlore, but the insurrection culminated during the night of the 28th of February to the 1st of March, with the massive conflicts between citizens and governmental forces and the first entry in the army camp, in Vlore.

March with insurrections in Albania
On the 2nd of March, Berisha imposes contingency plans and declares that he doesn't have to confront a simple protest, but whole areas of the country that are hostile. The party opposition -that participated with few forces in the two-month mobilizations- demanded a caretaker government composed by technocrats, that would lead to a holding elections. The situation reminds Latin-American regimes. The public gatherings of over four persons are forbidden, the circulation between 8:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. is prohibited, police is free to fire and the press is restricted: the two government newspapers that are being published and the governmental T.V. are the only sources of information.

Tirana are being terrorised by the police and many areas of the south are no more under the control of the military and police forces. The imposition of the contingency plans is undertaken by a mixed repressive force: the armed units of the Ministry of the Interior, the SHIK Secret Services and the ZABIST police anti-riot squads, under the leadership of Baskim Gazidede, an ex-mathematician and president of the Muslim Intellectuals' Association, who was promoted to a general.

On Wednesday, the 5th of March, the government recognised the problem that there was in Saranda, , Vlore, Delvin and Fieri, and blamed the units' commanders as well as the General Chief of the Army Force, Seme Kosova, whom it sends away. This day is quite important as the governmental forces seemed unable to control the south.

The governmental military operations in Delvin -aiming to interrupt the communication between Saranda and Gjirokaster- failed completely and so, the insurgent areas could easily be unified. The uncontrolled and confused situation is the first thing that threatens the Albanian power as well as its several western supports. On the same day, the voice of the American capital, the Washington's newspaper "Wall Street Journal", compares the situation in Albania with the riot in Los Angeles and tries to present the insurgents as instigated by the ex-communists and the mafia. But, unfortunately for them, this is not the truth. It's a whole world that took the arms, not to play, but to level them at Berisha's regime. The lack of political formations of this popular insurrection influenced its formation and allowed the opposition party to make the first step towards an agreement with the Albanian president, on the 6th of March.

Organisation steps of the insurgents
The determination of the insurgents leads them to form the popular salvation committees, where they demand specific requests: all their financial reimbursements, the formation of a caretaker multi-party government, the holding of new elections and the voting of a new Constitution and a new electoral law. At the same time they try to form some procedures for the provisioning and the defence of their insurgent areas. On the 8th of March, Berisha receives a severe blight as he is unable to control Gjirokaster, where the military units are dispersed.

Agreement of the parties with Berisha
On Sunday the 9th of March, as Berisha is incapable to control the situation in the south and to maintain the control of the north, he proceeds to an extreme retreat and agrees to the formation of a caretaker government with the participation of all parties that will hold the new elections in three months (June). He also demands the surrender of the arms. Nothing for the money of the people who reject the agreement, since the problem of the return of their money is not solved and the person that symbolises their lost -that is Berisha- remains.

South: treason
The insurgents accuse the politicians and the parties that signed the agreement with Berisha that they are "interested only in their power and not in the people who are the losers" (Committee of Vlore) and denounce them as traitors. That's why it is not strange that he wave of the insurrection becomes an avalanche that spreads with the massive disobedience of the military and the police forces. Sali Berisha, panicked and startled, seems to beg the opposition for help, as the ring tightens up around Tirana. So, he offers the prime-ministry to the Socialists, something incredible until then.

When the insurgents, first in the city of Vlore, made clear that they would not accept any agreement that would not include the commitment for their money and the removal of Berisha. At the same time , from Gjirokaster, the insurgent areas emit the invitation for the formation of citizens' councils in every town and village that will undertake the management of their defence and declare their political presence as a third pole.

On Tuesday the 11th of March, the front of the left governmental forces and the insurgents, form an arc from Blishan to Balshi, Klitsova and South Erbashan, 90 km from Tirana. Berisha, when he realises that nothing can stop the extension - spreading (and not development) of the insurrections and the threat for the Albanian capital and his own life, he puts into practice the plan of preparedness for armed conflict with the employment of terror by the Secret Services and the members of the Democratic Party -mainly from the North. The same night, as tracks with armed Berishians agitate Tirana, everyone can understand what's going to happen next.

Thursday the 13th of March: the most critical day
On Thursday the 13th of March, the insurrections approach the Albanian capital. Around Tirana and on the road to the airport and Durres, you can hear all day long shootings while there is complete inexistence of all government, military and police forces. The tension of the day was so high, that we felt, moment by moment, the wave that was approaching. At noon, we witnessed the entry of thousands of citizens to the camps at the fringes of Tirana.
Everyone -but everyone- included in one phrase, all their demands: "Our money and the head of Berisha". It is Characteristic that I heard many people saying that "tonight we will play football with his head". We could see clearly the abolition of every governmental, military and police power and it was a matter of hours to watch the popular insurrection arrive in the centre of Tirana. We had the feeling that that night would be the most critical. Who could stop this momentum? The praetorians of Berisha's regime undertake the defence, through the practice of terrorisation at the suburbs of Tirana, where they are organised in gangs of armed murderers of a blood thirsty master.

Tirana: field of conflicts/ Turn of the Socialists
Around the presidential building, where Berisha is being guarded, and the Desmoret avenue, where all the governmental buildings are, the shootings are continuous and the tanks are deafening. At these moments, socialists' politics lead to the compromise with Berisha, from which they don't demand to resign but they "earn" the participation in the government, the constitutional legality and the official pardon to their imprisoned socialist leader, Fatos Nano, who had escaped in the meanwhile. The former Sigiourim undertakes the task of covering the power gap and the new government of Baskim Fino decides, on Friday the 14th, the formation of a new police force and invites ex and actual cadres as well as new persons to participate. The target of the plan is the reformation of an elementary machinery of control. The attempts of the new government aim the formation of new institutional procedures, new power mechanisms and new state and governmental functions. The ex-opposition and now government is clearly dissociated of the insurgents and threatens them with violent repression if the effort to incorporate the salvation committees into local management structures fails (that is to regional power centres) Meanwhile, all the prisons open and the prisoners pour out. In the prison where Fatos Nano had been held when he was in danger -because of the Berishians- there were the penal prisoners that defended him, under the leadership of Nehat Koula.

After three days, it seems that the balance between the opponent forces is being stabilised, but also that a multiform power struggle is being expressed. The situation is very fluid, with more variables than constants.

Omissions, delays and dissension with the South
On one side, the Socialists and the members of the Democratic Party express different opinions and on the other, the new government confirms its dissension with the south. Berisha, who has confined with his presidential guard, seems to want to intervene in the new government. That's why some people start to say that Berisha is back. The measures for the restoration of the order and the public functions are materialized with difficulty and Bashkim Fino declares that he doesn't accept ultimatum for the satisfaction of the demands. Many people support that the new government doesn't worth a thing without the south and the start to stammer out a few words about mistakes, omissions and slow paces that permitted Berisha not only to consolidate his position, but also to proceed to a display of power.
On Thursday the 20th of March, he commits a blight upon Fino's government, by rejecting from the parliament -which is under control of the Democratic Party- the governmental proposals for the lifting of the press restraints and the transmission of the state-TV and Radio's supervision from the Parliament to the new government

Manifesto of the 18 insurgent areas
On the 28th of March, delegations from the 18 insurgent areas and the salvation committees, vefilate the insurgents' manifesto:

- they denounce the claims that consider their insurrection as being instigated by foreign centres - they don't accept the parliament as representative legislative body and demand the formation of a new organisation that will express the free will of the people
- they support Fino's government but demand its total independence and Berisha's ousting.
- they invite the government and the parties to cooperate with the Salvation committee, in order to form the public management and the executive power
- they demand the participation of the Salvation Committees to the conference table of the political parties (a kind of informal council of political leaders)

As an epilogue
The epilogue has not been written yet. However, history has recorded that people rose up by arms against a totalitarian and corrupted regime of exploitation and power. Every Berisha's step of retreat constitutes a victorious action for the insurgents.

In Albania nothing is definitely decided. Hard times are just beginning, now that the momentum that could sweep away everything -even if nothing has been planned- is inhibited. What matters now is the resistance to time, the determination and the capabilities of each side.