Uprising in Albania
by Lynn Walsh
The original text of this pamphlet was completed on 25 March 1997 and issued as a statement of the International Secretariat of CWI, published here with minor amendments taking account of new information and more recent developments. The new Postscript was completed on 14 April, 1997.
Our aim is to provide an up-to-date analysis of the origins and course of the Albanian uprising, and especially of the extremely contradictory character of this post-Stalinist mass movement. The complex problems posed by the national question in Kosova/Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, and throughout the Southern Balkans are, because of pressures of time and space, regrettably beyond the scope of this pamphlet, though they will most probably be high on the Balkan agenda in the near future.
I would like to thank IS comrades for their comments and suggestions on the draft; Manny for rapid, meticulous typing; Dennis for design and layout; and especially our print comrades for producing yet another publication at a time when the general election campaign of the Socialist Party, the CWI’s British Section, has made massive printing demands on them.
The fate of President Berisha hangs in the balance. The collapse of the fraudulent pyramid finance schemes in January, wiping out the savings of millions of Albanians, triggered a mass movement against his increasingly repressive regime. Berisha’s move to crush the protest with armed force provoked a spontaneous mass uprising, with most of the population in the South and later in parts of Tirana seizing weapons from the armouries and beating back the army and security forces. The police melted away and the army cracked. By the second week of March, most of the South, about a third of the country, was controlled by the insurgents.
Berisha was forced to form a coalition with parliamentary opposition leaders on 11 March, with the Socialist Bashkim Fino as prime minister. Promising new elections in June, the president offered an amnesty to the rebels, provided they surrendered their arms. The deadline expired on 20 March with a deadlock in the country. With some support in the North, Berisha seems to have regained partial military control in Tirana, but does not have the power to march on the South. The insurgents control the South, with massive armaments in their hands, but appear to lack sufficient common purpose or organisational co-ordination to advance on Tirana. At the same time, heavily armed gangsters and local warlords are on the rampage. Once again, tens of thousands of Albanians are trying to flee to Italy or Greece. Over 10,000 Albanian refugees arrived in Italy during the last week or so of March. The Western capitalist powers, who backed Berisha as the leader who would to sweep away the old Communist (that is, Stalinist) system, are now in disarray. Britain and Germany are refusing to involve their own forces in any intervention, pushing Italy to play the main role (see Postscript).
The absolutely impoverished and cruelly oppressed workers, peasants and youth have provided the overwhelming forces in the Albanian uprising. The energy and determination with which they seized arms and took on the forces of the dictatorship will inspire workers everywhere and strike fear into all capitalist rulers. The working class, however, has not played an independent, leading political role in this movement. Lacking any class leadership and organisation, the insurgent workers, at this stage, have not been able to give the movement clear anti-capitalist aims or strategic direction. "Albanians know exactly what they don’t want - Berisha - but they don’t know exactly what they do want," commented one observer. (The Independent, 21 March)
This reflects the extreme ideological vacuum which has opened up following the collapse of Stalinism and the fragmentation and disorientation of the left internationally. In this situation, other forces have inevitably come to the fore. Senior ex-officers of the former Stalinist armed forces seem to have taken over the leadership of the committees in the Southern towns. "Some rebel leaders," according to reports, "have threatened to declare their own government in the South." (Financial Times, 21 March) But there is no evidence that such a government, if it could be established, would in any way offer an alternative to capitalist chaos and corrupt, bourgeois politics. In reality, the situation appears quite anarchic. The economy has disintegrated. The limited recovery during 1996, which followed the catastrophic 90% fall in industrial production between 1990-94, has been completely wiped out. Guns are the only currency. Local warlords and Mafioso are ruthlessly competing for territory and loot.
Berisha is relying on his shaky coalition to carry him through to new elections in June. The recently freed Socialist Party leader, Fatos Nano, has said Berisha should "step aside but not down", in other words act as merely titular president pending the elections. But rebel leaders in the South have so far ignored Berisha’s offer of negotiations. Bashkim Fino, the Socialist premier, cancelled his planned visit to Gjirokaster in March to negotiate with one of the main rebel leaders, general Agim Gozhita. It was only on 3 April that Fino visited Gjirokaster, for a meeting with Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, and to meet with rebel leaders, telling them that the hated Shik (secret police) had been disbanded.
Berisha has also called on the European powers to send in a a multi-national peace-keeping force. The EU sent food aid and a small force of "advisors". While they fear another flood of Albanian refugees fleeing to Italy, Germany, etc, and trigger conflict in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece, the Council of Europe (the West European security alliance) and NATO are very wary, at this stage, of sending forces which could become embroiled in a nightmare conflict. Asked why troops were not being sent, the German Chancellor, Kohl, replied: "To put it quite bluntly, if you say we should send troops, then you would have to tell the soldiers what they would do there. And if I put this question to you, which I can’t answer, then you can see my response." (Financial Times, 15 March)
Subsequently, on 14 April a so-called Multinational Protection Force led by Italy (with about 2,500 troops), supported by France (about 1,000 troops), and with smaller contingents from Greece, Turkey, Spain and Romania, was despatched to Albania (see Postscript).