Capitalist Albania: The Rip Off and Revolt part 2

Revolutionary Worker #902, April 13, 1997

The collapse of the "investment funds" literally ruined the population of Albania--and angered people deeply. There was a groundswell of revolt against the much hated new capitalists--those swindlers, parasites, and paid frontmen of foreign powers. All throughout January and February, massive protests grew throughout the country--demanding that the government repay the lost funds. The police tried to violently suppress these demonstrations--people were killed.

Berisha called the growing resistance "a conspiracy of extreme leftist groups and Mafioso." He announced "We won't pay a penny. Never!"

The situation exploded on Saturday, March 1 when the police attacked 42 students on a hunger strike at the university in Vlore, a small southern port city. Thousands of youth stepped out--utterly fearless. They defended the hunger strikers. They fought the police and killed several of them. And then, when the people realized that they had routed the police--they took over the city. People burned the headquarters of Berisha's hated Shik secret police. They seized police stations and prisons. People marched on the barracks, sent the troops home and seized military weapons. Throughout the city, and then soon in the surrounding districts of southern Albania, people stopped work--went on a general strike--and concentrated on overthrowing the government.

The Spanish newspaper El País writes: "In Lushnja, two trucks full of riot police were stopped by angry protesters and forced to get off. Forty were disarmed. In Saranda about 3,000 demonstrators had the run of the town. Armed with sticks, they burned businesses and banks, destroyed six police cars, seized the prison and liberated about 100 prisoners, and armed themselves with 400 Kalishnikov assault rifles.... In Himarar, hundreds of people took to the streets and burned the city hall and police station. In Gjirokaster there is an ongoing general strike and protesters burned down the police station."

Police took off their uniforms and hid. The secret police fled to the capital, leaving the south in the hands of the increasingly armed people. The demands of this revolt are clear: People demanded that their money be returned and that the crooked dictator Berisha leave power.

Berisha insisted that he would never give in or open his government to the opposition. On March 2 he declared a state of emergency. He ordered the rebels to turn in their arms. He banned marches and threw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people into jail. And he tried to mobilize his army to retake the southern districts.

However in town after town, the army refused to fight the rebels--some army forces just melted away; others joined the uprising. Both officers and ordinary soldiers also lost their savings in the bankrupt "investment funds." Rank-and-file soldiers have been making about $2 a month and had little love for Berisha's corrupt regime.

The whole southern third of Albania slipped out of government control. As we go to press, it still is out of control.

One newspaper report described what happened at Pasha Limini, a military base near the port of Vlore. The commander of the base, Major Astrit, described the scene: "A massive crowd surrounded the garrison, maybe 10,000 people. The guard, made up of 50 soldiers, simply abandoned its posts. And I opened the doors." Astrit is now a commander of rebel forces defending Vlore.

It is estimated that throughout Albania at least 150,000 automatic rifles were taken from various army installations and distributed among the people.

Prison guards started to walk away from their posts. At the Central Prison in Tirana, 300 prisoners were liberated, including prominent political opponents of the regime. As the struggle spread to the capital itself, Berisha tried to mobilize his base in rural northern mountain regions--bringing in armed militia bands from isolated northern villages into the capital. He tried to enflame regional and national differences--portraying the uprising as a power grab by southern Albanians and secessionist ethnic Greeks--as well as continuing his usual charge that it was led by an alliance of "extreme leftists and Mafioso."

Counter-Insurgent Maneuvers

Only a week into the uprising, Berisha's options started to run out. He called for Western military intervention to prop up his government. But the Western powers, at that point, were extremely leery of entering a counterinsurgency war--especially against a heavily armed population.

The various imperialist powers pressured Berisha to bring the six opposition parties into his government on March 9. Berisha fired his own Prime Minister and appointed the leader of the Socialist Party to that job. The head of the secret police was fired and later it was announced that this police force would be dissolved. New elections were scheduled for June.

None of Berisha's moves met the demands of the people--and at least a third of the country remains firmly in the hands of various organized rebel councils and organizations. But the intention of the imperialist powers was to pave the way for a new pro-Western government (possibly without Berisha), which might be more acceptable to parts of the rebel movement and the population at large. Berisha's days may well be numbered. He has already sent his family into exile. The Socialist Party was formed out of the bulk of the country's old revisionist ruling party, the Party of Labor of Albania. It has formally renounced Marxism, and has "repackaged" itself as a Western-style social democratic party. In several places in Eastern Europe--including Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary--the old revisionist parties have come back into power after such social democratic "repackaging."

The Socialist head of this new coalition government, Bashkim Fino, announced that he was tripling the salary of the police. And he called for Western powers to send him military advisers--to help reorganize the government army and disarm the people. Then Fino set out to negotiate with the rebel forces, city by city, hoping to take advantage of the extremely fragmented nature of this insurgent movement between now and the June elections.

International Intrigues

The Western imperialist powers are extremely hostile to the uprising. They clearly do not like to see hundreds of thousands of people, pissed off by capitalist robbery, arm themselves and seek to overthrow a government. Their press has been openly hostile to this uprising--calling it "chaos" and "anarchy." Time magazine charged that civilization itself was "vanishing down a sinkhole."

In particular, the ruling class of Europe and the U.S. are concerned that the uprising in Albania could "spill over" to the oppressed Albanian populations in the Yugoslav region of Kosovo and the Macedonian republic. They worry what will happen if the Kalishnikov rifles of this revolt fall into the hands of the Albanians oppressed in neighboring countries.

Such "spillover" could easily provoke fighting between Albania and Serbia (which dominates Albanians in Kosovo). And it could encourage a Greek invasion of Macedonia or Albania. Sections of the Greek ruling class have been fanning an extreme chauvinist climate in Greece--even demanding annexation of Greek-speaking parts of southern Albania and calling for the destruction of Macedonia as a state.

If such local wars break out, the whole Balkans region could easily spiral into a major war involving Greece and Turkey (now Albania's military ally). This would deeply disrupt relations between major European imperialist states--and would disturb various "security arrangements" that the U.S. uses to dominate this region and "lead" the larger world imperialist system.

The main imperialist plan at the moment is to "contain" the uprising within Albania, create a new Albanian national government around the opposition Socialist Party--and hope that the uprising cools enough so that the people can be disarmed.

Over a thousand UN troops, including 500 U.S. soldiers, are already stationed in Macedonia as a tripwire. Anyone fighting in Macedonia risks killing some of those troops and "triggering" a U.S.-led military response. Some of those UN troops have just been moved along Macedonia's western border with Albania.

Meanwhile, foreign imperialist powers have moved militarily to intervene directly inside Albania itself. There were a series of foreign provocations: U.S. Cobra helicopter gunships opened fire on Albanian people on March 14, while evacuating foreign nationals from the capital. German troops also shot at Albanians. This shooting was hailed with particularly perverse joy and publicity in Germany: It was the first time German troops have fired outside German borders since the fall of Adolph Hitler, and the German government is thrilled to see this longstanding "taboo" broken.

The European Union sent a Dutch diplomat to offer "military advisers" to Albania's government. The U.S. government and International Monetary Fund had high-powered teams of economic and military advisers on the scene from the beginning.

At the same time, the U.S. and Germany are wary of trying to occupy the country themselves and directly confronting the rebels. As one U.S. Congressman, Elliot Engel, said, "It's going to be very hard to get this genie back into the bottle." Albania's people have bloodied invaders before--and they are very pissed off and very armed at the moment. Instead, the U.S. is allowing smaller "allied" powers to intervene--in the name of a "UN humanitarian effort."

As we go to press, the final plans are being laid for sending up to 5,000 UN troops into Albania. Officially, these forces are only going to help distribute relief supplies. But a sizable part of that force will land in the harbor of Vlore--the small southern city that has been the epicenter of the revolt. They are almost certainly intended to play a counterinsurgency role.

The plan for this invasion was developed by the Italian government--and the Italian military has been given command of the operation. Military units from Italy, Greece and Turkey will play a major role in the operations--all of which have had designs on Albania in the past. Albanian people remember well that it was Italian fascist troops under Mussolini who seized their country during World War 2 and had to be defeated by an intense communist-led guerrilla war. Spanish, Portugese and Austrian troops will also be involved in the coming UN military intervention.

In an additional outrage, an Italian Navy ship struck and sank a refugee boat carrying dozens of Albanians on March 28. Many died, though the exact numbers are unknown. During the Albanian uprisings, thousands of people have left Albania for Italy--prompting loud complaints by the Italian government that their coastal city of Brindisi is being overrun by refugees. Italian warships were deployed in the Adriatic Sea to turn back refugee boats, and many Albanians believe that the Italian Navy deliberately sank the recent boat--to send a bloody message that Albanians are not welcome in Italy.


Albania's revolt shows the political potential for revolution in Eastern Europe. The suffering of Albania's people and their profound disillusionment with Western-style "market reforms" are shared by millions of people in the former Soviet bloc. The masses of people, especially in the south, have taken a hard, united stand against Berisha and his regime. And they do not seem inclined to wave U.S. flags or identify themselves with reactionary and religious symbols (the way the anti-government street marchers in neighboring Serbia have been doing).

Despite the fact that the government constantly accuses the rebels of being "unrepentant communists and extreme leftists"--there are no signs that this rebellion has gone beyond demanding the return of money and the removal of Berisha.

The leadership of this revolt seems to be largely local and decentralized--so far. The explosive growth of the uprising immediately outstripped any existing organizations. New mass organizations formed in the streets, villages, high schools, colleges, and out of army units that went over to the people. The rebel leadership has been mainly centered in various local councils, and seems to be drawn from diverse political forces. Some leading forces came from the old PLA government, others are former prisoners of that PLA government, others arose directly out of this revolt and have no clear political history.

As we go to press, the country is still divided: between a southern region, under the control of these local councils, and a northern region, centered in the capital, where the central coalition government is trying to regroup its army and political influence. As far as we know, there is no revolutionary Maoist party in Albania to lead a socialist revolution. And so it is likely that one way or another capitalist forces will take the political power that has been slipping from Berisha's hands. All the main contenders for power, including the Socialist Party, intend to drive Albania further down the capitalist road.

Despite this, the fierce uprising in Albania is having a profound and positive effect--in Albania itself and throughout Europe. This is the most powerful mass movement of resistance to "free market restructuring" in Europe since the "Fall of the Wall." It is tearing away all kinds of free market lies.

Who can look at Albanian experience and honestly claim that "integration" with the Western capitalist market benefits the people? In a world where billions are ground into the dirt by ruthless capitalism--a welcome wind has blown in from Vlore, Albania.

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