MON, 03 FEB 1997 22:48:23 GMT
THE COUNTRY IN A CHAOS
AIM Tirana, 29 January, 1997
Albania is experiencing the most serious crisis after the fall of communism six years ago. For more than a week, the country has been flooded by a wave of protests of thousands of citizens who have lost their savings in the already destroyed pyramidal systems. Almost all the cities in Albania have been transformed into scenes of conflict of demonstrants with police forces, while tens of administration buildings have been set on fire and destroyed. Scenes of violence were especially dramatic in cities of Lushnja, Berat and Valona, where enraged demonstrants protested for a few days in a row, blocking main roads which connect the capital of Albania with the south of the country, setting on fire almost all buildings of the official institutions and the seat of the Democratic Party in power. Almost 100 policemen were wounded in conflicts, while there are no official data about the number of the wounded among the demonstrants. A rebellion broke out in a prison in Kavaja on Sunday morning, and in a conflict with the police, two prisoners were killed.
Demonstrants are accusing the Government of President Berisha for the loss of their money in pyramidal systems which spread around Albania in yet unseen proportions in comparison with other former communist countries, including Romania and Russia. Estimations are that about a billion dollars were invested in almost ten companies which offered interest rates from 8 to 25 per cent a month. The Government is forced to take measures to close some of these companies immediately after bankruptcy had been proclaimed by number one money lender in Tirana, a Romany woman called Sudja who had put into circulation in a pyramidal system more than 60 million dolars. Bosses of two most popular companies, XHAFERRI and POPULLI, were arrested while their capital in Albanian banks has been blocked. The Government informed that almost 300 million dollars were at stake which will be returned to the citizens. However, measres taken by the Government have not succeeded in reducing the revolt of the nation, so that the arrest of bosses of these companies provoked the sharpest protest in Albania ever since the manifestations in 1990-1991 against the communist regime. Started under the slogan "We Want Our Money Back", the protests developed into demonstrations with slogans against the Government and President Berisha. A great number of people who have in pyramidal systems lost not only their savings, but often even their homes, believe that the Government stimulated pyramidal systems and failed to protect citizens from fraud of incalculable proportions.
Man number one of the Democratic ruling Party, foreign minister Shehu who had gone to pacify demonstrants in the city of Lushnja, found himself facing the masses who threw things at him, abused him and finally kept him "prisoner" for about eight hours. This unprecedented event is an indicator of anarchy the country is in, but also of loss of credibility of the current Government.
After it had faced this unexpected increasing challenge of pressure exerted by the nation, the Government was forced to promise to begin returning money blocked in banks, as of 5 February. Prime Minister Meksi tried to pacify hopeless citizens by saying that a very large percentage of the capital which the citizens had invested would be returned to them.
However, promises were not sufficient to pacify the aggressive masses of people. The Albanian parliament where almost 90 per cent of deputies are members of the ruling Democratic Party and in which the socialist opposition does not participate because it did not recognize results of disputable elections from May last year, adopted a decision at an emergency meeting which authorized President Berisha to use military troops for defending state buildings and removing the blockade of main roads.
Sources from the Democratic Party say that at the four-hour meeting with the parliamnetary group of the Democratic Party, Berisha was exposed to pressures by the deputies in order to proclaim state of emergency in the country, as the only way to end chaos and violence. Berisha refused to introduce state of emergency and a compromising solution was found, including protection of official buildings and roads by the army. As of Monday morning, the army is on the alert and it took over control of main roads and state buildings.
The latest events have strained the political situation in the country as never before. The party in power and the opposition are exchanging sharp messages, laying responsibility at each other's door for the created situation.
Prime Minister Meksi accused those whom he called the "red gang" as main provokers of the wave of violence in the country. While President of the Democratic Party Tritan Shehu, during an emergency meeting of the party, said that the opposition "uses misfortune of people in order to destabilize the country".
The opposition, weakened and divided ever since the October local elections, has supported national protests, but it also disassociated itself from the acts of violence which occurred in the demonstrations. At a rally organized on Sunday in the capital, main opposition parties addressed an official demand for resignation of the Government. As the only road to solution, they proposed creation of a technical government, and later on scheduling of new general elections. The opposition accused the authorities for measures taken in order to establish order by activating military units. Secretary General of the Socialist Party, Rexhep Mejdani, said that the measures taken in fact led to introduction of the state of emergency in Albania. "Instead of a political solution, the authorities responded with a military solution", said Mejdani.
In fact, the opposition which in this case managed to ensure support which it had not had before, did not have a clear and resolute stance against pyramidal systems. The systems were so massive and popular in Albania that had anybody spoken against them it would have been like talking against oneself. Even when last October a team of the IMF announced the danger which spreading of these systems could bring, the opposition parties decided to keep silent. In the meantime, however, they accused the party in power that it had used the money from the "pyramids" to finance the last year's election campaign. Indeed, on some election placards in the south of Albania, along with the names of the candidates of the party in power, names of some powerful sponsors were written, and they were bosses of pyramidal systems. However, even thse accusations were rejected by the democrats.
The proposal of the opposition about establishment of a technical government was categorically rejected and for the time being there is little hope for this proposal. Indeed, even if this proposal were accepted, a large number of questions would emerge which it would be very difficult for the opposition to answer. If Berisha would make such a concession, would the opposition itself accept such a government which would be given the mandate by the parliament which it refused to recognize and decided to boycott? If Berisha decided to make a concession would the opposition also be ready to give way and return to the parliament filling up the seats which are empty at the moment?
The crisis in Albania is just as much political as it is economic. Difficulty of its resolution is not only in the impossibility to return great sums of money to the citizens, which amount to almost half of the national income of the country, but also in lack of a political dialogue in the conditions in which the opposition is rather a political decor than a partner for negoiations. In view of the fact that it holds 90 per cent of the central power and the same portion of the local one, the party in power is forced to supress often blind protests on its own.
Apart from other difficulties, it seems that Berisha's authorities have faced another one - how to deal with the people's protests. As opposed to the scenes of police violence on Skenderbeg square on 28 May last year when the police beat up leaders of the opposition in Lushnja, Valona, Berat etc, this time the police proved to be very tolerant, it even let the embittered masses set state buildings on fire right in front of it. Of course, Berisha was afraid of further straining with the masses which have lost their money, but just as much of marring of his image in the context of the protests in Sophia very similar to these in Tirana, which differ by one thing - that they are peaceful. Another thing should be kept in mind and this is that like majority of the Albanian citizens, the policemen have also depositted money in pyramidal systems, which of course makes them very poorly motivated to use their rubber batons.
In fact, at the moment, it is the national or economic opposition that is in the streets of Albania which has not appeared in the past four years. Quick economic changes, rise of the standard of living in comparison with the past for the majority of the population, large inflow of money from the emigration, smuggling and especially pyramidal systems, left to the opposition only issues of human rights, political behavior of Berisha or arrest of the socialist leader Fatos Nanoa. In the past two election campaigns last year, it was observed that nobody talked about taxes and money but only about Berisha and his arrested rival Nanoa.
It is very difficult to predict what even the next day will be like. Even football games of the interrupted championship would be dangerous if continued. Berisha has lost his psychological fortress, Skenderbeg square downtown Tirana where four years ago, the opposition had managed to protest. The presence of the army on the roads might succeed in stopping the wave of violence and the beginning of return of a part of the money might succeed in bringing at least peace and hope.
Remzi LANI AIM Tirana