Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Revolution in Albania 1997

Revolution in Albania

By Michael Karadjis


A people's power revolution is taking place in Albania, where a furious plundered people have taken up arms against the thieving, US-backed regime of Sali Berisha.
The rebellion began with a peaceful rally on January 15, which was brutally attacked by Berisha's riot police. Every rally thereafter was attacked -- six times as many people have now been killed in protests against the "Democratic" regime as were killed during the fall of the old Stalinist regime in 1991.
On March 1, police tried to oust 42 hunger striking students from the university in the port city of Vlore. Thousands of demonstrators instead dispersed the police. Protesters then burned down the headquarters of the secret police, prisons and police stations and distributed arms. A general strike was declared in the city and in most of the south of the country.
Most of the major cities of southern Albania have been taken over by the armed population. Police stations, army barracks, Democratic Party offices, offices of the failed pyramid schemes and government buildings have been attacked, burned or seized. Berisha's own villa in Vlore has been looted. In some cases banks were broken into and forced to distribute their wealth, and prisoners freed.
The latest town to fall was Argirocastro, which is also home to the large Greek minority, on March 9. According to the Greek newspaper Kosmos, the night was a huge celebration.
With police and army largely deserting, the "Democratic" regime is relying on the secret police force, the Shik, whose members are paid up to 10 times the average wage of $65 a month, according to Peter Lennon in the Guardian.
Western backing
For years, the US and other western governments have showered support on the right-wing, undemocratic and chauvinist regime, because it was opening up rapidly to "the world market." The market has now left the vast majority of Albanians with nothing of the little they had, following the collapse of "pyramid schemes" organised by crooks with close links to the Berisha regime.
The regime was being pushed as one of the most successful in the transition to the "free market". The first east European government to apply for NATO membership, it has received military aid from the US and $585 million in European aid between 1991 and 1995, more per capita than anywhere in eastern Europe.
These powers have reacted with shock to the example of an armed people taking over their own affairs. Every attempt is being made to whitewash Berisha, the protests have become "riots" and "anarchy", and the opposition initiative of a "national unity" government is being pushed as a great "hope" that the people can be swindled into giving up their arms.
The unpalatable truth is that the regime is corrupt to the core. It is completely linked both to organised crime and the pyramid schemes, and to elements from the old Stalinist regime which have sought to enrich themselves in the new capitalist order.
In last October's elections, posters for Democratic Party candidates featured the names and symbols of their pyramid company sponsors. These companies donated generously to Berisha's election campaign. Democrat politicians regularly appeared at functions held by these crooks, especially Vefa Holdings Group, the biggest thief.
Vefa is Albania's biggest capitalist company, and also has branches in Germany and Italy. While the government banned pyramid companies following their collapse in January, it has declared continued support for Vefa and other former pyramid companies which also carry out "productive investment".
In an article entitled "The Gangster Regime We Fund", Andrew Gumbel in the London Independent claimed: "Classified documents have circulated in Western capitals for the last two years citing evidence of collusion and active participation by members of the ruling Democratic Party in drugs trafficking, illegal arms trading and, until the end of the war in Bosnia, large-scale sanctions-busting via oil sales to Serbia and Montenegro". Much of the drug trafficking, he reported, was organised by the Shik.
Nor is it true that Berisha brought democracy to Albania. The 40-year Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha was the most xenophobic in the region, keeping the Albanian workers and peasants isolated from the world, with its anti-Marxist line of "self-sufficiency" in the backward agricultural country.
In the early 1990s, market reforms were already under way under the regime of Hoxha's successor, Ramiz Alia. Alia's regime, not Berisha's, began democratic reforms and relaxed the iron grip of the ruling party, allowing outbursts of struggle by workers and peasants.
The Democratic Party was set up in 1990 with a more radical capitalist program, by disgruntled former Stalinist officials and academics. Berisha himself was high in the leadership of the Albanian Workers (Communist) Party, and was Enver Hoxha's doctor.
The Albanian masses voted Alia's reformed Socialist Party back in the first elections in March 1991. As in Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, a new version of the old Communist Party was charged with the transition to capitalism, enabling old bureaucrats to get their hands on new wealth.
Spreading impoverishment and unemployment led to huge strikes and mass protests. Alia's regime responded by killing protesters in December 1991, resulting in a landslide victory of the Democratic Party in the1992 elections.
From the time of coming to power, Berisha increasingly relied on repression. In 1993, the leader of the opposition Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, was arrested on fraudulent charges and has remained in jail ever since.
To divert the masses from the economic disaster, Berisha turned to Albanian chauvinism. Five leaders of the Human Rights Union, the party of the Greek minority, were given huge prison sentences in 1993 after midnight raids, falsely accused of stockpiling weapons.
The 1996 national and local elections were so thoroughly rigged that even Berisha's western backers had to admit "irregularities". Thousands of protesters came into the streets in protest, but were viciously beaten or jailed by Berisha's cops. The Socialist Party has refused to take its seats in parliament in protest.
The western powers put considerable pressure on Berisha to form a "national unity" government with the opposition coalition, which consists of the SP and various right and centre parties. Faced with a real revolution, the SP showed how unsocialist it is: it called on the people to lay down their arms.
The people's committees unanimously refused. Meeting after meeting across the south declared they would not give up their arms until Berisha resigned. The other demand raised by many committees is the return of all plundered money.
The regime cannot fulfill this demand. Eighty per cent of Albanians have lost everything. When Stalinism ended, the houses they were living in and farms they were working became "their" property. Now everything has been seized by nine big companies. The estimated theft is about $2 billion, over half the gross domestic product.
The government singled out two schemes for scapegoating, but this accounts for only 17% of lost funds. In Vlore, the local pyramid is estimated to owe $500 million, but none of these assets have been frozen.
The new rich will no doubt keep what they have robbed. Under new company names, they will be the ruling class of capitalist Albania. It is this realisation that is prompting the people to hold onto their arms, as the only way of creating a new system, based on the expropriation of this new ruling class.
Some of the western media rhetoric about "anarchy" and "mafia links" may aim to soften public opinion for possible NATO or other military intervention. The Greek army has massed on the border.

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