First published: July 1997
The mass armed uprising which won control of a third of Albania in March this year showed why the United States and European Union are determined to expand NATO into eastern Europe – because the new capitalist states in the region are too weak to confront a really mass movement of the people and will be even less able to do so if a Communist government comes to power in Russia.
The 6,000-strong Italian-led force in Albania would be equivalent to more than 100,000 troops in a country with Britain’s population. Such a large imperialist military operation was the only way to defeat the first popular, mass, armed insurrection against a capitalist government in Europe since the Second World War. The insurgents rapidly won control of a third of the country. The Albanian army and police sympathised more with the uprising than with the government. A network of ‘Salvation Committees’ took control of the south, establishing territorial dual power which was rapidly expanding northwards.
Without outside military intervention Albania’s right wing president Sale Berisha would have been overthrown. The goal of the intervention was to ensure that, whether or not Berisha stayed in power as an individual, the capitalist state apparatus was rebuilt.
It was logical that Albania, the poorest country in Europe, should be the first eastern European state in which the impact of the re-introduction of capitalism provoked a mass uprising. The spark which ignited the social explosion was the collapse of government-backed pyramid schemes in which virtually every family in the country had invested its savings. A large part of the population was left destitute.
The proliferation of the pyramid schemes was presided over by a government which was the United States’ most favoured client regime in eastern Europe. Under the Berisha regime, Albania provided air and sea bases for US operations over the former Yugoslavia. In exchange it received significant military aid, the highest per capita foreign aid of any east European state and massive political support.
US and EU ambassadors spoke from the platform of Berisha’s election rallies in 1992. They did not object to the jailing of central leaders and the banning of the overwhelming majority of parliamentary candidates of the main opposition party, the former communist Socialist Party.
Having been prevented from removing Berisha by democratic means, the population took to the streets when the pyramid schemes collapsed. Berisha closed down all opposition media and ordered the military to shoot the demonstrators. Instead, his state apparatus shattered against what turned into a mass insurrection.
The peoples’ demands were simple – removal of Berisha, democratic elections and compensation for the victims of the pyramid frauds. Instead of supporting these demands the US and the EU launched an international campaign against ‘anarchy’ in Albania. They intervened to draw the opposition Socialist Party into a coalition with the regime responsible for jailing their leaders and rigging the elections. On this basis the Socialist Party leaders supported the call for foreign military intervention, called upon the population to give up their arms and disband the Salvation Committees, and rejected demands for Berisha’s resignation. Even with this capitulation by the national level leadership of the opposition, the population in the south stood firm – refusing to disarm until its demands were met. Their good sense was confirmed when Berisha pushed an electoral law through parliament to maximise his party’s advantages. The opposition tried to reverse this by threatening to boycott the 29 June elections but backed down under US and EU pressure.
Albania was not the eruption of anarchy. Whatever direction it now takes, it started as a mass popular movement to remove a government responsible for robbing much of the population of their life savings. All foreign troops should be withdrawn so that the Albanian people can finish what they began.