Albania in the Context of the European Economic and Political Crisis

The Crisis of 1997

Between 1992 and 1997 several well-organized individuals and groups started operating throughout the country informally collecting money from Albanian citizens and, in return, promising refunds plus a considerable profit within a short period of time. The deals promised anywhere between 200% and 300% of gain in less than 6 months. In 1996 the situation started getting out of control, as none of the collecting agencies were able to refund their unassuming investors. By then almost every Albanian family got involved in such schemes. The amount “invested” became equal to 50% of the GDP.  That same year, Albania held its general elections. The Democratic Party won, but the opposition and the international community disputed the elections as problematic and manipulated.

A year later, in 1997, Berisha was re-elected President with the opposition boycotting the parliament and massive protests starting across the country, mostly comprised of people who fell for the aforementioned scheme and who were now demanding their money back. Several groups organized, starting in south Albania, raided the army warehouses and paved the way for a large portion of Albanians to become militarized. They felt threatened by Berisha’s police, secret service and the army. Ultimately, with a large number of weapons circulating the country, no one felt safe anymore. The result: vigilante groups ruled parts of the country, the government lost control, and more than 3000 people were killed in a quasi-civil war that lasted nearly a full year.

In this chaotic situation, The Democratic Party and the opposition lead by the Socialist Party (the reformed Party of Labour), despite their differences, united as an interim governing body called the Government of National Reconciliation. Italy exercised a lot of pressure to organize their first meeting, and had promised to lead the 7000 international troops on behalf of the Albanian state to take control of the territory. At that point, Italy was experiencing the second exodus of immigrants from Albania. When Albania became a member of NATO in 2008, Berisha excitedly proclaimed it a “miracle of freedom.” To a certain extent, he was right; Berisha’s NATO allies were indeed a miracle of freedom as they saved him from his own poor, angry and armed people.

Early Elections were then held in June 1997 and the Socialist Party won by promising the Albanians they would find a way to get their money back, which they never did. But the post-1997 Albania represents more than just a change of governments. The sociopolitical quagmire provided some crucial lessons that would redefine the country’s ideological field of struggle:

1st Albania was not democratic, but on a long transition to democracy, and where technocracy would be the new Communist Manifesto. The phrase “transition to Democracy” is one of the most used phrases in the Albanian political rhetoric. One can notice here a deterministic language.

2nd In this transition, the economy is existential as the pyramid schemes proved it to be.

3rd The Albanian political establishment apparently can’t lead through this transition but serves more as a mediator between the Albanian state and society, and the European Union.

4th The Albanian government has to follow the advice of the European Union, IMF, and the international community in general, because they are the ones who saved Albania from the economic crisis and from Albanians themselves.

5th The people’s utopia of taking control and resisting beyond the limits of Representative Democracy meant that chaos, anarchy, bandits and death would take over. In 1997, the attempts of Albanians to organize the so-called committees of public salvation failed miserably at the hands of gangsters who swiftly took control.

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