Albania fragments

Not that long ago the bourgeois media was delighting in the so-called ‘collapse of communism’. Now it has the unsettling, for it, spectacle of the collapse of ‘actually existing capitalism’ in Albania, as the armed revolt against the regime of Sali Berisha shows little sign of diminishing. The new world order so confidently predicted by the imperialist powers and their lackeys is definitely going a little sour, as history refuses to unfold in the neat, linear manner (ie, towards liberal democracy and ‘orderly’ capitalism) expected of it.

The anti-Berisha movement has taken its strongest shape in the south-west, where a loose ‘federation’ of armed committees have taken command of Vlore, Sarande and Gjirokaster (the native town of Enver Hoxha, the former Stalinite dictator of Albania). After an initial burst of bluster and oppressive high-handedness - such as declaring a state of emergency on March 2 and playing with the idea of sending 30,000 troops to ‘invade’ the south - Berisha has been forced to back down, as the southern regions of Albania slip out of his control and the rebellious spirit starts to seep ominously into the north. He promised that fresh elections would be held by June at the latest, in order to install a coalition government of “national reconciliation” - and by Tuesday, as the pressure started to escalate, he appointed a new prime minister, Bashkim Fino, a member of the opposition Socialist Party (and also a southerner from Gjirokaster).

This does not appear to have appeased the rebels in the south, who want to see the back of him - and the return of the money they lost in the corrupt pyramid investments scheme, which collapsed virtually overnight and plunged the country into chaos and revolt. More than half of the population lost money in the Berisha-driven mass psychosis, with the ruling Democratic Party promising that everyone who invested in the pyramid schemes would become millionaires within months. Instead they have been reduced to a state of Victorian-type penury and misery.

The western powers and the media are hypocritically tut-tutting over Berisha’s behaviour, washing their hands of the pyramid schemes. But when Berisha (who is, of course, an ex-‘official communist’ and former member of the despotic Hoxha regime) came to power in 1992 he was hailed unanimously by the imperialist powers as a harbinger of economic prosperity - including the then marvellously entrepreneurial pyramid schemes. These would bring a healthy dose of capitalist medicine to the ailing Albanians who had forgotten how capitalism works. The love affair with Berisha was so intense that the International Monetary Fund actually pointed to Albania as an example to be followed, paying tribute to its “miracle economic growth”, which saw a 12% growth rate in 1995.

Predictably, the state television denounced the rebels as “armed communists and terrorists” - interestingly enough, this was a line echoed by last week’s Sunday Telegraph, which in an article entitled, ‘The media back the communists - as usual’, attacked the anti-Berisha critics in the more liberal-inclined press.

The truth is somewhat different. The revolt is primarily a spontaneous and directionless uprising against Berisha, which has no programme except to remove him from office (and get their money back). The overwhelming motivation of the armed civilians is for revenge - against Berisha and anybody associated with him: Given the utter despair of the Albanian masses, such a rebellion can easily drift into mere banditry, criminality and acts of individual terror. In such conditions, it is easy for deeply reactionary beliefs and ideologies to grow. This was demonstrated in local elections last October in Shkoder, when Berisha’s Democratic Party lost the vote to a nationalist-monarchist alliance. Many parts of the rebel-controlled south are degenerating into anarchy, dominated by an unhealthy atmosphere of witch hunting (which “the communists” are not necessarily exempt from, given Berisha’s political history) and petty, personal score settling.

The reactionary meltdown in Albania, like elsewhere, has made redundant many of the old political classifications and labels. Primarily, it is not always easy to distinguish between “the communists” and the anti-communists - even if the Sunday Telegraph thinks it is all cut and dry. The Socialist Party, which forms the main plank of the opposition 11-party Forum for Democracy in the parliament, is the new name for the Party of Labour, which under the tyrannical helmsmanship of Enver Hoxha isolated the country from any foreign ‘contamination’ and constructed a perverted society which was the living antithesis of the scientific communism of Marx and Lenin. However, the SP is now firmly pro-market, pro-‘reforms’. The ruling Democratic Party was formed out of the middle layers of the very same PLA. Indeed, in the 1991 elections the programmes of the PLA and the DP were very similar. Yet Berisha has reinvented himself - with the west’s cynical connivance - as an ‘anti-Stalinist’. Even more ironic, his vicious and hugely expanded secret police force, the shik, was recruited primarily from Hoxha’s sigurimi secret police force. As for the elections last May, they were a comic parody of the norms of bourgeois democracy, with blatant vote-rigging (such as stuffing ballot boxes with DP votes) and intimidation of opposition candidates and rallies (and banning more than 130 candidates from the PLA). Even after all that, the DP only just squeezed in with 56% of the vote - and 122 of the l40 parliamentary seats. The west, with Margaret Thatcher being one of the most vociferous, hailed it as a great victory for democracy.

The current disturbances in Albania have also thrown up a long ignored or suppressed question in Albania - that is, the ‘regional question’. Berisha was the first ever ruler of Albania to have come from the northern highlands, where he used to be referred to as the “great malok” (highlander). Berisha always banked on rallying support from his fellow gegs - one of the two tribes to have inhabited Albania for many centuries. He deliberately placed northerners, and fellow clan members, in top positions of power in the government, army and secret police - despite the fact that most northern highlanders were far too poor to invest themselves in his fraudulent pyramid schemes. Many northerners felt themselves to be the victims of ‘regional’ discrimination at the hands of Hoxha, who heavily weighted the make-up of his party/state bureaucratic machine in favour on his fellow tosks from the richer and more fertile south. This only increased the appeal of Berisha, who unashamedly displayed his northern credentials.

The armed rebellion which is now taking place in the south is inevitably taking not just an anti-Berisha shape, but an ‘anti-north’ coloration as well. This raises the alarming prospect of Albania fragmenting along regional and territorial lines, with ‘blood feuds’ becoming far more important than class or political divisions.

What we see unfolding in Albania is clearly a revolutionary situation - where the ruling order can no longer rule in the old way, and the oppressed are no longer prepared to be ruled over in the old way. But in the absence of a conscious, proletarian movement - and revolutionary party - which can unite the Albanian workers and peasants around a common strategy and vision, such spontaneous revolts will eventually drift into the camp of backwardness and reaction.

Eddie Ford