AIM Tirana, 22 May 1997

"What kind of a war is this for heaven's sake?", asked a Spanish journalist in the hall of hotel "Rogner" in Tirana while armed men were marching on the main square of Tirana shooting in the air. That happened in mid March this year, and although two months have passed, there is still no answer to that question. A civil war, a religious one, the North-South war, ethnic war. Or simply an armed rebellion or a communist revolt, as Berisha claims, or a war of all against all, as someone else would put it. Renown papers all over the world are full of all these versions. Who is warring against whom?

In fact, although it is very hard to give a clear and final specification for a simple fact that things are far from being over, it is not difficult to state that the term war is inadequate for the Albanian crisis. Perhaps the term "la drole de querre", a funny war, if a historic parallel is drawn with the 1940-1941 period when Germany and France declared war on each other, might reflect the truth.

Journalists wearing bullet-proof vests who were waiting in the "Rogner" were wrong when they sent the news to their papers that this was a civil war. In the beginning everyone expected the army to attack the rebels. Ultimatums followed one another and while Vranitzky and Van Mierlo begged Berisha to postpone the main attack for another 48 hours, the army disintegrated, storehouses were broken into and everyone carried a "kalashnikov" in his hand. The Defence Minister left the country, a part of officers joined the rebels, while in all that chaos the soldiers returned to their homes. The dream on a major attack ended up in smoke and together with it fear from a possible civil war.

It did not take much for a different civil war pattern to find its place on the front pages: the north which was pro-Berisha, was getting ready to attack the south which was against him. Naturally, this was a poor joke, which made sense only to those who had less information on a small Balkan country than an ordinary beginner would. It is true that revolt was weaker in the north, but it could hardly be said that the north was ready to die for Berisha, i.e. start a fratricidal war against the rebellious south. Even Shkoder, the largest city on the north, a political thermometer of Albania a kind, which ever since local elections last October when it refused to vote for the Democratic Party candidate for local authorities but gave its votes to the right, sent clear signals in that sense.

There were quite a few of those who imagined that this was an ethnical conflict (!) between the Ghegs and Toscas, or even a religious clash. CNN used the already forgotten map on the division between the Ghegs and Toscas on the river Shkumbin. After that the Albanian TV insisted on the claim that the territorial sovereignty of Albania was endangered and that there were plans for its new dismemberment.

What we have seen in Albania is neither civil nor ethnical, religious or regional war. In simplified terms it could be described as a desperate revolt of a "protesting party" against economic deception and political autocracy. Terms "democratic revolution" on the one side and "communist revolt" on the other, do not seem adequate. National revolt in Albania, at the time the authorities refused to listen or see, while the opposition was incapable of leading a process which later slipped out of control, was leading to anarchy. The "Albanian anarchy" - might be to most precise term for what happened in this country.

Numerous domestic and foreign analysts tried to further analyse the reason behind the events in Albania. Among other things it should be pointed out that an autocratic regime in Albania, financially and politically supported by Europe and its institutions, became insolvent. The West needed someone to serve as an example for the others, and it found that example in Albania. The International Monetary Fund advertised the Albanian economic miracle, but pretended not to see that the local living conditions improved not so much on account of internal economic development, as much as thanks to the remittances of over half a million of the Albanian emigrants employed as guest workers abroad or the money earned from the smuggling of various things, such as drugs, Kurdish or Chinese refugees and from the sale of oil to Montenegro. On the other hand, for the chief cabinets of the West Berisha was their spoiled son as long as his policy towards Kosovo and Macedonia suited them. It seems that the "Partnership for Peace" was more important than partnership for democracy.

In Albania, perhaps even more clearly than in Croatia or in Macedonia, the western concept of "stability", followed by "democracy" failed. Although not written down, this political concept gives priority to stability, both internal as well as the regional one, turning a blind eye to violence over democracy or accepting "its Balkan level". In other words, as long as Berisha's Balkan policy did not jeopardize the stability of the region, but rather favoured that stability, the fact that the Albanian opposition fought for bare survival and its leader was imprisoned, made no difference. It should be admitted that a rational element of this concept was the evasion of the war in the south of the Balkans, but also that its absolutisation of sorts caused quite the opposite effects.

Not only because of the collapse of the pyramid of investment scheme, but also because of the application of standards which are far from democratic, Albania lost its internal stability and turned into a threat for the stability of the region. Half a million of kalashnikovs in the hands of the Albanians pose a threat not only for themselves, but represent a potential risk for the region. Unfortunately, the warning of an Albanian opposition leader sent after May 1996 elections to the western countries "Better bring in a thousand observers to the current elections than five thousand peace-keepers tomorrow", proved justified. Stability without democracy at our times seem like pure illusion.

Still, the Albanian anarchy is not quite "la drole de guerre", i.e. a strange war. It has something of a "cold war". It became clear on the example of Albania that the application of a concept which equalizes anti-communism with democracy threatens to bring back some sort of a cold war. The anti-communist vocabulary of the political class in Albania served as a certificate of democracy for Western institutions which naturally and not without reason demanded the decommunisation of the Albanian society, the most Stalinist and isolated of all communist systems. The decommunisation of such a society was complex: hard as much as easy. Hard because of the whole inventory of appalling crimes of the communist system which could not be compared to any other country; but also easy because the Albanians were one of the eastern nations which had little reason to mourn communism which was harder and more terrible than anywhere else. Without doubt, Chaucesky was a great democrat compared to Enver Hoxha.

However, in contrast to the communist ideology, Berisha introduced an anti-communist democratic ideology so that the cold war mentality returned to the Albanian society, together with a witch-hunt of sorts, at times, ruthless. Democracy placed as an ideology and not methodology, as the rules of the game, led to the introduction of the rule of elimination logic in the life of Albanians. Angels and devil, democrats and former communists emerged. And although the democracy of consensus was promised, the war against red devils was unmasked at the same time, while elimination took place of cooperation.

In this history of angels and devils, the West naturally always was on the side of anti-communist angels to which it automatically granted the license of democracy. In addition, it was all very easy for them: it sufficed to paint red all that they disliked in Strasbourg, and especially in Bonn, to be welcomed with applause. The country was accepted to the Council of Europe and at the same time aspired towards the Latin-American democracy. From dictatorship to dictabland (soft dictatorship), as the Spanish call it.

However, it seems that things were not so simple. "It is very hard for me to make a distinction here between angels and devils", said the disappointed former Chancellor of Austria Vranitzky as he was leaving Tirana several days ago.

Up till now the Europeans failed. The second part is up to the Albanians.

AIM Tirana, © Remzi LANI