SAT, 19 SEP 1998 22:30:10 GMT
AIM Tirana, 18 September, 1998
Albania has plunged into a turmoil of chaos once again, after the events on 14 September when the funeral procession of the murdered leader of the opposition Azem Hajdari turned into an armed revolt during which followers of the Democratic Party of former president Berisha captured main state institutions. The office of the prime minister, the building of the parliament and state Radio-Television were held by Berisha's followers for a few hours, while prime minister Nano went away in an unknown direction and was not seen in public for more than 24 hours. Demonstrators took over control of four tanks of the Republican guardsmen which were then sent to protect the government buildings. Gangs of robbers robbed a few shops downtown Tirana.
People who were watching news from the funeral of deputy Hajdari were surprised when around 13.20 on Monday, one of the members of the opposition, Eqerem Spahia, president of the Legality Movement, ally of Berisha, appeared on the screen instead of the regular news announcer on state television and informed the spactators that "main institutions of the state are in our hands". For more than six hours, state TV broadcast news only from the ranks of the opposition, for a few times it broadcast an interview with Berisha and accused those he called "Nano's clique".
In this situation, Berisha and his allies demanded from president Mejdani to take over control of the government in compliance with the authorities given to him by Albanian law, but he refused. Mejdani also refused to give a speech on the occupied state television. During that night, the police managed to regain control of government buildings. At 19.20, after a warning that the building of state Television would be bombed, followers of the opposition left and the management of this institution returned to their work. Minister of public order Teta arrived to the building of state Television in an armoured vehicle and in the speech which was then broadcast, informed the nation that the attempt of a coup d'etat organized by Berisha had not suceeded. Various news agencies reported that very evening that the former Albanian president was given an ultimatum to leave the country within few hours or he would be arrested.
This is a chronicle of what many believe was an unsuccessful coup d'etat or armed rebellion. Perhaps it should not be forgotten that the body of deputy Azem Hajdari, one of the most significant politicians of post-communist Albania, man who had headed the first protests against the communist regime in December 1990, was buried in the presence of less than 50 persons. Thousands of other participants of the funeral procession forgot his mortal remains and left them to attack offices of the Albanian state.
Semi Coup d'Etat
Of course, it would be rash to pass a firm judgement of what actually happened in the streets of Tirana on Monday, 14 September, especially because political phenomena in Albania are never quite clear, or rather appear to be very complex. Monday, 14 September seemed to be like a semi coup d'etat. It is hard to believe that Berisha had really planned to take over power that afternoon with the help of firearms, but on the other hand, it is difficult to conceal that he had announced that force would be used to overthrow Nano if he would reject his ultimatum and refuse to submit his resignation by noon. It seems that this was rather an attempt to force the old political rival to run away under pressure of the masses which it would be hard to believe Berisha had not known were armed to the teeth, than that it was an attempt to take his place and takeover leadership of the government.
On the other hand, the fact that the demonstrators had not taken any steps against the president of the state leads to the conclusion that the term "coup d'etat" is not exactly correct. After Nano's departure, the other half of the administration would still be legal, which implies a political solution headed by the president of the state. However, there is an element which puts the former president in a very difficult position and which seems like a classic element of a coup d'etat, and that is the seizure of state TV by Berisha's followers and its use against the government.
Be what may, the government sharply accused Berisha of the attempt of a coup d'etat, and Berisha rejected the accusation. The situation in Albania, especially in Tirana is very strained. It was announced that Berisha would be deprived of his parliamnetary immunity and arrested. In the meantime, he continues with protests and announces that he will not stop until the government of Nano falls.
"Armed peace" established in Albania after the elections in June 1997, quickly dispersed. Armed gangs, hidden for a short time, emerged again, robbing, blocking roads and planting bombs. Nano's government failed to establish order, while its officials got involved in various smuggling networks. State authority although formally spread all over the country, remained very fragile.
On the other hand, Berisha has never resigned himself to the loss of power and did everything to make the current authorities fall. Boycott of the parliemant, manifestations and frequent protests against the government were accompanied by aggressive vocabulary of the leader of the opposition. The arrest of six former officials of the government of the Democratic Party added oil to the fire. Berisha called his followers to go out into the streets.
On the other hand, murder of Azem Hajdari last week, with no doubt is the greatest possible evil. Hajdari was one of the closest Berisha's associates, from the same city, leader of students in the first anti-communist protests in Albania and an influential person in Kosovo. The symbolism linked to Hajdari made his assassination more than mysterious.
After the assassination, Berisha did not hesitate to accuse Fatos Nano of being responsible. Later, the ceremony of Hajdari's funeral turned into the armed revolt.
Will Berisha be Arrested? Will Nano Resign?
There is no doubt that these two questions are closely interconnected. Nano is pressured to leave, but he refuses to do it threatened by Kalashnykov guns. Nevertheless, he has left the door open for a possible resignation, by stating that he was generally open to every solution. His popularity has significantly dropped among his former followers and inside his own party. His disappearance without a trace for 24 hours was very bad for his reputation. Departure of Nano from the post of the prime minister in quite a near future seems to be inevitable. The president of the state - Mejdani, according to certain sources, also seeks his departure, but it seems that it has been postponed because at this moment it would appear as Berisha's victory and departure under pressure of arms.
The destiny of former president Berisha, however, seems to be more problematic than that of Nano. Although a cell seems to have been hastily prepared for him in the prison of Tirana, it is not so eays to arrest him. While the Albanian parliament was expected to discuss about his parlaimentary immunity after the request of the prosecutor's office in Tirana, international diplomacy intervened that this should not be done. There is fear that Berisha's arrest will provoke violent reactions of his followers which would make the situation even more difficult. There is also fear that if what has happened on Monday, 14 Septemebr is tolerated, it may encourage the opposition leader in his actions against Nano. A western diplomat has declared that "based on our reliable analysis, Albania is on the verge of a civil war, therefore arrest of Berisha would be an additional element towards destabilization". Even American secretary of state Albright, demanded in a telephone conversation that no hasty steps be taken. It seems that the West, among other, counts on great influence Berisha has on Kosovo. One learns that a few persons from Kosovo were arrested because they had participated in violent protests on 14 September, or as it is, not accidentally, stated in a police statement: "Yugoslav citizens of Albanian ethnic origin".
For the time being, the only "compromise" possible is that neither Nano goes, nor Berisha is arrested. How long this status quo can last, however, it is very difficult to predict.
An Aspirin but Not a Cure
The agreement on national reconciliation signed in March 1997 seems to have been just an aspirin which reduced the fever, but the infection remained. The crisis was just frozen but it was not solved. The two who hate each other, Berisha and Nano, cannot reach a compromise, although there are still illusions about it in the West. The September 1998 crisis differs from the one in March 1997 primarily by the fact that a year ago majority of the Albanians were against Berisha, while now most of the Albanians are indifferent. Perhaps this is the temporary advantage of Nano. However, regardless of that, it seems that nowadays the Albanians are one nation with no political representatives.
The USA and the countries of EU made it clear that they would not recognize any government that would result from violence. In stands of western offices it is possible to detect criticism of Berisha, reservations towards Nano and support to the president of the state Mejdani. It is expected that the magic formula of a political solution will come from the president, but he is in the middle between two fires. On the one hand is the stubborn Berisha with his demand that the government resigns, that a technical governemnt be created and that new elections be scheduled. On the other are the Socialists who at this emoment are not less nervous and stubborn, who do not eliminate the possibility of Nano's departure, but nor do they eliminate the formula of a technical government and setting the date of early elections.
Herbert Grupmayer has landed at the airport in Tirana. A year ago he was the personal envoy of the negotiator in the Albanian crisis Vranicki. Grupmayer was given the mandate of a representative of the EU. Perhaps he has some new aspirin in his pocket, but nowadays there are no guarantees that it could reduce the fever of a country which is in chaos. If a "compromise" would be if Nano stayed in office and Berisha was not arrested, it seems that the best would be if both would go.