On April 15th 2,500 Italian soldiers strode ashore in the Albanian port of Durres, as the advance guard of an international task force of 6,000 dispatched with the blessing of the (dis)United Nations under the hopeful headline of "Operation Sunrise". What is the meaning of this action, and what attitude should the labour movement take towards it?
The magnificent movement of the Albanian masses caused panic in the governments of Europe and America. Fearful of intervening, they have been finally compelled to go in, for fear that the revolt could spread. As we predicted in last month's Socialist Appeal, the Italian and Greek governments are acting as the catspaws of world imperialism. And, again as we predicted, they are using the pretext of "humanitarian aid" to disguise the real purpose of the intervention.
During the last few weeks there has been a virtual news blackout in Britain concerning Albania. The present article is based mainly on reports in the Italian press, which, because of the sending of Italian soldiers, has been obliged to provide at least some coverage. In fact, the Albanian events have had a profound impact in Italy, where the question of intervention almost brought down the Prodi government. The ruling "Olive" coalition made up of the ex-communist PDS and its allies depends for its parliamentary majority on the votes of the "Refounded Communists" (RC). Although in a confused way, RC correctly came out against sending Italian troops to Albania. Prodi only succeeded in keeping his majority by reaching a deal with the right wing opposition. This is a warning. The entanglement of Italy in Albania will be the source of many new crises and convulsions in the period that lies ahead.
Ever since the Albanian revolution began, there has been a well-orchestrated campaign in the Western media calculated to blacken the image of the revolution. The lie machine constantly churns out its dismal litany, always repeating the same story - chaos, anarchy, Mafia, criminals, drug barons, armed gangs, and so on and so forth. Goebbels, the nazi propaganda minister once said that, if you take a big lie and repeat it often enough, people will begin to believe it. The "free" press of the West is now following in the same footsteps. The avalanche of falsehoods, calumnies, distortions or, in the best case, one-sided coverage of these events must be unprecedented in recent times. The source of much of these lies is clearly the official disinformation that comes straight from the beleaguered regime in Tirana. From there it is disseminated via the foreign representatives and published verbatim in the newspapers of Rome, Athens and Paris.
Unfortunately, the labour movement has not countered these lies. Many workers have thus been taken in by them. Even in Italy, where there was an initial sympathy for the rebels, especially in the South, the mood has been changed by the constant barrage of propaganda. Most people have been led to believe that chaos rules in Albania, and that the presence of the Italian army is necessary to restore order and guarantee the dispatch of food and other humanitarian aid. How could anyone oppose such a reasonable proposal? It would be like opposing apple pie or motherhood. Moreover, the leaders of the interim coalition government in Tirana, in which the Socialist Party plays the main role, has requested intervention. That must surely mean that it is all OK. But the real situation is very different.
What is occurring in Albania is a popular uprising against a tyrannical government which from the outset was backed and propped up by the West for its own cynical interests. The idea that the West can now act as the upholders of democracy and humanitarianism is a repugnant fiction. If the West sends troops to Albania, one can safely assume that, whatever else may be their purpose, they are not being sent to defend the interests of the Albanian people. This is a blatant interference in the internal affairs of what is supposed to be an independent state. The West never considered sending troops to remove the tyrant Berisha, for the very good reason that he was their man in Tirana. But now that the Albanian people are taking control of their own destiny, they intervene. For what purpose?
Among all the chorus of calumnies, a few newspapers have attempted to raise doubts. One such case is the progressive Italian paper Il Manifesto which has attempted to answer the lies. In its issue of 19th April, it draws attention to the fact that the press, when it talks about "lawless acts", only refers to the South, where the rebels are in control. It is completely silent about the situation in the north, which is at least partly under the control of Berisha's gangs. Recently, these elements staged an armed attack on the Socialist prime minister, Bashkim Fino. This kind of thing is hushed up, because they see the real danger from the revolutionary committees that control the South, and which, despite all the lies, are maintaining order and running society. Insofar as there have been violent acts in the rebel areas, these are mainly the work of Berisha's hated secret police, the Shik, which is attempting to destabilise the situation and cause the maximum of chaos and mayhem.
The central problem of the revolution is the lack of leadership. The revolutionary committees are in control of the South. Elected during the revolution, they enjoy the confidence of the masses, who are still armed. But the mere existence of such committees does not settle the question of power. The committees are made up of all kinds of accidental elements, mainly members of political parties, 17 in all, some of whom would no doubt like to carry the revolution forward, but others who would like to call a halt and disarm the masses. They even have illusions in the "peacekeeping" role of the intervention forces. The Italian soldiers have been met with cheers and embraces. The correspondent of Il Manifesto went to Vlore and interviewed one of the leaders of the local committee, Albert Shyti, who clearly answered all the lies about "chaos" in the town. At the same time, he showed, at the very least, a profound naiveté in expressing the willingness of the committee to collaborate with the Italian army in "restoring order": "There is no shortage of food in general. Although the problem of poverty is getting serious after the destruction of public offices and the closure of private shops, but the main problem is to bring order. Therefore your soldiers must help us."
Along this road lies only disaster. Had the revolution had a conscious leadership with a clear programme and strategy, Berisha could have been overthrown in a week. The rebel forces were advancing with no real opposition. Berisha was demoralised. There was a movement of the workers and soldiers in Tirana, and the beginnings of an insurrectionary movement in the North. But in the absence of leadership, the revolution made a fatal mistake. It stopped half way, allowing Berisha time to recover his nerve and organise the counterrevolution. The Shik unleashed a reign of terror in the capital. The Berisha supporters managed to regroup in the North, although it is impossible to say how much support he has there. In a word, the situation reached the point of stalemate. However, the present situation of an uneasy balance cannot last. Berisha will undoubtedly try to engineer a provocation to cause armed clashes between the rebels and the foreign troops. The Il Manifesto correspondent asked the leader of the Vlore committee about this:
"A report of the secret services claims that in Vlore there are plans to launch attacks against the international troops. 27 years of age, with black hair and an a confident air, Shyti answered: 'Even in Vlore there are remnants of the Shik, Berisha's secret service. That's where the danger comes from.' So then he confirms that the danger does exist? 'It does exist', he answers forcefully. Yesterday you met (the Italian) colonel Nardi. What did you say to him? 'That the Committee will give every protection and guarantee to the Italian soldiers. Yesterday we worked with your minesweepers, but nothing was found. We were elected by the people in revolt, and we want to arrive at the elections fixed for the 29th of June, which the international community must supervise. But right now we need your help to bring about public order.'"
This report clearly brings out the confused nature of the leadership of the committees and even the illusions in the role of the intervention forces. But when the conversation turns to the question of arms, the tone suddenly changes:
"But one of the premises for the troops to come and help you is their security....'That is the responsibility of the police. We will give all the help we can but we do not agree with disarming the people. Berisha's men are armed to the teeth, and not only with kalashnikovs. We will hand in our arms only when Berisha has left the political scene.'"
An article entitled "Berisha, Opposition, and Committees", published in the Tirana newspaper Koha Jone (19/4/97), explains the real situation of the committees and contrasts it to the black propaganda put out by Berisha's lie machine:
"Apparently the public salvation committees set up in some cities of the country are now appearing in Berisha's dreams. He mentions these committees at each and every one of his meetings with foreigners who visit him, in every speech he gives to his party's forums, using the very rich jargon of literary figures that characterises the style of his political struggle. Berisha attributes to these committees, which he describes as 'rebel,' every act of violence that is committed in the southern cities by ordinary criminals, and, why not, even by certain groups charged with certain missions. One of the tasks that these committees have had to perform was to restore calm and fight gangs of various evil-doers. In his campaign against the southern rebels, Berisha is strongly supported by Tritan Shehu, Pjeter Arbnori, and his other loyal followers, who have set up the 'anti-committee' chorus."
And the article continues:
"Anyway, this did not suffice for Berisha to destroy these committees, which were set up thanks to the disintegration of the state. By demanding the dissolution of these committees, Berisha is in fact demanding the restitution of the local authorities elected on 20 October last year. However, Berisha should bear well in mind that his local authorities were unable to perform their tasks and even abandoned their posts altogether. Thus to demand the return of these local authorities to their posts, without any distinction, is like demanding that Zhulali and all those who contributed to the disintegration of the Army return to their posts. This is probably one of the factors that accounts for these committees establishing some co-operation with the government to normalise the local authorities in their cities." (ibid., my emphasis)
This goes to the very heart of the matter. The propaganda about "chaos" so assiduously reproduced in the western media is intended to prepare the way for the disbanding of the committees, the disarming of the people and the restoration of "order", that is, the restoration of the old regime. This is something which the masses will fight tooth and nail to prevent. Far from representing chaos, the committees reflect the attempt of the revolutionary people to put things on an orderly basis and establish control over their own areas, combating both the counterrevolutionary elements and the criminals, two things which coincide to a great extent. So indispensable have the committees become that even the Italian intervention force is compelled to deal with them, something that they at first said they were not going to do. Despite this, the leaders of the Socialist Party ("Socialist" in name only) seem as anxious as Berisha to dissolve the committees, as the same article points out:
"... These committees are seen as a fact of life in those areas where they operate and as an element that can contribute to normalising the situation and creating the necessary conditions for elections. In fact, the Italian troops that went to Vlore had their first contact precisely with the members of the city's committee. Berisha and his choir have recently been asking the Socialist Party [PS] to disband these committees since, according to them, it created them. This is a ploy Berisha is using to create an atmosphere of conflict between the PS and the committees. By combining his accusations against these committees with his favourite accusation, that of links with the former Sigurimi and communists, Berisha intends to discredit his opponents for having created such committees and promoting terrorism....As a result of this tactic, and frightened by such an accusation, the Socialists are likely to dissociate themselves from the committees and even act against them. Second, such a stance by the Socialists would be likely to cool off part of their electorate in these cities ...." (Ibid.)
The elements of dual power now exist in Albania. On the one hand there are the rebels, arms in hand, organised in the committees. On the other hand there are the remnants of the old state apparatus, the Shik and the armed gangs which defend Berisha. The government of Bashkim Fino is hanging in mid-air. The representatives of the West are desperately trying to square the circle, pursuing mutually incompatible goals. They would like to put an end to the revolution and collect in the arms. But there is a small problem: the rebels are not stupid enough to disarm while Berisha is still in Tirana, and his secret police is still in place. Here is the central contradiction for the imperialists. In order to disarm the revolution, it is necessary to get Berisha to step down. But Berisha and his henchmen have other ideas. They understand that their necks are at stake. That is a powerful argument in favour of resisting to the bitter end!
The existence of dual power is admitted in so many words by the regime, as shown by the following extract from an interview with Albanian Interior Minister Belul Celo by unidentified a correspondent of the Albanian newspaper Rilindja Demokratike (place and date not given) entitled "Military Committees Have Usurped Local Authorities":
"[Rilindja Demokratike] How would you compare the current situation to that of some weeks ago? Do you think the general elections can be held in June?
"[Celo] Compared to some weeks ago, the current situation appears to be far better. The results are really encouraging. As for your question about elections, I am not the right person to set the date for elections. This can be done by other institutions. My view is that we have to be realistic in our assessment of the situation. A truly democratic electoral campaign and elections have as their sine qua non condition the free movement of people all over the country, full guarantee to the life and activity of political parties, and the functioning of all the power structures in all the country. In this context, I think we have to take into account the fact that police institutions have not been fully restored in some districts.
"[Rilindja Demokratike] How are local authorities functioning, and how would you describe their activity so far?
"[Celo] In some districts there are parallel authorities. Under these circumstances, the legitimate local authorities have been forcefully replaced by some self-styled civil committees which, in fact, are illegitimate and do not have any mandate or have not made any contribution (?). On the contrary, and I want to underline this, the holding of free elections requires as a necessary precondition, not only the restoration of public order and calm, but also the normal functioning of local authorities all over the country. The elimination of these so-called civil committees is not a task of the interior ministry alone, it is a task of those political forces which have little links with them. We demand that these political forces dissociate themselves from these committees and contribute to the restoration of local authorities in these districts. This would be a real contribution that the political forces could render to stabilise the situation and create normal conditions to hold free and fair elections." Rilindja Demokratike (18/4/97).
About the date of the elections, this crony of Berisha is highly circumspect. "Ask someone else". But on other matters he is quite definite. The holding of the elections depends on the elimination of the revolutionary committees and the restoration of the "legitimate" organs of local government, that is to say, the old Berisha councils swept away by the revolution. That is the programme of counterrevolution with no ifs and buts. If ever such a situation were to come about, all talk of free elections would be farcical. Once the old police and officials were back in the saddle, the committees dissolved and the people disarmed, there would be nothing to stop Berisha from rigging the elections as he did in the past, or cancelling them altogether. That is why the masses prefer to hang onto their weapons, even if some of the leaders of the committees would like them to be "reasonable' and disarm.
Celo admits frankly that what is left of his police force (mainly the Shik) is unable to disarm the masses or dissolve the committees, that this must be done by other "political forces", namely the Socialist Party, which has some supporters on the committees. This is a valuable admission, because it is tantamount to saying that Berisha is resting for support on the Socialist leaders. What flows from this? That, if they wanted to, the SP leaders could overthrow Berisha immediately, with a minimum of bloodshed and without a civil war. All that would be needed is for the Socialists to break the coalition, denounce the absurd fiction of a "government of National Unity" and proclaim a workers' government based on the revolutionary committees. But, like the Mensheviks and SRs in 1917, they are not willing to take power. In reality, they are just as afraid of the masses as Berisha. Their cowardly behaviour will be responsible for rivers of blood in the future.
The SP leaders have played a lamentable role. Having been used by Berisha as a cover for partially restoring his power, they then complain when he kicks them in the teeth. In a recent article in the Party paper Zeri i Popullit, entitled "Berisha: Main Obstacle to Democracy" (18/9/7) they frankly admit that, in effect, they threw the dictator a lifeline, then moan about his ingratitude:
"He (Berisha) has once again turned on the Socialist Party [PS] to blame it for the situation," they wail, "relying on the same arguments as before. In the meantime, he forgets that he has entered into a political agreement with the PS and that he has agreed that the government that emerged from this agreement would have a representative of the opposition as the country's prime minister. Berisha demagogically claims the credit for the 9 March agreement that saved the country from bloodshed. In fact, Berisha cannot claim any credit for this agreement, but is the main culprit for the bloodshed. He signed this agreement out of fear of losing power with the arrival of the rebels in Tirana. When he saw that he could not suppress the uprising by resorting to the Army, because the Army had abandoned him, he was forced to sign the agreement of 9 March."
Here we have the essence of the whole question. When the masses had virtually overthrown the old state in March, the leaders of the Opposition, instead of putting themselves at the head of the insurrection to deliver the death-blow to the wounded beast, tenderly offered it their hand. Berisha was "forced" to do a deal with them, announcing the formation of a so-called National Reconciliation Government, because he was on the point of being overthrown., in the words of the article: "his Army melted away like snow in summer, how his police abandoned their posts at the most difficult moments." In language typical of right wing reformists always ready to collaborate with the enemies of the working class allegedly in the "national interest", they continue: "Time will tell where Berisha would have been after the whirlwind he sowed, and who would have destroyed and who would have saved Albania (!). However, the PS did not act according to Berisha's logic. It acted in favour of rescuing the country and for this purpose sacrificed something of its party interests." What they sacrificed was not "something of their party's interests", but the interests of the working class, the revolution and the people of Albania. The hated old regime had been overthrown by the armed people. Without that, the SP would remain politically marginalised and its general secretary still in gaol. But the SP leaders, who played no role in the uprising, rushed to save the man who had yesterday beat, arrested and imprisoned them.
Seeing the abyss open at his feet, Berisha handed over the nominal control of the government to the Socialist Party (the ex-Stalinists). But in reality they are the government in name only. The guns are in the hands of the rebels and the Berishaites, who use the Socialist leaders as a protective façade, behind which they are regrouping and striving to regain power. The real situation was revealed in the recent incident when the parliament tried to dismiss the chief of police, general Agim Shehu, a close collaborator of Berisha blamed for many of the acts of brutality against the people. A presidential spokesman intervened to say that only Berisha, and not the government, has the right to sack the police chief. In other words, Berisha is happy to let the Socialists appear publicly as the government, taking upon themselves responsibility for all the unpopular decisions, as long as the real power remains firmly in his hands. The following interview from an Italian paper is quite an amusing commentary on this pantomime:
"Caprile: Yet some people say that there is friction between you [Fino and Berisha]
"Berisha: His government has my full support. I have appealed to parliament to back him. I believe he is working in earnest in an objectively difficult situation. I hope that the Albanians, all the Albanians, will rally round this institution in order to avert the final disaster.
"Caprile: But what is the situation like out there right now?
"Berisha: In the last three days it has calmed down a lot. But unfortunately it remains overly destabilized by armed gangs in a few southern districts. Luckily the north and Northeast are being slowly brought back under our control." (La Reppublica, 23 March 1997, interview with Berisha)
Apart from the staggering cynicism of Berisha's comments, there is a valuable admission here. He says that the North is "slowly being brought back under our control". This means a) that the revolution was not confined to the South, but that Berisha had actually lost control of his traditional base in the North, and b) even now, he has not succeeded in bringing the whole of the North under control.
The allegation that the conflict in Albania is a struggle between different "clans" and a North-South split is yet another lie, designed to present the Albanian people as primitive barbarians and draw unwarranted parallels with Somalia. This question was very well dealt with in an article by Adrian Klosi republished in a German newspaper:
"Superficially," he writes, "the conflict in Albania looks like a confrontation between north and south. Many newspapers have decided it is a fight between clans. However, a more apt description would be to say that here the citizens of the south, together with units of the regular Army and members of the secret service, which used to be controlled by the president, fought against the government."
He goes on to explain that, historically, the clans or tribes have played an important role in Albania and that for many centuries all rulers of the country depended on their respective clans: "Enver Hoxha's Stalinist regime and that of his successors were based on the powerful clans in the south. In this respect, Berisha, who gets his support from the north, in particular from the Tropoje Mountains, is no exception.
"However, despite the considerable differences between the territory of the people speaking Geg in the north and the Tosks in the south, there has never been an open tribal war between north and south in Albania. Compared with the economically vital and relatively prosperous south, the mountainous and pastoral north--with the exception of Shkoder--has remained poor and backward. Even when the 1972 Language Law declared Tosk the only official dialect in Albania, the north lost. In the region around the capital of Tirana, the differences between north and south dissolved following the massive population movements and reductions after World War II.
"The differences between North and South originates in the invasion of Albania by the Ottomans in the 14th century and the subsequent division of the country into administrative units (the"Vilajets" or "Pashaliks"). Nevertheless, by the 19th century, this division in Gegs and Tosks had been weakened because of the prospering urban cultures of towns like Skutari [Shkoder], Skopje, Elbasan, Berat, and Janina (now in Greece), where people from all regions came together, and because the northern mountain tribes still had considerable autonomy Regions like Himare in the south were also left to themselves. Even the clashes between rival Albanian warlords at the beginning of the 19th century were no confrontations between Gegs and Tosks, north and south. Tosk "Pashaliks," like Kara Mahmut Pasha or Ali Pasha Tepelana, attacked their weaker neighbours to gain territory, but they also used Geg mercenaries to defeat the rebellions of the Christians of Himare in the south.
"Historically, the Albanian state never really succeeded in bringing the whole country under firm control. The people were accustomed to bear arms. Only the victory of the Stalinists after the second world war led to the consolidation of a unified state. Enver Hoxha and his followers (mainly from the south) destroyed the culture of the north and, in particular, its urban centre in the regional capital of Shkoder. Furthermore, they tried to eradicate the Catholic community historically based in the North. This almost provoked a north-south conflict, but Hoxha suffocated the resistance by brutal means, and presented his "proletariat of the people" as an Albanian phenomenon and included selected representatives of the north into his government. Ramiz Alia, the successor he personally appointed, comes from Shkoder.
"Berisha, a northerner, followed the same tactic, but he neglected to gain support in the south or to include local leaders into his government. On the contrary, he made his followers from Tropoje and other northern regions mayors, police chiefs, and officials in the southern towns. Their corrupt and oppressive rule was a factor in provoking the explosion in the south.
"The collapse of the pyramid schemes, in which the people had invested so much money, turned these resentments into an open rebellion--in the course of which a large number of army members defected to the south and turned against their "clan leader" and commander, president Berisha. It was feared that the president might try to mobilise young men in the north for the fight against the "rebels from the south" because they want "to capture the capital and then move on into the north." But it is unlikely that such propaganda might, for the first time in Albanian history, turn a conflict between state and population into a civil war between north and south." ( Albania: Koha Jone Journalists Analyse Crisis , from the Frankfurt/Main Frankfurter Rundschau, 24/4/97)
Behind all the hypocritical talk about "humanitarian aid" and the noisy propaganda about "chaos" and "anarchy" the real intentions of Italy and Greece are clear. The ruling class of both countries have long-standing ambitions in the Balkans. Before the second world war, Albania was a semi-colony of Italy which invaded and occupied it in 1939. The collapse of Stalinism and the break-up of the former Yugoslavia have unleashed all the old demons on the Balkans which most people thought long laid to rest. It is necessary to remind ourselves that the main role in plunging Yugoslavia into a fratricidal and criminal war was played by German imperialism, which encouraged its former satellite Croatia to break away. Germany is angling to recover its old markets and spheres of interests in the Balkans. France has traditionally backed Serbia, and has recently rediscovered its old links with Rumania. The USA has a foothold in Bosnia, and keeps troops in Macedonia. Meanwhile, Turkey is keeping a jealous eye on events in an area it dominated for five centuries.
The crisis of capitalism is graphically revealed in the scramble to grab even the smallest market that becomes available. Mighty German capitalism immediately moved into Eastern Europe and the Balkans (German companies dominate the important Albanian chrome mines). But the Italian bourgeoisie also wants to get its foot in the door. Despite Italy's relative weakness, it has been growing more assertive in recent years, showing its desire to appear as a power to reckon with on the international stage. In 1994, the Berlusconi government began to raise the issue of Italy's north-eastern borders and the rights of Italians expelled from northern Istria (now part of Slovenia) after the second world war. "We recovered the notion of national interest", said Berlusconi's foreign minister Antonio Martino. The Dini and Prodi governments have continued in the same line. Compelled to play second fiddle to Germany and France in the EU, Italian capitalism is determined to make its presence felt at least in its old spheres of influence, of which Albania was one. Italian soldiers also participated in Somalia (another former Italian colony) and Bosnia. Rome even displayed an unusual pushiness in trying to prevent Germany and Japan from obtaining a permanent seat on the Security Council of the UN. Now for the first time since 1943, Italy has the chance to lead an international military intervention in a foreign country. But in Albania they will find that they have bitten off more than they can chew.
To begin with, the ambitions of Italian imperialism immediately clashed with those of Greece, which, despite being at the bottom of the ladder of the EU, nevertheless regards itself as, and is in fact, a regional power in the Balkans. Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, Athens has been involved in continuous intrigues and manoeuvres designed to increase and extend its influence in the region and access to Balkan markets. They have entered into a de facto alliance with Serbia, harassed the new state of Macedonia and put heavy pressure on Albania, alleging ill treatment of the Greek minority, the usual excuse of imperialist bullies who wish to interfere in the affairs of their neighbours.
Greece has had territorial designs on the Southern part of Albania, which it calls "Northern Epiros" and where there is a large Greek minority whose interests Athens pretends to defend. The real aims of the Greek bourgeoisie were revealed by George Krystos, owner of the rightist daily Eleftheros Tipos. who was stupid enough to say out loud what others are thinking: "We must have dynamic intervention so that we can shape the developments. "Now is the time for us to strengthen our role in the Balkans." The noisy propaganda about alleged ill treatment of the Greek minority in Southern Albania is yet another lie, calculated to prepare Greek public opinion for intervention against the Albanian revolution. It has been answered by many statements made by Greeks living in Albania, who are on the side of the revolution and participate actively in it. "We are not afraid of the young people who have rebelled", one Greek speaking Albanian crossing the border into Greece told Eleftherotipia. He asked to be anonymous fearing reprisal by Greek authorities. "They [the rebels] are not hitting the people. But we are afraid of the army and Berisha's police. Greeks and Albanians have the same enemy: Berisha. We are fighting together", was a common comment on Sky radio by several Albanians in central Athens March 7. "Now people are demanding more than just their money. They want democracy", said Toma Sava, an immigrant from Himara, southern Albania. Yet Athens has always supported Berisha and, through the mouth of its foreign minister, openly admits that the central aim of its troops is to disarm the people. Incidentally, an estimated 350,000 Albanians live and work in Greece without permits, being exploited and subjected to the most brutal and degrading treatment by the Greek authorities and police.
Athens was quick to offer to send troops to Albania, but wanted to send them to the South. Jealous of their own hegemony, and smelling a manoeuvre, the Italians immediately objected, demanding that the Greek forces be confined to the North. An acrimonious war of words ensued, with both the "humanitarian" powers accusing each other of skulduggery. The Athens daily To Vima carried an article entitled, typically, "The Secret War against Greece", which reported the contents of a confidential report of the Italian intelligence services which provoked a protest by the Greek foreign minister. The report accuses Athens of wanting to secure "a privileged role" in the "future solution of the crisis" of "playing games" with the Greek origins of "important Albanian political personalities", of Greek diplomatic activity in the South of Albania" and of "frequent visits to Greece by certain rebel chiefs". (To Vima, 13/4/97). Simitis, the Greek premier (naturally) denies all such claims and demands that the document be withdrawn. The Prodi government, embarrassed, tried to smooth things over. The Italian military chiefs agreed to "withdraw" the document, but without officially repudiating its contents.
For its part, the Turkish government is keeping a close watch on developments. In the recent period, Turkey also has been increasing its role as a regional superpower, intervening in Central Asia, the Caucasus and even Iraq. It cannot be happy at the prospect of its traditional enemy, Greece, expanding its influence in the Balkans, where it has ambitions of its own. Significantly, Turkey has a defensive military pact with Albania and was the first to recognise the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, which Athens did everything in its power to prevent. Predictably, the Turks have sent a contingent of 600 troops to participate in the Albanian expedition, a friendly gesture not altogether appreciated by Athens. In an interview with Le Monde (5/4/97), the Greek foreign minister Tsohatzoupoulos stated that, while his government (of course!) "welcomed" the participation of the Turkish troops (about as much as they would welcome Bubonic plague), he warned the Turks not to utilise the Albanian crisis to interfere in the Balkans. "Turkey is not directly concerned, because it is not a Balkan country."
In the same interview, the Greek foreign minister also let the cat out of the bag in relation to the real aims of the intervention. While the Italian premier Prodi has been at pains to reassure everybody that the mission has an exclusively humanitarian character and is not intended to interfere in Albania's internal affairs, Tsohatzoupoulos rushed in with hobnailed boots to announce that the aim of the intervention is to disarm the rebels, and only in second place to ensure the shipments of aid. These little incidents speak volumes about the real motivation of these "humanitarians". As a matter of fact, the argument about aid is extremely weak, since there is no evidence of any food shortages in Albania, let alone starvation. Obviously there is a certain amount of dislocation and people have suffered as a result. But does this really warrant an armed intervention of this size? Incidentally, when the Red Cross sent a load of medical supplies to Southern Albania a few weeks ago, it was held up for a long time at the frontier, not by the rebels, but by the Greek authorities. Finally, the Red Cross sent its representatives to the revolutionary committees inside Albania to get their assistance in moving the supplies.
All the foreign powers defend their interference in the internal affairs of a supposedly sovereign state by one argument or another, while all the time concealing their own vested interests. Italy complains about a "flood" of refugees, despite the fact that the sum total is only 14,000—far less than in 1992. That, along with the usual "humanitarian" argument is the official Italian position. But a careful reading of all the official statements reveals a different picture. In RFE/RL Newsline (No. 10, Part II, 14 April 1997) we read the following: "Officials in Rome say it is the first time post-war Italy has had the opportunity to take the lead in organising a European intervention force. Politicians and pundits across the continent argue that Albania has given Europe as a whole the chance to show it has learned from its mistakes in the Yugoslav wars and can now put things right in another turbulent Balkan country."
First let us note that the implication is that "Europe" has the right to intervene to "put things right" in a country over which, theoretically, it has no jurisdiction. What if Russia or China decided to send an army to Northern Ireland or the Basque Country (also turbulent areas) to "put things right"? Or demand the right to intervene in Italy to solve the "problem" of the North? Or to the USA to sort out the "turbulent" problem of the black and Hispanic oppressed minorities? It is the same insolent attitude displayed by the USA when it decides that Iraq has no right to fly over its own territory or to ban other countries from trading with Cuba. The argument that it has been called in by the government in Tirana does not bear serious consideration, because that government has not been elected, has no power, and controls neither the North nor the South. The fact of the matter is that Albania is in a state of revolution in which the forces of the armed people are confronting a repressive regime which is clinging to power behind the façade of a powerless "coalition" and is attempting to get foreign armies to do what it cannot do itself, disarm the people. Whoever does not understand this will fail to understand anything about what is occurring in Albania. It s clear from hundreds of statements, like the following:
"Prime Minister Bashkim Fino told AFP in an interview that special police units would be set up and that authorities had sought Italian help to equip police so they could rescue Albania from anarchy. And Interior Minister Belul Cela rammed home the message when he addressed parliament: 'We have decided to strike hard against all the armed bands in order to re-establish order'. Fino said that the elections which President Sali Berisha had promised would be held by June in a bid to defuse the crisis could not be held unless the armed rebels surrendered weapons looted from military barracks. 'It will be really difficult to have elections if everyone is armed', Fino said. 'The restoration of order is a priority of the government.'
"Fino said Tirana had presented a list to the Italian government of equipment which law and order forces would need to bring the situation back under control. Armoured vehicles, bullet-proof vests and special equipment to bolster police units, features highly on the list. 'Help for the police takes priority even over humanitarian aid,' Fino said" (AFP report quoted in RFE/RL Newsline, No. 10, Part II, 14 April 1997, my emphasis)
By the way, when they talk about "Europe as a whole", that is a slight exaggeration. The main EU powers have stayed well clear of this situation, preferring to leave it to Greece and Italy, who have short-sightedly rushed to get involved. As the English say: "fools rush in where angels fear to tread". Britain and France have certainly "learned from their mistakes" in Bosnia. That is why they say: "After you, gentlemen!" The dangers are evident to anyone with half an ounce of intelligence. The argument about "humanitarian aid" is rejected even by the aid agencies themselves, who dismiss the light-minded talk about "sorting out" Albania: "But that may be easier said than done. Some observers, including some aid workers already in Albania, say the mission is flawed from the start. They argue that Albania needs order not supplies. The aid workers say the country may be short of medicines and that some of the poor and elderly need help, but they also note that there is no famine or even hunger. They are in favour of controlling the bandits and restoring state structures. You don't fight anarchy with flour bags," commented one aid worker". (ibid.)
The fight against the criminal elements is obviously necessary, as is the establishment of state structures and normal social life. But the question is what state structures? A big part of the chaos is deliberately provoked by the Berishaites. To overcome this, it is necessary for the elected committees to link up on a national scale, organise themselves as an alternative workers' state power and smash the remnants of the old state. There is no other way. Even the promise of elections cannot resolve the problem, because the question immediately arises of who will convene the elections? What guarantee is there that they will be fair? How can they take place at all when the country is split into two armed camps? The insoluble contradiction was summed up by
Fino himself "If we say that the elections cannot be held because the population is armed, we must also look at the other side of the issue, which is that the weapons will not be surrendered until elections are held". (RFE/RL Newsline, No. 10, Part II, 14 April 1997, my emphasis)
The imperialists are unsure how to resolve this problem. The Americans would like to ditch Berisha and move to elections, then hand power to the leaders of the SP to let them do the dirty work. For their part, the SP leaders would be willing to oblige, but they have a small difficulty, or more correctly, two. Berisha does not want to step down, and the rebels will not hand in their arms until he does so. Moreover, some of the imperialists do not share this view. The leaders of the Italian right wing parties are publicly backing Berisha, although Prodi would like to see the back of him. Berisha and the Shik are continually staging provocations. The Shik released 800 dangerous criminals in order to increase the chaos and climate of fear and insecurity. Their agents in the South will not hesitate to stage bloody incidents with the intervention forces, in order to engineer a conflict between the latter and the rebels. If this comes about, a new and dangerous situation will be created, with unforeseen consequences.
The attitude of imperialism was shown by the fact that the Italian commander at first would have nothing to do with the committees as we read in an recent report entitled "International force shuns contacts with rebels." Gen. Luciano Forlani, the commander of the multinational troops, said that the troops "had secured Tirana airport and the key ports of Durres and Vlore. He also said his forces will not have contacts with the rebel committees that control much of southern Albania. President Sali Berisha wants the committees dissolved as a precondition for elections and strongly objects to foreigners or the Albanian government treating those bodies as legitimate negotiating partners. The rebels say that anyone who ignores the committees is, in effect, supporting Berisha." (RFE/RL Newsline, No.18, Part II, 24/4/97, my emphasis). In practice, the Italians have had to deal with the committees, as they are the only real power in the South.
The main factor that works in favour of imperialism is the lack of knowledge and experience of the masses. Even in the South there are illusions in the role of the intervention troops. How long this will last is another matter. In 1969, the Catholics of Belfast and Derry welcomed the British soldiers as saviours and even brought them cups of tea, before the real role of the British army became clear. The Marxists in the Labour Party were the only ones to warn against intervention at that time. Similarly in Greece, when the British army was sent after the end of the second world war, they were initially welcomed by the people, until they commenced hostilities against the partisans. It is imperative that there should be no illusions about the role of the intervention forces in Albania. Their purpose: to liquidate the revolution, disarm the people and defend the interests of imperialism. All the rest is just so much froth.
Above all, it would be a fatal mistake to trust the imperialists to solve the problem. Their way of "sorting it out" means disarming the people and re-establishing the old state. They will probably find ways and means of getting rid of Berisha, since they know that no solution is possible while he remains. They may bribe him to go into a comfortable exile, or he may suffer an unfortunate accident (accidents do happen). But, with or without Berisha, it means that the old state of the exploiters will be rebuilt. As in the past, the "aid" of imperialism will only mean a greater subordination of Albania to foreign domination. However, all this supposes that they will be able to disarm the masses. That remains to be seen. London and Paris keep their doubts to themselves, but others are more vocal, like Portugal, which also refused to participate:
"That sceptical attitude has been echoed by at least one country, Portugal, to scuttle plans to participate in Operation Alba. Defence Minister Antonio Vitorino said in Lisbon last week that, 'The involvement of forces should require a set of military and political conditions. We believe that the political conditions have not been satisfied. This is essentially an internal, civil, guerrilla-style conflict.... I believe it is a highly risky mission, and I have doubts it can reach its military objective.'" (ibid., my emphasis).
The history of imperialist interventions over the past few decades shows that it is very easy to go in, but often very hard to get out again. The present situation is highly explosive. Any spark can set it alight. There is no possibility of a half-solution. Either the greatest of victories or the bitterest of defeats—that is the real choice before the Albanian people. If a genuine Marxist party existed, basing itself on the ideas and methods of Lenin and Trotsky, it would be easy to take power. The need for such a party is the main lesson of the events in Albania, and one that must be learnt by the advanced workers and youth of all countries.
- No to foreign intervention!
- Defend the Albanian revolution!