Date: Thu, 10 Apr 97 12:09:14 CDT
Imperialists Prepare Occupation Of Albania
Arghiris Malapanis and Tony Hunt, The Militant, Vol.61 no.15, 15 April 1997
Thousands of Albanians say ‘no’
VLORE, Albania - The governments of Italy, France, and Greece are preparing a military occupation of Albania in response to the recent working-class revolt against the pro-capitalist regime of President Sali Berisha. The goal of the imperialist intervention, carried out under the pretext of guaranteeing distribution of "humanitarian aid," is to overturn the workers state and reestablish capitalism in Albania. In this endeavor, Rome, Paris, and Athens may have to confront militarily the toilers of this tiny Balkan nation.
"If the Italians dare come we will throw them into the sea!" shouted crowds of angry young men here March 31, firing shots from their Kalashnikovs into the air. They were protesting the sinking of an Albanian boat full of refugees by an Italian warship three days earlier and the planned intervention. Eighty-seven people drowned in rough seas on the night of March 28, some 35 miles east of the Italian port of Brindisi, after the frigate Sibilla rammed the Albanian vessel twice, sinking it immediately. The Italian navy was enforcing Rome's orders to turn back refugees from Albania -13,000 of whom have reached Italy's coasts since February.
The Italian action reinforced widespread sentiment against imperialist intervention in the rebel-held areas of Albania, especially Vlore, from where the Albanian boat took off and most of the deceased refugees hailed. About 7,000 people poured into the streets of Vlore March 29 to condemn the criminal act and demand justice against those responsible. "I warn Italian soldiers not to come, otherwise they will be killed," said Aida, 35, who attended the rally, expressing the prevailing sentiment there.
"We want the Italian government to accept its responsibilities publicly and compensate the victims," said Albert Shyti, head of the Committee for the Salvation of Vlore, the rebel council running this city since the rebellion turned into an armed uprising in February. "Only after the Italian government has taken these steps will we be willing to accept Italians in our town." Italian authorities maintain the collision was accidental, contradicting the accounts of the 34 survivors. Admiral Angelo Mariani, Italy's naval commander-in-chief, attributed the sinking to an "irresponsible and unpredictable" maneuver by the Albanian skipper. Sibilla's captain, Maurizio Laudadio, is being investigated for possible misconduct.
Alessandro Greco, 22, who lost his wife and three-month- old baby in the sinking, said, "This was no accident." Others rescued by the Italian navy began shouting their account of the incident to TV reporters as they landed in Brindisi. They were then whisked away by police and cut off from the outside world in a disused military barracks. Volunteers from the Caritas charity group were forbidden from making contact.
Rome, which is preparing to lead an intervention force of 5,000 troops, insisted it will go ahead with the deployment, but acknowledged that political opposition to the invasion within Albania and Italy has risen. "The mission is not devoid of risks," said Defense Minister Benjamino Andreatta. About half the soldiers are scheduled to come from Italy. Governments from seven other countries have also declared they will send military contingents: France (1,000), Greece (800), Spain (500), Turkey (500), Romania (400), Hungary (100), and Slovenia (100). The military foray was first proposed by Paris. After European Union foreign ministers failed to agree to send the force under the auspices of the Western European Union - over the strong objections of Bonn and London - Rome took the initiative to spearhead the intervention with whatever governments would be willing to participate. Washington earlier turned down requests by Berisha for a NATO detachment, trying to take its distance from the discredited president and better position itself for future intervention. On March 28, the United Nations Security Council gave its stamp of approval to Rome's request with 14 votes in favor and one abstention, from Beijing.
In the middle of the outcry over the boat sinking, Italy's premier Romano Prodi made a sudden and heavily guarded trip to Albania April 2 to renew support for the imperialist deployment from Albanian authorities. Prodi flew by helicopter to the southern city of Gjirokaster to meet with Albanian prime minister Bashkim Fino of the Socialist Party (SP). Four Italian helicopters hovered above to protect Prodi, who landed accompanied by 40 armed members of the Italian special forces. Fino, who had stopped in Gjirokaster on his way to Greece to assure aid to his government from Athens, said Prodi came "to reconfirm that the Albanian government still wants the deployment of the multinational force."
The Albanian parliament, controlled by Berisha's Democratic Party and from which the SP and other opposition groups abstain, had voted 97-1 to approve intervention March 30. Fino has also been a firm advocate of such a deployment. Both of these political parties that represent the interests of rival layers of the ruling bureaucracy hope that foreign intervention can quell the rebellion that has endangered the parasitic existence and bourgeois way of life of their caste.
The Italian-led force is supposed to not only accompany aid convoys, but also help maintain order at the airport in the capital Tirana and the main ports of Durres and Vlore. After the recent outpouring of opposition in Vlore, the Italian and Albanian defense ministers agreed that it may not be a good idea to send soldiers to that city for now, especially from Italy.
Opposition has also mounted among working people in neighboring countries. This is reflected in recent statements by the Communist Refoundation, successor of Italy's former Communist Party, which said that intervention "under current conditions would be absolutely mistaken." The group could block or delay the move, since the support of its deputies is essential to Prodi's social democratic coalition government. Prodi recently secured backing from the rightist opposition coalition led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who stated that the military deployment is the "only way we see to resolve the problem of mass emigration toward our country."
In Greece, where the social democratic government of premier Konstantinos Simitis is readying its military contingent for Albania, some street protests are being organized against military intervention. On March 29, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) attacked the decision to include Greek troops in the UN force, which it called a "criminal act against the Albanian people."
The imperialist preparations for military occupation of Albania are unfolding as the stalemate between the heterogeneous rebels holding virtually the southern half of the country and the government in Tirana has began to turn the tide to the advantage of the counterrevolution.
Berisha has refused to resign and has recently been organizing vigilante gangs that terrorize the population, made up of remnants of the dissolved army loyal to Berisha, agents of the secret police SHIK, police officers that fled from the rebel-held areas, and criminal elements roaming free since the country's jails were thrown open. Such gangs have carried out indiscriminate assaults, like an attack on a bus south of Tirana on March 26, during which one passenger was killed and 26 injured. A day later, local residents in the village of Frakull near Fier killed 17 such armed thugs. Three villagers died in the battle.
On March 28, smoke was still rising from the building of Albania's national bank on the Square of the Flag in Vlore, as 10,000 assembled for an antigovernment rally. The bank had been looted and set on fire early that morning by another armed gang. These daily incidents are used by the state controlled media and the international big-business press to paint a picture of "chaos and anarchy" in Albania and justify imperialist intervention.
The rebels, however, particularly in Vlore, the focal point of the revolt, have continued to take initiatives to press their goals. A conference of 150 people was held here March 28. It was the largest meeting yet of the National Front for the Salvation of the People, the coalition of rebel groups. For the first time, representatives of defense councils in several northern towns participated -including Puke, Bulkize, Dibra, and Rreshen. Berisha has his strongest base of support in northern Albania.
At the insistence of Shyti and other leaders of the Front, representatives of all the opposition parties present - including the SP, Social Democratic Party, and the Democratic Alliance - signed a declaration that renewed the call for the resignation of Berisha and demanded the formation of a presidential commission to de-facto replace him. The statement also condemned the activities "of criminal gangs and the acts of violence being committed by Berisha and his collaborators."
The signature of the Socialist Party, especially, which is part of the national reconciliation government, caused a new rift in Tirana. Berisha called an emergency meeting with opposition groups next day to protest and threatened to pull his Democratic Party out of the government.
As protester Andon Dhiamanti put it at the March 28 rally, "The struggle is uphill, but we have no choice but to continue the fight to defend the interests of the people."
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