Historical background of Albania
The gradual end of communist rule
Ramiz Alia, left, with his predecessor Enver Hoxha, center, on May 1, 1983. Hoxha ruled Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985. (c) ATA
The end of the Cold War was not marked by revolution in Albania. President Ramiz Alia, who was Hoxha's anointed successor was under popular pressure and pushed through gradualist reform. In 1990, religious expression that had been banned since 1967 was permitted once again, and soon after the first opposition party formed.
In 1991 elections, the Socialist Party won 67% of the vote, and reformer Fatos Nano became prime minister, only to be replaced when the opposition Democratic Party joined a government of national salvation.
A law permitting private ownership was passed in 1991, which included land. In December, the Democratic Party withdrew from government, forcing new elections in 1992. The Democratic Party swept to victory, and Alia resigned as President, replaced by Sali Berisha.
Facing foreign and domestic issues
The new government faced considerable foreign and domestic challenges. As Yugoslavia broke up, Albania denounced Serbian aggression against Kosovo Albanians. Tensions also rose with Greece over the Greek minority in Albania, and the large numbers of illegal labor migrants from Albania in Greece.
At home, unemployment continued to rise. The new government expended considerable energy in prosecuting former leaders, among them Hoxha's widow, and former President Alia, for crimes against the state and the Albanian people committed during socialist rule. Many were jailed, including Fatos Nano, for corruption.
The activities of Berisha's government at this time fueled impressions of a north-south, (Geg-Tosk) linguistic divide. Berisha's power base was in the North, while Nano's was in the South. On Kosovo in particular, where a majority of Albanians are Geg speakers, Berisha had been more strident in asserting Albania's interests than his rivals.
Pyramid schemes collapse
Berisha's Democratic Party won again in 1996, despite international concerns over voting procedures. The party oversaw the rapid introduction of a free-market economy. Pyramid investment schemes, which promised large and swift returns on capital investment, were numerous.
In early 1997, a number of these schemes collapsed, having enriched some at the expense of many smaller investors, who reportedly lost over a billion dollars. This prompted a virtual insurrection against the state in the Tosk-dominated south of the country, which spread later to Tirana and the north. Huge quantities of weapons were looted from barracks and armories. Berisha's government lost control of the southern third of the country, and Berisha himself was the target of an assassination attempt.
It is estimated that over 2,000 people were killed in the course of the unrest.
Many blamed Berisha's Democratic Party (DP). Unable to campaign in southern Albania, the DP was soundly defeated by the Socialist Party and its allies, who won 117 seats out of the 155-seat assembly in the June and July 1997 internationally-supervised election.
OSCE Presence in Albania
The Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office for Albania, former Austrian Chancellor, Dr. Franz Vranitzky, speaks with journalists about the issues that are of concern for the OSCE in Albania, April 1997.(OSCE)
Responding to the breakdown of law and order, the OSCE Permanent Council deployed an OSCE “Presence" in Albania in April 1997. The OSCE Presence worked with a multinational protection force (established under UN Security Council Resolution 1101) and other international organizations and NGOs to help stabilize the country.
Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, Ambassador Eugen Wollfarth (r), meets President Bamir Topi on the occassion of the International Women's Day, Tirana, 8 March 2012. (OSCE)
The OSCE Presence continues to focus on democratization, promotion of human rights, and election reform.
Hostility between political parties escalates
The Socialist Party’s Rexhep Mejdani was elected Albania's President in 1997. Fatos Nano returned as prime minister. Democratic Party members continued to protest the election process. Hostility between the rival parties escalated after DP MP Azem Hajdari was shot and killed in Tirana in September 1998. In response, DP supporters stormed government offices. A coup was attempted by radical DP followers after Hajdari’s funeral with the goal of seizing power and murdering Nano. To avoid the mob, Nano fled and resigned as prime minister.
Referendum to change the Constitution
In late 1998, a referendum to change the country's Constitution provoked further political conflict. Cracks had by now developed within the two main parties as well as between them. Nonetheless, the referendum was held with 98% voting in favor of the new draft Constitution.
Kosovo Albanian refugees enter Albania
Food distribution to refugees on the border between Kosovo and Albania, May 1999. (OSCE/Lubomir Kotek)
The Kosovo crisis overshadowed Albania’s domestic problems when half a million Kosovo Albanians crossed the border to find refuge in 1999. Two-thirds of the refugees stayed with host families, 20% in tent camps and 13% in collective centers. During this time, the OSCE Presence monitored the border and responded to the refugee crisis. Humanitarian aid alleviated Albania’s stretched resources. The NATO intervention in Kosovo allowed most Kosovo Albanians to return home by the end of the year.