Albania dissolves in anarchy Autocratic Democrat: Investment frauds lead to nationwide anarchy.

March 04, 1997

PRESIDENT SALI BERISHA of Albania, once heralded as the lone democrat of the Balkans, picked the wrong moment to have his parliament re-elect him to a second five-year term, just after giving him emergency powers. Albania has, in the southern coastal towns, dissolved into anarchy.

The ostensible target of the rioters' wrath was a group of state-protected fraudulent pyramid investment schemes that collapsed, impoverishing most Albanians. But increasingly, their real target was the strong-man rule of President Berisha.

His Democratic Party came to power in a free election in 1992, throwing out the communists. The parliament chose the president. The Democrats retained power in a deeply flawed election last year. Party posters included symbols of the pyramid funds, which people had reason to think enjoyed government guarantees. World lending institutions and foreign diplomats warned that the investment frauds would collapse, but Mr. Berisha did not make any such warning.

After a month of protests, rioters have looted arsenals, seized weapons, killed people, torched buildings. Greece and Italy are terrified, as when communism collapsed in 1991, of hordes of refugees. They take a soft view toward Mr. Berisha. Distant regimes, including the U.S., are tougher in demanding economic and political reforms.

Mr. Berisha weakened the military but now relies on the secret police from the communist period. He has sought foreign help to champion the civil rights of ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo province of Serbia. But now he has shut down the sole television news operation reporting for most European networks. New restrictions are clamped on other foreign journalists.

It is an irony that the opposition Mr. Berisha fears are socialists who used to be communists. He is acting like a communist dictator himself. In the interest of the democracy he claims to espouse, Albania now needs fair new elections and a fresh start.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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