Disintegration of Albania Chaos rules: European intervention sought by country's suffering people.

March 15, 1997

IN ITS ANARCHY, amid looting of food and weapons, Albania most resembles Liberia and Somalia in recent years. Civil society disappears. The little country is descending into what the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes called a state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short.

Many Albanians are calling for European intervention, foreign soldiers to disarm their neighbors. "In these conditions of terror, I believe it is necessary to have international arbitration, even a symbolic presence," the country's best-known intellectual, the novelist Ismael Kadare, said in Paris, where he has lived since fleeing the former Communist regime.

Former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitsky was trying, on behalf of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), one of several available European umbrellas. He was holding court on an Italian warship to what was left of Albania's discredited regime and its supposed rebel leaders. Although Europe should be able to impose any arrangement on Albania's hapless formal rulers, the real question is whether anyone speaks for the mobs that have lost all inhibition.

Albania is not intrinsically as difficult a problem as Bosnia, which Europe collectively could not handle because the baggage of history put the powers on opposite sides. Still, they instinctively want nothing to do with it. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl spoke the hope of most Europeans when he called Albania an internal problem having no role for outsiders.

French President Jacques Chirac, conveniently distant in Uruguay, issued a contradictory statement reflecting Europe's better judgment that there could be a role for the European Union. The available forces are Italy's. An international mandate is needed because Albanians remember Italy's attempt to annex their country six decades ago.

Albanians are mostly Muslim, alienated from neighboring nations, so their own turmoil will not automatically spread. The Albanian majority in Serbia's province of Kosovo and minority in Macedonia are probably subdued by it, knowing there is now no Albanian state to protect them. The greatest danger would be a de-stabilizing exodus of refugees. While Italy and Greece are terrified of this, it is Serbia and Macedonia that are too fragile to accommodate it.

The best hopes are the Vranitsky mission and the Italian warships and helicopters, because they are on the spot now, not planning to meet somewhere else next week.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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