Further Moves Toward Democracy
The communist regime faced perhaps its most severe test in early
July 1990, when a demonstration by a group of young people in
Tiranė, the nation's capital, led about 5,000 to seek refuge in
foreign embassies. To defuse the crisis in July 1990, the Central
Committee held a plenum, which resulted in significant changes
in the leadership of party and state. The conservatives in the
leadership were pushed out, and Alia's position was strengthened.
Alia had already called for privatizing retail trade, and many
businesses had begun to operate privately. Then in late July,
the Politburo passed a law stating that collectivefarm members
should be given larger plots of land to farm individually (see
Land Distribution and Agricultural Organization, ch. 3).
In a September 1990 speech to representatives of Albania's major
social and political organizations, Alia discussed the July crisis
and called for electoral reform. He noted that a proposed electoral
law would allow all voting to take place by secret ballot and
that every precinct would have at least two candidates. The electors
themselves would have the right to propose candidates and anyone
could nominate candidates for the assembly. Alia also criticized
the bureaucratic "routine and tranquility" of managers and state
organizations that were standing in the way of reform.
Despite Alia's efforts to proceed with change on a limited, cautious
basis, reform from above threatened to turn into reform from below,
largely because of the increasingly vocal demands of Albania's
youth. On December 9, 1990, student demonstrators marched from
the Enver Hoxha University at Tiranė though the streets of the
capital shouting slogans and demanding an end to dictatorship.
By December 11, the number of participants had reached almost
3,000. In an effort to quell the student unrest, which had led
to clashes with riot police, Alia met with the students and agreed
to take further steps toward democratization. The students informed
Alia that they wanted to create an independent political organization
of students and youth. Alia's response was that such an organization
had to be registered with the Ministry of Justice.
The student unrest was a direct consequence of the radical transformations
that were taking place in Eastern Europe and of Alia's own democratic
reforms, which spurred the students on to make more politicized
demands. Their protests triggered the announcement on December
11, 1990, at the Thirteenth Plenum of the APL Central Committee,
that a multiparty system would be introduced in time for the general
elections that were set for February 1991. The day after the announcement,
the country's first opposition party, the Albanian Democratic
Party (ADP), was formed.
The Thirteenth Plenum of the APL Central Committee also announced
an extensive shakeup in the party leadership. Five of the eleven
full members of the Politburo and two alternate members were replaced.
Among those dismissed was Foto Cami, the leading liberal ideologist
in the APL leadership. Cami's ouster came as a surprise because
he was on close terms with Alia, but apparently Alia was dissatisfied
with his failure to deal with the intellectuals effectively.
The student unrest that began in Tiranė gave rise to widespread
riots in four of the largest cities in northern Albania. Violent
clashes between demonstrators and security forces took place,
resulting in extensive property damage but, surprisingly, no fatalities.
Apparently Alia had given the police strict orders to restrain
themselves during confrontations with demonstrators. However,
Alia issued stern public warnings to the protesters on television,
claiming that they had been misled by foreign influences and opportunistic
The crisis was analyzed in the Albanian press in an usually candid
manner. On December 17, the Democratic Front's daily newspaper,
Bashkimi, described what had occurred and then warned that such
violence could lead to a conservative backlash, suggesting that
conservative forces posed a real threat to the process of democratization
in the country. The outspoken nature of the article, the first
instance of open criticism of the security agencies, indicated
that the government was prepared to allow intellectuals and reformers
to express their views in the media. Later that month, the Council
of Ministers set up a state commission to draft a law on the media
and formally define its rights, thus reducing the APL's direct
control over the press. The council also authorized the first
opposition newspaper, Relindja Demokratike.
Another important sign of democratization was the publication
on December 31 of a draft interim constitution intended to replace
the constitution of 1976. The draft completely omitted mention
of the APL. It introduced a system with features similar to those
of a parliamentary democracy, while at the same time strengthening
the role of the president, who would be elected by a new People's
Assembly. The president was to assume the duties of commander
in chief of the armed forces and chairman of the Defense Council,
positions previously held by the party first secretary. Also on
December 31, the government eased restrictions on private trade
in the service and light industry sectors, indicating a general
trend toward a less centralized economy.
In his traditional New Year's message to the Albanian people,
Alia welcomed the changes that had been occurring in the country
and claimed that 1991 would be a turning point in terms of the
economy. But despite positive signs of change, many Albanians
were still trying to leave their country. At the end of 1990,
as many as 5,000 Albanians crossed over the mountainous border
into Greece. Young people motivated by economic dissatisfaction
made up the bulk of the refugees.
Data as of April 1992