Albanian civil war of 1997

Albanian civil war of 1997

Evacuation of U.S. citizens during Operation Silver Wake
Date 16 January - 11 August 1997
(6 months, 3 weeks and 5 days)
Location Albania
Causes Pyramid schemes failure, economic crisis
Result New parliamentary elections[1]
Parties to the civil conflict

Albania Rebels

Units involved

Albania 30,000 soldiers

Italy 7,000 soldiers
France 850 soldiers

Greece 803 soldiers[4][5]

Turkey 500 soldiers

Romania 400 soldiers

Germany > 100 soldiers

Austria 100 soldiers
3,800, civilians and members of army, police and secret police
During the riots in the city of Vlorë, men broke rocks to hurl them at police.

The Albanian civil war, also known as the Albanian rebellion, Albanian unrest or the Pyramid crisis, was a period of anarchy, civil disorder and violence in Albania in 1997, sparked by Ponzi scheme failures. The government was toppled and more than 2,000 people were killed.[6][7]

By January 1997 Albanian citizens, who had lost a total of $1.2 billion, the population being only three million, took their protest to the streets. Beginning in February, thousands of citizens launched daily protests demanding reimbursement by the government, which they believed was profiting from the schemes. On March 1, Prime Minister Aleksandër Meksi resigned and on March 2, President Sali Berisha declared a state of emergency. On March 11, the Socialist Party of Albania won a major victory when their leader Bashkim Fino was appointed prime minister. However, the transfer of power did not halt the unrest, and protests spread to northern Albania. Although the government quelled revolts in the north, the ability of the government and military to maintain order began to collapse, especially in the southern half of Albania, which fell under the control of rebels and criminal gangs.[8]

All major population centers were engulfed in demonstrations by March 13 and foreign countries began to evacuate their citizens. These evacuations included Operation Libelle, Operation Silver Wake and Operation Kosmas.[2] The United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1101, authorized a force of 7,000 on March 28 to direct relief efforts and to restore order to Albania. The UN feared the unrest would spread beyond Albania's borders and send refugees throughout Europe. On April 15, the 7,000 troops launched Operation Sunrise, an Italian-led mission that helped restore the rule of law.[8] After the unrest, looted weapons were made available to the Kosovo Liberation Army,[9] many making their way to the Kosovo War (1998–99).[10]


The period has been described as anarchy,[11] as a civil war,[12][13][14] or near civil war,[15][16] while others assert it was not a civil war at all.[17]


In 1992 the Democratic Party of Albania won the nation's first free elections and Sali Berisha became president. In the mid-1990s Albania was adopting a market economy, after years of socialist planned economy during the People's Socialist Republic of Albania. The rudimentary financial system became dominated by Ponzi schemes and government officials endorsed a series of pyramid investment funds. By January 1997 the schemes (actually fronts for laundering money and arms trafficking) could no longer make payments. The number of investors who had been lured by the promise of getting rich quick grew to include two-thirds of Albanians.[6][18] It is estimated that close to $1.5 billion was invested in companies offering monthly interest rates ranging from 10%-25%, while the average monthly income was around $80. People sold their homes to invest. Immigrants working in Greece and Italy transferred additional resources to the schemes.[19]

1996 elections

On May 26, 1996 general elections were held and the Democratic Party won by a large margin. The Socialists (PS) accused the government of fraud and rejected the results. PS left the counting process and boycotted the parliament. On October 20, 1996, local elections were held. The Democratic Party won again, but the Socialists also rejected this result.

Pyramid schemes

The pyramid schemes started operations in 1991. Their activity was based on making payments to old investors using money contributed by new investors. The first scheme was that of Hajdin Sejdisë, who later fled to Switzerland with several million dollars. It was followed by "Sudja" of shoe factory worker Maksude Kadëna in 1993, then the "Populli" foundations run by an opposition politician, and "Xhaferri". By the end of 1996 the schemes peaked. The interest rates that they offered were very tempting; Sudja offered 100% interest. The schemes were not criticized immediately because of a banking law adopted in 1994 which—on International Monetary Fund (IMF) advice—contained no provision that the National Bank of Albania act as a supervisor of commercial banks. The IMF changed two years later, after the consequences had become visible. Despite IMF advice to close these schemes, the government continued to allow their activities, often participating in them. Between 8 and 16 January 1997 the schemes collapsed. On 22 January the government froze the Xhaferri and Populli firms. "Gjallica", another firm, was nearly bankrupt, while "Vefa", which had invested in Albanian hotels, fuel and factories, continued normal activity. The economic crisis was the worst in Albanian history.

The first protest was on 16 January in the South. On 19 January in Tirana demonstrators protested the Sudja creditors. On 24 January the de facto rebellion began. Thousands of people in Lushnja marched on city hall in protest against the government's support of the schemes. The protest quickly descended into violence. Police forces were routed and the city hall and adjoining cinema were burned. One day later, on 25 January, Democratic Party chair Tritan Shehu was sent to Lushnje to resolve the situation. On his arrival he was held hostage for several hours at City Stadium and assaulted by the protesters. Albanian Special Forces units intervened in the city to extract Shehu. By the morning every government institution in the city was looted and destroyed, except for the Interior Ministry building, which was protected by the Director of Communications, seven of his engineers and a guard who refused to abandon his post.

On 26 and 27 January violence erupted in other southern towns, such as Vlora. On 30 January the Forum for Democracy was formed by opposition parties to lead the protests. Anger was also directed against Berisha and the government for allowing the schemes to continue despite IMF advice. As allegations grew that Berisha and others in government had personally profited from the schemes, many became convinced that the Democratic Party had to be removed by force. This was especially true in Vlora. On 4 February distribution of a portion of lost money began at the counters of the National Commercial Bank, owned by the state. Rather than quieting the protests, this action increased people's suspicion. A check for $550,000 paid by the "Gjallica" firm on 7 January to the Socialist Party accelerated the firm's collapse. On 5 February Gjallica declared bankruptcy and on 6 February violent protests resumed in Vlora. On 9 February state police were attacked in Vlora, and a day later, also in the south, 50 Special Forces troops attacked and brutally dispersed protesters.

Hunger strike at the University of Vlora

Students at the University of Vlora began a hunger strike on campus on 20 February 1997, consisting of about 50 students. They demanded the government's resignation and the full return of invested money. On 22 February the Forum for Democracy declared its support for the strike. Students from Gjirokastër and Elbasan also came to give their support. They were then driven by the FRESSH (Youth Wing of Socialist Party) activists of Vlorë to Tirana. In contrast, the students of University Luigj Gurakuqi in Shkodra did not take part, and its Students Union declared, "The students share the pain of the citizens of Vlora in losing money in pyramid schemes, but on the other hand, think that freedom and democracy, homeland and nation have a higher price".

On 26 February thousands of people surrounded the building of the university to defend it from a rumored attack by SHIK (Shërbimi Informativ Kombëtar), the national intelligence service. The same day a group of strikers requested more medical help, raising doubts about the doctors near them. On 27 February in Vlora Shkodra, mayor Bahri Borici of the United Right declared his support for the hunger strike. The next day was a decisive moment in Albanian history—after strengthening their perimeter around the building of the university, the rebel forces, without warning, attacked the SHIK building. In fighting between the rebels and government forces, nine people—six officers and three civilians—were killed. This incident marked the start of a ten-day civil war and a year of violence in southern Albania.

1–10 March

Angry protesters throwing stones at government forces

Demonstrators would never have succeeded in overpowering the Vlora police if they had not been armed and organized by local organized crime bosses and former members of the Communist-era secret police (Sigurimi), who saw this as their chance to damage the new political system. Typical of the latter was Albert Shyti, who returned from Greece with a private arsenal and set himself up as the head of the Vlora "Committee of Public Salvation"—a pattern replicated in other towns and cities in southern Albania.

Opening of the weapon depots

Weapon depots looting in 1997.

The Opening of the depots (Albanian: Hapja e depove) was the opening of weapons depots in the north, for protection against the violence of the south. The decision was taken by President Berisha. When southern Albanian bases were looted, it was estimated that, on average, every male from the age of ten upwards possessed at least one firearm and ample ammunition.[20] In order to protect the civilians in north and central Albania, the government allowed civilians to arm themselves from government arms depots. During the rebellion 656,000 weapons of various types, along with 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition, 3.5 million hand grenades and one million land mines, were looted from army depots.[21]

At Selitë in Burrel, an explosion occurred at an arms depot on 29 April 1997 following a group of villagers breaking into the depot.[22] 22 of the 200 village residents died, most of the victims coming from the same family.[23]

International intervention

On 28 March the United Nations adopted Resolution 1101 for humanitarian aid to Albania, and on 15 April Operation Alba forces began to arrive, finally withdrawing on 12 August. About 7,000 soldiers in the multinational Italian-led UN mission came to Albania to restore order and rule of law. The first forces were deployed in Durrës. Normality first returned to Tirana. An element of the Operation Alba forces stayed in place, retraining the military to modern standards; this unit was joined from mid-May by members of WEU's Multinational Albanian Police element, doing the same with the police after restructuring the legislative base which caused the problem.

Snap elections

In the run-up to the 29 June snap election for Parliament, more than 60 people were killed. Socialist Party allies won the election, including in Tirana. Many members of the "Rescue Committee" stood for office, despite earlier promises to remain out of politics. The same election included a referendum on the form of governance. Republican government outpolled the monarchy by 65-35.

North-South conflict

One of the main themes of Western media and analysts during the March riots was the North-South division. Various newspapers and TV stations claimed that the rebellion was not just a showdown between the two main political forces but also a clash between the northerners (Ghegs) who supported Berisha and southerners (Tosk) who supported the Socialist Party.


Taking advantage of the difficult situations, criminal groups armed themselves and took control of entire cities. Most had been imprisoned in Greece, but suddenly escaped and returned to Albania. The most famous case is that of Zani Caushi, who escaped from the high-security prison of Larissa in February 1997 and, with a group of friends, established the gang of Çole in Vlora.

In Vlora five gangs were created, but two ruled the city: the gang of Zani and the gang of Gaxhai. Movement in the city started at 10:00, when people gathered in Flag's Square to hear the Committee of Rescue, and ended at 13:00. After that hour the streets were deserted and the only people who moved were gang members. Gangs announced through speakers and flyers that other people were not to go out as there would be fighting. Each night brought attacks with explosives and shooting, leaving dozens dead. In Berat Altin Dardha's rule was even more severe. In Lushnje Aldo Bare's gang had control. The worst crime that this gang committed was to behead an opponent. Cities ruled by gangs were Vlora, Berat, Tepelena, Memaliaj, Ballshi, Saranda, Gjirokastra, Lushnja, Pogradec, Cerrik and Tropoja.

Salvation Committees (Albanian: Komiteti i Shpëtimit Publik) were alleged criminal organizations set up during the rebellion in many regions, particularly the south. The committees de facto usurped the functions of the Albanian state.[24]



Money lenders in Vlora





Socialist victory and Berisha's fall

Massive gunfire in Tirana celebrated Berisha's resignation. The insurgency ended.


Damage from the rebellion was estimated at 200 million dollars and some 3700 to 5000 wounded. Lawsuits were filed against the bosses of the rogue firms. Various members of the government, including Safet Zhulali and Agim Shehu, were sentenced in absentia.

In elections in June and July 1997, Berisha and his party were voted out of power, and the left coalition headed by the Socialist Party won. The Socialist party elected Rexhep Meidani as President of the Albanian Republic. All UN forces left Albania by 11 August.

See also


  1. Albanian Parliamentary Elections in 1997
  3. Tayfur, M. Fatih (2003). Semiperipheral development and foreign policy : the cases of Greece and Spain. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-7546-1964-2.
  4. Merriman, John (2010). A history of modern Europe : from the Renaissance to the present (3rd ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. p. 1206. ISBN 978-0-393-93433-5.
  5. "Επιχειρήσεις στα Πλαίσια του NATO & της Ε.Ε. » Αλβανία". Hellenic Army General Staf. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  6. 1 2 Christopher Jarvis, The Rise and Fall of Albania's Pyramid Schemes, Finance & Development: A Quarterly Magazine of the IMF, March 2000.
  7. Crisis in Albania. Public Broadcasting Service
  8. 1 2 John Pike. "Albanian Civil War (1997)". Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  9. "Kosovo: Background to crisis (March 1999)". Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2010. Following the February/March 1997 looting of Albanian Army barracks and depots, weapons became even more readily available. The current price for a Kalashnikov is barely US$300, and the most conservative estimates of Albanians' stocks now start at 25,000 hidden AK assault rifles. Also available are anti-tank weapons, rifle and hand grenades and even small-calibre mortars and anti-aircraft guns.
  10. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. D. Rai*c (25 September 2002). Statehood and the Law of Self-Determination. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 69. ISBN 90-411-1890-X. An example of a situation which features aspects of anarchy rather than civil war is the case of Albania after the outbreak of chaos in 1997.
  12. John Pike. Albanian Civil War (1997). Global Security. These riots, and the state of anarchy which they caused, are known as the Albanian civil war of 1997
  13. Kosta Barjaba (2004). Albania's democratic elections, 1991-1997: analyses, documents and data. Edition Sigma. ISBN 978-3-89404-237-0. For a detailed chronological course of events in the Albanian civil war
  14. Gene Adcock (31 October 2012). CCT-The Eye of the Storm: Volume II – The GWOT Years. Author House. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-4772-6997-8. trapped by Albania's civil war
  15. Florian Bieber; Zidas Daskalovski (2 August 2004). Understanding the War in Kosovo. Routledge. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-135-76155-4. In early 1997, Albanian society was at the brink of collapse and only narrowly escaped civil war when pyramid investment schemes collapsed taking with them the savings of a majority of the already poor Albanian population
  16. Severin Kodderitzsch (1 January 1999). Reforms in Albanian Agriculture: Assessing a Sector in Transition. World Bank Publications. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8213-4429-3. No progress was made in structural reforms. In early 1997, Albania plunged into deep economic crisis. Rioting triggered by the collapse of the pyramid schemes intensified to near civil war, with government losing control over large parts of the country.
  17. Anthony Clunies Ross; Petar Sudar (1 January 1998). Albania's Economy in Transition and Turmoil, 1990-97. Ashgate. p. 241. ISBN 978-1-84014-563-2. ...first half of 1997 was not a civil war, its impact on production and trade might well have been similar.
  18. "On War article". On War article. 27 November 2003. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  19. Archived 23 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Profile of Albania
  21. UNDP, Albanian Human Development Report 1998. Tirana: United Nations Development Program, 1999.
  22. "No full confirmation on the number of the victims in Selite - Burrel". Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  23. "Explosion of army depot in Burrel kills 22". Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  24. "Albania 1997-1998 — Defence Academy of the United Kingdom". Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  25. , 15 Janar, 16 Janar
  26. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :15 Janar
  27. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :16 Janar
    • Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :18 Janar
  28. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :19 Janar
  29. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :20 Janar
  30. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :22 Janar
  31. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :23 Janar
  32. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :25 Janar
  33. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :26 Janar
  34. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :27 Janar
  35. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :29 Janar
  36. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :30 Janar
  37. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :31 Janar
  38. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :4 February
  39. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :6 February
  40. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :7 February
  41. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :8 February
  42. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :9 February
  43. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :10 February
  44. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :11 February
  45. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :12 February, 13 February
  46. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :13 February
  47. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :14 February
  48. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :17 February
  49. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :18 February
  50. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :20 February
  51. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :24 February
  52. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :26 February
  53. Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :28 February

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to 1997 rebellion in Albania.
  • Anarchy in Albania: Collapse of European Collective Security?
  • Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy”, Fred C. Abrahams, 2015, NYU Press
  • False Apocalypse: From Stalinism to Capitalism”, Fatos Lubonja, 2014, Istros Books
  • Rënia e Demokracisë”, Afrim Krasniqi, 1998, Eurorilindja (Albanian)
  • Shqipëria jashtë Veriut and Jugut”, Ibrahim Kelmendi, 1997, Zëri i Kosovës (Albanian)
  • Unë e pashë kush e dogji Vlorën”, Gëzim Zilja, 2000, Pelioni (Albanian)
  • Skaner 1997”, Gëzim Zilja (Albanian)
  • Kryengritje e tradhtuar”, Panajot Barka (Albanian)
  • Lufta jo civile”, Preç Zogaj (Albanian)
  • Humnerë ‘97”, Bashkim Fino (Albanian)
  • Viti ‘97, Prapaskenat e krizës që rrënuan shtetin”, Mero Baze, 2010, Toena (Albanian)

External links

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