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Western Press Review: Albania's Sparks Turn to Flame

  • Don Hill

Prague, 3 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary has neglected Albania in recent weeks as the tiny Balkan nation's scandal-struck sparks glowed ever brighter. Over the weekend, the sparks burst into flame and press commentary snapped to attention.

"Europe's poorest country is aflame," says "The London Times" in an editorial today. Richard Owen writes in a news analysis in the same newspaper: "The worst nightmare of (Albanian) President (Sali) Berisha was realized at the weekend." In an analysis today in "The London Independent," Andrew Gumbel writes: "Southern Albania was in anarchy last night." From Tirana, Richard Owen says in a news analysis in "The London Times": "Albania was close to collapse yesterday." "The New York Times'" Jane Perlez writes today in a news analysis from Tirana: "Anarchy (has) engulfed Europe's poorest and now angriest country."

LONDON TIMES: If former communists triumph, the West may regret its nonchalance

In its editorial, the paper goes on: "Albania's friends have been slow to realize the danger. Aid has been niggardly. The Italians and others have not done enough to curb the infiltration of the Mafia. And Europe, which virtually forgot the small nation during its self-imposed isolation, has concentrated on other Balkan disasters. If Mr. Berisha is engulfed by the chaos, and the opposition Democratic Forum -- controlled by the former communists -- triumphs, the West may regret its nonchalance."

LONDON TIMES: A protest over lost savings has become an armed revolt

Richard Owen's analysis continues: "The impoverished and backward people who once applauded (Berisha) as the slayer of communist despotism and builder of a better future took up arms and turned on him, setting one of his summer palaces on fire and calling for his blood. What began two months ago as a protest over savings lost in fraudulent pyramid schemes became an armed revolt to topple him from power, five years after he ousted the detested and discredited communists."

NEW YORK TIMES: It's unclear whether Berisha will be able to crush the rebellion

Perez continues in her analysis: "The state of emergency, which bans people from gathering in groups of more than four and authorizes all force by the army, police and secret police, was seen as a last-ditch gamble by the widely unpopular president, Sali Berisha, a former ranking member of one of communism's most isolated and hard-line parties."

Perlez writes: "It was unclear whether Berisha, who warned in a televised address (last) night that an iron hand would be used to end violence, would be able to crush the rebellion, which was set off by the collapse of fraudulent financial schemes in which many Albanians lost all their savings."

The writer says: "For both the United States and Europe, an Albania out of control means more than the country's population of 3.2 million and backward economy might initially suggest. European nations, particularly nearby Greece and Italy, fear a repeat of the large exodus of Albanian refugees who fled in 1991 after the collapse of communism. For Washington, Albania is considered vital to the stability of the volatile Balkans."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Albania traded the communist illusion for the illusion of life as a lottery

Jacques Rupnik, director of research at the Center for International Studies in Paris, comments today: "We're seeing another example of a new Balkan democracy threatening to collapse because it lacks the political foundations and understanding to assimilate quickly Western-style politics and a market economy. Just as in Bulgaria and in Serbia, the government is being challenged by people in the street."

Rupnik says: "The dispute reveals the illusions there about capitalism, involving work and savings and a limited role for government, and the tendency of people in power to think that everything belongs to them. Albania, you could say, traded the communist illusion for another illusion, of life as a lottery."


NEW YORK TIMES: Where civil servants in head scarves mean the end of the world

Analyzing recent events in Turkey, Stephen Kinzer wrote yesterday: "Angered by what it views as efforts to impose a form of religious fundamentalism in Turkey, the military command (in Ankara) has issued a sharp reprimand to the Islamic-led government.

Kinzer wrote: "(Prime Minister Necmettin) Erbakan and leaders of his Welfare Party say the army is overreacting to what are in fact only very marginal policy changes that pose no threat to secularism in Turkey. For example, they say, their proposal to allow female civil servants to wear Muslim head scarves is simply an effort to permit more freedom of choice. But military officers, who view themselves as the principal guardians of Turkish secularism, see it quite differently. At a reception last week, a well-connected colonel was asked, 'Is it really the end of the world if civil servants begin wearing head scarves?' After a pause, the colonel replied gravely: 'Yes. It is the end of the world.' "

FINANCIAL TIMES: Tehran's ambassador was expelled for calling for an Islamic republic

In today's issue of the British newspaper, John Barham writes from Ankara in a news analysis: "Mr. Erbakan's attempts to strengthen ties with Islamic states, notably Iran, has received a sharp setback.The strongly secularist foreign ministry expelled Tehran's Ambassador Mohammad Reza Bagheri for a speech in Sincan supporting calls for an Islamic republic in Turkey. Turkey's deputy chief of staff further soured relations by describing Iran as a terrorist state that supports the separatists Kurdistan Workers party."

WASHINGTON POST: Turkey will re-evaluate its future if the EU's "Christian Club" turns its back

In the paper yesterday, Thomas W. Lippman wrote: "All the anxieties that have clouded the crucial strategic relationship between the United States and Turkey since an Islamic-oriented government came to power there were on display in Washington a week ago through Abdullah Gul. The highest-ranking emissary of the government headed by Necmettin Erbakan to visit here, Gul told U.S. officials and others a lot of what they wanted to hear -- but he also said a lot of things guaranteed to make Washington nervous.

"For example, Gul stressed Turkey's tradition of secular government and its allegiance to Western ideals, but also emphasized the importance of Turkey's growing economic ties to Iran. He insisted Turkey's future lies with Europe, but hinted ominously at a re-evaluation if what he called the Christian Club of the European Union turns its back on Turkey."