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Albania: Is The Worst Over? An Analysis

By Ismet Hajdari and Breffni O'Rourke

Tirana, 12 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- With his naming of a new interim prime minister, Albania's President Sali Berisha doubtless hopes to have reached a turning point in the country's crisis.

In what is seen as a major concession, Berisha yesterday named Bashkim Fino, a member of the opposition Socialist party -- the former communists -- to head a temporary government to take Albania into fresh elections by June.

Talks are still being held on filling the other key posts in this government, which will contain representatives of all major parties. Fino has already been on national radio to appeal for reconciliation and dialogue with the armed rebels who have seized much of southern Albania.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Tirana says the real question now is whether the rebels will respect the consensus of the main political forces in the country and end their insurrection.

The appointment of Fino from the party which is Berisha's arch rival, is the latest in a series of concessions he has made in recent weeks, including the sacrifice of the government led by his own Democratic party. Our correspondent reports that as a result of all these concessions Berisha now has less room to manoeuvre as he seeks to weather the worst crisis in Albania since the fall of communism.

Italy has done some mediating between Tirana and the rebels, and rebel leaders have held talks on board the Italian frigate "San Giorgio" off the Albanian coast.

The rebel representatives from Vlore -- the city at the heart of the rebellion -- promised the Italian ambassador to Tirana, Paolo Foresti, they would lay down their arms on condition they receive guarantees that the agreement between Berisha and the ten opposition parties will be carried out correctly and quickly.

The question remains of how cohesive any reaction from the rebel movement can be, considering that almost the entire south coast is now under the control of numerous groupings. Citizens of the rebel towns and cities, emboldened by the possession of ample weapons, and encouraged by their success in clashes against the police and the army, might or might not pay any attention to what has happened in Tirana.

The crisis was sparked by the collapse of get-rich-quick investment schemes in which many Albanians lost their life savings. The obsessional dream of people in Albania is to acquire wealth overnight with the help of such dubious schemes.

This dream, though wildly unrealistic, is persistent among an impoverished people which lived for 50 years in one of the most notorious open prisons in Eastern Europe, no matter what political agreement the government and the opposition reach, nor how the regime appeals to the national conscience and state interests.

The "Washington Post" has quoted an Albanian teacher, 65-year-old Katerin Dhim Gjoka, as illustrating what the rebels usually think about the issue:

"Our demands remain the same when the new government comes. I don't care about the election, I don't care who is going to rule. I want peace, a better life and a lot of money," she said.

Meanwhile, the unrest continues in the south, with plundering and arson. And trouble is spreading for the first time to the north. Supporters of Berisha have reportedly been looting arms depots and are threatening to march to the capital to protect the president.