Today marks the 29 year anniversary since Albanian citizens rose up in a mass protest and toppled the statue of communist dictator Enver Hoxha.
Hoxha had died in April 1985 and was replaced by Ramiz Alia who gradually introduced reforms in an attempt to save the regime from collapse, and reopened diplomatic ties with some western countries. In January 1990, the first revolts against the regime started in Shkodra and from there they spread throughout other cities.
Then in December 1990, student demonstrations against the regime intensified and the Central Committee of the communist party allowed political pluralism for the first time in almost 50 years. The next day, on 12 December the Democratic Party was founded.
Despite the introduction of pluralism and the founding of an opposition party, some segments of society wanted to uphold communism and Enver Hoxha which caused a big divide. It was the toppling of the former dictator’s statue that marked the real end of communism and the start of a new era.
The statue stood in Skanderbeg Square and dominated its surroundings. Thousands of citizens had gathered in the centre of Tirana on 20 February 1991 where they threw stones at and scuffled with police, the authorities responding with tear gas. The sheer number of protesters vastly outnumbered the police and while they distracted them, students and workers started shaking the statue before crashing it to the ground and dragging it through the city to the Tirana University campus.
The Washington Post reported at the time that;
“Police initially fired warning shots and hurled smoke bombs, witnesses said. But some officers soon began embracing demonstrators and allowed them to move to the concrete base of the 30-foot statue of the former Stalinist leader.”
The fall of Hoxha’s statue was a moment of immense symbolic importance and heralded the start of a new era for Albania. The PD then came to power in 1992 after winning the election under the leadership of Sali Berisha.
The current leader of the PD Lulzim Basha gave a press conference today where he commended those who overcame the fears of communism to take the first step towards a free and democratic Albania. He added that Albanians still have the same goal as they did 29 years ago which is to make Albania part of Europe.
Genc Pollo, one of the founders of the PD said that today, Albanians are still fighting for rule of law, human rights and democracy due to the “rebirth of the regime”.
Prime Minister Edi Rama and Socialist Party MPs have not yet made any public comment on the anniversary of this prominent day for Albanian democracy.