27 Years Ago, Albanian Students Challenged Communism and Fought for Liberty
Almost three decades ago, on 8th December 1990 student protests and the pro-liberty movement in Albania played a crucial role in the collapse of Eastern Europe’s most closed and rigid communist regime. As a result of days of demonstrations in the so-called student city of Tirana and the official requests made by the students to the communist bureau and especially to Labour Party’s leader at that time, Ramiz Alia this culminated in the legalisation of the pluralistic democratic political system in the country.
The student city is located in a low hill in the southeast of the city and back in 1990, the communist era regime controlled most aspects of Albanian political life. In the autumn of that year, the students briefly took charge of the student city and rattled the regime.
The catalyst was the decision made to postpone the start of classes for two weeks. The government claimed that there were some buildings which needed repair, but students understood that this might have been government trickery.
The French and Italian embassy was situated close to the student city and the Communist elite feared another siege was likely, such as in July 1990, where the diplomatic headquarters had been stormed by people and students. When classes did begin, labour party functionaries condemned ‘the vagabonds’ and they urged them to respect the law because, as they claimed, the Party of Labour was becoming democratic. Despite the continuous propaganda, the students rejected the claims and Albanians themselves began to dictate the pace of change. In his visit to the Academy of Arts, the Minister of the Interior faced sharp questions by students regarding free speech and the ban on modern art.
This was a year in which students watched the dramatic changes in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and even Romania and they hoped that their party leader Ramiz Alia would follow the path of these countries but they started running short on patience. It was a situation where certain things were heading towards change, such as the issuance of travel passports yet still, those attempting to cross the borders were shot. Furthermore, topics that were considered taboo for that communist-era time appeared in the state-owned press. Alia claimed that any deviation from the party’s political and ideological line would not be accepted and demanded respect of that line.
There were a lot of students coming from other cities including Shkoder and Kavaja. They had already watched the first protests in other European cities and they brought that energy to Tirana because they were convinced that Albania had to change.
Winter was getting closer and the students grew cold and upset. The student city and Enver Hoxha University had broken windows, no heat, sporadic water, and no electricity supply much of the time. In mid-October, there were some students who refused to eat the food which was served to them at the university cafeteria. After a few days, someone taped a hand-written appeal to the wall: ‘The food is bad! Do you agree?’. This act represented a small act of rebellion and protest but it was an important and significant step in a place where everyone was afraid and censored themselves. In the following days, a group of students and professors formed the so-called ‘Organisation of Students and Young Intellectuals’, where they had already begun to discuss, in the previous spring, the difficult living conditions and their desired political reforms. For the first time, abstract notions and goals such as ‘Change’, ‘Freedom’, and ‘Democracy’ emerged for the first time, as can be expected whilst living under a cruel dictatorship.
Some of the students cherished these political goals but there were also some personal dreams within many students aside from the political goals in which they dreamed of blue jeans, rock music and to one day potentially travel abroad.
In November, some of the faculties wrote letters to party leader Ramiz Alia and his government for substantial political reforms in the country. There were also letters sent to political executives of the regime by the students complaining about economic and educational conditions at their faculties.
Shivering and mad, the electrical engineering students built heating coils out of bed springs to warm their rooms. The devices constrained the transformer that supplied the dormitories; the transformer broke down and the lights went out. As a consequence, in the cover of darkness, voices sprang from the balconies: ‘Freedom!’, ‘We want Democracy!’. Students banged on the heating pipes.
The 8th of December, 1990 was a very important day in the history of Albania, as it stands for the establishment of freedom, liberty, and democracy in the country. It perverted the myth of dictatorship and founded the fairytale of freedom and liberty based on courage and energy from the students under the leadership of Azem Hajdari. Together they had shaken one of the cruelest communist dictatorships in the world and accelerated their history. There was proclaimed political pluralism and the establishment of the democratic party of Albania, the first opposition party in 46 years of the one-party system. The 8th of December has been announced as an official holiday by the Albanian Parliament in 2009 and is known as the National Youth Day.
After so many years of transition in Albanian society, the values of that glorious December and its ideals for which Students For Liberty and freedom stand for were realised. They hoped for a better tomorrow for all Albanians on route to European integration and as their slogan was ‘we want Albania like Europe of freedom and economic prosperity and no more Communism’, these remain, today’s ideals, where there should be students again who have to fight for the desired liberty and prosperity within their societies. Even more in the Albania of today, where despite the progress which is made so far, there is more and more to be done in respect to political and economic freedom, fight against corruption and criminality and build a freer society for the generations to come.
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