Albania celebrates 25th anniversary of the student movement and remembers Azem Hajdari
Tirana, Albania: The United States has congratulated Albanians on National Youth Day of Albania as this day is being celebrated for defeating communism in the world.
This National Youth Day marks the 25th anniversary of the student movement that led to the fall of communism on December 8, 1990.
This historic transition was championed by the brave leaders of the student movement, bolstered by the regular citizens who marched and demonstrated against the dictatorship, and aided by the courageous former party members who assisted in establishing popular rule. Today, Albania is a dedicated NATO Ally contributing to international peace and security along with United States.
Albania is also on the path toward full Euro-Atlantic integration, making necessary reforms to strengthen its democratic institutions and develop a competitive free-market economy.
Autumn of 1990 jolted the communist-era when commotion began in Tirana University and authorities. Students wanted democracy in the country and were observing developments and the dramatic changes in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Romania. Change was written on the wall but sitting communist party was not ready to offer democratic relief to people of Albania. A movement for democratic Eastern Europe was rising while situation in state run educational institutions was becoming worse with every passing day. Government was not providing decent living standards in educational institutions. Winter was unbearable and Enver Hoxha University and Student City had broken windows, no heat and electricity cuts. Shivering and mad, the electrical engineering students built heating coils out of bedsprings to warm their rooms. The devices strained the transformer that supplied the dormitories; the transformer frequently blew and the lights went out. In the cover of darkness, voices sprang from the balconies: “Freedom!” “We Want Democracy!” Students banged on the heating pipes. Music students answered from other dormitories with a chorus of horns.
In mid-October, some students refused to eat the deplorable food at the cafeteria. Two days later, someone taped a hand-written appeal to the wall: “The food is bad! Do you agree?” and this question was the beginning of a student revolution.
A group of students and young professors developed what they called the Organization of Students and Young Intellectuals. It had begun cautiously the previous spring to discuss the difficult living conditions and political reform. Abstract goals emerged, such as “change,” “freedom” and “democracy.”
In November some of the faculties wrote letters to Ramiz Alia (last Communist leader of Albania from 1985 to 1991) and the government, asking for reform. The communist youth organization from the mechanical engineering faculty requested a meeting with Prime Minister Çarçani and complained about economic conditions at the university.
In Tirana, it rained on Saturday, December 8, 1990. Around 3:00 p.m., Prime Minister Çarçani came to Student City unannounced while the students sat in class, together with the ministers of education and construction, allegedly to inspect the renovated buildings. The students wanted to meet the prime minister, and 400 of them gathered in a hall to present their views. They spoke respectfully to Çarçani but asked for better conditions.
That night around 8:00 p.m., the lights went out–again. A small group of mostly engineering students gathered at the transformer to complain. Together they chanted and sang an old patriotic song, “Eja mblidhuni këtu, këtu…”–“Come and gather here, here…”—
Fred Abrahams who had been Special Advisor for Human Rights Watch writes in his article that was published in Huffington Post:
It remains unclear why the lights went out. Some former students say they died from excessive demand, as happened many nights. Others say students threw a cable or metal coil into the transformer, eager to blow the lights and draw a crowd. Maybe foreign governments encouraged some students to sabotage the lights and start a revolt, as they had pushed people to enter the embassies five months before. Yet others believe the Albanian government had a hand, sending agents to provoke a crowd that it could then control.
A reconstruction of events suggests that all these theories have their place. Without doubt, the students were ready to move. Some of the protesters that night believed in pushing change, and they used the darkness to incite. It is also likely that western governments encouraged the students to revolt. While none of the former student leaders I interviewed provided facts, and they all denied having contact themselves, many admitted that various secret services were active in Albania during those days. In addition, the Albanian government probably placed trusted students among the group to steer events in a direction it liked. And many of these plots melted and merged over time. Power corrupted honest students. Government plants turned against their masters. There were games and double-games as people aligned and realigned themselves in a chaotic and fast-changing scene.
Regardless of the blackout’s cause, between fifty and one hundred chanting students drifted towards the open space in the center of Student City. The other dormitories had lights, and the group called on supporters to extinguish them in solidarity. “Every light out was a great joy,” said one of the student leaders, Arben Lika, as he walked me down the route taken that night, recalling the event with pride.
The students walked past building 14 and there, standing on a low concrete bench, stood a husky young man with wavy brown hair and a shiny black leather jacket, exhorting the students to march. The students thought he was a government provocateur, but then they heard him speak. “I have two children,” the man yelled. “But I swear I am with you!”
The man was Azem Hajdari, a twenty-seven-year-old philosophy student from Tropoja in the North, who would soon become the most powerful student leader and eventually the head of Albania’s first opposition party. A courageous hero to his fans, a thuggish spy to his detractors, he played an important and controversial role until his assassination in 1998. Albania as a nation will always remembers Azem Hajdari who stood against dictatorial era and ruthless power.