Albanian troubles expose north-south differences
March 11, 1997
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EST (0245 GMT)
From Correspondent Siobhan Darrow
VLORA, Albania (CNN) -- The people of Vlora, the southern
stronghold of Albania's rebellion, are trying to put their
revolt in order, inviting local police officers loyal to
their cause to help reign in the chaos.
The rebels, who have named themselves the Salvation
Committee, say they won't surrender to this government or any
other until their demands are met.
"We'll only find a solution to this problem when the main
issue, which is financial, is solved," said Alberto Bukir,
head of the Salvation Committee in Vlora. "All political
solutions are a bluff."
Government troops have dug in north of the Shkumbin River,
pulling back to the historic fault line dividing this river
country's two major ethnic groups: the Ghegs in the north and
the Tosks in the south.
Their differences threaten to split the country in two,
although neither group says it wants to fight the other.
Just across the Adriatic from Italy, Vlora has always been
more open to the outside than the more insular north. When
communism collapsed, not all those influences were good. Drug
trafficking and smuggling flourished in the town, and it
became known as Albania's crime capital.
Impatient to live the lives they now see via satellite
television, the wealthier Tosks were easy prey for
get-rich-quick pyramid schemes. They had more to lose when
those schemes collapsed.
And the man they blame, President Sali Berisha, is a Gheg
from the north.
"The Tosks provided the leaders of the Communist Party, and
the Ghegs felt they lost out in the competition for power,"
political analyst Mark Almond said.
That gap was something Berisha quickly made up for when he
came to office, filling security ministries and the
parliament forces with his northern brethren, and fueling
distrust in the south.
To an outsider, the whole country may look lost in a time
warp. But to the cosmopolitan Tosks in the south, the north
is a backwater. The Ghegs are mountain people still deeply
rooted to their traditions; they are more isolated and less
sophisticated than their southern neighbors.
But like the Tosks, the Ghegs say they don't want the current
civil strife to turn into a fight between the two groups.
"We haven't fought in the past," said one middle-aged man.
"We have been united and must stay that way. There are too
few of us Albanians."
Albania's Tosks and Ghegs have lived in relative harmony for
centuries. But with the country now practically split in
half, their differences could be exploited by parties
uninterested in peace.
Related sites:Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.