Two days after crowds toppled the Hoxha statue, the defenders of Enver spoke. On February 22, 1991, cadets and officers at the Military Academy and the United Military School barricaded themselves in the academy building in Tirana’s center, demanding that Ramiz Alia, the new political parties and the ministers of interior and defense send representatives, along with the Albanian state television, to discuss Hoxha’s monumental fall and the state’s feckless defense. According to a secret report filed by Interior Minister Isai that day, the cadets and officers threatened to attack the state television if no one came to them by 4:00 p.m.
“They expressed deep concern for not defending the Hoxha statue,” Isai’s report said. “Who is responsible for that? What measures will be taken? They asked for the statue back…. The students are very irritated and, speaking about treason from above, placing into question even the President himself, if the leader ordered the defense of the statue, then who did not respect that order must be hanged.”[i]
Representatives from the Party of Labor and Democratic Party went to the military academy that afternoon, as did officials from the two ministries, the National Front and state television. The protesting soldiers formed a committee, which presented the group’s demands while cadets played Hoxha songs behind the building. Outside, Tirana residents built barricades with pieces of wood and metal bins to prevent the officers and cadets from leaving the academy.
The military favored democratization, pluralism and depoliticization of the army, the head of the committee said, but it could not support the looting, murders and other vandalistic acts that had been committed and, above all, the desecration of the monument.
“Enver Hoxha is the greatest historical figure of our country,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting published five years later in the Albanian press. For the sake of avoiding bloodshed, the soldiers wanted his statue returned.[ii]
The representative of the Democratic Party, Neritan Ceka, the archeologist who had helped avoid the previous day’s assault on the Block, responded that the military officers and cadets must respect the law rather than stage a coup. “We should bear in mind that, if there is any people in Europe going through this process with less pain, it is the Albanians,” Ceka said. “There is no political murder, no large political crimes, no major political objections, so do not make it so tragic.”
“We have the right to ask: Why was this done?” a committee member replied. “Why should Enver Hoxha be dragged through the streets of Tirana? He did not deserve that and he does not deserve it. People love him.”
Outside, the crowd of Tirana residents steadily grew, furious that someone might return the statue they had just destroyed. Police forces tried to disperse the crowd by shooting in the air, and the gunfire scared the cadets inside. They shot out the windows into the air. With bullets flying, four people died, including one member of the police.
The next day, angry citizens returned with Molotov cocktails, stones and metal rods. They cut the water and electricity to the building. Tired and thirsty, a group of military cadets rumbled out of the academy in a tank in search of water. With dynamite, someone blew a hole in the academy wall.
The protesting soldiers asked the DP for help. The DP dispatched Azem Hajdari and Aleksandër Meksi to calm the crowd, on the condition that the soldiers give up their fight. Faced with wild hordes threatening to storm the building and no support from Alia or the opposition, the Hoxha defenders agreed.
In retrospect, a pro-Hoxha coup had no chance. The protagonists were a small group of officers and cadets who lacked support in the military or police. The security forces remained under control — a benefit of Hoxha having boosted the party over all arms of the state. The military, and even the Sigurimi, were never a self-sustaining force. The Party of Labor had conservative elements, especially in the provinces, but they lacked the strength to mount a defense. “My power was not absolute in the dictatorial sense,” Alia told me. “But my personality in the leadership of the time was not in dispute.”
[i] “On Some Problems at the High United School of Officers–Enver Hoxha–and the Military Academy,” Report from Minister of Internal Affairs Hekuran Isai to Prime Minister Adil Çarçani, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Directorate I, Nr. 12/11, February 22, 1991.
[ii] “Attempts and Failure of the United Military School Coup d’Etat,” Aleanca, December 29, 1995.