Arben Sulo: December 1990 According to Me

Albania Newspaper

December 3, 2010

The student of December 1990, Arben Sulo, explains the history of his contributions to the movement of that year that would bring social change to Albania. He explains for the first time, and he sounds disappointed by developments on the political scene. Sulo talks about December 8, how he and two other people were arrested. He describes how it was decided to resist on December 9 and who the first professors and intellectuals were to express their support for the students to meet Ramiz Alia, why he gave his position to Pandeli Majko, even though he was not from his faculty, and why he regretted this decision later because Majko did not talk during the first meeting on December 11, 1990.

What is the open letter that you students sent to Prime Minister Adil  Çarçani at the end of the year 1990, exactly before the start of the protests?

An important step by our faculty was an open letter directed to Prime Minister Adil Çaçani at the start of the academic year. In that letter, requests were made to improve the living conditions and, at the same time, to democratize academic life. I am not really sure who was the first one to think of that letter, but I believe the idea came from Pandeli Majko, who at that time was the secretary of the college youth. It was written in collaboration with the students of the 5th year of electrical engineering. This letter was a sensation and put into motion the governmental and party’s structures of that time. Some days before the celebration of November 28 and 29 1990, I was able to enable a partial strike of the faculty of electrical engineering with students from the second, fourth and fifth years, as a symbol of protest against the failure to provide the necessary living conditions for students. It was the first strike of this kind in a college. On the evening of December 8, 1990, I organized a meeting with the electrical and electrical engineering students in a building, where we informed the students that the conditions were not fully accepted. Events happened faster than we could imagine, reaching the highest level that night, December 8, 1990, with the students’ demonstration, where again our group was active.

On the night of December 8, the students protested, which made possible the first meeting with Ramiz Alia, so the students were not looking for the prime minister but for the president himself to hear their voice. What did you think these actions would make possible?

I did not have any clear ideas about the path and the development of the protest; it was spontaneous and I had not planned for a demonstration, I am always saying, according to me. I was near to Azem Hajdari when he climbed the bench and said more or less these words: “I have a son, who if I am killed will avenge my death.” From that moment, I always supported Azem – that night and also in the demonstration of December 9 where we were supported by Arben Lika. But there were other active students such as: Akil Fundo, Arjanit Nika, Alma Bendo, Abdyl Demirazi, Niko Kaciroti, Moza Ferraj, Ilir Dizdari, Shpetim Shkurti, Spiro Curra, Tan Asllani, Pal Serreqi, Dritan Shtylla, Agim Hasa, Renato Ndrecka, Ilirjan Paco, and many more.

Who do you remember at the protest?

I remember that Skënder Gjinushi came, who was the minister of education, and Lisen Bashkurti, the first secretary of the youth organization. They came to convince us to go back. I can remember an episode when Alma Bendo, a girl from Vlora, who had come to the protest in her pajamas, as she had been in her room, said something abrupt to Gjinushi like “Go away, you dog.” Pirro Kondi, the secretary of the Party of Labor of Albania for Tirana came. I can remember that from that moment they began to sing patriotic songs such as “For the Homeland.” The situation at the protest was getting more serious because the students began to chant different slogans.  Hekuran Isai, the interior minister, came later with a large four-wheeled car. Isai came out from the road where the group of students and police were, exactly where the road that leads to Student City meets the road that leads to the Artistic Lyceum.

How were you able to meet Ramiz Alia?

After they stopped us and did not succeed to make us go back, they communicated with Ramiz Alia. He agreed to see one of our representatives. It was around 11 to 12 p.m. Thirteen of the most active students were chosen to see the president. It was decided that the meeting would be in the central building of the university. The names that I can remember are: Azem Hajdari, Arben Lika, a Shpetim, Tan Asllani, and some other students. Azem told the students who were there that if he did not come back in three quarters of an hour that would mean that they had been arrested. We began walking from the road that led to the Artistic Lyceum and we went on foot towards the building of the main campus. On that road, troops of the special police were lined up, watching us closely. We arrived and they led us to classroom 209 of the Mechanical and Electrical Faculty. Initially, Xhelil Gjoni came and asked about something and we responded that we just wanted to see the president. He answered that “Comrade Ramiz was coming.” When Ramiz arrived, I remember that he sat in front of me, and he did not appear enthusiastic about meeting at that time. I remember that Azem was the first one who talked and said that the students wanted to talk to him. Ramiz responded that we the representatives had no mandate to speak in the name of the others, so he had to meet the students for economic requests. I answered that it was true that he had seen students, but they were not selected from the faculty or the large crowd of students. Before going on, he said that he agreed that this time the students could select their representatives. The meeting did not last long. I remember that Arben Lika and Arjan Nika said something and maybe even the others. As a conclusion, Ramiz agreed to see representatives of the students.

Although you met Ramiz Alia, violence was inflicted on you with the excuse of a stolen gun. Do you remember that moment and where did you end up?

After the meeting, we went towards Student City, where the crowd of students was. When we arrived there, we tried to explain to the students what we had agreed. I remember that Azem took a megaphone and he was talking to the students. At that moment, the “incident” with the stolen gun of an officer who was in the first row happened. I was close by when he said: “they are taking my gun.” I said: “go away from there because there is no need to keep the students.” I am convinced that the incident was invented, but at that time the command was given to shoot the students. The violence of the rubber batons broke out. The crowd retreated and began to scatter. Because some other people and I came from the Artistic Lyceum, after the meeting with Ramiz Alia, we were very close to the incident, but on the other side of the fence. It was good that in the first moment they did not hit us on our heads with the rubber batons but, on the other hand, I and two other people were arrested. One policeman grabbed my belt and pushed me violently in a van. The same thing happened to the two others. I think that one of them was from Pogradec and the other from Vlora , but I cannot remember their names. Two policemen, thirsty to use violence, got into our car.

Did they use violence on you?

No, because I immediately told them that we just had finished a meeting with President Alia, and that we had another meeting tomorrow and that if they were to inflict more violence on us, we would tell the president that the police had beaten us. Then they asked us “you met Comrade Ramiz, how did he treat you?” “Very well.” I answered. ”And he hugged us at the end of the meeting.” I saved myself from the kicks and punches that I might have gotten. From there they brought us to police station number 1, where they took our personal information and left us in a hallway, if I am not mistaken. After more than one hour, they let us go without asking any questions. We went to Student City and I saw that in the avenue, today the “Democracy“ avenue, there was a  group of students, among then Azem, Ben Lika, and some others that I knew. The ones that knew me were worried and Ben Lika said that he had screamed and pressured Hekuran Isai about the violence and arrests, which violated the agreement with Ramiz Alia. It was cold, a lot of the students had not had dinner, they had been beaten and offended, but all of us were more resolute than before to continue the protest. I remember than someone read a Declaration of Human Rights there in the cafeteria stairs. That group was the nucleus that kept the flame of that night alive, and that decided to make the big demonstration on December 9. That night, Azem Hajdari was chosen as head of the students’ group. Around 2-3 a.m., we began scattering into the buildings, agreeing to meet around 7 to decide what we would do.

What happened on December 9, 1990?

In the morning around 7 or 8 a.m., we met in front of the cafeteria, today the “Democracy” avenue. Even though it was Sunday, it was a school day because the day off on December 30 had to be covered. A lot of students were going to school, and that is why the first thing that we did was the return of the students who wanted to go to classes. During that morning, a commission was selected to decide and coordinate the movement. There it was said that Azem should not stay in the first row and that he had to be protected because was the most exposed person in this protest. Around 10 we began gathering to march to Tirana. When we began walking from Student City, somewhere up towards the city library, Arben Lika says to me: “Ben, put your arm around Azem because they want to kill him…” We, the two Bens, stayed on both sides of Azem. Near the Artistic Lyceum was the row of special forces, who blocked our way. An officer, who was wearing civilian clothes and had a radio in his hands, was on the other side of the Lyceum sidewalk. He left the others and came toward Azem. A person who I think was named Rrema called the officer to go back and he related that to the Kosova case. We learned that he was a close cousin of Azem. Azem replied that he would not go back.

When did the violence start that day?

It started at the moment when the armed forces of the police managed to convince us to go back to Student City. At that moment, the violence started and the demonstrators scattered. A lot of people were injured, and I remember one who was bleeding, Agim Hasa, student of the 5th year of electrical engineering, and others who were arrested; for example, Adi Petrollari.

From December 9 to December 10 a complete vacuum was created. From the sensational events of Sunday on the 9th, nothing was happening on December 10th, and furthermore you lacked support. When did it come and who where the first ones to support you?

I will begin from the end of the question. On the morning of December 9, Gramoz Pashko came to support us. He met some of his students. Immediately after the scattering of the  students of the demonstration, in the evening of the same day, Sali Berisha with Kujtim Çashku and Besnik Mustafaj came to Student City, and on December 10t Arben Imami, who was a professor at the Academy of Arts, came. Imami talked to the students in the cafeteria where they had gathered, while more professors approached us in a direct or indirect way. After the demonstration, on the evening of December 9, the students gathered again and the commission that would plan the students’ demands was created. On December 10, we learned that Ramiz Alia would meet a delegation of the students. It was decided to elect a delegation of 50 students from each faculty. This number was reduced at the request of Alia. At the same time, December 10,Akil Fundo, Niko Kaciroti and Tefalin Maleshyti were charged to write out our final demands.

How many demands were there and what did they contain?

There were 11 demands, including the creation of a joint commission with students and doctors to investigate the violence that had been inflicted on the students, the denunciation of Hekuran Isai as directly responsible for the violence towards the students and also of  Lenka Çuko, who I think had spoken harshly with the students. Another demand was the creation of the initial committee to mobilize the resources of the government and the best human resources to save the country from the economic crisis. The fourth demand, but the main one, was the demand for political pluralism.

How were the students elected to go to the meeting with Ramiz Alia?

I took part in the election at the electrical engineering faculty. They were regular democratic elections. The idea of the election of the delegates was to select the best speakers who could debate with Ramiz Alia to ask for political pluralism with resolve and to argue for the demand. My name was mentioned along with other candidates in the meeting. With Petrit Beqiri’s insistence, our faculty friend, who had contributed a lot to the open letter addressed to Çarçani, we gave the position to Pandeli Majko. The reason was simple: he had come up with the idea of the open letter, that is why we wanted him to represent us in the meeting with Ramiz Alia and the other reason was that Pandi had not been elected by mechanical engineering, of which he was a part, and because he wanted to be part of the meeting no matter what, we selected him. In the same manner, a position was given to Arben Demeti, our former professor, who was very exposed when he threw out his membership card in the Party of Labor. Later I regretted not going to the meeting when I heard how the conversation had gone. Once I said to Pandi Majko: “I gave you my place to debate with the president but you did not talk at all.” He told me that “Shinasi Rama prevented me from the start of the meeting.”

Your name is in the list of the founders of the Democratic Party and you were one of those who collected the signatures to make this party official. How did you fill out the forms and were the people scared?

We needed 300 signatures to give the Ministry of Justice, and initially it was not easy. There were people who had participated or supported our protest, but when it came to sign or put down their passport number, they withdrew for different reasons. Their reasons were, “I am a supporter, but I do not want to be a member of the party.” I believe that they are people who participated in the second meeting with Ramiz Alia to request political pluralism and the creation of a party, but they did not join the party. I have noticed that some are absent, but I am sure that is because I took their signatures. I remember because they were my relatives, such as Alma Dajani, and I took her signature with Dritan Kociu, but her name could not be found.

Did you participate in the meeting where the initiating committee was selected for the creation of the Democratic Party, and who were the members selected?

The day of the creation of the Democratic Party is December 12, 1990.  They met in Gramoz Pashko’s house, with Sali Berisha himself, Arben Imami, Genc Ruli, Alexander Meksi. From the students there were just Azem Hajdari and Shinasi Rama. There they processed the minimal program of the Democratic Party, which Imami brought to Student City and read to us. It gave two alternatives for the name for the party, from which the name “Democratic Party” was selected by the cheering of the crowd. The next day, December 13, a meeting was held for the selection of the Democratic Party initiating committee.

What is your contribution for the Democratic Party?

I contributed with the collection of the signatures necessary for the legalization of the Democratic Party. Later, I created a section of the Democratic Party at the electrical engineering faculty, a section with more than 100 members. I have been to Elbasan with Dritan Kociu, who was from that city, and we came to talk about the Democratic Party and its program. In the city of Lushnja, I organized a meeting to support the party. I learned that Azem had talked to the activists of Lushnja  and had set a date for the meeting without consulting anybody, with that euphoria and impulsivity that characterized him. I was a member of the commission, and they had assigned me to take care of the city of Lushnja. When I learned that, I was alarmed, and I discussed this case in the commission. I talked to Sali Berisha, Gramoz Pashko and the others and I told to them that the rally had to be postponed. But they told me that the people in Lushnja already knew about it, so they gave me the duty to go to the city where the rally was organized. I left that night in a Vlora car, in which Afrim, Kreshnik Cipi and Alfred Zijai were travelling; they had come to the Democratic Party for the preparation of the Vlora rally, which would be in a few days. During that night, we gathered in Kujtim Gina’s house, and we called all those people who were supporting us or who had influence. The next day, the new branch of interior affairs was opened – we had permission for the rally after great insistence and pressure, although the law required that the permission had to be taken some days before a rally. After lunch we held the rally, which was successful. Later, I participated in the creation of the Democratic Party’s branch in Lushnja.

What recognition did you get for this contribution given in 1990 and 1991 and how did you end up in Italy?

Although we were young, some of us demonstrated a lot of abilities in the organizational work and for a short time we could be valuable. I am sorry that these abilities were underestimated, mostly by some “known” intellectuals who arrived later, and who not only moved us aside but also did not give something to the party. While I went to Italy, I went in April 1991, from December to January, for which we are talking; we also had other changes that are not a topic of this interview. To mention them briefly, I can say that in February 1991 came the second student movement, which culminated with a hunger strike, which was successful. At that time, in the organization of the Democratic Party we passed from the initial committee to the steering committee, and my place and the place of other students was taken by intellectuals such as Neritan Ceka, Shahim Kadare, and others. We had the first pluralist elections and the Shkodër massacre happened on April 2, where our friend, the student Arben Broci, was killed. On April 13, 1991 I went to Italy with a group of students of the movement, with the visas that Shinasi Rama provided in private ways. There, taking into consideration the fact that the university was closed, the Democratic Party was showing little interest in the initiatives of the students, the elections of March 1991 ended with the victory of the Party of Labor of Albania, and the battle and the struggle gave way to parliamentarian life, I decided to stay in Italy.

Were you conscious then that the events in which you participated would bring the change that they brought? Do you think now that some events were even invented to highlight the importance of some people who had nothing to do with the movement?

In the beginning, I began contributing to change something, without imagining to what extent it would change. With regards to your second question, from the way I have analyzed it, along with a lot of my friends, I have the conviction that there even were manipulated, prepared events. However, I think that the student movement does not fade but is an illuminated page of the modern history of our people. It is to pity that it is ignored in the history textbooks and only December 8 is remembered.

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About Fred Abrahams

Author of Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy (NYU Press, 2015)

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