Attempts and Failure of the United Military School Coup d’état, February 1991

An interview with Mr. Neritan Ceka, a protagonist in the events at the United Military School on February 22, 1991


December 29, 1995

Does history teach us?

Widely reported in the press covering the political situation, the coup attempt at the United Military School in February 1991 has remained a mystery, approached by justice only when required by politics.

But even in these cases, it was not that serious. It seems that “the coup d’état of the United Military School” counts more for political propaganda than for finding out what really happened and who was responsible for the confrontation of those days.

The main representative of the DP at that event was Mr. Neritan Ceka, who on behalf of the DP denounced the coup attempt at that place, where Enverist history was prevailing, and was asked to testify about that several months after the case was brought to court. “RD” journalist Genc Tirana, who reported on those events for the newspaper, was not asked to testify. Mr. Ceka was called in the General Prosecutor’s Office, where he testified. His testimony was also recorded on a cassette – he keeps it.

When considering this dangerous event, it is interesting to point out that neither then nor now have attempts been made to free the structures of Public Order, National Security and Army from politics, which verifies the pessimistic thesis that “history teaches nothing to nobody.”

“Several days ago you were called to the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office, where you were asked to testify about the events at the United Military School on February 22, 1991. How do you explain the delayed interest in justice for these events?

Bringing the organizers of the coup d’état of February 22, 1991 to the court was one of the main commitments of the DP to justice. Negligence regarding this commitment can be explained by the fact that those who have remained in the DP and who govern Albania today have had no time to keep the promise towards justice because they have considered doing justice against their former friends more important and honest than being guided by the law. Now that the responsible people for the coup d’état have left Albania, this investigation will be part of the propagandistic serial of coffees of the dictatorship.

How would you, as a witness but also as a protagonist of this event, politically consider February 22, 1991?

It was for sure one of the most dangerous days, which could have marked the beginning of a civil war in Albania. The fall of the statue of the dictator on February 20; the triumph of students’ hunger strike; and the prevention of the confrontation between the crowd and police forces, as well as with the Guard of the Republic at Lana Bridge on February 21, showed that the DP had the situation in the capital under full control. Under the pressure of these events, the Labor Party and Ramiz Alia were fully paralyzed and it became clear that the country would peacefully take part in the March 31 elections – the DP’s victory.

The most conservative forces of the Party of Labor dressed in military uniforms were mobilized against this prospective. An organizing commission headed by the officer Agim Bajraktari discharged the commander of the United Military School and the Military Academy on February 22, armed hundreds of students, sent and received delegates from the military units of Tirana and other districts, wrote an ultimatum and sent it to Ramiz Alia, RTV, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior, DP, etc. The essence of this ultimatum was to bring political life in the country under the control of the army. That commission also called the political parties and representatives of the government in a meeting at the United Military School premises with the presence of television. Mr. Agron Cika and I represented the DP in that meeting. We also took Abdi Baleta with us as the secretary of the Human Rights Forum. The Republicans did not come, while the counselor for the army at the Central Committee represented the Party of Labor. Present also were representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the National Front and the 15 members of the Organizing Commission.

Could you tell us how the meeting was?

The officers of the Organizing Commission, but also the representatives of the Party of Party, the National Front and the ministries who supported them, were very aggressive. They were also supported by the shouts of hundreds of armed students gathered in the square behind the school building. My main duty as DP representative was to denounce the so-called initiative as a military coup d’état and I did that. I asked for the disarmament of the students, while the command of the school and the units involved in this movement should obey the order of the Minister of Defense and the Commander General of the Army, who should commence their duties in compliance with the constitution. I was also against the demand to replace the statue of Enver Hoxha in the center of Tirana and to hold a referendum on his figure. By the end of the meeting, Abdi Baleta supported me by presenting the juridical arguments. So, the commission was paralyzed and the military officers’ goal to subdue the political forces failed in that meeting. Of course, the whole people, who was determined not to have a back-slide, supported our stand. Hundreds of people, upset that the military had decided to transport the statue of Enver Hoxha from the school to the center of the city, had gathered in front of the school building.

How did the skirmish at the United Military School begin?

While we were discussing, the forces of the notorious unit no. 326 shot in the air and attacked the people staying in front of the school building. This panicked the armed students, who began to shoot towards the windows of the flats nearby, injuring two people. Following that, police forces also panicked and they began to pursue the “dark forces,” propagandized by the Party of Labor and RTV for several months. The consequences were tragic: one policeman was accidentally killed by his friends; and two innocent citizens died. Some tens of citizens, among them the football referee Fiqiri Haxhiu, were arrested and cruelty beaten.

How did that event come to an end and who prevented its consequences?

The DP demonstrated balance and seriousness in that event. The following day, on February 24, hundreds of young people with bottles of diesel and dynamite besieged the school building and blocked Dibra Street. That scared the military and made them recover their professional consciousness. A delegation from the school command came to DP headquarters and a group of remarkable DP leaders, Azem Hajdari and Aleksander Meksi, were sent to calm the people, with the condition that the Organizing Military Commission be dissolved and the command of the school resume control.

Do you think that coup d’état at the United Military School was an isolated event or does it reflect a spiritual situation of the armed forces?

I should say that in the framework of the armed forces, the coup d’état was an isolated attempt, and this was one of the main reasons it failed. This coup d’état was not supported by the personnel of the Ministry of Defense or the commands of the main military units deployed near Tirana. However, nobody can say what would have happened if DP was not determined and if all people had not objected.

How do you consider that event now, four years after?

Personally, I feel I did a civil duty and I am convinced that most military taking part in the event got a very good lesson and they consider the relations between the army and politics differently. I would welcome the initiative of the Prosecutors’ Office to consider that event in two directions.

First, it is never late to find the guilty persons who encouraged and caused that event, where at least there were three casualties, and some others were wounded. This cannot be neglected.

The current military of Albania should also learn from this very good lesson. They should understand that their profession is related to the state and not to the power. In truly democratic countries the armed forces are depoliticized, and they obey only the constitution and law. The military remain in their positions regardless the change of powers and the parties having them.  Unfortunately, during the mandate of the Meksi government, there’s been a criminal attempt to politicize the armed forces. Certain segments of these forces are pursuing the opposition.

Five years ago, the Party of Labor and its Senior Secretary, who was also the Commander General of the Army, stigmatized the military by considering the DP as a dark force. In fact, now those officers have been brought to the court. Two weeks ago, the DP chairman Sali Berisha, who is also the Commander General, considered the leaders of the Democratic Alliance as enemies of democracy. While a year earlier the Minister of Defense, Safet Zhulali, asked the military forces to vote for the Commander General in the referendum. I hope that the police forces, National Information Service, and the armed forces will not respond to these appeals to be involved in a party or personal political issues. This is a proper and relevant lesson taught from the failed coup d’état at the United Military School.

Cassette of the meeting

“Bloodshed is a matter of hours unless we start …”

Agim Bajraktari, chairman of the Organising Commision speaks.

Now we have made a social appeal, considered reasonable, to set up an organizing group to command a crowd, which actually cannot be commanded either by political parties or the government. The reasons to set up this organizing group are: to command this crowd and that recently in our country many bad things, which people don’t want and which are not good for the nation, have been introduced. First of all this organizing group protects the interests of the people and the country. We are at the edge of a catastrophe. Here in this garrison besides the telegrams of solidarity from all the military schools and military units of Tirana we have also received other telegrams from Vlora, Gjirokastra, Tropoja and Tirana, from all the military units and they agree with this organizing group. There are some problems, which the organizing group would like to clarify. We, the organizing group, are for the democratization of the life in the country, for the pluralism, for joining Europe. But how will we join it? We don’t want to join it the way applied until now. We will take measures to join Europe according to a plan, not after five or ten years. An unsafe situation is created in the country: murders have been committed; different objects (buildings) have been destroyed; depots, and precious goods have been looted; and finally – the fall of the monument of Enver Hoxha in the center of the city. Enver Hoxha is the greatest historical figure of our country, who succeeded in realizing the biggest unification of our country, according to the left Dutch. For this reason we have stated in our program, which is distributed to all the organizations in the country, that we are for the de-politization of the army. We don’t want to belong to any party. We obey to the law, rules, and discipline. We want to join Europe without shedding blood. Now there is a problem: all the political parties have been distanced from the vandalistic actions. This number of people, as the history shows, can be big, but it can also be small. So far we have had no order from the Labor Party, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, we have not an order like that. We are unsatisfied with these bodies. We are unsatisfied with the President of the Republic. So we would appreciate if comrade President or other comrades working with him came here. We don’t want bloodsheds and we would like to join the European Union as all the parties declare. Who will keep the responsibility for all these vandalistic actions? I think that a national referendum should be developed for the figure of Enver Hoxha. To respect him as much as the people decides; as a historical figure, as the leader of the National Liberation War. We are not for policies of a year (short-term policies). The Labor Party should not also. Destruction of Enver Hoxha’s statues into pieces does not demonstrate any model of cultured people. Only the cannibals can behave like that. As we said above there are telegrams from Tropoja, Kukes, Peza, saying that depots have been looted and they had kept arms in hand, the same as in the United Military School and the Military Academy; let us arm the people. We implore all the leaders of the parties, organizations and state institutions to avoid the blood shed in our country. That is a matter of hours, unless we start an intensive commitment, come to the same opinion and prevent bloodshed. We, I mean the army, have completed our mission, we have obeyed to all the orders and we are very indignant; it’s about 8-9 months that we have constantly been insulted. As we have emphasized, we have sacrificed everything; our privileges, our youth and our lives to protect our country. For these reasons the people want us to react, if this is really the duty of the army. We have our complaints against the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense and we do not agree especially with the President regarding the events of yesterday. We will ask a confrontation with the president-the Ministry of Interior-the Ministry of Defense. Why is the people deceived? Why are laws enacted? Why are laws not enforced? Why is the army left in shadow? Now let us listen to the opinions of our comrades. We also have our complaints against the TV, which lately and more precisely yesterday did not present the situation in the whole Albania. Why is Tirana changed into a sinking ship? Why are the Albanian people suffering spiritually? In fact it is a matter of moments or hours and the war can start all over Albania. I don’t say that for panic or pressure. People will kill us, the government, the parties and everyone. Let’s not demonstrate a poor culture. We are in Europe; the greediness for power should not close our eyes. We respect the representatives of the political parties, but we didn’t appreciate Mr.Pashko’s statement in television, (maybe it is not the right moment), that the army destroys the ecology. I don’t know in what circumstances he said that, but the people listened to that, the army listened to that too. Now I have an idea, let all of us discuss, and reach a conclusion. We are for the elections to be held on March 31 and we should approach them without committing any murder. We do not want bloodshed. But we don’t also want our sisters and brothers not to be safe, so this is the reason we want to set up the organization, the organizing commission, not to have things like that. Let us please discuss now and let us make a common statement at the end.

“I would consider a coup d’etat any attempt to oppose the constitution.”

– Speech of Neritan Ceka, DP representative.

I think that before meeting the students we should resolve problems here. This is an initiative of the organizing group.  If this initiative has to do with what this comrade said, I think it does not comply with the appeal.

I think that first of all the duty of a military man is to obey to the constitution and the Commander General. If you ask us to come here, while your officers and students are armed, I think you do not obey the constitution, the people or the president. Albanian people have a very safe strong point here in Albania and that is the president, if he protects the constitution, and I think Ramiz Alia has so far protected that. Speaking also on behalf of DP I would consider a coup d’etat any attempt to oppose the constitution and Ramiz Alia. This should be clear and on behalf of the DP I firmly support this.

If you come here on behalf of an unrestrained crowd, as you already said, who do you represent than? If you represent the students outside, you have to come here with the authority of their opinions. So if you ask us to come here, than you should have also authority on those people. Do not ask us to confront those people, if you have not clarified your ideas. I think that most of the ideas presented here are right. Your concern is right and I agree that our army and our military students have a heart beating for their people under their military coats. We should all accept that. On the other hand I think that the situation presented as tragic, in fact is not. Listen, Albania is going towards democracy and it is not a process without pains and losses. We should bear in mind that if there is any people in Europe going through this process with less pains, that is Albania. There is no political murder; no big political crimes; no big political objections; so do not make it that tragic. Generally we all agree to develop democracy. Ask some of your students to leave the arms and have a walk in the streets of Tirana and they will see that Tirana is calm. (Don’t interrupt me please.) Police forces have the situation in Tirana under control, and this is due to the consensus of the whole people, not the parties, (the parties may say something today, and something else next day). They have it under control, because people’s desire and the desires of everyone here is to join Europe, so to join where we really belong to, because we actually are in Europe. The most vital issues of our era (country) are democratically resolved. We cannot exclude excesses, but we cannot stop the march to democracy. This should be clear. The historical figures cannot be established or removed by a referendum. I say it would be wrong to urge our people to decide on that until the deadline you suggested, it would not serve to the nation. He has his place in the history, and I think that if one of the alternatives won 60% and the other 40%, we would not allow this 40% to have their own opinion. Hence, let us not exaggerate things. Let us not confuse the democratic movement with the excesses and the people who pretend to be democrat, but who in fact are pseudo-democrats.

I think if we do something like that, we would make a mistake. It is not our right to evaluate the figure of Enver Hoxha in a referendum. The history does not allow us. The main request stated here I think is to free the army from politics, not simply from parties. There should be no party organizations within the army, either Democratic Party, or Ecologic Party or Labor Party. This request will be covered in the constitution, but policy should also be taken out of army texts, walls, etc. this does not mean that the de-politicized soldiers and officers will become machine. He is a man and he will not be excluded from the political life, but when he is in a military uniform and when he has the arm in hands, he has to obey to the constitution, the supreme law and the Commander General. He has to obey to him. If we say, we will do what the nation asks us to, we should start now. We have to be free from politics since this moment. You require de-politicization, but on the other hand you want to impose yourselves to the president; you want to impose to the police forces and I think the police forces have been very serious and correct. They have won the sympathy of not only the parties, but also of people. (Voices.) I am expressing my opinion; you may express yours. We should not accompany your soldiers to Skanderbeg Square and restore order. The order is restored, when the law, the constitution and the president are respected. We all agree on that. Who does not obey to the president, violates the law and if we violate the law, there is no March 31.

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About Fred Abrahams

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

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