The 1997 riots in Albania

During the first months of 1997 a violent protest rise up in Albania. People are protesting against the government of the country, guilty of the collapse of the financial pyramids that led Albanians to loose their bank investments.

The army barracks and weapon depots are plundered. People rush to arm themselves. Old tensions are cleared by Kalash. Crowds of desperate people are taking the way of the Adriatic sea again and try to reach Italy hoping for a new life.

In the effort to stop such a new wave of refugees, Italian government sends its army to Albania, to restore order.

From my notebook of that journey:

“Vlore, Albania, 1997. The sun is already high on the sky but Kalashnikov shots are resounding everywhere. They are not about to quit. In front of the “byreqtore” where I’m having my breakfast, a man is shot almost to death. Agonizing, he’s set into gangster’s Mercedes and brought away, through the fear and impotence of the people around. Not even the news that Italian Navy will land tomorrow at dawn is stopping them.

I’m finding my way amongst the poor buildings of the port. I want to reach the hill where the neuropsychiatric hospital should be. A car slows besides and approaches me. The four men inside command me, though smiling, to proceed not: ‘You will find nothing good to you here.’

I go back on my steps, turn around the quarter and climb the hill from another side. I finally arrive in front of the entrance: ‘Spitali Nevropsiqiatrik Ali Mihali Vlore’. High bounding walls and a big iron gate, open! I call in vain for a guardian, but no one seems to be there. I walk through the path that takes to the first building. The door is open. I enter in.

I can’t recall for how long I’m in there, frantically walking in the building, amongst open bedrooms and patiences that, smiling, pose for my camera, when I see three nurses coming straight to me, asking what I am doing there. My reasons exposed, the three welcome me and take me on to visit the whole hospital. It seems a feast. I realize I am an enjoyable diversion for all those people that seem sectioned not.

The only locked gate I find is the one that divides the women premises from the men ones. Patiences are free to move in the whole hospital. I come across patiences in the kitchens which are waiting for lunch time. Others are watching out of their room windows while their doors are open.

I arrive on the square in front of the main building, which is dominating the town of Vlore. Under the early, warm sun of this Albanian spring I ask one of them why don’t they take advantage of the open doors to get out of here. His reply leaves me speechless: ‘To get out? To get where? They’re shooting out there. They’re all crazy out there!’.”