This Week in History: February 28 to March 6
25 years ago: Albanian uprising sparks new Balkan crisis
On March 1, 1997, Albanian Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi resigned amid protests from citizens who had been defrauded of their savings through government-backed pyramid schemes. The protests quickly turned into a full-scale uprising in which armed rebels took control of a third of the country.
The government of President Sali Berisha has lost control of the army. He clung to power by using his secret police to enforce a state of emergency in the capital Tirana while suppressing opposition figures and the press. Berisha finally resigned in July 1997, then returned to power in 2005-2012.
In late 1996, social discontent turned into protest with the collapse of the pyramid schemes that flourished in Albania after the restoration of capitalism in 1989-91. These took the form of investment funds that promised investors 200% interest rates and quickly absorbed the savings of at least a third of the country’s 3.5 million people.
Protests over the investment scandal intensified after the government ordered the funds closed in January. Protesters stormed and burned down police stations and Democratic Party offices.
Western media are used to explaining the phenomenon with condescending references to the Albanian population’s irrational belief in get-rich-quick schemes. In reality, the funds received the endorsement of Berisha’s ruling Democratic Party in exchange for campaign contributions. DP election posters often included fund logos.
As for the “get-rich-quick” schemes, government officials and their cronies had transformed themselves into millionaires overnight by selling off, in the wake of the restoration of capitalism, the country’s state industries and natural resources to foreign interests. Others within the ruling party, including Berisha’s ministers, reaped their fortunes through outright gangsterism.
The crisis was the direct result of capitalist restoration and imperialist intervention in the Balkans. Albanian workers, who remained the poorest in Europe during the 45-year rule of the Stalinist police state founded by Enver Hoxha, saw their jobs and incomes decimated following the self-liquidation of the Stalinist regime.
Washington and the European Union have both backed Berisha as an anti-communist “free market” proponent and supposed anchor of stability in the region. They helped him consolidate the kind of right-wing dictatorship that ruled the fragmented Balkans in the period between the two world wars.
The Socialist Party, successor to the former ruling Stalinist party, accepted an EU proposal for a new ‘national unity’ government, but the rebels initially rejected it and refused to lay down their arms , demanding that Berisha resign and that the money be taken from the people. to be paid back.
50 years ago: Supreme Court refuses to hear Juan Farinas case
On March 1, 1972, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Juan Farinas, a member of the Workers’ League, predecessor of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States, who had been charged in January 1971 of violating the Selective Services Act. protesting the Vietnam War. By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court upheld the lower appeals court’s decision that sentenced Farinas to two years in prison.
The case against Farinas was political. He had, in fact, never broken the law. Although opposed to the war, he reported to the Army induction office after being drafted. Outside the induction building, he took part in an anti-war demonstration and handed out leaflets to fellow conscripts. This was the basis of the charges. He never refused to serve in the military, but was accused of “interfering” with the Selective Service system by speaking out against the war and discussing it with the other enlisted alongside him.
Farinas’ attorney, Sanford Katz of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Workers League newspaper, the Newsletter“Juan Farinas is sent to prison for two years because he expressed his opinions. There is no doubt in my mind that if Juan Farinas had entered the induction center and distributed leaflets and spoken to other inductees promoting U.S. government interests in Southeast Asia, they wouldn’t have stopped him.
In a statement, Farinas wrote,
The Supreme Court’s decision not to review my conviction is a blatant and open attack by the Nixon government on the rights of all workers and youth in the United States. The capitalist class, its government and the courts think they can silence me by sending me to prison. But they are wrong! It’s not just my voice speaking out against the bosses’ murderous war in Vietnam…it’s the voices of millions of American workers and youth who today have openly told this rotten capitalist system not to will not have their rights revoked.
At the time Farinas was criminally charged, he was a member of the progressive Labor Party, but later broke with its Stalinist/reformist politics and joined the Workers League, America’s Trotskyist party, which campaigned in his defense.
75 years ago: Kuomintang responds to popular uprising in Taiwan with brutal massacre
On February 28, 1947, the Kuomintang (KMT), the right-wing nationalist regime that ruled Taiwan, responded to mass protests by workers and youth with indiscriminate violence, killing several thousand people.
The KMT was led by Chiang Kai-Shek, a warlord and butcher of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27. At the time of the Taiwan massacre, the KMT was locked in a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party in mainland China. After Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945, control of Taiwan was handed over to the KMT by the United States, keen to suppress any revolutionary movement in China, which they saw as an expansion of Soviet influence. The militaristic and authoritarian government, deeply corrupt and led by brutal National Revolutionary Army (ROC) KMT generals sent from mainland China, soon faced widespread popular hostility.
The February 28 incident was precipitated by the actions of KMT customs officers the day before. They had hit a widow with the butt of a rifle in Taipei, the island’s capital. The individual who was assaulted was being harassed on suspicion of selling contraband cigarettes, an industry controlled by KMT and from which he profited. When a crowd gathered, an officer fired on it, hitting a man who died the next day. Protesters marched to the governor general’s office, demanding that the officers involved be arrested and charged. The soldiers opened fire again, killing three people, triggering a series of clashes. Martial law was declared on the evening of February 28.
The crackdown was accompanied by riots across the island. The KMT government effectively lost control of large parts of Taiwan. In urban areas, barricades and vigilante groups were organized. The militias fought the police. Several Taiwanese groups have issued demands, including for greater autonomy, an end to official corruption and free elections.
Chen Yi’s government sought to stem the tide, awaiting reinforcements from Fujian province in the southeast of the mainland. Their arrival on March 7 signaled widespread state violence.
the New York Times quoted the account of an American in Taiwan, who reported that the ROC troops “engaged in three days of indiscriminate killing and looting. For a time everyone seen in the streets was shot, the houses were broken into and the occupants killed.In the poorest neighborhoods, the streets were reportedly littered with the dead.There were cases of beheadings and mutilations of bodies, and women were raped.
It is estimated that between 18,000 and 28,000 people were killed. The mass repression was the start of a protracted “white terror” that would persist with varying degrees of intensity for the next 45 years, and under which the KMT would respond to any manifestation of opposition with “disappearances », assassinations, frame-ups and frame-ups. mass killings.
100 years ago: the film by FW Murnau Nosferatus raw
On March 4, 1922, Nosferatu, a symphony of horrora silent film directed by FW Murnau, based on Bram Stoker Dracula, premiered at the Marmorsaal Theater of the Berlin Zoological Garden. The film starred Max Schreck as Count Orlok, a vampire. Nosferatus is widely regarded as one of the first classics of 20th century cinema.
In the film, Romanian Count Orlok is looking to buy a house in Germany. Estate agent Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is sent to Orlok Castle in Transylvania to arrange the purchase. There, he begins to suspect that the Count is a vampire. Orlok then flees in a boat, carrying the coffin in which he sleeps, and heads for the house he bought in Germany. Once there, a mysterious plague breaks out in the local village. Here, Hutter and his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder) discover a way to destroy the vampire.
The filmmakers were sued by descendants of Bram Stoker for copyright infringement and were given ownership of the film. They ordered that all copies be destroyed, although fortunately some survived.
The film is rightly famous for its use of photography to evoke an aura of the afterlife. WSWS reviewer Joanne Laurier noted, “The stature of Nosferatus in the history of cinema has a lot to do with Murnau’s ability to provide an intense emotional experience, reduced to its essential content, and his success (at least from his point of view) in eliminating the superfluous and non-cinematic components inherited from the past.”