It was, however, a time of great change throughout Europe and the echoes of this change
were reaching Albania through an increasingly weakening information blockade. The news
from Romania, where the anti-communist opposition gained power almost through an
armed coup d'état and Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled the country for many years, was shot
dead, had a huge impact on the country.
On 14 January 1990, the first mass demonstrations of the population took place in Shkoder -
the demonstrators intended to demolish the monument to Joseph Stalin. On 28 January
student protests began in Tirana and in March a strike of textile workers began in Berat. This
led the authorities to make concessions (such as allowing foreign capital activities in Albania
or asking to join the OSCE), but they were not in a position to protect the communist
authorities from collapse.
The later transformations were catalysed by mass protests in the city of Kavai in July 1990
and their violent suppression by Sigurimi, resulting in the death of one person, 21-year-old
Josif Budy. His funeral was a mass demonstration of nearly 30,000 people who had taken
control of the whole city and burned down the local party committee. Not wanting to allow
a wave of protests to spread across the country, threatening to repeat the Romanian
scenario, Alia finally bowed down agreeing to set a date for free elections.
The first free elections were held in Albania on 31 March 1991 with an unexpected victory of
67% for the Socialist Party of Albania, the successor to the Albanian Labour Party. This has
not calmed down the situation in the country. There have been voices about fraudulent
elections, and in many cities, there have been further riots, during which four activists and
supporters of the opposition Albanian Democratic Party have died in Shkoder. However,
despite its communist origins, the SPA has embarked on an ambitious economic reform
agenda, opening Albania up to a market economy, amending its constitution to extend civil
liberties and voting for a law to release political prisoners. The first President of the Republic
of Albania was Ramiz Alia (boycotted by the opposition).
Unable to cope with the severe effects of several decades of centrally planned economy and
a real economic collapse, the ruling socialists lost power as early as 1992, when the right-
wing Albanian Democratic Party came to power, finally sealing the collapse of the
communist system in the country.
Albania continues to suffer the consequences of a period of communist rule. Almost half of
the gross domestic product is produced in the so-called grey market, and according to data
from 2012, 14.3% of the population lives below the poverty line. Only 308 out of 1,000
inhabitants have a telephone and 48 have access to the Internet. A huge problem is the
outflow of young Albanians who, seeing no prospects in their homeland, decide to emigrate
for work. In 1998 alone, the population of the country fell by a quarter of a million as a
result. The natural growth rate, once the highest in Europe, was 0.8% in 2003.
The development gap between Albania and the rest of Europe, even the countries of the
former Soviet bloc, is still very noticeable.