Albania emerged from an isolationist communist regime in 1991, with the country’s first elections taking place and economic reforms being introduced. Many Albanians invested in various pyramid schemes throughout the 1990s until, at the end of November 1996, they began to collapse. Over $1 billion (almost half of Albania’s GDP at the time) was lost, leading to mass protests and riots in January 1997.1 In the unrest, thousands of weapons were looted from government stores and armed groups emerged across the country.2 Violence soon followed, with some groups launching attacks on government infrastructure and others engaging each other for criminal or political reasons. By February 1997, the government had lost control of much of the country to the armed groups. In March, the government collapsed entirely, leading to a state of emergency being declared. However, the desertion of much of the police and military meant that this was unenforceable.3
With thousands dead and the violence increasing, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) appointed a Special Envoy to develop a solution with the political parties of Albania. The talks concluded with 10 political parties agreeing to form an interim administration and schedule elections to produce a new government.4 The unrest across the country continued, leading the EU and OSCE to deploy a joint fact-finding mission to investigate. On 27 March 1997, the OSCE Permanent Council called for the deployment of an international protection force to stabilise the situation, and the following day the UN Security Council approved the response.5 The Government of Italy took responsibility for establishing the Multinational Protection Force (MPF) and by the middle of April, over 7,000 military personnel were restoring order around the capital, Tirana.6 This allowed a host of international organisations to begin supplying humanitarian assistance to the population and the Albanian government to recover its grip on the country. While the MPF fulfilled its objectives, the OSCE and EU coordinated their efforts to support the upcoming elections. When the Albanian people went to the polls in June 1997, it was in a safe environment and the contest was deemed credible by international observers.7 The period of instability and armed conflict in Albania, which cost the lives of over 2,000 people, was ended by the deployment of the MPF and the effective Diplomacy of the EU and OSCE.