The Albanian Civil War in 1997 was sparked by pyramid scheme failures in Albania soon after its transition to a market economy. The government was toppled and more than 2,000 people were killed. Various sources describe the violence that ensued as a rebellion, or a civil war, or a rebellion that gradually escalated into a civil war.
By January 1997, Albanian citizens, who had lost a total of $1.2 billion (an average of $400 per person countrywide) took their protest to the streets. Beginning in February, thousands of citizens launched daily protests demanding reimbursement by the government, which they believed was profiting from the schemes. On 1 March, Prime Minister Aleksandër Meksi resigned and on 2 March, President Sali Berisha declared a state of emergency.
On 11 March the Socialist Party of Albania won a major victory when its leader, Bashkim Fino, was appointed prime minister. However, the transfer of power did not halt the unrest, and protests spread to northern Albania. Although the government quelled revolts in the north, the ability of the government and military to maintain order began to collapse, especially in the southern half of Albania, which fell under the control of rebels and criminal gangs.
All major population centres were engulfed in demonstrations by 13 March and foreign countries began to evacuate their citizens. These evacuations included Operation Libelle, Operation Silver Wake and Operation Kosmas, by the German, American, and Greek militaries respectively. The United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1101, authorised a force of 7,000 troops on 28 March to direct relief efforts and restore order in Albania. The UN feared the unrest would spread beyond Albania’s borders and send refugees throughout Europe. On 15 April, a multi-national peacekeeping force launched Operation Alba which helped restore rule of law in the country by late July.
After the unrest had ended, some of the weapons looted from Albanian army barracks and stockpiles were acquired by the Kosovo Liberation Army, with many making their way to the ensuing Kosovo War (1998–99).
The period has been asserted as a civil war, brink of civil war, and a near civil war, and anarchy, while others claim that it was not a civil war at all.
In 1992, the Democratic Party of Albania won the nation’s first free elections and Sali Berisha became president. In the mid-1990s Albania was adopting a market economy, after decades of a command economy under the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. The rudimentary financial system soon became dominated by Ponzi schemes, and even government officials endorsed a series of pyramid investment funds.
By January 1997, the schemes, many of which were fronts for money laundering and arms trafficking, could no longer make payments, which led to their collapse. By then, the number of investors who had been lured by the promise of getting rich quick grew to include two-thirds of Albania’s 3 million population. It is estimated that close to $1.5 billion was invested in companies offering monthly interest rates ranging from 10%–25%, while the average monthly income in the country was around $80. A significant number of Albanians had sold their homes to invest, and immigrants working in Greece and Italy transferred additional resources to the schemes.