GJIROKASTER, ALBANIA — News that Bashkim Fino would leave the southern town of Gjirokaster for Tirana, the capital, as the newly nominated prime minister set off a deafening round of celebratory gunfire Tuesday night.
Picked by President Sali Berisha to head a three-month transitional government which would pave the way for new elections, Mr. Fino left for Tirana after an emotional goodbye to his family and friends. "I am very moved and feel the weight of this responsibility," said the town's Socialist ex-mayor.
At this point, however, it is unlikely that even the appointment of a southerner as premier - a move clearly designed to temper the insurgency in the south - will prompt rebels to surrender their arms as long as Mr. Berisha remains in power. Moreover, Fino is considered a political lightweight without the necessary skills to handle a man like Berisha.
"Bashkim Fino is a good man but no one knows who he is outside of Gjirokaster. He will be a pawn in Berisha's chess game," says Arben Imami, ex-secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Alliance. Mr. Imami is part of the newly formed National Committee of Public Salvation, an umbrella group of southern rebels representing 10 southern towns.
"These people are not going to surrender their arms to this government," adds Mr. Imami, "When Berisha goes, the arms will go too. I've never seen a simpler political formula."
But Fino remains optimistic: "We may be able to reach a compromise on some issues and not on others. Unfortunately, I will not be the only one in the dialogue."
Asked how he would handle the collapse of fraudulent financial schemes that sparked Albania's civilian revolt, Fino says his government's mandate would be too short to tackle a problem as intricate as that. "The first objective of my government will be to justify the name it bears." Fino's interim government is called the Government of National Reconciliation.
The new prime minister acknowledged the need to reform the entire state apparatus, which, he says, "is at present totally corrupt," and to do away with the Shik, the secret police loyal to Berisha. "The Shik has kept up all the habits of the Securitate, which began under the [1944-85] Communist regime of Enver Hoxha," he adds.
S Fino left for the capital, people in Gjirokaster seemed torn between loyalty to their deeply respected former mayor and reluctance to hand in their weapons with Berisha still in power.
"Bashkim Fino is a great man," says Fatos Hashorva as his son fires off ammunition from the window. "He is honest and capable of taking up responsibility." Asked whether Fino's call to surrender arms would be heeded in his own home town, Mr. Hashorva does not hesitate: "Yes, we will give the weapons."
His son, however, seems less keen to part with his newly acquired Kalashnikov. "We'll see," he says.
What the country needs, Imami insists, is "not a puppet government, but one made up of nationally known political figures" capable of pulling their weight in Tirana. "We're on the threshold of a national catastrophe and what does Berisha do? He puts a nobody in charge."
Quite apart from the need to disarm thousands of gun-slinging belligerent civilians, Imami says, Albania - Europe's poorest country - must find a leader who can transform the nation into a law-abiding democracy.