Albanian immigrants in Los Angeles wielded placards and waved American flags Saturday in a small protest against Albania's Communist regime.
Carrying signs declaring "President of Albania Lift the Iron Curtain" and "Homeland of Mother Teresa Is Not Free to Worship God," about 80 Albanian immigrants demonstrated at the Federal Building in Westwood.
The government remains Eastern Europe's lone stronghold for Stalinist communism and has faced mounting criticism and protests from its citizens and emigrants. It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 Albanian immigrants live in Los Angeles.
Earlier this month, 100 people participated in a similar demonstration. Protesters blamed the smaller turnout Saturday on a mix of bad weather and fears that participation may lead Albanian secret police to seek retribution against family members in their homeland.
"Somebody in Albania is going to suffer for what I am doing here," said a 35-year-old Albanian woman who asked to remain anonymous. "If my name gets out it will be someone in my family."
Vasel Pepaj, who fled Albania in 1958 and settled in the United States 10 years later, described oppression in Albania as "hellish."
"People say Romania is bad; well, in Romania you at least see guys with long hair," the 43-year-old contractor said. "In Albania, you go to jail if you have long hair."
One 25-year-old demonstrator said that before he escaped in 1985, he was serving in the army along Albania's border with Yugoslavia. He said soldiers were told they would receive 20 days' leave if they stopped people from escaping--by shooting them.
He never fired a shot, he said. But after eight months on the border, he added, he made a run for Yugoslavia himself, dodging gunfire from his former companions.
"It was either stay there or take a chance," he said. "I took the chance because I wanted to be free."