The dramatic collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe in 1989 apparently had a devastating effect on the internal social and political situation in Albania despite Alia's efforts to contain it. Massive demonstrations against communist rule followed by liberalization and democratization in Eastern Europe began to affect Albania in 1990.
The power of the security police was successfully challenged by massive numbers of largely unorganized demonstrators demanding reforms and democratic elections. Unrest began with demonstrations in Shkodër in January 1990 that forced authorities to declare a state of emergency to quell the protests. Berat workers staged strikes protesting low wages in May. Antigovernment demonstrations grew in Albania. Beginning on June 28, demonstrators sought refuge in foreign embassies. During early July 1990, approximately 5,000 Albanians sought refuge on the grounds of foreign embassies in an effort to flee Albania. The security forces reportedly killed hundreds of asylum seekers either in the streets outside foreign compounds or after they were detained, but even such extreme measures did not staunch the unrest. France and Italy evacuated 4,500 refugees after the government gave permission for mass emigrations.
To defuse the crisis in July 1990, the Central Committee held a plenum, which resulted in significant changes in the leadership of party and state. The conservatives in the leadership were pushed out, and Alia's position was strengthened. Alia had already called for privatizing retail trade, and many businesses had begun to operate privately. Then in late July, the Politburo passed a law stating that collectivefarm members should be given larger plots of land to farm individually.
In September 1990, Alia acceded to the requirements of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, committing Albania to respect the human rights and political freedoms embodied in the 1975 Helsinki Accords. In a speech to representatives of Albania's major social and political organizations, Alia called for electoral reform. He noted that a proposed electoral law would allow all voting to take place by secret ballot and that every precinct would have at least two candidates. The electors themselves would have the right to propose candidates and anyone could nominate candidates for the assembly. Alia also criticized the bureaucratic "routine and tranquility" of managers and state organizations that were standing in the way of reform. The Albanian communist leadership, under Alia, committed proceed with reform from above on a limited, cautious basis.