Anti Government Protests in Albania

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By Naveed Qazi, Editor | Globe UpFront

There has been a mounting pressure on Albanian socialists, in charge of the government, by opposition protestors, who demand an end to their democratic tenure. 

Infact, the opposition calls the government of Socialist Party of Albania, as an illegitimate government, of thieves and criminals. These protests got active in February 2019, in the Balkan country.

During mid-May 2019, more protests were held at the Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard in Tirana, before moving to other sites. Protestors, holding umbrellas on a rainy day, threw various kinds of flares, gasoline grenades, Molotov cocktails, and attempted to barge into the main government building, at the boulevard. As a reaction, security personnel, in return, fired tear gas, injuring many number of people.

Several observers saw threatening words written at the building, where the OSCE ambassador in Tirana lives. The Italian Embassy, in Albania, has condemned this threat posed to his office, and called for protests within the legal framework. However, the protestors have vowed to reunite, in full determination, and have promised a response at this incident. The crowd, having men, wearing masks, also condemned the arrest of a Democratic Party leader. The number of casualties remain unclear in the media, although around fifty people have been taken into custody for hitting someone while on duty", "disturbing public order", "destroying property through arson" and "Breach of rules regarding explosives". Ambulances were seen taking injured to the hospital. Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj said that thirteen Tirana policemen were injured.

Earlier, in 2017, the protestors had alleged fraud, in the last parliamentary election.  They want an early election, and want a temporary, caretaking government, until then. Prime Minister Edi Rama has retorted to their claims, as false allegations, and threats, to democracy. However, the opposition accuses Rama’s cabinet of having links to organised crime. They had blocked national highways earlier, and several of the leaders from opposition have resigned, to put more pressure on the ruling government.  

The new wave of protests have come at a time, when European Union is deciding on opening accession talks with Albania, and neighbouring North Macedonia. The EU and United States, have given support for the government, and have urged the opposition to take part in the local elections, on June 30. Conservative leaders such as Basha, and Prime Minister Rama have backed the moves to join the EU,  but the opposition leaders believe that as corruption is reigning high in the country, it could prevent Albania, of achieving its membership plan.

Under Rama’s first administration, Albania secured European Union candidate country status, and the prime minister vowed to tackle fraud, and reform the energy sector. However, accusations of links to the drugs trade still continue to distress the ruling government. 

The protestors were seen chanting the same slogan that they used during the downfall of Communism in the country, during the 1990s. In a raging statement, conservative politician Lulzim Basha told the public: “We are here with a mission, to liberate Albania from crime and corruption, to make Albania like the rest of Europe.”

A year earlier, in 2018, there were student protests in Albania, held at different universities, to oppose high tuition rates, better living conditions in dormitories,  greater voting rights for students, in the Senate, to name a few. These protests were started by the faculty of the Polytechnic University of Tirana, and they had spread, as the youth marched towards the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

This anti-system protest was one of the biggest, Albania had seen, in recent years. Meme’s were presented during the protests, and the discontent, also spread through social media. Students left a broken steering wheel and the constitution at Rama’s office, after being unimpressed by the changes. These student protests hurt the image of the government.

In the recent past, there were also significant protests against house demolitions, in Tirana, for extension of a new boulevard, although the government had promised compensations in several phases for the dwellers. The residents, as a reaction, had blocked the bulldozers to protect their homes, but were fired tear gas in advance, and arrested a number of them. The new Law on Legalisation was first implemented on the New Boulevard project. The pending decisions, of the European Court of Human Rights, amounted to hundreds of thousands of Euros in compensation for expropriations. The Albanian government had blackmailed an Albanian judge at ECHR, over these pending cases. The construction for the new project was also stopped, in 2014, by the prime minister, because compensation to dwellers was thought to be below market prices, at that point in time. After that, Rama, eventually, not only used the compensation fund for new construction but also excluded some buildings for the compensation. In fact, the buildings awaiting demolition without compensation violates international conventions, the Constitute and Law on Social Housings, as it had been argued for Outer Ring Road, and Lana River project in Shkoza.

These growing protests, for different political reasons, inside European countries, including Albania, as a recent example, do indicate that Europeans are unhappy with clientelism, particracy and authoritarianism of political leaders. But, the self-evident question arises, regarding when will the real change come through democratic institutions. The masses only hope that it is not a utopian dream.

During this time, the ruling government, often use these episodes to their favour, mostly, by hoping that the street energy through protests calms down.  The anger on the streets of Tirana continues to hamper its regional and foreign policy, at large.


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