The political polarisation that resulted in the recent anti-government demonstrations in Tirana has escalated since the elections in June 2009. The thousands of people that took to the streets on January 21, 2011 were calling on the Democratic Party government to step down after allegations of electoral fraud and corruption.
- I went to the demonstration because I was outraged by a government, whose ministers on tape make deals of millions of Euros, as 250 000 Albanians again are falling below the extreme poverty line, said Arbi Mazniku, of Agenda Institute, a non-Governmental Organisation in Tirana.
The 2009 general elections did meet most international standards and was an improvement from previous elections in the country, according to the international monitors from OSCE – OIDHR. However, there were weaknesses reported, particularly in the vote counting procedure in more than one third of polling stations. The Socialist Party and parts of civil society were greatly concerned that the shortcomings could have affected the results and MPs from the Socialist party boycotted the Parliamentary work. The governing Democratic Party promise to allow a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee to check the records and final documents from the elections was not kept and the Committee was established without the agreement of the Socialist Party. Despite mediation from the Council of Europe and European Parliament, political dialogue remains confrontational and unconstructive.
On January 14, the Deputy Prime Minister, Ilir Meta (from Socialist Movement for Integration, coalition partner with Democratic Party), resigned after a video implicating him in corruption was broadcast on TV. The ruling Democratic Party is accusing the opposition for fabricating the video.
Protests turned violent
The situation has escalated in the last week, and the United Opposition (the coalition led by the Socialist Party), called for a protest on January 21 against the corruption and electoral fraud. The protests turned violent and three protesters were shot when the National Republican Guard opened fire on the crowd while protecting the Prime Minister's office. Some protesters were using sticks and umbrellas, and later cobblestones in their attacks against police.
In an interview in Albanian media, the Head of Mine-Workers Union, Fiqiri Xibri reported on the violence he was subjected to:
“I am here to make public my illegal arrest and scandalous violence used on me from the moment I was arrested in the protest and in the police station.(…) Not only have I been against violent actions in the protest, but as has been broadcasted in the media, at the moment the effect of the tear gas was over, I stood up in front of PM building asking to the other protesters not to throw cobblestones. I think this is enough to prove my real nonviolent position in the protest“. www.shekulli.com.al
Berisha calls demonstrators criminals
Prime Minister Berisha claimed the demonstrators included "gangs of criminals, bandits, traffickers and terrorists" (Associated Press), referring to them as a bunch of criminals who were paid to overthrow the government.
- It would be enough to say that many of my friends were there and they are not criminals, bandits or terrorists, and many are not members of the Socialist Party, says Plejada Gugashi from the Palme Center. They are citizens tired of empty alternatives of politics, tired of the high-level corruption, tired of all the lies from the Government regarding Albania’s economic development.
The General Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into the allegations of excessive violence by police during the protest. The Prime Minister Sali Berisha is referring to the events as an attempted coup d’états and accusing the opposition, the General Prosecutor and the State Information Service of being behind it. The Office of the General Prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for high ranking officers of the National Republican Guards but the Government is obstructing their apprehension by ordering the should-be-independent Albanian State Police not to arrest the suspects.
The door of dictatorship
The Mjaft Movement speaks out strongly against the Government:
“An attack on the judicial system and the independent institutions of this country could only mean one word: amplified authoritarianism. A country where constitutional institutions become only an extension of Acv the executive’s will, is surely stepping to the door of dictatorship. The current autocratic developments in Albania are unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
The protests are likely to continue. The deadlock in the political arena is not benefitting the Albanian people and civil society is signing a petition calling on “the Head of Government and Head of Opposition to immediately sit for talks that result in a concrete and sustainable solution. We believe it is high time for serious dialogue and a new consensus for Albania”. In the first 48 hours the petition was signed by 2600 people and civil society organisations.
PLEJADA GUGASHI & JOHANNA LEANDER
On Friday, one a week after the protests, thousands of people gathered in front of the Prime Minister's office, placing flowers and candles in front of large portraits of the three people that were killed