Edi Rama’s European Albania is a public relations fantasy. It is a nation-state which exists only in the mind of two dozen politicians and publicists—whose only concern is paying lip-service to the European Union’s accession requirements. The opposition Democratic Party are protesting in Tirana because we want Albania to be a truly European country—and understand that entry to the European Union demands genuine change.
In 1990, protests in Tirana gave Albania democracy. Emboldened by the revolutions which swept across the Eastern Bloc—but primarily enraged by the conditions they faced during the dire end-days of Albanian communism—the capital’s students triumphed over a quasi-socialist autocracy.
Those young people—of whom my father was one—used every means necessary to sweep the remnants of Enver Hoxha’s dead regime away. Albania had known only dictatorship for five decades. We had no passports. We had no money. We had little understanding of what capitalism meant — and an even weaker grasp of democracy. However, the Democratic Party of Albania was formed on the basis of protest. Brave young men and women expressed their collective beliefs — and those same Albanians insisted upon genuine change, when offered a phony power-split with Ramiz Alia’s unreformed Communist Party. We had fought so hard, and lost many. We wouldn’t tolerate a regime which offered fake pluralism in the place of genuine democracy.
The foundation of democracy in a state which had known only autocracy has been a daunting and draining process. The creation of independent institutions has not been simple. As in many emergent democracies, parliamentary proceedings have often been blocked by bipartisan rivalry. Deadlock and walk-outs by parliamentarians of all political stripes have repeatedly hindered the formation of government. Past disputes have thus seriously hindered Albania’s democratic development—and we cannot condone this. The threat to boycott parliamentary proceedings—or rise in organized protest—must only be used when all other means have failed.
Genuinely democratic processes demand the abandonment of personal ego, and the genuine will to compromise. Politicians of a truly democratic inclination acknowledge that they are servants of the people. By accepting the oath of office, a politician recognizes that his or her interests are secondary to those of the constituents—who filed in line, and cast their ballots, and entrusted their elected representative, with the daunting task of improving their life.
The opposition Democratic Party of Albania are protesting today because the Socialist Party of Edi Rama have repeatedly failed to deliver reforms which adequately fulfill these principles. During a four-year mandate to govern, Albanians have seen little change. The view from an international hotel in the capital shows a city which has been gentrified and modernized without end. The budgetary cost has been vast. This may impress a handful of dignitaries—but is less relevant to those who live outside the gaze of visiting politicians—whether in Vlora, Shkodra, Elbasan, Tropojë or Fier. These ordinary Albanians endure poor roads. They suffer frequent electrical blackouts. They go without the basic infrastructure needed to enjoy ordinary lives—and they suffer near daily aberrations to their basic human rights.
Unfortunately, happiness continues to elude the Albanian people. According to the 2017 World Happiness Report, which is published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Albania ranks 109th of the 155 countries analyzed. We are thus less happy than citizens of Iran, Somalia and Sierra Leone. This country is continuing to lose its best and brightest minds—in a tide of migration to nearby European Union states. It’s both telling and tragic that, at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis, asylum claims from Albanian citizens soared from 16,950 in 2014 to 67,735 applicants by 2015. Eurostat data for the 4th quarter of 2016 shows just how unsuccessful the journey was for these people. Only 300 people, or four percent were considered valid asylum seekers. The remaining 3,100 people, or 96 percent, were not—and made a dangerous journey, to only face deportation. Albania and Kosovo thus received the highest rate of first instance rejections by the EU28 in this time-frame. None of these men or women sought to burden the European Union during its time of crisis. They are not parasites, but human-beings—whose families rely upon remittance income to survive. Albanians were not fleeing war, but their desperation was sufficiently acute to warrant a long journey abroad in search of a better life.
For the past two decades, the Balkans’ political landscape has been dominated by indefatigable strongmen like Edi Rama. In reality, a truly strong man is usually a man who has the character and intelligence to swallow his pride and back down. No leader in the history of democratic power has ever learned anything by always being entirely “right”. If we want this country to move forwards, we must compromise. Compromise is not a sign of weakness.
The Democratic Party of Albania seriously questions the tenability of Edi Rama’s coalition. Furthermore, we seriously question his ability to lead fair elections—when almost 12 years as Mayor of Tirana, and a further four as Prime Minister—have left us with a government which has failed. Specifically, Albania has become the largest producer of outdoor grown cannabis in Europe. The police department have disclosed to Deutsche Welle that of 9,000 police officers employed in Albania, only 40 [were] “identified as helpers in drug cultivation and trafficking in 2016. [while] Eight police officers were arrested”. When traffickers report widespread bribery of officials, this is not a dazzling statistic.
We are first, foremost, always and inextricably servants to Albania’s electorate. During four years in opposition we have learned to eschew the mistakes which Balkan politicians make during their swift ascents to power.
We have also learned that while Albania is one of Europe’s poorest countries, we have significant resources at our disposal. Our greatest resource is our human capability. The chaos of decades past led our citizens to seek a better future abroad. Albanian men and women were not afraid to work. They were not afraid to learn. They assimilated themselves in communities across every continent. They absorbed the true meaning of democracy in countries like Germany, Great Britain and the United States of America. Albania certainly stayed in their hearts. With sustained democratic protest, we hope that we can make them proud of the country they come from—and with meaningful democratic change we hope we can persuade them to return.
Cover photo credit: tomislav medak/flickr/some rights reserved