Unrest in Albania

An opposition protester holds his head after being injured in a clash with Albanian police during an opposition protest in Tirana on Jan. 21.

The political crisis in Albania, which has been going on for a year and a half, arrived at a bloody stage on January 21. Three people were shot dead by the National Guard while protesting outside the prime minister's office. Ziver Veizi, Hekuran Deda and Faik Myrto were killed in cold blood while dozens of others were sent to the hospital with gunshot wounds.

Opposition Socialist leader Edi Rama immediately after their death accused Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Minister of the Interior Lulzim Basha of being responsible for the murders. "I accuse Prime Minister Sali Berisha of acting as the political orchestrator of this bloodbath," said Rama. "I accuse Minister of Interior Lulzim Basha for abuse of power that resulted in the death of three people, and call for the immediate arrest of this socially dangerous worm."

The first investigations concluded that the bullets came from the National Guard's forces. The General Prosecutor's Office has ordered the arrest of six high officials of the National Guard, but the police refuses to arrest them. The American ambassador in Albania, Alexander Arvizu, in a joint conference with the General Prosecutor Ina Rama, supported the investigation.

Berisha has accused the General Prosecutor's Office of being biased after it issued six warrants for high officers of the National Guard while the Parliament late on January 23 approved the creation of an Investigative Commission to investigate the deaths. The prime minister has accused the President of the Republic Bamir Topi, the General Prosecutor Ina Rama and the Secret Service of attempting a coup d'état to overthrow his government. Berisha says this was done in collaboration with the opposition leader Edi Rama and other dangerous elements backed by the Socialist Party.

On January 28, Edi Rama headed thousands of Albanians in a rally outside the prime minister’s office honoring the three dead. The rally went on without any incidents. The people halted to lay flowers where the three were shot down. During a conference after the rally, Rama said that the international community must intervene to stop the situation from further degenerating. He has repeatedly stated in recent days that it is impossible to hold local elections in this situation and that the only way of solving the political crisis is by early parliamentary elections after the Berisha has resigned.

The political situation has been grave since the parliamentary elections of June 28. They were heavily contested by the Socialist Party, which resulted in its boycott of the Parliament for six months. The local elections are due to be held on May 8.

The Friday 21 demonstration organized by the Socialist Party degenerated into violence after severe provocations by the police forces. Afterwards, thousands of people threw stones, eggs and tomatoes in the direction of the prime minister's office. The National Guard responded by shooting at everyone who attempted to approach the building. The three people who were shot down had neither stones, nor eggs, nor tomatoes in their hands. They were peacefully protesting for their rights while they were shot down. A video recording made by the local TV News24 shows without any doubt that the bullets came from inside the prime minister's compound.

Ziver Veizi, Hekuran Deda and Faik Myrto were unemployed. According to their families it was poverty that sent them outside the prime minister's office protesting for a better life. The last few years they have been coming and going between Albania and Greece searching for jobs and better opportunities.

Albania is one of Europe's poorest countries. The ongoing economic problems of Albania have made hundreds of thousands flee the country looking for a better life, especially in Greece and Italy. Every year the official statistics provided by the government show GDP growing by 6 to 7 percent while the unemployment rate, according to foreign unbiased sources such as the IMF and World Bank, is as high as 30 to 40 percent in the countryside. The same sources calculate the percentage of population living in poverty by more than 25 percent. Thousands of people who participated in the Friday demonstration were from the countryside where the poverty and unemployment is very high.

The demonstration was organized following a video recording that allegedly shows the former deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta and the former minister of economy discussing corrupt deals. The video is part of a campaign by the former Minister of Economy Dritan Prifti to make public the corruption that exists in the government. Meta and Berisha repeatedly have denied the accusations of corruption. Common Albanians say that the video recording has proved what everybody has always heard as a rumor—that corruption is present in every part of the public administration. E.U. officials demanded immediate investigation.

Few Albanians believe that a fair trial will be made on this case. The experience of recent years has shown that high officials charged with corruption have never been condemned. Fatmir Mediu and Lulzim Basha are two ministers in the present government who have been accused of corruption, but their cases were closed either because their legal representatives did not participate in court, or they were reelected in the Parliament thus regaining parliamentary immunity.

Common people are frustrated by the political and economic situation in the country. Food prices have been going up in recent months, and the wage increases by the government have been minimal. Energy bill prices go up every year, while a big part of the population refuses to pay them. Remittances make up more than 16 percent of Albania’s GDP.

The situation is more problematic among the young. Every year thousands of young girls and boys take a university degree, while only a small percentage find a job. Albania has a relatively young population, and many see life in Albania as too tough to bear, with fleeing the country the only pathway to a better life.

Everyone in the country blames politics and politicians for the ongoing problems that have plagued Albania over the last 20 years since communism ended in the early 90s.

Ledion Krisafi is an Albanian journalist living in Tirana.