January 21 and February 18, or Rama’s Hypocrisy Opposition protests of January 21, 2011.

Yesterday, in his Facebook “monologue of the week,” Prime Minister Edi Rama commented on the protests organized by the opposition in front of the Prime Ministry.

Yesterday we all saw a protest called by the opposition for weeks and weeks, which by itself showed for us a great difference with the protest of six years earlier, when protesters were barbarically killed, were barbarically wounded and beaten, even though they did nothing more than the citizens gathering yesterday on the boulevard.

Prime Minister Rama here refers to the protests of January 21, 2011, organized by himself at which four protesters were shot by the Republican Guard. It is true that there is a big difference (for the moment) in terms of state response to these two protests, but whether this is a difference that speaks for the integrity of the Rama Government is doubtful.

He also questioned the credibility of the opposition to make any claims to “free and fair elections.” Although this credibility indeed may and should be questioned, this does not mean that Rama himself is free of any hypocrisy. Let’s have a look.

January 21, 2011

The protests of January 21, 2011, were the first protests I witnessed in Albania after moving here in 2010. I spent several hours standing on one of the slopes of the Pyramid, overlooking a scene with burning cars and police vans, masked protesters hurling stones at the military police, and several offensive manoevers of the crowd to the side and front entrances of the Prime Ministry, including a car trying to ram through entrance gate. Reading back my notes of that day, I noted that friends on the streets told me it was a “coup d’état” and “just like in ’97.” On my way to cafe nearby, I heard semi-automatic gun fire. Later that day I saw protesters looting shops.

In other words, the protest of January 21, 2011, was quite different from the rather civilized scene staged by the opposition on February 18. Whereas the former turned violent rather quickly, the latter did not.

The cause for this difference is irrelevant to my argument. Whether the police, the protesters, or both were less provocative now than six years ago is not the point. The point is that the type of protest and its intentions were very different. Those of 2011 envisioned a violent overthrow of the government, those of 2017 demanded a technical government to oversee the organization of elections.

Dritan Prifti (l) and Ilir Meta on a still from the corruption tape.
Dritan Prifti (l) and Ilir Meta on a still from the corruption tape.

Ilir Meta

We should also question the moral right of Prime Minister Rama to claim to be on the side of “justice” as regards the victims of January 21. First of all, Rama is currently in a coalition with the very politician that he targeted with the January 21 protests: LSI leader Ilir Meta, who was then in a coalition with former PD leader Sali Berisha. Meta had been accused of corruption, after a tape surfaced of a conversation of him with former Minister of Economy Dritan Prifti, in which he tried to bribe Prifti into handing out concessions to his friends.

Ilir Meta’s response to the protests of January 21, on January 22, was as follows:

Edi Rama went in front of the media to tell all of them and to make all Albanians look stupid that his thugs and his criminals had been provoked by the water cannons while everyone saw that for nearly one hour the bandits, criminals, thugs, and drug addicts of Edi Rama violated, attacked with whatever they could get their hands on the policeman of this people, who are humans, family members, who have children and cousins, who have relatives, and who tried to control themselves, and sacrificed themselves precisely not to hurt the thugs and criminals who yesterday wanted to take power.

Because that what had been promised to all of those who were brought to Tirana, that yesterday Edi Rama would seize power… [this] bastard who has nothing political anymore, who replaced the Socialist Party with vulgar organized crime, who sullied Tirana yesterday, who covered it in blood yesterday.

This is the same person that Rama joined in government two years later, the same person who still claims that January 21 was the work of “villains and bandits.” This simple proof of calculated political opportunism makes any of his “emotional” statements about “justice” for the four citizens who were killed on January 21 nothing but crocodile tears.

Simply put, the government’s argument – obviously aimed at the international community – that at least they respect the right to demonstrate is hypocritical. The Rama Government would not hesitate to hurt any protester if things turned as violent as six years ago.

Rather than paying lip service to the international community, the only way out for the government is actually to address the demands of opposition, to counter the opposition’s claims of endemic corruption, the criminalization of Parliament, the failure of timely electoral reforms, and the criminal indictment of the Central Election Commission. All of these are facts established by the prosecution and international reports, and seeking the moral high ground is no longer enough.