This weekend, after two hunger strikes and a four-day march, the protesters from Zharrëz arrived in Tirana with a simple demand that is the most difficult to fulfill: justice.
For years, their houses and living environment have been destroyed by the oil drilling activities of Bankers Petroleum, a company which brings zero profit to the Albanian population, as it has not been paying taxes ever since 2004.
In a speech after a large oil spill caused by Bankers in 2015, Prime Minister Rama stated that the company would have to compensate the inhabitants “100%” and that “no international company, no matter how wealthy, can treat Albanians as second-rate people.”
Ironically, the Prime Minister himself has been treating the inhabitants of Zharrëz as “second-rate people,” who only after starving their bodies, threatening their own health, and marching on foot to the capital, will be given an audience by the Deputy Prime Minister, while the big boss from his Facebook throne arrogantly comments “I’m sorry you had to walk, but you did it to yourself. You could have called!”
After being violated by the police forces, these humans, workers, citizens, now need to spend their nights on the street, lying on cardboard in the open air, sandwiched between the millions of euros invested into the corrupt urban renewal tenders of Skënderbeg Square and the heated tent in which the opposition stages its daily, ritualized protest.
Let is be clear that in allowing the large tent of the opposition, including a generator, heating, and large tv screens, to be posited in front of the Prime Ministry, while the small camping tents carried along by the protesters from Zharrëz are forcefully prohibited, the government has showed its most cynical face. Either both permanent protests ought to be prohibited, and met with similar (and unacceptable) police violence, or both should be allowed.
But by allowing the first while banning the second, the government has shown whom it considers the larger threat to its “international” and “humane” image. The small tents of workers who feel they no longer have anything to lose, whose families back home are harassed by the police and school teachers, not the media spectacle tent of the opposition, would show the world the endemic corruption, nepotism, and deep-rooted arrogance of those in power.
This is something those in the opposition tent will never be able to achieve, as Fatos Lubonja already clearly argued last week. Their generators, heaters, tv screens, and studio-grade lighting – all of which as “illegal” as the cardboard on which the protesters from Zharrëz are forced to sleep – shows that, in the end, no real opposition is to be expected of them. Because at the end of the day, only one of the two “tents” is waging their lives.