Having watched the events of Saturday’s protest unfold, I must say that I am more shocked and disappointed by what has happened afterwards.
Whilst the EU, OSCE, and various embassies preached about democracy and abiding by the rule of law before, during, and immediately after the protests, they were strangely quiet on the matter of arbitrary arrests and detentions that were punctuated by violence.
Perhaps someone could enlighten me and tell me how entering someone’s house with force, beating them in front of their wife and children, and then removing them without telling them what they are guilty of, is in line with the rule of law? Perhaps someone could explain how refusing them a phone call or access to a lawyer is line with democracy? I would also be interested to know how harassing the elderly parents of one protestor and attempting to enter a property without a warrant and with force dovetails in with the law?
One protestor told me that after his brother was dragged from his house violently and without charge, he arrived at the house to find his sister in law and two children surrounded by eight male police officers who were speaking to her in an abusive and harassing manner. Knowing his rights, he asked them to leave, shouting “f*ck Edi Rama” as he closed the door. The police have since been looking for him to arrest him for expressing his right to free speech- saying “f*ck Edi Rama” is not illegal in any way and does not condone the manhunt that ensued.
Propagandist in Chief, Endri Fuga otherwise known as the Head of Communications for Mr Rama, was quick to praise the work of the police, replying to a tweet by the Austrian Ambassador.
“I think we should applaude (sic) the police for their extremely professional behaviour (sic). Not a single clash between police forces and protesters, although stones and flames flew several times towards the govt. buildings. But Albania is different and is not what we saw yesterday.”
I replied to ask whether he considered the assault of those that had been detained as “professional”, he deleted his response, therefore deleting my reply. Thankfully I noticed this attempt at censorship and posted my comment again, demanding to know whether assaulting those in custody, harassing family members, and arbitrarily detaining people was something to be commended.
His response was to post a video of a member of the PD punching a policeman at the police station and adding that “Our police only follow and execute what the Prosecutor decides. BUT nobody who only protested and exercised their rights was stopped. Only those who were documented by the Prosecutor to have committed illegal and violent deeds,” directly contradicting the first hand accounts I have been given.
It is also worth pointing out that his faith in prosecutors and the legal system is a little misguided as the whole system is undergoing reform and many prosecutors are dismissed for lack of adherence to the rule of law and susceptibility to corruption, criminality, and bribery.
What we saw on Saturday was not widespread violence and rioting- it was vandalism carried out by a handful of protestors amongst a crowd of thousands upon thousands of peaceful individuals. I have been in protests in Bristol and London where armed mobs took over the streets, policeman were attacked, and buildings looted and set on fire. I have seen gangs attack officers with metal bars, and similarly I have seen officer’s kettle, manipulate, and beat crowds of innocent bystanders purely because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What happened on Saturday was not a riot, nor was it widespread violence like most of the media is portraying. At the very most, it was vandalism with a light sprinkling of criminal behaviour perpetuated by a few and it is certainly not worth the mass hysteria that ensued.
I do not condone violence for the sake of violence but I also do not condone letting protestors gain access to the front steps of the Prime Ministers office with no resistance, and then tear gassing them, taking out the front line of journalists and police officers first. What I saw was a deliberate attempt to entice a handful of bad actors into a position where they were able to vandalise the office so that the situation would escalate and tear gas could be used. Furthermore, I do not condone the arbitrary detention of civilians not involved in any criminality, nor do I accept the harassment and abuse of power that was inflicted on their family members.
Mr Rama knew what he wanted out of Saturday’s protest and that was a way to silence the very valid voices of hundreds of thousands of Albanians that have been protesting for months and months against his regime. His way to do this was to manufacture a climate of fear perpetuated by scaremongering that infiltrated every part of the public- from the embassies to the media, and then to ensure that trouble happened. He then tried to scare people into not protesting again, by ordering arbitrary arrests of people present at the demonstrations. This was then all neatly repackaged, whitewashed, carefully edited, and curated and pushed out through a number of media sources including Twitter and the international media.
I do not need to be Albanian to understand violations of human rights or the rule of law, nor do I need to be an expert on the complicated dynamics of Albanian politics to be able to call out corruption when I see it. Furthermore, calling out the gross abuses of power on behalf of the Rama administration does not mean that I am an advocate of the behaviour of a few on Saturday.
Whataboutism is not a valid retort for the presentation of facts and saying “well what about what Sali Berisha did 10 years/15 years/20 years ago or showing me a video of a policeman being punched, does not justify the wrongdoing that is going on right at this very moment and with complete and utter impunity.