Large anti-government protests are planned today across the Balkans with citizens in both Albania and Serbia, set to rally demanding the resignation of their respective leaders.
In Albania, today’s protest will take place at 18:00 and will be the 9th opposition-organised protest since 16 February. Daily civil-society protests against the incumbent government have been going on in the country for over a year for a variety of reasons, including the illegal demolition of citizens homes without compensation, the illegal demolition of the National Theatre, women’s rights, and the rights of students.
The Opposition parties of Albania are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama, the installation of a transitional government, electoral reform, and general elections. Following allegations of widespread corruption, government links to organised crime, and evidence that Socialist Party MPs liaise with criminal groups to buy votes in the 2017 general elections, Opposition MPs resigned from Parliament in March.
Since then they have been protesting almost weekly, demanding enforcement of the rule of law and action to make the country more democratic. The centre-right Democratic Party leader spoke in Vlore earlier in the week, calling on citizens to travel to Tirana to take part in “the biggest protest ever”.
“They have created two Albanias, one for the majority, deprived of the opportunities for a better life, where parents are thrown in jail for being unable to pay for electricity, and another … for those above the law,” he added.
The Opposition have refused to take part in the upcoming local elections, noting that despite published evidence of collusion to buy votes- no investigation has taken place.
Despite the resignation of Opposition MPs, a number of candidates have taken up their mandates, resulting in a situation where the now incumbent “opposition MPs” were not democratically voted, and the Socialist Party MPs election is clouded in allegations of election rigging.
Previous protests have been largely peaceful with minor scuffles reported between the police and protestors, yet the Albanian police have been widely criticised for their heavy-handed and indiscriminate use of tear gas on members of the public. Tens of citizens have been injured through its use, including elderly men and women, children present at the fringes of the protest, police and journalists covering the events.
In addition to this, the police have arrested many protestors including prominent Opposition Party members. Some are still being held in prison without charge, whilst the prosecution takes its time to investigate, despite no evidence of wrongdoing being presented so far. One protestor was dragged violently from his house by 30 police and claims he was assaulted in front of several witnesses, including his two small children who were severely traumatised by the event.
The German embassy has warned against violence occurring, despite their being no actual violence so far and repeatedly failing to address the issues of democracy and the widespread use of tear gas. Notably, the European Union Delegation and the US Embassy have not issued warnings like with previous protests. They have previously come under fire for warning against protest violence yet failing to acknowledge the indiscriminate use of tear gas and the prevailing issues with democracy, rule of law, and corruption in the country.
1,500 police have been deployed to protect the Office of the Prime Minister following vandalism inflicted on it during the first protests on 16 February. On this occasion, police moved out of the way and let protestors vandalise the facade of the building and a mushroom statue for some time, before using tear gas to disperse them.
Similar to other large scale protests that have taken place over the last two months the Prime Minister will coincidentally not be in Tirana, this time venturing as far as Kuwait to avoid the calls of “Rama ik” – “Rama go”.