Not even a week after a video of a restaurant owner pulling off a James Bond-like action scene on the hood of a tourist van went viral, has the restaurant been erased from the face of the earth.
The video showed Mihal Kokëdhima, the owner of restaurant Panorma, clinging on to the hood of a driving car along the Albanian riviera, trying to break in the windshield with his bare hands, while terrified Spanish tourists film the scene on their mobile phones.
The response of the Rama government was immediate, as the Spanish tourists were marshalled as props in a government propaganda effort showing the extent of Albanian hospitality.
Minister of Tourism Blendi Klosi was trotted out to meet the tourists in Saranda with a bouquet of flowers to apologize under the watchful eyes of the media.
Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke on Facebook of the “barbarian who attacked Spanish guests and violated the sacred code of Albanian hospitality, bringing shame on everyone.”
Kokëdhima was immediately accused by the prosecution office, and appeared in court August 18, where he was filmed in conversation with his lawyers:
Lawyers: The Prime Minister himself has spoken about you.
Mihal Kokëdhima: What did he say? […] He’s my friend.
Lawyers: The Prime Minister is all-powerful and forgets that his corruption has spread across the world.
On August 21, the National Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory (IKMT) had brought in the heavy machinery to tear down Panorma. It turned out to be “illegal.” The speed and timing with which the IKMT has acted suggests that we are not dealing here with a simple bureaucratic procedure but with state-sponsored revenge.
Even if Panorma was illegally built along the coast, it survived on the Albanian Riviera for the last 6 years under the Rama government. Countless government officials must have visited the gorgeous bay, where Panorma was the sole establishment. There is no doubt that the building itself was known to them as illegal and “in the process of legalization,” like thousands of other buildings in Albania.
That the government chose to destroy this private property as a sort of publicity stunt after the Albanian tourist industry was suddenly cast into the international spotlight is nothing but an abuse of power: “you cross me, I’ll destroy you.” This is, in fact, a vindictive form of strongman justice that we expect to see in autocratic states like the Philippines, Turkey, or Russia.
There is of course no excuse of Kokëdhima’s violence, but there are thousands of families in exactly the same position as his: at the mercy of a fickle government that can decide at any moment to declare you “illegal,” expropriate you without compensation and destroy your livelihood in a whim of ostensibly impartial bureaucracy.
This is what is faced by inhabitants of nearby Himara, in Tirana by those living in Astir, and those protecting the National Theater. And even if your building is legal, it can be destroyed, furniture and all, as those working on Sheshi Italia recently experienced. Other victims of the government’s “policies,” who won their case at the Strasbourg Court, still wait for their compensation.
All of them are victims of arbitrary acts, not acts of justice, and Kokëdhima is no exception.