US Ambassador Yuri Kim has asked opposition Democratic Party (PD) leader Lulzim Basha to dismiss Sali Berisha from the party’s parliamentary group before the new legislature starts in September.
On Friday, after a meeting at the PD headquarters with Basha, Kim told journalists that the opposition leader is responsible for making sure the party will enter parliament “accompanied by members [of parliament] who are worthy of representing Albania.”
“It would be an historic irony but also a tragedy for this country, not just the party, if the party were to eat grass for the sake of one man’s personal interest,” Kim stated, after praising the PD’s role in taking down the communist regime in Albania in the early ‘90s.
The “grass eating” metaphor mirrors a statement made by Albania’s former communist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1961, at a time when the Soviet Union was cutting economic aid to his regime and Albania fell into isolation after Hoxha’s supposedly ideological differences with the new soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev over Stalin’s legacy.
“We say to N. Khrushcev that the Albanian people and its Party of Labor will survive even on grass if need be, but will never sell out for ’30 pieces of silver’ because they prefer to die standing and with honor instead of kneeling down and living in shame,” Albania’s brutal dictator stated during a party congress.
For decades, under the communist dictatorship, the statement was used as a propaganda tool to express Albanians’ blind trust in the dictatorship and their loyalty to its principles, but after the fall of the regime, it was used to ridicule the communist system and as a warning against self-destruction.
Berisha was one of the founders of the PD, its second president, as well as Albania’s prime minister and president. He is now an elected member of parliament.
He has dominated Albania’s politics since the fall of communism, and specifically until 2013, when he lost national elections following two terms in office as prime minister, and resigned from his post as leader of the PD.
This year, the Biden administration banned him and his family from entering the United States over charges of “significant corruption.” Berisha announced he would file a libel lawsuit against US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken over the designation, and denied all corruption allegations.
In a response to Kim’s statement on Friday, Berisha reiterated that he will nevertheless enter parliament as its elected member. He slammed the ambassador, claiming she had violated her diplomatic mission and had insulted those who had suffered under the communist regime with her “grass eating” comment.
Berisha repeated allegations that prime minister Edi Rama and George Soros were behind the lobbying efforts with the US administration to eliminate him from politics. He challenged the US administration once again to publish any facts that implicated him or his family in corruption.
Lastly, he accused Ambassador Kim of making this public statement hastily and shortly after he had denounced an agreement signed in her presence between Albania’s High Judicial Council (KLGJ) and an Albanian NGO headed by Delina Fico, the wife of Albanian minister of interior Bledar Çuçi, for the review of over 30 thousand backlog cases at the High Court.
This is the second case in recent months that the US embassy pushes for the exclusion from parliament of politicians banned by the US. Tom Doshi, the leader of the Social-Democratic Party, who also was banned from entering the US, decided to give up his mandate following repeated calls by Ambassador Kim to keep him out of parliament.