The EU-Western Balkans Summit took place in Tirana on Tuesday (6 December), parallel with a large, thousands-strong opposition-led protest, with protestors hoping to draw the attention of the EU to their allegations of government corruption and crime.
As EU and regional leaders met at one end of the city’s boulevard, thousands of Albanians assembled at the other. The protest was called by the former prime minister and president Sali Berisha, co-founder of the centre-right Democratic Party and leader of the Freedom Party and former president Ilir Meta.
The leaders and their supporters accuse Rama of driving mass emigration from the country through corruption, organised crime and vote stealing. They also call him an autocrat and want to show the EU and its leaders of their discontent. Many also condemn the presence of Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and the close relations between him and Rama.
Supporters also waved EU flags and British, US, and Albanian flags in a show of support for alignment with the west.
PD MP Luciano Boci told the media that the protest is not against the EU but rather the Rama government.
“We have said the goal, is not in favour of the summit but in favour of its decisions. We are against Rama, against his regime, against depopulation. The meaning is to come together to root out evil. We are setting the agenda. It is a protest in many dimensions. We will protest for the freedom of the media, with the robbery of public property, with the port of Durrës. Albanians will not accept the established regime,” he said.
Rama has been in power since 2013—his Socialist Party won last April a comfortable majority in Albanian parliament and looks poised to rule unchallenged until next elections in 2025.
Albania is classified as a hybrid regime by Freedom House, while Reporters Without Borders have recently sounded the alarm for declining media freedom. According to Transparency International Albania is the most corrupt country in Europe, ranked 110 out of 180 countries in the world in the TI Index 2022. It is also described by Interpol as a major European hub of drug trafficking into the EU, and by the State Department as a high-risk country for money laundering,
As a result of the situation many Albanians are seeking to migrate mainly to EU countries and the UK. In the past months, thousands of Albanians have attempted to cross the English Channel by boats from France. According to official statistics, some 600,000 Albanians have migrated, mainly to the EU and US, in the past decade.
During an exclusive interview with EURACTIV on the eve of the summit, Rama said that it is not up to him to tell people not to leave.
“I have never thought, and I still don’t think that it’s a good idea to believe and let alone communicate, that the young people should absolutely stay here because I think they have the right to try, and they should make use of their freedom, and it’s absolutely in their hands,” Rama said.