In the morning of Friday, January 21, Prime Minister Edi Rama marched along Tirana’s main boulevard and stopped before his office to lay commemorative wreaths on a set of plates that remember four men killed 11 years ago on this same day: Ziver Veizi, Faik Myrtaj, Hekuran Deda and Aleks Nika.
On January 21, 2011, Rama—who was at the time leader of the opposition Socialist Party—gathered some 20,000 supporters in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, a position then held by Sali Berisha. Rama and his supporters had spent months contesting the 2009 national elections, during which Berisha and the Democratic Party (PD) claimed a narrow victory.
Berisha was propelled into power through a coalition with Ilir Meta and his Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI). Less than two years into their mandate, Meta was forced to resign as deputy Prime Minister after a leaked videotape saw him and former minister of economy Dritan Prifti discuss a €700,000 bribe.
Rama had always contested the 2009 elections, and Meta’s resignation propelled what would come to be known as the biggest political unrest since 1997, at least at the time. Thousands of people marched towards the Prime Ministry, wielding sticks, stones, and umbrellas in an attempt to break into the building.
The police responded by throwing tear gas and employing water cannons against the protestors. The clashes persisted for several hours until the police and Republican Guard started firing bullets into the air to scare the demonstrators.
Three protestors were killed, and a fourth died a week later in hospital.
Rama has made it a point of commemorating the event, laying wreaths before the Prime Ministry, and even declaring the four men “Martyrs of the Fatherland” in January 2020.
This Friday, following the usual ceremony, Rama appeared live on Facebook, rallying against those who blame him—as the organizer of the January 21 protests—for the deaths that ensued.
“I sincerely believed that we have done our duty towards the martyrs of January 21,” Rama said. “I’m talking of course about our Justice Reform.”
But has justice been served?
In the aftermath of the protests, six Republican guards were investigated, but only two served any time for the killings. Ndrea Prendi was condemned to one year in prison for negligent homicide, and Agim Llupo was given three years. However, they were both released in 2013 to general uproar.
Rama, who was elected Prime Minister in June 2013, ran his campaign on the promise that justice would be served. He repeated that promise during the 2015 and 2017 local and national campaigns as well.
In January 2021, the Tirana police requested that investigation be reopened on the January 2011 killings, though there has been little headway into the matter.
Speaking to local media, family members of those killed in 2011 said they had been disappointed by the justice system so far, but were holding out hope that things would change. They also anticipated that the case would be taken over by the Special Prosecution against Organized Crime and Corruption (SPAK), one of the institutions created by Albania’s ongoing justice reform.