Erion Veliaj is a master of disguise with two carefully curated faces that can be switched with the well oiled skill of a sociopath, depending on who his audience is. He presents himself to his social media followers and the expat community of Tirana as this “cool,” progressive, forward-thinking guy that is “just like them” and wants what is best for the city. He plants trees, hugs babies, takes pictures in sports gear at marathons, inaugurates a bike lane or two, and says he is all for the environment, but when the diplomats, expats, agency staff, and English teachers aren’t looking, the other, darker, and more terrifying mask comes out to play.
One prime example of this manoeuvre has come to light this week. Residents of the Astir area of Tirana are up in arms at the news their houses will be demolished to make way for a new road. Their anger has been understandably exacerbated by the fact that the Municipality is offering them no legal guarantees of compensation for them losing their homes, their livelihoods, and their community. In a city that suffers from extreme levels of poverty, high unemployment, and rising rental prices, many of these families are going to find themselves homeless, soon, with no way of supporting themselves—but Erion doesn’t care about that.
Of course these individuals protested, they blocked the roads and they marched on the City Hall demanding answers and that their cries of desperation be heard. They even tried to enter the building to have an audience with the man who had the future of their homes in his hands, but they were beaten back by the police. What was the Mayor’s reaction?
In a speech given tow days ago he said:
These are clearly people who do not feel they belong to this city. Because there are those who have no roots in this city and do not see their future in this city who are attacking in a barbarian way the workers who earn little money so that they can raise their children.
What could I say to someone coming from Lyon – to someone coming from Barcelona? [Shall I tell them] that we still have primitive species who represent political parties and violate people who work for this city?
He then proceeded to call those that protest against his projects “cavemen”—yes, people that have come from caves. Just for some context, that is the pejorative expression that was used in the early 1990s in Tirana for people coming from the north of the country.
He insinuated they do not pay their taxes and that they want to remain in the stone age, that is, they are resisting Veliaj’s efforts to civilize them. He called those who fall in line with the Municipality plans are “civilized” and “European” and stated that those who do not, “will not evolve into normal people.”
Are these the words of a humanitarian mayor? Are these the words of someone who claims to champion human rights, equality, and societal evolution? We think not. And just in case you were in any doubt about how he feels about the poor, the minorities, and those at the bottom of the societal food chain, he made this comment as well,
Even the Roma people are living better today […] Let’s put it bluntly: Even they have become normal human beings.
So that you understand: under his leadership even Roma people that he thinks are not normal human beings are evolving into normal human beings!
The truth is that Erion Veliaj is destroying Tirana. From the impending demolition of one of the most beautiful and historical parts of Tirana (the National Theater), to the uprooting of over 300 families to make way for a new road that the government are set to profit off, is there nothing that is sacred any more? Human rights are being infringed left, right, and center, laws are being broken, the Constitution of the country is being ignored, and worst of all, protestors and citizens of the city are being dehumanised and having racial and classist slurs made against them.
Mr Veliaj will tell you that the demolition is deserved, because these people do not pay taxes or are here illegally, but this is simply not true. The truth of the matter is that it is him and his office that are acting illegally.
The Municipality has not made any information about the project public, and he has not conducted any public hearing or consultation, which is required by law. He has not conducted a cost assessment or environmental impact assessment, as is required by law. He has not offered compensation to the expropriated citizens, nor has he notified them in due time and given them the opportunity to challenge the decision in the courts. With zero transparency and the companies involved either having no construction expertise, or being set up four months ago, again this stinks to high heaven of corruption designed to line the pockets of a few.
Mr Veliaj wants you to believe that he has your interests at heart. He wants you to believe that he is just doing the best for the city and he wants you to believe that he is that same fresh-faced Mjaft! protestor of the early 2000s. But he is not. He has evolved into an authoritarian figure that ruthlessly persecutes street vendors, minorities, litter pickers, and the poor people of Tirana. If you do not tow his line, the one that is designed to line his pockets, you are a stone-age barbarian, if you do sit back and take it, you are a civilized European.
But his words spoken in Albanian, when he thinks the ears of the expats, EU, and diplomats aren’t listening, show us the truth of the matter. He doesn’t want people to protest (which is their human right), he doesn’t want people to refuse to leave their homes (which is their human right), he doesn’t want people to demand that public policy things are done transparently and according to the law (which is their right) and he doesn’t want to be held accountable or answerable to any decisions that are made, that affect the lives of Tirana’s inhabitants.
Furthermore, he believes that the poor and minorities in the community are worth nothing, are not real Albanians, and do not deserve to have a voice in what is supposed to be a democracy.
Erion Veliaj stated:
When did it ever occur [in our country’s history] that a noisy and unlawful minority imposes [its will] on the morally right, righteous and honest majority?
To Mr Veliaj we say, there is nothing morally right, righteous, or honest about anything you are doing, and today, like other days before, you have brought a deep shame on Tirana, its citizens, and what it means to be Albanian.