Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Albania's bitter political stand-off intensifies

The bitter stand-off between Albania's Socialist opposition leader, Edi Rama, and Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party continues to intensify, with another massive demonstration in Tirana - cast as an "anti-Mubarak-style" action - held on Friday (18 February).

Opposition leaders claimed a turnout of 200,000, while police did not give an estimate. Unlike the violence seen in demonstrations almost a month ago, the rally passed largely peacefully amid a heavy police presence.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Socialist opposition protesters in Tirana (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

With no solution in sight, Albania's aspirations for EU membership have for the moment been thrown into question. The victims of the saga are a people struggling to get by on meagre wages, amid government corruption and a crumbling infrastructure.

Last year, the European Commission opinion on Albania's application for EU membership called upon the country to strengthen rule of law, ensure political dialogue and establish a properly functioning parliament.

But ugly scenes of members of parliament trading blows last Thursday (10 February) have done little to inspire confidence. To compound the misery, Ilir Meta, the now former deputy prime minister and close ally of Prime Minister Berisha, was caught on camera attempting to influence a huge government tender for a hydroelectric power plant. He resigned on 16 January. The corruption case has fuelled resentment.

A few days later on 21 January, Mr Rama, who is also Tirana's mayor, led a massive protest that ended in violence and bloodshed. Four people were shot dead by the Republican Guard in front of the prime minister's office. All were allegedly unarmed and outside the security perimeter.

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule at the time issued a stark warning. "The tone in Tirana needs to change. The dangerous downward spiral must end. The political crisis must be resolved," he said in a statement delivered at the European Parliament last Tuesday (15 February)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sent her special envoy to the western Balkans, Miroslav Lajcak, to mediate, but to little avail. Mr Lajcak asked the leaders to stop the violence and get the political dialogue back on track. He also asked them to implement the 12 priorities outlined in a 2010 commission opinion.

That meeting occurred the evening before thousands of protesters descended upon the city for a second time. Aside from two minor scuffles with the police, no one was hurt. Razor wire, however, and heavily armed guards surrounded the PM's office.

Berisha speaks out

In an interview with EUobserver inside his office that very day (5 February), the prime minister threatened to hunt down anyone attempting to overthrow his government by force. Several protesters on 21 January had tried to breech the barrier separating his office and the street.

"Mr Rama wanted to attack by Kalashnikovs, bazookas and other means," he said, adding that if ever such force is indeed used "they will have a fierce counter-attack ... they will be hunted to their last nest and no more."

Disputed elections

The origin of the escalating controversy is a disputed June 2009 national election. Mr Rama, who lost against Mr Berisha, says it was rigged - a position he has maintained throughout.

A 2009 report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says the country does not meet international standards for a democratic election. The OSCE recommendations to improve the election process have yet to be implemented. The opposition refuses to recognize any election results so long as proper standards are not in place. Because of this, the upcoming local elections in May are in jeopardy.

Mr Rama is now calling for more protests. He is also insisting for a snap national election - a proposition vehemently opposed by the prime minister.

In downtown Tirana, a pita-shop owner told EUobserver that he saw no future in Albania. Instead, people appear helpless as they witness the rhetoric and the threats of their elected officials aired daily on prime-time television.

Albania, which became a Nato member in 2008, had its visa restrictions to the EU lifted in November 2010.

Opinion

The protracted death of democratic Albania

How have Albania been allowed to deteriorate so far? The answer lies primarily with the country’s politicians, in particular Prime Minister Sali Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama, who together have done more to destroy their country’s progress than any other post-Communist leaders in Europe, argues Dimitar Bechev.

EU lobby register still riddled with errors

The EU's lobby register remains riddled with errors, with pro-transparency campaigners demanding better data and mandatory rules. The latest findings come amid a raft of proposals by the European Parliament president to weed out corruption in the wake of Qatargate.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us