Thursday, March 17, 2011

Violent Protest Leads to Political Unrest

Ok, we will have to start with a brief history lesson and synopsis of what has been going on in Albania for the past year. Since the previous election for Prime Minister, there has been a great divide between the Democratic and Socialist Parties here in Albania. Edi Rama, the Mayor of Tirana and the head of the Socialist Party accused the current Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, of rigging the votes in order for him to be re-elected as the Prime Minister of Albania. The direct reaction to this incident was a hunger strike, led by Rama, outside the offices of Berisha and other Ministry officials, which took place last spring. Following the hunger strike, Rama continued to place pressure on Sali Berisha and the Democratic Party.

In January, a videotape was released to the media showing the Vice Prime Minister verbally speaking about and accepting bribes in return for favors. In addition to the exposure of the Vice Prime Minister's participation in corruption, Sali Berisha was also mentioned on this tape. After the release and airing of the tape, the Vice Prime Minister resigned from his position. As a result, Edi Rama and the Socialist Party have since asked Sali Berisha to step down as Prime Minister because of his alleged participation in corruption. Berisha has denied the corruption allegations and has rejected the request to resign as Prime Minister.

On January 21st the Socialist Party gathered outside the Municipality in Tirana and demonstrated their desire for Berisha to resign from his position as Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the rally got out of hand. Cars were lit on fire and many protesters began throwing rocks along with other objects in the direction of the Ministry building (which was surrounded and guarded by the riot police). Members of the Socialist Party were not the only ones who became violent. Many of the demonstrators were beaten by police, taken to jail, and one man was shot dead. It is still not 100% clear what happened or whom the orders came from, but it has been stated that Sali Berisha or someone close to him in the Ministry ordered the gunshot, which resulted in the death of a demonstrator. There were a total of 3 deaths as well as many injured.

Since this violent event took place, there have been protests conducted by the Socialist Party weekly, every Friday. These events have taken place in many large cities around Albania. Luckily, most of the demonstrations have been peaceful. In my personal opinion, the fact that these demonstrations have been peaceful has had a lot to do with the fact that so many Albanians still remember the violent riots and upheaval that Albania experienced in 1997. These actions were caused by the collapse of large pyramid schemes, in which many people lost the majority of their money. Coincidentally, the country's President at that time was Sali Berisha...

As shown in recent history, Albania is a country that could be prone to violent protests and political upheaval. When looking at various other countries in which citizens have risen up and overthrown or tried to overthrow political regimes, they all have a few similarities. Albania, like other countries that have experienced political unrest, has a large unemployment rate, the majority of the population is young, and education is not mandatory after the age of 13. These factors frequently contribute to most political uprisings.

These political demonstrations began around the same time as the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, ect. Looking at those violent demonstrations in comparison to what is going on here in Albania, while keeping in mind the violence of 1994, Albania has come a long way in these few short years.

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