Protests and integration

Protests and integration

This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and

By Plator Nesturi

This week’s parliamentary session was divided into different parts. There was no single tribune where the sides could debate with each other as they usually do. As it was expected, the protest about the highway toll charge and the arrest of several citizens from Kukes for burning the toll payment wickets in the highway, was the focus of the political discourse. But not in Parliament. While PM Rama was holding a long speech in Parliament concerning the issue of the toll charge, where he admitted that there hadn’t been adequate transparency while communicating with the citizens of Kukes, the opposition’s replies came from somewhere else. Basha and Kryemadhi were leading the protests organized with the aim of blocking roads in Vora and Elbasan.

But these were not the only protests. While public opinion was focused on the toll charge of the Nation’s Road highway, which the opposition made it its motive to launch an action of civil disobedience, other protests were organized in several cities of the country. The decision of the Association of Small Businesses led to many shops in Fier, Tirana and Korca to close for several hours to express their discontent about the VAT tax which affects them.

So, there were several protests. In some of them, the main protagonist was the political class, while in others, it was the citizens who were protesting against tax increases. In his speech in parliament, PM Rama said that the government has reflected on the charge that citizens of Kukes should pay in this highway. More than a comeback to the previous state, this looks like a tactical withdrawal while protests were being held on the road. Even inside parliament, that the opposition had abandoned, there were socialist MPs such as Mimi Kodheli who criticized the government for the lack of transparency for the tariff that was imposed and supported the right of the people to protest when the poverty that exists in the area makes this charge unaffordable. Did Edi Rama withdraw from the declarations that he made in the recent days? It seems not and he showed this in the video conference with councilors and citizens of Kukes. The Prime Minister admitted that the charge was going to be reviewed following a study on the frequency of the movements that the residents of the area make and this could lead to a lower charge about them. But, others who will use the Nation’s Road will still have to pay the same charge. In the midst of all this, Rama accused the opposition of causing this miserable financial situation for the country through its policies when it was in power. Instead of focusing the debate on the topic that caused the protest of the resident of Kukes, the majority decided to once again confront the opposition.  Nevertheless, attacking political opponents and the several millions that the government says that it needs to maintain the road, do not provide transparency for the public. Common people do not receive answers through the attack being made to Basha. They will only receive answers once the government will address to different categories of society about specific problems that they have.

In this climate of antagonism, where the political temperature has risen, the Rapporteur for Albania in the European Parliament, Fleckenstein, has arrived in Tirana. After meeting political leaders and the Interior minister, Xhafa, the EU’s rapporteur said that he was against violent protests and his criticism was addressed toward the opposition, which had blocked the roads. Then, Fleckenstein also talked about the process of integration, saying that Albania should not be imposed extra conditions for the launch of EU accession talks. While the country is expecting the progress report, the Rapporteur expresses his optimism that Albania may receive good news in September.

Although these declarations may suit to some politicians and not suit to others, besides the daily problems such as poverty, asylum seekers, taxes and civil disobedience, there is also another issue which I think interests us all and this is the issue concerning the integration of the country in the EU. Despite the numerous flaws that governments have had, integration in the European Union naturally imposes several obligations on the political class.  The added attention that the EU will show toward a country that wants to join the European family, will bring a more favorable climate in reducing government arrogance, it will bring more European laws and reforms and stronger, more independent and more credible institutions. So, we’re at a special moment when we should assess every political move which may contain confrontation. Civil disobedience that the opposition has recently launched, does contain confrontation, because it is a sort of rebellion against the laws and the decisions of the government. But this type of rebellion comes at a special moment, when the country is waiting to see if the talks for the process of integration will open or if we fail the class once again. Civil disobedience becomes a hurdle despite the opposition’s declarations that it favors the launch of negotiations with Brussels. But nobody wants a country where there is no political stability.

Thus, this is a key moment where the sides should either decide to continue their confrontation, or enter a new political pact. A pact which is not similar to those agreements made before elections, which are mere bargaining agreements, but pacts for the future of the country in Europe. But this does not only require the opposition to withdraw from its incentives for civil disobedience, but it also requires the majority to launch concrete steps to calm the situation down and behave in a less arrogant way. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s Rama or Basha who win out of these clashes, because the rest only lose. This way, we will once again miss the train bound for Europe.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy