The students’ protest, the protests of the residents of Astir, the protests of the residents of Kukes, Xhafa’s resignation and the gridlock in signing Lleshaj’s nomination as minister, the scandal with the MP’s son, Tahiri’s house arrest, the expulsion of four foreign diplomats, the return of Mit’hat Frasheri’s remains home and Russia 2018 World Cup. Albanian Free Press analyst offers the top list
By Roland Qafoku
This year too, Albania continued to resemble a body constantly in fever. After analyzing the events that featured 2018, one will not feel very excited. The word “protest” and the word “leave” were key words this year, accompanied by an economic slowdown, frequent government scandals and growing political tension. Nevertheless, all of this was nothing compared to the joyous moments that the World Cup or the return of the remains of Mit’hat Frasheri home offer. Below, we’re going to list some of the most important events of 2018 in Albania.
STUDENTS’ PROTEST (3 December-21 December)
For 18 days in a row, students managed to send shockwaves all over the country. Although they were not taken seriously at first, afterwards they turned into a hurricane, reminding many Albanians that hope is not dead. Unorganized and with no representative body, students increased the number of their requests and in the recent days, they came out with 8 demands, which also included the amendment of the law on higher education. Unprepared for such massive reaction, the government found itself in a difficult spot, while PM Edi Rama was obliged to admit that this protest was a slap for the government, a punch for the opposition and a hope for Albanian society. To calm students down, PM Edi Rama held several meetings with them in three universities, but this was the first time his way of communicating with the public did not work. Students exchanged remarks with the Prime Minister and some of them insulted him. From an invitation for dialogue, this turned into a communication fiasco. Students stopped their protest on 21 December and pledged that they would resume it on January 7. On 26 December, PM Rama announced several decisions taken by the government, where the most important one was the decision to reduce tuition fees by 50% and offer free education to excellent students. However, Rama declared that the law on higher education shall not be changed and it is not yet known how this will be received by students.
THE PROTEST OF THE RESIDENTS OF KUKES REGARDING THE PROTEST (31 March)
Without political leadership and without any support, around 500 residents of Kukes organized a violent protest on 31 March against the introduction of a 5 euro toll charge for drivers using the highway linking Albania to Kosovo. This provoked anger among the local population, who set fire to some of the wickets which were just installed to collect the fee. Some protesters were arrested, while some police officers sustained serious injured. Meanwhile, the opposition showed its support through declarations. The government was caught by surprise. PM Rama was forced to admit that the government should have consulted with local residents. The government reviewed the decision and decided to reduce the toll charge to 100 lek for the local residents. The toll charge came into force on September 17 and the fact that there was no reaction means that the residents agreed with it.
PROTEST OF THE RESIDENTS OF ASTIR (November-December)
November and December were months of protests for nearly 1000 residents of the area of Astir in the capital. According to a new and modern project, the existing road would expand and as a result, the government decided to demolish 300 homes. A part of the legalized homes would be compensated at a very low price, while those who had not been legalized would not be compensated. However, the city hall had assured them that they would have their rent paid for a period of two years. But this sparked the reaction of the residents who protested for two months by blocking the road and burning tires.
FATMIR XHAFAJ’S RESIGNATION
On October 27, former minister of Interior, Fatmir Xhafaj resigned from this post, while PM Edi Rama approved his decision. This resignation was somehow unexpected at that very moment, but not several months ago. For three months in a row, Xhafaj was accused by the opposition and the media concerning the so called scandal involving his brother, Agron Xhafaj. The opposition demanded Xhafaj’s removal, while the prosecution opened an investigation. Xhafaj and PM Rama declared that this was slandering. The prosecution’s investigation lead to nothing.
THE APPOINTEMENT OF SANDER LLESHAJ (16 November)
It was the president of the country, Ilir Meta who fought the opposition’s battle. The head of the state did not sign the decree for the appointment of minister of Interior Sander Lleshaj, who was nominated in this post by PM Rama. This deadlock only lasted two weeks and the president argued that Lleshaj also held the title of “general”, which was against the Constitution. In fact, both the PM and Lleshaj admitted this and demanded for his title to be removed. This followed the president’s decision to approve his nomination. However, this showed that relations between president Meta and PM Rama were strained. Meta showed political maturity and won in front of a Prime Minister who believes he’s always right even when he’s not.
Regarded by many as a successful minister, Tahiri was involved in a drug trafficking scandal which had to do with some of his relatives in Italy during the time he was in office. In fact, the investigation that was opened has progressed, while in Italy, it’s been closed. The Socialist Party expelled him from its parliamentary group and he was placed under house arrest. After several days, the Court of Appeal overruled this decision. At the moment when everyone thought that Tahiri would come back to politics, the US embassy issued a statement declaring that judges had been put under pressure. Even the fact that the court of Catania closed his case could not help the former Interior minister.
THE EXPULSION OF THE RUSSIANS (26 March and 19 December)
We were used to read about such events on the dossier section, but in 2018, Albania expelled from its territory four foreign diplomats for espionage and terrorism. They were two Russian diplomats and two Iranian diplomats and this confirmed that the Cold War continued in other forms. The Russian diplomats were Vladislav Filipov, military attaché and Alexey Nikolaevich, general secretary of the embassy. They were expelled on 26 March and the government declared them personas non grata. The ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said that the two diplomats were expelled following the recent conflict between Russia and UK, which was triggered by the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripak in Britain. Albania is part of NATO and this decision showed that the country supports the big allies. But this led to the expulsion of two Albanian diplomats in Moscow. Meanwhile, there was another case of expulsion on 20 December. This time, the government declared two diplomats of the Iranian embassy as personas non grata. One of them was ambassador Gholamhossein Mohammadnia on suspicion of their involvement in a terrorist plot during the match played between Albania and Israel a few months ago.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy