Thousands of Albanians joined in mass protests over the weekend, voicing their anger over rising prices, industry monopolies, and a perceived lack of government accountability.
In Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square, a banner that read “Stop Stealing From Us” was carried by protesters to Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office. Protesters warned they would take to the streets every day until the government meets their demands for lower prices.
In response to the protests, Prime Minister Rama issued a statement dismissing protesters as out of touch.
“[I feel] ashamed that a NATO country doesn’t understand the consequences of the war in Ukraine,” Rama said, charging protesters with “insulting the dignity of this country.”
One of Europe’s poorest countries, Albania’s minimum wage is just €240 a month. Over the last week, petrol prices rose to over €2 a litre. More than half of this price is attributed to tax, and Albanians have called for government measures to mediate the price hikes.
Rather than address these concerns, Rama accused those participating in the protests of “tarnishing the international image of Albania,” and showing “contempt” for those losing their lives as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Albanian citizens appear to disagree. Five out of the past seven days have seen large-scale non-partisan protests across major Albanian cities.
Participants in the weekend’s protests argued that the government is stealing from them, and giving room for “oligarchs” to manipulate prices. Albania’s history of corruption scandals, including controversial public-private partnerships and the disappearance of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ funds, provides ample ammunition; a European Commission report last year called on the EU-hopeful to tackle corruption as a priority.
This weekend’s march from Tirana’s central square to the prime minister’s office saw protesters chanting “criminal government” and “down with the dictator.” Others threatened, “if prices do not fall, the government will fall.”
According to media reports, officers without badges or ID tags allegedly arrested a number of peaceful protesters, detaining them for 72 hours between Thursday and Friday.
After days of protests, Rami finally announced a social aid package to support pensioners, workers, farmers, and other vulnerable groups.
One third of Albania’s population currently lives below the poverty line, with low living standards and poor economic conditions resulting in some of the highest emigration and asylum seeker rates in Europe. Between 2010 and 2019, more than 193,000 Albanians- out of a population of 2.8 million- applied for asylum in the EU.
Image via Pixabay