The Albanian opposition, led by the conservative Democratic Party of Albania (DPA), will hold a nationwide protest on 6 December 2022, falling exactly on the day of the European Union-Western Balkans (EU-WB) summit in Tirana, marking the first EU-WB summit ever to be held in the West Balkans and in a country that is not a full member of the EU. According to President of the European Council Charles Michel this summit will “reaffirm [the EU’s] reinforced engagement.” While such a move to support EU accession of countries in the Western Balkans is very welcome, EU leaders must be aware of the current state of affairs in the most pro-European country in the region. There is not only a wide academic consensus that for at least a decade Albania has become a hybrid regime, but a wide political consensus as well, expressed in reports from Freedom House, the European Union Commission and European Parliament, national parliaments, including the German Bundestag, and so on.
Considering the situation in which the country finds itself, the stance of the DPA is the following:
Albania is in its direst situation since the 1990s. As the communist regime fell, we had the democratic world on our side—the side of freedom, democracy, and prosperity. It is easy to distinguish and denounce a full-blown dictatorship, one that haunts, censures, and kills thousands. Today, it is easy to speak out against the Maduro, Lukashenko, Putin, or Kim Yong Un regimes. It is less straightforward to spot a soft dictatorship in an EU candidate country and much less easy to act against it. The EU institutions find it hard to speak about a semi-authoritarian state led by Albania’s Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, even though there is wide academic consensus on the fact that for at least a decade, Albania has been a hybrid regime.
The DPA has decided to stage a nationwide protest on 6 December 2022, to finally dispel the illusion and the complacency about Albania, cultivated over many years among the EU community, and also through the appalling misuse of Albanian taxpayers money, systematically spent on sponsored articles about the “Albanian miracle” in European media outlets, and on known or less well-known British, Italian and German lobbyists.
Under the watch of the disinterested or even pro-Rama members of the international community present in Albania, the previous opposition leader was bought and paid for, leading Albania on the path of misery and hopelessness. The only solution to the lack of hope for political change was to abandon the country. Over the past decade, more than 700,000 people have left Albania. Under the international community’s watch, a powerful economic and political elite—under the leadership of Prime Minister Edi Rama—has gathered all the power and uses it not only to enrich itself, but also to silence the opposition, the media, and every dissenting voice.
Albania, with the involvement of its government, has been transformed into a drug haven, attracting the most dangerous cartels and drug lords in the world. Iranian hackers threaten the security of a NATO member country, stealing vital information of its citizens. Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese influences are encircling the country, profiting from the slide into authoritarianism and the lack of democracy. The situation is dire in every aspect—economic, social, political, and geopolitical—affecting not only Albanian citizens and the region, but also our European and NATO allies.
Albania has a chronic negative annual trade balance of 25% of its GDP, which is compensated for in two ways: remittances of $600 million/year from Albanians living and working abroad, legally or illegally, and five to ten times as much in proceeds from the illicit trade in cannabis and other drugs. In 2016, the alleged total market value of cannabis plants seized amounted to €3.5 billion, equaling the annual revenue of the Albanian state budget. Drug money is behind the country’s construction boom, which makes housing unaffordable for average Albanians. The connection between drug money, police officials, and top Socialist Party politicians is undeniable. Drug money is funneled via private investors who are granted public service concessions by the Rama government. Typically, Albanian oligarchs working with and under Socialist Premier Edi Rama will invest laundered proceeds from the trade in narcotics into large-scale private construction projects or in the outsourced provision of public services, given to them by Rama in ten-year concessions (for example for medical check-ups, the construction of public schools, incinerators, roads etc.). The latest corruption mega-scandal made known to Albanians concerned the highly corrupt agreement regarding the construction of a Durres marina, practically handing out Albania’s only international port to a bunch of Rama cronies, including the disgraced and ousted former leader of the opposition.
Against this backdrop, the recent massive protests of 7 July and 12 November 2022 have proven that there are tens of thousands of Albanians who want to fight for their country, for their freedoms, and for their families. They do not want to be beggars on other countries’ doorsteps. They want to work hard and live with dignity here, in the place of their ancestors, where they have their roots, traditions, and history. They want to prosper and make this country an example of democracy and stability in the region. These courageous men and women protest so that they can build a country worthy of their history, of their dignity, and of the European family to which we belong.
The international community has to understand that it is not the opposition who has initiated these protests. They come as a result of the immense pressure on the people who struggle to make ends meet, of those who cannot feed their children, and of those who cannot speak freely in their own country. The DP and the opposition parties have undertaken the great burden to live up to these requests and channel the anger, suffering, and protest of the honest men and women of this country who feel that no one is listening to their plight. They regrettably feel unheard by the international community and especially by their European family.
For all these reasons, the brave men and women of this country find the 6 December EU–WB summit a perfect opportunity to transmit to the leaders of the European Union—who are seen as friends and allies, as our natural political family members—the immense grievances they have. The honest working people of this country want to make their voices heard and to seek help directly from those who lead EU member countries. We welcome our friends to Tirana. We remain hopeful that our voices will not remain unheard and that our grave situation will be looked at with the uttermost seriousness and with the will to solve it together.
We are aware that only Albanians can bring democracy to their own country. We are just seeking a helping hand in doing it, so that Albania does not become another Belarus under the EU’s watch. By then, it would be too late—and the calls for democratic elections, democracy, and freedom that the international community would be made in vain—for you esteemed members of the EU will have helped in making Rama the Lukashenko of the Balkans.