The crowd marching down the streets of Tirana resembled a massive approaching tsunami. In its wake, it smashed advertising signs, knocked down street lamps, dislocated rubbish bins, roared, and sang. In the collective memory, this crime recalled the brutal repression of the past regime but also more recent events, such as the killing by the National Guard of four protesters on 21 January 2011.
No car windows were broken, however, no cafeteria windows behind which dozens of eyes glazed over – as if the revolt of these teenagers was directed at what we commonly refer to as ‘public property’. As if their anger was not against certain individuals, but against all of us — the citizens of the metropolis — who although we live under the boot of the oligarchy lose our temper only when one of the ‘barbarians’ coming from the periphery spits on the pavement. As if all of Tirana represented only the decorative facade which we have been tamed to accept as normality but for us is foreign, distant, and unwanted. A normality to be broken.
Deep discontent with social situation
The discontent directed at the police and their minister, Sandër Lleshaj, has been bubbling up for some time now. Actions such as the persecution of miners and oil refinery workers for their trade-union organising, the violent intervention against the protesters defending the National Theatre from demolition, as well as against the student movement during the pandemic, have been engraved in people’s minds. All this adds up to a broader context of what can only be described as an oligarchic order in Albania. Business people with a dark past own all the resources in the country and use their economic power to manoeuvre politicians like puppeteers. They are responsible for the catastrophic conditions in which the public healthcare system finds itself. They are the big sharks who have benefited through the years from privatisations of the system and state subsidies for services that supposedly the public sector is incapable of providing. While new Covid-19 cases appear to overwhelm the system and the death rate is increasing, Albania is the country with the lowest number of tests per population — six times lower than the average in Europe and three times lower than the average in the region. Meanwhile, the government is imposing absurd measures that make no sense — on the one hand partial lockdowns and mandatory mask-wearing on the streets, and, on the other, workers crammed together in narrow mines, factories, and call centres, turning them into nests of infection. And those responsible for enforcing these measures through penalties and terror are the police.
The approaching wave of protesters caused unease in the bourgeois class, which hurried to their luxury cars, with anxiety etched in their faces. Just as in those Hollywood movies in which the characters rush to escape the approaching apocalypse. In the middle of the wave, for a brief moment, one feels as if one has four hundred hands and feet, as if part of a supernatural organism but at the same time completely at its mercy while incapable of controlling the actions of one’s own limbs. The protesters called for the police to remove their hats and join them, as an act of solidarity and distancing themselves from the killing of Klodian. Faced with the possibility of police men joining, the chiefs of police instead ordered an escalation of tension, pushing the protesters in different directions. The Christmas tree in front of Prime Minister’s building was set on fire, burning under the falling rain — a scenery that aptly represented the rage and frustration that was brewing within the protesters.
Pathologisation of protesters
The Minister of Education intervened in the media to declare: ‘We will search for the names of those children and identify them, in order to incorporate them into our psycho-social system.’ Her view is that the protesting children were exploited for political gains and require professional treatment by psychologists. It is hard not to invoke the scenery described in Slavoj Žižek’s book In Defence of Lost Causes about the Serbsky Institute in Moscow during the Soviet regime. The doctors had invented a mental disorder named ‘sluggish schizophrenia’, where the patients appearing normal would suddenly suffer from the symptoms of ‘inflexibility of convictions’, or ‘nervous exhaustion brought on by his or her search for justice’, or ‘a tendency to litigation’. Mental health institutions were convinced that a person had to be insane to oppose the system.
This is the argument of the minister too. The responsibility for 33 juveniles arrested and thrown in jails (according to the report in the People’s Advocate) does not lie with the government; it lies with their parents and their mental state, for which they require treatment. It does not lie with the wrecking and privatisation of the education system, with the impossibility of finding a job and changing their social situation, with the herding of their parents in times of pandemic like cattle within privatised mines, privatised factories, privatised urban transport, to then have the doors of the privatised health system shut in their faces. This is the revolt of the younger generation, who grew up on stories of European integration while witnessing how criminals are integrated into politics and oligarchs into the economy.
Social movements and rebellion
The events described above cannot be understood in isolation from the recent past. Since 21 January 2011, hope and belief in the elites of the last thirty years have been waning, even though for economic, ideological, or cultural reasons, they have managed to hold on to part of their electorate. During these years, through our activism as members of Organizata Politike, we have tried to contribute to creating new social movements from below, as an antithesis to the system controlled by the oligarchs, articulating the view that politics should not consist of a monopoly of the bureaucrats sitting in parliament but be the realm of the common people who, through organising, are able to take control of their destinies. New independent trade unions have sprung up in Albania, new organisations against the subjugation of women, and a student protest that in 2018 shook the foundations of the government; all these are signs that politics is drifting away from party headquarters towards the squares, workplaces, and universities.
Under the tear gas used abundantly by the police, children and teenagers were training for the many clashes that lay ahead. ‘Do not run away because you are young’, shouted the bravest in the first lines. In a country where anger has been boiling under the surface for a long time, with youngsters growing up with the spectacle of politicians plundering the Albanian people for thirty years without a thorn ever entering their side, it will not be long before the revolt spreads still more widely. And so the anarchists of tomorrow will grow, although today they have no clear coordinates except a need for justice that springs from within. Aware that their opponent is the system, in their minds for the moment it is shifting in shape and size, from one suit-and-tie face to another.
The youngsters in the peripheries know that Klodian’s fate is already written in their own future obituaries, because crime is the only way out for most of them. For them the bullets of the police or rival gangs – who for us ‘normal’ people are just details in ‘black chronicles’ (obituaries) which we shrug off with ‘let them eat each other’s heads’ – constitute the (in)glorious end of the bravest. The fact that Klodian was not a criminal makes the injustice unbearable for them; because Klodian did not challenge his fate the way most of them will have to. Therefore, the face of the resigned minister on TV says nothing to them. They are rebelling against the fate that awaits them.
Photo: Protests in Tirana (source: Organizata Politike, Transform!Europe).
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This article was originally published at the site of Transform!Europe and is written by Redi Muçi and Frenklin Elini – activists from Organizata Politike, which is a left-wing political organization in Albania.