In response to recent violent protests, one of the leaders of the Albanian opposition party hosted a press briefing in Washington Tuesday.
Erion Veliaj, a lead organizer of recent protests against Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, asked a mixed audience of reporters and political activists for both advice and support.
“I wanted rather than a rant against the government and against this madness in Albania, I wanted this to be two things: I wanted this to be a discussion because I know a lot of you have questions,” Veliaj said. “I’m also here to ask for help,”
On Friday, thousands of opposition party supporters protested, carrying flowers throughout Albania’s capitol. They were demonstrating against military violence during a Jan. 21, rally leaving four dead and dozens of journalists and protesters wounded.
“Granted, I am a bit emotional, partaking in more funerals this month than than most of my lifetime,” Veliaj said.
Veliaj, among others, urged for the prosecution of the Republican Guards responsible for the shootings against unarmed civilians.
“One shooter was arrested but none of the six commanders. They are still freely roaming in the downtown cafe’s of Tirana with full political immunity.”
Citing corruption in the 2009 elections, during which Berisha came to power, protesters rallied aggressively for early elections and government reform.
“I am not here to praise violence or defend anyone who threw a rock against the prime ministers office. I am just here to make an appeal that a human life is never equivalent to a broken window,” Veliaj said.
Berisha has declared the protest a coup d’etat and has embarked on an investigation against anti-government demonstrators.
During an emergency meeting, “the prime minister recognized the foul mood of the country and the solution to get out of the crisis, and I am quoting, asking the government to make all funds available to fly Lady Gaga or Shakira to Albania so we can have a big party to get over this,” Veliaj said. “Clearly the situation is tragicomic.”
“The only problem is, when it’s about shooting people and being a NATO member and its about trying to apply for EU membership, then you realize the joke has gone way too far,” Veliaj said.
Protestors plan to continue demonstrating every Friday, with increasing activity nearing the end of February.
Members of the audience, ranging from Albanian politicians to representatives of the State Department offered their opinion. Some suggested waiting for the next election cycle. While local elections are set to take place in May, general elections will not be held until 2013.
“This is unacceptable, you guys would be furious if it happened here. So please, I accept any advice but to just tell us to be quiet don’t exercise your right of assembly. No,” Veliaj said. “On the issue of elections…to have another beauty pageant that is already rigged. It clearly doesn’t make sense.
Six questions for Erion Veliaj
- How politically active is the Albanian youth?
- How has social media helped organize protests?
- How much have the protests grown in size?
- What are your thoughts on U.S. involvement?
- Why do you think it took violence to get international media involved?
- What is your role in the opposition party?