An Albanian who witnessed last week’s bloody anti-government demonstration in Tirana told me today that back in the ’90s American friends urged him not to protest against the government of the day because the downfall of the prime minister would help “that effing maniac” Sali Berisha return to power. Berisha and his supporters did help bring down Fatos Nano and eventually return to government. Now they find themselves at the sharp end of the same tactic, with the protests being orchestrated by the Socialists (now a cleaner, more serious party, according to the witness, who helped organize last week’s demonstration as the leader of a small political party).

He admitted that the protest went over the top but insisted that people are livid over the “theft” of the 2009 elections and feel they have no permissible outlet for their pent-up anger.

As for Berisha’s constant refrain that the violence was necessary to stop the “coup” being mounted against him, if last Friday was a coup attempt, the plotters forgot to bring guns. What interests me more is the tendency in this part of the world to explain unrest as a fiendish plot, typically backed from abroad. Many Czechoslovaks and many Romanians still believe the events of November-December 1989 were “coups” masterminded by the secret police who scented change in the air (no great feat with Gorbachev as much as telling citizens of the satellites to go ahead and overthrow their rotten masters). When Azerbaijani women demonstrated against the government’s attempt to ban the hijab in schools recently, the authorities chided “foreign forces” for inciting the protest.

Prediction: we have not seen the end of political deadlock and seething anger in Albania. Further prediction: the next time a protest turns nasty, Albanians won’t be able to follow the news in their own language on the BBC. The Albanian opposition plans a public mourning tomorrow for the victims of last week’s shootings. My source says hundreds of wardens will be on duty to see that things don’t get out of hand.

Correction: The representative of the political party was incorrectly identified as a member of parliament when this post was uploaded on 27 January.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email: ky.krauthamer@tol.org

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