Environmental concerns drive protests in Albania
Protests between September and early November were driven by environmental issues including waste disposal and the construction of energy facilities. On 1st October, several thousand people gathered in the streets of Tirana to protest against a controversial new law permitting waste imports for recycling. Many fear that the new legislation will allow European countries to use Albania as the continent's rubbish tip. Environmental activists are worried that the new law will result in dangerous and toxic rubbish being imported to prop up the recycling industry in the country. Expressing their dissatisfaction with the new law, protesters wore rubbish sacks and spray painted bins with Prime Minister Edi Rama's name.
Separately, while the announcement of a new waste-to-energy plant near the city of Fier was welcomed by some, local residents have also protested against the plans. Residents of nearby villages pointed out that the plant is to be constructed less that one kilometre away from their village centre and therefore constitutes a health hazard. Locals organised several protests in October to communicate their concerns.
In another incident in late October, residents in Valbona demonstrated against the construction of 14 hydro-power plants. In a mass movement that culminated in a protest concert, environmental activists, residents and musicians came together to voice their anger at the lack of government consultation regarding the proposed construction.
ON Saturday the protest against the hydropower in Valbona valley / Albania pic.twitter.com/MfDTu4b49w— Peaks of the Balkans (@peaksofthebalka) October 31, 2016
The protests come at a time when environmental activists are pursuing legal action to stop the development in the 'Albanian Alps'. A spokesperson for a Northern Albanian environmental protection NGO called Toka said:
'We already started working with a lawyer and are now mulling the best way to get the hydropower plants stopped'
The case brought by environmental rights groups comes as part of a long-running campaign to stop the development, which looks set to continue. Other protests that have taken place in Albania include a mobilisation in Kukes, against the imminent tax for “Rruga e Kombit” or Nation’s Road; and a journalists' demonstration against media censorship.
Civil society has recorded a number of recent cases of state interference with freedom of expression. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, concerns have arisen over Albanian authorities' influence on investigative journalists exposing corruption within government. Most recently, after broadcasting only three episodes, the investigative TV show 'Publicus' on Vision Plus TV was scrapped, sparking accusations of political censorship. The opposition Democratic Party claims the show was allegedly silenced on the direct orders of an elected official.
On 10th October, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), said that the cancellation of the investigative journalism programme was 'disturbing' and called for a clarification of the reasons behind its cancellation. In a press release, SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic organisation said:
'The editors have of course the right to decide about program changes, but the public should be informed what the reasons behind the shutdown of Publicus are.'
The cancellation of 'Publicus' comes as journalists have criticised the flagrant disregard for media ethics in Albania. Recently, radio talk show host Blendi Salaj spoke about the need to address the challenges posed to self-regulation of the media in Albania. Salaj also pointed to the close relation between media and profit, in which the news becomes merely a commodity, damaging the integrity of journalism as a whole.