New law protects minority languages and expands their spheres of use
Recognising minority rights
Albania's first law to boost the status and rights of minorities is a welcome step and the culmination of a long-running campaign to bring minority rights in line with international standards. In addition to allocating extra funding for recognised ethnic minority communities, media outlets and affiliated civic groups, the law also allows for the use of minority languages in communications with Albanian authorities. A draft version of the law released in September 2017 caused an initial uproar and controversy as Albanian authorities had failed to include Albania's Bulgarian community in the law. The original text only recognised eight of Albania's minority communities: Bosnian, Egyptian, Greek, Macedonian, the Vlachs, Roma, Serb and Montenegrin.
Lashing back over the exclusion of Bulgarian minorities, members of the European Parliament from various countries urged Albania to recognise the Bulgarian national minority formally by including them in the list of communities within the law. In response to the pressure, on 14th October 2017 an amended version of the law was passed by Albania's parliament, which also included protections for the Bulgarian community in the country.
Blocking far-right websites
In a separate incident in August, the Albanian domain registrar blocked a far-right website after complaints were received from netizens and Anonymous Albania regarding offensive content posted on its site. The neo-Nazi webpage, "Daily Stormer", was blocked after Albanian authorities ordered the site's host to eject the group's webpage. Under Albania's rules governing domains registered with Host.al, sites can be banned for containing "abusive, insulting, racist names, words related to crimes or misbehavior and those that conflict with the good customs and traditions". In a statement, a spokesperson for Host.al said:
"[Albania] has always taken a stand against racism...During [World War II], Albania was a safe haven for many Jewish refugees from other countries".
"The Daily Stormer" is now only be accessible via the dark web, which requires specific software to access.
Changing the broadcasting code
Albania is currently undergoing changes to its broadcasting code to ensure that the media do not abuse children's rights in the name of keeping the public informed. The changes come after Albania's media regulatory body, Audiovisual Media Authority in Albania, received a number of complaints regarding ethical breaches in broadcasting that violated children's rights. In particular, during consultations with civil society, the Observatory for Children's Rights stated that more needed to be done to protect children when interviewing them for television programmes. At the time of writing, the draft changes are expected to be adopted before the end of the year.
While the majority of recent protests in Albania have taken place peacefully, one protest was met with aggression from Albanian security forces. On 14th September 2017, residents in Shkoza protested over the destruction of their homes by blocking a main road. Tensions had been rising after authorities announced their intention to widen a road near to the village, which meant the destruction of 153 houses. Considering many of the houses were not properly registered, residents grew increasingly concerned that they would not be compensated for their losses. Fifteen protesters, including a twelve-year old child, were accosted by Albanian security forces in the confrontation over the protest, and the parents of a six-year old child were also arrested. Footage of the protest can be seen in the video below.
Although construction to widen the road has already begun, residents have vowed to continue their protest by blocking the entrance to the village until the plans are abandoned or they are compensated for the destruction of their property.
In a separate incident, four civil society activists involved in the February 2016 protest over the illegal construction work in the Artificial Lake Park of Tirana were given a one-month sentence, allegedly for “resisting a police officer”. Considering the events were captured on video, and clearly depict a police officer slapping and pulling an activist's hair, the sentencing has been widely condemned.
From 17th August to 11th October 2017, a number of protests on a variety of social issues took place in the country without any reported incidents. A few are as follows:
- Albania’s opposition parties gathered to demand a referendum on waste imports;
- Citizens protested over the building of hydropower plants on Vjosa, the last free-flowing river in Europe;
- Albanians protested against domestic violence against women;
- LGBT activists protested at the Ministry of Justice, throwing red paint on the building;
- Himara inhabitants belonging to the Greek minority in the country protested over the demolition of their property with the construction of a central square;
- Shijak inhabitants protested against the construction of a waste processing plant for hospital waste;
- Durrës activists protested against the occupation of public space at an archaeological site; and
- Albania's Confederation of Trade Unions mobilised to demand a raise to the minimum wage by 17 percent and improve employees’ working conditions.