Student protests over a proposed university tuition fee rise have rocked the Albanian government.
Thousands of people took to the streets in the capital Tirana and towns and cities across the Balkan country last week. The For the University Movement is demanding that the government cancels the latest fee hike and halves graduate course fees.
Edi Rama, Labour-type Socialist Party prime minister, tried to mock student protesters as “grade-failers”.
This only fuelled students’ anger. As one protester said, “I am a grade-failer because I have to work 12 hours a day to pay for the tuition fees and books.”
The movement has already pushed Rama’s government into retreat over some parts of funding. And, encouragingly, the student protesters have rejected support from the right wing opposition parties.
Rama came to office at the head of a coalition of social democratic parties in 2013 promising change. Dubbed the “Albanian Renaissance” it promised
much-needed change from the Tory-like Democratic Party.
But the Albanian Socialist Party has sacrificed people’s aspirations on the altar of European Union (EU) membership. Rama’s government had to prove it was capable of pushing through free market reforms in order to begin accession talks.
Rama drafted in New Labour privatisation zealot Tony Blair to advise the Albanian government on European integration.
The focus was on “public order”—beefing up police numbers, clamping down on drugs cartels and rooting out judicial corruption.
In practice, the government’s answer to corruption was free market policies.
One of the centrepieces of Albania’s “reform package” has been changes to higher education, modelled on the British university system. The student protests show the possibility of confronting the legacy of nationalism, war and free market shock therapy in the Balkans. Some protesters have made comparisons to the mass protests that toppled Albania’s Stalinist dictatorship in 1990.
Hopes for change were betrayed right across the former Stalinist bloc.
In the Balkans the outcome turned more violent as various former Communist and “democratic” politicians stoked up nationalism to secure their power base.
They were backed by different imperialist powers.
The Albanian protests show the possibility of an internationalist alternative to the local ruling classes’ nationalism and the EU’s neoliberalism.