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For Albania's disaffected youth, political feud illustrates why they flee

Antigovernment demonstrators returned to the street in Albania Friday, a week after three activists were killed outside Prime Minister Sali Berisha's office.

By Staff writer / January 28, 2011

Albanian opposition leader Edi Rama, in front holding roses, leads his supporters in a march in front of the Prime Minister's office in the capital, Tirana, as they pay homage on Friday, Jan. 28 to three protesters killed last week during an opposition protest.

Visar Kryeziu/AP Photo

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An ugly side-effect of ongoing feuds in Albania between its two charismatic leaders is the effect on the next generation. Young Albanians are so tired of conflict and corruption at home that nearly anyone with talent heads for the door. Some recent college grads say they don’t have any friends not trying to get out – to schools or jobs in Europe and America.

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They loathe the often self-destructive behavior playing out in Tirana between Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Socialist Party leader Edi Rama that last week led to three deaths, but feel helpless to change it.

The pyrotechnic name-calling among Albania's political class also bothers the kids who don't hear such levels of invective in European capitals. At least publicly. After the shooting last week Rama described interior minister Lulzim Basha of being "this socially dangerous worm." Berisha for his part said Rama orchestrated a protest of "Bandits, criminals and terrorists."

Despite Albania’s progress emerging from nearly cultic isolation under strongman Enver Hoxha, the nation continues to reel from a history of guns, grudges, and corruption so thick one needs wings to fly above it.

Last Friday things went sideways after a Socialist-led protest massed outside Mr. Berisha’s Tirana office. Berisha accused Mr. Rama of attempting a coup. Guards shot and killed three protestors and dozens were wounded.

Berisha has called off a protest of his own Saturday. But despite EU and US pleas for calm, Rama, the mayor of Tirana, held another protest today.

Rama is known as a doer. He has transformed Tirana’s image. He wants to claim a nonviolent higher ground for his protest. He’s got video of a senior Albanian minister promoting a kickback that has incensed a public already epically frustrated. He wants a Tunisia-style revolution – but his party has a legacy of corruption, too.

Meanwhile, Albania’s youth diaspora watches intently from perches in Europe. Their intensity is fueled not by fascination but out of political and family necessity. One can’t be uninvolved. There’s despair over a gap between the modern European norms they desire and inertia and cronyism at home, where there are no good alternatives.

Some insight by Albania’s best and brightest abroad got captured in a Skype conversation between a British author and a graduate student in the Netherlands this week. We’ll call her Zana. She’s from a Tirana family and agreed to have her thoughts shared.

There are those who have always been against Berisha, since the beginning. But I think there was some acceptance of the status-quo because the majority of people did not want to think of the past. They were looking forward to the future and to being able to move freely [with new EU visas] and I guess somehow everyone thought … it will all work out. They accepted that this would be the system, not a perfect system, but a system that is moving forward. I guess this is why people were not really behind Rama in his idiotic hunger strikes in the city – because people did not think it spoke to their issues and thought it was more for his personal gain.

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