Friday, January 21, 2011

A Wake-Up Call

More than half a year has passed since I last felt motivated to pen an entry about the goings on in my temporary homeland.  The routine of work to home to work sets in and gets hold of you.  August holidays, school starting in September, the bi-cultural holiday season captures you: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Liberation Day, Bajram, Christmas, New Years, MLK Day... sometimes the burden of celebrating two countries significant dates can be overwhelming.  A quick trip to Italy for Burger King on a miltary installation kept me focused on things other than writing.  I needed something exciting to kick me out of my doldrums.

Enter, stage left, Albanian political protests!  You can always rely on them to shake things up every now and then.  To tell the truth, the last couple of rounds of protesting left me vaguely unsatisified.  A hunger strike in which most of the participants looked suspiciously well-fed folded peacefully.  Later there were huge, organized marches demanding opening of the ballot boxes from June 2009.  Thousands of people in the street peacefully petitioning their government for change.  Boringly similar to the Tea Party in the States, except with fewer mis-spelled signs and better fashion sense. 

Pro-government rallies followed to celebrate visa-free travel, Mother Teresa Day, and the anniversary of the founding of one of the political parties.  Nothing more upsetting than hideously loud, inappropriate music occured.  Really? Who decided that the best way to commemorate the life and charitable works of "The Angel of Calcutta" was blaring Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" in Mother Teresa Square?  Tacky, annoying, and poorly attended but not much excitement to be found.  When will they realize the sidewalks in front of the Prime Minister's Office are cobbled with fist-sized stones for a reason?

Today is my lucky day.  After accusations of corruption were aired on a TV news broadcast, the opposition scheduled protests that lived up to the reputation Albanians have established through the long years of turmoil.  Police lined up around the Prime Minister's office.  Protesters met at 8 points around the city and slowly wended there way to Skenderbeg Square to get fired up.  Once their confrontational juices were flowing, the mass surged down the main boulevard to confront their nemesis.

Now I was expecting more of the same lame shouting, speeches, and then off to the coffee bar to rehash the day's events.  When the first police officer got beaned in the noggin with a brick-sized missile I sat up.  "What's this?  Could it be?  A real Albanian protest?"  Six injured cops and ten or more torched cars later I had to admit that this was not your run-of-the-mill shout-fest. 

They're still out there as I type.  Police shooting in the air... tear gas... several square meters of sidewalk cobbles fulfilling their prime directive... That's what I call protest!  OK, I walked my son home from school and passed within two blocks of the melee and heard and saw nothing.  Life in Tirana proceeding apace with less traffic chaos than normal, but the TV never lies: they are a-protestin'.

The long hiatus between 1997 and now seems to have taken its toll on the protesters skills.  I could swear I saw several of the cobble tossers nursing torn rotator cuffs after just a few half-hearted heaves.  The police behaved magnificiently, refraining from opening fire after their comrades went down.  They formed up in a group with interlocked riot shields creating a multi-legged plexiglass turtle.  Hey, that's going to be the name of my next indie grunge band... The Plexiglass Turtles. 

The saddest moment came when the protesters broke open the vehicle entrance gates to the PM's office block.  A clapped-out Mercedes was brought up to ram its way through the vehicle barrier. With the assistance of several enthusiastic orc-wannabes this modern day Grond accelerated toward it's target.  As the protesters pushed from behind, the driver gunned it and crashed into the barrier.  Didn't try to knock over a section of fence on the side or open a hole in the low wall around the garden.  Oh, no.  No half-measures for this guy.  Rammed straight into the hydraulically-activated vehicle barrier (which, incidentally, is designed to stop a vehicle intent on ramming something more vulnerable).  The impact of the car with barrier was mildly amusing. The impact of frenzied pusher's noses with the back of the car was much more satisifying.  You go, guys!

The protesting goes on.  I hope no one gets badly hurt as none of the issues are worth shedding blood over.  The forecast is for heavy rain which I hope will dampen the protester's ardor like hosepipe directed at a pair of furiously mating dogs.  Regardless, I have to thank these dedicated protesters for breaking me out of my stupor and reminding me there is magic out there if you only listen.


M said...

Glad to see you back! Amusing description of the protests. Kind of reminds me of Bob's description of "rioting" in S. Korea, in that they could walk right behing the protesters and not be noticed. M.

Bob Strange said...

Verrry interesting!
You would have to be old enough to remember "Laugh-in".
Take care; but keep posting.
Unka Bob