Albania crippled by massive student protests amid fears of further escalation across the country as 4pm deadline to government expires

students protests tirana albania
University students flock the streets of Albanian capital Tirana this morning

Tirana, Albania | 11 Dec 2018 (Tirana Echo) – Albania has been crippled today as tens of thousands of public university students have taken to the streets of Tirana demanding the socialist government of Edi Rama to cut tariffs in half and improve living conditions in dormitories.

This is the largest gathering of students so far as the protest enters its 7th day, prompted after the prime minister of the country dismissed them as ‘university failures’ following their objection to a proposed increase of enrollment tariffs.

Tens of thousands of university students were joined by their  high school fellow pupils in front of the ministry of education and have given the government until 4pm this afternoon to fulfill their ‘nonnegotiable demands’, warning that failure to do so will oblige them to escalate the protest across the country.

The visibly frustrated students have declined to meet with education minister Lindita Nikolla and have refused to enter into negotiations with prime minister Rama, asking his government instead to fulfill a set list of 8 demands.

Among others, students demand the socialist led government of Edi Rama increases the annual national education budget to 5% of GDP, currently standing at around 2,3%, as well as making all its educational expenses transparent online.

In addition to better dormitory living conditions, they also want the government to ensure an annual student card and crack down on corrupt teachers and a proper system of verification of plagiarized thesis, which is pervasive across the country’s schools and universities.

However, analysts have warned that the protest is reflective of wider growing frustration of Albania’s youth who are in their overwhelming majority in favor of abandoning the small Balkan country in favor of better opportunities in western Europe, notably in Germany.

A recent Gallup poll found that 79% of 18-25 year old youths wish to leave Albania, with most of them aiming to move to Germany. A witty poster held by medical student Inva Mamica yesterday read “uni failures wanted by Germany”, referring to large numbers of Albanian students who opt to be employed in Germany after their studies. 

Commenting on the magnitude of the protest, renowned journalist and TV host Blendi Fevziu said: “This could be a protest which may bring down not only the academic boards and the minister of education, but the entire political class of Albania. This is as economic as it is a clash of generations”.

This morning, pupils stuck posters on the wall of the Polytechnic University of Tirana exposing red crossed faces of several teachers which have been denounced as corrupt by the student body, alleging they take bribes in return for better marks.

Differing from previous smaller scale politically motivated demonstrations, the current organizers have vowed to keep out any political party representatives from the opposition DP and LSI, arguing that this is not a political protest and that they will not bow down until the government gives in to their requests.

Unlike previous political demonstrations, US Embassy and other diplomatic representations in the country have curiously not warned their citizens to stay away from public gatherings in Tirana. 

Socialist prime minister Edi Rama pleaded again for the students to join him in parliament this morning, arguing that dialogue alone can move things forward.

However, his pleas were met with categorical rebuttal by the students who as the 4pm o’clock deadline passed, pledged to move the protest by the PM office at Tirana’s main boulevard. 

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