"Facebook on the Streets"

Monday, April 27, 2009

Today we will witness an entirely new phenomenon in Albania's public life. For the first time we will follow a protest organized by people cooperating through the Facebook. A few days ago some people in Shkoder founded a group against the project for construction of a nuclear plant in Albania. The group has now about 5,000 members. Without any previous organization and without electing any leader the people have agreed, through the Internet, to meet at 1000 hours and take part in a peaceful march against the idea of building a nuclear plant in Albania. If this agreement materializes (this still remains to be seen), then we will witness a new development that deserves a sociological and political analysis.

Last month, on the eve of major G20 and NATO summits, the European media dwelt at length on the fact that the protests in London and Strasbourg had been organized through what are described as "social networks," Facebook and Twitter. The phenomenon has now engulfed Albania at an overwhelming speed, which is becoming usual in the current era of digital technology.

Moreover, parallel with the Albanians' establishment of their group, the Montenegrins also used Facebook to set up their own group against the power plant. The news of the protest was disseminated immediately among the members of the Montenegrin group and the neighbours are now expected to come together to take part in this protect, probably the first occasion in which citizens of two different ethnic groups in the Balkans have spontaneously decided to come out into the street together on an issue that brings them together, beyond borders and linguistic divisions. All these individuals have decided to act today like real citizens, in the specific meaning of this word, and stand up to their responsibility of contributing to the decisionmaking process.

This is a new political development, too. While the electoral campaign is dominated by the parties' political agenda, today's protest is over an entirely different issue. The citizens who will march along Shkoder streets today will reject this agenda by protesting over an issue that has been so far either ignored by the political forces or raised only for electoral purposes. Under these circumstances, aware of this delicate situation, many members of the Internet group have appealed to the participants in the protest to remain impartial to the political forces both in the speeches they will deliver and in the slogans they will launch. The concern is that the protest might be easily used for electoral purposes.

The ruling coalition has tried to minimize the importance of the issue, saying it is only an unsavoury concoction of the opposition. The question is: has the government given up the idea, which it has often supported publicly, of the construction of a nuclear plant in the country (in Shkoder or elsewhere)" No,
it has not given it up. The idea of transforming Albania into an energy park with all kinds of fuel stations, hydropower stations, wind energy facilities, and nuclear plants continues to remain on its agenda. What about the opposition" It has done nothing, but only sympathized with the people of Shkoder. Has the opposition declared that it will not build any nuclear plant in Shkoder or elsewhere in Albania if it comes to power" No, it has not declared so. The industrial park in Vlore showed that both main parties adopt absolutely similar positions on such projects as soon as they come to power, even though once in opposition they use different language. Today's protest in Shkoder will mobilize new, pure energies. It will place the citizens in opposition to the politicians of every hue, and the reason is that the citizens do not feel they are being properly represented today. The politicians should reflect on this development, even though this development might not have any immediate effect (it is very likely the people in Shkoder will vote in these elections for the same parties they have voted for in the past). The parties should reflect by making changes in the way they are organized and in the way they communicate. They should reflect by including pressing environmental issues in their political agenda.

Nevertheless, it is very likely that we will not witness such a reaction this time. The politicians will not listen to the citizens. On the contrary, they will try to use the citizens for their own purposes. This will lead to other forms of manifestation of the kind we are discussing in this article. We cannot foresee the complications of this development today, because we are talking about a very new form of the citizens' political organization.

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