The organisers of the strike say they will sacrifice themselves if the government does not respond to their demands.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 15/10/12
Albania police guard tents where former political prisoners have been staging a hunger strike since September 22nd. [Ana Pekmezi/SETimes]
Albania's president is urging a group of former political prisoners not to take any more extreme actions after two allowed themselves to be set on fire because they've not received promised compensation from the government.
President Bujar Nishani on Friday (October 12th) met with 11 former prisoners who are on a hunger strike and living in tents in a developing neighbourhood in Tirana. He asked the protestors "to avoid extreme sacrifices," said Besnik Konci, a political adviser to the president.
"Problems should be solved through institutional dialogue, through respect for the law. The president has been showing his readiness to help," Konci told SETimes.
One of the representatives in the meeting, Fatmir Lamaj, told reporters that Nishani had shown readiness to help them.
"Nishani took note of our demands. He left the path to talks opened," Lamaj said.
About 20 former prisoners began a hunger strike on September 22nd, saying that they have not been paid benefits as required by law. The protest escalated on October 8th when former prisoner Gjergj Ndreca covered himself in oil and was set on fire by a fellow striker, Perikli Shqevi, according to police. He was taken to a hospital in Greece for treatment.
The next day, former political prisoner Lirak Bejko set himself on fire and sustained third-degree burns. He is being treated in a facility in Italy.
Police stopped a third protester, Gani Alia, from setting himself on fire.
Thousands of Albanians were executed or imprisoned in labour camps during the rule of Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha. An estimated 3,100 former prisoners still live in Albania.
Skender Tufa, organiser of the hunger strikes, spent 11 years in prison. [Ana Pekmezi/SETimes]
A law passed in 2007 entitles former political prisoners to 2,000 lek (11.5 euros) for each day they were in prison.
Skender Tufa, the 51-year-old organiser of the strike, told SETimes that the money has been slow to come, and fewer than 300 of former prisoners have received apartments promised to them. Tufa accused the government of abuses in the compensation system and in awarding apartments that are supposed to be dedicated to the former prisoners.
He said the protests would continue.
"There is a plan within the strike for concrete acts," said Tufa, who was imprisoned for 11 years. "A list of persons has been compiled, persons who would self-sacrifice voluntarily, if the government continues to stay silent."
Dorian Teliti, general secretary in the finance ministry, said the government has paid 5.6 billion lek (40 million euros) in compensation for political prisoners since January 2009.
The Albanian Socialist opposition said the hunger strike and acts of self-immolation are signs of desperation in an extreme situation.
"[They] and their families have suffered tremendous human rights violations under the Hoxha regime and in the 22 years of democratic transformation very little has been done to reintegrate this group and to grant them their dignified position in society," Elisa Spiropali, the chairman of the Youth Forum of the Socialist Party, told SETimes.
Spiropali said that the strike represents not only their economic needs, but largely the need of the Albanian society to assume responsibility and proclaim justice.
"It is unacceptable that the Albanian government ignores the strike even after the acts of self-immolation. The Albanian government needs to resume responsibility and negotiate with the strikers regarding their legal right for economic compensation, and most importantly for their human dignity," Spiropali said.