Government, opposition cast blame in protester's death


Lirak Bejko was one of 20 people protesting the lack of government payments former political prisoners are entitled to under a 2007 law.

By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 08/11/12


Former dissidents have been protesting the government's lack of compensation for the former prisoners. [AFP]

A former political prisoner who set himself on fire in a protest against the government – and asked other protesters not to follow his example – was buried this week in Albania.

Lirak Bejko was buried Wednesday (November 7th) after he died in a hospital in Italy. Bejko, 47, set himself on fire on October 10th, protesting the delay of government compensation for communist-era dissidents.

Bejko was part of a group of of 20 former political prisoners who launched a hunger strike on September 22nd.

A father of two, Bejko was the second protester to set himself on fire in the dispute. Gjergj Ndreca, another former prisoner, set himself on fire on October 8th and remains in the hospitalised.

"[Bejko] doesn't need any price or honour. His sacrifice goes beyond every size. He became a torch of democracy," Ndreca told SETimes.

At issue is the lack of payments the former prisoners are entitled to under a 2007 law. 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.

The law requires the government to pay the dissidents 11.5 euros for each day they were in prison. The group said that only 300 of them have received any type of compensation.

Keti Bazhdari, head of Socialist Party group for former dissidents, said that Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his government are responsible for Bejko's death because they turned a deaf ear to former political prisoners' requests to apply the 2007 law.

"Their hunger strike was aimed to raise awareness. All they asked for was a dialogue with the government to apply the law. In 2009, the government amended the 2007 law concerning the former political prisoners, making it unconstitutional," she told SETimes.

According to Bazhdari, the Democratic Party (DP) is continuing communist era propaganda, trying to present the reality differently from what it is.

The ruling DP, however, said that the socialist opposition is using former political prisoners for electoral profits.

"We express our condolences to the family of Lirak Bejko, and regret this loss. We also condemn the political use of these former dissidents. We told Edi Rama that Lirak Bejko's life was a drama with several acts, finalised by Rama himself. The Socialist Party used Bejko's psychological state for political purposes," Silvi Bardhi, DP spokesperson, told SETimes.

But the opposition said the government is at fault.

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"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," Elisa Spiropali, chairman of the Youth Forum of the Socialist Party, told SETimes.

The dissidents will continue their fight, even at the cost of death, Ndreca said.

"Nobody knew Lirak as I did. We were together in prison, then out of prison, and we'll be together in death. It is hard to start a war, but you never know how it'll end, but we will go to the end in this fight. All we ask for is justice, which we were denied for more than 72 years," Ndreca said.

SETimes correspondent Linda Karadaku in Tirana contributed to this article.

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