After four years of denigrating the electorate of the opposition by calling it “sheep” and its leader a “loser”; after having labored to castrate civil society up to the point that he, afterward, raised the question “where is civil society, so that I may put a bouquet on its grave?”; after disqualifying all critical journalists by calling them “trash”; after making a deal with Meta to pull Basha out of his protest tent and then with Basha to accuse Meta as “bloodsucker,” it seems that Edi Rama with the his election result has eliminated all of those hindrances. He described them as the evil of Albania that was overcome by its people (in fact, by drugs money) and now he is rolling out his political platform without having to deal with any of them. The name he has given to this platform is “direct co-governance with the people.” In short, whoever has problems related to bad governance or needs something to be changed, no longer has a reason to lose their time with organizing with civil society; or to turn to the media; and even less to think about organizing with the old opposition or some new opposition party. All they need is to communicate directly with the supreme leader and everything will turn out for the better.
If you turn your head to the not so distant, even quite recent history, you will find no few examples of such a government. The first I was reminded of when I read in the media about Rama’s new “find,” was Chavez in Venezuela. He had organized a television program in which he directly connected with the people, in which people expressed their worries and needs. Chavez solved them on the spot, with a phone call from the studio. There’s a good chance that in the process of honing the idea of co-governance with the people, also our leader will do such a thing through his own TV channel, ERTV. Whoever wants to know what this type of government leads to only has to look at what is happening in Venezuala nowadays.
In fact, a lowkey variant of this idea, so old and yet so new, has been used by Edi Rama’s predecessor Sali Berisha. Don’t you remember his telephone number to which citizens could send text messages to complain? And the digital citizen who, instead of complaining at institutions, complains at Berisha, the legendary leader of the opposition?
Certainly, anyone who really thinks that Edi Rama truly has any need for listening to the complaints and criticism of the people in order to improve his work is wrong. If he had any need for listening to criticism, for taking it seriously, he would run to Erion Veliaj at the moment he would see citizens protesting for a park that he grabbed from their children a week after he grabbed the elections. No. This direct governance with the people by bypassing the institutions is something completely different from good governance; it is precisely the worst form of bad governance. At its core is the (mistaken) idea of the cult of the infallible supreme leader, who, driven by the sick need for omnipotence, thinks that he himself more than suffices for his own people; the cult of the leader who, to enlarge his omnipotence, deploys another mistaken idea – that the people are infallible – in order to eliminate his opponents.
I invite those who want an explanation of this phenomenon from a psycho-social perspective to read my article “Edi Rama – malignant narcissism and Albanian society” [in Albanian].
But here we are not dealing with psycho-social analyses, nor with calls to Edi Rama to stop succumbing to his illness, which is beyond his control. We are dealing with defending the few democratic accomplishments that are left to us. Because this direct relation with the people, bypassing the institutions, especially if they are holding the government in check, such as the opposition, media, and civil society, brings us back to the dark times that we have experienced but which we have not yet left behind us.
For the sake of the resistance against this risk, let us turn our gaze to the history of our dictator, in order to locate the roots of this phenomenon. The history of the Albanian dictatorship has known two phases, which, if you look closely, differ from each other precisely as regards the phenomenon of the leader’s relation with the institutions. The first phase was when we were linked to the Soviet Union. In that period, even though we had a party–state system in which the power of Enver Hoxha was very great, some sort of division of competences, if you may call it such, was constructed between what was called the state and the party. In order to do so, Enver Hoxha withdrew from the post of Prime Minister, which had held in the post-War years. I mean that in that first phase there existed something that is usually called a “bureaucracy” or the power of offices, of technical people and specialists, headed by the Prime Minister of the country, Mehmet Shehu. It’s true that a part of the ministers, as well as the Prime Minister himself, were members of the Political Bureau, but they were obliged to generally respect the work of those bureaucrats and technocrats. The supreme leader intervened in the larger issues, but not in order to govern everything by himself and to decide where there would be gasoline available and where not, for example. This was without a doubt the result of the little experience gained from the state of King Zog, but also from the experience of the Soviet state, which, although it was built on the principle of the party–state, had more respect for the competences of specialists and technical personnel that worked in state institutions, especially after the death of Stalin.
The second period is the one that followed the break with the Soviet Union, inspired by the ideas of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when Chairman Lao unleashed the Red Guard to attack his opponents such as Liu Shaoqi, pulling some of them on the street with dazibao [big character posters] around their neck and hoods on their head like an autodafé. This revolution was essentially an attack on the power of the institutions and its people in the name of Mao’s absolute power. In that time Enver Hoxha undertook the same thing, with the same goal. It was the period in which he held his famous speech “When the working class speaks the bureaucracy remains silent,” which was an attack on Mehmet Shehu. He also removed the ranks of the soldiers, and state institutions, up to scientific departments, were put under great pressure of the fletë-rrufe [public pamphets, an adaptation of dazibao] produced by the common people (seemingly coming from the bottom, but urged on by the top). It was the period that the state was completely replaced by the glorious leader, who continued (during the 1970s) to eliminate all those cadres with some kind of merit from their past in the National Liberation War or in a professional sense, and replaced them with people from the class that only had a single merit: the adoration of the dictator. The miserable end of this government is well known.
Of course today we cannot arrive at the insanity and tragedy of those years. But what we are seeing shows that the inheritance of that past has stuck strongly with those who lead us, like Edi Rama, but also with the people. So I think that this strategy of eliminating institutions and opponents by means of the masses can never be taken lightly. Nor by applying the saying according to which history repeats itself twice: first as tragedy and then as farce. Edi Rama should not be considered, as some do, as a comical repetition of Enver Hoxha, because the situation of the Albanians under his rule is not at all that funny. The saying above is attributed to Hegel or Marx, who had a deterministic concept of history and saw history as a constant progress toward the realization of an idea that went beyond human willpower. According to this concept, whoever tries to turn history around is laughable. But according to other philosophers, such as Karl Popper, history doesn’t proceed like that. It can also turn backward, and get even worse. Neither is the idea true that the people are never wrong. Tragedies such as fascism and communism prove this point. That saying can only be truthful (in a spatially and temporally limited manner) only when we are dealing with a people that moves forward with knowledge and experience, that, when it has experienced an evil, does not allow it to be repeated. But not all peoples have this wisdom. Even those whom we consider the most advanced make endless mistakes, that’s why they are so vigilant to protect the institutions that control power, such as the opposition, civil society, independent media, and so on.
Looking back at our history you may say that in these 100 years Albanians have learned little to nothing from their tragic histories with supreme leaders. That’s why they have experienced the repetition of their history in forms, which, even though different, were always tragic – in the times of Zog, in the times of Hoxha, and even in the post-communist period which tomorrow may be called the times of Berisha, Nano, Meta, and Rama. The apathy of the reaction to Rama’s arrogance and also this new adventure of his is a sign of a history that is repeating itself in the form of a new tragedy.