As civil dissatisfaction grows across Europe and social movements are rising in order to challenge issues of governance, many have sought alternative solutions to top-down decision-making institutions, confronting the vices and shortcomings of representative democracy.
One such alternative has grown at the grassroots level, where many have mobilised to promote participatory democracy. From grassroots movements who have been elected to office, to open source solutions that allow for citizens to propose solutions to social, political, economic, and environmental issues, there is a slow trend in facilitating the transfer of once marginalised voices, at the heart of the decision-making process. We often speak about this political aspect within the overall discourse of the commons.
For many years, activists, NGOs, and social movements have sought to influence a change in the way in which Albania was governed. With high levels of corruption, and links between the public officials, the economic elites, and organised crime, most decisions have been taken at the expense of the average citizens for the benefit of the few. From the wild proliferation of concrete based construction permits, that suffocate cities and reduce public areas, to the neoliberal economic policies that widen the gap between the rich and the poor, Albania has overall been a curious case of state repression tactics as used by the former authoritarian regime, and the increasing privatisation of public goods, services and spaces.
As in other Eastern European countries, genuine centre-left politics or social democracies are missing from the political sphere. The Socialist Party in Albania who is currently holding a majority in the government does not fill that gap. In the context in which the party has tried to intimidate protestors, manipulate their concerns, and break promises concerning their needs to secure political goals, an interesting development took place in 2017.
Shortly after the elections in June, the Prime Minister announced his ambitious plan that would increase public participation, and fill the gap between the grassroots and top-level decision making. But the question is: can participation really be imposed from the top to the bottom level? The government has a history of ignorance and repression towards concerns that have been raised for many years, which did not stop after the 2017 re-election of the party. More than hopeful, this co-governance plan, which currently stands outside of the legal framework, and is not transparent enough, is worrying. Given that the mass media is captured, and very little awareness of the government’s repression is present in the public sphere, the platform itself could instead help the government ‘prove’ legitimacy for its decisions by consulting people unaffected by them at the expense of other parts of the population. Moreover, the government’s openness to the input of the public in the past has revolved around the manipulation of so-called public hearings, where only a select number of people were announced, and who, in many cases, turned out to fully support any decisions or plans that were proposed.
More than not implementing commons-based approaches to politics, hijacking them to suit the ever consolidation of corrupt elites is even more dangerous. A genuine go-governance programme with the sole agenda of enabling better representation would have probably taken another turn, using the available mechanisms that have been set, such as the public hearings, to finally respond to concerns that have dominated the public and political sphere in the country for around 15 years. The first initiative from the public itself, which was specifically placed within the so-called co-governance programme, was announced on the 17th of September 2017, calling on the Prime Minister to prove his good intentions and kill the import waste law as the Socialist Party promised to in the electoral campaign of 2013. The answer is expected to be no, while activists are once again preparing for mass protests on the streets.