Student protest at Tirana University, Albania, November 2014. Photo: Students Not Customers Student protest at Tirana University, Albania, November 2014. Photo: Students Not Customers

Students in Albania are protesting, and the solidarity pouring in from across the Balkans shows the possibility for internationalist alternatives, argues Kevin Ovenden

Serbian anti-capitalists write:

“We hope that the students in Albania will emerge victorious from their struggle, and thereby inspire others around the Balkans to take up the fight for better public education systems and against further neo-liberal reforms.

“Solidarity is our strength! Solidarnost je naša snaga! Solidariteti është forca jonë!”

Greek student activists are also voicing solidarity with students in Albania fighting to halve tuition fees and ensure that public funds go to public not private universities.

Here is a seedbed of an internationalist answer to the reactionary elites fanning national-chauvinism across the Balkans.

The desire for such an alternative was strongly on display among participants from several Balkan states at a recent Alternative European Summit event in Ghent, Belgium.

Two other features also stood out. There was a “different memory” of the 1990s among the Balkan participants compared with the dominant European story of progress and advance.

For all were marked by the fact that the 1990s was the decade of the bloody wars of succession following the collapse of Yugoslavia, in which the EU and Nato played an ignominious role, culminating in actual war on Serbia.

That led to a second widely shared sentiment. It was, at the very least, great scepticism that EU and Nato expansion in the region was any kind of antidote to reactionary national antagonisms or a way of transcending the division.

In country after country – Albania, Serbia, Macedonia… – people told of the same story:

  • Privatisation and neoliberal nostrums enriching both the old elites and creating new parasitic layers
  • Those elites simultaneously promising people progress through neoliberal integration into the EU while, far from dissolving the old reactionary chauvinisms, recasting them on “modern” grounds
  • EU and other agencies in parallel talking of cosmopolitanism but forging close ties with the new plutocrats and especially with those using narrow nationalism to corral votes that they would otherwise lack
  • The expansion of Nato and militarism, in competition with Russian and in some cases Turkish influence
  • The fencing off of public space in a modern equivalent of the enclosures in Britain – from the waterfront in Belgrade to the university spaces in Pristina.
  • A systematic gap between the generation born in the 1990s and the promises of post-1989 liberal European expansion.

The result was an ongoing conversation among the participants about how to forge an alternative path of progress and unity in the region based upon anti-neoliberalism and anti-capitalism not the EU process which is in fact driving nationalism.

That is most clear over the Macedonia issue where the “solution” to the so-called naming dispute strengthens the Greek ruling class’s imperialist role in the region, denies Macedonians the right to name themselves or set their own constitution and is being pushed through despite a referendum failing and via naked bribery in the Macedonian parliament.

In addition to identifying some common struggles – from the fight over the neoliberal university to trying to reclaim public space, urban and rural – there was another unifying position.

There are many national claims in the Balkans. It is a complicated picture and demands a very concrete approach in each state.

But at the heart of that, we all felt, was putting first and foremost in each state where we lived the defence of the rights of national, linguistic and religious minorities, within that state.

There is more to it than that. But that is the key starting point, and was for the brilliant socialists in the Balkans a century ago who forged the policy of seeking a Balkan socialist federation based upon this mutual defence of each people’s rights.

So it is very good to see these solidarity initiatives with the students in Albania.

And a special shout out to the Cheta guerilla art collective who will doubtless be deploying their brilliant street art to aid the struggle.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.