June 2, 2003

When Erion Veliaj returned to Albania from study in America, he saw his homeland through new eyes: the widespread corruption, the human trafficking, the poor level of services, the blood feuding, the poverty, and so on. His overseas experience, and his Christian faith, had taught Eri that ordinary people could make a difference. So he devised a plan to encourage ordinary folk to rebel against the status quo, a citizens’ campaign to shout “ENOUGH!” to government and society in general.

Eri designed a series of arresting posters featuring a blood-red handprint against a black background, underscored in bold type by the word “MJAFT!” – ENOUGH! Displayed in windows, offices, schools, on cars – wherever – this simple tool could empower any person and family to break out of the traditional passivism and help create a rising tide of popular revolt against unchallenged injustice and crime.

“We are governed irresponsibly, tormented under extreme corruption and absolute arrogance, ” wrote Erion in a newspaper article as part of the campaign. “If the daily news is not sufficient, one should read the many reports of the World Bank, the International Crisis Group, the American State Department, Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, OSCE, EU Commission and many alike…

“We thought that it is about time for all Albanians that want to see their society grow and develop to say ‘ENOUGH!’, I will no longer accept this situation!, “ENOUGH of corruption, poverty and ignorance that are taking over this country! ENOUGH! of violence, trafficking, pollution, backward and undignified politics! ENOUGH of the poor water and electricity supply, which mind you were available, even in Belgrade and Baghdad while they were being bombed! ENOUGH! of blood feuds and other such phenomena for which the government is silent and sleeps over! ENOUGH! to slow EU integration and to mediocre negotiations that even the most pathetic diplomats would ridicule.”

I heard about Eri and his campaign via reports from YWAMers Carmelita Clarke and Grant van Cleve. Grant regrets that at first the young Albanian church did not ‘seem to catch it first time around – perhaps from misunderstandings, or maybe suspicion that it might be politically motivated’. So Eri had to go to others for funding – embassies, the Soros foundation, the OSCE and others, and soon the four-month programme caught on. But last week, Eri addressed a national meeting of Christian leaders to challenge them to be the head rather than the tail in effecting social transformation, and to encourage them to join in on the final month of the campaign.

Right now special public events, stickers, buttons and newspaper articles augment the posters throughout the country, shouting in unision, “MJAFT!” Eight themes have been addressed, each for two weeks during the campaign, including mafia crime, human trafficking and blood feuding.

For two weeks in April, MJAFT! activities focused on the theme of Blood Feuds, the traditional but vicious cycle of vengeance and honour killings carried out among clans and families. According to Emin Spahia, from the Peace Missionaries, in Shkodra, one of the most problematic cities for blood feuds, more than 250 families and over 2,000 individuals are currently affected by vengeance killings. In northern Albania there are a total 1370 families and a minimum of 7,000 individuals homebound by blood feuds. Women carry the burden of work, children know little freedom, neighborhoods and villages are dead places where few venture outside. Many have been killed. Few have been brought to justice. Even some Albanians living abroad fear for their lives.

A seven-day bus caravan tour took more than 80 MJAFT! activists from Tirana to over 20 cities around the country, including Lezha, Shkodra, Puka, Kukes, Kruje, Durres, Lushnje, Berat, Fier, Vlore, Saranda, Gjirokaster, Permet, Korce, Pogradec, and Elbasan. In Shkodra, leaders from literature, arts, sports, media and non-governmental organizations joined grieving widows to protest the silence of the government and protest the phenomenon of blood feuds – perhaps the first such occasion in history.

Aniel Guxholli, one of the activists traveling around the country explained, “We traveled from north to south, were met by thousands of people who took great interest in the campaign and we were able to inform and instill a spirit of civic protest via MJAFT! A second effect was that we activists began to understand more about the meaning of MJAFT!. By traveling around the country we saw the poor conditions, the under-development, the terrible state of the environment and the suffering of our people. Each one of us became more convinced and felt strongly about the values of this campaign.”

“When do we allow justice to play its role in our society? When do we demand that our government gets serious and means business in administrating justice? When do we say enough?” asks Eri. “Gandhi said that ‘an eye for an eye will only make the world blind,’ so let us begin to see things in a different light.”

A ‘Human Market’, a parade and street theatre among other arts and cultural activities in the capital Tirana protested a second major issue targeted by the campaign – human trafficking. Albania is recognised as both a transit and a source country for victims. Reports from International Organization for Migration (IOM), Save the Children and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), point to alarming statistics on issues of human trafficking. Criminal violence and trafficking is continuing without significant decline and with severe destabilizing effects on the economic and political reconstruction of Albania.

The MJAFT! website, www.mjaft.org, offers alarming statistics on Women and Children Trafficking and Organized Crime, including that:
– there are 30,000 Drug Users in Albania (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2003)
– roughly 250,000 weapons remain in circulation in Albania since the looting of 1997 (United Nations Development Programme, 2003)
– 9,000 Albanian children have been trafficked from Albania to Western European countries (Save the Children, 2001)
– 60% of Albanians trafficked for prostitution are children (Save the Children, 2001)
– in the past 10 years, NO ONE has been convicted on charges of exploiting minors or trafficking children.

“Now that we said ENOUGH, will these (efforts) suffice?” continued Eri in the newspaper article. “Of course not! The campaign aims at encouraging a spirit of civic revolt, sparking a sense of community, and increasing pressure on the policy-makers. This requires serious commitment from all citizens, a movement where everyone makes a sincere effort to get involved.

“We don’t call for revolution, but if each one of us would take on basic civic initiatives regarding issues of concern – ranging from writing a letter to the Prime Minister, calling the President’s office, organizing a meeting of accountability-giving and taking from local officials, lobbing MP’s of a specific area, all the way to ‘pulling the ear’ of police officers who violate the law or to blocking the road when government officials drive the wrong way on a one way street, then we would really exercise a collective pressure that could impose change.

“They say that every people gets the government it deserves. If the popular demand for change does not grow, than we can be assured, that every government, this one and the ones to come, will not bother to offer more.”

Isn’t that true for all our European countries?

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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