Protest has been a recurring theme over the last two decades of Albania's history. In December 1990, clashes between students and police, followed by riots in northern cities, signalled the waning power of the communist state. In 1997, after the collapse of the pyramid schemes, arms depots were looted of millions of Kalashnikovs and other weapons, triggering civil conflict and an international peacekeeping force. In September 1998, the assassination of the Democratic Party politician Azem Hadjari led to violent demonstrations and the storming of government buildings, causing the Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano to resign.
One of the most visible signs of change in Albania in recent years has been the transformation of this violent culture of protest into a phenomenon that has attracted international admiration: a new civic activism targeting concrete issues of everyday life.
This change is most visibly associated with the rise of MJAFT (Enough!), a youth movement founded in 2002. Mjaft was set up by four young Albanians: Endri Fuga, Erion Veliaj. Marinela (Ina) Lika, Arbjan Mazniku and. Home for the Christmas holidays in 2002, Endri and Erion were sitting in a café with their two friends Arbjan and Ina, when the conversation turned to Albania's problems. The group agreed that apathy supported by widespread cynicism about the ability of ordinary people to bring about change explained most shortcomings of Albanian society. They agreed to launch a campaign for change, choosing as their symbol a stretched palm, a red hand on a black background.
At this time, Fatos Nano was back in power. These were the times of of growing cynicism about the extent of governmental corruption and incompetence. Mjaft was originally conceived as a 4-month campaign running on a different theme every 2 weeks, making 8 themes in total. The goal was to combat civil apathy, to make Albania's problems visible, and to force those in power to address them. Each theme had its own poster, TV & Radio spot, and grassroots activities, including protests, street theatre, city hall hearings, marathons, talk shows and public events. The campaign was financed by the Dutch Embassy..
MJAFT! in action
The campaign and its call to break with apathy and challenge mismanagement and corruption stirred up a lot of emotion. MJAFT ads – such as that of a photo of a woman with the slogan "In Albania women are beaten" - became a topic of discussion in schools, cafés and talk-shows.
In the following years, Mjaft evolved from a campaign into a movement with 8,000 members, 1,000 volunteers, and branches in 18 cities across Albania. It is now the biggest youth movement in the country, active on issues from violence against women to freedom of the press, from human trafficking to road safety. It took donkeys – a symbol of ignorance in Albania – to the Parliament, calling for an increase in the education budget. It also became a watchdog for local and national government, exposing mismanagement and corruption and confronting politicians and bureaucrats with a more attentive and vocal audience. Another of its projects was the constant monitoring of Parliament through the www.unevotoj.com (ivote) project, which keeps track of MPs’ presence in Parliament, their voting record, their declaration of assets and whether they follow parliamentary rules and procedures.
MJAFT! in action
Mjaft's way of exerting pressure is often humorous and witty – it left empty chairs for under-performing city counsellors in Korca, and mocked incompetent government officials in Tirana with fake "Be careful, (no) work being done above" construction signs. This type of protest was often effective, and even led to the resignation of government ministers. As one of Mjaft's founders, Ina Lika, notes:
"Mjaft seems to me to be part of a natural development of our society. During the late 80s and early 90s we learned how to achieve freedom and democracy. The following 10 years showed to us that keeping democracy is as hard as winning it – a hard lesson learned in 1997. Now we have entered a new era, that of strengthening and developing our democracy. In this regard, Mjaft signals a step forward for Albanian citizens. It is time for citizens to be empowered, to find ways to be organized and shape their own future."