One o’clock in the morning, after a very long day, I’m sitting at the computer trying to think of the message we should be sending out, after court today. When thinking about truth and history, I reach for George Orwell, and find:
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
The first thing to make very clear is our reaction to the news as it seems to be being published in short: That the court today ruled that the hydropower in Valbona are legal. In fact, they did no such thing.
What really happened is this: they declared the court formally open, and then announced that our lawsuit was denied, and then dismissed us. What does this actually mean?
No statement was given by the court regarding any aspect of our arguments. No explanation of their decision was given. There was no statement made by the court regarding any considered opinion on any of the arguments that were made, not by us – the plaintiffs – nor “them” the defendants. These opinions are to be delivered in written form by Monday.
Has justice been served? I suppose so – in the same sense that someone receiving a plate full of offal might be told: Here, we’ve fed you, why are you complaining?
Well, we do complain. This curt dismissal is not what we deserved. It’s not what the people of Albania should expect, nor yet what they should accept. It’s not what the local people who have made expensive and exhausting 10 hour round trips 3 times in the past 7 days simply to attend court should have been served. Do you know what it’s like to wake up at 3 am, to get in a car, to gather others, to drive 5 hours, to attend court for 10 minutes, to get back in the car, to drive back 5 hours, to start the day at 3 am, to get home at 12 pm, to not have eaten, because you can’t really afford the trip in the first place, to have left your work, undone, 3 long days out of seven, simply because the court summons you as if you had all the time in the world to dance to their tune, and possibly, for all the expectations seem to suggest, a private helicopter at your disposal? The people of Valbona asked for their fair day in court, instead they got quite literally a meaningless run-around.
We presented concrete arguments based on the letter of the law. We sued the government. We asked the government to respond to our charges which consisted of pointed breaches of procedure regarding the granting of a concession, concession contract and the granting of certain permits including – but not limited to – the environmental, construction, development and water use permits. Instead, the court allowed the developer (who we never sued) to take over the defense. Now think about this for a moment: We sued the government. The body responsible for issuing these agreements, contracts and permits. The developer had no part nor hand in this. So please think very carefully about this: How is it possible that the developer’s lawyer completely took over the defense? Because this is what happened. I don’t think anyone will ever bother to check the records, but if you did, you would find that the lawyers for the National Territorial Council and the Ministry of Energy sat largely silent through most of the proceedings. The other sued Ministries and Agencies – The National Environmental Agency, the National Agency for Protected Areas, the Drin-Bune Water Board – didn’t even send a lawyer to the court. Not for a single hearing of the 14 that we travelled to attend. Instead the defense was 90% carried out by the developers’ lawyer.
What can the developer possibly have to say of concrete pertinence to the correct function of government, other than their anecdotal experience of being just as subjected as we the locals are, to the quixotic an unexacting function of government in Albania? In a perfect world (which lord knows this isn’t, clearly) the developer would be baying at the government just as loudly as we the locals are: What the hell did you sign us up for?
Instead, we sat through 14 hearings in which the developer’s lawyer took the lead in ignoring our actual arguments, focusing their ‘defense’ – on behalf of the government – on spurious claims that that local people have no right to information, no right to participation, and god forbid, no right to judicial recourse. The tried to claim that we cannot argue as a community, since we are in fact “merely individuals, with individual interest.” After wasting half the court’s time on these arguments, the developer offered long lists of lies, in which they actually stated that they are not even using explosives, despite the fact that in fact they have been exploding tunnels day and night since April 2017. They wasted two hearings requesting to submit evidence about how much money they’ve spent, as if this had any bearing on the actual legality of the concession and permitting processes. They then proceeded to a thoroughly circular argument the basis of which was: The plaintiffs claim we should not have been given concession, contract or permits. But we were given these permits, so clearly they are valid. But this is to ignore the whole basis of our argument: That there are excellent legal reasons why they should not have been given. It makes no sense to answer “But we were – so go suck eggs.”
And meanwhile? What is Valbona. I have been asked this so often lately. What is Valbona, and why do you love it so? I am very sorry my answer has not been quick enough. It’s as if someone asked you “What are your children? Who is your mother? Why do you love them so?” How could you explain this quickly? And I get caught up, because you cannot ask me “What is Valbona?” without asking also, for me, What is Tropoja? What is Albania? Why do you love them so? Oh my dear. Valbona is a place from a dream. A place so beautiful you couldn’t even imagine it – you couldn’t create it if you tried. But I don’t just love Valbona, this impossible place of beauty, where we poor humans can touch the hand of god, who we have to believe exists, if only to have created this. I love Tropoja. I love the people who are so good and kind, and have so little, but their pride. But that pride is so strong, that it makes them more generous than the richest princes. To live in Tropoja is to live with kings. And queens. Until now, Tropoja had only two assets: their land, and their isolation. The isolation is gone now, blown to smithereens, and so the bulldozers move in. Whether it’s hydropower, or chrome mining . . . or god knows what comes next. But none of it is benefitting them, these kind good people who still live with 79% unemployment, public assistance amounting to 29euro per month for a family, and no hope of anything better. And yet they give. And I love Albania. This country of kind people, these good people who deserve something better. This country which could be so rich and proud. You have so much to be proud of Albania. You have never been like other states – greedy and violent. While you are the fiercest fighters in the world, you historically have never tried to take more than what is yours . . .
But I digress.
I believe in a better Albania. And having been so lucky to be accepted here, I will fight to my last breath for this country which I love. And so I think my friends here, the people of Tropoja, will allow me to say on their behalf, we will not stop. It is wrong what is happening in Valbona, and it was wrong, what happened in Tirana today. You have not fooled us, you have not distracted us. You have certainly not defeated us. You have merely proven us right in our determination. And: You were warned.