It’s been sixteen months. Something like 480 days. 480 days of worrying, and fearing and fighting. 480 days of being more sure, every day, that more days, more energy, more fear, more cleverness and more fury were needed. 480 days of wishing there were more days, more time, more energy . . .
In short, it’s been a long time, already.
Now we have our day in court. And the experience is . . . well, we’ll see how it turns out. But so far . . . Our lawyers are dignified, to the point, and calm. Their lawyers shriek and carry on, and make random and spurious, undocumented accusations. Every now and then, the judge stops them, with a question.
“So, yes or no, IS Valbona a National Park?” asks the judge.
“I don’t know,” says the lawyer for the National Territorial Council.
When the developer, Gener-2’s lawyer argues that local people have NO right to legal recourse, the judge asks: “So you are arguing that even if these developments caused catastrophic environmental damage, the local people have no right to legal recourse?”
“Absolutely not,” says the developers’ lawyer, “they have NO RIGHT to formal complaint.”
THIS I think. This is why. 480 days, and however many days it takes. No one – NO ONE – should ever have the right, the ability, to tell these good people I’ve come to live with: You have no rights. They bloody well DO have rights, and if I have to kill myself, I will not give up claiming, calling, standing for them. Even when they are too scared to stand for themselves, I can stand. I have nothing much too lose. Not like them. I can do this for them. A small payback for what they have given me.
I am excited, and I am tired. I feel that important things are happening, and I feel that I’ve been part of making them happen, and I feel also very small . . . the “wheels of justice” are turning now, who I am is not really very important. Except. Except for this one small fact, of the fact that I do CARE. I care so much.
Bashkim Ulaj was in court today. His lawyer had his presence formally noted. His presence is significant. Threatening? I don’t know. To me he looks like a man, not even a very old man, who probably thinks he’s doing good things. After all, in the fresh new world of Albanian Capitalism, he’s been a success! And even in my American culture, success means right, on the first level.
Only it isn’t right. What’s happening in Valbona is NOT right. It is destruction, for very little profit, in the name of some ghost of “profit” and “progress.” The Bashkim Ulaj I saw in court today was a man faced with his own fallibility, his own guilt, for the first time. I wish I could say he handled it well.
I suppose I had some fantasy, that we could meet, and shake hands, and I could say to him “Do you REALLY want to do this?” Do you, Bashkim, want to be known as the man who destroyed Valbona? Who turned the laws? Who cheated and sneaked their way to destroying the land of Muji and Halili? Who took Valbona’s beautiful virgin land, and made a desert of it? Or rather, if you really believe these developments are so harmless, why haven’t you built a power plant in Vuthaj?
We had a pleasant chat at first. And then he asked me, that terrible personal question “Why are you doing this?”
I tried to smile “But we have to, we must, protect our homes.”
And then he was off – his eyes changed, before mine. And suddenly he was screaming “You are all anarchists! You have to obey the law!”
“Yes,” I tried to say, “That’s why we’re here.”
“I’m going to sue you,” he yelled “Don’t think you can hide behind your American passport.”
And etc, etc.
I walked home, and talked to my friends on the phone. “Be careful,” they said “he’s powerful.”
“Be careful, maybe try to stand back.”
But this is what I think. I think: So what? I think: The wheels are turning now, and even though I am more nervous than usual when crossing streets, even though I will be looking over my shoulder more than usual . . . I am not wrong. So what? There is nothing they can do to me. If I die, mysteriously, tomorrow, everyone will know why. They cannot kill me, not the most important part of me, any more than they could kill the spirits – though they tried – of Adem Jashari, or Bajram Curri. And if they cannot kill me, they cannot silence me.
The wheels of justice are turning. I am proud, if I have had a hand in starting them. I am even more proud if keeping them turning has not and does not exhaust me. And I will be more proud still when I can sit back and do nothing, in a happy Albania, where every rational person has the right to be heard and where justice functions.