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Democracy: Pass It On

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Driving home from Palm Springs last weekend I was struck by a series of billboards with slogans like "As a student, he was no Einstein. Confidence. Pass It On," next to a picture of Albert Einstein or "She dreamed a dream. Live your dreams. Pass it on," next to an image of Susan Boyle. On their website it says "In this day and age, it can be hard to believe an organization's only goal is to encourage others to do good - but that really is why we exist." Not only is it hard to believe, it's depressing, especially when I thought about Albania.

Did you know that twenty-two members of parliament and 200 people are on a hunger strike? I didn't know until the artists Anri Sala, Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon created a website to get information about the protest out to the world.

Dear Friends,

We, 22 members of parliament and 200 citizens of Albania, concerned about the fate of democracy in our country have decided to engage in the ultimate form of peaceful resistance by going on a hunger strike in the name of the cornerstone of any democracy: free and fair elections.

Our demand is simple: a full and thorough parliamentary inquiry into the elections of June 28th 2009, including the opening of the ballot boxes and the examination of the electoral material contained therein. Our demand is not motivated by a yearning for power, but by the aspiration that the next elections are guaranteed against falling prey to the same machinations and manipulations.

For the last nine months we asked for our constitutional right to transparency only to be denied in all our efforts through the arrogance of a government that is no longer constrained by the Constitution in its actions.

In April 30th, 200,000 Albanians protested in Tirana in the name of the transparency of their votes. The same day, we 222 citizens of Albania decided to start a hunger strike.

It is not a decision lightly taken, nor are we ignorant of the gravity of our course of action. Yet we are no more prepared to give up on free and fair elections and democracy in Albania than you would be in any of your countries.

We ask only for what you take for granted in your countries: elections that are free and fair. No more. No less.

The Hunger Strike Committee

The artists were shocked when they arrived in Tirana to work on an exhibition that continued the ongoing project that Edi Rama began in 2000 as soon as he was elected mayor. "The city was dead. It looked like a body," Rama pinned his hopes on a quixotic social experiment. He painted the city's decaying buildings in riotous colors and patterns, as well as restoring the parks. Three years later his old friend Anri Sala and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist continued The Façades Project for the second Tirana International Contemporary Art Biannual, which also became the subject of Anri's film, Dammi I Colori.

Now, Rama says "Albania is going through a deep crisis because it lacks the rule of law, an independent judiciary and freedom of the media. I don't think if we stop protesting the problem is solved." Rather than working on the exhibition, these artists felt compelled to create, a website with a live streaming video broadcast of the protest including interviews with participants and people in the streets. The website, which as Philippe says, has "no abstract forms, just bodies asking to be heard."

As the Hunger Strike Committee says, "We ask only for what you take for granted in your countries: elections that are free and fair. No more. No less." Maybe the Foundation for a Better Life should make a billboard of Edi Rama. "Open the boxes. Democracy." Pass it on.