An Exit for the Gjirokastra Bypass

The Administrative Court of First Instance in Gjirokastra cancelled an order issued by the Ministry of Culture that removed the status of cultural monuments of the second category from two residences within the historical center of the city!

The order had followed a decision of the National Restoration Council (KKR) from September 201,6 which proposed the removal of the status for the residence of Koço Spiri and Harrillaq Papazisi found in the oldest part of the city, “Pazari i Vjetër.” It was not by accident that within the same decision, the KKR had approved Atelier 4’s bypass project.

The Ministry of Culture was the authority who approved “variant 2” of the project, which required the inevitable demolition of the two aforementioned residences. Therefore, the Court’s cancellation of the order practically blocks the beginning of the construction work on the bypass.

But in the meantime, the Ministry, being the defending party, strangely enough decided not to file an appeal, which render the verdict final and makes the construction of the bypass, at least referring to the approved option, impossible.

In reality, there were two other options, where the demolition of the residences could be avoided, but these were avoided because of the high environmental impact and additional costs. Regardless, returning them to the table, however desirable for the authorities, could trigger the resistance of the projects’ enemies from Gjirokastra community, and cause further national rage.

So until now, this decision is a victory for Harillaq Papazisi and Florika Spiri and a victory for their homes, which were inherited from their predecessors and were almost in danger “because of an order that was against the law and its contents” and “with no evaluation from a specialized organization, like the Institution of Monuments of Culture. […] The court concludes that KKR has no competence to evaluate the objects of cultural heritage.”

“It is a relief for my family that the house inherited for centuries was turned back into a cultural monument, putting into place a right that was at risk through an illegal order,” says Elidon, the son of Harillaq Papazisi.

This order is also a victory for the Forum for Protection of Values in Gjirokastra, which oppose the intervention for the construction of the bypass in the historical center, deeming it dangerous for the foundations of the castle. It would also have a negative impact on the green environment and in the extraordinary, unique background of the  city.

But despite the victories, the stop on demolition and bypass teaches a couple of lessons to the state authorities.

First, the protection and revitalization of the city will be realized only through the participation of the local residents in a public discussion and not through a distant and arrogant government.

Second, the order issued by the court consists of a solution in favor of the plaintiff and also shows that the institutions that must lawfully protect the monuments ruin them through illegal actions.

Based on the reasoning of the verdict issued by the court neither the Minister of Culture nor the KKR have the competence to evaluate objects of history and architecture. This evaluation is done primarily through the Institute of Monuments.

If we travel back in time and we judge, using those same criteria on the past decision issued by the KKR for “the removal of the status of cultural monument of second category for the National Stadium Qemal Stafa in Mother Teresa Square,” then that decision, according to the current logic followed by the court, is an illegal act too!

And the third point, thanks to this verdict, the Albanian government has all the possibilities to justify the withdrawal even in a disgraceful fashion. So, it can avoid its responsibility for the unjustified, prodigious 18 million lekë in spending for the design tender of the failed bypass project while adding to it the bonus of €30,000 promised to the winning studio.

The government must try out other solutions (in the spirit of the new draft law) through a collaboration with the local community that it pretends to have on its side.