By Erblin Vukaj
The Protest that Saved a Theater and Demolished a Government’s Arrogance  

Last weekend saw the first anniversary of the protest against the demolition of the National Theater, which started right after the plan of the government and municipality was revealed to the public. The daily protest of artists and engaged citizens throughout the whole year has kept the building on its feet. The protest for the protection of the national theater has become the epitome of how citizens can defend their causes.

One year ago, the government and Municipality of Tirana publicly defended a plan for the demolition of the theater, transfer of public land to a private company, building of a block of towers and a new theater.

“It’s not a theater in a tower, although it would be no sin if it were in a tower. The Broadway theaters are all in towers, but when all people go there they don’t see the tower but watch the theater play,” – Prime Minister Rama said when he presented the project. Rama repeatedly stated that the theater would be demolished. He stuck to the same vow in the parliament when he turned the project into a “special law”.

Still, one year after having presented the project and several months after having approved the special law, the government and municipality seem to have backed off. Their arrogance, firmness and propaganda over the theater issue are not present in the mainstream media or shared in the social media by party militants. The national theater issue is out of their official focus.

On the first anniversary of the protest, meanwhile, there was nothing new where protesters met every day. In the afternoon of February 8th, tens of actors, actresses and citizens held speeches on the improvised stage in front of the theater just like any other day.

“If you stand strong – even if you’re alone, with only few people or taking each-other’s place, – there will be an outcome, a visible outcome. One year ago they said that these two buildings [the National Theater] would be demolished, but here they are today […]” – said actor Romir Zalla, adding that this is not a celebration of the fact, but an added reason for further protest.

The camera of one single TV station appeared in the first anniversary of the national theater protest. There was only of TV broadcasting a piece on the protest, while other online media played the usual ritual of copying and pasting social media statuses of actors or civil society members.

The mainstream media do no cover the protest for a long time now. However, its organizers have relied on the internet for keeping the protest present to the public, and for strengthening their firmness in the demand for the government to reconstruct the national theater.

Last Friday, the five or six phones of civil society activists showed that they have gained more power in transmitting messages to the public opinion than the mainstream media. Speeches of tens of people were broadcasted online that afternoon. In less than one year, with no political party militants or activists, without government orders to share or comment on its posts on social media, the Alliance for the Protection of the National Theater, which was founded on March 19th last year, attracted 6,316 followers of its online platform. It published 787 photos, 520 videos, and gained over 1.6 million views.

Lacking coverage by the mainstream media, the protest reached the public through the internet, which still remains the most free communication tool. This is tool is exactly what other protests throughout the past year lacked – the protests against the construction of incinerators in Fier, maritime border agreement with Greece, Kosovo Highway toll fees, Outer Ring Road demolitions, and finally the student protest.

No other protest faced similar media indifference like the protest for the protection of the theater.