Mayor Veliaj Slanders Member of the Public on National Television Kastriot Çipi holding a placard saying "I am the Theater"

Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj has been accused of making slanderous statements on national television, against a member of the public.

Kastriot Çipi, a longstanding activist and advocate for the preservation of The National Theatre, was called a “thief”, “defendant”, “criminal” by Veliaj who was appearing on popular topical TV show, ‘Opinion’.

Çipi incurred the wrath of the public servant after he stated that a report on the Theatre Demolition did not make any mention of the building being “dangerous” or “ready to collapse”, contrary to Veliaj’s claims on the show. In addition to this, he stated that the Municipality of Tirana pushed a special law through, in the absence of the constitutional court, to sell of land relating to the National Theatre and to progress the project without any public consultation.

The Mayor who has just announced his intention to run for a second term with the support of Prime Minister Edi Rama, accused Çipi of stealing money, and then boasted that he wins every court case that he fights.

He added “If every thief gives back the money that they owe, Albania would be richer”, a comment that many noted was “incredibly ironic”, coming from him.

Çipi responded in a Facebook post where he announced his intention to take legal action against the long-standing smear campaign that has been levied against him by newspapers, television, pro-government newspapers, and now, Veliaj as well.

He stated that because the Mayor “lost his patience” he made a big mistake in slandering him and that he will now have to “give the court material evidence to prove your innocence, because I will sue you for defamation.”

In his post he added that he is not interested in large amounts of financial compensation, but rather in seeking justice for the defamation of his character on a “show with a very big audience”.

He also repeated his allegations that the Mayor had lied to the public regarding the condition of the Theater in an attempt to justify its demolition. Pointing out that the claims against its structural integrity and safety were not mentioned in any reports, and that the Special Law is in violation of the constitution, he accuses Veliaj of lashing out due to frustration that he was caught out.

Çipi concluded that he knows he has a long battle ahead of him, negating his way through corrupt courts, but that he is ready to do so in the pursuit of justice and as a part of his fight to preserve the National Theatre.

“I know one thing for sure: The National Theater will not collapse, but it will be restored! We will celebrate the reopening with a premiere, perhaps the Dürrenmatt’s play“The Visit”, which will be dedicated to the father (Rama), the son (Veliaj) and the holy ghost (Soros).”

The National Theatre in the centre of Tirana is earmarked for destruction and redevelopment into a number of towers containing luxury commercial and residential space. This involves the selling of public land, something that is illegal and against the Constitution of Albania.

Those protesting against the decision have been doing so every night, peacefully and patiently outside the theatre, for over one year– adamant that they will not allow it to be demolished.

This is not the first time that government officials, departments, and supporting media platforms have lodged illegal smear campaigns against members of the public. Just last month, British journalist Alice Taylor was accused of being a Russian spy, and had her residency permit revoked after she reported locally and internationally on allegations of government corruption, vote rigging, and links to organised crime. Taylor is also initiating a series of lawsuits against those involved.

It is however, rather unusual for an elected public official and a civil servant to appear on national television and make illegal and defamatory accusations about a member of the public.

Mayor Erion Veliaj is careful in the words he uses when diplomats and the international community are listening, but when it comes to speaking in his native tongue, he is well known for his slurs against members of the public. Notably he called Astir residents “cavemen”, anti-government protestors “barbarians”, those protesting the increase in water bills “dogs”, citizens protesting the illegal construction of a playground within the Lake Park “vandals”, and he asked “who will want to marry her now?” referring to a police woman who lost part of her finger during a protest.