From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Municipality Stealthily Removes National Theatre Signage in the Dead of Night

Employees from the Municipality of Tirana removed the lettering from the facade of the National Theatre in the early hours of the morning last Friday.

According to a post on their social media, a number of individuals confirmed that they were Municipality employees and that they had indeed removed the lettering at approximately 4:30am.

The Alliance for the National Theatre have been protesting in the centre of Tirana, every day for over a year against its demolition. The action of removing the lettering was done at a time when none of the activists would have been present to stop them, luckily a passer-by managed to take a photograph of the removal, which was then posted to social media.

Civil society have responded vocally to the removal of the lettering, yet state institutions have refused to respond. For several days afterwards, no one had any idea who ordered the removal of the lettering and the authorities responded to questions with a wall of silence.

It is important to note as well that the building is owned by the Ministry of Culture, not the Municipality therefore only the Ministry has the power to order the removal of the letters. According to the “Aleanca per Mbrojtjen e Teatrit” (The Alliance for the National Theatre), no such order was given by the Ministry.

Furthermore, there is currently no project approved for the site- something that would be required before the Municipality has the right to clear the space.

This would mean that the fact that the Municipality removed the letters, in the absence of an order, on property that does not belong to them- something that could potentially be legally problematic.

Members of the Aleanca attempted to file a complaint with the Prosecutor’s office, but were rejected due to the fact that it was a day off.

A spokesperson from the “Aleanca per Mbrojtjen e Teatrit” considered the latest move by the Municipality of Tirana as a “petty provocation”.

They added: “We are once again disappointed by the lack of reaction from the country’s justice apparatus. The removal happened right in front of the Ministry of Interior, where security should be very strict. Yet no one reacted while the actions were taking place, and the Prosecutor has failed to follow up with an appropriate investigation.”

In March 2018, Prime Minister Rama published a project drafted by Danish firm Bjarke Ingels for the new National Theater. The construction would be undertaken by a company called Fusha shpk , through a special law, approved by majority vote in Parliament.

This plan for the area currently occupied by the Theatre, the avenue next to it, and surrounding buildings, comprised of a number of high rise offices, shops, and apartments with a small space put aside for the Theatre. The special law was returned to Parliament by President Meta and criticized by the European Commission. Then the government “updated” it but the law was still tailored for the government favourite Fusha shpk.  With a defunct Constitutional Court, there was no institution to check the law’s compatibility with the constitution. Amidst the ongoing political crisis and artists’ resistance against the demolition of the theatre, the government was not able to implement the law and it appears to have dropped it, given that all deadlines for its implementation have passed.

It is feared that the government will seek to use new laws, including the Albanian Investment Corporation to allow them to directly negotiate with private companies, and to resurrect the initial plan.

Since January however, there has been little update on the situation and the future of the Theatre hangs in the balance.