From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Triumphant Protestors Replace Letters on Facade of National Theatre

Members of the Alliance for the National Theatre have replaced the letters on the building’s facade that were removed less than two weeks ago by the Municipality.

A large crowd gathered outside the Theatre in the centre of Tirana to watch as each letter was replaced, with the aid of a cherrypicker. The crowd cheered and clapped as each letter was replaced, and some onlookers shouted “Rama out” and other anti-government chants.

The Alliance for the National Theatre have been protesting against its demolition every day for over a year. Congregating in the evening to give speeches to the crowd and media, they have called for preservation of the building, as well as an end to government corruption, particularly in relation to development projects.

Then, on Friday, April 26, in the early hours of the morning- believed to be 4:30am- Municipality employees arrived outside the theatre and removed the letters. The removal of the letters was deliberately done at a time when no protestors were present, but luckily a passer-by managed to photograph the removal taking place.

The legality of the removal of the letters has also been called into question as the National Theatre is owned by the Ministry of Culture, not the Municipality therefore only the Ministry can order and sanction their removal.

In addition to this, the plans for bulldozing and building towers over the site have been shelved for now due to a number of legal and constitutional issues caused by the government’s intent to develop it.

A spokesperson from the Alliance called the move “petty provocation” and expressed surprise that the removal took place in front of the well-guarded Ministry of the Interior, yet no one stopped the Municipality workers.

The replacement of the letters was funded by donations after a request was published at the weekend. The protestors spoke afterwards of their dismay that anyone from the government would be able to remove the words “national” without permission- insinuating that this is an act against the country. Other speakers referred to the actions of a “mafia government” as well as saying that the Theatre belongs to all Albanians, not just Edi Rama and Erion Veliaj.

After a number of speeches, some of the protestors relocated to the Police Directorate where 5 protestors, including PD Party Member, Klevis Balliu are being held after protest that took place in Astir today.

Inhabitants of the area have been protesting for over six months over the proposed demolition of 300 houses to make way for a ring road. Owners of illegally built houses had applied for legalisation via a government framework, yet they are still being evicted without compensation. The project was found to be corrupt as the company that won the two EUR 30 million tenders was a ghost company that had been set up with forged documents.

In today’s protests, five citizens were arrested and many others were injured and even hospitalised.