From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Government Empties National Theatre in Preparation for Demolition

The Ministry of Culture has started the removal of contents from the National Theatre, suggesting that the government is preparing to move ahead with its demolition.

Yesterday evening and again today, workers were observed removing items from the two theatre buildings. The Municipality had stealthily removed the letters from the front of the building, in the middle of the night back in April. They were promptly replaced by The National Theatre Alliance just days later following a fundraising drive.

On 3 June, a notice was published in the Official Decision Journal of the Council of Ministers, authorising the creation of a commission for negotiating contracts with private companies. The decision was adopted on 4 April but strangely was not published on the Prime Minister’s official website, as other decisions taken that day were.

The creation of this commission is the first step towards the demolition of the theatre and the construction of six towers and a “new theatre” in its place. An unconstitutional “special law” was passed by a Socialist Party majority last year to allow the sale of public land to private company Fusha shpk. The law was then rejected by President Meta who argued it “threatened national heritage”.

The National Theatre Alliance, comprising of members of civil society, actors, and citizens has protested every day against the demolition of the theatre, for over a year. They have said they are determined to protect the theatre at all costs, as well as physically if needs be, adding;

“Political power might embolden the thieves, but they won’t get away with it forever.”

They state that the Theatre is a national treasure, of historical interest, and should be preserved for generations to come, not demolished to make way for capitalistic structures that will not benefit the public.

Last year the Albanian government has also been called out by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on their lack of transparency for public-private partnerships (PPPs). Then earlier this month, the European Commission criticised the government for its policy relating to PPPs and the fact that their value reached 31% of the GDP. It noted that projects were being awarded without assessing the necessary risks or cost-benefit ratios.

Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj stated in his campaign for the “highly irregular” local elections held on 30 June, that he would demolish the theatre once he was reelected as that is what the citizens of Tirana want.

Yet, according to the KQZ, only 26% of eligible voters in Tirana actually voted and out of a possible 662,837 votes, Veliaj only received 152,347. This is far from a majority and represents less than a quarter of the electorate. It is also worth noting that he also lost almost 8,000 votes despite the number of eligible voters increasing by 53,951 for this round of general elections. It seems based on the statistics that not only do citizens of Tirana not want to demolish the National Theatre, but that they are also not happy with Veliaj.

These elections had been cancelled and then rescheduled for 13 October by the President, by Presidential decree. Also, a number of Mayors who were elected via these “elections” have found their mandates being not accepted by the courts.