Today, students, professors, and administration staff from the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Tirana have boycotted their lessons to protest against the government’s decision to strip the University of its ownership of the Botanical Gardens.
In July, the government transferred the ownership of the gardens, which was jointly held by the government and the University, to the Municipality of Tirana. This gives the Municipality the right to use it “for the exercise of its functions”, including development.
University of Tirana Rector Mynyr Koni required the Administrative Court to revoke as illegal the Decision of the Council of Minister that attempts to legitimize ownership transfer.
Under ownership of the Municipality, the gardens’s fate can be decided with a simple City Council decision. Since the 30 June vote, the Council is dominated by the Socialist Party.
Exit previously contacted representatives from the University and found that the decision to transfer ownership was made without consulting them or the University which uses the garden as an outdoor laboratory for a number of departments.
Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj announced that the government would transfer the gardens to the municipality during the electoral campaign in July this year. He assured everyone that the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences had agreed on a project to connect the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens once the ownership was completed.
Dean Spiro Dushku, also supported by Rector Mynyr Koni, issued a press statement denying Veliaj’s statement. They said they were against the government decision to transfer the gardens to the Municipality.
The decision does state that the Municipality is not allowed to change the use of the garden, but if this is really the case, it is not clear why it is necessary to transfer ownership. Once the property is in the hands of the Municipality, this point could be changed leaving them free to repurpose the site as they wish.
The Municipality says they need ownership in order to be able to invest “in considerable amounts” in the gardens. However, University professors say the Law on Higher Education allows the Municipality to appoint representatives in university bodies if they invest in university projects, thus having control over their investment without necessarily owning the gardens.
Following the announcement, the Faculty of Natural Sciences said that the decision would undermine autonomy and academic freedom, violate the Law on Higher Education, and render it impossible for the garden to function. At the time, the Dean Spiro Dushku stated:
Our Faculty’s hitherto bitter experiences with the Museum of Natural Sciences, Department of Biotechnology, the recent “eating” of a piece of the said Garden along with the two-story building (gift from the US Embassy), for the passage of the New Ring, do not give any assurance.
The group of protestors will march to the Administrative Court of Appeal where a decision on ownership is expected to be announced today.
Qazim Lataj, the president of the University of Tirana employee union stated that if the court decides to confirm the government decision to transfer ownership they will continue the action, including a strike.
We will continue with all the ways that the law allows. We will pursue our rights. The Botanical Garden was built as a scientific research laboratory at the Faculty of Science in 1965 and we want its legacy to continue. It is not just a laboratory, but a conservation base for endemic plants that are heading towards extinction.
Today’s hearing at the Court is the second, following a hearing on 9 October, which the government failed to attend.
The Administrative Court of Appeal ruled that the case was legitimate and should proceed to trial, overruling the government and the municipality’s call for it to be dismissed. Judge Blerona Hasa stated that the claim made by the University that the decision to transfer ownership could affect the academic functions of the garden, was legitimate.
The decision on whether the transfer can take place will be decided by a five-member panel, the date of which is yet to be announced.