From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
EU Support for Tirana’s National Theatre, Following Most Endangered List Nomination

The European Commission and the EU Delegation in Albania have expressed their support for Tirana’s National Theatre being placed on the Europa Nostra ‘7 Most Endangered’ list.

In a statement given to Exit, the Commission stated:

“The European Commission supports the initiative of Europa Nostra called the “7 Most Endangered”, in partnership with the European Investment Bank Institute, as well as its main objective, which is to preserve Europe’s cultural heritage.”

It noted they were aware that the National Theatre has been identified by the Europa Nostra as one of the seven most endangered sites for 2020.

They added that “The European Commission together with the EU Delegation to Albanian encourage all relevant national institutions to promote collaboration with heritage stakeholders”.

They did, however, stress that the competence to make decisions concerning the National Theatre “on the basis of the consultations and recommendations made by the experts”, ultimately lies with the “competent Albanian authorities”.

Their statement comes after Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, Youth and Sport tweeted her support for the Europa Nostra initiative and the sites on the list.

Gabriel wrote that cultural heritage helps us understand our history and place in the world and that it is important to preserve it. She added that she fully supports the “7 Most Endangered” initiative.

The EU Delegation in Tirana has previously remained tight-lipped on the issue of the National Theatre and Ambassador Luigi Soreca has not publicly supported its protection. Exit sent a number of questions to the Delegation, asking if they would now make a public statement on the matter, given the stance of the Commissioner.

In March, the National Theatre was named as one of Europe’s most endangered heritage sites. The initiative aims to raise awareness, prepare independent assessments, and propose feasible action plans to mobilise support to save these sites.

In January 2020, after the theatre was shortlisted for the 7 Most Endangered, Europa Nostra sent a letter to Albanian authorities, pleading with them to cease their attempts to demolish the building. Rama and Veliaj refused to address the letter and kept asserting that the National Theater had no historical value or significance.

The public land that the theatre sits on has been earmarked for a large development that would see it being totally demolished and large tower blocks and a small theatre erected in its place. Civil society has been protesting the proposals for over two years due to claims it is unconstitutional, illegal, corrupt, and that the public land would be sold to a private company and developed by a government favourite, Fusha Shpk.

In February, the government announced that the site would be developed with public funds and not by a private company. A statement released by the Municipality of Tirana said that they will “ask the government to provide financial support for the realisation of the National Theatre.”

For two years, Rama and Veliaj have justified the PPP project with the argument that the Municipality and the government have no funds to afford the construction. It also comes at a time when Albania has asked and received €1.15 billion in donations, grants and loans from the EU and EU Member States to aid reconstruction after the November 26 Earthquake.