For the last 72 hours I have been, along with hundreds of thousands of people in Albania and around the world, lost in the shock and horror of the public execution of Tirana’s historic National Theater.
At 4:30 in the morning local time, Sunday 17 May 2020, I received a phone call from Washington D.C. – where it was still early, only 10:30 in the evening.
Four terse words: The theater is destroyed.
The line went dead.
I opened Facebook to find the live feeds coming from the city center.
Police who descended in the middle of the night. The protestors dragged out of the theater, their shrieks and tears the expression of the shock and horror we are all feeling. Protestors who, for 27 months, have breathed their life into the condemned man, giving their blood to keep the theater alive after it had been condemned to death.
These 27 months have brought a new life, a new blood, to Albania. Through Sheshi Teatri.
I have gone to the square as often as I could. Not enough. Busy with my own life, I have been the kind of person who sees the patient in the intensive care unit. Who feels for him and wants him to live. Who feels so much that I do what I can to support the doctors and nurses keeping him alive while they search for the cure that will save him.
We all believed we had found the cure. We celebrated the banners from Europa Nostra: Albania’s Historic National Theater is one of the 7 most important cultural heritage sites in Europe! Here is the money! Bring it back to life! The patient will live!
The theater was the laboratory. It was the university research center where people learned how to keep going, to not give up. No matter what. They learned new languages that let them communicate with international media and elite diplomats everywhere in the world. They discovered new places and new people – the exotic lands of world capitals where organizations like Europa Nostra live.
In discovering the cure for the National Theater, they discovered the cure for Albania. Once the theater was saved, they could take this cure to the rest of the country and free a people who have been living as prisoners for almost a century.
And maybe that is why the state had to make such a bloody and violent retaliation.
If this cure spreads throughout the country, the people will be free of the disease that has kept them prisoners to the power and greed of their elites.
They could be cured of fear.
A virus kills by turning the body against itself. It sneaks into our cells and takes over their function. It whispers poisonous words that turn friends and neighbors against each other. The virus kills us, cell by cell, organ by organ, by tricking some cells into believing that the very things we need in order to live are their enemies that must be attacked. In this way, the virus gets us to kill ourselves.
In Sheshi Teatri, the doctors and nurses that saved the life of the theater learned how to cure this virus.
But the virus also wants to live. In order to live, it has to get back into the cells, renew the civil war inside the body that makes the patient kill himself.
On 17 May 2020 – International Museum Day, ironically – the state publicly, violently, sadistically, executed the National Theater in an attempt to wipe out the cure so that the disease can grow, unchecked.
To cure this mutation, we have to go back to the beginning – to unlock the genetic code from which the virus was born.
And that means returning to the National Theater, because the virus came to life here.
This is where Enver Hoxha held the show trial that started the bloody reign of terror that killed off his political opposition and terrorized the people into submission.
44 days after the trial started, 17 of the 60 people tried were executed and buried in a ditch outside of Tirana. 53 others were sent to the gulags Hoxha had already started building. This is where the bloody years of stealing every centimeter of land, every coin, every possession, from the people began.
And this is continuing today in illegal development. Illegal development – crimes in the Hipoteka that make judges, lawyers, developers, the officials that put their signatures on criminal title transfers, rich while they steal the property, again, that belongs to the people.
People from all across the United States, Britain, Europe, from Albania and Kosova, have been calling, messaging, texting me. Shock. Horror. Disbelief. Grief.
The virus is launching a violent counter-attack. It has executed the patient. It still lives.
The virus and political parties feed on the same things: the fear that makes one part of the body call the other an “enemy” and attack it. The virus gets us to kill ourselves, and, when we have suicided, it jumps to another host.
The doctors have to go back to work.
The National Theater has been executed, but we still have the genetic code. The cure is still possible – it can be found.
It will be hard. Certainly. Very, very hard.
I do not know the cure, but I think I know one place to begin the search.
The virus that came to life in the National Theater made a brutal dictatorship secretly bury, dig up, and rebury again the people it executed. Over 80 percent of the people the dictatorship executed are still hidden in the ground we walk on. No bodies to bury. No funerals to mourn the lives lost, to celebrate the people loved and now gone.
The funeral rite is a social rite of passing. It allows the bereaved to find solace with each other, to know that they are not alone.
There has been no rite of passing to mourn the deaths of communism, no way for the community of bereaved to hold and support each other – to hold and support each other in the grief that death brings, but also in the process of reaffirming: we live on.
To live on, into the future, we need each other. We need our friends, our neighbors, our communities.
The virus – and political parties – live by making the body attack itself. When the virus makes us suicide, it jumps to a different host.
The strain of the virus Albania has to cure is a mutation of a virus that infects the world.
I do not know the cure, but I do know one part of it: the immune system has to re-learn how to recognize its friends, its community. It has to purge the poison that has made it see parts of its own body as “enemy.”
And I do know: Albanians have been denied the funeral rites for their beloved that the dictatorship executed. They have been denied the funeral rites that allow the bereaved community to support each other in their grieving, and to find, with each other, a renewed commitment to life.
I do not know the cure for the mutation of the virus in Albania. But I believe the search for the cure begins by returning to the National Theater. By recovering its genetic code. And by having, finally, the funeral that will allow the body to see: it needs all of its parts to live.
And I believe that, when Albanians find this cure, it will help the rest of the world.
With you, I grieve.
With you, I recommit: search for the cure, come together to mourn, rebuild community – bring life back.