From: Exit Staff
Activists Protest Inauguration of New Theatre Works in Tirana

Protests took place in Tirana on Wednesday as the government inaugurated the works of the new National Theatre after the previous one was demolished following a two-year-long civil resistance and a lost case in the Constitutional Court.

The protest against the demolition of Albania’s National Theatre was the longest-running consecutive protest in Albanian history with activists holding vigils outside the site for two years, and eventually occupying the premises. On the last day of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in May 2021, police stormed the building, removed the activists and the theatre was demolished.

Speaking at the inauguration of the works, Prime Minister Edi Rama said he had been adamant to demolish and rebuild the theatre from the moment he was minister of culture.

“I had declared war on that building since 1998 when I became the minister of culture and it took a long time…This project is a precious stone in a necklace of works that practically took Tirana out of itself, out of the old chronicle of itself and designed it as a European capital where things are done that attract the attention of others,” he said.

Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj said the city is crying out for such a space.

“We have today an agreement that the city needs such a space, just as fantastic spaces have been made, the Pyramid, the bazaar, the square, the lake, the national stadium and many other works”, he said.

But protestors and theatre activists were not so convinced. 

“Today we went to the Constitutional Court and requested the suspension of the works. We have submitted to Strasbourg a request for the suspension of the work,” they said, while one activist told Euronews Albania that they have taken legal action to try and prevent the work from starting.

The battle for Albania’s National Theatre made international news and divided opinion locally and internationally. 

Throughout, the European Commission requested transparency, explanations, and amendments to laws passed to facilitate the structure’s demolition. The Commission also supported the designation of the theatre on Europa Nostra’s ‘7 Most Endangered List’, a month before it was razed to the ground.

“The European Commission together with the EU Delegation to Albania encourage all relevant national institutions to promote collaboration with heritage stakeholders,” the Commission and the EU Delegation said in a joint statement from 2020.

Activists opposed the demolition of the Italian fascist-era theatre on the grounds of it being part of the country’s cultural heritage. They also argued that plans to develop it were corrupt, illegal, and unconstitutional, and favouring businesses close to the ruling party by handing over large swathes of prime, publicly-owned real estate. It is expected that a new theatre as well as towers comprising residential and commercial units will be built in its place.

The Albanian government, however, argued it was damaged by the 2019 earthquake and it would be better to construct a new, modern theatre in its place.