From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Comment: The Fight for the National Theatre Is Far from Over

After two years of awkward public statements and otherwise resounding silence, the EU Delegation in Albania and the European Commission have issued their statement on the National Theatre.

A statement peppered with diplomatic double-speak, plenty of skirting around the crux of the issue, and statements that don’t say a whole lot of anything was sent to Exit over the weekend. After a bit of deciphering and discussion, it appears to give support to the Europa Nostra “7 Most Endangered” initiative, while acknowledging the National Theatre’s inclusion, and “encouraging collaboration” between all stakeholders.

The response from those fighting for the cause for two years, as well as other members of civil society, was one of happiness and relief.

But what exactly do they mean? Let’s break it down.

“The European Commission is aware that the National Theatre of Albania has been identified by Europa Nostra as one of the 7 Most Endangered monuments and heritage sites in Europe for 2020.”

Pretty self-explanatory-  they know about the nomination and they know what the initiative is. A good start.

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.”

They think the initiative is a really good idea and they support it. They also believe that those on the list are sites of European cultural heritage, and going back to the first paragraph, one could deduce that they support the inclusion of the National Theatre as an example.

“The European Commission does not intervene in the selection procedure managed by Europa Nostra. The selection of the sites is a bottom-up process based on nominations submitted by organisations as well as by established public and private bodies that are active in the heritage field.”

They put this bit in to make sure that the Albanian government doesn’t suspect them of having any influence in the selection or nomination process. Because, you know, they’re diplomats.

“The actions implemented within the 7 Most Endangered Initiative pertain exclusively to the initiative led by Europa Nostra. We understand that experts representing Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute will visit the listed sites, provide expert advice, and formulate recommendations for action.”

Note the use of the phrases “expert advice” and “recommendations for action”. This means that they consider those involved in Europa Nostra are experts and their decisions carry weight. This, therefore, implies that the recommendations for action should be considered because they are formulated by experts from Europa Nostra, who the EC supports.

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

This is where it gets interesting. Both the EC and the EU delegation to Albania are asking the government, in albeit a roundabout way to work with the heritage stakeholders, i.e. Europa Nostra and most probably, the civil society organisations promoting the protection of the National Theatre. 

They have already stated they support Europa Nostra and the initiative and implied they support the National Theatres inclusion on the list. This statement goes a step further and asks the government to work with those involved in “recommendations for action”. These recommendations will no doubt be to scrap the demolition of the Theatre and ensure it is restored and protected for years to come. 

In this statement, the EU delegation and EC are giving their support in an indirect way and advising the government to listen to the recommendations and professional opinion of Europa Nostra experts, who they support. Still with me?

“The competence to make decisions concerning the National Theatre, on the basis of the consultations and recommendations made by the experts, will ultimately lie with the competent Albanian authorities.”

But of course, being diplomats, they cannot be seen to get involved too much in what is a “politicized” fight. This last line is a caveat and an important one at that. 

It is a line put there to keep the Albanian government happy and so they can be seen to be both supporting the cause of the National Theatre, and Rama and Veliaj. It is also a ‘get-out’ clause for the future when they are asked to take a more definitive stance on the matter. 

If the police and diggers descend on the Theatre, people will be looking to the EU Delegation and EC for their support, but they’re unlikely to get it, due to the inclusion of this line. This line is designed to keep both sides of the matter happy and to absolve them of any responsibility of involvement in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that they have finally spoken up on the matter, albeit via a carefully crafted, rather generic statement but I am worried this means people will let their guard down. While these words are important, they are just that- words. We will never get more than this from our EU allies and they will never cross the line to take a more solid stance.

Behind the scenes and unofficially they may support the cause, as does most of the international community but when it comes to public displays of affection don’t hold your breath.

The fight for the National Theatre is still in its infancy and we must not be distracted by the comforting words of diplomats as we navigate these perilous waters. The EU will not stand in the way of Rama and Veliaj and the fight will remain solely between us, and them.

By all means, celebrate this as a minor victory but do not be distracted from what lies ahead. Most importantly, don’t rely on anyone else for help- the only people who can win this is us.