A group of activists woke up on the square in front of the port of Durrës, where a month ago archeological ruins were unexpectedly discovered. A day ago, they virtually celebrated and cheered on social media about a decision issued by the Court of Durrës that expands the protected area and prevents construction work close to the ruins.
But the decision was issued on March 3, and while the complaint was filed on February 20, the Office of Prosecution in Durrës continues to investigate without clear results, while construction work is coming to an end.
In order to understand and clarify doubts caused by unconfirmed claims, I decided to have a closer look at the situation that for many months has put pressure on several key administrative offices of the city and above all had caused a strong political reaction.
It wasn’t eight o’clock yet, when a couple of archeologists arrived in the area. On the famous ruins of the Ottoman bastion, near the Venetian tower, the head of the unit is making notes on a map. Across the old road where archeological zone B starts, the construction workers have descended five meters underground into a recently opened gallery, and are laying down iron rods over the uncovered road. This is a tunnel, its roof serving as the floor for the new pedestrian area. Furthermore, it will extend into archeological zone A, inevitably touching the ruins. This is why the activists oppose this layered construction.
Close to there, opposite to the square where construction work is going on, is the Administrative Court that changed, after the trial, its decision issued on February 16, which marked the first attempt of activists to stop works for Veliera. According to Mirela Jorgo, “The court decided to discontinue the work in the area where archeological findings are discovered. But the day after, in the final decision, we noticed an addition of words in brackets: In the area where there is the apartment building.”
Ledio Braho, an attorney specialized in the field of public law, declares:
After a decision is reached the court cannot alter it, unless another session is held with the presence of the concerned parties. The recorded minutes of the court sessions comprise the official minutes. And if the court has not come up with a decision that clarifies possible mistakes, additions of content inside brackets (as in the present case), the decision executed is the one registered in the audio at the moment of pronouncement in the court session, therefore it is binding.”
“It is just a clarification,” says judge Marjana Velçani, committed to having the parties present in a new appeals session.
Even though the square where the construction work is going on can be seen from the windows of the court, it seems that this privilege doesn’t stop Velçani from getting this “clarification.”
According to the activists, this addition in brackets that limits the protected area has given room to the investors to continue their work inside the archeological area A.
A few days later, in the morning, some metal armatures for concrete pillars were found within the archeological ruins, and part of them had damaged the structures! What happened? How did these iron rods penetrate in an area protected by a court decision? The archeologists shrug. The workers at the construction site refuse to answer.
Rudina Zoto is the Secretary of the National Council of Archeologists (KKA) and she explained that “the issue is under investigation and they are waiting on a verdict from the responsible institution.”
It seems that some of these responsible institutions think differently. “If the archeological structures are damaged, the authorities that protect them should have filed a criminal charge,” says the head of the Prosecution in Durrës, Agron Gjana.
In fact, the only charges filed until now are from a group of citizens. Fines are not even considered.
“KKA and the Ministry of Culture are abusing their power,” Gjana continues. “We have asked them for information, but to no avail.”
The latest correspondence indeed verifies a written exchange between the two institutions, but what is considered complete by the Ministry of Culture is considered incomplete by the Prosecutor of Durrës.
This happens all the time! While the institutions blame each other, the wrongdoers go unpunished.
It has been a month and the only achievement of the Prosecution has been the partial seizure that has put a stop to the construction work on the upper part of the road, in archeological area A.
Lorisa Ylli is a young girl who is against Veliera project claims the opposite: “The construction work in archeological area A is continuing, despite its prohibition, even during the night!”
In the more than two months since the construction firm terminated construction work on February 4 and four days later the supervisor announced their suspension on February 8, and the Administrative Court “decided to partially terminate construction work” on February 16, then on February 22, after investigating the area for the second time, the Prosecution addressed the court to put another cease and desist order in place when, at last, on March 3, the Criminal Court put a definitive stop for good to the construction work in archeological area A, during these two months, there is one thing that could be said with certainty: the construction work has never really stopped! All these legal battles combined with the mess and the enthusiasm of civil action have achieved a trivial victory, conveying a grandiose triumph to the public opinion!
The building of municipality is one of the few that has not changed its function since its construction in 1928 by the Italians.
Vangjush Dako, a favorite who embodies the visions of the Prime Minister Edi Rama about urban generation, can leave a few things behind in the city during his ten years as mayor.
The central stairs constructed in the imperial style inside the building reach the final floor, his spacious office. Through the window, on the north side, the extension of the antique wall can be seen. Downstairs, descending, where the hill meets Epidamni boulevard, another Ottoman wall extends.
“This is a modern work,” the mayor clarifies, expressing his enthusiasm for Veliera.
It seems that reactions and opposition do not bother him. “We will continue our work. We have appealed. We have never understood why we need to stop!”
“But Mr. Dako, you could have predicted a situation like this,” I interfere. “You undertook a project in a protected area!”
“No, the archeologists did not predict it,” he retorted, putting the reviewed project on the table. “Look! It will be like an open air museum.” A structure filled with holes was in front of me. The yellow lines followed a trajectory, surely following the lines of the underground structures…
“In the area underneath the pedestrian part the Italian builders have projected this oval gap, where the citizens could observe the ruins through the glass,- he concluded, uncovering in this way the details of an unannounced project.
“And the Byzantine wall?”
“It will not be touched.”
“It won’t be uncovered either,” I thought. How sad! Naturally, the project is waiting the approval of KKA. Could it be changed? Hope is fading!
The protest is still going on, decisions are reached to discontinue construction work or change the minutes, while Vangjush Dako, in Durrës, is aiming for a solution that he believes belongs only to him.
A number of actions or inactions mixed up with arbitrariness and propaganda, although a series of unfavorable circumstances, have given room to the mayor to bring the execution of the project to an irreversible point!
The assistant announced that the Italian constructors had arrived. While they descended the stairs in the main hall, some citizens shouted: “Mayor… Veliera, Veliera!” They thought I was one of the constructors. I was just around.
At the exit, on Iliria Square, Marco Casamonti, the author of Veliera, was standing among several Italian engineers. Curiosity pushed me to stop them and to get a couple of direct answers.
“Your projects are famous but rather controversial, but you have the support of the Prime Minister,” I said. The Florentine architect has no complexes about his work. “All the important works in history have opened debates,” he explains. “This shows they are not mundane but rather democratic. A number of these projects were private and were declared winners by an international jury. If the jury selected me, it is not my fault.”
But when I ask him if he is a friend of the Prime Minister, he responds: “I am friend with those politicians that want to achieve beautiful things for their cities.”
There exists an old relationship between politicians and architects. A real relationship, necessary like the pillar that supports the whole structure.
At the beginning of the modern Albania, the fascist architects conceived the main urban squares. Through creativity and symbolism they conveyed an ideology and vision.
Is Edi Rama using the Italian architects to visualize his messages, valuable for many years to come after he has left politics? Or is it simply a mask, behind which many speculators and benefactors of large sums of money hide? One thing is certain: in the debate where political action is intertwined with people’s reaction there is lots of propaganda and control.
The engineers leave towards the construction site where the investors are building the new tunnel. On top of which will be the new pedestrian passage, under the infamous concrete sail of Veliera. And if things go as predicted, under this giant umbrella, the citizens could glimpse at the past of the city. Let’s see.