Citizens gather in protest against demolition of National Theatre

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 18, 2020 20:15

Citizens gather in protest against demolition of National Theatre

TIRANA, May 18 - Hundreds of citizens gathered on Monday afternoon in front of the ruins of the now-demolished National Theater, as part of the protest organized by the Alliance for the Protection of Theater. A day after authorities demolished the building of the National Theater, the boulevard was filled with artists, civil society activists, citizens as well as opposition leaders who protested against the demolition.

Robert Budina, director and member of the Alliance for the Protection of Theater who has strongly opposed the demolition of the building since 2018, stated that the Theatre served as a symbol for democracy. He condemned the government's act, calling the demolition unconstitutional.
"The demolition of the Theater highlighted all the issues of the Albanian democracy. The symbolism of the National Theater was not only in its walls, but [it served as] the standing position of democracy which was demolished by unconstitutional laws."

"The protest of the Theater was a candle that lit many other candles of protest, that hope cannot be killed", said actor Neritan Liçaj.

Many of other artists who spoke, including Budina, accused the police of using violence against those who were in the building at the time. "We were dragged away, and the demolition began while there were still people [inside]," he said.

Analyst and publicist Fatos Lubonja who was also present at the protest, stated that the demolition has left a blow to the freedom and desire of the Albanian people to live in "a peaceful democratic country."

He added that citizens are facing "a very dangerous gang and we need to think deeply and long about how to act to get rid of this gang that has seized the state."

According to Lubonja, the citizens should demand the resignation of the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, and that he and others, be held accountable for the destruction of public property.

Protesters were heard chanting "Rama leave" and "Down with dictatorship" as they waved their banners in the air. Around 1,000 Police forces stood a few meters behind the protest podium as well as on the rooftops of the Ministries, in the area near the Ministry of Interior, where the building of the National Theater was still standing until Sunday morning.

Shortly before the start of the protest, President Ilir Meta called for an international investigation into what he called "the unconstitutional, illegal and the most anti-European way of destroying the National Theater." He added that he is to cooperate with the Alliance for the Protection of Theater, as well as any European and international institution for Culture.

Finally, Meta urged protesters not to practice violence but believe instead that democracy can prevail "over 'Talibanism' and oligarchy.'"

Artists stated that they will continue to resist and protest against the Rama government, while Budina once again called on President Ilir Meta to dissolve the parliament. Later, he announced that protests will continue on to Wednesday at 17:30.

During the early morning hours of Sunday, Albanian authorities demolished the building of the National Theater after over 2 years of resistance by civil society activists.

Police forces surrounded the building around 4:30 a.m. where several citizens, artists and opposition party members were spending the night as a form of protest and dispersed them in order to begin with the demolition procedures. 

Dozens of citizens were detained and arrested for resistance, including journalists and actors. The area surrounding the building was then cordoned and citizens were kept from entering through.

Tensions have increased since then, with many international actors condemning the demolition of the Theatre. Today, the government presented the National Theatre project once again, while Tirana's Mayor Erion Veliaj stated that its demolition was necessary and that no element of the previous building could have possibly been preserved.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 18, 2020 20:15