In Albania, the National Theater destroyed by the government, “a barbaric act”

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Protesters protest the demolition of the National Theater building in Tirana, Albania, on May 17. GENT ONUZI / AP

LETTER FROM CENTRAL EUROPE

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama enjoys highlighting his career as a visual artist and his tastes as a painter. When he was mayor of the capital, Tirana, between 2000 and 2011, he made himself known around the world for having the bars of dull buildings inherited from the Communist dictatorship painted in bright colors. Sometimes with patterns he had drawn himself, giving the Albanian capital a bit of an open air gallery in places.

But, Sunday, May 17, the same Edi Rama, 55, prime minister since 2013, sent the police and the backhoe loaders at first light to destroy one of the country’s flagship cultural institutions and one of its rare performance halls, the National Theater. Inside, a few dozen artists and opponents who had occupied the building for more than two years were expelled manu militari.

“They came at 4:15 in the morning, we were still around sixty people, they evacuated and launched the bulldozer”, tells the director and actor Edmond Budina, one of the representatives of the Alliance for the protection of the theater, a collective which fought since 2018 to save this building built in 1940 when the country was occupied by Italy. A spontaneous demonstration in which opposition leaders participated on Sunday was then brutally dispersed.

“Anger”

Typical of Mussolinian architecture, without being imposing, the National Theater was built with cement mixed with fibers of algae and poplar, the fruit of the self-sufficient policy of Italian fascism. Renowned several times according to political changes, the theater was mainly “One of the few old buildings in Tirana” in a city with modern town planning, considers the Albanian plastic artist Adrian Paci, who says “Shocked and angry” of the decision made by Edi Rama.

On Facebook, the latter defended his decision on Monday May 18 by attacking the “Professional disrupters” and praising the project for a new theater to be built on the ruins of the old one. “It will be approved by everyone and will give the public the national theater they have never had”, he promised, posting the impressive images of the Danish architectural firm at the head of the project.

Occupied for two years, the National Theater had suffered from lack of maintenance and the Alliance for the protection of the theater had to install a generator to bypass the power outage and continue to organize performances in the large hall where it was doing too much hot in summer and too cold in winter. But the artists argued for a renovation. “Could you destroy the Moulin Rouge, even for a new building like this?” “protests Edmond Budina, who describes this destruction “Barbaric act”. “I’m not against this new theater, but why destroy the old one and not build it elsewhere? “, abounds Adrian Paci.

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