International reactions prior to and after the demolition of Albanian National Theatre

Both print and electronic media focused on Friday and over the weekend on the internationals’ reactions prior and after the demolition of the National Theatre building. European Union Commissioner for Culture Mariya Gabriel called on Friday over Twitter on the government to table dialogue with civil society and cultural experts before taking an irreversible decision on the National Theatre in Tirana. The Commissioner’s appeal was echoed by the United Kingdom Embassy in Tirana: “We support EU Commissioner Gabriel’s call for dialogue and for all involved to give the time and space for this to happen meaningfully. Dialogue is never wasted, particularly in these troubled times.” The same UK Embassy reacted also on Sunday once the Theatre building had been demolished and the clashes between police and activists were ongoing: “Deeply concerned by missed opportunities for dialogue over the National Theatre building and episodes of violence in Albania. We support the democratic right to protest and call upon all involved to ensure they are peaceful. Violence undermines the basic principles of democracy.” The UK Embassy’s message was retweeted and supported by the Swedish Ambassador to Tirana Elsa Hastad, who wrote: “I share the same concern as the UK Embassy, I am also deeply worried. We are here to support and follow.”

The media focused on the reaction of the German Ambassador Peter Zingraff to the above developments: “I can hardly understand the hasty demolition of the National Theatre in Tirana, in the dawn of today, and the way it was performed. In view of the present extraordinary situation, the dialogue between the government and civil society and the government’s transparent behaviour is particularly important. I am concerned by this development all the more in view of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic since the gathering of people now and afterwards can lead to steps backwards in this process. I call on all stakeholders for dialogue and self-restraint.” The German Ambassador’s message and concern were also shared by the Dutch Ambassador to Albania, Guusje Korthals Altes. “Share the concern of my colleagues. Following closely and call for use of democratic instruments available,” she tweeted.

The European Union Delegation to Albania also reacted to the said events, posting the following on Twitter: “The demolition of the National Theatre came at a time when we called for dialogue between authorities and civil society before an irreversible decision is taken. We regret that this call has not been followed up by the relevant national and local institutions. Since the early hours of this morning, we have been following with deep concern the developments on the ground. We call on parties to show restraint and to avoid an escalation of the situation.” These tweets were received the following replies from the Alliance for Protection of National Theatre: “This situation is beyond escalation! The Theatre has been destroyed. Now do us a favour, and never, ever speak again of justice and democracy in Albania. Dear US Embassy Tirana and EU in Albania, we are sorry to inform you that your Justice Reform is dead as of today!- The Albanian People.”

“We condemn the authorities action and police violence in Tirana and call on PM Rama to stop the illegal demolition of the National Theatre, to stop the violence against artists and activists and engage in dialogue with all stakeholders including Europa Nostra and the Institute of the European Investment Bank which is supported by the European Commission and stands ready to help. The National Theatre has been listed as an endangered European heritage site. We also call on PM Rama to heed to the appeal of Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and refrain from irreparable damage. May we remind the Albanian government at this stage of the 15 conditions it has to fulfil in order to start the accession negotiations,” said in a joint statement the European People’s Party MEPs David Lega and Michael Gahler. Renew Europe’s Romanian MEP Ramona Strugariu posted the following on her Twitter account in regards to the developments in Tirana: “National Theatre Tirana means culture, humanism, history, values, prime minister Edi Rama. Demolishing it is a moral crime against world Cultural Heritage! Please stop this!”

The following was the reaction of European cultural heritage organization Europa Nostra: “Sad day for cultural heritage in Albania and Europe. Sad day for democracy and rule of law in Albania and Europe! Early this morning, Albanian authorities arrested civil society activists and started demolition of protected National Theatre in Tirana.”