To build, or not to build? That is the question regarding The National Theatre of Albania. (Romeo Kodra)

During the last COVID19 lock-down night, on May 17th, around 04.00 AM, the activists, artists and citizens, that occupied and resisted for almost two years inside the building of The National Theatre of Albania, were beaten and violated by the “Department of Eagles“, which has nothing to do with contemporary art, but with “Shqiponjat” / “Eagles” is the exact name of police quick intervention squad, which intervened without identification numbers like “die Sturmabteilung” or “le Camicie Nere” of 2020, remembering Albanians the times they live in.

On May 17th 2020, the bulldozers of the Albanian government erased The National Theatre although the pan-European cultural heritage organization Europa Nostra weeks earlier had selected it as one of the European cultural heritage monuments at risk. Actually, the building thanks to the support of EU institutions had very good possibilities to be restored and renovated with EU funds. However, the government of Edi Rama and mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, decided to accelerate the money laundry machine, erasing The Theatre and opening in this manner a new 200 million euros construction site for “modern” towers.

Pleurad Xhafa’s installation, “Two Hundred Million Euros in Five Hundred Notes”, destroyed under the rubble of The Theatre.

The very next day, the activists, artists, and citizens protested for several days in Tirana and started a tour of protests in several cities of Albania during which they distributed a petition, collecting signatures, for the re-building of The National Theatre “where it was and how it was” (sign the petition if you agree / link).

According my opinion, rebuilding “The National Theatre where it was and how it was” is a sort of symptomatic reaction which denotes the drift of the authoritarian governmentality of these last 100 hundred years in Albania.

The National Theatre, at the time known as “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg” was a product of fascist colonial practices carried out by Mussolini to impress “the indigenous” (Albanians of the time) with its Italian architectural rationalism, this last a sort of “misunderstanding of the modern” (at least, this was the opinion of the critic Bruno Zevi on Italian architectural rationalism). Thus, “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg” was a building which spectacularized the fascist politics and colonialism as well as the figure of the authoritarian leader, being Scanderbeg or Mussolini itself. It had nothing to do, from an architectonic and/or urban point of view, with the Albanian context of the time (it was constructed few months before the invasion or the “annexation” of Albania by Italian troupes in 1939). The only integration with the context was through the “zipper axes” boulevard (“asse cerniera”) constructed by Italians urban planners, which, as an alien urban dispositif, divided the retrograded, ottoman, old Tirana and modern, Western, “new Tirana” / Tirana e Re (this is the name, still today, through which is known the quarter of the western part of the Boulevard).

All the constructions in Albania, including the Boulevard as well as “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg“, were financially managed by SVEA, an Italian-Albanian financial institution, which, knowing the impossibility of the Albanians to repay the debts, granted large sums in the form of loans to the highly corrupted self-proclaimed King Ahmet Zogu and his government. Through this lack of repayment Mussolini justified in front of the Italian Parliament the invasion or “annexation” of Albania, as he liked to consider it, justified by a large part of Albanian collaborationist intelligentsia.

Albanian Minister and poet Ernest Koliqi (in center, black suit) with Italian Lieutnant Francesco Jacomoni (center, white uniform), “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg”, 1942.

Ahmet Zogu, the former Prime Minister who had proclaimed himself King of Albanians in 1928, a day before Italian invasion, on April 6th 1939 abandoned Albania passing the Greek border with his family and a large quantity of gold.

On May 21st, 2020, four days after the erasure of The National Theatre, Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Tirana, apparently forgetting the possibility to restore The Theatre with EU funds without taxing the Albanians, send an official request to the Prime Minister Edi Rama, asking the permission to apply for 30 million euro loan at European Bank of Investment – “with very favorable financial conditions” – for the construction of the new Theatre, which will be placed on 30% of the territory of the former Theatre, leaving the rest to Fusha Family affairs.

I guess, through this elementary information, the circle of governmentality is completely evident. In other words, in Albania there is an ongoing process of return to the roots: of violence, erasure, corruption, financial speculation and political spectacularization through architectonic monumental constructions which characterized the beginnings of fascism.

B.I.G. Bjarke Ingels Group, proposal for The National Theatre.

To jump out of the circle, the rebuilding of “The Theatre where it was and how it was” does not indicate the right direction. Knowing somewhat the Albanian context, generally speaking, therefore including but not limiting the discourse on the case of The National Theatre, I tend to prefer neither to erase nor erect buildings nor monuments. If buildings and monuments are erased or erected, I guess it is preferable to deal with them or what remains of them, to cultivate a relation with their presence or absence. This does not means that the resistance against the mafia in government, when it erases or erects, was and is not necessary. On contrary. The resistance should be intensified. However, the context needs sobriety. Needs less, not more. Less buildings, not more buildings.

In the case of The National Theatre or what remains of it, the resistance should continue on “The Empty Space” of The Theatre, to quote Peter Brooks and maybe witness the materialization of its vision. In this space, to escape the circular symptom of “Il circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg”, should be preserved the erasure and evidenced its foundations, literally, as a sort of Chris Burden installation, making clear the concrete profits of the last 100 years.

Chris Burden, Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, Los Angeles, 1986.

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