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2022 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

2. Commoning as a Material Engagement of Resistance: The Struggle to Save the Albanian National Theater

Author: Dorina Pllumbi

Published in: Design Commons

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

This article discusses the struggles of commoning as a material engagement in Tirana, the capital of Albania, as it transitions from a totalitarian state socialist regime to a currently consolidating neoliberal one. It reflects upon the field of relations generated during the collective resistance to save the National Theater, which was brutally demolished in May 2020. The story of the theater is essential in understanding the ongoing suffocation of collective emancipatory initiatives generated spontaneously in times of developmentalist pressure of a corrupt state-power-capital coalition which does not confine itself even to the material cultural heritage. The commoning process of the resistance challenges power relations while generating new extra-institutional practices of care for the spatial and material conditions of the space and the human bodies affectively related to it. It contributes to a new understanding of collectivity in Albanian society, an indispensable feature to achieve democracy. The theater building plays an active role in generating collective practices, carrying a political and emotional load, that affect perpetual bonding relations. The affective capacity of the material-human formation challenges the current material culture of demolition and construction in Tirana and the language around it. New architectural practices of resistance emerge as new ways of engaging in collective endeavors in city-making.
Footnotes
1
Freedom of religious practice was banned by law and Albania was declared an Atheist country by Constitution on 1976. Churches were substituted with Pallate te Kultures (Cultural Palaces) as places of propaganda art. The aim was to replace religious ideology to the political state-socialist ideology. On the relations of Albania with other countries of the Eastern Bloc see Mëhilli (2017).
 
2
This pressure was reinforced during the mid-70s with the persecution, and even incarceration, of dissident architects that dared to experiment with form. Their work was judged as being influenced by Western modernism in architecture, which was prohibited as it represented the Western imperialist capitalist world. Meanwhile in Albania, like in other totalitarian states, the party line was persistent in the aim to create a nationalist style that would highlight national identities. The incarceration of the architect Maks Velo in 1978 marks the most vicious aggression of the regime to architecture as a profession.
 
3
More on the legalization process in Potsiou, Chryssy A. 2010. Informal Urban Development in Europe – Experiences from Albania and Greece. United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), Nairobi: United Nations Printshop.
 
4
Commissioning star architects is a strategy used for various projects in Albania. From the local architects this is seen as a way to silence the public debate on these projects. For more on the engagement of BIG in the Theater story see this open response letter published initially as Pllumbi (2020a).
English version: Pllumbi, Dorina. 2020. Is Bjarke Ingels deeply naïf or a liar? Arkitekteza. http://​www.​arkitekteza.​com/​SQ/​response-to-the-article-of-bjarke-ingels-published-in-politiken/​. Accessed October 2020.
 
5
More on the history and the chronology of the resistance can be found here.
Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (2020).
 
6
Pllumbi (2020b).
 
7
Political parties in Albania have adopted an opportunistic approach to recruit membership by providing jobs to the party members in exchange of their blindly adherence to the political line. This is a tactic used by all the political parties, and widely spread in all fields, corrupting this way the freedom of political engagement of the citizens. Professional and even academic jobs, including those from the architectural field, are not immune to this phenomenon.
 
8
Van Gerven Oei (2020) and Di Liscia (2020).
 
9
In his prominent book Ethics, Spinoza refers to conatus as the driving force that is present within humans and things. It is this conatus that makes them act within their capacities and desires.
The demolition started while there were people inside and at the rooftop of the building. Activists were forcibly brought out by armed troops without identification number, something confirmed by the Minister of the Interior Affairs. Time 02:55 of the video cited below shows actors Juliana Emiri and Neritan Liçaj shouting out from the roof that this is an installation of a dictatorship.
Komani and Musai (2020).
 
10
Mehdi Malkaj, well-known actor: “The theater was not demolished, it was ripped apart!”
Report TV. 2020. I përlotur aktori Mehdi Malkaj: Populli është në gjumë, hienat e shembën Teatrin [cited 2020 October 12]. Available from https://​www.​youtube.​com/​watch?​v=​PNjzK0SXEdk
 
11
The attempt to identify the protest as pertaining to the opposition party, was with the purpose of reducing the discourse into a polarized discussion of position-opposition. The opposition parties did support the resistance, and they took extensive room for their own rhetoric, but the resistance still remained plural, multiple, compound of a varied political spectrum.
 
12
Romeo Kodra, Albanian artist, expresses in his blog the frustration of participating in these protests, like the one for the theater, because of the penetration of these forces that try to absorb the movement imposing their own political agenda, attempting to give it a one identity-profile, therefore limiting the potential of these emancipatory moments to contribute for the democratization of the society.
Kodra (2020).
 
13
The theater was built by an Albanian government affiliated with the Italian government at 1938–39, right before the occupation of Albania by the Italian fascist state. After the Second World War, at the very start of the installation of a new Albanian Republic of the People (that later turned out to be a State-Socialist Regime), while still in the spirit of the Anti-Fascist War, there was an appropriation of the theater by amateur theater groups of Çeta (Guerrilla Albanian partisan groups), to then establish the Theater of the People. Later, in 1991, the institution was named as the National Theater.
 
14
The theater building had a light structure of a combination of concrete columns, prefabricated wood roof and an infill with composite material. If they really had to, it could have been possible technically to dismantle the structure, showing this way some respect for its history. The act of bulldozing was a clear act of brutality against the building and what it stands for.
 
15
I have entered in conversation with some of the key figures of the group like the artists Neritan Liçaj, Edmond Budina, Juliana Emiri, and more. They always stressed that there is no leading group, but that this is a horizontal organization.
 
16
Doriana Musai in conversation with the author and Ervin Goci, 8 November 2019 at the Theater site in Tirana.
 
17
Ervin Goci in conversation with the author and Doriana Musai, 8 November 2019 at the Theater site in Tirana.
 
18
Edmond Budina in conversation with the author, 16 November 2019 at the Theater site, Tirana.
 
19
Doriana Musai in conversation with the author and Ervin Goci, 8 November 2019, at the Theater site, Tirana.
 
20
Kreshnik Merxhani in conversation with the author, 12 November 2019, at the Theater site.
Gjirokaster is a city in the south of Albania, and its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage. The architect has the experience of working for several years with projects for the preservation of its monuments, an affective experience of care for the past, present and the future. He describes this as the most influential experience of his life, which has brewed in him the love for authentic architecture and the inner will to fight for it when in danger.
 
21
Ibid.
 
22
Will return to this discussion later in the article.
 
23
EuropaNostra (2020).
Several other organizations for the heritage showed their support for the saving of the building. SIRA and Do.Co.Mo.Mo. had also appealed for the saving of the building.
DoCoMoMo (2018, 2020).
 
25
The media, which is also a reflection of the political power influences, has its contribution to reduce the discourse in these two binaries and the association of them with the two political major formations, position VS opposition.
 
26
Kodra (2020).
The historical building is the material witness of important moments in the Albanian history. A dark one, but important to be witnessed, is the 1945 occurrence of special trials that condemned with death important figures that were against the installation of the totalitarian regime of the dictator Enver Hoxha.
 
27
Edmond Budina in conversation with the author, 16 November 2019, at the Theater site.
 
28
Merxhani, Kreshnik. 2019. “Kjo është serioze”, arkitekti Merxhani: Me pupulit po restaurohet dhe Opera, është i mirë a helmues.
 
29
Several politicians debunked the material in videos or reactions on Facebook. Deputy major of Tirana, Arbjan Mazniku, appeared propagating the bad properties of the material, holing and refracting it when speaking, min 1:00. Video appeared on the Facebook page of the Prime Minister. https://​www.​facebook.​com/​edirama.​al/​videos/​985013495163240
The day after the demolition the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, continued to carry Populit in an interview in the popular TV show Opinion:
RTV Klan. 2020. Opinion – Erion Veliaj: Shembja e teatrit! (18 maj 2020). [cited 2020 October 12]. Available from https://​www.​youtube.​com/​watch?​v=​Y297-McaHHU&​t=​2077s
 
30
Taylor, Alice. 2019. The Heroes of the Albanian Earthquake Are Civil Society.
 
31
An open source database initiated by Jora Kasapi to collect images of objects in dangerous or already demolished.
Preserving Tirana. https://​preservingtirana​.​city/​. Accessed October 2020.
 
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Metadata
Title
Commoning as a Material Engagement of Resistance: The Struggle to Save the Albanian National Theater
Author
Dorina Pllumbi
Copyright Year
2022
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-95057-6_2