Albanian President Turns Down Controversial Law on the National Theater, Opening New Political Rift with Ruling Socialists

Ilir Meta, Albania's President
Ilir Meta, Albania's President

Tirana, Albania | July 27 (Tirana Echo) – Albanian President Ilir Meta has turned down a controversial law which would allow the building of a new national theater over the old landmark structure which has been the subject of fierce debates between civil society, artists and government representatives.

The law will be sent back to parliament in September, however, the refusal suggests a new political rift between the small Balkan country’s President Ilir Meta and current Prime Minister Edi Rama, whose socialist MPs voted in favor of Meta to climb up to the highly ceremonial role last year.

The law, which was passed earlier this month in parliament by the votes of only majority ruling socialists, prompted harsh reactions by opposition democrats as well as nightly protests by civil society activists, actors and other interest groups on existing theater premises.

In his official letter, Mr. Meta argued the refusal to approve the controversial law on several points, of which he notes the law is in contradiction with the standards of the European Union, it threatens the autonomy of local governance, it lacks a thorough appraisal when changing the status of public property as well as highlighting the current lack of a functioning Constitutional Court.

In the current circumstances when the Constitutional Court of Albania is not functional to treat such shortcomings, or to solve any constitutional disagreements deriving from the approval of such special legal initiative, I invite the Parliament of Albania to thoroughly reassess Law NR. 37/2018.” – read a statement on the President’s website.

Meta’s decision to turn the law back to parliament is a blow for his former social-democratic political ally Prime Minister Edi Rama as well as for Tirana’s popular young Mayor Erion Veliaj who has been strongly pushing for a new contemporary building instead of the old degraded structures built in 1939.

Veliaj who had previously hoped on Meta’s approval, called the decision disappointing and vowed to press ahead with plans to build the new theater.

The return today by the President of a law which would grant Tirana with a new and modern theater was a disappointment. As we have been waiting 40 years for a new theater, we will wait another 40 days for the Parliament to vote again on the law which paves the way for a modern project – in its own premises and with the latest technology.” – said Veliaj on his Facebook account.

Earlier on this morning, opposition leader Lulzim Basha had warned that if the President decrees the law it would be taken as coup d’état, pointing out that the demolition of the current national theater building would be considered public property theft and as a destruction of cultural heritage of Tirana.

If this law is approved or ignored by the President we are dealing with participation in a coup d’état. If this red line is crossed we are de facto in a civil war,” – warned Democratic Party chairman Basha.

Only two days ago, several renowned actors and activists called on the President and other authorities to not block the building of a new theater, prompting harsh criticism among the artistic and civil society community who have been protesting for weeks against plans to bring down the old historical building.

The government maintains the old structures are out of any acceptable standards and argue in favor of a new and contemporary performing arts complex which would provide the capital Tirana with a modern face lift. The project has been designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels who has also undertaken several recent high-profile commissions including New York’s Two World Trade Centers.

Despite the presidential refusal, the constitution guarantees parliamentary supremacy over a largely ceremonial role of the president, and the law is expected to be re-voted again at the start of the next parliamentary session in September.

Speaking for the Voice of America this evening, Albanian Foreign Minister and ruling socialists representative Ditmir Bushati said “public interest would be protected and we will follow the constitutional logic in this process, with parliament having its voice heard again in September.


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