Country reports

ALBANIA

Blerina Berberi
Last update: June 4th

Cultural lockdown and developments

Based on Order nr. 132 (08.03.2020) “For the closing of public and non-public activities and cancellation of mass gatherings in open and closed spaces” by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, and the World Health Organisation protocol for planned measures after the identification of first two corona virus cases in Albania, all cultural activities in Albania were suspended. This was publicly announced by the Ministry of Culture on March 9th.

On May 4th, a few art spaces opened — for example Bunk’Art in Tirana — while maintaining physical distancing regulations, and on May 18th (International Museum Day) the Ministry of Culture opened most of the museums for free. Some cultural activities including most businesses, excluding large scale events, could be resumed for the first time after being closed for 71 days. During May, maintenance work on heritage sites continued in order to be ready for the opening by end of the month and the Ministry of Culture declared May the Museum Month. On May 28th, the National Art Gallery opened its doors to visitors as well and the Museum of Leaves opened a call for photo submissions for “Albania and Corona Exhibition- Your story is part of the history”, which documents and presents personal stories from Albanian citizens.

By the end of May, most museums, galleries, archeological and heritage sites, shops, and cultural centres are resuming their activities. On June 1st, National Kids Day, daycares opened, and the National Circus performed outdoors. At the same time, the National Opera and the National Theatre are continuing their online shows and international tourism remains a challenge for the summer.

The most internationally echoed culture news during the lockdown in Albania has been the demolition of the National Theatre in Tirana on May 17th. Europa Nostra “strongly condemned such a brutal act” and had listed the building as one of “Europe’s 7 most endangered heritage sites” in 2020. Since February 2018, civil society, experts, and professionals were concerned about changes to the Law on Arts and Culture regarding public private partnerships, and the possibility of replacing the National Theatre building with a new one. The civil Alliance for the Protection of the National Theatre, other organisations, diverse groups and individuals occupied the building for about 27 months, organising gatherings, meetings, exhibitions and performances until they were taken out by police forces on the day of the demolition.

Financial measures and support

Through normative acts and decisions by the Council of Ministers as outlined by the Ministry of Finance and summarized by AIDA – Albanian Investment Development Agency, the Albanian government made available the following:

  • Two financial packages for social support for citizens and businesses
  • Sovereign Guarantee for business loans
  • Relief measures for loans from the National Bank
  • Additional budget for the health sector
  • Additional budget for the defence sector for their humanitarian work
  • Addition to the reserve fund for other necessary and unpredicted expenses

Briefly, in reference to the documents, these measures include:

  • Normative Act nr. 10, date 26.03.2020

The deadline for submitting yearly financial reports has been postponed from March to July, 2020, applying to all cultural organisations and business. Also, income tax payment deadlines have been extended.

Financial benefits for self-employed individuals who have a yearly turn over above EUR 11.300. The financial support is EUR 210 euro, the minimum wage, and the unemployed and beneficiaries of economic support receive a double minimum wage, about EUR 420.

For businesses whose yearly income is EUR 114,164 (14 million Lekë) and whose activity was suspended in March and April due to corona virus, the rent for these two months will be paid after May, and as agreed with the lessor.

One payment support of EUR 322 for those working in businesses with a yearly income over EUR 114.164 if the business in question was closed during March-June, excluding those working in the NGO sector and some other categories, such as lawyers, architects, double employed, etc.

On March 24th, 54 civil society organisations demand financial support from the Albanian government. On April 21st, freelance artists and professionals also requested support for the cultural sector as they contribute 15% income tax per contract service. This category of workers does not have a tax number and such contributions are not yet individually identified in the system. The discussion about an economic support plan continued among 117 freelancers and the Ministry of Culture, but no details have been made public yet. In April, the Italian Institute of Culture in Tirana also opened a call to support artists during COVID-19 with the theme “Living Space”.

In May, the National Book Centre launched a call for support, open until June, with the theme  “Quarantine Book”.

Due to travelling restrictions, organisations working with international artists were not able to continue their activities, including residencies and exhibitions. Artists increased their online presence by creating and sharing videos with performances, painting, reading, discussions, playing music, etc.

In an interview in late April, the Minister of Culture Elvana Margariti mentioned that during the closure of culture public institutions, there has been a loss of around EUR 218.142.

Culture during COVID-19

In March, the public cultural institutions quickly raised awareness through sharing the digital official information by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection on safety recommendations and regulations for COVID-19. There also was a strong digital promotion of artists and an increased dissemination of public cultural archives on social media.

On March 14th, the Ministry of Culture began promoting cultural initiatives mainly through social media. Examples are “Open the Windows, Let the Music in” and a series of digital meetings with all the Ministry’s subordinate institutions under the themes “Music from Home”, Music from the Window”, “Read at Home”, “Opera at Home”, “Opera in Pajamas” and many more. The National History Museum organised “Drawing History from Home”, the National Film Archive shared archived films for diverse age groups and the National Library promoted its digital library,.

All Albanian public cultural resources were highly promoted by the Ministry of Culture through virtual tours and digital resources. April was declared the Book Month and the Ministry engaged public institutions in digital events. The National Photography Museum Marubi shared coloring pages from their book, for anyone to use at home.