ALBANIA: Rector arrested while staff resist police

Staff and students at Albania's Marubi academy of film and multi-media in Tirana are staging a strike and lock-in after police arrested the school's rector, a professor and three students during violent protests sparked by a property dispute.

Kujtim Cashku, the film school's rector, was taken into custody along with director of productions Eol Cashku and the students during violent protests televised across the small former Communist republic situated on the Adriatic and Ionian seas to the north-west of Greece.

Film school staff claim that one student fainted while being taken into custody and that police then proceeded to destroy a number of open air art installations ranged around a large cinema screen erected outside the academy.

Last week's dispute was the culmination of months of simmering tensions between the academy, Albania's first and only film school, and Culture Minister Ylli Pango over legal rights to the property in which the school is housed. The school staff and students claim the government wants to flatten a sculpture park to make way for a car park to be used by an Albanian television channel.

The art installations and large screen, situated in part of a former state film studio, had been put up recently by students in preparation for an International Human Rights Film Festival scheduled for March. The academy is appealing for international support in its battle with the government to retain control of its premises.

"State police forces came to close our film academy under the pretext that we are using illegally part of our premises in the ex-Kinostudio," the school said in a statement posted on its website. This use of force is a violation of the Albanian constitution, education law and civic procedures."

The statement said the 'Maribu' academy was still surrounded by police but that students and staff were still on the premises continuing the strike. "We intend to resist through it all, in order to keep alive the first and the only academy of film in Albania."

Iris Elezi, a professor of film analysis, said: "The film school was a dream come true for all the younger generation of Albanians who wanted to study film. Now in its fifth year, just as we've started to see the fruits of our work - films made by our students have already been screened in prestigious festivals - our students had to face a brutal display of power by the state police, all so that our sculpture garden can be turned into a parking lot for the biggest TV channel in Albania."

The school has appealed to supporters to sign its online petition addressed to Albanian president Bamir Topi, calling for an end to police actions, immediate legalisation of the film school premises and the resignation of the "Minister of Anti-Culture [sic] Ylli Pango, who dares to equalise culture and art to business".

Henry Breitrose, an emeritus professor of communications at Standford Univeristy and one of more than 800 people worldwide who have signed the online petition, said: "The Marubi school is a serious film school that has been remarkably successful in providing high quality education in film and media production. It is organised as a public-private partnership, with support from the French, British, German and American governments.

"As I understand it, powerful people in the ruling party want to convert the facility, on the grounds of the former government film studio, to commercial housing and have been intransigent about negotiations for another venue."

Bernd Buder, a Berlin-based freelance film programme curator and festival consultant, added: "The Marubi film school does a very good job to skill a young generation of film-makers, to establish international contacts and so to force the integration of Albania into the European context. The extraordinary efforts made by this school, its director Kujtim Cashku, its teachers and students, should get full support."

The Albanian ministry of culture could not be reached for comment.