ANILA HOXHA

The evening of July 18 was kind of unusual for Vlora, as about 90 businesses along Lungomare promenade, protested against curfew hours to stop the music. The protest, during which the businesses played the Flag Anthem simultaneously, was accompanied by a police action in which an entrepreneur, identified as the organizer, was escorted to the police station. After this event, although the government ‘released’ the restrictions by expanding by one hour the curfew for music, the tourist season in Vlora did not escape the anxiety and consequences of the ‘siege’. Businesses, some of which admit to having been opened, but not playing music ‘under the nose’ of the police, failed to secure the much-anticipated revenue in the second pandemic year.

Along Lungomare in Vlora, you can hear loud mixed music coming from everywhere. In the coffee bars lined up next to each other, it is difficult to distinguish where the sounds of Celentano’s song and those of the traditional song “Napolon” come from. Clients in the coffee bars seem to carelessly enjoy the music, which often turns into cacophony, but this fact is mostly noticed by passers-by walking along Lungomare.

The clock hands run towards 23:00 and the atmosphere on the road, overloaded with summer tourism businesses that are full of tourists, changes within a few moments.

In one of these bars, the singer who performs ‘life’ closes her performance with the song “The best” by diva Tina Turner and hastily reminds the clients and passers-by, who have stopped to listen to her, of the curfew.

“I would love to sing all night for you, but there is a curfew and we have to close it!” – she says. (video link)

Photos from businesses along Lungomare promenade

Photos from businesses along Lungomare promenade

Photos from businesses along Lungomare promenade

After this moment, all you can hear in Lungomare is the noise of dishes, loud conversations, and music fragments coming from the open windows of circulating vehicles. At 24:00, the lights of bars and restaurants turn off and the clients who are late are warned by the presence of police, patrolling with their vehicles and sirens, to hurry and finish their drinks or dinner quickly.

These evenings in Lungomare have been rigorously repeated since July 18 when the incident with the police forces took place after an unprecedented protest of almost 90 businesses along the promenade.

Edlira Tahiraj, an entrepreneur from Vlora, who runs activity in Lungomare, was escorted to the police station because together with other businesses, bars and restaurants played simultaneously the national anthem at 22:00 when the curfew was still in force.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4F9HZCsTko

* Photo from the report of Tahiraj escort

“We got permission from the tourists if we could play the national anthem and everyone agreed. I do not know why the police came here, there were four police officers who came in! We told them it was the anthem and asked them to proceed with the administrative fine, but they asked for the staff. I told him not to touch the staff, therefore I stepped forward.”

“If I ask the client to leave the bar because I have to close it at 24:00, I lose him as a client. So, when the police officers come and the clients are still consuming their food, I ask them to come in and to take the clients from the table themselves.” – states Tahiraj, who tells Faktoje what prompted her to organize the protest.

“87 representatives of businesses in Lungomare promenade created a joint Whatsapp group in which they were organized by reacting with the national anthem.

We demanded the extension of the curfew hours as the restricted time imposed on the music and the restrictions imposed on the bars that close at midnight are harsh and with economic consequences “- insists the entrepreneur.

Immediately after the protest of businesses in Vlora, on July 19, Prime Minister Rama reacted by a post on social media:

“Protest in Lungomare for music? Lungomare has no music, but terrible acoustic pollution where dozens of source lines are mixed at once.”

However, despite the criticism, the Prime Minister announced what the Committee of Experts would announce the next day, that the curfew hours on music would be expanded by one hour.

“The music will stop at 23.00”

* Screenshot of the announcement of Prime Minister of July 19

It did not take too long and the Technical Committee of Experts argued the extension by 1 hour of curfew hours of the music with the dynamics of vaccination but also based on the data of the epidemiological investigation on the cases of infections.

https://shendetesia.gov.al/mblidhet-komitetit-teknik-i-eksperteve-zgjatet-orari-i-muzikes-deri-ne-oren-23 00-masat-e-tjera-nuk-ndryshojne/

But what effect did the news of one more hour of music have in the bars of Vlora?

“It makes no sense; this restrictive measure is paradoxical. Music is allowed until 23:00, whereas the bar stays open until 24:00? What does this mean, what difference does an hour make, what kind of danger from covid prevents this plan of measures? “- states Edlira Tahiraj for Faktoje.

Ervin Sota, head of the Association of Bars and Restaurants, states that adhering to the music curfew hours turned the Lungomare restaurant area, from a place of entertainment into a patrolling area.

Following the incident of July 18, police officers in uniforms were replaced by civilian agents waiting at the entrance of the first line bars and restaurants of Lungomare watching the clock.

When the General Director came over here it was such a funny situation, as the police officers were constantly talking on the radio and confirming that there was no music. I feel so sad that now that the city is full of tourists, there are carried out controls on music asking you whether you turn it off or not, at what time did you turn it off? Meanwhile, there is no tolerance to support businesses. “After all, the economy depends on the absorption of tourism,” Sota said indignantly.

Alma Golemaj, a citizen of Vlora, who prefers to spend her holidays in her city, states:

“What difference does it make if it is extended until 23:00?” Tourists come for fun and many of them gather and spend their time outdoors. Celebrations and mass gatherings take place openly in bars and restaurants and even on beaches during the day, where the distance between the sun loungers is not respected or inspected. What’s the purpose of the curfew hours and closing down everything during the summer season? “

Images from a foam party full of people during the day (as an example)

Dissatisfied with the restrictions, business representatives have continued to insist on their relief, especially during the tourism season.

“We have requested a meeting with the mayor and he said he would inform us about that. We have made a request to the Prime Minister, but we have not received a response yet.” – says Erjon Sota, who reports that the tourism businesses that were penalized the most during the season are discos and pubs. “However, family parties, events, and wedding ceremonies are still held in these facilities in the morning and late afternoon.” – says Sota.

Andi Bozhani, manager of a disco and a beach bar at the “Old Beach” in Vlora complains:

“For me, closing the music is the same as closing the bar. What am I going to do in 1 hour?” – says the young man, who despite having his business away from the residential center, has been subjected to orders to stop the music and close the bar at 24:00.

“In other countries, there have been many restriction reliefs, but here there are imposed drastic measures. We have tried to adjust to delay bankruptcy. The tourist does not come to Vlora just for eating, he also likes to dance, he loves listening to music, he prefers to stay late at night. We lost another year, there is nothing we can do about it”- insists Bozhani reporting to “FAKTOJE”.

Inside the city, or in other bars and restaurants, as you get closer to the coastal area, there are businesses who have lowered the roller shutters, turn off the lights and serve the customers inside the bar not being disturbed by the police. There is no music, but it’s already past midnight and they are violating the curfew.

“The inspector of the area has closed his eyes to the situation, as long as there is no noise and no complaints from the residents who live above the premises. We all agree that things do not work without the presence of the police, but the city now is full of people that means money to us and working until 2 o’clock at night is beneficial”- admits the administrator of a bar to “FAKTOJE”, who despite the fact that he has reached a deal with the police, has taken ‘appropriate’ measures so that the clients are not detected and no noise is made.

Arseni, (he prefers to be identified with this name) reports to “FAKTOJE” that the few clients who are in the bar, are his friends and not casual passers-by.

“We report to the police officers that the bar is closed, they are aware of the situation and they just leave. But I feel sad that we are living in times that wine is drunk in secret.”

He refuses to explain further whether this tolerance for his business (even though without music and with roller shutters shut) comes from police acquaintances or because he has paid a bribe, however, he does not deny any of these possibilities.

As the summer season is over, the Police of Vlora officially confirms to “FAKTOJE” that four citizens have been referred for further investigation to the prosecution office for the criminal offense of “Opposition of a police officer” ) regarding the restrictive measures and 11 fines that have been imposed on violators. Saranda and Dhermi are on the top of the fine list, whereas Vlora has just 3 fines. All administrative measures are reported to have been opposed and appealed by businesses.