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Edi Rama: Take back your city with paint

Edi Rama: Take back your city with paint


Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast In my previous life, I was an artist. I still paint. I love art. I love the joy that color can give to our lives and to our communities, and I try to bring something of the artist in me in my politics, and I see part of my job today, the reason for being here, not just to campaign for my party, but for politics, and the role it can play for the better in our lives. For 11 years, I was mayor of Tirana, our capital. We faced many challenges. Art was part of the answer, and my name, in the very beginning, was linked with two things: demolition of illegal constructions in order to get public space back, and use of colors in order to revive the hope that had been lost in my city. But this use of colors was not just an artistic act. Rather, it was a form of political action in a context when the city budget I had available after being elected amounted to zero comma something. When we painted the first building, by splashing a radiant orange on the somber gray of a facade, something unimaginable happened. There was a traffic jam and a crowd of people gathered as if it were the location of some spectacular accident, or the sudden sighting of a visiting pop star. The French E.U. official in charge of the funding rushed to block the painting. He screeched that he would block the financing. “But why?” I asked him. “Because the colors you have ordered do not meet European standards,” he replied. “Well,” I told him, “the surroundings do not meet European standards, even though this is not what we want, but we will choose the colors ourselves, because this is exactly what we want. And if you do not let us continue with our work, I will hold a press conference here, right now, right in this road, and we will tell people that you look to me just like the censors of the socialist realism era.” Then he was kind of troubled, and asked me for a compromise. But I told him no, I’m sorry, compromise in colors is gray, and we have enough gray to last us a lifetime. (Applause) So it’s time for change. The rehabilitation of public spaces revived the feeling of belonging to a city that people lost. The pride of people about their own place of living, and there were feelings that had been buried deep for years under the fury of the illegal, barbaric constructions that sprang up in the public space. And when colors came out everywhere, a mood of change started transforming the spirit of people. Big noise raised up: “What is this? What is happening? What are colors doing to us?” And we made a poll, the most fascinating poll I’ve seen in my life. We asked people, “Do you want this action, and to have buildings painted like that?” And then the second question was, “Do you want it to stop or do you want it to continue?” To the first question, 63 percent of people said yes, we like it. Thirty-seven said no, we don’t like it. But to the second question, half of them that didn’t like it, they wanted it to continue. (Laughter) So we noticed change. People started to drop less litter in the streets, for example, started to pay taxes, started to feel something they had forgotten, and beauty was acting as a guardsman where municipal police, or the state itself, were missing. One day I remember walking along a street that had just been colored, and where we were in the process of planting trees, when I saw a shopkeeper and his wife putting a glass facade to their shop. They had thrown the old shutter in the garbage collection place. “Why did you throw away the shutters?” I asked him. “Well, because the street is safer now,” they answered. “Safer? Why? They have posted more policemen here?” “Come on, man! What policemen? You can see it for yourself. There are colors, streetlights, new pavement with no potholes, trees. So it’s beautiful; it’s safe.” And indeed, it was beauty that was giving people this feeling of being protected. And this was not a misplaced feeling. Crime did fall. The freedom that was won in 1990 brought about a state of anarchy in the city, while the barbarism of the ’90s brought about a loss of hope for the city. The paint on the walls did not feed children, nor did it tend the sick or educate the ignorant, but it gave hope and light, and helped to make people see there could be a different way of doing things, a different spirit, a different feel to our lives, and that if we brought the same energy and hope to our politics, we could build a better life for each other and for our country. We removed 123,000 tons of concrete only from the riverbanks. We demolished more than 5,000 illegal buildings all over the city, up to eight stories high, the tallest of them. We planted 55,000 trees and bushes in the streets. We established a green tax, and then everybody accepted it and all businessmen paid it regularly. By means of open competitions, we managed to recruit in our administration many young people, and we thus managed to build a de-politicized public institution where men and women were equally represented. International organizations have invested a lot in Albania during these 20 years, not all of it well spent. When I told the World Bank directors that I wanted them to finance a project to build a model reception hall for citizens precisely in order to fight endemic daily corruption, they did not understand me. But people were waiting in long queues under sun and under rain in order to get a certificate or just a simple answer from two tiny windows of two metal kiosks. They were paying in order to skip the queue, the long queue. The reply to their requests was met by a voice coming from this dark hole, and, on the other hand, a mysterious hand coming out to take their documents while searching through old documents for the bribe. We could change the invisible clerks within the kiosks, every week, but we could not change this corrupt practice. “I’m convinced,” I told a German official with the World Bank, “that it would be impossible for them to be bribed if they worked in Germany, in a German administration, just as I am convinced that if you put German officials from the German administration in those holes, they would be bribed just the same.” (Applause) It’s not about genes. It’s not about some being with a high conscience and some others having not a conscience. It’s about system, it’s about organization. It’s also about environment and respect. We removed the kiosks. We built the bright new reception hall that made people, Tirana citizens, think they had traveled abroad when they entered to make their requests. We created an online system of control and so speeded up all the processes. We put the citizen first, and not the clerks. The corruption in the state administration of countries like Albania — it’s not up to me to say also like Greece — can be fought only by modernization. Reinventing the government by reinventing politics itself is the answer, and not reinventing people based on a ready-made formula that the developed world often tries in vain to impose to people like us. (Applause) Things have come to this point because politicians in general, but especially in our countries, let’s face it, think people are stupid. They take it for granted that, come what may, people have to follow them, while politics, more and more, fails to offer answers for their public concerns or the exigencies of the common people. Politics has come to resemble a cynical team game played by politicians, while the public has been pushed aside as if sitting on the seats of a stadium in which passion for politics is gradually making room for blindness and desperation. Seen from those stairs, all politicians today seem the same, and politics has come to resemble a sport that inspires more aggressiveness and pessimism than social cohesion and the desire for civic protaganism. Barack Obama won — (Applause) — because he mobilized people as never before through the use of social networks. He did not know each and every one of them, but with an admirable ingenuity, he managed to transform them into activists by giving them all the possibility to hold in their hands the arguments and the instruments that each would need to campaign in his name by making his own campaign. I tweet. I love it. I love it because it lets me get the message out, but it also lets people get their messages to me. This is politics, not from top down, but from the bottom up, and sideways, and allowing everybody’s voice to be heard is exactly what we need. Politics is not just about leaders. It’s not just about politicians and laws. It is about how people think, how they view the world around them, how they use their time and their energy. When people say all politicians are the same, ask yourself if Obama was the same as Bush, if François Hollande is the same as Sarkozy. They are not. They are human beings with different views and different visions for the world. When people say nothing can change, just stop and think what the world was like 10, 20, 50, 100 years ago. Our world is defined by the pace of change. We can all change the world. I gave you a very small example of how one thing, the use of color, can make change happen. I want to make more change as Prime Minister of my country, but every single one of you can make change happen if you want to. President Roosevelt, he said, “Believe you can, and you are halfway there.” Efharisto and kalinihta. (Applause)

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100 thoughts on “Edi Rama: Take back your city with paint

  1. I've felt this for years. I've always thought: If you want grey, look up in the sky, isn't that enough for you? Don't add to it. What happened to colour in architecture? Why do the architects give us endless grey now? All classical and gothic and romanesque, etc buildings were originally coloured.

  2. He's wrong about Obama, though. Is Guantanamo Bay closed yet? Are there no more US drones killing people? Has the Patriot Act been repealed?

  3. Perhaps you aren't aware of such figures of speech. Edi Rama was actually an artist before becoming a prominent politician. Skepticism is a tool like any other: learn to use it properly and it will serve you well.

  4. (His words immediately after "in my previous life I was an artist" are "I still paint. I love art". Even you have to admit that makes you sound pretty stupid)

  5. Sure thing – Obama didn't create two wars (he stopped them); he didn't cause a huge depression (he got us out of it); he didn't cause 5 trillion debt … where have you been?

  6. I wonder if the crime decreased due to expelling poor city dwellers and not due to the paint. Low income individuals cannot afford to pay for a valid title. They only have enough money to pay bribe for the police to look the other way.

    It is also doubtful that a mugger will not mug you if he sees a purple house instead of a gray one.

  7. @robzrob The main reason why architects use so much grey is because colours fade over time and are more difficult to maintain. Silly reason but that's mostly why.

  8. Then why would he say "In a previous life,"? Why not simply say, "Before I was a politician…"?

    Perhaps I simply don't get the subtleties of his rhetoric (It seems to me that his intonation implied a literal meaning) because I'm a physicist & have come to expect people to say exactly what they mean (as is common practice in my field of study).

  9. I don't know anybody who would use "In a previous life," as a figure of speech — it seems logical to me that if he believed that he was reincarnated and that he was aware of his past life, then he would take pride in partaking in the same pass-time.

    Sorry, but I think that speech should be used in a way to best communicate meaning. Flowery and rhetorical devices like that only inhibit one's ability to communicate: highly counterproductive.

  10. Its very common to use 'in a previous life' to mean something I used to do in this life – at least where I come from. Its just a figure of speech.

  11. So the guy wants to bring remodeling and renovation to a poor city….. that's nice but the main and primary question for this project is…. WHO IS PAYING FOR IT AND HOW????

  12. As of the end of Rama's 11-year mayoral term, running water in Tirana continued to be available for only 6 hours a day…

  13. "No funding"? What does he call: During this period as mayor he was heavily supported by the Prime Minister of Albania at the time, Ilir Meta, who channeled numerous funds from the central government to the local authority of Tirana, enabling Rama to implement the cleaning master project?

  14. No, they only inhibit *your* understanding of what's being said. Another person may understand perfectly, and such tools may even animate what's being said with more meaning.

  15. U mean just communicate in a literal way?
    You say "flowery and rhetorical" Do you mean actual flowers??

    My point is that the ability to speak metaphorically doesn't inhibit communication, but enriches it greatly and helps us all better understand each other.
    Also, it's one sentence in a 10 minute speech, lets not over-analyse it or we will miss the point. Thinking too much is bad for your emotional wellbeing. Peace

  16. Edi Rama has Finished Art shcool in Tirana about twenty-five years ago.Now he is the head of Socialist party a radical change in his career .Thats why he uses that In a previous life—Do you have a Logic my dear friend he is an Artist he speaks with great words so he can be understandable to smart people not Trollers like you!

  17. "In a past life" is just a figure of speech referring to the life the used to have.
    Example: an ex-con: "In a past life I used to steal, do drugs and get into fights, now I have left that behind and have started a new life."

  18. There is not enough paint in the world to fix Detroit, simple to knock it down rebuild and say "Chicago, your next if you don't change your socialist ways".

  19. He meant to say, "In my previous life I used to rape , pillage, and murder, I must hide under a new Image if i don't want to be a product of my actions".

  20. First, I do not know Edi Rama and it's possible that the man has truly good intentions. That said, it's also known that Albania is involved in the majority of world wide the heroin trade. Most of it underworld, but with close ties to politics. It's true that colors can make a place look better and even safer, although the style and colors are just copied from the Austro-Hungarian empire. I'm still not sure though this man is not just creating a facade to hide what still remains a rotten system.

  21. if edi rama is one thing that would be corrupted like hell and im not trying to troll you i am Albanian my self i know what that guy has done

  22. not everybody's native language is english. logically it's more likely that by previous life he meant his life until now, or his life before he started as a major.
    besides that nothing of the talk was really based on that statement.

  23. have you ever tried it? city officials wont let a private business paint their buildings without getting it approved first. Ive seen the city i live in paint over murals because they werent approved. Also many private businesses have suggested that "graffiti art" itself is a celebration of criminal behavior. Ide say the easiest and least bureaucratic way a graffiti artist can express himself is to skip the red tape and just paint illegally. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

  24. Sadly the line of many decisionmakers is to shock the less people possible. As an urban planner, I often heard "Why would you build something different when regular building are fine?". My answer is that these lifeless buildings aren't fine, and are greatly responsible for the bad ambiance of cities. But they don't listen, and they blame this bad ambiance on economics, internet, laziness, and so on. And because they don't want to take the risk of facing a trial by the mob, they do nothing.

  25. If you see Tirana, bringing colors to the city in the way he does, is not a good idea. It's like a Kindergarten that scares children.

  26. a correction; that is kaos. Anarchy is just a political system without rulers; with full respect to laws that are just within the market of that society.

  27. It can also be chaos, a state of disorder due to the absence or non-recognition of authority. Thats great, we can privatize infrastructure with tolls and fees, and I dont have to pay taxes for stupid people who dont want to work.

  28. Not choosing men to have authority over your lives and being forced to pay taxes for services you could be paying for voluntarily is the best thing for the evolution of society. The most liberated a person can be, who knows what a man can accomplish!

  29. Hey I hear you, the democratic party wants to play robin hood by taking from one group and redistributing to another, therefore creating contempt and hate. I believe he took from the rich and gave to the poor, the working poor, so that wouldn't apply for our society of entitlements filled with trial lawyers.

  30. the democratic party criticizes the government and thinks the only way to make it better is make it larger and more powerful. They want a socialized society like Europe but dont want to pay more taxes for it. They have been programed to hate rich people for the good of the poor people; and worship government. These are all very dangerous concepts. Enabling poor people, steeling from productive people, starting wars all over earth and stripping civil liberties= big government FAILURE

  31. More like disabling poor with entitlements. Democrats want to slow global warming. If dem's where serious about global warming they would address the carbon footprint created by overpopulation. They never discuss broken families with 10 baby momas and 20 kids. Pick and choose civil liberties, 2nd amendment bad, 1st amendment good, culture of violent movies, cable, video games, using guns irresponsibly – innocuous, maybe good as an outlet? Hypocritical double standard or stupidity?

  32. totally man i agree! In the age of technology, there really shouldnt be any excuses for not spreading education and peaceful persuasion. We are the internet age and they are dying out, hopefully by then it isnt too late

  33. The future is laid out as it will unfold. The conservative party of now is the Liberal party of the 60's. Using that trajectory the Republicans must become the democratic party of now and … you get the picture. And as an agenda of costly failed social programs go forth, the nation is fiscally gorged by both parties, left and right on "K" street, all you can eat buffet, a downward spiral of doom as our government gets bigger lining the pockets of all politicians and regressive politics.

  34. interesting times we live in, but with a tireless minority of like minded individuals; perhaps we will survive the collapse better than we lived. Sometimes you got to destroy to create

  35. I dont think so . There are too many stupid people amongst us swayed by ideological media. in the next few generations the constitution will be destroyed along with our principles, and we will falter like all other collapsed nations.

  36. "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, comitted citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead". Who said we needed a social contract to be free? All we need is to recognize is our natural rights and live by the non aggression axiom

  37. my statement had nothing to do with whether the business would have permission or not, but whether the business would allow it to happen after seeing what the artist intended to draw. i say the artist should show it to the business first, get permission from them. then paint it and see what the community does, it costs allot less to paint over an image than to paint an image. i just generally find the arguments against what i said either childish or vacuous. gov might put it down, cheap.

  38. and don't get me wrong, most graffiti is similar to a dog tagging his territory. but there are true artists, and i would like them to know that there is a legitimate way for them to work.

  39. maybe you didnt read my comment. i said in my city- businesses arent allowed to have a graffiti mural on their own building; and if it is in the right zoning where it can be allowed- many dont want to because the city will come down on them for other code violations instead. graffiti is seen by authorities to be a celebration of vandalization- not art. it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is permission

  40. i think you missed my point, let it be put up, remove it if you think you must, the removal is pretty cheap, putting it up it free. and if you are vulnerable to other code violations, maybe you shouldn't be.

  41. and i am saying that the artist needs approval. the city or community can go fuck themselves; if the business owner decides to have that art on their business, that is their issue. many businesses have independent art inside and outside, but resteraunts should not be the only places where that happens.

  42. Seems like a good politician, but I hope all the people kicked out of those illegal buildings were given somewhere else to go. You can't just sweep the poor under the rugs.

  43. @FutureLaugh He was the mayor of Tirana for 12 years and all the paintings were made by the administration but with the help and ideas of others.

  44. He used to be an influential artist, that left for a better life in western europe just like many other young Albanians. He loves his city and wants to do smth to make it better. Now people see he's done a good job in the capital and want the same for the rest of the country. It is not about the system there is not much of a system in albania and there will not be a system because people are suspicious of systematic abuse from the gov part.

  45. after 23 June, hi is the Prime minister of Albania, he is visionary, he love Albania, he love his country, i believe in Edi Rama government.

  46. He is motivation for me! My father of law is a former friend of berisha and so it's forbidden to me to vote rama, but he is motivation for all of us young! I hope we will also get such a good minister in kosovo one day! Thaci just sold out kosovo. a very primitive, ignorant and treacherous traitor.

  47. and now hes the prime minister of albania…he did such a good job as a mayor ….and now hes doing such a good job with the whole country..keep it up with the good job . sir. 

  48. The town I live in is a place where the vast majority of the buildings are dark coloured. I'd love if they were painted brightly, it would make such a difference.

  49. You are new Ismail Qemali for ALbania.
    Make us proud to be ALbanian, make our Tirana beautiful. Lots of respect for you.

  50. Onorevole Edi Rama sono Spia sala Greci sala Serbia che voleno con tutti costi ti caccanovia per ti scapare il tuo controllo che Afato per trovare i Criminali della tutto faccenda di Sala Basha ! Adesso per ti mette in Difficoltà e per salvare loro culla streta di iteresi stretti come nido di Ladri che 91_97 ano sachegato il Populo Albsnese Criminali sali Berisha con loro collaboratori più stretti di Sali Criminali Agenti spia Greci serbi e anche Turchi perché uno turcho mi odeto che i turchi non i piacciono presenza Italiana in Albania e tu deve conlaburare con Italiani perché loro anno iteresi per essere presente in Albania in tutti sensi .

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