1 May 2018

Albanians turn symbols of communist past into art 

For many Albanians, the communist regime was so repressive they would rather forget it. But there are some who dare to examine the past by transforming its relics into art. 

Lidija Pisker
Lidija Pisker NewsMavens, Balkans
Albanians turn symbols of communist past into art  - NewsMavens
The coat of arms of Albania: a double-headed eagle, seen here in the provincial capital of Tirana on the central island of the roundabout at the end of SH2 - Rruga Dritan Hoxha. Photo Wolfgang Pehlemann DSC05840

Why this story matters:

Albania is far from having reconciled with its past, and to this day, Albanian politics are torn by the legacy of former dictatorial head of state Enver Hoxha.

Against the will of many of its citizens, echoes of the communist Hoxha era endure -- be it in the current style of political leadership and decision-making, or in the use of old symbols in public life, or or even in architectural features. 

Some artists use this legacy to recall the brutality of the regime. For example, the exhibition "Even Walls Have Ears" will commemorate victims of political persecution.

Others transform Hoxha's bunkers -- which carried negative connotations for decades -- into new, usable constructions and art centers. 

Art is helping Albanians come to terms with their darkest days and move on towards a brighter future. Reconciliation with the past could also contribute to greater democratization of its politics.

Details from the story:

  • During the forty-year reign of Enver Hoxha, many Albanians faced death penalties and long prison terms while the country was impoverished and isolated from the rest of the world.  
  • Some 18,000 people were imprisoned for political reasons and some 6,000 were executed under Enver Hoxha. 
  • Fearing foreign invasion, Hoxha commissioned the construction of more than 170,000 mushroom-like bunkers between 1975 and 1983. 
  • The art exhibition titled "Even Walls Have Ears," set to start on May 8 this year, will expose the surveillance system that was used to control and persecute enemies during the communist regime. It will consist of quotes from survivors of communist persecution projected onto  monuments and landmarks in seven Albanian cities. A book and documentary about survivors' personal stories will follow.
  • Many of Hoxha's bunkers were vandalized and destroyed after the collapse of the communism, showing how angry people were with the regime. Two years ago, the construction of the entrance to the BunkArt 2 Museum in Tirana, which was made to look like a bunker, was delayed by political protests against  a "reminiscence of past times."
  • The BunkArt Museums 1 and 2 are among Tirana's most popular tourist attractions. 
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