The Day of Remembrance for Victims of the Communist Regime passed unmarked in Albania, a county where more than 6800 people were murdered by the regime and a further 7000 died from conditions in prison and work camps.
February 20, the day of memorial for these victims, marked worldwide was not mentioned by politicians in Albania, despite the ruling Socialist Party being direct descendants of the Communist Party. In the 30 years since the end of communism, there is still no memorial for its victims, no national day of remembrance, and communist history is barely touched in schools. Furthermore, those that perpetrated crimes have not been brought to justice and the remains of many missing people are still not known.
In total, an estimated 1 million years of imprisonment were served by 34,000 political prisoners who committed no crime except being opponents of the regime, having different political views, having a ‘bad biography’, or simply falling out of favor. Almost 60,000 others were interned and forced to work to build Albania’s infrastructure and agriculture.
There were some 100 prisons, camps surrounded by barbed wire, internment camps, and forced labor camps. Despite this, no one has been held accountable for the violence. Albania has filed to successfully apply a lustration law which means that former communists and security operatives are not excluded from positions of power. In fact, there are a number of ex-Communists and former Communist-era judiciary, security, and political individuals in positions of power or influence today.
30 years later, those who were persecuted are still fighting for compensation. The latest date from the Ministry of Finance, processed by Exit states that some $750 million should be paid to those who were formerly persecuted. So far, some $230 million has been paid. Many are aging and passing away without being compensated or knowing where family members’ bodies are. The state has even stopped some of those who wish to look for the remains of their missing loved ones.
Albania has failed to punish the crimes of communism, to integrate the politically persecuted, and to educate the younger generation on what happened.
Academic Erald Capri told Exit and Euronews’ Neritan Sejamini that in international studies on dealing with the consequences of the past, Albania is considered a failure. He said there has been a serious lack of political and academic will to address the issue. Furthermore, he said there should be a “special education policy” for educating the younger generations on the dictatorship and the consequences of it. He said there should be a proper museum on the crimes of communism, a dedicated day, and a central memorial.
Jonida Godole from the Institute for Democracy, Media, and Culture added that the same “elites” from the old regime, are still present in the current regime. Despite the advent of democracy, tens of thousands of crimes, murders, and internments have gone unpunished. This attitude is being reinforced by those in power today.
“Why would they be interested in resolving the past when they were the co-architects of that system?” she said.
Godole came from a family with a ‘bad biography‘ and was persecuted throughout her studies due to this black mark against her. After the fall of communism, she was one of the country’s first journalists and one of the first female ones.
Having seen firsthand what a lack of information and leaving them in the dark can do to young people, she made it her mission to make a change. She wanted to open youngsters up to information about what happened in Albania during 45 years of communist rule.
Jonila set up the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture and she employs a skeleton staff. The Institute works in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and focuses on engaging society in discussions, debate, learning, and the studying of topics that facilitate a better-developed democracy. Some of the work they undertake is related to the crimes of the past and the way in which Albania’s totalitarian past has not been fully acknowledged and many are still seeking justice. Jonila takes a multi-disciplinary approach to raise awareness both at an individual and a societal level.
But some of Albania’s persecuted are still being persecuted today. Agron Tufa, the ex-head of the Albanian Institute for the Studies of Communist Crimes and its Consequences (ISKK) recently sought asylum in Switzerland for himself, his wife, and his five children.
Tufa has received a number of death threats due to his work investigating, researching, and publishing information on non-judicial executions carried out by Communist forces. His work has caused outrage in the ruling Socialist Party, especially from MP Spartak Braho who was a member of the Communist judiciary. He said those responsible for the threats and harassment against him are ex-communists who are today at the heads of main state institutions.
“In the absence of any help or protection from law enforcement agencies or independent institutions that are paid to protect human rights, and with no alternative, I decided to save my family by fleeing in search of political asylum,” he said.
Dr. Lukasz Kaminski, the President of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience told Exit that the population of Albania still sees the communists as powerful and “in-power”.
“Ten years ago I would have been more optimistic,” he tells me. “I used to think that a country needed as much time as it spent under Communist rule, to recover, but I think Albania needs more time than that.”
He then explains how it is difficult to really pinpoint when recovery should start. “Does it start when Communism comes to an end? Or does it start when we have dealt with the past and real democracy begins?”
Comparing Albania to Ukraine, he says that he thinks the real recovery from Soviet rule only started a couple of years ago. But in Albania, he says, “I’m afraid we cannot count the last 30 years.”
In order to start the healing process, Lukasz explains that not only should real democracy be attained, but that justice should be forthcoming for those who suffered, were persecuted, and lost family members to the crimes committed by the State.
“Investigations into Communist crimes, justice, research, education- all of these need to happen before Albania can move on. There are many big consequences of the Communist regime that need to be dealt with,” he said.
Sadly, the opposite is happening. In October, the Albanian Parliament voted to prohibit the studying of Communism before 1944, at the ISKK. Nothing prior to 1944, including communist activity and how the communist regime found its feet will be allowed to be studied by the institution.
The Institute was established in 2010 through the means of a special law. It’s funded by the government and aims to raise awareness of crimes committed during the communist era in Albania.
The 2010 law stated that “the period of communism is the period of the history of Albanian from November 29, 1944, to December 8, 1990, as well as the period before November 29, 1944, during which activities took place that paved the way for the Communist Party of Albania.”
Due to this definition of scope, the Institute has also supported studies from the period of the Second World War. Among them was the publication of works by scholar Celo Hoxha entitled “Crimes of the Communists During the War 1941-1944.”
The study was published in 2014 and included 265 names of those involved in the war who were involved in shootings, burning houses, robbery, and other crimes. The Socialist Party opposed its publication and used it to justify changing the law.
As 2019 was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the country from fascists, despite it paving way for the communists, the Socialist Party consider work by the ISKK for this period as “mud on the martyrs”, and banned it.
Another issue that made me reel with anger was a letter sent to the at-the-time head of the IOM Genoveva Ruiz Calavera detailing examples of communists who were now given positions in new judicial structures. It was found that members of the Sigurimi, political police, prosecutors, and judges handed down harsh punishments such as forced labor, torture, and death against opponents of the regime.
The letter names Head of SPAK Arben Kraja, Deputy Prosecutor General Thoma Jano, Head of KED Ardian Dvorani, member of KLD Fatmira Luli, member of KLP Bujar Sheshi, and member of KLP Nurihan Seiti as examples of this.
Nebil Cika said that all of them worked in the communist justice system and were responsible for many arrests, political convictions, and “severe” punishments for ‘crimes’ such as trying to cross the border, ‘propaganda’, or simply opposing the regime.
Despite this, she denied the presence of such individuals and said all legal provisions were consistently applied during the vetting process. Thankfully, now she has been demoted to a back-office job in charge of designating meeting rooms and providing interpreters.
But amid the court battles for the release of communist files, the struggles to get the right to excavate for remains, and the dark clouds of communist oppression and denial that still hang over Albanian society, perhaps the biggest insult came from the mouth of Prime Minister Edi Rama.
In September 2020, he told parliament “My father, yes was a communist like many others and was on the right side of history.”
When you have a man in power whose father ordered the death of poets, and who then says that he and his comrades were on the right side of history, what hope is there?