Nazmi Uruci’s descendants have been searching for his remains for almost 80 years. Born in northern Albania in 1904, Nazmi was a customs official during the short reign of Albania’s first and last reigning monarch, King Zog. But after the monarchy fell and the communists were set to take power in the country, an order was sent to “deal with” those working for the previous regime.
Uruci and two friends were rounded up and executed in October 1944 without any form of trial or legal process. His remains are still unknown, and the state has refused to acknowledge his murder or help locate his grave.
Speaking to Exit, Hysen Daci, the victim’s nephew, detailed the pain felt by the family at not being able to lay him to rest.
“All losses of life are painful, but without a grave, without justice, without motive at just 40 years old …we need to regain our dignity,” he said.
Astrit Islamaj, the grandson of a northern Albanian chieftain who was imprisoned and executed following a sham trial, spoke of the difficulties in finding Elez Rust Islamaj’s remains.
“We went everywhere…we searched everywhere- even a place where prisoners were beaten and killed but found nothing. We did our best to find his remains but were not meant to find them.”
These are just two of the 6000-plus people still missing 30 years after the fall of Albania’s communist regime.
Albania was ruled by a communist party between 1944 and 1991 and was widely considered one of the most brutal and isolated regimes in history. Led by dictator Enver Hoxha, who considered Stalin too soft, was responsible for the death of up to 25,000 by way of execution, murder, starvation, and inhuman in prison and forced labour camps. Thousands more were tortured, imprisoned, and persecuted.
Albania fails to act
During the last year, the Albanian prosecutor’s office failed to conduct any investigations into missing person cases from the communist regime, despite repeated warnings from international officials, the European Commission said in its recently published country report.
Concerning the right to life, the EC noted that this failure and the low number of resolved cases were “partly due” to a lack of capacity and resources. They called for political will to establish an efficient cooperation mechanism among relevant institutions and to enhance public awareness on the matter.
In terms of searching for the missing, many files have been deposited with prosecutors, but there has been zero progress on many of them. Several filed by the International Commission on Missing Persons Western Balkans Program have not progressed in over three years.
Earlier this year, the head of the program, Matthew Holiday, said the Albanian government has a legal obligation to account for missing people.
Then in August, the OSCE said the fact that more than 6000 people are still missing is a “serious human rights violation” that “deeply and incessantly affects the families of the missing who long for a grave to mourn their loved ones.”
Justice remains out of reach
The Albanian state nor the Socialist Party – direct descendants of the communist party- have formally apologised for the atrocities carried out over 50 years.
There is no official memorial for victims, and students receive little information about what happened during those years. Even more concerningly, there have been few convictions of those who killed, murdered, and tortured innocent people.
Some prominent communists, including those who worked in the regime’s judiciary and official roles, still hold positions of power today. In 2020, Agon Tufa, a communist crimes scholar, was forced to seek asylum in Switzerland with his family, following what he alleges were threats against his life from ex-communists in power.
No interest from prosecutors
Following the EU call for justice, Albanian prosecutor Sokol Stojan told local media that prosecutors have no role to play in the case of disappearances or executions. He added this is because they “were punished according to the laws of the time.”
He added that it is an administrative problem and admitted that some prosecutors have refused to address cases that land on their desks. The prosecutor also claimed that the statute of limitations means it is impossible for prosecutors to open investigations for disappearances that happened decades ago.
Stojan did not comment on the cases where people were executed and murdered without a trial, therefore nothing to do with the laws of the time.
Prime Minister Edi Rama claimed that his government has “done as much as we can” to bring to light the story of those that suffered during communism and continue to suffer today.
In an extraordinary speech given in August at the inauguration of an exhibition of former state security documents called “Sigurimi in its own words”, Rama said:
“All the stories of persecutions and tortures coming from the dictatorship, beyond just personal suffering, are stories of suffering embedded in the social conscience. In that of other generations, in those who were born during the communist period but were able to build another life, and in those who are born in the post-communist period and for whom communism is a story learned from books or the elderly, but not a fact of life.”
He added:” We have tried to do as much as we can, although it’s certainly never enough to bring this story to light.”
While addressing the missing victims, he made no pledge to find them.
The voices of Albania’s missing
It seems the call of the EU will fall on deaf ears while there is a lack of political, judicial, and economic will in the country. Meanwhile, families of victims continue to suffer.
Sazan Velaj speaks with a mixture of both sorrow and anger.
“I was seven years old when they killed my father, we tried very hard but we could not find him. It is of great importance for the family, to find the bones of our father, there is nothing more important,” he said, adding “man is strong to survive such suffering.”