Thoughts From An Albanian Survivor
The problem with Luljeta Bozo’s recent comments is that it’s a sentiment shared casually by many.
The Socialist Party electoral candidate sparked outrage recently when during a TV interview, she appeared to praise elements of the communist regime. As a part of a discussion on the almost 50 years of communist rule, she was asked about Dictator Enver Hoxha and the impact he had on the country.
She responded that “if you put them on a scale, for me he has more positives than negatives.” Bozo added that Albania was a “constitutional dictatorship”, that it “developed Albania”, and increased its industrial production.
I have heard many say similar things. I have heard people say that everyone received an education, had access to healthcare, and no one was out of work. I have heard people say “there were positives and negatives, good and bad”.
And maybe for the privileged, there were positives. But can we really put these above murders and the mass and systematic violation of human rights?
During communism, the country’s entire economy was controlled by the state. All production, agriculture, and industry were nationalized and private enterprise was strictly forbidden. While this did lead to economic growth for some time, towards the end of the regime, the system began to collapse. There wasn’t enough food and people were forced to queue for rations. After they cut off relations with the Chinese and Soviets, shortages of everything from machine parts to wheat and animal feed were exacerbated.
A network of sigurimi and their informants amounting to a large percentage of the population, reported back to the state on their family, friends, and neighbors. I remember a hairdresser telling me she discovered her husband had been spying on her and her clients for decades and she had no clue until communism fell.
People told tales on their circle, others fabricated stories to take the heat off them. The accused were shipped off to prisons, gulags, and forced labor camps.
A friend of mine, let’s call him Endri, showed me a gunshot wound in his leg. He was shipped off to work in the mines at the age of 13 because a distant family member had committed a political “crime”. After seven years of labor, he was released and he and a friend tried to escape to Greece. Albanian guards shot his friend in the head from behind as he ran abreast with him, the second bullet passed straight through Endri’s leg.
Today, 30 years after the regime fell, there are still up to 6000 people who were executed or died in prison and are still missing. Their families do not know where their remains are and excavation orders for suspected mass grave sites have been pending with the Prosecutor for three years and counting.
There has been no apology, there is no national or regional memorial and no national day of remembrance. The Socialist Party who is currently in power has not condemned the crimes of their predecessors, and the process for compensating those who were persecuted or had family members murdered has stalled.
Albania has not dealt with its past- that’s what makes comments like this, even if they contain truth, so controversial. The fact that there are thousands of people in this country, still suffering the consequences of that time, means that any claims of “benefits” of the regime are inappropriate. Perhaps once Albania has dealt with its collective trauma, when people have located the remains of their loved ones, and when the state has apologised for its crimes, then we can begin to dissect the positives and negatives of history.
While I don’t doubt the benefits of education, employment, and healthcare, I prioritize the right to life.
Perhaps we could ask the families of those who lost loved ones, whether they would prefer an education or to be able to bury their remains with dignity? Or those that were tortured and suffer PTSD decades later if they would prefer a job or an end to their suffering? Maybe we could even give them the choice between losing their ancestral homes and livelihood or getting a free checkup at the hospital.
I am pretty sure which one they would choose.
My point is that while some may believe there were “positives” to communism until we have dealt with the legacy and scars of the “negatives”, it is an insult to discuss them.
Albania needs to implement a comprehensive program of truth, memory, and remembrance. All documents and archives containing data from that time need to be made public with no limitations. School books must include full information on what led to communism, how it impacted society, and what happened after it fell. There must be a national memorial in a prominent place, a day of remembrance, and an official apology and condemnation from both the government and the Socialist Party. Anyone who worked in politics, security, or the judiciary during the communist period must be removed from public office, the legal system, or any position of authority. Everyone who is entitled to compensation must receive it and the scope of the compensation program must be widened to include everyone with a claim. Investigations into crimes of communists must be started and completed in a swift and efficient manner. Relevant institutions must prioritize the search for missing persons, excavations, and the identification of victims. Bodies must be returned to families, and perpetrators must be identified and punished. I would go so far as to say that any praising of communism or Enver Hoxha, including events held to commemorate his death should be prohibited by law.
This is just the tip of the iceberg but they are some of the steps that should be taken to allow Albania to reconcile with its past and to move forward with dignity.
Whether her comments were taken out of context or not, for me, it’s morally and ethically wrong to put the word “positive” in a sentence discussing communism while so many are still suffering.
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