Albania’s History Can Teach Us How to Cope With Our Present

Albania still bears the scars of a traumatic dictatorship, but it is trying to reckon with its past and understand, not forget, its troubled history.

June 14, 2023 02:15 EDT

Dear FO° Reader,


Last summer, I visited Albania with my family—an old country with an ancient language and a rich history. It was part of the Ottoman Empire and declared its independence in 1912. During the 20th century, this small country on the Mediterranean Sea was run by one of the most repressive communist regimes in the world. 


The Haunting Beauty of a Tragic Land

Yet Albania was an incongruous communist country. Elton Smole, one of our authors with roots in Albania, observes that Albania is still the prey to gjakmarrja (pronounced Jyak-MARR-Ya), local blood feuds.


Like Sicily and Calabria, Albania is beautiful. Mountains, rivers, forests and the sea create vistas that please the eye and haunt the mind. Tourist infrastructure is not posh but decently comfortable. Roads have improved and driving is easy.



Geographically, Albania’s location is fascinating. In the north lies Montenegro, to the east are Kosovo and Macedonia, and in the south we find Greece. In Europe, Albania is the westernmost Muslim-majority state. This is a land with a rich history at the intersection of many cultures. Yet its tortured past shows up at every corner.


Tirana, like so much of the country, still bears the scars of that past. An underground bunker, once planned as a nuclear refuge by Enver Hoxha, now houses the unconventional Bunk’Art Museum. Inside you will find not items of beauty or artistic interest but personal effects of the tens of thousands that were carried off into the regime’s gulag-style prisons. Their names, inscribed on scrolls that dangle from the ceiling, serve as a haunting reminder of how much humanity was lost.


The ruler, Enver Hoxha, went through a bunkerism phase, constructing more than 173,000 bunkers all across the country. He ruled Albania with an iron fist until his death in 1985. Hoxha’s regime did rebuild a land ravaged by World War II, and increased literacy from a mere 5-10% to an impressive 90%. Yet this admirer of Stalin ran a police state that forbade its citizens to possess private property or even to leave the country.


History Matters

To reappropriate its troubled history, Albania’s government officials of today are constructing museums out of real historical sites. The suffering endured in these sites—gulags, prisons, and torture chambers—still haunts visitors. The experience of visiting these sites raises important questions. Does matter have memory? Does memory matter? How do I explain this period of history to my teenage kids? They walked around half annoyed by their parents’ passion for museums, half stunned by the gravity of the facts described. 


At Fair Observer, we grapple with such questions. We enshrine memory in the form of timelines and context pieces. Our most celebrated work has been a World War II timeline.  It is used in high schools, universities and even military and diplomatic academies. We are working on many such timelines.


If you are a teacher, a student or just a passionate amateur with an interest in history, get in touch with us. Let us work on timelines, multimedia features and more together. We could even work on a timeline of Albania.


We are always looking for new authors, new ideas and want to hear what you think.

Mes meilleurs messages, 

Roberta Campani
Communication and Outreach

We are an independent nonprofit organization. We do not have a paywall or ads. We believe news must be free for everyone from Detroit to Dakar. Yet servers, images, newsletters, web developers and editors cost money. So, please become a recurring donor to keep Fair Observer free, fair and independent.

Read from anywhere

This email was sent to *|EMAIL|*
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member