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.
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,
Communication and Outreach
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