• Adam

Albania: Moving on from its rough history (part 1)

Before I talk about Albania, I have to mention a bit of Albania's recent history. During the Cold War, it was a brutal communist dictatorship that made it quite literally the North Korea of Europe. Diplomatic relations with nearly every other country was cut. Religion was banned, attempting to leave the country was punishable by death, dissidents were sent to forced labor camps, people were encouraged to report their families, neighbors, etc. for opposing the regime, and the secret police were everywhere. Albania was a mystery to the outside world. The dictator for most of this period, Enver Hoxha, was paranoid about a foreign invasion and built large bunkers for himself and his government in Tirana and Gjirokastra. He also ordered that 200,000 small bunkers be built all over the country, impervious to tanks, where citizens could fight the invading enemies with some protection.

Democracy finally arrived in the early 1990's, and apart from corruption and a period of turmoil in 1997 related to a massive default of several Ponzi schemes where Albanians had invested their savings, they are working hard to become a modern country and shake off their communist past. There are some communist-era monuments, but not many. Those honoring the dictator have been torn down. But bunkers and museums remain to explain this history to visitors like me who wanted to learn more.

In Tirana there are 2 large bunkers - Bunk'art 1 and Bunk'art 2. Bunk'art 1 was built for the dictator and his government with 80+ rooms on 4 levels into a hill outside the city. Bunk'art 2 is smaller and connects government buildings downtown. As their names imply, both are now partially art museums, but contain a wealth of history about Albania from pre-WW2 to the communist oppression.

A map of Bunk'art 1

Multiple doors to pass through decontamination, in the event of an atomic attack (left)

A homemade contraption used by Albanians to heat shower water (right)

The long corridor of this bunker. The boxes on the floor with the red star contain oxygen tanks, provided by the Chinese.

A large assembly hall where the government would meet in the event of an invasion. It doesn't look impressive until you remember that we are under a hill!

A demonstration of equipment used by the Segurimi (secret police) to spy on citizens in their homes.

In Tirana there is a memorial to the communist times. A bunker represents the paranoia, a piece of the Berlin Wall represents the isolation, and the concrete supports from a mine in a forced labor camp represents the pain.

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