For­mer nu­clear bunker be­comes mu­seum of Al­ba­nian per­se­cu­tion

Malta Independent - - FEATURE -

A for­mer top-se­cret nu­clear bunker re­opened Satur­day as a mu­seum in Al­ba­nia’s cap­i­tal to show visi­tors how Com­mu­nis­tera po­lice per­se­cuted the regime’s op­po­nents.

The 1,000-square-me­ter (1,077square-foot) bunker with re­in­forced con­crete walls up to 2.4 me­ters (8-feet) thick was built be­tween 1981 and 1986 to shel­ter elite po­lice and in­te­rior min­istry staff in the event of a nu­clear at­tack.

The mu­seum that opened in Tirana now holds pho­to­graphs and equip­ment that il­lus­trate the po­lit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion of some 100,000 Al­ba­ni­ans from 1945 un­til 1991.

The “Pillar” mu­seum, as the nu­clear bunker was co­de­named, is one of sev­eral for­mer hide­outs the Al­ba­nian gov­ern­ment has re­pur­posed for the pub­lic since it came to power three years ago.

Both an is­land fortress and another un­der­ground bunker de­signed for Al­ba­nia’s army com­mand are now open to tourists, as is a leaf-cov­ered villa that once housed the for­mer com­mu­nist coun­try’s se­cret po­lice, known as Sig­urimi.

More may come from the scores of mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions erected dur­ing the para­noid, iso­la­tion­ist regime of the late dic­ta­tor En­ver Hoxha, who ruled with an iron fist af­ter the end of World War II un­til De­cem­ber 1990.

Hoxha’s regime, with an imag­i­nary fear of in­va­sion by the “im­pe­ri­al­ist United States and so­cial-im­pe­ri­al­ist Soviet Union,” built con­crete bunkers of all sizes around the coun­try. At one time there were ru­mored to be as many as 700,000, but the gov­ern­ment says 175,000 were built.

Prime Min­is­ter Edi Rama said the new mu­seum re­flects his Cabi­net’s “will to pay back a debt to the mem­ory of the for­mer po­lit­i­cal per­se­cuted, for­got­ten in the last 25 years.”

Lo­cated down­town, it was de­signed to at­tract visi­tors from Al­ba­nia and beyond “to learn about the ways that the for­mer com­mu­nist po­lice per­se­cuted their op­po­nents,” cu­ra­tor Carlo Bollino said.

“This is the first memo­rial for the vic­tims of the com­mu­nist ter­ror,” Bollino said.

Twenty rooms in the new mu­seum show Al­ba­nia’s po­lice his­tory from 1912 un­til 1991, as well as the names of 6,027 peo­ple ex­e­cuted dur­ing the com­mu­nist regime, the 34,000 im­pris­oned and the more than 50,000 sent to iso­lated in­tern­ment camps.

The bunker was never used, “though it has al­ways been op­er­a­tional,” ac­cord­ing to Me­hdi Sulo, 70, a mu­seum guide.

It also has been a fo­cus of po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tions.

In an anti-gov­ern­ment rally a year ago, sup­port­ers of the main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party de­stroyed part of a replica bunker built as the mu­seum’s en­trance. They com­plained that Rama’s gov­ern­ing So­cial­ist Party was try­ing to glo­rify the coun­try’s dark past.

The holes the demon­stra­tors made in the en­trance pur­posely were not re­paired.

“Bunkers once aimed at put­ting the en­emy away, now they serve to at­tract peo­ple to re­mem­ber the dif­fi­cult past,” Rama said.

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