Topography of Terror
STUDY VISITS TO SITES OF MEMORY
26 May 2017, Spaç – IDMC organized another study trip in the former prison of Spaç. IDMC started these study trips since in 2015. Students and lecturers of Literature Department of the University of Tirana were involved this time in the study trip. The participants were given the chance to talk to a contemporary witness of the dictatorship, Gjet(o) Vocaj, a former political prisoner in the former prison of Spaç, at the same time author of the book "Takim fatal me diktatorin".
In the first break before arriving in the former prison Matilda Karçanaj, IDMC Programme Assistant shortly introduced students to the importance of the study trips organized by IDMC. Ms Karçanaj told them: "It's been 27 years after the fall of the dictatorship in Albania and we have not heard to be talked enough about it, neither in school, and neither in family, even though it was one of the harshest dictatorial regimes in Southeast Europe. Therefore, through these study trips and meetings with contemporary witnesses IDMC aims to raise awareness on the crimes of the dictatorship and make you more aware about the importance of dealing with the past." Before heading to the former prison of Spaç, students were asked to fill in anonymously the expatiation form for the study trip.
Students started to reflect about this study trip since on the way to the former prison area. The road seemed endless. Upon arriving in the prison area, Gjet(o) Vocaj started to share his experience in the prison. Students were very eager to hear about his experience and did not stop questioning Mr. Vocaj about his experience in prison, who among other things shared the effect of Spaç revolt in 1973. He told to the students how people were executed for the revolt, others were tortured and their punishment doubled. Mr. Vocaj told them: "You might have heard about four persons executed, but not for the fifth one. He was special one to all the prisoners. There was a dog who took part in the revolt too, who was punished with hanging…"
After visiting all the sites of the former prison, the activity continued with the students' presentations of the writers persecuted, imprisoned or sentenced to death due to the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. Guided by Prof. Assoc. Dr. Lili Sula, their findings took them in the writings of Vilson Blloshmi and Genc Leka, Kasem Trebeshina, Musine Kokalari, Visar Zhiti, Arshi Pipa, Viçens Prenushi, Frederik Rreshpja etc.
The activity ended with a reflection lunch on the way back to Tirana. In an informal setting students expressed that hearing about the experience in prison from a former political prisoner made them more sensitive towards this topic and their interest on searching in this filed in independent way is higher. At the very end they expressed their gratitude for IDMC and filled in the evaluation form for the study trip.
More about the guest:
Gjet(o) Vocaj is a former political prisoner, sentenced to 8 years for propaganda. He began his sentence in Spaç and completed it in Ballsh. His family was interned for 5 years in Pistulli village, Shkodra. He was released from prison in 1982. Mr Vocaj is the author of the book "Takim fatal me diktatorin" (Fatal Encounter with the Dictator).
19‒20 September 2016, Gjirokaster, Lushnje – In the context of Topography of Terror, Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture organizes study trips in memory sites of the dictatorship in Albania in order to raise young people's awareness of its consequences. Following the trip in former political prison of Spaç earlier this year, IDMC organized on 19‒20 September a study visit in sites of memory in Tepelene, Gjirokaster and Lushnje, in collaboration with the Institute for Integration of Former Political Persecutees.
On first day, young people coming from different former politically persecuted families during the dictatorship period traveled from Tirana to Tepelene and Gjirokaster. At first, they were introduced with the former internment camp of Tepelene. In their opening speech, Dr. Jonila Godole, executive director of IDMC, and Mr. Bilal Kola, director of IIPP, urged young people to build awareness. Mr. Simon Mirakaj, a former political persecutee during the dictatorship, introduced them with details from life in the internment camp and highlighted how important dealing with the past was for the future. Mr. Daut Gumeni, also a former political persecutee and candidate for the Committee for Opening of Communist Files, urged young people not to be afraid of the past but to acknowledge it. "Who forgets the past is lost," said Mr. Gumeni.
Following Tepelene, the study trip continued to Gjirokaster. At "Musine Kokalari" museum, Ms. Arjeta Kokalari reflected on the importance of the figure of dissident Musine Kokalari. Next was the visit to the former prison inside the castle of Gjirokaster, where Mr. Gumeni shared personal stories from life there during the time of the dictatorship.
On second day, the group resumed their journey from the memory sites of Gjirokaster to Lushnje, to learn about life in the barracks of Saver, and visited the city's internment and deportations' memorial from 1954‒1991.
More about the guests:
Daut Gumeni, a former political persecutee during the Albanian dictatorship, today is an analyst and candidate for the Committee for Opening of Communist Files.
Simon Mirakaj was born in 1945. He passed 44 years of his life deported for political reasons, since he was 2 weeks old. Currently he is the head of the Association of Democrat Former Political Persecutees of Albania
18 February 2016, Rreshen – A democratic society cannot go forward if it does not know and face its past. In particular, the young people in a country such as Albania, which faced a very unique kind of communist regime, do not have in-depth knowledge in the so-called phenomenon of communism in their country. Hence, considering that Albania is in the wave of attempts to open the communist files, the Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture organized a study trip to the prison of Spaç in Rreshen, which was a political prison during the communist period. The Spaç prison is the place where many convicts of communism were subject to suffering, humiliation, torture, and violence.
The purpose of this study trip was to give students the basis for a better understanding of the communist regime in Albania and to assist them in learning about Spaç, the labor camps and the political prisons during communism, more than what is offered in the media and the history books. In addition, in order to better understand what time in this prison was like, the students were guided by historian Dr. Enriketa Papa and a former political detainee Mr. Agim Hakcani. The latter shared his personal experience, having served 14 years of his life in Spaç.
Students were involved in the narrative of Mr. Hakcani, expressing great interest in knowing not only the difficulties, the physical and spiritual suffering, but also the details of the daily life in prison, foods, hygiene etc. After visiting the remaining sections of the former prison of Spaç, the activity ended with an informal discussion where students were invited to reflect on the importance of historical commemorations in their process of education. The students demanded for an objective and undistorted look at the history of their country. In this regard, IDMC's initiative, to bring the youth closer to the past through study visits in sites of memory, will continue with other groups.
Sites of memory, such as internment camps, political prisons and labor camps should be brought more often to the attention of young people, for two essential reasons. First of all, to commemorate the victims of communism; and secondly, to become familiar and confront the past and the so-called Albanian communism phenomenon. Because the familiarity of Albania's young people with the past of their country helps them to meditate not only on the nature of the Albanian totalitarian regime and the legacies of the time, but it also raises their awareness about the threats of totalitarian tendencies in present times. By knowing these tendencies better, a democratic society is able to prevent history from repeating.
10 December 2016, Shkodra – On Saturday, IDMC organized its third study visit to memory places. This time the study visit was organized with students of "Cajupi" high school in Tirana. Students visited the Site of Witness and Memory in Shkodra. Their guide was led by Pjerin Mirdita, specialist at the museum. He explained in very careful way the history of museum and acknowledged them with all the rooms of the museum and the meaning of the writings. It is important to note that the high school students showed high interest throughout the museum, which was also seen in their questions for the guide. Their questions brought as product a very fruitful discussion with the guide, the teachers and IDMC staff.
After the visit the students of "Cajupi" high school joined a reflection lunch, where the discussion moderated by Dr. Godole, the executive director of IDMC pointed out the importance of this visit for them. They shared their impressions and how this visit helped them to have a better understanding of the dictatorship in Albania. As well students were asked about the ways they would prefer to be taught about this period. IDMC noted that for high school students is important to go and see the places of memory and to listen for the dictatorship when they are there. In addition, students pointed out the importance of documentaries when reflecting about the past. They brought the example of the IDMC documentary "Children of the dictatorship", which they had the opportunity to watch in the opening ceremony of MEMORY DAYS activity. They also talked about the discussion followed in their families after they had seen the documentary. They were proud of challenging the way they were taught about the dictatorship and being able to make their parents talk and sometimes confront their grandparents.
For IDMC this study visit was the last one for 2016, but it will continue those next year, as well. IDMC has reached its goal during these study trips because young people reflect on the dictatorship period and they accept that their knowledge is not enough. They rise awareness and gain a special interest in learning more about this period. Most of young people in all the study visits organized by IDMC have admitted that before the study trip this topic was not in their interest. The study trip in places of memory awakes the interest of young people to learn also independently about the dictatorship.
6‒7 May 2017, Spaç, Shkodra – In the course of Topography of Terror activities, Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture in cooperation with the Association of History Teachers of Albania and ChwB (Cultural Heritage Without Borders) organized a study trip to the former prison of Spaç and the sites of memory in Shkodra.
14 History teachers who took part in this study trip visited firstly the former prison of Spaç. Accompanied by Zivko Petrovic, a former prisoner there, this visit became more sensitive. As the true stories left in oblivion, the situation of this prison nowadays leaves to be desired. It seems like we want to erase from our memory a part of the history of our country.
In the focus-group that took place in the framework of this meeting with representatives of CHwB, teachers discussed about the possibility to make this place a museum where a part of a human suffering during the dictatorial system could be witnessed. Given the desire to testify the truths just as they were, the teachers gave their contribution and ideas about the right way to turn this building from a forgotten place left at the mercy of atmospheric conditions in a visit site where the truth to speak for itself.
The evidence of the persons who suffered during the regime from persecution and internment accompanied the thematic dinner with various actors working in the field of dealing with the past in Shkodra and journalists where it was discussed about the role of local media in the process of dealing with the past.
Day 2 continued with the visit in the Site of Witness and Memory where facts speak more than the words. Under the guidance of Pjerin Mirdita, teachers became acquainted with new details that further enrich their knowledge about the crimes of the dictatorship. One cannot describe the feelings when visiting this place. This situation leaves an emptiness feeling and at the same times an inner revolt and responsibility to do more.
We could not leave Shkodra without visiting Franciscan Church, the Cathedral, the Museum and Sigmatine Sisters Assembly, places which were left without their religious function during the communism in order to destroy or adopt new institutions, hence interrupting the people relation with their religion. We visited also the cemetery chapel (Kapela e Varrezave) and the plane tree of Zef Zorba (Çinarin i Zef Zorbës), a tree which has witnessed hundred executions done by the system.
Shocked and at the same time happy that they were part of this visit, the teachers discussed during lunch about their impressions. Everyone reflected and expressed willingness to cooperate more in order for the past not to be left in oblivion. Focusing on the importance of educating the younger generation, helping them to know the story as it has been, in order that such mistakes will not to be repeated in the future, IDMC will organize other study visits in order to fulfill its mission.