Memory Days VI
19–26 FEBRUARY 2021, TIRANA
Dear friends and colleagues,
hoping that you are doing well during this hard times of pandemic, it is our great pleasure to invite you to save the dates of the sixth edition of MEMORY DAYS, 19–26 February 2021. MEMORY DAYS is an annual activity of the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture (IDMC) in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) since October 2016.
This year marks the 30 anniversary of falling the statue of the dictator Enver Hoxha, which symbolizes the fall of the totalitarian regime in Albania. Did the communist dictatorship which lasted for half century, fall after this "popular revolution"? What were the challenges of the transitional justice for the punishment of the communism crimes? What have been the politics of remembrance during these decades and how do they influence the Albanians approach on this dark part of history? There will be different activities and experts of the field to give answer to these questions. The keynote speaker of this edition is going to be the famous historian from Austria, Prof. Dr. Oliver Schmitt.
During this week, IDMC and KAS, in collaboration with ISKK, Austrian Embassy in Albania, kujto.al, organizations of Former Persecuted and other actors in the field, will bring activities that strengthen the dialogue on the past and help sharing knowledge about the communist regime, such as: forum discussions, exhibitions, study visits in Memory Places, movies and documentaries screening, publications presentation etc.
We continue the tradition from previous editions, welcoming your project proposals related to the motto of this year, until 10th January 2021.
The variety of activities of this edition include:
Information about "Memory Days" activities:
Should you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAY I: OPENING CEREMONY
The 6th edition of "Memory Days" opened with the speech of the Austrian academic Oliver Schmitt.
19 February 2021, Tirana – Recognizing and approaching the past, three decades after the fall of the communist regime, is still an axis to build the Albanian present and future. It is not only a necessity to know the history, but also a rejection of the culture of impunity in the country. Right after the fall of the regime, human destinies and different social groups were disregarded and this is perpetuating making the former nomenclature having still an impact on society, although through various forms. This is the core message of the sixth edition of Memory Days, organized by the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture (IDMC), in partnership with Conrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and other stakeholders in the field of remembrance.
The country's President, Mr. Ilir Meta, the Head of OSCE Presence, Mr. Vincenzo del Monaco, the Director of Conrad Adenauer Foundation, Tobias Rüttershoff, the Albanian historian, Mrs. Valentina Duka, the Albanian historian living in the US, Mr. Elidor Mëhilli, the Swiss historian, Mr. Daniel Ursprung were present at the opening of the sixth edition of Memory Days.
In her opening speech, Mrs. Jonila Godole, Director of IDMC, said that this was such an unusual edition for it being organized in pandemic times and held at empty halls. However, the former persecuted persons or anyone living abroad interested could attend the event though an online platform.
Then she answered the frequently posed question why she kept on organizing the "Memory Days" event and she was not leaving in peace "those who wanted to forget the past", as she pointed.
"It is not the finger's fault for the wound that does not heal, but the drug we have selected to cure it and that is what I call intentional oblivion." According to her, we have been indifferent towards the confessions of the victims of dictatorship. "With our silence, we have condemned the dissidents and the voices of the past. By cohabiting with the past, we have trivialized evil. We have neglected. By remaining silent towards the glorification of public figures who collaborated with the regime, we have impaired our present and future," said Godole. KAS Director, Tobias Rüttershoff, while stressing the role of transitional justice in punishing the crimes of the regime and the role of remembrance policy over three decades, argued that only by confronting and condemning the crimes, the victims of the regime can find peace. He went on saying that "40 years of regime repression left traces in society and politics that make us have a moral obligation not to forget the past, but face it in order to have a better future. Therefore the potential and limitations of lustration policies, the role of transitional justice mechanisms, strengthening of democracy and good governance and the rule of law, are the center of discussion in the Memory Days".
OSCE Ambassador, Vincenzo Del Monaco pointed out "through a mature dialogue, involving research on the past, it can be understood so that lessons learned are integrated into the present society in order to avoid falling into the trap of forgetting the past. Dialogue is the key word, because museums are not enough". Quoting Hannah Arendt, he talked about building a sound society that avoids repeating the past.
The main speaker of this edition was the Austrian academic Oliver Schmitt. In his speech at the "30 years later – how much do we know communism?" round table, he said that Albania officially tries to set aside or ignore the communist camps; the former prisoners are being marginalized socially and in official remembrance. He noted, "critical research of contemporary history can be very difficult, especially it cannot be conducted in universities and academies of sciences, even because of personal continuity with communist regimes". According to Schmitt, "the efforts of intellectuals almost always face strong resistance, often aggressively formulated by the former communist nomenclature and their descendants". The Austrian scholar stressed that international research on communism is working much on comparative basis. "In this context historians working in Albania are indeed non-existent. Of the Communist-era sovereign states under international law (without including the three former Yugoslav republics!), only Albania is not represented in the international debate with scientific institutions." According to Schmitt, if Albania is a little visible, it is thanks to the aforementioned small group of intellectuals living abroad. "In the above-mentioned context of comparative research on communism, their position is not easy. This is because the results they have to offer do not always correspond to the prevailing ideas and theories of communism research."
Then, the President Ilir Meta said that the problems of the communist period, though in new forms, are still found nowadays. Among them, he cited approaching the past, pleading guilty for the crimes committed during that period, assessing, and compensating persons who have suffered unjust sentences. "It is important to remember what this country has gone through during that dark period, to walk safely towards the future," he stressed.
According to the head of state, "we must remember those dark days to learn lessons. We must remember them not to allow the shadows of the past to threaten our country's present and future. We must remember those sad times to remind of us how fragile democracy and its institutions are. To remind us that suppressing civic reaction, freedom of expression and freedom of thought is in fact an installation of dictatorship. To remind us that a people who sleep in democracy can wake up in dictatorship."
All those present with their words put an emphasis on the past as an important element to build the future.
DAY II: "THE FALL OF THE DICTATOR" EXHIBITION
20 February 2021, Tirana – On the 30th anniversary of the fall of Dictator Enver Hoxha statue, the exhibition "The Fall of the Dictator" opened on Saturday, 20 February in Scanderbeg Square. The exhibition displayed photographs and archival documents telling the story of the placing and falling of the statue, as well as the student protests. In several different panels, "The Fall of the Dictator" exhibition shed light on known and little-known information, from the decision to erect the monument to its falling. The death of the dictator, the cult of the individual, the breaking of fear, are documented step by step with facsimile of decisions, photographs of the time and reflection in the foreign and Albanian media of the events that were taking place in the country. Rare images of the streets of Tirana in February, 30 years ago, showed the gathering of citizens near the statue, just as the images of Albanian citizens who were mourning in 1985 the death of the dictator.
German Ambassador to Tirana Peter Zingraf, the Director of the General Directorate of Archives, Ardit Bido, Director of Institute for the Studies of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania, Çelo Hoxha and the IDMC Director Jonila Godole were present in the event organized by IDMC in the context of "Memory Days". "We should have had some documents to explain something more of what the Political Bureau was thinking after the death of the dictator and what was going to happen next. But these documents are still protected by 'top secret' rule, so I want to draw the attention of responsible institutions to declassify as soon as possible these documents and that history could be written and analyzed as it was," said Godole.
The German Ambassador to Tirana, Peter Zingraf, urged, in his speech, the continuation and intensification of remembrance work towards the communist dictatorship in Albania.
"The victims of dictatorship have the right to be remembered. It is important to remember the history of everyone and to preserve the sites as memorial sites. An active culture of remembrance is also important, in particular to raise awareness of young people to the fact that peace, democratic pluralism, tolerance and acceptance are not and were never taken for granted in European history," said Zingraf.
Erblin Vukaj, who has been working with the exhibition, noted "it is not yet known what was being discussed at the meeting and what orders circulated, as some of the orders of those days are 'state secret'".
Mr. Ardit Bido, Director of the General Directorate of Archives, said, "These activities are the best way we should dialogue without the need to witch hunt and deal with individual names or groups. We have completely declassified the documentation pertaining to the communist period, with the exception of a few documents that are still 'state secret'".
Çelo Hoxha, Director of Institute for the Studies of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania, was also present in the event. While remembering the movement of 30 years ago, he stressed that the fall of the statue had a psychological effect.
DAY III: LESSONS ON DEMOCRACY
22 February 2021, Tirana – On Monday, 22 February, the scientific conference "Albania 1990-2021. Lectures taken during the transition" was held. The conference organized by the Institute of Political Studies, in cooperation with Conrad Adenauer Foundation, in the context of Memory Days, was focused on the transition.
The conference pointed out that transition was used by Albanian politicians over three decades as an alibi for failures and abuses of power. According to researchers, this was the main reason they did not work to shorten the transition period, making it last. Professor Afrim Krasniqi noted that Albania has a minimum number of studies on transition from dictatorship to democracy.
"Our country had a different kickoff in the democratic process. We had quite a revolution that removed the elites. The early post-90s elites and the post-communist elites practically came from the same political culture."
Lory Amy, a professor of the University of Georgia, talked about state terrorism and psycho-cultural trauma that the Albanian people suffered and endured during the dictatorship and still suffered from during the transition as well. She stressed that even nowadays, there are structures trying to rehabilitate the figure of the dictator Enver Hoxha and of his methods, such as intimidation and threatening of citizens with job loss and safety of family. Amy, who was herself present at the Theater Square, brought a comparative example of the current government's behavior with the National Theater and the pyramid built as a museum for the dictator. She said the National Theater was destroyed, despite it was defended by citizens with three years of resistance, while the Pyramid is being rebuilt with a major investment.
"I want to bring to your attention the case of National Theater, as a repetition of the state crime in the absence of moral reparation of Albanian society," she said, as she spoke of the property in both times.
The former head of the High Court, Xhezair Zaganjori, spoke of historical changes, but for him it is yet unimaginable that transition is lasting up to date.
"We are still a country in transition for as long as there are so many problems with the functioning of a liberal democracy, with the functioning of the state, with the guarantee of fundamental human rights, with the professionalism and integrity of those who represent us in politics and institutions, as well as with the healing of the wounds of the past," said Zaganjori.
The conference showed that transition is continuing, and that in three decades, the society has gone beyond its past and culture.
DAY IV: Virtual EXHIBITIONS AND CAMP, BOOK PRESENTATION
23 February 2021, Tirana – On Tuesday, 23 February, the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture, in co-operation with the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, the Site of Witness and Memory, and the General Directorate of Archives, presented five virtual exhibitions. The exhibition "Totalitarianism in Europe" dedicated to the memory of human lives lost by totalitarianism and ethnic and cultural diversity in the 20th century (PEMC). The exhibition "Propaganda during the dictatorship" dealt with the aspects of political manipulation of the masses by the communist state using various forms of propaganda, such as press articles and photographs, official ceremonies, cartoons, etc., of which the historian Brisejda Lala talked about.
The exhibition "Postcard from the Past", presented by Valbona Bezati, made a critical portrayal of various aspects of communism's life, such as: lack of freedom, difficult economic conditions, cult of party leader, prohibition of free movement, communist propaganda, etc.
"The Fall of the Dictator" with Erblin Vukaj presented, through images and archival documents, the fall of Hoxha dictator's monument that symbolically marked the fall of the communist regime.
The head of IDMC, Jonila Godole said such exhibitions help young people get to know the past.
"These exhibitions are already accessible by young persons, teachers and all those who can use them either in class or on their projects outside the school," said Godole during the annual conference in Zoom where the attendees presented virtually the exhibitions.
Mr. Pjerin Mirdita, Head of the Site of Witness and Memory in Shkodra, said that in the panels of exhibition "Light beyond Darkness", "the Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim clergy suffering from communist persecution, those who were convicted and executed are presented with names and photos, along with data for the four stages in which the clergy was persecuted until the country was declared atheist".
He also talked about the destruction of cult premises and names some of the clergymen who lost their lives, such as Dom Lazër Shantoja, Dom Ndre Zadeja, Alfron Tracki, Monsignor Vinçenc Prenushi, Father Anton Harapi. He mentioned also the names of persecutors who participated in their investigations, trials, torture and sentences, such as Nesti Kerenxhi, Zoi Themeli, Hilmi Seiti, Vaskë Koleci, etc.
For the Head of IDMC, Jonila Godole, what makes this exhibition so particular is "besides the names of the religious priests, muezzins, imams and prelates, the photos of those responsible for their persecutions from 1944 to 1990 are displayed in the exhibition".
Exhibitions can be visited at any time on IDMC's website.
During Tuesday afternoon, the Institute for the Studies of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania presented the documentary film "Virtual Museum of Maliq", where the four camps that was in Maliq at different times, but no trace is left today, were graphically reconstructed. Through Kliti Burda's three-D digital techniques and based on testimonies of former prisoners, the poet Luljeta Lleshanaku wrote the screenplay of a documentary film that sheds light to the life in camps. "It was very difficult for us to identify the location of the camps. It was difficult because it was reconstructed four times in Maliq, and they no longer exits nowadays. There are no documents from the engineering plans for drying the wetlands either. Through Kastriot Dervishi, we managed to find out some documents used by the Soviet Union experts," said Lleshanaku.
After the screening of the film, Lleshanaku talked about the history of the camp, where prisoners suffered long hours of work, hunger and thirst. Among the dozens of painful stories suffered by the prisoners, she singled out the history of a clergyman. "The prisoners worked but were not fed. As the testimonies remember, one day Father Papamihali tried to get a beet to eat. The guards shot him and he lost consciousness. They stepped over him. He died and they covered it up there, and the body vanished".
At the Orman Pojan camp in Maliq, the prisoners lived in the tent, in Vloçisht, some huts with boards covered with straw were built.
DAY V: MAP OF MEMORY & "FROM SCANDERBEG TO E. HOXHA" DOCUMENTARY
24 February 2021, Tirana – A year after the promotion of a Sites of Memory Map, on Wednesday, 24 February, the online "Map of Memory" platform was introduced as a practical and easily accessible option. From the Elders' Prison in Zejmen to the Juvenile Prison in St. Koll, from St. Vasil in south to the women's prison in Belsh, the "Map of Memory" indicates all places that were forgotten over three decades by the human need to forget the pain and by the inhuman desire to deny the pain of others. This project was presented in the context of "Memory Days" organized by IDMC. Blerina Gjoka, Admirina Peçi and Erald Kapri from the "Remember" Foundation spoke about the project. The online platform brings to the attention the unforgettable past of Albania that was eating itself. "We realized that communist terror was spread throughout the entire territory of the country, turning Albania into a big prison. Initially in camps with barbed wire and then to forced labor camps that were displaced at any work site where the regime needed them, or to static prisons, the political prisoners were labor slaves," said Agron Shehaj, founder of "Kujto.al".
The "Map of Memory" brings also Documents and Evidence from prisoners and internees to make as accurate and vivid as possible the visualization of these places of punishment.
In the Eyes of Foreigners
Albania and Albanians in the eyes of foreigners came through a rare film material. On Wednesday, 24 February, the documentary, "From Scanderbeg to Enver Hoxha", a 1984 production by Paul Lendvai, was screened for the first time. The IDMC Director, Jonila Godole and the Austrian Ambassador Christian Steiner were present. After the documentary, a discussion was organized involving the analyst Fatos Lubonja, the historian Idrit Idrizi and translator Sokol Mici, who, 36 years ago, accompanied Lendvai in Albania.
Paul Lendvai, the author of the documentary, indicated, "I was not allowed to meet the opponents of the regime. We were followed wherever we went. There was no chance we could talk to anyone. Those who were accompanying us were also under observation. I had some information about Albania's history. Aleks Buda was more sophisticated even though he was supposed to be with the propaganda".
While for Fatos Lubonja, who was serving his sentence in Spaç at the time this documentary was filmed, "The unity of the people around Scanderbeg, as Buda says, is a communist construction to show the unity of the people around Hoxha. The problems created by that system were not only the prisons, but also this historical heritage that is dominant". Lubonja added that if it happens to pass by the Faculty of History, you could see Aleks Buda next to Eqrem Çabej as two fathers of historiography. "In a foreword of Schmitt, he talks not only of the Soviet method of history, but also of those who studied in Vienna and worked with that method. And he refers to Aleks Buda," pointed Lubonja.
According to Lubonja, "this narrative perpetuates even nowadays, because instead of criticizing these authors, they are honored". The IDMC Director, Jonila Godole said "the elites did not change, neither did their approach. This documentary is one of the materials evidencing the end of the communist regime and documenting the propaganda, which thanks to Paul Lendvai's perseverance is successfully reflected therein, for he knew very well the East and the communist systems".
For Austrian Ambassador Christian Steiner, "Communism here is an era did not have proper attention of researchers at universities and institutions, as Oliver Schmitt pointed out in the opening speech".
The shooting of the documentary film, "From Scanderbeg to Enver Hoxha", was allowed after professor Lendvai promised to compare Hoxha to Scanderbeg and he managed to document the queue in front of the empty shops, the propaganda, and the statues of Lenin and Stalin, denouncing Hoxha's propaganda and the rise to power.
DAY VI: BOOKS AND STUDY PRESENTATIONS
25 February 2021, Tirana – On Thursday, 25 February, the study of Erblin Vukaj and IDMC, "Kinostudio – propaganda or national heritage" was presented as part of "Memory Days".
How the historical and social characters were portrayed in films before the '90s? The socialist realism method pervaded in literature and it was strictly controlled by a series of commissions that were the nightmares of writers, but the same happened with films as well. The former "Shqipëria e Re Kinostudio" had a special focus, while films were distributed in every corner of the country, using even auto-cinemas. The film lines are still in use, while many of them glorify war figures, obscuring the image of regime opponents conveyed as traitors to the homeland. The clergymen, those who had studied abroad at the best Western universities, the large families and descendants of political opponents, apart from serving prison or internment sentences, were depicted as villains in film productions, where the silent precondition for approval of scripts or films was the presence of leaders portraits, slogans and posters.
The pro and against opinions about the Albanian films of the period before ' 90s and the public perception over three decades later were discussed in the meetings. Although Vukaj's study analyzed the elements of communist propaganda in films, it is clear that it was difficult for the authors of these films to admit that their works still convey that propaganda and denigrate different social groups.
The IDMC Director, Jonila Godole said: "Art, sculpture, and lapidaries, were in the context of agitation and propaganda manipulating the masses. Besides being manipulative, they are quite denigrating and insult severely the former politically persecuted persons who are not morally rehabilitated yet."
The sociologist Ergys Mërtiri had the same opinion, for him "all films are propaganda. There is no single film produced by the New Albania Cine-studio that does not have small but rather powerful elements of propaganda". He said that even those films that look more normal have propaganda elements.
On the other hand, Suela Musta, from the Audiovisual Media Authority, proposed that "the society should exert more pressure in order to make legal amendments for audiovisual broadcasting. There should be a special article regulating how these films should be aired".
While admitting that these productions do contain propaganda, Iris Elezi, Director of Film Archives, said: "I disagrees that there are films depicting propaganda elements, but I do not agree to treat people as fools by putting notes in the films. I believe that, for anyone watching them, it is evident on what they are about, but I agree with the opinion that they should be aired with a discussion," Iris Elezi said.
Propaganda and "fake news"
On Thursday, 25 February, a meeting about "Propaganda and fake news during the pandemic" was also held.
Gjergj Erebara, a journalist, said that the authorities or well-known public names are often those who spread fake news. "We have been in a pandemic and the number of fake news has increased. So did the number of world conspiracy theories. Some of the conspiracy theories were created by politicians in Albania, as in the case of Monika Kryemadhi who did not believe in COVID and Edi Rama who said that pharmaceutical companies wanted to increase sales." He said that politicians often use theories to draw attention, and they are often shown on national television. He also pointed to cases of current prime minister complaining about fake news spreading on social networks, and the Anti-terrorism Office at the State Police has immediately found the 'guilty ones'. According to Erebara, it shows that Police is following the posts of the prime minister on social networks.
During the discussion, Jonila Godole, Director of IDMC, presented the manual on "Propaganda and tactics of online manipulation". "The purpose is to raise awareness of pupils and teachers on propaganda. When talking about truth and lie, Hannah Arendt says the lie is embraced more quickly by the public. There is a lot of disinformation in social networks and propaganda is even more present recently." According to Godole, media literacy must be a subject in high school, for the people to understand how news is made, how it is manipulated, by whom and why. "It is not only media but also democracy literacy to understand the messages, especially nowadays. Media used to be a mediator. Now it is no longer as such," she said.
Godole said politicians have already switched to a direct communication with the public, without the media filter, which has already lost this monopoly, given the politicians have social networks.
The professor Ermal Hasimja added that propaganda and fake news have always been present, but now it is amplified because of social media. While citing the Ottoman chronicler Evlia Celebi or any other Serb writing that Albanians used to have "tails", but they do not have it anymore, Hasimja argued that this phenomenon has always existed. "There are funny stories on the Internet, like Pelasgians did the Trojan War, and Achilles is from Labëria. The more ignorant people are, the more they believe false news. It is not a modern phenomenon, it is cured by the schooling and knowledge vaccine," said Hasimja.
The journalist Valbona Bezati said that working with young people has enabled them finding fake news, reporting it, but she added that often problematic news were also in the big media.
DAY VII: THE 22 INTELLECTUALS KILLED BY EXECUTION & CLOSING CEREMONY
26 February 2021, Tirana – On Friday, the execution without a trial of 22 intellectuals accused of bombing the Soviet embassy was commemorated, a decision of the Political Bureau of APP Central Committee. "Remember February 26th" posters were displayed at several bus stops the recent days in Tirana. A video with the names and photos of the persons executed appeared on IDMC's social networks. Among the 22 intellectuals was also Mrs. Sabiha Kasimati, the first Albanian female scientist. They were executed on the bank of Erzen River, where they were buried in darkness and secrecy in a common grave. Their families were interned in concentration camps in Tepelena, Vlora, etc. Their bodies were found after the fall of regime.
During the closing meeting of "Memory Days", held by IDMC, on that event, former political convict Leka Tasi delivered a strong message on our approach to the past.
"I have read Vaclav Haveli's memoirs, where his Czech colleagues had some contradictory inspiration on the idea that abiding by the law made them respect the rule in power. Havel objected them in a very polite manner. This made me very angry because he should have been harsher on them. They deserved a kick in their heads. Your institute should put in place this approach for we have been far from Czechoslovakia," Tasi said.
He mentioned a person who refused to abide by the order at unusual times. "I want to single out the figure of Sali Orman, who was a police chief. He opposed the firing without trial of the 22 Albanian personalities (for the bomb at the Soviet embassy)" said Leka Tasi, a former cellist at the Opera before being interned and a painter and former jury member at IDMC competitions.
Tobias Rüttershoff, Head of Conrad Adenauer Foundation, Jonila Godole, Head of IDMC, etc. were also present at the closing meeting.
The writer and screenwriter Ylljet Aliçka said that he who has the power has in his hands the past. He pointed out the work done during the Memory Days, as a work having a lot of impact in unfolding truth.
During the closing of the sixth edition of "Memory Days", a meeting with the winners of the competitions that IDMC has held from 2015 to 2020 took place over Zoom. Young people brought their personal experience and perspectives on communism, the way of life at that time and the pressure on the citizen in authoritarian society, which they had expressed also in drawings or other artistic forms in IDMC competitions.
Godole said that "the works presented in the competitions were creative and genuine. We thought that young people do not work and do not go deeper. We thought it was going to be a challenge then, but later on, we were surprised by the influx. Young people saw that the competition was based on merit and more participants were enrolled. Professionals from different fields were members of the jury. If the young people take it seriously, it is very rewarding, and we realized that we were on a good path." Godole talked about the energy of young people who have lost faith in democracy itself and in themselves and added that they are not getting what they deserve. She pointed out that politics should pay more attention to young people who are neither apathetic nor dull. In the end, she thanked also the teachers who encouraged the students to work on these topics; despite it was an additional work.