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March 26, 2013

Albanian Memorial Warns of Perils of Power

by Reuters

Albanians who resisted the policies of paranoid dictator Enver Hoxha are now trying to preserve part of his most notorious jail - to remind the country's young elite of the dangers of power.

Ex-dissident Fatos Lubonja and artist Ardian Isufi have built an installation that includes a piece of the Berlin Wall, pillars from a forced labor mine, and one of 750,000 bunkers that Hoxha built against an invasion that never came.

"I would like to dedicate [the artwork] to all those who did not live to cross over the Berlin Wall, who remained in isolation and were executed. They were the best of us all because they dared do what we dared not," Lubonja said.

The installation sits just below of what used to be Hoxha's offices and at the entrance to the compound where the communist leadership once lived in villas protected by armed soldiers, isolating themselves and later the country from the world.

​​​​Lubonja, now 62, was working in the mine in the notorious jail of Spac, in a remote gorge amid bare mountains, in 1979 when he heard of the arrest of three of his friends for challenging Hoxha's line after the Stalinist leader broke off ties with China.

Later Fadil Kokomani, Vangjel Lezho and Xhelal Koprencka were executed. A total of 6,000 dissidents were executed in Albania under communism.

Lubonja wants the installation to preserve the memory of isolation under communism - and to serve as a warning to younger Albanians who have made Hoxha's compound fashionable again under the name of Bllok, for block of buildings.

Posh cafes, trendy restaurants and bank outlets have grown up around Hoxha's former villa.

Hoxha's pillbox bunkers still dot the countryside. The one in the artwork, originally built at the entrance to the compound, is labeled "Orange."

​​When Hoxha seized power at the end of World War II, he and his followers occupied the villas of rich merchants and politicians and chased away the real owners.

"People now come to Bllok because it is the center of  financial power. I saw this ... as part of the need to imitate the former elite who in turn seized the villas of the former elite after World War II," Lubonja said. "Young people are indifferent because we have yet to face and deal with the truth of that time. We are responsible."

Meanwhile the mining prison of Spac is crumbling. Lubonja had to alert police that scavengers were tearing it to pieces to sell its iron for scrap. He and a visiting German official voiced regret that no sign had been left to evoke the toppling of Hoxha's statue in 1991, six years after the dictator died in Tirana.

"We hope this memorial will urge everyone to remember the past and face up to it," said Anna Kaminsky, the director of Germany's Federal Foundation of the Reappraisal of the East German Dictatorship.