TIRANA, Albania—The lives of Arta Lleshi and her family were marked by tragedy in 1954, decades before she was born. That year, her grandfather, Nuri Plaka, was killed in the mountains of Albania along with his fellow group of U.S.-backed Albanian dissidents who were trying to overthrow the communist regime.
Her grandmother and father were taken to camps surrounded by barbed wire fencing, and were labeled “enemies of the people” throughout their lives in communist Albania. Lleshi said she grew up and lived with a constant feeling of fear until the collapse of communism in Albania in 1991.
Today, Lleshi and those who share a past similar to her aren’t afraid of persecution by the state anymore. However, she and others like her are disappointed that no proper decommunization process took place in the country, as was the case in Germany, where the country underwent a denazification process after the fall of Hitler’s regime. As a result, in today’s Albania, communist symbols can be waved and displayed freely without any consequence.
Although the Albanian communist system under the dictator Enver Hoxha and his successors was deemed as one of the harshest in Eastern Europe, the country is one of the few from the bloc to fail to impose a ban on the display of communist symbols. Several initiatives to do so over the years have been unsuccessful.
Today, with the wide use of social media, the display of the communist symbols has become even more prevalent.
“We are facing more and more the display of communist symbols on the internet. I feel deeply disappointed that my country never fully applied transitional justice in order to ease our pain,” Lleshi said.
Data from the Institute for the Studies of Communist Crimes shows that during the 45-year reign of the communist regime, more than 7,000 Albanians were executed or lost their lives in camps and political prisons. Some other 4,000—including Lleshi’s grandfather—are considered still missing, with the families and institutions still searching for their remains. Another 34,000 were imprisoned for political reasons, and 59,000 were transferred to internment camps.
“We still have people on social media platforms or television saying that communism was the right regime for the country. It seems that brainwashing from the 30–40 years of communist propaganda is still working,” Lleshi said.
Display of Communist Symbols
On May 5, Lleshi and other family members of victims of communism were in for a further disappointment as a group of communist supporters held demonstrations with communist symbols and pictures of Hoxha to mark Martyrs’ Day.
Bar a few media outlets protesting the demonstration, the incident came to pass without being condemned by any state institution.
Desada Metaj, a Tirana-based journalist and the creator of “People Define the Times,” a documentary on communist oppression and its legacy in Albania, considers this reality a part of the country’s overall failure to implement a proper process of decommunization.
“The lack of transparency over the files of the communist secret police; the politicization of the use of formerly prosecuted people; and the fact that financial compensation is seen as the only restitution for past crimes are some of the reasons why we don’t condemn communist symbols,” Metaj said.
She believes that in a “socially and culturally chaotic” country like Albania of today, voices that call for the condemnation of the communist symbols are easily ignored.
‘Tolerance and Dignity’
After the collapse of communism, although many had suffered persecution by the state, there was not a single case of the oppressed taking revenge against the oppressors.
However, the display of tolerance and dignity have not been reciprocated, Lleshi believes.
“It is really difficult to show restraint and tolerance when you watch symbols of communism and pictures of the dictator everywhere, including on public television channels that we fund with our taxes,” Lleshi said.