Direct line of communication with the formerly persecuted in Albania/
By: Dr. Gjon Buçaj/
Vatra members have shared in the pain and suffering that the Albanian people have had to endure especially in prisons an interment camps at the hands of the inhumane and destructive communist regime. With the fall of the dictatorship, freedom of speech was introduced and so we hoped, as did the survivors of that nightmare, that justice would follow. Sadly, after 25 years of democracy they are still calling for justice and we continue to back them.
We have been steadfast in supporting their efforts and attempts at integration into the political and economic sphere including the restoration of dignity that was trampled on to an unfathomable degree for nearly half a century. At this point in time, there should no longer be a need for such demands; nonetheless, the formerly persecuted continue to voice their grievances through petitions and protests. After the law requiring all case files to be released was enacted, not a single step was taken by the government to actually enforce that law even though it holds little weight without the transparency law thereby making it worthless. Releasing the case files must be done in conjunction with the transparency law otherwise it carries no benefit or meaning. With the enforcement of the transparency law, the source of corruption would finally be tackled which has already reached an alarming level among the Albanian political class, thus jeopardizing stability in the country and beyond.
In the current debate on reforms to the justice system, there are clear attempts to protect the communist legacy, from which Albanian society should have severed ties long ago. The proposal to amend the Albanian constitution with a stipulation that would restrict the investigation of crimes under communism, against which President Nishani recently spoke publically, is not only an offense to Albanians who suffered those very crimes, but also a blatant assault on the democratic system and Western values.
The Formerly Persecuted Association has submitted requests to both governments, the current and the previous, to erect a monument honoring the victims of communism to no avail. Approving such a request is apparently too contradictory in a country where crimes of the communist dictatorship have yet to be condemned; where protagonists and episodes of a bloody past are honored and remembered; where no one has asked for forgiveness of the victims; where memorials are built to honor fallen Greek soldiers who entered Albanian soil as occupiers; where the capital city is ‘adorned’ with a bunker, a painful reminder of the past from which Albanian politicians do not wish to separate themselves; where…. the list goes on and on. There are two distinct examples that attest to the abuse of the formerly persecuted class—two obligations that have been dragged through this endless post-communist transitional period: the process of restitution for the past—prison and interment sentences for the innocent—a process that the victims call a jest on their suffering; and the orchestrated bureaucratic maze that is the messy process for the return of illegally confiscated property by the “people’s” regime to their rightful owners. These are two dark blots, out of many others, that will follow the ruling governments of the transitional era throughout history.
There is an Albanian folk saying: “kind words, but rocks in the bag,” (fjalët e mira e gurët në stajcë); portraying the treatment a beggar receives when knocking on doors with an open bag for pledged charity. This is how the formerly persecuted have been treated by the political class for the past 25 years, with kind words in their rhetoric along with freedom of speech for the people to curse communism—an exercise in futility—and the freedom to leave your homeland whenever you want. As for equality and rights for the citizens, rocks in a bag. It’s a persistent, cold and shameful reality.
But, perhaps we have hit rock bottom and Albanian society will begin to turn its trajectory. The voice of reason is beginning to be increasingly heard by people, like intellectuals and some politicians encouraged or inspired by America’s intimate concern especially through Ambassador Lu. Reform in the justice system is a pivotal place to begin while Ambassador Lu is particularly focused on it with determination. We thank Ambassador Lu for this and his enduring friendship; the Albanian People will always be grateful to him and America.
Our line of communication with the formerly persecuted remains open as always, to echo their plights and achievements now as well as in the future.
(Translated: Aleksander Buçaj)