Europe Condemns the Crimes of Communism, but Our Resolution Is Going Nowhere

By Jonila Godole ,
Europe Condemns the Crimes of Communism, but Our Resolution Is Going Nowhere
IDMC director Jonila Godole during the "Days of Remembrance." Source: IDMC.

In the past two decades, there are many initiatives in Parliament that we can remember to be undertaken and later dropped; important debates have degraded into attacks and personal insults; and the presented draft laws or resolutions were approved by one party but not the other. But there’s not a single debate to remember about our relationship with the dictatorship, and how to approach this period of our history with respect to that regime, deemed “criminal” by families and people who suffered persecutions and brutal tortures, and a “respected socialist state” by the families that benefited from it!

If you read the transcripts of parliamentary speeches in the first post-election legislature in 1992, you can notice that the deputies, who had changed their name from the Party of Labor to the Socialist Party were carefully avoiding debates about the political direction of the regime that had just fallen.

The people’s uprising after the fall of the Iron Curtain from Eastern Germany, in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania during 1989–1990 was still fresh and the general international opinion had condemned the communist regimes as totalitarian regimes that had clung to power using force and terror, underneath the veil of “proletariat’s dictatorship” and the building of socialism. I was an active journalist in the free press of the post-1990 period, and I remember the concern of new left-wing politicians. While at risk of being identified with the “old commies,” they wanted to be considered progressive and resemble the left of the Western social democrats.

On the other hand, the democratic changes had brought freedom to the former politically imprisoned people and their families, many of whom had lived in confinement until the end of 1990. The people that the regime had violated, abused, and persecuted had regained their freedom, but the way they would react to this was unknown. Would tens of thousands of people demand compensation for their damaged life, “severed heads” in Romania, or would they “pardon the blood,” as the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa was trying to do after Apartheid, where victims spoke of their suffering at the hands of their persecutors, who for their part demanded pardon and amnesty?

Neither the former, nor the latter happened in Albania. Even though at first glance the opposition tried to “adapt” to the new situation and was discreet not to openly attack (in fact behind the facades many forces were busy to reorganize, revamp, and redirect the compass direction that the guilty party had followed during the dictatorship) the fronts remained separated, nonetheless.

Sami Repishti recalls in desperation an article published in newspaper Panorama, one year or so ago, how the head of Assembly in 1992 demanded the room to keep one minute silence recalling the numerous victims of communism, and none of the socialist deputies stood up. Neither then, nor now, 25 years after, our approach to the past has not really changed.

In fact, from my lengthy involvement in this area, I admit disappointedly that the situation is worse than in the beginning of the nineties. During that time, at least the places of remembrance and the confessions of sufferings were still fresh for whomever demanded evidence, as the hope was high that the new democratic state would establish the state of righteousness; facing the crimes of communism and its responsibilities would have resolved once and for all the right of ownership, and the liberation of every right denied during the time of the communist dictatorship.

With today’s calmness, after two decades, everyone can say that a deep analysis of the regime covering every angle should have been the imperative of the time, so that on August 23, on the European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Totalitarian Regimes, the balance we declare of the communist regime’s heritage wouldn’t be so disappointing. In order to support the politics of remembrance in places that survived the communist dictatorships, the Council of Europe, and later the European Union, undertook a series of initiatives and resolutions aiding the process of analysis and separation with the communist totalitarian regimes.

These documents were known even to the Albanian Parliament, like the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for “Measures to dismantle the heritage of communist totalitarian systems” (1996); The Prague declaration “On European conscience and communism” (2008) that defines the involvement to condemn the crimes of communism as crimes against humanity, as practiced in Nuremberg Court; European Public Hearings on “Crimes perpetrated by Totalitarian Regimes” (2008), and the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe on “Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes” (2006) etc.

Through these resolutions, Europe demands from the post-communist government to clearly distance themselves from totalitarian communist regimes’ crimes and to condemn them unambiguously.

On April 2, 2009 the European Parliament went even further by making an appeal on a new resolution “On European conscience and totalitarianism” and the importance of keeping the past memory alive, because “there will not be any conciliation without the truth and remembrance.” Following this pressure, the Albanian Parliament approved Resolution no. 11 “On condemning crimes committed from the communist regime in Albania.”

The resolution declared a de jure separation with the past regime regarding political, historical, and moral aspects, and declared that the “communist totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha and his clique that led Albania after World War Two until 1990, was marked by widespread violence of human rights, murders, individual and collective executions, with and without a court process, deaths in concentration camps, death from starvation, tortures, evictions, slave labor, physical and psychological terror, genocide for political background or heritage ownership, and violation of freedoms of expression, thought, press, religious beliefs and political pluralism” (Art. 2, Resolution no.11, 2006).

The paragraph summarizes the undemocratic core of the past regime, and the approved resolution admits that the regime installed by the People’s Republic of Albania was a dictatorship, even though there are non-clarified premises: that this type of dictatorship was not as a result of a mistaken political route and misuse of power, but that the resulting violence and terror against any opposing view was a weapon used to strengthen the power of a small group of people. Furthermore, the 2006 resolution simplifies the responsibilities when it mentions, several times, as the primary culpable only Enver Hoxha and “his regime,” while diminishing the role of the party as the primary force that exerted power running through all the veins of the country’s justice system, economics, education, culture, science, and society in general.

All the violence and injustice exerted against people, the violation of human rights, was in direct proportion to the political direction of the party and its leading organizations and forums included in the political action (On the other hand, the skeptical reader of today may consider this as a “successful” attempt to delegitimize personal abuse, i.e., personal responsibility and to blame the repressive politics: on the state’s orders!) In fact, the problems have remained a dead letter and have been scarcely reflected in practice.

The dictator, who has been deemed responsible for the criminal regime, continues to live through portraits and symbols at commemoration events. There wasn’t any legal measure undertaken to demystify him and to strip him out of his undeserved titles and honors. On the other hand, even though the Resolution no. 14 valued that “the victims and their families deserve respect and acceptance for their sufferings, and also gratefulness for their resistance against the dictatorship,” for all their struggles, their financial “compensation” has not yet been fulfilled. While the moral one has not started at all. There is not one memorial in the capital city to commemorate the resistance and persecution, except the one that recalls the interned families in Lushnja county, while there are actual places and squares where significant historical events happened, during and after communism!

There is not one commemorating monument built to honor the tens and thousands of innocent Albanians of the regime! There is not a single museum built to commemorate the incarceration and forced labor! There is not a single public pardon directed to the people persecuted politically and their families! All the aforementioned have been clearly provided for in the Resolution. The review of the school curricula is also provided for, but that hasn’t been implemented. Whoever goes to high school and experiences the situation from up close can notice the inability of most teachers to differentiate the “investments” of the dictatorship from its malevolent ends that was to construct and instill propaganda and terror.

Not to speak about the injustices of the regime, the written ones don’t exist! The few pupils that know the dictatorship and recognize its positive and negative sides from family storytellings, when they raise their hand to respond, risk being interrupted by teachers judging them: “Oh, so you are from the Bllok area” or “Look, look, you are from the persecuted class!” The consequences suffered in the children’s psyche from this depictions are witnessed in the documentary “The children of dictatorship,” with stories told by survivors from concentration camps.

A parliamentary resolution cannot be a foreign text interpreted in Albanian that leaves us cold spiritually, even though it has been correctly translated. It represents the final document of the involved parties and from there, the political and public debate should have gained momentum, hoping that it would deepen and further materialize in Laws and Acts. Larger projects such as the publishing of historical files on the Anti-Fascist and Liberation Movement and the following dictatorship were expected, where history teachers would be trained on sensitive and controversial topics of communism. This strategy would have established transparency with the public opinion and trust that history would not be manipulated, judged and altered, as it happened during dictatorship. In our case, it didn’t go like this.

Few people know that Resolution 30, on October 30, 2006 exists. Abandonment and failure to leave a mark in the political memory and public opinion was the consequence of being approved only by the majority of the time, the Democratic Party (PD). Theoretically, this doesn’t undo the binding duties, but the confrontation with the past wasn’t and still isn’t a serious priority to our politics.

All the initiatives that have been undertaken in this area have been supported by one side and then blocked by the other. To be mentioned are the failed efforts to approve the law for opening the security files (1996, 2008, and Bezhani Commission 1998-2000) with the initiative of the majority of that time, without the Socialist Party’s consensus, and the recent approval, on April 30, 2015 of the law on the Right of Information on the files of the former State Security without the votes of PD. Their collaboration for the approval of the last Resolution “On condemning the crimes of communism against the clergy, and the special gratitude for the role and the activity of the clergy to protect democratic values and fundamental human rights,” on October 27, 2016, was at minimum, most probably, an act influenced by the beatification decree of the martyrs signed by Pope Francis, a few months earlier.

The resolution of 2006 should have marked our separation with the past, allowing the succeeding generations to never again come face to face with a dictatorial regime. This would show us that we have learned from recent history. To learn from history doesn’t mean to politically judge the Albanian people that were forced to live in terror and a harsh authority for half a century. The repression was so forceful that the role of persecutor and the victim could be swapped with ease. On the other hand, you cannot teach the new generation a history of “accomplice guilt and pain,” because in this way he would never be able to separate good from evil.

Totalitarian regimes give birth to persecutors, people that adapt to the system to survive, and innocent victims. These two categories must be differentiated from one another, making files public as advised by the Resolution points 10 and 11. How many responsible people have been charged until now for their crimes during the system, based on the presen files? We know the victims, but not the perpetrators, this is the failure that we must face. It is up to the Parliament and the deputies to support the development of a culture of memory of the dictatorship and its consequences, while the victims and their perpetrators are still alive today. Furthermore, commemorating the victims and their resistance during dictatorship, and the key transforming years from a totalitarian regime into pluralism, beginning in the nineties, should be kept alive, not only formally but for the consciousness of the public opinion and our national culture.

Therefore, on the European Day of Remembering the Victims of totalitarian regimes, at the beginning of the new Parliament, just out of June 25 Election Day, in the name of IDMC, Institution for Democracy, Media and Culture, which for several years has acted in close partnership with the German Konrad Adenauer foundation, for a heightened awareness of youth and the Albanian society on crimes of the totalitarian regime, I want to make a public appeal directed to lawmakers to put in actual practice the 2006 Resolution and its binding duties and to not let it idle in the closet.

A suggestion would be the creation of a commission, instead of the national conference that is provided for in Point 17 of the resolution, from representatives of the Parliament, official institutions, and independent experts form the academic community and civil society that would analyze the current process of confrontation with the dictatorship on all its levels, the current situation of the former politically convicted, the former imprisoned offenders charged with or without a trial, the interned families and the rehabilitation of the victims in the material and physical aspect, and the place of Albania in the historical memory map of Europe and more.

Therefore, we would have a complete official file for the continuation of the conviction process of the communist regime, the responsibilities and struggles in the future. This appeal is directed to the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the heads of political parties in Parliament, the new Speaker of Parliament, institutions, and public and private subjects that can encourage and support this initiative and to put the right pressure on the Resolution, so it is observed but also followed from similar initiatives.

I would like propose to our international partners, especially the institutions that monitor the progress of Albania in the way of becoming a member of the EU, to put in their mandatory criteria list the serious involvement of the state to condemn the crimes of the communist regime and to indefinitely separate from the past. As a guarantee that history will not be repeated, at the heart of Europe, and as a hope that the state of righteousness that we so desperately seek, can function.

The article was first published at Panorama and was translated by Exit.

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