The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Monday, June 18, 2018

Albanians turn spotlight on sites of dark communist past
Former political prisoner, Saimir Maloku, walks past the dormitories on June 23, 2017 near the village of Reps, northwestern Albania at the former Spac prison, a labor camp established in 1968 by the Communist government of Albania at the site of a mine. The camp was listed by an organisation in New-York in 2015 as a world building in an extremely advanced state of deterioration, and is currentlty stabilised. Gent SHKULLAKU / AFP.

by Rachel O'Brien / Briseida Mema

TIRANA (AFP).- From his office in the shadowy "House of Leaves", Nesti Vako would listen to the private conversations of his fellow Albanians, spying for the state during the country's communist era.

"I had a table, a strong coffee and some equipment," the 74-year-old said, as he escorted AFP around the feared former secret service headquarters in Tirana, which opened in May as a museum.

Named after the ivy that once crept up its walls, the House of Leaves shows the methods and tools of the all-pervading secret surveillance conducted under communist rule, which lasted for nearly half a century until the early 1990s.

"We put listening equipment in hotels, embassies, and so on... The microphones were placed under tables, under chairs, in picture frames, inside gas lamps," said the tall, snowy-haired Vako, a former chief of surveillance.

Signs dedicate the museum to "those innocent victims who were spied on, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and executed" by a regime "that aimed at total control over human bodies and souls".

One room displays dozens of recording devices -- made in Albania and Germany, Japan and China -- that were deployed to catch any whiff of criticism of the state or other banned activities, such as foreign travel and practising religion.

A laboratory remains where duplicate keys were forged for illegal searches and where foreign letters to the leadership of dictator Enver Hoxha were tested for biological weaponry.

Props on display that were used to hide spying kits, such as a long dark coat with a bulky inside zip pocket, would not look out of place on a James Bond parody film set.

But the consequences of this constant and invasive monitoring "remain an open wound" in the Balkan country of 2.9 million people, according to museum director Etleva Demollari.

No justice
"There was a lot of persecution in this era. Many people were condemned and suffered and for 25 years have not had justice," she said.

According to the Albanian association of former political prisoners, 5,577 men and 450 women were executed by the paranoid regime, while tens of thousands more were sent to prisons or camps for forced labour or internment.

The opening of the House of Leaves is seen as a step towards confronting that dark chapter of history, and follows the conversion of two of Tirana's communist nuclear bunkers into museums in recent years.

None of the major sites where persecution took place have been turned into memorial sites for the victims.

But there are signs of that changing at Spac, once the country's most notorious labour camp, which lies in a remote valley around 94 kilometres (58 miles) from Tirana.

Hundreds of "enemies of the state" are believed to have died in the camp's dusty copper and pyrite mines, where they toiled for lengthy shifts fuelled by pitiful diets.

'Dante's Inferno'
In some of the galleries "the temperature rose to 40 degrees Celsius", said former prisoner Saimir Maloku, as he revisited the crumbling prison buildings.

The 71 year-old spent six years at the camp and three at another jail, accused of being a British agent. In that time his weight nearly halved.

"I was a living corpse," he said.

In the room where Maloku slept with dozens of other inmates, he pointed to marks on the walls where their narrow beds with straw-filled mattresses were stacked in three tiers.

Those deemed to underperform in the mines faced solitary confinement. Bids for freedom were thwarted by the harsh and steep terrain, which was lined with barbed wire fencing.

Spac was abandoned after communism fell, but Maloku has for years campaigned for the site to become a museum dedicated to its victims.

"I lived in Dante's Inferno and thanked God I came out alive."

Prison preservation
In 2015, the New York-based World Monuments Fund put Spac on a list of 50 endangered heritage sites worldwide, criticising the prison's "extremely advanced state of deterioration" and calling for it to be made a place of remembrance.

Emergency intervention work finally began in June to prevent further damage, funded by Sweden via the Albanian branch of Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), a non-governmental organisation.

The group has been working since 2013 on what it calls the "memorialisation process" -- holding inclusive discussions on the future of Spac, researching the labour camp and arranging visits.

The local "Spac Museum" NGO has also installed the first information panels around the complex.

The eventual goal is to turn it into a fully functional "site of memory" -- although funding is still being secured and the timeline remains unclear, said Lejla Hadzic, head of CHwB in Albania.

She said the ongoing work at Spac was "a call for state institutions to fulfil their responsibility" in preserving the site.

Such efforts may help Albanians come to terms with a painful past, which Demollari said remained "very sensitive" and not discussed enough.

At the House of Leaves, as visitors wandered from room to room and absorbed the implications of his spying, Vako showed no remorse over his work for the regime.

"I'm very proud. Because what were we doing? We just checked information to see if anyone was conducting an unconstitutional activity."

© Agence France-Presse

Today's News

August 24, 2017

'Rare' Byzantine mosaic found by Israeli archaeologists in Jerusalem's Old City

Artcurial announces highlights from its Old Master & 19th Century Art sale

61st BFI London Film Festival announces nationwide UK premiere of Loving Vincent

Largely unknown work by Romare Bearden focus of upcoming exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art

From factory-worker to art collector: Georgia Museum of Art exhibits works from Giuliano Ceseri's collection

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden launch their new and redesigned website

Turner Contemporary and Folkestone Triennial install life-size Antony Gormley sculptures on the Kent coast

Exhibition explores abstraction based on experimental, process-oriented methods

MoMA PS1 appoints Ruba Katrib Curator

Lacoste Gallery to open a historic exhibition of works by Warren MacKenzie and John Reeve

De Buck Gallery announces representation of Juan Garaizabal, Jeffrey Gibson, Robert Lazzarini, and Devan Shimoyama

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens a unique site-specific exhibition by Kiki Smith

Moderna Museet appoints new curators

Carriageworks commissions monumental installation by German artist Katharina Grosse

Galeria Nara Roesler exhibits paintings from the 1970s by Tomie Ohtake

artnet hires leading expert and former Head of Photographs at Phillips Joseph Kraeutler

Masatoyo Kishi, California abstract painter and sculptor, dies at 93

Final days of 'Edible City: A Delicious Journey' at Seattle's Museum of History & Industry

Genre painting by William Aiken Walker will headline Bruneau & Co.'s Sept. 16 sale

Important collection from an influential tech entrepreneur leads Heritage Timepieces auction

Ian Fairweather's Gethsemane 1958 gifted to Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art

Studio Museum announces artist list for Fictions

Top Russian director accused of fraud put under house arrest

Albanians turn spotlight on sites of dark communist past

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- Porsche Super Speedster offered for first time in 50 years at RM Sotheby's Porsche 70th Anniversary Auction

2.- Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens opens 'Storytelling: French Art from the Horvitz Collection'

3.- Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti stars Vincent Cassel as the famed French artist

4.- Stunning colored diamonds expected to dazzle at Heritage Auctions' Summer Fine Jewelry Auction

5.- US designer Kate Spade found dead at 55

6.- Vincent Van Gogh painting sells for over 7 million euros: Artcurial auction house

7.- Sir Stanley Spencer painting discovered hidden under a bed during a drugs raid

8.- Oxford's Bodleian Libraries unveil UK's first major Tolkien exhibition in decades

9.- Major exhibition at the Guggenheim explores decades of work by Alberto Giacometti

10.- World's largest freshwater pearl goes for 320,000 euros

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher:Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful