The place wasn't easy to find but we had good directions fron the hostel. After getting on the correct city bus (luckily it had a sign in the windshield with Bunk'art and another destination listed), we made sure to tell the driver we wanted to go to Bunk'Art so we'd know where to get off. Once again that didn't work as planned as both the driver and onboard ticket seller got preoccupied with other matters! We were fortunate that a local woman told us the correct spot as otherwise we would have gone to the end of the line as we had in Salona, near Split in Croatia! From the stop, it was a good 15 minute climb uphill to this tunnel, our first glimpse of what we were about to see and experience.
The coolness of the tunnel was a welcome relief to the heat of the day. Just before we entered it, a mototcycle had come roaring out of it; we sure hoped we wouldn't encounter any more once inside the fairly narrow passageway.
According to the very informative sign panels in both Albanian and English, the tunnel was built with concrete and had an oval exterior shape like all the bunkers. The 'roof' was covered by a layer of 'thick ground' up to 100 meters! The inside was built with cement blocks.
These four windows with holes near the entrance represented a very important safety valve as they aimed to protect the bunker's ventialtion system in case of an 'enemy explosion.'
The bunker was protected by two entrance gates within which was a steel layer and three air-locked steel doors. The first two were designed to withstand explosions and the others to prevent the penetration of chemical or radioactive agents into the fortification.
Enver Hoxha's Offices: Since Hoxha was the 'Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces' when the tunnel was built from 1972 until 1978, these rooms were the largest and designed to be the most luxurious although that is a relative term at best in this case. We listened to a recording of Hoxha talking to a session of Parliament while he was the Prime Minister.
This was the last parade attended by the Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu, on the left below next to Hoxha. Shehu had been Hoxha's right hand man for 36 years. One year later he committted suicide under mysterious circumstances after being accused of treason by Hoxha.
One of the few existing photos showing Hoxha visiting the bunker on its opening day in 1968.
The artistic installation of the Barbed Wire Wall, complete with audio of ferocious dogs barking and gunfire, was all too realistic.
The dark side of the regime from 1945-1990: According to information that was presented, the Communist regime that was installed immediately after the liberation was based on the dictatorship of the proletariat and class stuggle. Like all regimes, Hoxha relied on the use of propaganda to glorify the achievements of the regime, to justify his policies and especially to raise the cult of the Communist leaders, particularly himself.
The use of violence was critical in his regime. Laws were passed that violated any individual's rights and prisons and concentration camps were scattered across the country.
Courts were created in 1945 to judge the collaborators of the invaders. Simultaneously, a wide campaign was begun to suppress all opposing groups and every political adversary. The campaign against religious beliefs and practices launched in 1967, was evidence showing the need for extreme political and social uniformity of the regime.
The War Criminal Spectator Trial was held in March of 1945 in a Tirana movie theater. Sixty people were accused of cooperating with either the German or Italian invaders: 17 were sentenced to death, 41 were imprisoned from 2-102 years and only 2 were declared innocent. As I mentioned in the previous post, 1 in every 100 people was imprisoned during the dictator's rule.
The Campaign Against Illiteracy: According to a census in 1945, in a population of 1.1 million people, the number of illiterates was a staggering 81.22%! That absolutely blew my mind.
(Writing on 10/6/16: In our ten days here in Albania, Steven and I have noticed that a number of older Albanians we have come across still have difficulty with numbers and making correct change, etc. Just two days ago for example, I asked an older woman in an open air market the price and she said and wrote down '500 lek' on my sheet of paper at which point I gestured I didn't want the item. She immediately took out '50 lek' indicating that was the figure. It was not a matter of bargaining but solely a misunderstanding or ignorance of the numbers on her part.)
The initial campaign against illiteracy was voluntary but in 1949, a law was passed that required people up to the age of 40 to learn the basics of literacy. Albania declared in 1955 that they had 'liquidated' illiteracy up to age 40, but archival data proved this was not the case. There continued to be the push for literacy but it was no longer a campaign.
The bunker was built between 1972 and 1978 was never used in war conditions but only for miltary exercises. In 1997 during the the revolution following the collapse of the Ponzi scam, even this fortress, like many other military bases was attacked and looted by protesters. It was partially repaired and reopened for military exercises until 1999. A large 3D map of Albania was put up in this empty parliamentary chamber for senior officers to simulate fighting between friendly and enemy forces. The bunker remain closed until 2014 when it was temporarily opened for the 70th anniversary of the liberation. It just reopened in April of this year to the public as a permanent exhibition.
I am sure the cutely decorated bunkers on the stage were not meant to offend but I took offense to what I perceived as their trivializing a very dark time in the country's history.
Bunk'art was an immense and interesting structure that took us back to the time of the communist dictatorship. Considering the nation has been 'free' for such a short period of time, I found it quite startling that there was such a frank assessment of Enver Hoxha's brutal regime.
Posted from Saranda, Albania on October 6th, 2016.