A Travellerspoint blog

1984 - THE WRITING ON THE WALL

Political slogans in Albania 1984. Was George Orwell a true visionary?

Brave new worlds!
Orwell's "1984" 'for real' in Socialist Albania.

Ready to defend Albania!

Ready to defend Albania!

In May/June 1984, I visited Albania. In those days, its dictator Enver Hoxha was still alive, directing his Stalinist regime's rigid grip on life in the country. Isolated from the outside world, just as North Korea is today or even more so, the Albanians were bombarded with propaganda extolling the virtues of Albania's brand of Marxist-Leninism. I travelled on a guided tour - it was the only way for tourists to see Albania. We were closely watched, and prevented from conversing with any Albanians except our official guides. Photography was permitted, which is how I was able to capture images of the various methods used to convey the all important political messages. Here are a few of my images scanned from the original colour transparencies that I made in 1984, the 40th anniversary of Enver Hoxha's Socialist Albania.

LEZHE with poster and Parti Enver

LEZHE with poster and Parti Enver

Lezhë is revered in Albania's history as it is the place where the country's national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg was buried in the 15th century. "Parti Enver" refers to Enver Hoxha's Party of Labour of Albania.

TIRANA to KRUJA political posters

TIRANA to KRUJA political posters

The roadsides, mountain slopes, and walls of buildings all served to display messages praising the regime of Enver Hoxha. Notice the pedestrians on the road. In 1984, there were NO private cars, a few busses, a few lorries, a few cyclists, horse-drawn vehicles, and many pedestrians on the road.

TIRANA Skanderbeg Square

TIRANA Skanderbeg Square

Skanderbeg Square is in the heart of Albania's capital Tirana. Recently, it has been modiefied to render it free of traffic. In 1984, there was barely any traffic in the square. Notice the words on the roof of the long building with pillars, The Palace of Culture, built by both the the Soviet Russians and finished by Mao Tse Tung's Chinese workers.

TIRANA Mosaic

TIRANA Mosaic

This mosaic is still mounted on the National Museum of Albania in Tirana's Skanderbeg Square. However, since the downfall of Communism in Albania (in 1991), it has been re-worked to eliminate the five-pointed star of Socialism.

TIRANA Shqipëria Sot

TIRANA Shqipëria Sot

Shqipëria Sot ('Albania Today') was a huge exhibition displaying the manufacturing triumphs of Enver Hoxha's Albania. The bunny rabbit with a gun (see first picture) was one of those triumphs, along with tractors and other industrial products. The oil-derrick illustrated highlights that Albania was (and still is) a producer of petroleum-bearing oil. Notice the firmament of red stars.

TIRANA Shqiperia Sot Political correction

TIRANA Shqiperia Sot Political correction

These photographs displayed at Shqipëria Sot show stages in the history of Albania's tiny railway network. Black patches were used to hide images of people who had fallen out of the regime's favour since the photographs were taken. Mehmet Shehu, who was Hoxha's right hand man until his mysterious 'suicide', is often hidden by such crude editorial patches. Enver Hoxha is portrayed in the picture marked 1968 (he is sitting by the window next to a lady).

SHKODER Flash flood

SHKODER Flash flood

The northern city of Shkodër is subject to flash floods such as portrayed in this picture. Notice the political posters in the background and the notice boards in the foreground at the left of the image.

KRUJA town square

KRUJA town square

Krujë near Tirana was the stronghold of Skanderbeg during his struggles against the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. The political slogan reads "RROFTE SHOKU ENVER HOXHA" (Long live Comrade Enver Hoxha). Notice the paucity of traffic.

SARANDA Apartments and posters

SARANDA Apartments and posters

These apartment blocks in the southern coastal city of Sarandë bear little decoration apart from some political posters.

SARANDA vaccination

SARANDA vaccination

The regime inherited a country where many diseases (eg malaria and tuberculosis) were prevalent. This poster in Sarandë exhorst people to get their children vaccinated against a variety of diseases. Although Enver Hoxha has been much vilified by his opponents and many Albanians who suffered under his rule, he did have his citizen's interests at heart. Education and health were actively promoted during his leadership. Maybe, progress would have also occurred without having a reign of terror.

KORCE cinema

KORCE cinema

Posters in the eastern city of Korcë celebrating 40 years of Enver Hoxha's Albania. This was not a pedestrian only street - there was no traffic!

FIER Hotel

FIER Hotel

Fier is near to the Albanian oilfields. This huge poster on the side of a hotel shows a triumphant worker holding some kind of tool.

BERAT Hotel

BERAT Hotel

Why waste space? The balconies of this still extant hotel (the Tomori) in the lovely city of Berat have been usefully employed to broadcast the messages of the Party.

BERAT Enver poster

BERAT Enver poster

Enver Hoxha looks down from a poster in Berat. I don't kow about you, but his trousers make me think of Mussolini.

So great was Enver Hoxha's admiration of Josef Stalin that Albania remained the only country in Europe to display statues of Stalin for decades after his death.

SHKODER Stalin

SHKODER Stalin

Most of the statues of Stalin and Lenin have been destroyed since the downfall of Communism in Albania, but one or two have been saved. I was shown this larger than life portrait of Stalin in Tirana in 2016

Stalin 2016

Stalin 2016

Finally, here is an unusual medium for propaganda. A cake, which I spotted in a bakery in Tirana in 1984:

A cake for a Party!

A cake for a Party!

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 03:11 Archived in Albania Tagged propaganda albania communism shqiperia stalin socialism hoxha Comments (3)

JUST IN CASE THEY ATTACK ...

A visit to a nuclear-proof bunker in central Albania

Gjirokastër in 1984

Gjirokastër in 1984

Gjirokastër was the birthplace of Albania's Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha. When we visited the city in 2016, we learnt that deep below it there was a bunker built to protect 'important' people in the event of an air-raid or a nuclear attack.

Gjirokastër in 2016

Gjirokastër in 2016

We asked to visit the town bunker. A young lady, who spoke good English, took us to a grim little yard behind the Town Hall, and then unlocked an iron gate. We followed her past several heavy rusting thick metal doors into a long underground tunnel lined with wooden doors, each of which led into a small room. We had entered a warren of underground tunnels and chambers that was to have served as a bomb-proof shelter for the government of the city had it ever come under attack by enemy forces.

The construction of the bunker, which was designed to shelter up to two hundred people, began in 1970 and was completed in 1985. It was never used. Gradually, it filled up with water. In 2010, the tunnels were dried out, cleaned, and then opened for public viewing. Although some considerable restoration work was undertaken to make the tunnels safe, many original features were left just as they were found after re-opening the complex. Much of what remains from before its re-opening was rotting mildewed, or rusting, furniture.

Near the entrance, there was a sofa with fading green and yellow checked upholstery stained with splashes of the white paint used to restore the walls of the tunnels. The doors of each of the rooms were labelled as they had been when the place was built. Most of the rooms were offices. For example, there were rooms for top officials, medical personnel, secretaries, ‘dactylographers’, police officials, political education officers, party secretaries, and so on. In some of them there were abandoned bedstead frames, tables, chests of drawers, chairs, stools, and a typewriter.
One long tunnel led to another, all of them lined with labelled doors. We saw the dining hall, the kitchen, the toilets (there were six cubicles for two hundred people), the meeting hall, and the air-conditioning plant complete with the rusting remnants of an old-fashioned air-conditioning machine. In some of the tunnels, the metal ducts, rectangular in cross-section, for circulating air were still in place. We were shown many rooms and tunnels, but were informed that they were only a small part of the whole underground complex. Visiting this reminded me of a similar, but smaller, subterranean bunker built by the Nazis near Mariahilferstrasse in the centre of Vienna (Austria) in the early 1940s. When I visited the city in 1971, I stayed in one of the rooms in the bunker, which was then being used as a youth hostel. Like the bunker in Gjirokastër, the one in Vienna consisted of long tunnels lined by small rooms. Unlike that in Gjirokastër, the air-conditioning system in the youth hostel still functioned; it had been installed by the Nazis.

Excerpt from “REDISCOVERING ALBANIA”, by Adam YAMEY, published 2016.
[Available from Amazon and bookdepository.com]

You've read (some of) the book, now watch the movie!

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 12:04 Archived in Albania Tagged bunker nuclear albania shqiperia gjirokastër enver_hoxha Comments (1)

A CLOCK TOWER WITHOUT CLOCKS

A historical connection between Great Britain and Albania is gradually disintegrating.

The 'Englishmans Tower' in Shkodër

The 'Englishmans Tower' in Shkodër

When we spent several days visiting the northern Albanian city of Shkodër in 2016, we often noticed what appeared to be a mock mediaeval clock tower topped with crenellations. Finding this building in the town centre took a bit of doing even though we were often very close to it.

The pedestrianised Pedonalja in Shkodër

The pedestrianised Pedonalja in Shkodër

The tower is attached to a two-storey stone building with shuttered windows. This house was built in the nineteenth century by an Englishman named ‘Lord Paget’. The Shkodër based photographers, the Marubi brothers, produced a picture entitled Major George Thomas Cavendish Paget in Albanian Costume. According to his obituary in the London Times dated 30th January 1939, he was born in 1853, and was in northern Albania at the outbreak of the Greco-Turkish War in 1897. Robert Elsie wrote in his A Biographical Dictionary of Albanian History:
“Paget settled in Shkodra where he lived sporadically in the so-called Paget Villa that was financed by his father as a headquarters for Protestant missionaries…”
His father was General Lord Alfred Henry Paget (1816-1888), who built an Anglican church in Shkodër in about 1868 as well as the villa. Protestantism did not catch on in northern Albania where most of the Christians were Roman Catholic. However, today Protestant missionaries are again active in the region.

In the 1940s, Edith Durham(1863-1944), an anthropologist and keen supporter of the Albanian people, wrote in an article that “George Paget’s house in Shkodër” was still standing. It continues to do so today long after her death. George Paget, like Edith Durham, was a member of the Albanian Committee in London, which was a forerunner of the still extant Anglo-Albanian Association that was founded around 1913. Paget’s villa in Shkodër used to house an ethnographic museum until 1990. Long before that, its tower, known in Albanian as ‘Kulla inglizit’ (the Englishman’s Tower), had clocks, the outlines of which can still be seen. After WW2, the building was nationalised and used as a museum. Following the Communist dictator Enver Hoxha’s orders, the clocks were removed and may well have been installed in the castle of Gjirokastër.

Pagets house and tower in Shkodër

Pagets house and tower in Shkodër

Currently, the fabric of the Englishman’s Tower is deteriorating. The British Embassy in Tirana is aware of this, and concerned about the condition of a building that historically links Albania and the UK. Someone who works in the embassy kindly sent me the translation of a recently written technical report about the tower and its attached residence.

In brief, there are cracks in many parts of the tower’s masonry, and some degradation of the mortar holding the tower together. Both the tower and the attached Paget’s former residence are affected. Repairs and restoration could be achieved by cleaning, disinfection, and then injecting lime mortar. In addition, decorative details, both internal and external, need repairing. Carrying out this restoration and financing it is complicated by the fact that the property is owned by not one but several people.

The new Marubi Museum of photography in Shkodër

The new Marubi Museum of photography in Shkodër

Here in the UK, the Anglo-Albanian Association, of which I am a member, is exploring the possibility of assisting in the project of restoring this fascinating historical monument once the practical details of how this is to be effected, and by whom, have been determined.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 14:30 Archived in Albania Tagged english albania shkoder albanian paget scutari protestantism Comments (3)

LITTLE ALBANIA ... IN TOTTENHAM

La Barca in London's Tottenham is a focus for Albanians

La Barca

La Barca

I chanced upon this place whilst exploring Tottenham High Road. I was looking for somewhere to have a coffee when I noticed 'La Barca', and in particular I noticed that the sign above the café included the Albanian word 'dashuria', which means 'love'.

La Barca main seating area

La Barca main seating area

I entered a large dining area which looked like many small town or village cafés that I had visited in Albania last year. All of the other customers were men, many of them wearing black leather jackets.

No one seemed to be serving, so I walked up to the bar, and there I noticed a shield bearing Albania's double-headed eagle. Eventually, I managed to attract the attention of a young woman in the kitchen. I asked her if she was Albanian, and she said she was from northern Albania.

La Barca the double-headed eagle

La Barca the double-headed eagle

I drank my competently made coffee next to a table where a couple of men were discussing matters in Turkish.

When I had finished, I went upstairs to the gallery that overlooks the restaurant. This was fitted out with 'divan' like seating, and there were kilim rugs attached to the walls. Amongst these there was a picture of 'Nene Tereza' (Mother Teresa) and another of the town of Krujë, where the Albanian hero Skanderbeg had his headquarters while he resisted the invading Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.

I did not eat anything at La Barca, but will do so on my next visit there. According to an article (in Albanian; see: https://www.shqiperia.com/Raki-Skrapari--balle-kazani-tek-La-Barca.3225/ ), La Barca used to be a failing Greek restaurant until its present Albanian owner, Mr. Erjan Cela, took it over and improved it.

Using Google to translate from Albanian, here, in picturesque English, is a little more about the restaurant:

"
The owner of this restaurant, Mr. Erjan Cela, has transformed this restaurant from a low-profile Greek restaurant into a country that is packed from breakfast to late dinner. This is the product of his four-year work at this restaurant. Make yourself, though it is a construction engineer's profession, it seems to have a passion for his new profession. The back of the restaurant is slightly raised and is decorated and furnished with great taste. The seats are the most versatile version of minders and are dressed in handcrafted and brought upholstery from Albania. The candlesticks, paintings and ornaments with very traditional features on the walls and corners of this annex seem to have brought shreds from the warmth of an old Albanian house. The Albanian cuisine of this restaurant, Maria, has a long experience as a cook in various Greek and Albanian restaurants. She says Erjon's "mania" to buy the freshest and highest quality cheeses in the London market has made everything she is cooking to enjoy better than ever before in her career As cooks in other restaurants."

La Barca upstairs gallery

La Barca upstairs gallery

The menus on the table give no inkling of what this place is capable of producing. They contain the usual 'café' fare, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, the article in Albanian reveals (picturesquely translated by Google):

"...Elona, ​​Erjan's wife says that her whole family consumes the same foods that are cooked there. "And to say the right, I'm a bit of a mess when it comes to the meals that are consumed in my family," she says. The "La Barca" specialty seems to be the taverns, as in the newly designed menu are some of them, ranging from traditional yogurt and lamb mushrooms to vegetable tiles, for example. With eggplants, stuffed peppers, and so on. A special place in the Albanian menu are stuffed pies such as spinach, pickles and curds, which are available at any time and are prepared daily by the chef Maria. However, the special feature of 'La Barca' is undoubtedly Skrapar's 100% rakia, made entirely in artisanal conditions by Erjan's father, who still resides in Skrapar. The taste and aroma of this brandy fully justify its fame. Erjani tells me he has already established a regular Rakia transport system from Albania that brings a contingent of at least 20 liters per month. La Barka already has a very good reputation and reputation in the Albanian community of this northern London neighborhood..."

La Barca: Mother Teresa and Krujë

La Barca: Mother Teresa and Krujë

Next time I visit La Barca, I will try to order Albanian food... I can't wait.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 05:39 Archived in Albania Tagged london balkan cafe albanian tottenham Comments (1)

IN THE DEEP MID-WINTER

Review of a fascinating book about Albania in WW"

Albanian Escape
by Agnes Jensen Mangerich, Evelyn M. Monahan, Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee

ALBANIANESC.jpg

On the 8th of November 1943, a US military 'plane carrying 13 nurses went off-course and crash landed in Nazi-occupied central Albania. Weather conditions were terrible. The country was infested with Nazi German soldiers, who were being opposed mainly by Communist partisans. The latter were not only fighting the Germans, but were also conducting a civil war against rival Albanian miltarised groups, notably the Balli Kombëtare, who, it has been said, might well have been aiding the Germans. The groups of Albanians, who were opposing the Germans, were being assisted by members of the British SOE and the US OSS.

Agnes Jensen ('Jens'), the principal author of this book, was one of the 13 nurses who were stranded behind enemy lines in Albania. She kept a diary whilst in Albania, and it is extracts from this alongside reports written by one of the SOE agents and one of the OSS agents that form the narrative of this excellent book.

Jens describes the day by day (mostly) trials and (few) tribulations of the nurses' several week's long stay in the mountainous heart of Albania. Accompanied by Albanian partisans and British SOE agents they criss-crossed central Albania in the most apalling wintry conditions , enduring physical hardships and multiple medical problems. Their aim was to keep out of sight of the Germans whilst trying to make their way to the sea coast. On their way, they experienced the generous, self-sacrificing, hospitality of Albanian country folk, who were having enough trouble keeping themselves alive.

This book is a real 'page-turner'. Jens and her co-authors not only describe the unbelievable discomforts that the nurses had to suffer, but present their story in such a way that you cannot put down this book, so great is the suspense.

This tale of adventure had to wait for many decades before it could be told. One reason was to try to protect those in Albania, who had helped them, from getting into trouble with Enver Hoxha's Stalinist dictatorship, during which contacts between Albanians and foreigners was regarded with great suspicion by the ruling regime.

I strongly reccommend this book because of the immediacy of its account and, also, because of what it reveals about conditions in occupied Albania during WW2. Just as ordinary Albanians risked their lives to protect Jews who had escaped to Albania in order to flee from the Nazis, so also did these brave people to protect the American nurses and the aircrew. This book is a fine illustration of the traditional Albanian high regard for the sanctity and protection of visitors to their land.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 10:29 Archived in Albania Comments (1)

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