Bunk’Art 2

The museum that is Bunk’Art 2 couldn’t have a better, more appropriate setting – a large, concrete, underground nuclear bunker. Like almost all of the much smaller pillbox bunkers littered around the country, it was never used, not even during the fall of communism in Albania in 1992.

Bunk’Art 2 is perhaps one whole block away, at most, from big grassy Skanderbeg Square in the heart of the city, so it’s very easy to find. It’s listed as #2 on Trip Advisor’s Top Attractions in Tirana, right below – get ready for it – Bunk’Art 1. That’s right, there’s another massive nuclear bunker in the capital that’s been turned into a museum!

According to Trip Advisor, “Bunk’Art 2 reconstructs the history of the Albanian Ministry of Internal Affairs from 1912 to 1991 and reveals the secrets of “Sigurimi”, the political police that was the harsh persecution weapon used by the regime of Enver Hoxha. Bunk’art 2 is the first major video museum exhibition dedicated to the victims of communist terror.

I quote that website’s summary here because the first half-dozen rooms (there are dozens of small ones, mostly lining either side of one long, narrow hallway before it branches off at the end) have little to do directly with the sordid history of the Minstry of Internal Affairs. Instead they trace the painstaking, and, sorry to say, slightly boring, bureaucratic process of Albania establishing for the very first time ever its own national branches of police, military, and security forces. But these seemingly dry bits have real significance in context – the exhibits begin (although it is not explicitly explained anywhere in the museum) directly after the successful 1912 Albanian revolt against the Ottoman Empire, its 400+ year Turkish overlords.

Seen in that light, the black and white photos of different regions and towns with their first-ever police training academy classes bear more national significance than the typical outsider can grasp. This groundbreaking establishment of unification, centralization, and local self-government reminded me of the other European nationalist movements a century earlier, back in the early 1800s. Even today, Albanians joke that if the world ends, it won’t affect them, because Albania is 10 years behind the rest of the world.

But the smooth sailing of the new nation was not to last. There was world conflict in WWI and WWII, and in the latter, Albania was briefly conquered by then-fascist Italy which built a variety of buildings that can still be seen today. But oh, afterwards….there came the awful “communist terror”.

It was illegal to leave the country. It was illegal to enter. (Mother Theresa’s mother lived and died within Albanian territory which now belongs to Macedonia, denied the chance to see her grown daughter one last time.) Albanians caught trying to escape could be – and were – shot. Enver Hoxha’s paranoid dictatorship relocated individuals and families of suspect political loyalty inland, away from borders, and populated the border areas with those of known loyalty. Border guards were carefully chosen from influential political families. Anyone heard to say something like, “I want to move to Greece” could be reported to the authorities and relocated to a house in the middle of nowhere.

The young woman below, only 20 if memory serves, was one of many innocent people arrested by the Sigurimi. She stands out as an unusual case because she withstood weeks of gruesome torture while maintaining her innocence. After weeks, a friend was finally granted permission to visit her and was appalled by her appearance; she was filthy, covered in several kinds of bugs, and near mad. At that point, the regime was finally ready to release her. However, since they felt her condition was far too bad to reveal to the public eye, they moved her into a hospital for a few weeks so she could regain some physical and mental health before discharge. But after everything she had been through, it was not to happen. Her physical health improved steadily until one day she threw herself out the upper-story window to her death.

Hatlije Tafaj.

(The numbers you see in the pictures above are conservative estimates based on only officially verified cases. Wikipedia says the number of people killed was somewhere between 5,000 and 25,000.)

Many quotes regarding totalitarianism can be read on the walls on the way to the sunny exit. Before we walked up the stairs out of the bunker, to face sunlight, a clear blue sky, and dandelions in the grass by the bench, there was a wall lined with sayings.

One woman, born in Macedonia to an Albanian father, first called Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu and later known as Mother Theresa, said, “Evil settles roots when man begins to think that he is better than others.

One artist, Rajmonda Zajmi Avignon, created a sculpture in the shape of a monster, with a face composed of a TV screen showing footage of the regime’s evils. In his written discourse, he speaks of monsters that climb ranks, manipulate people, and fear free speech. At the end he says, If one day you decide to fight the monsters, be aware, while fighting monsters, do not forget what you strive for. Always… Watch out [for] the monster inside you!

Published by gracexaris

Explorer, thinker, writer, teacher, woman.

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