Personal and collective dimensions in the discourse about political persecution in Albania
The collective innocence
Harsh dealing with every form of deviance from the shifting Party’ line has been one of the most distinctive characteristics of the totalitarian regime in Albania, shaping so citizens’ personal and social life, and in the same time leaving behind an important legacy for the following social and political configuration of the country. In the trailing transition period an increased politicization of the processes in dealing with the past (land ownership, vetting processes for ex-collaborators, condemnation of communist leaders, etc.) could be witnessed, as politics is an arena where justice and interests, will and implementing capacities, can melt together in something that in the end remains an ongoing process. In this context, the rehabilitation of the victims of the totalitarian regime gained characteristics of a political process which left room for different viewpoints and merged with other political issues, being so taken away from the field of justice were it belonged.
This development forced among the ex-politically persecuted some of the uniformity needed to enter the political negotiation for their recompense, while on the other side placed every narrative of persecution in a general context that resulted somehow hostile to the these very narratives’ diversity and hierarchy. The generalization reached its peak with the politically launched motto “All guilty, all sufferers”.
This approach saw catholic priests almost exterminated in the immediate aftermath of WWII, nationalists and bearers of other political ideas, intellectuals, kulaks, Party’ members that had been very close to ex-allies, young villagers trying to flee at the border, “unlucky” professionals, alienated sons of dethroned politburo members and many others, and the families of all of them, share the heritage of their tortures, forced labor, imprisonments, exile and many other sorts of suffering without a political context. The almost 50-years long endurance of the regime and its brutal approach made so that a large number of citizens suffered harsh consequences.
The wide varieties of the actions or qualities that made someone identifiable and treated as an enemy make it difficult to conceive any ‘pre-persecution’ uniformity among the group that after the fall of the communism was identified as the ex-politically persecuted. But, the individuals that faced the crushing power of the regime for the different reasons were dealt with very similar persecution practices. The question that this paper raises for itself is “to what extent can this persecution be considered as a satisfactory ground for the consolidation of a common identity that would serve to delineate the borders of a functioning community?”
In defining the political persecution in Albania the Law No. 7748, of the date 29.07.1993 “For the Status of Politically ex-Convicted and Prosecuted People by the Communist Regime” in its second article states:
Political prosecution, that hereunder will be named "prosecution", is any kind of action or inaction performed from the 8.11.1941 to the 23.3.1992 from the part of any armed formation or individual, the National Liberation Army, the state security, the police, the army or from the local governmental institutions with the order or with the decision of the party, military or governmental institutions, or of the Albanian communist courts, when this action or inaction has led to the loss of life, liberty and civic rights, to the labeling kulak, déclassé, as well as any other form of deprivation from the participation in the political, economical and social life of the individual on account of his religious and political beliefs or position.”
Being persecuted from the apparatus that the legislation mentions is a traceable story that can easily contribute to the sharing of a common identity, but the law demarcates that are political or religious convictions that have to be at the foundation of the persecution that feeds this belonging. In the case of those persecuted for beliefs or stands of a religious character the case is easy. Although among those persecuted there were many that harbored anticommunist or nationalist feelings, the communist clearly stated animosity toward every religious rivalry for popular attention makes it easy to see that it was religious engagement that lead to imprisonment and persecution of clerics, their families or other people that engaged in religious practices or proclaimed their sympathy toward such beliefs or practices after the country became an atheist one.
In discussing persecution for political stands it is much more difficult to perform a similar summarization. Political engagement in its foundation seeks for the individual believing and supporting of some principles that should lead the functioning of the society. The principles can be different depending on personal orientation or on what is offered for engagement from the political environment. Are there applicable standards on the variables that are to be encountered on the political stands that account for belonging in the ex-politically persecuted community?
The question is relevant because apart from actions that aim at rehabilitation, recompense and reintegration the ex-politically persecuted community is engaged in actions that underline a similarity on stands towards political, social, economic, cultural and historical issues. Such a fact can be identified in declarations from organization of ex-politically persecuted on support or against engagement from different political organization, on property rights issues, on stands about the treatment that should be given to the communist past, etc. On this context it should be taken in consideration that the ex-politically persecuted have raised and maintain a number of organizations that accommodate their differences, while many individuals see themselves as not represented by any organization, but still in the daily language the terms ‘ex-politically persecuted’ are used as representing a compact wholeness of stands and characteristics. And it is this use of the concept that creates a community with a substantial social and political weight and potential.
An approach that might help in finding a starting point for understanding more is the identification of the kinds of engagements that the law accounts as sources of unjust persecution. The law Nr. 7514 of the date 30.09.1991 “For the acquittal, amnesty and rehabilitation of politically ex-convicted and prosecuted people” in its first article states: Are innocent and are considered un-convicted for moral, political, social and economic causes all those persons that have been convicted for agitating and propagating against the state, escaping, sabotaging, creating or participating in political organizations, for non-informing on crimes against the state, those condemned for defamation and perjures against the high bodies of the state and party, for violating the decree nr. 7459 date 22.1.1991 “For respecting and protecting monuments that concern national history and symbols of the state” as well as violating the decree 7408 date 31.7.1990 “On gathering, assembling and manifesting of the citizens in public places.”
This wide variety of indicts that served to convict those that the regime evaluated as its enemies makes it difficult for the delineation of a community that rises on a sound political ground. Efforts to bring certain uniformity to the group were made in later legislative initiatives, like the one present in the law no. 7748, date 29.7.1993 “for the status of politically ex-convicted and prosecuted people by the communist regime”. The low in its third article proclaims that “politically prosecuted people as said by this status are divided into 5 categories:
a) Persons that have lost their lives or are psychologically unstable due to the prosecution.
b) Persons that have been imprisoned, or that have been in exile within the country due to the prosecution.
c) Persons that have been sentenced with internment, banishment due to the prosecution; Albanian people who have had a foreign citizenship, nowadays Albanian citizens and that have lived in concentration camps built on purpose especially for them.
d) Persons that have lost their civic rights, village kulaks, the déclassé and those that have suffered deprivations of all sorts due to the prosecution.
e) Persons, that although meet the conditions to be categorized in one of the above categories, do not enjoy the right of this status.
As seen from the law, the suffering is the source of the status. A political stand is required only for exclusions[i].
The community of ex-political persecuted is a reality in many dimensions. This means that a certain uniformity has been reached (we should stress here that inappropriate attempts for the monopoly of representation are frequent, but they are not a direct concern for this argument.) As main facilitators for reaching this uniformity we can count:
- A common imprisonment or internment experience must have contributed in assembling ex-politically persecuted around a common set of political, economic, cultural, etc., of principles and beliefs. Independently for the varieties of political stands at the beginning of their persecution most of the ex-politically persecuted during the period of their persecution must have developed an oppositional stance toward the Labor Party. Possibilities and needs to orient ones’ beliefs, attitudes or knowledge in the realm of politics in the conditions of the isolation that persecution (life condition in Albania more generally) must have contributed for a ‘flocking’ of their stands which in the post-communist transition became a dominant factor in creating a political identity. This political belonging based on the stance towards the communist past has been an important orienting point for large sections of the Albanian society. An indicator for this is the continued presence of communist past on the political discourse of the day.
- Facing a chaotic society after the fall of the regime must have also been an important factor for the unification of this group. Ex-politically persecuted have integrated at a very slow pace in the Albanian society. After the end of their persecution their movement from internment places to cities of origin or Tirana has been accompanied by economic, psychological and health problems. Issues of unemployment, housing, education, connections, etc., remained dominant for a long period during which rehabilitation, compensation and reintegration were lost in the larger context of political instability and economic crises that characterized the country. In this context even the efforts for compensation led to the need for an inner organization for distributional needs[ii]. Such a development has also contributed in the amalgamation of opinions on the persecuted by other parts of the society.
- Efforts to politically capitalize on the legacy of this group have also been an important factor for consolidation. Practices of compensation for the ex-politically persecuted on a substantial extent have relied on personal connections with leaders of the ex-politically persecuted organization or political leaders that were gathering power in the time. These practice although alienated many members of the community created the conditions for the consolidation of a ‘nucleus’ that could seize representation attributes and efficiently engage in political activity.
The important role given to the stance towards the totalitarian past in the political discourse of the 90s gave the possibility to different political forces, especially right wing parties to see as an important bond with their electorate the condemnation of political persecution. Many high ranking politicians from different parties saw the reason of their engagement at familial or personal stories of persecution.
The last elections saw left wing parties to pay much more attention to this community. Active actors were engaged to present their case and the negligence of the government towards their needs. In this context a 20-days long hunger strike and later a public self-immolation, brought ex-political prisoners in the center of the public attention. But what could be witnessed was public indifference, at least in showing support to the strike, because the impact on the vote of the electorate could not be measured. The prime minister of the time, the historical leader of the Albanian right wing parties, labeled the strikers as mercenaries of the left wing opposition, while the Socialist Party, denounced the indifference of the government toward the ex-politically persecuted.
The community is presented fragmented. Representatives of the institutions of the ex-political prisoners accept that the state is not doing much but say that anyhow the right wing government has been much less friendly to them that the left wing ones.
The engagement of representatives of the ex-politically persecuted in supporting the demolition of a building that had initially served as a personal museum for the communist dictator Enver Hoxha, was again seen as the initiative of a small group using the name of the community to support a dubious project.
The personal and the collective
Discussions on the size of the community of the ex-politically persecuted in Albania have not led to clear and final conclusions, and this for a number of reasons. The ex-politically persecuted are sometime referred to as a category that includes within itself a large portion of the Albanian society and sometime as a much more compact group of dissidents that stood in front of repression and fell to its brutality.
As said earlier, it was characteristic for the Albanian dictatorial regime to affect a large number of people from the familial and social relations of the convicted as the enemy. Even when not interned or imprisoned, people could be placed under surveillance or affected in their possibilities for employment or education because of the conviction of a distant relative. These kinds of persecution extended to different generations and a wide variety of circumstances.
With the passing of years the political importance of the community within the scene of political life in Albania has considerably diminished, but still personal or familial experiences of persecution are accounted as foundations for one’s political affiliation. To what extent this refers to a personal experience or principled stands towards an unfair treatment of a whole society this is a rarely asked question.
As seen from the case of the hunger strike, the nature of the political actions from the ex-politically persecuted has changed in recent times. Smaller groups have taken the place of the community and engage in protests that rely for their efficiency in the nature of the actions undertaken and not so much on the relevance of the cause or the weight of who and what is represented.
The narrative of the persecution cannot hold any more a community together as its identities and interest are not continuously feed. The case of ex-politically persecuted and their compensation or integration continues to be present in the political debates and governmental decisions. The way political cleavages take place has substantially changed in Albania and a transition on these terms is in its closing phase. This has been a crucial development for the community of the ex-politically persecuted. A community created by the law did not leave any inheritors.
On a personal dimension things will last a bit longer.
 The date of the creation of the Communist Party of Albania
[i] L A W no. 7748, date 29.7.1993
The categorized persons in article 3, point "e" are:
a) The high communist nomenclature approved by the Council of Ministers.
b) Associates of the state security, witnesses of the political trials, the activity of who has led directly to crimes such as murder, imprisonment, internments, banishments etc. of the citizens.
c) Political convicts, that in the content of the verdict, the part of crimes such as theft, robbery, murder, serious bodily injury have it equal to or larger than the political sentence, as well as rappers
d) Political convicts or internees, who in the content of their political sentence have also ordinary counts mentioned in point "c" of this article and before this sentence have been sentenced another two times for theft and robbery, in spite of their sentence.
e) Persons categorized according to article 3, point "d", when they have lost the moral right to be called as such, due to the public negation of their political beliefs or due to the negation of having relations with the people close to them, categorized according to article 3, points a, b, c and d, when this thing is certified in writing by the prosecuted person himself according to the above points, as a result of prosecution.
If the person is dead, such a thing will be decided by the court with the proposal of the chairmanships and the Association of Politically Convicted and Prosecuted People of the neighbourhood and of the village where he lives or lived.
f) Those that are verified by the Court of Cassation that have been heads of the institutions of violence, terror and espionage and that have collaborated with the invaders.
[ii] Article 12 (L A W no. 7748, date 29.7.1993)
The government through special acts will guarantee to all those persons included in article 3 points a, b, c and d, facilities and priorities for their individual or collective requests in the following fields of economical, financial and social activities:
a) In the field of privatisation of the state property
b) In the field of giving credits
c) In the field of construction and accommodation
d) In the field of tourism
e) In the field of education and qualification
f) In the field of employment in the country and abroad
g) In the field of accomplishing different national and international, economical and social programmes.
h) In the field of public health