Enver Hoxha, Albania’s “Iron Fist” kept his country poor and in near total isolation for all 41 years of his reign, surrendering power only upon death in 1985.
Following in the paranoid footsteps of his mentor Josef Stalin, Hoxha became increasingly convinced that his country was under imminent threat of invasion, either from NATO forces coming across the Adriatic Sea or from Greece, or from his socialist neighbor (and wartime ally against Germany) Yugoslavia, which Hoxha considered to have left the path of pure communism.
Certain poorly planned and executed operations by Western intelligence agencies in the 1950s did little to allay this fear. It is reported that many of the CIA’s and Britain’s MI6’s espionage efforts were intentionally compromised by Kim Philby, the notorious Anglo/Soviet double-agent.
As a result, Hoxha ordered the construction of hundreds of thousands of concrete bunkers; estimates vary between half and three quarters of a million.
While many have been destroyed, well over 100,000 remain according to a recent survey, standing silent vigil against an enemy that never came.
They dot the landscape like so many malignant mushrooms. So ubiquitous are they that the visitor can be forgiven for believing that they were formed by the same movement of the glaciers that carved Albania’s magnificent landscape.
But no, they are no work of nature but of man. One man in particular, and it will take perhaps another ice age before they are obliterated.
Until then, these images are my testament to the endurance of the Albanian people, a great, warm and hospitable folk who deserved so much better.
Michael Anton, summer 2016