Enver’s Impact

The eight galleries that comprise Enver’s Impact are the results of my third trip to Albania in December of 2018.

It is hard for me as an American to reconcile the majestic beauty of the country, and the warmth and kindness of its people, with the cruelty of its history. Subject to a brutal Nazi occupation, then to a Stalinist dictatorship, the country was kept poor and in near total isolation for nearly fifty years after the war.

Enver Hoxha, Albania’s “Iron Fist” dictator kept his country on a war footing for all 41 years of his reign. His paranoia wasn’t just directed against the threat of foreign invasion, but also was directed against what he called, “The enemies of the state”.

In Enver’s Impact you can view:

The Pyramid: After Hoxha’s death in 1985, his widow Nixhmia commissioned the most expensive (at that time) Albanian building project to be called “The Enver Hoxha Museum”, a tribute to the man and his tremendous achievements. Co-designed by the couple’s daughter Pranvera Hoxha and her husband Klement Kolaneci as well as the architects Pirro Vaso and Vladimir Bregu, it sits Ozymandias-like in central Tirana, vandalized, graffitied and looted. It is a subject of ongoing debate as to whether it should be torn down or repurposed.

The House of Leaves Museum: Formerly the surveillance center of the Sigurimi, Albania’s dreaded communist era secret police. By 1975 only about 1,500 Tirana residents had telephones. These went mostly to government personnel and pretty much all were monitored from this location. This was also where correspondence was steamed open, photos developed and secret inks designed. There was a courtyard air raid shelter, also depicted.

State Security is the sharp and dear weapon of our Party, because it protects the interests of the people and our socialist State against internal and external enemies.”
Enver Hoxha

Kucove, formerly “Stalin City”: The entire town was a closed military district. All that’s left in tribute to the town’s former namesake is the crumbling remains of a massive textile mill (with an inexplicable number of animal jaws littering the grounds), a still barely functioning power plant (with the communist star still visible on the entry gate), and a MIG jet fighter in front of an apartment block.

Spac Prison: Pronounced “Spotch”, this prison and forced labor camp is located in an even more remote part of the already remote Korvalesh Region. Accessible only via a single and torturous mountain road, I could only think of the fear of the people sentenced to do time there as they approached. It opened in 1968 and housed between 1,200-1,400 at any time. Families who wished to visit their loved ones were allowed only 15 minutes. An uprising by prisoners in 1973 against the hard labor conditions in the copper and pyrite mines was brutally suppressed, but for several days one building held out and flew the Albanian flag with the communist star removed.

Arriving and photographing in a freezing rain seemed only appropriate to the misery endured there.

Benc Interment Camp: Pronounced “Bench” its crumbling remains are in Tepelena. Arriving after dark in that part of the south, it was the first thing I saw out my hotel room window when the sun came up the next morning. From 1945-1955 it held thousands of prisoners, many of them the women and children family members of “enemies of the state”. Hundreds of children perished there.

The Mountain Hospital: Built originally during World War Two, and expanded significantly under communism, it burrowed into the side of a mountain, thus making it safe from air raids. It was here that during the war several American nurses were hidden from Nazi troops until they could be exfiltrated out of the country. While photographing, an 80-year-old woman approached and told us that it was on her family’s property, seized by the communist government and then returned in the early nineties. A photo of her is included.

The Communications Bunker: Also built to be protected from air raids, this is where propaganda would be broadcast from when the Big Invasion came and Tirana was overrun by imperialist forces. It is now used by the local mayor to overnight keep his cattle, and abundant evidence of their digestive system is thick on the floors.

Landscapes: While I don’t usually consider myself a landscape photographer, Albania’s majestic vistas insist on being captured. There were times I simply had to get out of the car, and wait for the right combination of sun and clouds to capture the perfect moment. Here are all the landscapes from 2016, 2017 and 2018. Also included are a few communist era monuments that I can only assume are still standing due to the remoteness of their location.

Photographer’s note: Once again, as in my previous two trips the assistance of Mr. Manol Shamo was invaluable. While he has been hired as my photo assistant/driver/interpreter, he has proven himself to be so much more. Though he is not a photographer, there were times I was stumped on a lighting problem, and it was he who came up with the solution. None of the images presented here would have been possible without him.

Michael Anton
Spring 2019

Tirana Pyramid


House of Leaves Museum


Kucove


Spac Prison


Benc Internment Camp


Mountain Hospital


Communications Bunker


Landscapes


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