Commenti disabilitati su Let’s talk about “Communism”! Notes on politics, knowledge production and ethics in contemporary Albanian. i

30 agosto 2016

Let’s talk about “Communism”! Notes on politics, knowledge production and ethics in contemporary Albanian. i




Olsi Lelaj

The scholarship on “communism” is vast, plural and multidimensional within the fields of social sciences and humanities. Anthropology make no exclusion. The topic managed to open a subfield of its own under the name of anthropology of socialism that is often paired with post-socialism. It goes without saying that there are historical and political reasons behind this twining. Probably, the most significant historical context sealing such relation and association between socialism and its post as one subfield within anthropological research is marked by the fall of Berlin Wall and the domino effect it created with the immediate crumbling down of all state socialist societies throughout East Europe. Defined by limited access to the field, control by secret service polices, paranoiac informants and endless bureaucratic procedures to do fieldwork in state-socialist societies, the anthropologists inquiring of different matters related to the real existence of socialist societies that contributed in stabilizing the given subfield of research such as Chris Hann (1980, 1985, 1993), Caroline Humphry (1983), Katherine Verdery (1991, 1996) and many more, not only were unable to foresee what was coming up but they saw in front of their eyes their field of inquiry melt down as snow under the sun. However, the new circumstances not only presented on excellent opportunity for anthropologists to endeavor and thoroughly respond to the “need to know what actually happened under so-called ‘actually existing socialism’…how socialist ideology and aspirations actually operated in the real world” (Gellner 1993: vx), but simultaneously to understand and investigate post socialist’s transformations and change. The latter presented virgin grounds for researchers who were encouraged both by the curiosity of change and the variety of dramatic events it produced from ethnic conflicts to economic and political upheavals’, as well as by the “political economy” of research grants. The anthropological scholarship on “communism” in post-communism not only continues to be preoccupied in understanding and investigating on how societies worked and functioned under “planned modernity” (Wager 2003) but also on how the evocation of the communist past as nostalgia mirrors on the uncertainties and failures of the present in post-communist realities. (Todorova 2010; Todorova-Gilles 2010; Hann 2012)’-

Regardless the fact that the international scholarship on “communism” has its own inventory of publicans and researches, it is necessary to underline that within Albanian social sciences in general, the subject is a fairly new one. The arguments raised in this work intend to highlight and reflect on the critical relation between ethics, morality and politics in studying “communism” in contemporary Albanian social sciences in general and ethnology in particular.

Neoliberalism, “communism on sale” and remembering in Albania

It can be argued that the whole neo-liberal perspective and economic policies of aggressive privatization under the shock therapy gaze that a number of post-communist governments, including Albania, opted after the 90’s as way to “successfully” enter the capitalist economy, heavily relied on what these societies inherited from communism. Land, production areas, tools, machines and very thing that the state owned under communism was used to maximize given ends by post-socialist governments, political parties, interest groups, and individuals. Thus, considered as a form of capital “communism” has been and continues to be used by both major political parties in Albania as a medium to maximize, for example, economic capital through the privatization of public sector as well as to increase, conserve and accumulate their political capital. Even though the Partia Demokratike (DP) continues to accuse Partia Socialiste (SP) as “neo-communists”, “neo-bllokman”ii, the current socialist government, headed by Prime Minister Edi Rama, a big fan of Tony Blair’s Third Way, has accelerated even more the neoliberal privatization of the public sector. Among many privatization initiatives that the current socialist government took and applied included the privatization of the administration process of population checkup between age 40 and 60 within the public healthcare system founded by the national healthcare schema. Moreover, it has also proposed to privatize VAT extraction too. Even though, all post-communist socialist governments in Albania have pushed forward the neo-liberal economic reforms, yet, the considered nostalgic of the past vote SP whereas anti-communists vote DP, and both political parties make sure to continue to have these groups of people to vote for them.

Over the years, the DP governments have approached the communist heritage through the economic devaluation of it. By adopting various strategies that varied from the de-functionalization to the destruction of various economic sectors and production unities, the final aim of which was the privatization of economy either by selling very cheap and/or offering for one euro rent state assets to national and international private companies. Accompanied with low taxation and cheap labor these policies aimed to position the country within a competitive mode to attract the international capital and investments. While previous socialist government have also resorted to the same economic strategy, it seems that Edi Rama’s government has adopted, among others, a different strategy shifting toward an esthetic neoliberalism that seems to say “if it has to sell, at least, it should look nice!”. This esthetic turn is particularly visible in the commodification of communist heritage as a touristic attraction. One of the objectives of the actual government is the development of tourism industry as a strategic economic sector, the improvement of which would halt the regression of Albanian economy within the context of ongoing global economic crises. One way how the government is promoting Albania as a touristic attraction includes also its communist heritage. The opening of cold war nuclear bunker in the vicinities of Tirana, under the name BunkArt, along with many other sea sides military zones such as Sazan Island, are just few of the examples how the government is making Albania attractive through its past. The socialist government has been supporting many initiatives that use art as a medium to promote Albanian’s communist past as a mechanism to attract tourists.

One of such initiative that was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and inaugurated by the Prime Minister, among others, was also the contemporary art project labeled “Informal Mind” that took place between 11-15 October 2014 in the former Metallurgical complex of Elbasan. As anthropologist with a peculiar interest on modernity, communism and Albanian society, together with the legal anthropologist Nebi Bardhoshi, we were invited by the organizers of the event to produce for the occasion an anthropological narrative for this industrial complex build during communism. For us this was an ideal moment to carry out some fieldwork and we did not hesitate to accept the invitation. The organizers idea was to gather various international established contemporary Albanian and foreign artists and creatively use the postindustrial landscape of the Kombinat. In order to create and produce art works to the artists were given residence in various ruined empty spaces of the former buildings of the administration offices, mineral storage houses, industrial machine and train garages, shop floors, furnaces, food halls and shower rooms. When the exhibition was opened, the curious eye walked through the area and enjoyed the art works while inhaling the toxic air still emanating from the ground. Instead of producing a metanarrative, we opted to look and present the former Metallurgical complex from the perspective of the people that worked there during communism. A side archival work we carried out in order to create a picture for the former giant of Albanian socialist industrialization, we spend days talking and intensively interviewing four workers that have been working there as early mid- as 1960’s, since the very beginning of the construction of Kombinat. Our efforts finalized in the realization of a short ethnographic documentary which we projected in a former garage used for mineral transportation trains. Until two years ago, our interviewees still worked as technicians for the only state depended administration office in charge of several activities. Besides administering the archives and former workers’ files for pension and social security, “maintenance” of the buildings and security services for the areas under administration, the current administration duty including also the practical handling of decade long privatization process of the area. In practical terms this meant that members of the admiration were responsible to present the area, to giving relevant information and documents to potential investors or buyers. Part of Kombinat had been already privatized by a Turkish steel company that continues to melt and produce steel. Other buildings were also privatized by individuals that used them as workshops or storage areas. However, the area is very big, with endless giant decayed concrete buildings that still stand as reminders of an industrial past. The visitor could easily notice that over the turbulent years of Albania’s post socialism, everything of any value was stolen and sold either to be used for its original function or as scrap to be melted and transformed into something else. During our conversations, one of the workers underlined the fact that regardless how successful this event turns out be, referring to the art exhibition, at least, the area got somehow clean and some order was created from the huge mess. Eventually, he continued arguing that this might turn to be a good thing because it might help with the privatization process.

From the recordings that we generated during that fieldwork, I isolated and transcribed the following dialogue:

Worker 3: “You know why am I sorry? I am sorry for my own self, cause when I came here…this land was cultivated with cotton, it was of the collective agricultural cooperative….and we began everything from zero. These objects were build, were hand over to us […] we exploited them facing endless difficulties […] and in my own opinion, one of the furnaces should had been saved, should had been fenced, [and] kept as a museum…”

Worker 2: “The furnace is the symbol of metallurgy”

Worker 4: “Listen, the Kombinat was a total failure! It was simply for propaganda. It could had stayed as a relict for history. But for me nothing at all should be left, not even the name of it should be remembered…”

Worker 1: “Listen, if it has any economic value, […] a super furnace could be build, five hundred time better.”

Worker 2: “We are not talking about production, […] If it was in the former condition, saved and conserved, it could have been better for the many [generations] coming after us…”

Question: “If it had to be museum, a museum for what? Why should have been saved?”

Worker 2: “As are all museums, to recall nostalgically given periods…”

Worker 3: “Not everyone builds furnaces…Here the kooperativist [collective farm worker] was paid 30 lekë per working day…”

Worker 2: “It has many effects…”

Worker 3: “The furnace was built from the work of the kooperativists…”

Question: “The furnace was built from the work of the koopertivists ?!”

All in one voice: “No, No, we are not saying that…”

Worker 1: “What it means is from the unpaid work…”

Worker 3: “The state accumulated [capital] from the kooperatives…”

Worker 4 : [Ironically] “It was built from the Chinese, and no money was given to them…”

Worker 2: “I say that [the furnace] should have been kept as a symbol of the past, of the suffering. We are saying to preserve the prisons [ the reference here is for the prisons used for political imprisonment]. A kind of prison was this one too. People shed sweat, blood, brains. It needs to tell to others that we had something…”

Worker 4: “It is not that we had a castle to be remembered for its history. The whole world builds furnaces”

Worker 2: “[…] this is like a castle. If the castles serve no purpose, let’s destroy them…”

Worker 1: “The engineer is saying that if the car broke, melt it down…”

Worker 2: “…if it is so, how much the castles served us as a nation? How much did they serve to the invaders? How many people suffered in them? […]

Worker 4: [pointing at us] “Well, these documentaries, these pictures, are enough to remember”

Worker 2: “No, [the Kombinat] was more than a castle!”

Worker 4: “[…] there is no need to keep all that furnace”

Worker 2: “As you are nostalgic for the history…”

Worker 4: “I am nostalgic for the people…”

Worker 2: “We have seen things abroad, and we have said, “o,o,o, what was that”?! That’s why I say, coming back to the issue, we must take care of it, cause, even this one a castle was, a castle…if we look at it like this, why we need the castles? To tell the history. And this pal, a castel was”

Worker 1: “How much have we worked, I mean, our work was extraordinary…Patriotism, the sense of duty, this things, there is no novel and no historian that can write about all that…”

Worker 2: “It needs to be told that we have been a people, indeed isolated, but we have had a certain stage of development, not like how a number of people are not willing to say.”

Worker 1: “We are very sorry for it [refereeing to the actual conditions of Kombinat], but, we should be sorry even for our self, cause one day we will be transformed too…”

Worker 2: “[…] but a photo will you leave behind? […]”

Worker 1: “ Yes, I will leave a photo…”

The above illustrates the perspective of four single individuals and by no means it should be read as a general indicator for Albanian society as a whole. Their reflection, however, are part of a wider puzzle, that portrays the need to “justly” acknowledge the past. The idea of “justly” representing the past, mirrors on the specific and delicate relationship between politics, history, ethics, morality and the everyday in post-socialist Albanian. By taking the Albanian scholarship on communism, including the current issues arising from ethnology as an instructive case we will try to contextualize and give sense to the request that calls on to reflect among others on issues of ethics.

Scholarship on Communism in contemporary Albania.

Talking about communism in Albania seems to be almost a normality. Every Albanian above the age of 35 has a personal lived experienced with the system that can easily narrate it if asked about it. Irrespective the fact that both written and virtual media continues to very active in publishing about the life and “deeds” of dictator Enver Hoxha, accounts and facts about members of the Byros Politike, life story of persecutors and persecuted, accounts of daily life and many more. Yet, until lately, Albanian social sciences in general and ethnology/anthropology in particular have silently avoided to research on the topic. Equally silent on the topic of communism has been also the international scholarship on Albania. The very few publications on the subject are not translated into Albanian and often they are very difficult to be accessed by interested researchers or reader. While the international scholarship on Albania especially in the field of ethnology/anthropology, has been interested in more “exotic topics” such as Kanun ( i.e.,Yamamoto 2015), Sworn Virgins ( Young 2001), or Tribal Organization (i.e., Elsie 2015) and probably they found communism not exotic enough topic neither as an anthropological project nor as a “funded” one. The silence of Albanian scholarship springs from a different sources and it cannot fully be explored in depth within this article. But shortly we can say that regardless the disclosure of communist past in media and/or the published accounts of individuals that reflect a kind of “will to remember”, an ethical and moral duty that kept them struggle to survive in order to just tell about that manmade evil of the totalitarian system as it was the case of the Francian priest Zef Pllumiiii, for the Albanian public sphere communism seems to be treated as a taboo topic. Created mainly by the post-communist political elite, as a taboo, it is framed by the decade long debate on individual (politician)’s relation to the communist regime either as state functionary, party member or collaborator of the secret services. The question addressed and to which most politicians are afraid to answer even today seems to be how did you relate to the dictatorial communist state? The salient issue of secret service files opening that continues to be debated even today, though a new law which didn’t find consensus by the opposition passed a year ago in the parliamentiv, highlights the nature of the taboo on communist past between the political sphere and society in Albania. Over the past 25 years since the fall of communism, politics has continuously and purposely failed to open the secret service files. The general perception on the issue by the everyday Albanian is that “politikanët nuk kanë vullnet për t’i hapur” (the politicians have no will to open them). The political taboo on communism, as hinted above, is used as form of political capital that enables both major political parties to keep accusing each other over and over again for being involved directly in the dictatorial state has been reflected also in all other aspects of public life including research fields. It should be said that the Partia Socialiste is considered as the inheritor of communist legacy. Besides the fact that its historical leader was an active member and former secretary of the communist party and other founding members were sons and daughters of high ranked communist ruling elite, Partia Demokratike projects itself as the first post-communist party and forerunner of democracy in Albanian. The post-communist political-power-holders lack of transparency, the political dependency of everydayness together with the moral, ethical and political issues involved in studying communism have made research quite impossible on the subject until late. Paradoxically, it is this politicking with the past that is enable research in the present reflected especially in the field of history.

Over the past years both DP and SP have been fiercely debating on the revision of history produced during communism. As outlined above, the demokrats accuse the socialists as “nostalgic”, “revivalist” and “rehabilitator” of the communist past. The socialistët counter act by accusing the demokrats as “falsifiers”, and “distorters” of the historical events and history. One example of this debate that originates from mid-90’s is related to the date of Albanian’s liberation in WWII. The socialists commemorate the date November 29th which was set during communism, while the demokrats maintain the date November 28th as the “true” liberation date, proclaiming the 29th as false. State ceremonies and homage to Varrezat e Dёshmorёve (National Graveyard of the Fallen) are held in accordance with the political party’s view running the government at the moment of commemoration. As a reaction to the revision of history made during the previous DP government, with the initiative of SP government (currently in power) the Ministry of Education has invited historians of all nationalities to (re)write the history of Albanian People for pre-university education text-books. The WWII period has been trusted to an American historian (Bernd Fisher) whereas the communist period of Albania has been trusted to a German historian (Michael Schmidt-Neke).v As before, even today writing history in Albania continues to be a product of power relations where political elites through state mechanisms initiate processes of converting political taboos into scientific ones.

Within the above context researching and publishing about communism in Albania is not an easy enterprise. The Albania scholar finds him/herself into a very delicate situation. On dealing with such subject s/he is caught into a plurality of between and betwixt of both past and presents, shortly summarized underneath.

The Albanian scholars researching on communism and working with documents and archives are caught in between and betwixt by the logics of documents and achieves itself. On one hand, in the course of post-communist transition a lot of documents and archives were either purposely destroyed, lost, or at best are yet to be open for the public by the political will. Such situation makes the work of interested researchers difficult. On the other, envisaging the communist past as a falsifying totalitarian regime, as it is often the public perception in Albanian and to which many historians seem to adhere, makes the opening of the archive futile for the mere fact that the documents from this premise bear in them falsified information. But even in the cases the documents at researchers’ hand have no false information, yet within a totalitarian system and not only documents and achieves are products of power relation. Thus the “truth” attempted to be unfold relying on documents was “instrumental” to the power structures in totalitarian regimes of yesterday and which at best they might be revelatory of a “partial truth” for the history we are looking eagerly to write today. This is a question that sooner or later the researcher must face.

Moreover, when it comes to communism the scholar in Albania seems to be caught between the logic of morally judging v.s the logic of understanding, critically examining, interpreting and ethically reflecting on the facts at hand. The communist past is represented in the public domain not only as falsifier but also as a total evil social order. The publications on the communist system especially by researchers in social sciences and humanities seem to be focused more in confirming the evilness of it, a perspective that reflects the post-communist ideological, political, and moral judgments on the system, rather than the genuine will to deeply understand its nature, sources, mechanisms of existence and consequences on society and people through thorough critical and value-free analysis. This seems to be the case of the research work published by the state sponsored Institute for the Studies of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania(ISKK) vi. Established in 2010, the institute carries and publishes researches “that should prove throughout research projects the size of the crimes of communism for over 45 years of state terror.”vii The works it has published so far with a number of insights and mappings of political trials, executions, persecutions and other human rights violations carried out on individuals and their families by the communist state offer to the reader good empirical evidences on the crimes committed by the system.( Sadiku 2013; Ndoja 2013; Qazimi, 2012). Nonetheless, often, the analysis on the material at hand is embedded within a very strong re-evaluating perspective of a value-laden binary opposition logic of good vs. bad that gives the idea that every political system or ideology and everyone that was against communism was not that bad. An example of this logic seems to be in the cases of individuals or specific groups that collaborated with or participated in governments established and supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during WWII. The communist state and historiography had trialed, tortured and executed many of them and persecuted their family on collaboration charges with the axis power. Within the publications of ISCC, such individuals or groups fall under the category of victims of communism and their relations with the axis power are filtered in the logic of effort’s to stop communism and/or patriotic endeavors to unite the Albanian nation within one state. (see, FEVTK I, II, III: 2012, 2013, 2014; Korca 2014)

We find the same logic within the debate that Albanian historians have with each other concerning the monarchy period or the position of “Balli Kombёtar” (National Front) and communist party in WWII. When a statue of King Zog I, commissioned by the DP government for the centennial celebration of Albanian state, was placed in the main boulevard that crosses the capital of Albania from Stacioni i Trenit to Lake Park, it sparked strong debates between historians, politicians and journalist in media about the monarchy’s period and king’s figure. Moreover, the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, organized under SP government, raised analogous concerns with spectacle like talk shows and panels involving similar composition of debaters: historians, politicians and journalist. The debate focused on the position of the communist party, Enver Hoxha, national front and its leadership in WWII period. In both cases the debate was related to how should the king, the dictator, the national front or communist party be represented and where should they fit in the hierarchical value ladder of Albania’s history.

The heated climate around specific issues related to the modern history of Albanian, very much fueled by the wider political contexts, instead of being inspirational to abide to the principles of critical understanding and solid analysis of the past have made many Albanian scholars to produce value-judgment and moralizing works which contribute in turn only to the creation of new taboos functional to a new regime of “truths” for society. The new regime of “truth” with its taboos seem even more present in the concept of the historical rupture that communism did to Albania by changing its core values, corrupting its moral order and natural course to western values inculcated within the capitalist systems. The latter is represented not only as the winning system but also as a morally just one to which Albanian’s have finally returned. Political, economic, social, moral crises, corruption and the lack of justice are attributable to the communist legacy rather than to the neo-liberal ideology and practice of today (i.e., Nikolla 2012, Civic 2014, Pëllumbi 2015). A critical examination of neo-liberal capitalism in Albanian would probability label the critics as communist or extreme left, as in the same vein the contemporary critics of nationalism is labeled as anti-patriot, and so on.

Moreover, by contracting international researchers to write about Albania communism, as portrayed above, the government and politics, not only has disqualified the Albania researchers to have a saying on the matter but it has also constructed a hierarchical ladder of know-how to do research where the “foreigner” is depicted not only to possess the necessary attributes to extract from the past the “truth” but also he/she has the capacity to reveal it. The “distance” from old-fashioned, provincial, mythmaking and highly politicized Albanian academic circles, the distance from this “profane” world, enables this governmental contracted foreign researcher with the godlike look, patronizing and quasi-colonial approach, “objective” and “just” judgment, to eventually tell and “teach” the “uncontested” truth to the Albanians about themselves during communism. This seems to be message.

Last but not least, whereas the above places the Albanian researchers working on communism into a catch 22 like situation, for some other disciplines as ethnology the topic implies a paradigmatic conflict and shift within the given discipline. In 2010, when my research project on the proletarianisation process of peasantry during state-socialism in Albanian was first presented both at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Arts Studies (IAKSA) and later at the doctoral school of Ethnology-Folklore, Center of Albanian Studies, regardless the anthropological and ethnological references and insights it offered, the first reactions and objections to it by the evaluating body related to the mere fact the subject was not ethnological at all. If it was not for the support and back up of Aferdita Onuzi, at the time head of the department of ethnology (IAKSA) the project probably would have been completely rejected by the commission. The definition of the subject as not ethnological emerged again a year later at a conference organized by the department of ethnology, Institute of Albanian Studies in Pristina, where after the presentation of my work, a senior Kosovan ethnologist and folklorist strongly reacted by saying “this is not ethnology!” I had the same reaction by a senior member of the commission, where I presented my completed doctoral work before the viva-voce. The subject I dealt with, in his perspective, was at best sociological but not ethnological. Nonetheless, the department of Ethnology (IAKSA), has been working, organizing conferences and publishing research focusing on communism and Albanian society. The following section presents on of the topics through which Albania ethnology has transformed communism into a research topic that calls not only on the critical examination but among others argues asks for ethical reflection.

Etnografia Shqiptare”, critical reflexivity and ethics

There are at least two big headings under which communism as a research topic is provoking research and publication within contemporary Albanian ethnology. The first one is related to the critical examination and (re)evaluation of the ethnographic/ethnological knowledge produced by Albanian scholars during communism. Several scholars (Bardhoshi 2009, 2013; Hysa-Kodra, 2010, 2013; Doja, 2013; Lelaj 2012, 2014) have been debating and writing critically on a number of issues related to: a) the epistemological nature of the Albanian ethnography/ethnology during communism; b) about the paradigms defining science and research in Albanian ethnography and Albanian studies at large; c) about the ontological nature of the concepts used and investigated by Albanian ethnographers such as culture and society; d) about the relation between science and ideology, knowledge and power; e) about the relevance of the ethnographic knowledge inherited from communism today. A thorough evaluation all issues goes beyond the set limits. But for the sake of illustration I would stop on the question of validity and relevance of the ethnographic knowledge and research inherited from communism for today’s research; as issue, it portrays best the nature of contemporary debate on Albanian ethnology.

In general terms the underlining theoretical perspective uniting the analysis of contemporary publication on Albanian ethnography during communism seems very much influenced by the deconstructivist gaze and fused with the critical approaches on social-cultural anthropology deriving from post-structural and post-modern theories. In terms of methods, the analysis is built on a combination of critical readings and hermeneutical interpretation of written sources related to Albanian ethnography/ethnology during communism combined with the personal experience and individual interaction with the institution “licensed” to carry out such studiesviii. In fact, most scholars have either worked as researchers before or are currently still working in such institution.ix

The corpus that represents Albanian Ethnography during communism, in most contributions, is dissected into pieces. Both theoretical and methodological shortcomings are underlined together with the instrumentality and functionality of the ethnographic text to mythmaking, nationalism, nation and state building and denounced as metanarrative of Albanians from themselves. But for some, apart naiveties with poor descriptions and lacks of theoretical insights, the ethnographic knowledge produced during communism is good for nothing. Within this frame de-constructivism implies a sort of total rejectionism of Albanian ethnographic knowledge as not ethnographic, not scientific and derided sometimes as “folklore studies at best”. For example, Doja (2013) deploys such deconstructive-rejectionist approach in his evaluation of Albanian ethological thought during communism. Beside unmasking the general limitations of Albanian ethnological thought defined by lack of objectivity, lack of comparability, methodologically poor, theoretically naïve, with researchers with no proper academic trainings and blinded by the nationalism and socialist state ideology, his work seems to be carried way more in locating and classifying such knowledge within the wider schema and hierarchical ladder of anthropological knowledge rather than in understanding its mode of production, operation and existence. The end result of such context-free analysis led the author to discard the Albanian Ethnological thought during communism, especially when compared it to the scientific cannons set by the big traditions to the rubbish bin of anthropological knowledge history. Moreover, the reader of Doja’s work on Albanian Ethnology can easily notice a paternalising language toward young scholars whereas the elderly generation is simply silenced and mocked upon.

Whereas for some others, the Albanian ethnographic knowledge during communism and the deconstructivist approach to it, becomes a starting premise upon which research work is published to understand how power-knowledge operates in a dictatorial situation within the boundaries of state mode of production (Lelaj 2012, 2014; Bardhoshi, 2013). The critical examination of Albanian ethnography, while deconstructing it, implies not only narrating and ethically acknowledging the history of ethnological science with its paradigms, institutions and people in a given society under defined political, economic and ideological circumstance, but it pushes the researchers to understand and analyze the dialectical and complex relations between state-society-individual under planned modernity. The attempt to visualize such knowledge as a fait social, materialized in both texts and objects, enables to critically build on and draw from it with the necessary soberness and judgment free perspective, data through which the researcher can evaluate, reevaluate and understand historical phenomena and social processes unable to directly observe any longer. In my research, I have extensively used both published and archival ethnographic material by Albania ethnographers on the state farms and agricultural cooperatives both as empirical evidences for a given reality but also as a mode of power representation in dictatorial context showed by the instrumentality of ethnographic texts to the state in the proletarianisation process of peasantry during communism. (Lelaj, 2012, 2013, 2015)

The relation between the communist state and Albanian society leads us the next big heading provoking research within ethnology and related fields. The following final section shortly reads two publications by Albanian researchers filtered by my own work on the subject.

Issues and researches

The Albanian sociologist Fatos Tatifa (2008), by taking the example of Albanian and Yugoslavia during communism, attempts to understand why and how was eroded the legitimacy of communist governments throughout the Eastern Block. The conclusion he reaches are: 1) communist governments had some degree of legitimacy from the people; 2) the communist regimes did not rule only through repression; 3) communist regimes legitimacy to rule was eroded from within because they failed both ideologically and economically. Though Tarifa’s analysis is embedded within a Weberain and Neo-Weberian tradition, it fails to observe how legitimacy worked and operated in first place in any given communist state and society. My research in Albanian society on the proletarianisation of peasantry (Lelaj 2015) that focused to understand how a workforce (working class) is formed under state mode of production led to the observation of the bureaucratization of work and everyday life. The spreading of the bureaucratic apparatuses in all geography of social life not only empowered the state to have a greater control on people’s activity but it also seeded legitimate legal power in all corners of society. All working individuals where employed within and by the state where a great number of individuals were vested with bureaucratic legal power and participated daily in giving legitimacy to the system. Field data showed that the hierarchical and bureaucratic organization of work within agricultural cooperatives, sometimes, articulated and kept intact traditional authorities and power systems of society which in turn enhanced the legitimacy of the system itself. In articulating traditional power structures, the communist state, did not only ensured legitimacy by spreading bureaucratic power all over society and enabling people to actively participate in it, but, it also ensured legitimacy by constituting itself as a moral order by promoting traditional values such as equality, honor, shame, simplicity, family and so on.

The question of moral was the subject of another publication focusing on communism in Albanian. The authors, A. Nikolla (2012), attempts to see the communist moral from the lenses of anthropology. The main thesis held by him is that communism produced “morally deformed” beings, amoral, instrumental and corruptive as well as pragmatist individuals. For these individuals Albania continue to be haunted even today. The author reaches to this conclusion by analyzing the lack of morality in both Marxist, communist doctrine, and Soviet Union doctrinaires while explores the idea of “New Man” and how the idea was transplanted in Albania. The arguments are also defined by fieldwork data gathered in post-socialism especially among doctors and former patients. Besides porosities in both theoretical and empirical data interpretation, the work is blemished by author’s system of belief. Nikolla’s effort succeeds in producing a moralizing narrative while failing to see communism as a dogmatic moral order and belief system. In my research I was dragged to investigate on labour rituals, the cult of work, the ascetic figure of the worker portrayed in arts, the language of sacrifice and the declaration of Albania as an atheist state, among others. These processes and moments define a specific type of relation between the state and society in Albanian during communism. They tell us how a new religious order with its gods, saints, narrative, mythology and system of belief was born fusing, for the first time in Albania’s modern history, State and Religion under the label of “atheist state”.

A concluding remark

A while ago the anthropologist Katherine Verdery asked what was communism? Her answer was intended to clarify the ideas of a western audience, with no direct experience with state-socialist societies. In March 2016, Albania celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first free elections held after the fall of communism and the question of communism continues to preoccupy Albania. Within these 25 years’ Albanian society has gone through a lots of ups and downs. The prolonged transition from communism to a market-oriented functional democracy continues to be underlined by economic, political and social crises. The road to “return” to Europe has been and continues to be full of thorns. Post-communist governments over and over have been instrumentally using the idea of past to maximize economic and political capital. An organized and state led structural amnesia is used upon society in disqualifying totally the communist past, rejecting everything, including the mere existence of everydayness of individuals. Going back to the interview with the former workers of Kombinat, their recalling the past, regardless how dramatic it might have been, reflects not only a critical stance towards the present, but it calls out also for an ethical positioning toward the past against the post socialist structural amnesia. Moreover, on a different level, recalling the communist past as a research topic not only has opened a new fields of research in contemporary Albanian ethnology, but within the context of an ethnology or anthropology at home, the topic has further implication regarding both the state of ethnological science as well as to relation the researcher has with his/her own society. On one hand, contemporary research on communism has enabled a young generation of Albanian anthropologist to contribute in building, shaping and deepening a self-reflective and critical anthropological analysis bridging the national with the international scholarship and vice-versa while shifting scientific paradigmatic borders set by the tradition in Albanian ethnology. And on the other hand, for a publicly engaged anthropological/ethnological discourse which is very difficult to be separated from issues of ethics, the analysis of communism gives the possibility to communicate and share with the rest of society an understanding of the past while not forgetting it but also of the troubled present, with the hope to contribute in improving the collective future.


iThe following article is inspired by a paper that was first presented under the title Communisme et post-communisme at the Quatriemes journees d’etudes albanaises en France, held in Montpellier during May 2015. However, the current work reflects and explores the issue of ethics in studying communism in contemporary Albanian, a topic that was briefly touched upon in the occasion by the author.

ii“Blloku” it refers to the quarter in Tirana where the politburo and high level communist ruling elite, including the dictator Enver Hoxha, resided and lived during communism area. Besides being a very expensive residential neighborhood, the contemporary “Blloku” is one of the most fashionable quarters to go out. It is full of bars, clubs and restaurants. The term “neo-bllokman” was first introduced by the former prime Sali Berisha to denominate the Edi Rama’s legacy to the former communist elite.

iiiPllumi Z. 2001. Rrno vetem per me tregue, Hylli i Drites. In 2013 with a preface by Silvio Berlusconi, the book was published in Italian under the title Il Sangue di Abele: Vivi per Testimoniare, Diana Edizione.

ivThe law “ Për të drejtën e informimit për dokumentet e ish-sigurimit të shtetit të Republikës Popullore Socialiste të Shqipërisë” (On the right of information on the documents of former state secret service in People’s Socialist Republic of Albania”, passed with 84 votes, 22 against and with fierce debates in Albanian parliament on 30 April 2015.

vThe commission rewriting the history of Albanian pre-university education system,


viiiAlbanian ethnography was institutionalized in 1947 with the establishing of the ethnographic section in the newly formed Albanian Institute of Science. In the 60’s the section was attached as research department to the Institute of History within the big umbrella of State University of Tirana. In late 70’s, with silent opposition from most ethnographers, the department fused with the Institute of Folklore, forming the Institute of Folk Culture(IKP), within the Albanian Academy of Science. IKP lasted until 2008 institutional reform out of which it emerged as Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Art Studies (IAKSA), within the newly formed Center of Albanian Studies (QSA).

ix Albert Doja was a researcher at the department of folklore within the Institute of Folk Culture from mid-80’s until early 90’s, whereas Nebi Bardhoshi, Armanda Hysa and Olsi Lelaj continue to work as researchers at the department of ethnology, IAKSA.


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