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Materializing Modernity - Socialist and Post-socialist Rural Legacy in Contemporary Albania

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MaMo (Materializing Modernity - Socialist and Post-socialist Rural Legacy in Contemporary Albania)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2022-09-30

In many European countries, 20th-century provided an opportunity for shaping new rural landscapes and architectural ideas converging on the vision imposed by diverse ideologies. The pre-existing rural landscape underwent reshaping processes that were reflected in tangible transformations and interventions. At various times, many countries demonstrated all the difficulties involved in addressing the memories, material culture, and societal impact attached to those modernisation processes, and the tangible remains left in the present. The aim of the “Materializing Modernity – Socialist and Post-socialist Rural Legacy in Contemporary Albania (MaMo)” project is to explore, document, and argue around a significant, difficult legacy in the rural areas of Albania, South-East Europe. Albania is considered a case study due to its past regime’s nationalistic emphasis that condemned the country to the hardships of its self-reliance under forced industrialisation, urbanization, and land collectivisation policies. The socialist modernisation processes left evidence in the landscape, recalling failed economic policies and encompassing cultural, societal, anthropological, and historic values and memories, which are progressively becoming more difficult to be recognized and processed, whilst post-socialist imprints are reshaping the countryside. Building on an interdisciplinary methodology based on the collection, elaboration, and critical interpretation of multiple data, MaMo aims at investigating and documenting, for the first time, the Albanian Socialist rural legacies in the post-socialist contemporary present. The overall objectives of the project converge on the main purpose of contributing to the actual debate on ways of recognizing, documenting, assessing, and reinterpreting these significant shared Albanian-European rural legacies, to discuss and place the Albanian case study in the main framework of the wider European studies on modernist rural architecture and landscapes.
To investigate the Albanian rural landscape as a palimpsest, the research considered five representative macro-areas in the countryside. The project implemented an interdisciplinary approach that foresaw the collection, processing, and critical interpretation of multiple data. During the intense research activity, twenty-eight rural villages in five macro-areas were investigated, and intangible and tangible aspects of the socialist and post-socialist rural landscape and architecture were considered. The intangible legacies consisted of memories and narratives of people who experienced the socialist modernisation processes and the post-socialist transition. By using ethnographic methodologies were recorded semi-structured and go-along interviews with local people. The tangible architectural and landscape elements were investigated through the consultation of archival materials and mapped and documented by using GIS tools and by taking digital photographs and footages. The critical overlapping of narratives provided by local communities with published and unpublished sources, helped in understanding, relocating, and reconnecting inhabitants' memories to the surrounding landscape.
The results achieved highlighted how socialist modernization processes extensively impacted the landscape, affecting also remote rural areas. Modernisation covered a long span of time and was conceived as a complex process strictly linked to the socialist political ideology, the industrialisation processes, the strengthening of the socialist production relationships, the intensification of agricultural production, the electrification campaign, the implementation of cities’ urban masterplans and architectural standardization processes, and the socio-cultural regime propaganda. In the aftermath of the regime collapse, faced with the question of what to do with those tangible legacies of a difficult and still recent past, the Albanians chose three main options: to destroy, to seize and reuse, or to abandon. In the early 1990s, the destruction was, and to some extent still is, the result of spontaneous acts of anger conducted by single individuals or silently authorized by governmental decisions. The reuse concerned especially former socio-cultural, administrative, agricultural, and industrial state properties and was often not consistent, following the seizing of the public property to satisfy the new societal individual, rather than collective, practical needs. The abandonment phenomena went along with the abovementioned two. Today perception of the socialist rurality composed of both its tangible and tangible aspects and elements is complicated. The survival of remnants and the difficult memories went along with a difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy, as much as the privatization of the former collectivized land, the neglect of cultivated fields, the massive abandonment of rural areas, and the consequent hyper-urbanization of the major cities’ centres. While most aspects associated with the socialist regime’s persecution or suppression are difficult to process, others are remembered with a sort of sentimental yearning, such are for instance the memories attached to the active and vivid rural socio-cultural life and youth, despite were unfolded in the socialist propaganda context.
The results of the project are being disseminated in scientific publications, such as conference proceedings and peer-reviewed journals, as well as on the project's social media webpages and website. The MaMo project participated in the H2020 Open Research Data Pilot which aims at making research data FAIR. Hence, data not containing confidential information have been organized in datasets and are available on Zenodo.
The project investigated and documented the Albanian socialist rural legacy and the post-socialist rurality, demonstrating how the character and the peculiarities of the socialist modernization processes shaped the Albanian 20th-century rural landscape. It demonstrated that traces of those modernisation processes can still be observed in the territory as well as they can be recalled from the memories of the people who experienced those transformations. The research allowed to make sense of the architectural and urban planning national debate of that time concerning the socialist urbanization of the Albanian countryside and the socialist agricultural cooperatives and state-farm organization and functioning. By interlacing several types of data, the project highlighted how landscapes are accounts of the individuals who have occupied, worked, shaped, and still inhabit them. Landscape continuously changes and represents the dynamic interaction between natural and socio-cultural forces in the environment. Hence, also the socialist construction of a modernist rural landscape, and its traces in the Albanian present rural and urban landscape, should be conceived as an important historic layer in the Albanian cultural landscape's palimpsest. Such an understanding and progress will benefit future approaches within the field of heritage-making processes both at the Albanian and European levels, promoting an interdisciplinary methodology and bottom-up practice in studying the evolution of rural landscapes not only as a mirror of historical, social, economic, political, and cultural events of the past but as a phenomenon that continues to evolve extending into possible future scenarios.
View of the main drainage canal draining the Fusha e Hoxharës (Fier), Pompejano, 2021.
View of the former socialist rural village of Asim Zeneli (Gjirokastra), Pompejano, 2021.
View of the fields in the Korça Plain (Korça) from the SH79 national road. Pompejano, 2021.
View of the terracing remains in the landscape near the village of Fajza(Kukes), Pompejano, 2021.
View of the ruins of a two-storey housing in the village of Fajza (Kukës), Pompejano, 2021.
House built after the 1979's earthquake that hit the Bregu i Bunes area (Shkodra), Pompejano, 2021
View of a former warehouse for the storage of fruit in Rëmbec (Korça), Pompejano, 2021.
View of the water pothole that collects rainwater for flocks in the Subash pastures, Pompejano, 2021
View of the housing in the former socialist rural village of Hoxhara e Re (Fier), Pompejano, 2021.
View of the fields in the Bregu i Bunës area (Shkodra), Pompejano, 2021.