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Cultural Heritage of Dictatorship in Albania

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Citizens’ experiences and cultural heritage of communist dictatorships

Almost one third of the global population has lived or lives in a country that was or is communist. EU-funded research explored citizens’ experiences of communist dictatorships and their engagement with the associated heritage.

Society

“The main goal of the CHODIA project was to better comprehend the processes of heritagisation of the recent past and the inheritance of the experience of communist dictatorships today,” says project fellow Dr Francesco Iacono. Heritagisation is the process through which objects, places and practices become cultural heritage. This process lends itself to the re-appropriation of and shift in engagement with recent cultural heritage. Undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme, project research focused on Albania – the locus of an extremely harsh Stalinist regime in the years 1945-1991. As Dr Iacono notes that the material and immaterial legacy of the regime has been treated with ambivalence and even been somewhat neglected. “The idea was to understand from direct questions and observations what Albanians thought of this heritage and the complex relationships this was made of,” he further elaborates. Mixed methods research Dr Iacono employed both qualitative/ethnographic and quantitative methods. He interviewed people from the most diverse social backgrounds as well as heritage specialists, “obtaining perspectives that provide a well-rounded picture of how this topic is perceived in the country.” For quantitative data collection, new techniques employing mobile phones and a cloud-synced audio database allowed him to record answers in their natural language. These were then transcribed and analysed. The results of CHODIA research showed the diverse perspectives of all components of Albanian society in relation to this heritage, highlighting also the possible factors contributing to such diversity. Project work further uncovered the different forms of engagement that Albanians had with such heritage. Double narratives A unique aspect of CHODIA lies in the fellow’s “problematisation of the concept of ‘unwanted heritage’ and the acknowledgement of the double nature of the memory and heritage of communist dictatorships.” That is, states and main institutional actors offer a different perspective compared to citizens’ private memories emerging after and as a result of the fall of communist regimes. This double memory has produced contrasting, and sometimes clashing, narratives. As Dr Iacono explains that these can be and have been mobilised in the political arena of many post-socialist countries. Beyond the Albanian context The results of CHODIA are directly relevant to Albania alone. Yet, the particular case is broadly comparable to other countries that have experienced a communist dictatorship. It follows then that this research makes it possible to identify important analogies and by extension has considerable significance, particularly for Europe. “Project findings can help shape more inclusive and balanced representation strategies of the past under communist regimes, able to incorporate different perspectives and thus contribute to the way future citizens of the EU look at their past.” Dissemination activities include traditional scientific publications and outreach activities in the United Kingdom as well as Albania. Dr Iacono has presented project work through social networks and the project’s blog. In its final year, CHODIA organised a workshop and the international conference “Heritage and Dictatorship”. The latter hosted more than 70 participants from all over the world, and offered a far-reaching overview of the relationship between heritage and authoritarianism and, by extension, more broadly, authority.

Keywords

CHODIA, Albania, communist dictatorship, cultural heritage, communist regime, heritagisation, unwanted heritage, double memory

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