Albania is unique in that it is the only country in the world to have declared itself an Atheist state, ‘The Religion of Albania is Albanian-ism!’ was the slogan. All churches, mosques, were closed, turned into sports halls or storage warehouses, all religious worship declared illegal. In the 1960s, there was a concerted campaign to destroy ALL religious buildings and it was largely successful.
The buildings that survived (this picture being one of 8 churches that survived from the original 40 plus in Berat) did so as they were deemed to have historical and cultural significance rather than religious importance.
This picture is of the badly damaged interior walls of a Bektashi temple (Bektashism being a form of Sufi-ism), the exterior of this tiny temple bearing very few indications of being a place of worship and was indeed a store house for 40 years until the ban on religion ended in the early 90s.
So what fills a void, when you ban the worship of an unfathomable metaphysical presence? The oversized ego of equally unfathomable but rather more physically present Communist leader, in Albania’s case, Enver Hoxha. Apparently, on the death of Stalin, Hoxha gathered his citizens in Tirana’s central square, made them all kneel in respect and reverence and swear an oath of ‘eternal fidelity’ to their ‘beloved father’ Stalin. Presumably, the irony wasn’t lost on him…
As far as monuments of vanity go, this building, Hoxha’s Pyramid as it is called, is fairly modest. If you’ve ever had to scoop your jaw off the pavement as you take in the size and scale of Ceausescu’s Palace in Bucharest, you’ll know what I mean. Although, having said that, Enver Hoxha did have his name scrawled into a mountain range so wasn’t so modest after all.
I found the words of Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ (one of the few that I know off by heart) going round in my head as I stood in front of this building.
‘”My name is Ozymandias,King of Kings, Look on my works, ye might and despair”
Nothing besides remains, around the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away’
Instead of lone and level sands, it’s ripped up paving stones and graffitied walls, Hoxha’s Pyramid left in ruins – physically and symbolically.
In the National History Museum, the wing which housed Albanian post-war Communist era exhibits has been closed, with no foreseeable plans to reopen.
It seems to me that you can no more eradicate a country’s religious and cultural heritage as you can its ideological past, however uncomfortable either might be in the current zeitgeist. You’re simply replacing one ruinous and bloody battlefield with another.
These pictures were my thoughts on this topic.