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News 14 Nov 17

Albania Vows To Restore Resistance Fighters' Cemeteries

The Defence Ministry intends to clean up the 22 cemeteries dedicated to resistance fighters in World War II, which fell into neglect after the Communist system collapsed in the 1990s. 

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
The restored martyrs' cemetery in Dibra. Photo: Defence Ministry 

Albania has decided to restore its long abandoned 22 national cemeteries, which contain the bodies of thousands of people who lost their lives fighting Italian and German occupation forces during World War II.

The project led by the Ministry of Defence in collaboration with local governments aims to make all the so-called martyrs' cemeteries presentable once again by November 29, which is the date when the country commemorates the 73rd anniversary of the country's liberation.

The army is currently taking care of clearing away bushes from graves, restoring and painting marble surfaces that have become cracked and broken, and relaying tiles in the surrounding area.

"There are many people who wrote our history with their blood and we are doing this to respect and honour those who did so," Defence Minister Olta Xhacka said on Sunday, while visiting the cemetery for the Dibra region.

During the almost half-century of Communist rule, the World War II fighters' cemeteries were well cared for, and were visited by school pupils to top officials several times a year. But after the system collapsed, they were almost abandoned in the 1990s.

This was partly because anti-communists resented the way the national liberation war had been manipulated and co-opted by the Communists who took power immediately after the war ended.

They noted that, besides the Communist-led Partisans, many other people also took part in the war against foreign rule.

They also question the liberation date of 29 November, saying it was staged by the Communists. As a result, they have never commemorated national martyrs on that day.

On May 1992, after the centre-right Democratic Party took power for the first time, the body of former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha - along with those of some other former high officials – was removed from the martyrs' cemetery in Tirana and reburied in a normal graveyard.

Roland Qafoku, a journalist, and researcher, told BIRN that the initiative was welcome, although it was still important to confront the many falsehoods that arose under Communism.

"First, we have to be clear that Albania never had 28,000 'martyrs' - the number proclaimed by the Communists, from World War II; only 6,000 families were counted as having lost somebody in the war," he said.

Qafoku also said Albania has an urgent need to commemorate the deaths of many other distinguished figures that were buried outside the country.

"Before restoring the graves of those already buried in these cemeteries, the government should fund the return of the bodies of all those who fought hard by all their means for the country. There are former PMs and other distinguished personalities still lying abroad," he said.

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