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21 May 13

Troubled Albanian Museum Sunk by Hoxha Row

Donors spent hundreds of thousands of euro building a new museum in Gjirokastra - but the results were questionable and it ultimately closed over an ideological dispute.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN Gjirokastra

Locked away in a complex of three galleries with soaring vaults and cupolas on the ground floor of Gjirokastra’s castle stand several photographic stands, a flat screen TV with a DVD player, and two displays of artifacts.

Although donors and the government spent nearly half a million euro on preparing the galleries for exhibits, the roof of the castle still leaks, creating large pools of water among the stands.

Attendants will only turn on the lights on at the visitors’ own risk, warning that a short circuit due to humidity could happen at any moment. What should have been Gjirokastra’s newest museum named “A Chronicle in Stone’ is now closed to the general public.

The contents of the museum, which was created by the Gjirokastra Development Foundation, GCDO, were never approved by the State Committee on Monuments, which has disagreed over its content.

Experts complain that the museum is poorly designed and describe it as merely an exhibition. They have also questioned GCDO’s use of donor funds.

However, what ultimately led to its closure was a little display about Albania’s former Stalinist dictator, Enver Hoxha, who was born in the town.

With its distinctive cobbled stone streets, towering slate roofs and an old bazaar overshadowed by an imposing 19th-century castle, Gjirokastra is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town.

Following its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, funds from the government and international donors to protect its cultural heritage slowly flowed in.

GCDO started work on the museum in 2007, and its stands were supposed to narrate the rich history of the city and the surrounding Drino valley from ancient to modern times

The museum was named after a novel of Albania’s most renowned writer, Ismail Kadare, about the life of the small town during World War Two. Kadare was also born in Gjirokastra and the city features often in his novels.

The museum held its inauguration ceremony on World Heritage day in September 2012. However, the city council of Gjirokastra never gave its approval so it closed only a few months later.

Documents released to Balkan Insight show that from 2008 to 2012, GCDO received several grants from various donors, including the Packard Humanities Institute, the Hadley Trust and the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund to create the museum and revitalize the castle.

In 2008, Albania’s Institute of Monuments spent €140,000 on waterproofing parts of the castle terrace.

The GCDO spent another €140,000 from the Packard Institute and other donors on restoring the three galleries, installing a new electrical system and on waterproofing part of the castle roof directly above.

Another €42,000 was spent on installing solar panels to light the entrance gallery of the castle.

The GCDO also spent €86,000 on research, design and on consultations with experts and the public for the museum.

But the institutions overseeing the contents of the exhibition did not approve of the results. 

In a statement to reporters on March 1, the head of the Institute of Monuments, Apollon Bace, questioned the GCDO’s work.

“I have objected to this museum… because it has ended up being a mere exhibit,” Bace said.

“Gjirokastra has many other objects that could have been included, but they ended up with a stand on Enver Hoxha,” he added.

Bace also questioned how the GCDO had spent its donor funds, arguing that other museums had been much cheaper.

“There has been an abuse of funds here, considering that the Apollonia museum was created with only a fund of €69,300,” he added.  

During a hearing on February 26 in the parliamentary commission on education and media, the then Minister of Culture, Aldo Bumci, said the state committee on museums had not approved the museum and had urged the municipality to close it.

“We had concerns about the part [of the exhibition] related to the dictator [Hoxha] where we sought modifications, and also about the lack of a permit from the local city council,” Bumci said.

“They did not take action on either point, which is why the committee did not approve it [the museum],” he added.

GCDO’s executive director, Sadi Petrela, admits the museum did not receive a stamp of approval from the authorities but denies that donor funds were mismanaged.

“The monuments committee asked us to remove the stand about Enver Hoxha’s life,” Petrela said.“We tried to reach a compromise but it was not possible,” he added.

According to Petrela, the process of legalizing the museum should have gone on in the municipality of Gjirokstra but stalled after the GCDO failed to obtain approval from the State Committee of Museums.

“For every dime we spent from the donors, everything is transparent,” he said. “In my opinion this is a complete museum but not yet a legal one,” Petrela concluded. 

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