15 Aug 12

Another kind of communist

Aleksandra Bogdani

While the former Eastern bloc still has plenty of diehard communists, men like Trifon Cañamares are an endangered species at the other end of Europe.

He lives in a modest house, full of wartime medals, on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, Madrid. A committed communist at the age of 101, he speaks of the past with a child-like glee.

He describes himself as an uncompromising freedom fighter, and in the context of his country, this is true enough.

Cañamares was a former commander with the Republican Guard, fighting for the side that lost in the Civil War. As a result, he spent most of his life as a prisoner of the ultra-nationalist regime of General Francisco Franco.

The regime collapsed with Franco’s death in 1975. Spain is now a democracy, and Cañamares story is proof of the dark deeds of dictatorship.

He has little in common with the communists who climbed to the highest offices of state in my native Albania, and elsewhere in eastern Europe.

Instead, he resembles the men they imprisoned, the members of another vanquished “army”. Cañamares could be Gezim Cela in Albania, who spent 22 years in communist prisons. Or he could be Octav Bjoza in Romania, who tries to tell today’s youth about the cruelty of a regime they do not remember.

I could not avoid asking him: “Did you know that the communists were the ‘bad guys’ in my country?”

In reply, Cañamares said there were no communists in the Eastern bloc – only power-hungry traitors to the ideal.

He remains committed to the ideology of Karl Marx and to the possibility of a system where everyone is equal.

But I wonder if his faith would have survived intact if the left had won the Spanish civil war. Many people in Eastern Europe also struggled for communism during World War II, only to be disappointed by victory – and by the executions and suppression that followed.

For the last few months, I have been inquiring into the crimes committed during dictatorships, and searching for answers in the stories of the victims.

In Albania, Romania and Spain, I have seen how the lives of millions of people were affected by the absolute power wielded by a few individuals.

Wherever I’ve gone, the biggest questions, in the end, always seem to be about history and human nature.

Why are the victims of dictatorship still voiceless? And was it power that turned men into monsters? Or did men seek power to satisfy the monster within?

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