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Landing at Bucharest felt like another homecoming, so closely did the Soviet-style airport resemble the one I had left behind in Tirana.
Over the course of my four-day trip, I saw socialist architects have left their mark throughout this historic city, as they have in the Albanian capital.
While we endured decades of Enver Hoxha’s isolationist ideology, the Romanians had a similarly hardline dictator in Nicolae Ceaucescu.
But as in my native country, discussion of the communist legacy seems to be avoided by everyone except its victims.
In their relationship to their totalitarian past, Albania and Romania seem like twins, separated at birth.
The phone never stops ringing in the office of Octav Bjoza, a onetime athlete who was imprisoned by the communist regime.
The 77-year-old answers every call personally at his association of former political prisoners.
When I visited him, he was grieving over the recent death of two associates, describing them as “marshals” in the organisation of which he calls himself the “sergeant major”.
“It’s very sad,” he said, his blue eyes wet with tears. He does not dwell much on his own story, saying it was not exceptional. He reminded me of the former detainees I have met in Albania – especially in his disappointment at the state’s failure to address the injustices of the past.
Over the last two decades, Romania has adopted three initiatives condemning communist crimes. But all attempts at lustration – at punishing the perpetrators – have come unstuck in the courts.
As in Albania, the debate over the past remains unresolved, while the number of surviving ex-detainees dwindles away.
Romanians today have fresh problems to occupy them. Amid economic crises and political scandals, some people have even become nostalgic for the communist past.
Bjoza is not one of them, but nor does he have many illusions about the present system. He says the ex-detainees have seen only promises, no action, in the struggle to have their suffering recognised.
“I once told my wife that she should make me some clothes with really deep pockets,” he says. “For the congratulations, the kind words, the promises.”
In two high-profile war crimes trials currently ongoing in Pristina, a series of witnesses have retracted previous statements alleging abuse at Kosovo Liberation Army detention centres.