Albanian Terror: Enver Hoxha and the Party, Preserved in a Nuclear Bunker (Pictures)

Posted on October 25, 2018

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World War Two was a turbulent time for Albania. The country was invaded and overrun by Mussolini’s Italian fascist forces in 1939 and Albania then joined the Axis forces to fight with the Nazis. Fierce resistance from partisan communist forces was led by Enver Hoxha and in 1944 the country was purged of fascism. That would prove a milestone in the country’s history as Hoxha went on to become the country’s de facto dictator until his death in 1985.

Enver Hoxha led Albania out from the dark days of fascist rule during World War Two but afterwards quickly established the currency of communist societies in eastern Europe – an oppressive party-led dictatorship with severe repression of anyone opposed to party rule. Hoxha’s reign would last 40 years with his approval of extrajudicial killings, executions and forced labour camps for anti-communists and political opponents.

The regime was enforced by the Sigurimi secret police, established on 14 December 1944. To date the Sigurimi files identifying who exactly within Albanian society had collaborated with Hoxha’s government have not been released and critics believe the files were probably destroyed long ago. But travel to the Albanian capital Tirana and there is an incredible art and social history project that preserves evidence of the times and crimes of Hoxha, the party and the Sigurimi – BunkArt.

Bunk Art Sign 01

BunkArt 1 was set up in 2014 in Hoxha’s own decommissioned nuclear bunker. The entrance is in the north of Tirana and driving there is a nightmare without GPS as the signs in the city are pretty useless. On arrival a smartly dressed military figure directs you down a long one-way tunnel that leads to a concrete car park where you buy your entrance ticket from a wooden hut. The exterior walls are covered in in parts by foliage and a dank mould that shows how delapidated the bunker had become before its transformation into this singularly unique art project and historical museum.

Bunk Art Sentry 02
A silent sentry stands guard outside the entrance to BunkArt

While BunkArt 1 concentrates on the history of Albania’s communist army and the lives of people under communist rule, BunkArt 2 (which I’ll cover in a future post) looks into the methods of the Sigurimi that kept Hoxha in power.

Bunk Art Gate

Beyond the gate is the entrance to the bunker. The outer walls are one metre thick and the bunker’s roof is covered by a layer of thick concrete and earth reaching 100 metres in places. There are 106 rooms inside and a large assembly hall. Entrances to the bunker are protected by two concrete gates containing a steel layer and three iron airlock doors, designed to resist explosive impact and keep out chemical or radioactive material.

Bunk Art Door 02
One of the bunker’s concrete outer doors

Bunk Art Safety Valves 02
Safety valves cover the ventilation shafts into the bunker – built to deflect the shock wave from a nuclear explosion to the outside walls.

Building work began on the bunker in September 1972 and was completed on May 1 1975. Plant machinery and other systems took another three years to install. The interior area measures 2,685 square metres and there are five separate levels within. Alongside this central government bunker another 207,000 municipal bunkers were planned (of which 168,000 were built) throughout the country.

Bunk Art Filter Room 01
Filter room built to purify the air ventilation system

Bunk Art Oxygen Container
Every room contained a mobile container for oxygen production made in China. Each one contained five chemical tabs to produce oxygen when triggered. Soldiers had to handle tabs using gloves suggesting that the material was pretty toxic.

Enver Hoxha was the supreme commander of Albania’s armed forces. When the bunker was built, between 1972-1978, his office was the biggest and most luxurious inside the complex. There is an office, an anteroom for his secretary, a bedroom and a bathroom (ensuite holocaust-style). This room, the Prime Minister’s and the chief of staff’s are the only rooms with carpet. Hoxha never slept in the bedroom but he did take part in drills after the bunker was inaugurated on 24 June 1978.

Bunk Art Enver Room 01
The ante-room

Bunk Art Enver Room 02

Bunk Art Enver Room 03

Bunk Art Enver Room 04
Hoxha’s office, note the decadent carpets

Bunk Art Enver Room 05
Hoxha’s desk

Bunk Art Enver Room 06
Bedroom, equipped with strong but sexy communist duvet

Bunk Art Enver Room 14
The man himself, Hoxha as young dude

There are several films on show from Communist-era Albania including a huge wall projection of a military parade in honour of Hoxha.

The next largest room in the complex is that of Prime Minister and minister for defence Mehmet Shehu. He personally supervised the construction of the bunker.

Bunk Art Mehmet 02
Mehmet Shehu’s room

Bunk Art Mehmet
Shehu’s gas mask, presumably

Throughout the bunker you can also hear the eery wail of a siren sounding an impending nuclear attack at regular intervals. This is the chemical and nuclear weapons room. Inside there is a video loop playing scenes from nuclear testing in the Pacific as well as Albania’s chemical and bacteriological weapons programme. Some of it makes pretty grim viewing, the testing on animals is harrowing.

On the walls are various gas masks and hazmat suits, including an incredible horse gas mask. Gotta protect Dobbin.

Bunk Art Gas Masks 04

Bunk Art Gas Masks 05

Bunk Art Horse Mask
The sign says this is actually a Nazi horse gas mask!

There is also an extraordinary range of communist-era memorabilia inside the bunker with details on life under Hoxha, schooling, the living quarters of a typical Albanian family and a 70s-style shop.

Bunk Art Socialist Home
Inside the Albanian socialist family home

Bunk Art Socialist Home 03

Bunk Art Socialis Home 02

Bunk Art Socialist Home 04

Bunk Art Socialist Home 05
A bottle of your strongest vodka please

Bunk Art Poster
A warm welcome awaits you should you try to cross the border to freedom

Bunk Art Military Drawing
These are the friendly bullets that would have riddled your dissident body (maybe)

Bunk Art Map Room

Bunk Art Map 02

Bunk Art Soldier Room
A soldier’s quarters

Bunk Art Zis Truck 02
A wall mounted front from a Soviet Zis truck

Bunk Art Comms
Come on, speak to your Uncle Enver. How come we don’t talk anymore?

This final pic is the original tannoy system from the Qemal Stafa Stadium in central Tirana. Built after the Nazis were expunged from Albania, the stadium was constructed by 120 Italian and 120 German prisoners alongside 700 Albanians (many of whom were ‘volunteers’). Fittingly, it was blaring out a recording of a triumphant speech from Hoxha.

Bunk Art PA system