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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear organisers and participants,
I've always found it difficult, for us, the outsiders, the temporary guests in this country, to speak in these events on dealing with Albania's very painful past. We will never fully appreciate what the people who witnessed life during communist Albania have gone through, seeing imprisonments, labour camps, torture, humiliations and killings.
These "enemies" of the Albanian state were poets, thinkers, painters, academics…; dreamers, essentially, who sought to peek beyond tightly-shut borders and to be like the rest of Europe. Now, we can only show humility and respect to all those who tried to live in dignity, as free people.
The European Union itself was born out of the ashes of dictatorships that caused some of the world's largest-ever bloodsheds. And many EU countries have had to address and come to terms with their communist, fascist or colonial past.
Reconciling History with the Truth never was nor is an easy task. But this is something that needs to be done, and done at many levels: from the national, to the local; from the community, to the family and, ultimately, to the individual.
I myself come from a former communist country. While the situation in Lithuania was very different from that of Albania, and I won't claim to understand what the Albanians went through, all communist regimes used the convenient term of "the people's enemy" to designate persons that thought differently from the official propaganda, quickly labelling them as "enemies", "conspirators" or "traitors". Even though, as a child, I only saw the end of communism, there are some of the elements that I can relate to.
I remember the culture of mistrust, even among the closest families and friends; I remember my mother being worried sick when five year-old me brought home some jokes about Lenin from the kindergarten. I remember when my grandparents slowly slowly started opening up about their prison terms, their time spent in Siberia, their cooperation, or lack-thereof, with the authorities when the files were published and their pasts had to be dealt with; with the entire country watching.
I also remember not being particularly happy, nor were my fellow students, that most of our state festivities in the years immediately after the fall of communism were not really festivities. Rather, they were sad commemorations. We called them "holidays of crying". We had to go through them, the painful memories had to be relived, the history needed to be given its due. But if that’s done, in time, more national holidays will and do come in which people allow themselves to celebrate, to truly enjoy freedom and liberation.
One important lesson that we all had to take from the past is history, however difficult, needs to be remembered and reckoned with, because it is simply too costly not to do so.
Political responsibility, transitional justice, opening of files, prisoner compensation and restitution of property, open constructive debate, and passing the familial and national memory onto the youth – no matter how controversial, it is only by bringing together all these angles that a deeply scarred society can come to terms with the past and to try to start moving on.
The four main Albanian institutions organising this conference today are doing exactly this: analysing, discussing and methodically defining what was the particularity of the "people's enemy" under the communist regime in Albania and to shed light on Albania's recent history. This is very important and, indeed, commendable.
To do our little share in helping Albania to deal with its past, the European Union is financing a project of DNA identification of missing victims of the communist regime, those killed without their families being allowed to know the truth. We hope this will help the families of the missing to find closure.
I would like to close with a quote from Father Zef Pllumi (himself a "people's enemy") who also stressed the importance of not forgetting - as something that Albania owes to the victims and sufferers of communist prosecution - so that what happened doesn't repeat itself: "In the minds of these [communist] rulers there is no place neither for human rights, nor for free thought. These presuppose that by coming into power, they have the right to own the property, the actions, the thoughts, the life of each and every citizen."
In light of this, one thing that we should bring with us is that we should never take for granted such things as free speech, free thought, respect for human dignity and human rights. These are our rights and our freedoms, but they are also the values that need our care and responsibility to be safeguarded, to ensure that recent history does not repeat itself.