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Accepted Paper:

Where is the State? Confronting the socialist past at Labor and Internment Camps in Albania  

Author:

Kailey Rocker (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Paper short abstract:

Negative heritage sites like prison camps that have been on the geopolitical margins represent symbolic and material nodes for Albanians to confront their socialist past today. Narratives about and actions at these sites pressure the state to acknowledge its responsibility in facing Albania’s past.

Paper long abstract:

This past decade has seen renewed efforts by Albanians to face the socialist past of the twentieth century, while simultaneously trying to create a viable future for themselves and their country in Europe. Sites of memory, notably those conceptually identified as negative heritage like former labor camps akin to Gulags, serve as symbolic and material nodes for confronting the past in today’s political climate. While not geographically located on the borderlands of the country, these large state complexes of the 20th century are located at the borderlands of contemporary towns, intentionally tucked away from contemporary life. Sites such as Spaҫ Prison and Labor Camp in north-central Albania and the Tepelena Internment Camp in southern Albania are recognized by the media today as “infamous”, but little of the information circulating about them, largely personal testimonies, has been officially adopted. These former prisons and labor camps – borderland objects of the 20th century that continue to be borderland objects today – are fertile grounds for understanding the productive and destructive nature of state-officiated memory practices in Albania. In this paper, I explore competing narratives produced by shifting coalitions of state and non-state actors working in an environment where a hegemonic narrative about Albania’s socialist past is not clearly established. As the cases of Spaҫ and Tepelana camps show, narratives from the margins and larger pan-European ones, concerning the memory of totalitarian regimes, pressure the state to acknowledge their own responsibility in shaping how Albania deals with the socialist past.

Panel Mob01
Ethnographic explorations on the semiotics of borderlands - deconstructing hegemonic discourses through cultural transgressions at the margins