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History of Communism in Europe

Volume 1, 2010

Politics of Memory in Post-communist Europe

Lori E. Amy
Pages 207-224
DOI: 10.7761/HCE.1.207

Re-Membering in Transition: The Trans-national Stakes of Violence and Denial in Post-Communist Albania

Albania represents perhaps the most extreme case of isolation and governmental oppression under communist dictatorship in Southeastern Europe. Not surprisingly, the violence of transition in Albania both reflects and in significant ways differs from the violence of transition in other Southeastern European countries. It’s relation to the former Yugoslavia, for example – where the Ethnic Albanian populations in Kosova and Macedonia complicate a politics of memory and national identity – both imbricates and distances Albania from the Balkan wars. As a pivotal point in networks moving goods and people throughout the Balkans in the 90s and as a host country for refugee populations, Albania is intimately tied to the material conditions of the wars accompanying transition in the Balkans. Paradoxically, the fact that, within Albania, people do not follow the identity schisms mobilized in the wars remains a source of national pride. This paradox points to a complex nexus of issues surrounding individual and collective memory in post-communist Albania: on the one hand, Albanians retain a strong national identity that is fiercely proud and patriotic, and, on the other, this identity is fragmented, marked by internal conflicts, experienced episodically, lacking an organic structure for integrating experience into sustainable narratives through which the past can be remembered or the future imagined. These two paradoxes – of the fragmentation of memory and identity that nevertheless has a nationalistic unifying core, and of the violence of transition which contextualizes memories of the past and imaginaries for the future – frame the investigation of memory and identity in this paper. For our analysis, we draw on interviews with two age cohorts: women who were working adults with families under the Hoxha regime, and women who were in or about to enter college when the government collapsed. Following Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the body as a site of incorporated history and Iwona Irwin-Zarecka’s delineation of the infrastructure of memory, we are especially interested in understanding how unarticulated, unanalyzed, and unresolved memory contests are manifesting in the culture and politics of transition. Our questions include: How are private memories retained in the face of state violence, and what are the limits of representation in a memory project that seeks to open the discursive space for articulating experiences that have remained unarticulated? Given the un-representability of deep memory (Friedlander), how do memory projects generate memory scaffolds that can bring the past into productive relation to the work of mapping a future? What are the processes through which fractured and fragmented (unarticulated) (oppressive) narratives and constructions of the past are integrated, or, at least, put into productive relation? This investigation of memory and identity is in the interests of understanding the “socially instituted limits of the ways of speaking, thinking, and acting” constraining Albanians working through this historical moment, and, through this understanding, to offer reflections of use to others similarly situated as they engage in the work imagining trajectories into the future (Bourdieu Language and Symbolic Power 31).