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Albania littered with symbolism -- in the form of bunkers


March 18, 1997
Web posted at: 6:18 p.m. EST (2318 GMT)

From Correspondent Siobhan Darrow

TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- To understand the violence that has riveted this impoverished country these last few weeks, one has only to look at the landscape.

Hundreds of thousands of concrete bunkers dot the landscape like mutant toadstools. They persist as a symbol of paranoia, an indestructible reminder of where this country has come from and the challenges that lie ahead. (1.1M/32 sec. QuickTime movie) movie icon

It doesn't take a psychologist to perceive the impact of such imagery on 3.5 million people. The math is easy: for every four Albanians, there's one bunker.

The bunkers, each large enough for a man and his rifle, were built by Albania's Stalinist dictator who feared invasion from all corners, from NATO and even the Soviet Union, fortifying against an enemy that never came.


"We have spent everything. We have spent many money, too much money only for the military problems. You have seen and you know how much bunkers we have -- we have no houses," former Defense Minister Perikli Teta said in English.

The semi-circular concrete blocks remain as a blight not only the landscape but on the collective memory and perceptions of the people. They were a bulwark against the invasion of ideas an influences from the outside world.

An Albanian film chronicles the 'bunkerization' of the nation.


"I feel the bunkers has been a symbol of totalitarianism for myself, because it was first of all the isolation psychology," filmmaker Kujtim Cashku said in English.

People can't get rid of them, so they live around them, on top of them and inside them. One woman surrounds them with her vegetable garden. The bunkers cover fields, beaches, playgrounds, and backyards. They even in crop up in cemeteries.

They are indestructible symbols of what led to the explosion of anger in Albania, a place the world forgot for 50 years. But all the bunkers, built to keep invaders out, weren't enough to protect this vulnerable country from the enemy within.


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