The ”Dark Side” of the Pyramid

As mentioned earlier on this blog, the enormous pyramid on the crossroad of the main boulevard and the Lana, opened in 1988 as a museum for the late communist dictator Enver Hoxha, has been the scenery for various activities. After the fall of communism in 1991 it was used as a conference center and party venue; during the 1999 Kosovo War it was used as a NATO base; since 2001 the national commercial television station Top Channel is settled in the back part of the pyramid (by then the building was already officially renamed International Center for Culture); for years the front part has been used as a venue for conventions and cultural events and even facilitated a popular dance club, until only a few years ago.

Urban cleaning ladies improvise a place to sit and chat

Focusing on the current activity inside of the pyramid, an imaginary line dividing the front part from the back part of the building can be drawn. The back part of the building emits constant activity; being a big transmitter of popular television programs. In contrast, the front entrance of the building – introduced by a symmetrically organized park with stairs and dead fountains – is slatternly barricaded with random pieces of wood and metal plates; being totally closed for the outside world. Since the front part of the Pyramid has been abandoned, the condition of the structure started to run back in big steps. In only little time the white marble on the banks disappeared; immature graffiti is being employed all over; many windows are smashed and holes are closed in a poor looking manner. Asking Tirana’s inhabitants about the building, everybody agrees that the pyramid should be restored in its original form, open to the public in a way to not forget about the past. Top Channel journalist Alisa Mysliu to an American journalist about the pyramid: ”It’s part of us. Even communism, even the good things. It’s a part of our country. It’s part of our history. Have you destroyed everything in your country that brings you bad memories?” Sadly enough the authorities gave up on the pyramid last year, allowing the consummation of a passive destruction if not actively breaking it down.

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Iconoclasm in Tirana

Terrori në Shqipërinë Kommuniste

20 February 1991: Iconoclasm in Tirana

20 February 1991 has remained in the historical memory of the Albanian people as the day when the country’s most central monument for dictator Enver Hoxha was pulled down, carried out by a crowd of hundreds of people, decapitated and towed around town behind a police truck that was hijacked by two young protesters. From 18 to 20 February 1991, 700 students entered a hunger strike because the party leadership refused, among other things, to remove Hoxha’s name from the state university. Accordingly, supported by thousands of citizens of Tirana and all Albania, the University of Tirana decided to drop the dictator’s name. Calls for the union between Albania and Europe became a symbol of the student protests. As mentioned before, the spectacular climax of the protests was the collective destruction of the gigantic Enver Hoxha statue, located on the capital’s main square. When taking in consideration the opposite paradigms of the “spontaneous destruction by the people” and the legal and regular elimination; the distinction between iconoclasms “from below” and “from above,” we may conclude that the toppling of the Enver Hoxha statue was definitely one “from below.” The police tried, without any success, to protect the statue from the surging crowd of “iconoclasts.” on television Hoxha’s successor Chief of State Ramiz Alia condemned the historical event as vandalism. Of course Alia’s words made no sense at all. I would like to refer to Dario Gamboni’s book The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution, in which he defines the distinction between iconoclasm and vandalism by characterizing the first as a senseless, gratuitous act perpetrated by the uneducated; in contrast to iconoclasm, which indicates an intentional, dominating act aimed at change.

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The Foundry

Many Albanians have heard about the existence of a foundry in Tirana. It is a place where all monumental sculptures where casted during the communist era. Amongst others the bronze representations of Enver Hoxha, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin found birth here and remarkably enough some prominent statues returned to the foundry after the communist state had exploded. Though only few people know the exact location. From conversations with locals I got the impression that barely anyone who lives here is interested in the iconographic remains that are hidden all around and remind of the local history. Luckily enough I got into contact with someone who was willing to show me in which direction I had to search in order to get to the foundry and so accordingly I found out that it is located just outside the centre of Tirana, surrounded by a gypsy camp. There was nobody to open the gate so I climbed through one of the broken windows to gain access to the building; an activity in itself that touches the subject of ‘urban exploration’. See the pictures below for an impression of the environment.

QENDRA A REALIZIMIT TE VEPRAVE TE ARTIT: ''centre for the realization of artworks''

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Mega Vega Cooking Lab

From the moment all students arrived in Tirana, Frederic and Pim bounded together as kitchen technicians, initiating the Mega Vega Cooking Lab. Every evening, when most of us return from our urban explorations, Frederic and Pim occupy the hostel’s kitchen to combine their cooking skills and energies to serve the group a freshly cooked vegan dinner. What drives them to be in charge of the kitchen is their passionate love for locally sourced food and years of experience in anarchist cooking laboratories, stirring up recipes for disaster. What’s on the menu for this eve’s edition? PASTA! With a finishing touch of herbs collected from the garden of King Leka (who recently passed away).

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