The communism in Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra was declared a Museum City by the communist regime in 1961 in an effort to conserve the unique cultural heritage of the town.  As well as more specialist craftsmen, a large conscripted workforce – consisting mainly of young people, known as Volunteer Youth Brigades – was assembled to maintain the old town.  The extensive network of cobbled streets is an example of their work. However, in the lower part of the city the years under communism saw a rapid and large-scale industrialization as part of the regime’s Stalinist economic strategy.  A metal work factory was opened together with factories for shoes, clothing, cigarettes, refrigerators, umbrellas and other light industrial products.

The 1967 regime’s campaign to extinguish religion had a major impact on Gjirokastra.  During the Ottoman period there were 15 mosques in Gjirokastra, 13 of these survived until the communist era when all but one were destroyed. The only remaining historic mosque managed to survive demolition due to its status as a cultural monument.  For the remaining years of the regime the building was used to train circus acrobats, as the high domed ceiling afforded the necessary space. Nearby, what is now the Madrasah (Muslim school) was originally a Bektashi tekke.  Built in 1727, it was shut down during the 1967 clamp down. The iconic murals that decorated the interior walls of Saint Sotirë church were also totally destroyed by the communists. Modern framed versions of the iconic images now cover the walls, many of them by local artists.

One of the iconic memory of the communist time is the so-called “Cold War Tunnel” under the Castle of Gjirokastra, built during 1970s. The tunnel was designed to be a shelter to house the local authority and resist even a nuclear threat.

When the communist regime fell at the end of 1990, Gjirokastra’s economy was already in rapid decline.  To achieve full employment, the communists assigned to local outdated and inefficient industrial complexes more workforce than was actually needed. That is among the reasons why the collapse of the communist system resulted in the catastrophic loss of thousands of jobs in Gjirokastra. As a result, many people decided to migrate either to Tirana or abroad in search of work. In the civil unrest that followed the fall of the regime the National Armaments Museum was looted and the city’s enormous statue of Enver Hoxha was pulled down.  The site is now one of the most interesting attractions of this period in the city, and a renowned hotel and café are flourishing in the same point where the statue was located.