Albania Must Deal with Its Communist Past
Albanian Daily News
Published October 10, 2017
It is up to the Albanian society and parliament to decide on whether more can be done to address issues related to the victims of the communist regime, the Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, Ambassador Bernd Borchardt, said at an event Tuesday in the Albanian Parliament commemorating the 70th anniversary the execution of 16 Members of Parliament in the early years of the communist regime. Full speech below:

Distinguished members of the Assembly, dear guests,

Over the last decades many societies of the world faced transition: Africa, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Latin America: post-colonial changes, overthrowing of military dictatorships and totalitarian regimes with hopes for freedom and democracy. The movement away from dictatorial rule brought everywhere burning questions: how to deal with the evil past? What kind of dealing with the past helps to create a new, liberal order? How to do justice to the victims, how to create a new, liberalizing narrative?

Transitions often implied normative paradigm shifts, thus making criminal law sanctions under rule-of-law based circumstances difficult: nulla poena sine lege, no punishment for crimes that were no crimes when they were committed - this is a fundamental rule for democratic states. Or to put it in different terms: how to attribute individual responsibility for systemic wrongs perpetrated under repressive rule? This does not exclude punishment for the most terrible crimes, but it limits the scope of action under criminal justice.

Societies have different means of transitional justice at their disposal. Compensation can be one. But even for a wealthy country like West-Germany a full compensation of all losses inflicted by communism was not possible: all tax-payers would have to shoulder the bill.

These dilemmas - the quest of the victims for justice and the limited options for sanctions and compensation have left many victims in many countries with deep bitter feelings. They feel that their cause it not sufficiently recognized. Nevertheless, it is up to the Albanian society and to this parliament to decide whether more can be done in this field - even after your last decisions on compensation.

But wrongdoing can be clarified and condemned in different ways as well. This is what this august assembly is doing today: you are recognizing and condemning the past crimes, this has in itself a transformative dimension - the public establishment of which contributes to liberating the society. Exposure of wrongs stigmatizes their agents, disqualifies them, and relegates them to a bad past. This advances the normative shift that is so central to a liberalizing transition.

I am proud and honoured to be allowed to address you in this historic moment where a parliament says through this meeting collectively "this was wrong and bad" to the crimes of a previous regime: and you say that independent of what you think of the political ideas of the deputies which were murdered.

Repressive regimes may be brought down by revolution or collapse, but unless it is also publicly discredited, its ideology can endure. You publicly state a common political understanding, you share a political knowledge with your voters. This knowledge of "this was bad and wrong" separates your society even more from the prior regime, this ritual act contributes to a collective knowledge constitutive of the normative shift by disavowing the predecessor ideology and affirming the ideological change that constitutes a liberalizing transformation. Therefore this moment is a highlight in a process that has started in Albania with public discussions, the building of museums, memorials and the opening of the Sigurimi File Authority: a national dialogue about the past.

As you may know, the OSCE Presence in Albania has been engaged for more than two years supporting this dialogue on dealing with the past and to support the Authority on Access to Information on the Former State Security Police in its work.

Knowledge and dialogue about the past play a crucial role in a liberating transition, they help re-establishing a country's identity. This parliament can discuss and decide whether Albania wants more of these transitional accounts which connect normatively the country's past with its future. There are many more options to continue and to intensify this dialogue.

We at the OSCE Presence are happy that we can contribute to this dialogue.

Thank you for your attention.

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