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Former nuclear bunker becomes museum of Albanian persecution

Associated Press Associated Press 19/11/2016 By LLAZAR SEMINI, Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania — A former top-secret nuclear bunker reopened Saturday as a museum in Albania's capital to show visitors how Communist-era police persecuted the regime's opponents.

The 1,000-square-meter (1,077-square-foot) bunker with reinforced concrete walls up to 2.4 meters (8-feet) thick was built between 1981 and 1986 to shelter elite police and interior ministry staff in the event of a nuclear attack.

The museum that opened in Tirana now holds photographs and equipment that illustrate the political persecution of some 100,000 Albanians from 1945 until 1991.

The "Pillar" museum, as the nuclear bunker was codenamed, is one of several former hideouts the Albanian government has repurposed for the public since it came to power three years ago.

Both an island fortress and another underground bunker designed for Albania's army command are now open to tourists, as is a leaf-covered villa that once housed the former communist country's secret police, known as Sigurimi.

More may come from the scores of military installations erected during the paranoid, isolationist regime of the late dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled with an iron fist after the end of World War II until December 1990.

Hoxha's regime, with an imaginary fear of invasion by the "imperialist United States and social-imperialist Soviet Union," built concrete bunkers of all sizes around the country. At one time there were rumored to be as many as 700,000, but the government says 175,000 were built.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the new museum reflects his Cabinet's "will to pay back a debt to the memory of the former political persecuted, forgotten in the last 25 years."

Located downtown, it was designed to attract visitors from Albania and beyond "to learn about the ways that the former communist police persecuted their opponents," curator Carlo Bollino said.

"This is the first memorial for the victims of the communist terror," Bollino said.

Twenty rooms in the new museum show Albania's police history from 1912 until 1991, as well as the names of 6,027 people executed during the communist regime, the 34,000 imprisoned and the more than 50,000 sent to isolated internment camps.

The bunker was never used, "though it has always been operational," according to Mehdi Sulo, 70, a museum guide.

It also has been a focus of political demonstrations.

In an anti-government rally a year ago, supporters of the main opposition Democratic Party destroyed part of a replica bunker built as the museum's entrance. They complained that Rama's governing Socialist Party was trying to glorify the country's dark past.

The holes the demonstrators made in the entrance purposely were not repaired.

"Bunkers once aimed at putting the enemy away, now they serve to attract people to remember the difficult past," Rama said.

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