The Pyramid of Enver Hoxha in Tirana, Albania

The Pyramid of Enver Hoxha in Tirana, Albania

The landmark was built as a museum for the late Enver Hoxha. The Albanian leader kept Stalinism alive in Europe for decades after the Soviet dictator died in 1953. The pyramid is still standing but it’s starting to crumble. In fact, during bloody anti-government demonstrations in Tirana back in February protestors broke off pieces of the pyramid to throw at other government buildings. Albanians have been trying to figure out what to do with the pyramid for years. Just last month, the parliament passed a law to tear it down. Even so, opponents of the demolition are gathering petitions to save the building. And the current president is deciding whether to sign the bill or side with the protesters. From Tirana, Matthew Brunwasser gives us a tour of the controversial pyramid.

If there’s any one place which encapsulates Albania’s rocky ride from communist hermit state to anything-goes “wild, wild east,” its probably the pyramid. The bizarre monument-museum is something like eight stories tall. Its housed an international cultural center, a café and the US Agency for international development. One of Albania’s first independent TV stations is still operating here. Skerdi Drenova from Top Channel is showing me around.

“This is another control room,” says Drenova. “It’s called ‘disco’ and was built for a nightclub in 1991 but it never opened so we took it and transformed it into production studio. “We produce our investigative program here…. ”

In the café at the base of the pyramid, Albanian journalists enjoy macchiatos and cigarettes while they discuss the issues of the day. A parliamentary committee has voted to tear down the pyramid and to build a new parliament building in its place. But the decision is still not final. Top Channel employees clearly have a good reason to want to save the building. But many here oppose destroying it for philosophical reasons.

“It’s part of our country, we can not destory everyting that we had,” says journalist Alisa Mysliu. “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?”

Mysliu’s colleage Helidon Tahiraj writes for one of the current affairs programs and used to be a prosecutor. He says its hard for Albanians to deal with the communist past because the old system still lives inside people’s heads.

Tahiraj says: “Many people in Albania have strong links with communism, some of them have been spies for the secret police, like the Stasi or KGB, but here it was the Sigurimi Shtetit. They’ve got nostalgia, they have links with the past. Albania is changing, but not in the right direction. It’s going to take a long time, probably a generation or two.”

From the outside, the pyramid looks abandoned and decayed. The marble surface is gone and the concrete shell is broken and covered with graffiti. The passersby spoken with all wanted it fixed – not erased. People like Hajrije Vito who works in a shoe factory.

“Well, now it’s ruined,” says Vito. “When the building was new, it was beautiful. We used to visit inside to see the exhibits, but now look at the state it’s in. What’s there to like about it?  If they fix it and put some money into repairs and renovation it could be something useful and nice for the young people.

One might be tempted to view the difficulties Albanians have in deciding the pyramid’s future as symbolic of the country’s difficult post-communist transition. But the Albanians talked to see the inaction and bickering about the monument as a symbol of their leaders’ corruption and incompetence.

Eralda Murataj, a student of finance, says “I think its been used to avoid people noticing other probems which are more important than the pyramid itself. that’s what I think. I think it should stay where it is.”

If the new parliament is built here, it is supposed to open for business in November 2012 – in time to celebrate the Centenial of Albania’s indepedence. This makes Albanians think of their future parliament building much like their democracy: they’re not expecting a great job.

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