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DICTATOR'S PARANOIA MADE ALBANIA A LAND OF BUNKERS : IMMOBILE CONCRETE DOMES DOT LANDSCAPE BY THOUSANDS.

Byline: Philip Shenon The New York Times

There is paranoia. And then there was Enver Hoxha's brand of paranoia.

The brutal, eccentric, isolationist dictator of Albania for more than four decades, Hoxha sealed off this small southern European nation from the outside world, insisting that Albania faced enemies from every side, on every border.

His paranoia did not distinguish between East and West. If the United States did not try to invade Albania, he warned, then the Soviet Union would.

Hoxha - pronounced HAW-dja - died in 1985, and Albanians have spent much of the past decade doing their best to erase any memory of his crazed dictatorship. Statues of Hoxha were smashed and photographs burned, and today Albania is struggling to establish something like a democracy.

But to the dismay of many Albanians who have tried to forget the Hoxha era, his legacy lives on, if only in the form of steel-reinforced cement: hundreds of thousands of igloo-shape concrete bunkers built by Hoxha's government to guard against his unseen, never-seen adversaries.

The pillboxes are everywhere in the countryside, scarring the landscape like toadstools in a lush garden. They eat up farmland that is already in short supply.

For most Albanians, the bunkers are an unwelcome - and virtually indestructible - reminder of the generations of repression, xenophobia and poverty.

``I see these bunkers, and I think about Enver Hoxha,'' said Zilije Luga, 55, a farmer whose family cow grazes in a field dotted with several of the pillboxes, the largest about 6 feet in diameter.

Readjusting the white cotton head scarf common among rural Albanian women, she marched over to one of the bunkers, using her wooden walking stick to point out the narrow slit that was intended to accommodate the snout of a 75mm gun.

``I remember when they came to me in the 1970s and told me that they would put two right in front of my house,'' she recalled. ``I said, `Are you crazy?' And they said, `No, we must protect the motherland.' I still thought it was crazy. But in those days, we could not complain about anything. If you complained, they put you in jail. We had to keep quiet.''

The two domed bunkers remain in front of Luga's door to this day, immovable.

Nobody knows exactly how many of these concrete pillboxes were built by the Hoxha government, although estimates range from 500,000 to 700,000, or about one for every five or six people in this nation of 3.3 million.

Hoxha ordered the first of them built in the early 1970s, supposedly because he saw the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia as a dry run for an invasion of Albania.

A Communist who styled himself a protege of Stalin - as a result, many Albanian men are saddled with Stalin as a first name - Hoxha had broken off relations with the Soviet Union in 1961, complaining that Stalin's successors in Moscow were ``imperialists and lackeys'' and had strayed from the path of true communism.

The bunkers were only one element of his survival plan, and not even the most eccentric. To protect himself from capture or assassination by invaders, Hoxha is reported to have ordered up a surgically enhanced double to attend public gatherings on his behalf.

``The bunkers became the symbol of totalitarianism in Albania,'' said Kujtim Cashku, an Albanian director who recently completed filming of ``Colonel Bunker,'' a French-financed drama that tells the story of an Albanian military officer obsessed by the task of building bunkers in the Hoxha years.

``In the end of the film, the officer comes to understand how he has wasted his life.''

The years of waste may finally be over in Albania, with the arrival of free markets and freer speech, and the decision by the government to allow foreigners to travel in and out of the country as investors and tourists.

Along the rugged Adriatic coast, a few of the bunkers have been turned into novelty restaurants and shops. In the countryside, they are sometimes used as chicken coops, or as public toilets.

Joseph Paparisto, the 27-year-old Albanian manager of a Christian charity group in Tirana, the capital, was inspired by the bunkers to turn a small fortune for his organization.

``When I saw these bunkers being built when I was growing up, I didn't think about them at all,'' he said. ``We could not question anything. But now, I think, why not make some money from them?''

Paparisto came up with Albania's most popular tourist souvenir - a two-inch-high white-marble replica of a bunker, selling for about $10 apiece. A small gift tag attached to each offers a welcome to foreign visitors.

``Greetings to the land of the bunkers,'' it says. ``We assumed that you could not afford to buy a big one.''

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Photo: Near the Albanian capital of Tirana, a farmer tendshis sheep in a field dotted with concrete bunkers.

The New York Times
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 14, 1996
Words:821
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