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Investigation Into Albanian Communist-Era Victims Inches Closer to Reality

Progress in Tirana, but in nearby Serbia, another unsolved murder continues to cloud the country’s relations with the United States.

10 July 2018

The thousands of Albanian families who lost loved ones under the brutal communist regime might have edged a bit closer this month to learning what actually happened to their relatives.

 

Last week the Albanian government agreed – after eight years of negotiations – to work with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) to find out what happened to the roughly 6,000 people who disappeared, likely executed or otherwise having died in prison, with no notification provided to their families.

 

But the Albanian parliament must still approve the government’s decision, which would give the green light to a project involving excavations at two burial sites allegedly containing communist-era victims, reports Balkan Insight.

 

The EU has granted the ICMP 450,000 euros for the project.

 

Among the countries behind the Iron Curtain, Albania’s brand of communism stood out for its brutality. Under communist leader Enver Hoxha’s more than three-decade rule, Albania became Europe’s most isolated country and a byword for backwardness and miserable living conditions.

 

The notorious “House of Leaves” in Tirana, the building where the dreaded Sigurimi secret police intercepted communications for most of the communist period, opened as a museum of surveillance in 2017. Image via Spazi Indecisi/Facebook.

 

More than 100,000 people were sent to prison camps until the collapse of the communist regime in 1991.

 

In nearby Serbia, attention is focused on one particular, unsolved case: the killing of three Albanian-Americans in 1999 during the Kosovo war. Nineteen years on, their family is still seeking justice, and yesterday accused Serbian authorities of being unwilling to move forward with the investigation, according to The Associated Press. Some have speculated that those suspected of involvement in the crime have escaped prosecution because of their political connections.

 

Chicago-born brothers Ylli, Mehmet, and Agron Bytyqi left a New York pizza business to fight with ethnic Albanian rebels against Serbia's rule over Kosovo. Their bodies were discovered in a mass grave in eastern Serbia in 2001, according to AP.

 

The incident has placed a burden on Serbia’s relationship with the U.S., leading the House Foreign Affairs Committee to adopt a resolution in February 2017 urging Belgrade to prosecute the killers.

 

“Progress in resolving this case, or the lack thereof, should remain a significant factor determining the further development of relations between the United States and the Republic of Serbia,” the resolution read.

 

 

  • In Albania, with the funds from the EU, the ICMP would include DNA testing to match any discovered remains with possible family members.

 

  • Albanians frustrated with the continuous delays began to search for their loved ones on their own. One businessman started to dig up possible burial sites to find his father and instead came across a mass grave, Balkan Insight wrote in 2010.

 

  • This is hardly the only case of lengthy delays in approving measures to deal with the past. It took Albania more than two and a half decades to pass a law in 2015 that allows citizens to request information on themselves or family members contained in the files of the communist-era secret police, or Sigurimi.

Compiled by Valentine Sargent

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