Albania cleans up war graves after decades of neglect

Image copyright Albanian Defence Ministry Image caption The cemeteries commemorate Communist partisans

Albania has launched a nationwide drive to renovate the long-neglected cemeteries of its war dead in the run-up to 29 November, the anniversary of the country's liberation from German occupation.

Defence Minister Olta Xhacka made the announcement during a tour of a cemetery in Peshkopi, the site of several resistance battles against Italian and later German forces during the Second World War.

The work is being carried out by local authorities and the army, and involves clearing overgrown shrubbery, restoring cracked marble and tiles, and repaving walkways.

This Defence Ministry initiative, which will be carried out in 22 cemeteries across the country, aims to "honour and respect the dignity of the fallen," the minister told troops and local dignitaries in a video posted on the ministry website.

"It is also an expression of our determination to advance the ideas of those who wrote the history of Albania with their blood, giving their lives for future generations of Albanians. It provides a fitting environment for relatives to commemorate the sacrifice of their loved ones," she said.

'28,000 martyrs'

The cemeteries were built and maintained by the postwar communist authorities. They were made a focal point of the official glorification of the "28,000 martyrs" who died fighting for the communist-led resistance forces.

But after the collapse of communism in 1990, many of the democratic governments that followed had neither the resources nor the inclination to lavish funds on the sites, seeing them as painting a one-sided account of the war.

Roland Qafoku, a leading TV reporter and author of a about Albania during the Second World War, welcomed the restoration work, but called on the authorities to take the opportunity to honour the memory of all who fought for their country.

He told the Balkan Insight website that none of the war dead buried in the cemeteries are royalist or nationalist partisans, many of whom were persecuted or driven into exile by the victorious Communists after the war.

"Before restoring the graves of those already buried in these cemeteries, the government should fund the return of the bodies of all those who fought hard by every means for their country," he said.

Image copyright Albanian Defence Ministry Image caption Defence minister Olta Xhacka (centre) was shown inspecting the restoration work

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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