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Albania Failing to Fully Compensate Communist Execution Victims’ Families

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Alma Lico’s grandfather, a lawyer, was executed by Albania’s repressive Communist regime in 1945 because he was involved with a political party, Balli Kombetar, which opposed Communist rule.

Lico is now 65 years old, and she and her father have long been struggling to get the compensation they were promised for her grandfather’s killing.

Legislation was adopted in 2009 to financially compensate political prisoners from the Communist period. It envisaged compensation payments being made annually in instalments, each representing one year spent in prison, with an upper limit set at eight years.

The law also promised compensation payments, again in annual instalments, to the families of political prisoners who were executed.

“In my grandfather’s case, it was calculated as if my grandfather was sentenced to eight years in prison and this was converted to the minimum amount that was set based on the law,” Lico explained.

This was standard procedure under the law: relatives of people who were executed were to be given eight years’ worth of compensation payments.

Albania’s Authority for Information on Former State Security Documents, known as the Files Authority, recently proposed to the Ministry of Justice that the compensation law should be changed to increase the upper limit from eight to 25 years, as some prisoners spend decades in jail.

But relatives of the victims have an even more pressing issue: some of them have not received all the annual compensation instalments they are entitled to under the law.

“Due to a lack of will, I cannot say due to economic impossibility – it’s 2023 now – my family has received only three instalments so far,” said Lico.

Each instalment came to around 950 euros; in total the family received around 2,850 euros. They should have received five more annual payments, adding up to around 7,600 euros.

Lico also pointed out that her family has only received compensation for her grandfather’s execution, even though people from three other generations of her family were interned under Communism. People who were interned in camps rather than imprisoned in jails are not entitled to compensation, however.

“My grandfather was executed, my father was interned, I was interned and my children were born in internment, and of all this long period of persecution, only eight years of imprisonment are calculated [for compensation payments] for my executed grandfather,” Lico said.

As well as raising the limit for annual payments from eight to 25 years, the Files Authority is asking for compensation to be granted to people who were interned in closed camps, those born in internment and minors under 15 years of age who were kept in internment camps.

It is also asking for relatives of people who were executed to get 25 years’ worth of payments, and for a lump sum to be given to people who were sentenced to do forced labour.

‘We found my grandfather’s remains ourselves’

Rustem Lezemerja, the grandson of another political dissident executed by the Communist regime, is also waiting for his compensation payments to be handed over in full.

His grandfather, who was also called Rustem Lezemerja, was part of an anti-Communist rebel force called the Defense Division in the village of Ndroq, near Durres, with some of his friends. “They fled and joined the Mountain Committee [a rebel group in mountainous northern Albania] to overthrow Communism,” said his grandson.

While he was on the run for five years, the authorities imprisoned his wife and son in a detention camp in Tepelena.

He was executed in 1951, and then the authorities left his body on public display for three days in Ishem, near Durres. “They left him to terrorise the people and they also took my grandmother there to see him,” said his grandson.

His remains weren’t discovered for decades afterwards, until the Communist regime began to collapse in Albania. They received no help from the authorities.

“In 1990, we found the remains of my grandfather ourselves because my grandmother remembered the place where they were left,” he said.

Like Alma Lico, the Lezemerja family hasn’t received all the instalments of the promised state compensation. “In 2016, the first instalment started, and in total we have received three installments, 17,000 euros,” said Lezemerja.

“The last instalment was last year. They gave us nothing for the internment in the Tepelene camp.”

This is not the only issue that upsets Lezemerja; he is also unhappy about the fact that political prisoners convicted under Communism, like his grandfather, were never officially pardoned – “there is no law for them to be declared martyrs of democracy”, he lamented.

How the law works – and why it hasn’t

The law adopted in 2009 set out who is eligible for compensation. They include people who were executed, imprisoned, exiled or deported, held in a psychiatric institution or in an investigative unit without trial under a final court ruling or other official decision made between November 30, 1944 and October 1, 1991.

To be eligible, they also have to have been cleared of any crime under a law adopted in 1991 to amnesty people who were convicted on political grounds under Communism, and they must not have committed serious crimes during the period from November 30, 1944 to October 1, 1991.

“Family members of the victims who were unjustly shot or executed as a political punishment, benefit for this suffering and persecution from the same financial compensation, amounting in total to compensation for an eight-year prison sentence,” the legislation says.

According to Erald Kapri, an Albanian historian who is a member of an organisation called Kujto.al, which focuses on the crimes committed under Communism, the compensation law as it stands has failed.

“The issue of delays is totally in violation of the law. [The process of compensation] should have been finished a long time ago and it was not,” Kapri told BIRN.

“The idea was that in a family that had an executed member, his family would receive a reward equal to eight years in prison and this would be received in eight instalments. Which means they would receive it in full in eight years. Well, from 2009 until now, it’s been almost 14 years, and there are other families that have received one, two or at most three instalments,” he added.

“There is no explanation at all from the Ministry of Finance about this, but of course, it is related to the explanation that ‘we don’t have enough funds to complete the compensation’,” he added.

BIRN sent a request to the Ministry of Finance, asking about the total number of survivors qualified for compensation and how many of them have been fully compensated, and about the total number of victims’ heirs who are qualified for compensation and have been fully compensated. The ministry did not respond.

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