What if Your Loved Ones’ Betrayal Landed You in Prison? | NBC Left Field
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What if Your Loved Ones’ Betrayal Landed You in Prison? | NBC Left Field

There’s a saying that was popular in
Albania under the brutal communist dictatorship: “Even walls have ears,” which
really meant you were always being listened to. There’s this game I think we all play some version of. You look down the hall or across the street at your neighbor and you ask yourself,
“If things got really bad in this country, like politically, whose side would he be on?
Mine or the government’s? Would he save me or would he betray me to save his own skin?” In Albania, decades after communism fell,
some of these old questions are just starting to be answered. More than 25
years after the fall of communism in Albania, the government has decided to
open up the archives of its old secret police. The deal is this: anyone who is
spied on during the communist dictatorship can get access to a secret
file. But in some cases, this opening up has been painful because people were
spied on by those they didn’t expect. Maks Velo was one of the most famous
artists in Albania, but in 1978, at the peak of his career,
Maks noticed that he was being followed. Government agents accused Maks of having modernist
tendencies. They thought his art was transgressive because Maks didn’t paint
bright, optimistic images of heroic socialist workers, like artists in
Albania were expected to. Maks was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor, underground, in dark copper mines. By then,
the regime had dozens of prisons and work camps modeled on Stalin’s gulags. At some point, Maks says,
his captors offered him a choice: help us and we can let this go. Maks felt sure that someone he knew had
gone to authorities and informed on him, but in all those years and in all the
years since he never knew exactly who. For 45 years, Albania was home to one of
the most brutal and isolated communist regimes in the world. Under the dictator
Enver Hoxha, tens of thousands of Albanians were held as political
prisoners and around 6,000 were executed. Hoxha was famous for his
paranoia. But no communist dictatorship is complete without a loyal secret
police, and in Albania the Sigurimi was notoriously efficient. One day, in Tirana,
the Sigurimi’s former engineering chief agreed to meet us at a local cafe.
He told us what people in this situation always seem to say: that he was just
following orders. What do you think about the fact that
the Albanian government is opening up the old Sigurimi files and letting
people look at them? In Maks’ case, one of the people named in his file
was his own former mother-in-law. Another informant was Maks’ friend, a fellow artist, someone Maks admired. That hurt is why some people in Albania want the archives to stay closed. Maks told us
that his former friend was still alive, but that he hadn’t tried to reach him, so
we called him. He didn’t want to meet or talk for long. Other critics think
there’s just nothing useful to find in these files, all these years later. Within
communities, an old informer might be outed but then what? Still, the Albanian
government wants people to see the files and learn from their betrayals. It sounds like you think that in some cases these collaborators still
deserve our sympathy. Have you had a chance to read Maks’ file? Does any part of you regret knowing
what’s inside? These days, Maks keeps to
himself. He says he doesn’t speak much to his neighbors and he doesn’t know their


  • Debra Smith

    This needs to be on prime time MSNBC. This is required to wake up the nation.
    Matthew 24:12
    Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold

  • Moopheus

    No, you fucked people. Those archives can stay open so you can spend the rest of your miserable life dealing with people shooting glares at you for what you did. You don't care about the people you hurt. You're just scared somebody is going to retaliate. You deserve to live in fear like your victims did, your entire family name stained by your deeds.

  • NBC Left Field

    We went to Albania, where the government has just opened up the archives of its old Communist secret police. Anyone who was spied on during the Enver Hoxha dictatorship can get access to his/her secret file. In some cases, the revelations have been painful. How would you react if you found out someone you trusted had betrayed you?

  • Coalminds.com

    "Nothing useful to find" – the truth? the concept of letting sleeping dogs lie is understood but not in cases where people's freedoms were taken away.

  • Ervin Keça

    It's funny because in these 30 years of democracy all our governments were run by the same communist people or by the sons of the former communist leadership. I would love to see their files, but for some reason they do not exist, I wonder why!!

  • Frank Lebowski

    Half the Americans reading this (probably more than that) have no idea where Albania is located, let alone knowing it was once a totalitarian dictatorship.

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