Do We Need the “Files Authority”?

By Jonila Godole* | Albanian Daily News, 16 November 21

The question remains what has the Albanian society learned about the repressive apparatus and the mechanisms with which the Security worked, which was not known before? Today, after 5 years, we still do not know what were the mechanisms of adapting the population to terror and eavesdropping.

When the Law for Information on Former State Security Documents (abbreviated: Files Law) was adopted in 2015, which also provided for the establishment of an executive authority, I was among those who supported it. My support was based on the expectation that this law was needed and then it could be amended to further improve it. On the other hand, I remain critical of revealing the past focusing only on the former State Security, which was one of the many instruments in the repressive arsenal of the dictatorship. This week marks 5 years since the establishment of the Authority for Information on Former State Security Documents (abbreviated: AIDSSH, or Files Authority) and the time has come to make a balance on the work of this public institution funded by taxpayers.

The Wrong German Model for the Opening of Files

As is common in Albania, are imported from abroad those laws that are more in line with the government’s agenda rather than the concrete needs in the Albanian reality. This is what happened with the Files Law 45/2015: it was drafted almost in secret and the interest groups found themselves before a done deal. The law that was advertised as a copy of the German model did not contain any provision for possible coercive measures against former Security collaborators, nor the removal of employees from the public administration, in case they appeared in the files. Thus, the law focused on information and not on “lustration” or “punishment”. The first question is why was chosen the German model, and not, for example, the Romanian or Bulgarian one? These countries bore greater resemblance to Albania in terms of the type of Stalinist dictatorship and the repression of the population. The German model was copied completely ignoring the historical context of the two countries.

AIDSSH and a Five-Year Balance

The adoption of the Files Law, which under German law provided access to information but did not contain elements of lustration, was met with disappointment by the associations of former political prisoners. Many people have probably been helped by getting acquainted with the personal files of the persecution or their family members. This is an important service, without question, which could have been performed much earlier even within the existing structures of the Archive, if there had been a vision and political will to serve the citizens and to invest in the archives. But we should not forget and should not overestimate the fact that the files are documents created by the Security and give its perspective. Therefore, the function of AIDSSH was complex: on the one hand, transparency was expected on the information contained in the files; on the other, it was expected to promote independent studies that shed light on the repressive methods of Security in various areas of life. For this to happen, first of all, an inventory of the so-called “Security Archive” was needed. But the latter does not exist, at least not legally. So AIDSSH started its existence “with the wrong foot”. Here are some of the main problems we have encountered in these 5 years:

First, the AIDSSH was created in grave violation of the legislation on archives, according to which the only authority responsible for the administration of documents, after 1944, is the Archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MPB). As the former director of the Archive of the Ministry of Interior, Kastriot Dervishi, would then say, the creation of AIDSSH was not only illegal, but could set a precedent In the same way, requests could be made for the establishment of additional authorities for information on the documents of the PPSH, the Democratic Front, etc. Unlike the Hast German STASI, which had the status of an independent ministry, the Security was one of three departments within the MPB responsible for implementing repressive policy. So, there was no “Security Archive” as such. As a result, the establishment of the AIDSSH is thought to have caused not only severe damage to the unity of state archives, but also fragmentation, mismanagement and physical damage to the original documents, often leading to their loss.

Second, there is a lack of detailed inventory on the number of files in the administration, registers. In their public appearances, senior AIDSSH representatives give contradictory figures. It was recently said that there are 22 million pages of documents. Earlier, there was talk about 23 million; or even 32 million documents. Which figure corresponds to reality and is it true that only 10% of the files have been opened so far?

Third, as many people who have received their files testify, AIDSSH has applied the practice of censorship, by deleting names, documents in files, making the information invalid. This is not about deleting names for third parties, according to the law on personal data, but about deleting from ignorance and lack of experience of responsible persons.

Fourth, the AIDSSH has shown years of unwillingness to expose the files of former Security Operations officers and has protected them indirectly by refusing to provide information about them. How many of the former Security workers involved in state institutions have been made public to date? Persecution and crime are not only revealed through the files of the victims, but also of their persecutors. It is therefore cynical when AIDSSH talks about transitional justice. How can you have transitional justice without making public the names of former Security officers and collaborators?!

Fifth, it is evident the monopolization of the right and access to archives; as well as the submission of institutional and private legal entities to request documents and information only through AIDSSH. Through the drafting and amendment of the law, last year AIDSSH has completely expanded and monopolized the archives, files and access of other parties.

Sixth, to these practices is added the selectivity of research institutions and researchers who are selected as partners on bilateral agreements without any legal basis. Journalists or researchers from “partner” institutions are offered full and free access to the files, while others are required to pay fees according to legal obligation. It is unforgivable, cynical and immoral to force applicants seeking their wounds and executioners to pay for services, photocopies, etc.

Seventh, not using the time to serve the interested people who wait for months for their files, justifying that “human and financial resources lack”; and on the other hand, finding time to carry out cultural projects in the field, recordings of oral histories, publications, conferences, exhibitions, musealizations, exhumations, issuing authorizations and certificates for the persecuted, etc.

Eighth, the AEDSSH’s engagement in the ambitious EU-funded project to find and identify the remains of those shot by the communist regime; spending funds and finding and identifying nothing – in addition to demanding more transparency, throws strong suspicions that this painful cause was used for propaganda.

Ninth, it is unacceptable and utterly unethical for victims to leave files in the hands of archivists, relatives of former Security operatives. This constant public criticism has gone unanswered.

Tenth, from the perspective of this balance sheet, the question remains what has the Albanian society learned about the repressive apparatus and the mechanisms with which the Security worked, which was not known before. Today, after 5 years, we still do not know what were the mechanisms of adapting the population to terror and eavesdropping, or how the individual disappeared in the anonymous body of the collective. These studies cannot be conducted without impartial access to the files for all researchers. On the other hand, all interested persons could be given the opportunity to be informed about the Security files within the country’s archival network – by improving the existing law on archives – without the need for additional bureaucratic links.

(Panorama, November 15, 2021)

* Dr. Jonila Godole has been leading the Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture (IDMC) since 2014, which focuses on raising the awareness of society and the younger generation about the communist dictatorship and its consequences.

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