The Other Side of Make-Believe

October 10, 2023 Albania Psychology

A bunker on the Albanian seaside.A bunker on the Albanian seaside.

During the dictatorship, Enver Hoxha’s regime littered the Albanian countryside with bunkers and defense fortifications. These days, with communism long gone, the bunkers simply dot the landscape. They stand as empty hulls without a purpose.

I knew the Stalinist government had been paranoid: They broke first with Yugoslavia, then the Soviet Union, and finally China. They declared themselves the only true socialist state in the world, then proceeded to isolate the country and its population. Fearing imminent attack from their former partners or the United States, the regime turned the country into a literal fortress. Hoxha pledged to build one bunker for every four Albanians.

A logical möbius loop

The testimony I read Tirana’s House of Leaves museum revealed that the bunkers weren’t just for protection; they also served an altogether different purpose. Their very existence made citizens believe in the threat—because why else would the government build so many bunkers?

It’s a logical möbius loop, and all too easy to get lost in it. The bunkers reinforced a siege mentality that the government used to keep its iron grip on power. Maintaining an (however imaginary) fear is a convenient excuse to also maintain the status quo: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

Next: Day 1307: The Shock of Entanglement

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