Before the fall of communism, In more ways than one Albania was the Switzerland of the communist bloc, a country separate from the rest, clinging to the ideology in even weirder ways than the rest, while wasting a lot of the already sparse resources on fortifying a place that nobody would possibly want to invade. Dictator Enver Hoxha had over 700,000 bunkers/pillboxes built, which, of course, still (literally) litter Albania. There is no limit to human folly, it seems, and if folly meets power the strangest, saddest, worst things can happen.
Now that Hoxha’s absurd Stalinist regime is gone, Albanians are trying to fix the country they inherited. An application for membership in the European Union was filed in 2009. It’s not quite clear when this will actually happen, but it’s fairly obvious that the country will become a member sooner or later. For Concresco, David Galjaard was traveling all over the country, to produce a portrait of the place and its people, having Hoxha’s pillboxes serve as visual anchors of sorts.
I’m trying to imagine the role these bunkers might play for Albanians. Given there are so many of them it seems you can’t turn around without seeing at least one of them. Maybe, in some way, the bunkers play a similar role as Germany’s inner cities. Hastily rebuilt after World War 2, these architectural abominations of the human spirit are indirect reminders of the German past, working not quite like a memorial or a monument, but rather more unconsciously, maybe like a wooden splinter under one’s skin - irritating and a bit painful, but very different from a cut, say. Needless to say, my reading might be way off. But I find that it’s often interesting to compare experiences - instead of thinking that each and every experience just must be unique.
Self-published, Concresco is a rather lavish production, firmly betraying its Dutch origin in terms of design and production value. As much as it is cliche for me to write this, but it seems these days you can’t really go wrong with any Dutch photobook, and this one is no exception. If you want a copy, you can order it directly from the photographer.
Concresco, photographs by David Galjaard, essays by Slavenka Drakulic and Jaap Scholten, 168 pages, self-published, 2012