Enver Hoxha (1908–1985), the isolationist dictator who ruled Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985, was convinced that his country faced imminent invasion from its neighbours, from NATO or from the USSR . For Haki Isufi, this meant that from the age of 12 he underwent an hour of military training every day at school. By the time he was 14 he had already been given a Kalashnikov and been told to practise firing it from the embrasure of an eight-ton, steel-reinforced concrete bunker—easy to do, since there were two in his yard.

These two-person shelters belonged to an estimated 750,000 bunkers built by Hoxha’s regime. Construction began in 1967 and escalated dramatically in the late 1960s after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries that had once been Albania’s allies. The ubiquity of the bunkers meant that Isufi could defend against invaders from wherever he happened to be when disaster struck, from his school, backyard, or workplace. ‘It made me feel very safe at the time,’ he says.

Ironically, although they were built to withstand intense bombardment in a ground invasion that never came, they are succumbing to the peacetime forces of economics, public safety and abhorrence of the past. Isufi says he sold the steel from one of his bunkers, which took a whole weekend to destroy, for €300 (US$400), more than the €260 (US$350) average monthly salary of an Albanian. Still, he kept the other bunker in his backyard as a house for his guard dog, and across the country others like him have repurposed them as chicken coops, hay storage, workshops and more, converting these relics of isolationism into a functional manifestation of the country’s embrace of capitalism.

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Enver Hoxha (1908–1985), the isolationist dictator who ruled Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985, was convinced that his country faced imminent invasion from its neighbours, from NATO or from the USSR . For Haki Isufi, this meant that from the age of 12 he underwent an hour of military training every day at school. By the time he was 14 he had already been given a Kalashnikov and been told to practise firing it from the embrasure of an eight-ton, steel-reinforced concrete bunker—easy to do, since there were two in his yard.

These two-person shelters belonged to an estimated 750,000 bunkers built by Hoxha’s regime. Construction began in 1967 and escalated dramatically in the late 1960s after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries that had once been Albania’s allies. The ubiquity of the bunkers meant that Isufi could defend against invaders from wherever he happened to be when disaster struck, from his school, backyard, or workplace. ‘It made me feel very safe at the time,’ he says.

Ironically, although they were built to withstand intense bombardment in a ground invasion that never came, they are succumbing to the peacetime forces of economics, public safety and abhorrence of the past. Isufi says he sold the steel from one of his bunkers, which took a whole weekend to destroy, for €300 (US$400), more than the €260 (US$350) average monthly salary of an Albanian. Still, he kept the other bunker in his backyard as a house for his guard dog, and across the country others like him have repurposed them as chicken coops, hay storage, workshops and more, converting these relics of isolationism into a functional manifestation of the country’s embrace of capitalism.

Enver Hoxha (1908–1985), the isolationist dictator who ruled Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985, was convinced that his country faced imminent invasion from its neighbours, from NATO or from the USSR . For Haki Isufi, this meant that from the age of 12 he underwent an hour of military training every day at school. By the time he was 14 he had already been given a Kalashnikov and been told to practise firing it from the embrasure of an eight-ton, steel-reinforced concrete bunker—easy to do, since there were two in his yard.

These two-person shelters belonged to an estimated 750,000 bunkers built by Hoxha’s regime. Construction began in 1967 and escalated dramatically in the late 1960s after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries that had once been Albania’s allies. The ubiquity of the bunkers meant that Isufi could defend against invaders from wherever he happened to be when disaster struck, from his school, backyard, or workplace. ‘It made me feel very safe at the time,’ he says.

Ironically, although they were built to withstand intense bombardment in a ground invasion that never came, they are succumbing to the peacetime forces of economics, public safety and abhorrence of the past. Isufi says he sold the steel from one of his bunkers, which took a whole weekend to destroy, for €300 (US$400), more than the €260 (US$350) average monthly salary of an Albanian. Still, he kept the other bunker in his backyard as a house for his guard dog, and across the country others like him have repurposed them as chicken coops, hay storage, workshops and more, converting these relics of isolationism into a functional manifestation of the country’s embrace of capitalism.

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