The Condomisation of Memory

Ph.D. Julian Bejko
Department of Sociology, University of Tirana
[email protected]

This is the first time that I don’t have any desire to write about something that is of importance to the humanities. Nevertheless, because of a public debate on a private television station in Albania regarding Albanian cinema of the Communist era, I feel the responsibility to respond to the Albanian citizens and to state my intellectual and ethical position regarding this issue.

For six years I have been involved in scholarly research on the history of Albanian cinema and I’ve published already two volumes (The Society of Cinema, I, II – 2012, 2013). I’ve created the first and at the moment the only academic course on Film and Media Studies at my university. I’ve written and published several articles in English, French, and Italian on Albanian cinema and collective memory/history. I’ve participated in lot of international workshops, often as an invited expert to speak about the Albanian experience. In some cases, I’ve been treated like a second or third class citizen in Albania, my work has been criticized with the pretext that the public opinion doesn’t accept my books, but fortunately I’ve met very interesting people: scholars, researchers, and cinephiles, in Albania and abroad, who appreciate and understand the work I have undertaken. Some of them are involved too in this field supporting our collective memory and for this I am very grateful. They have praised Albanian cinema, recognizing that there was indeed a significant output and creative production for decades, and they have praise my historical research work as well.  This alone is enough for my life as a researcher, giving me the necessary impulse to keep working in this vein.

I have nothing to add to convince a group of naïve people pretending to make a law, which will forbid the “Kinostudio Communist Movies” from screening on Albanian private/public TV, or at least, forming a State commission to specify which films should survive the new censorship criteria and also, how to read them. The public debate in which I was involved two days ago was about this invented problem and the fake anti-communist premise that these Hoxha-era films interfere and affect today’s young generation of Albanians – an issue that has been treated and moralized with the same “argument” as that of the film Kapedani, (The Patriarch, 1972).

I would like to publish my complete analyses on this film here, but it will be presented to the public later this year, integrated into the Third Volume of my research. Thus, I’m going to quote just one passage from an important late Kinostudio era Albanian film The Circle of Memory (Esat Musliu, 1987) here:

“My research is on human memory. This is something that many scientists are afraid to mention. How can I explain this …as here I don’t have the anatomic designs of the brain to share with you. Well, let’s suppose for a moment that the state’s borders, mountains, rivers, roads, cities, are the surface of the brain. I want to give function only to those parts that have interest for me, based on an unsubstantiated opinion. For the rest, it shall be erased ! – the actor performs the typical gesticulation of a crazy and evil dictator with his hand above the map of Europe. Memory forms the basis of human activity. If we can speak in a symbolic manner, using the example of three tenses of a verb—past, present, and future—then we should preserve just one tense: the present. The past and the future should be erased or controlled. To enslave humans, we can perform this magical feat of erasing human memory without surgical intervention.”

Nothing better explains our current diseased reality than this quote from the film The Circle of Memory. A film that gave us the hated character of a Nazi doctor experimenting on human memory inside a hospital full of women gathered from all over Europe to make possible one of the greatest horrors of modernity. His practice is according to the Latin expression “Faciamus experimentum in corpore vili” – Let the experiment be performed on a worthless corpse. Inside the mad and ridiculous doctrine of the Nazi regime, the State created an industry of mass extermination. From this vantage point we can better understand the cinematic role of such a “doctor” – a zooming lens diagnosing the Nazi’s ghoulish and horrible procedure, the Communist regime and the ongoing debate today in Albania.

It has been going on for quite some that here that individuals and political groups are attempting to further repress, rather than address Albania’s damaged collective memory. De facto it makes lot of trouble because individual memory holds some criteria to judge and analyze the past and the present, the relation between a nephew and the grandfather, the old elites and the current elites. This debate tries to hinder social development and more precisely, any resolution and ability to heal our collective memory. The authoritarian goals are the same, but now a different approach and strategy are used. We are surrounded by several anesthesiologists trying to freeze our memory, with a special morality: if an eye has been corrupted from the past regime, lets blind it in this regime, as it is more honest to live with one eye only and, it will be done “without surgical intervention”.

An amnesiac Albanian woman (actress Marjeta Ljarja), a victim of Nazi mind-control experimentation, returns to her Socialist homeland after two decades abroad. The Albanian public has long considered this film as a horror movie but this vision of perverse Nazi experimentation on human memory concludes with a dire warning that Western countries are currently utilizing similar experiments. The Circle of Memory could be seen as an alternate version of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1970).

We see the Albanian medical team analyzing her condition – this is the very first time in Albanian cinema that psychiatrists appear onscreen. In front of us we have two different biopolitical procedures, a harmful Nazi method of death and oblivion versus a healing Socialist practice based in the sociology of collective memory. To rebuild her memory fragments, the Albanian medical team pushes the traumatized woman to relive her suffering to bring about recovery. Yet this amnesiac intensely fears recalling this painful past. To bring about a cure, confidence and trust are fostered by a warm friendship between her and a male doctor from the medical team. In fact, we discover that the woman’s troubles have less to do with a warped memory or deep psychic trauma and more to do with her incapacity to speak of and come to terms with her past experiences. This could be viewed as a possibility to begin comprehending the great silence imposed on victims of  crimes committed during the Communist regime, a void of silence that continues even two decades on. The suffering of Hoxha’s Communist time is often used by the current political parties as a hammer against each other rather than committing serious research to detailed studies of the causes and long-term effects of the regime’s policies on the Albanian people.  Analyzing these past experiences and memories becomes a necessary examination of the process that mutilated the original. Remaking memory has become an act of gradual annihilation, a whirpool in a circle of memory.

Albania today suffers from a more sophisticated type of amnesia in which discourse is fragmented into easy narratives that fit the political agendas of both right and left. In many ways Albania’s reckoning with its half-century of dictatorship and its cinema, mirrors the struggle faced by the amnesiac woman in The Memory Circle. Only through a nuanced understanding of Communist modes of representation, rather than a facile dismissal of these tactics as an instrument of propaganda, can we begin to understand Albania’s complex and fractured development over the past two decades. It is this silence that ultimately harms memory and it is vital to undertake research to better realize the present visible within our cinematic past.

But the new public debate is proposing to ban or have selective control over these archival movies/memory, and the rest of them will be suppressed, or worse, erased! This absurdity “without surgical intervention,” in fact proceeds not with the Nazi tool of erasing the memory by means of electroshock, but with the help of a condom. The pre-paid team of this anti-communist morality, pretend to replace God’s authority which has been declared unconstitutional in the past and is now accepted again. They will probably create a State commission, a new censorship membrane, will order some condoms and fill them with the banned memoies. At the end they will tie a sailor’s knot and the memory will be deported and deposited in some decrepit State archives that receive far too little funding to maintain their collections. These memories will become infested with insects, the only populations that survive there. This condomization of memory has another advantage (in alimentary labels is written that this product is organic and free of conservants): it has a great moral function and technically is not harmful inside a healthy propaganda. It is only the intermediate step of a prophylactic life: it doesn’t permit the exchange of information and contact with an “infected body and memory” (the expression of this moral fascist team); it interrupts the continuity between society and memory, it moralizes some practices declared as shameful, it makes possible the frequency of a body with many memories without affecting/infecting it, and most importantly, by assuring the non-infection of future generations.

I mean to say that destroying these collective frames is yet another way to interfere with the past. The “Kinostudio” productions will be quietly catalogued inside condoms with labels attached to dictate us how to touch and read them with the official guidance of a team of memory doctors. This repressive practice is ridiculous and is attempting to employ authoritarian techniques to hide the infected pulsing body of memory behind the visual horizon of a new morality. I will end this statement here by quoting a famous Polish-Hebrew sociologist:

“The victims of Stalin and Hitler were not killed because these dictators wanted to colonize their land. Very often the victims were killed in a mechanic and routine approach without the demonstration of any kind of human emotion – including hate. They were killed because they were not belonging, for one or another reason, to the scheme of a perfect society. The victims were eliminated with the goal of creating a world objectively better, more effective, moral and beautiful, a communist world or an Aryan world of a pure race.”

–Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and Holocaust, 1989.

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