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"Opening up the Archives is a step on the way to opening up society"
Project completed

Frau im Staatsarchiv


















Throughout the years of Communist dictatorship, the Albanian State Archives were an obscure institution that inspired fear. In the intervening years, Swiss support has transformed the Archives into a welcoming, competent facility for serving the general public.

When people describe what the State Archives were like "in the old days", one is immediately reminded of the novel "The Palace of Dreams" by Albanian author Ismail Kadare, which describes the nightmare of an all-controlling totalitarian State – historically set at the time of Turkish rule – where even its subjects' dreams are recorded. The records are sifted through, interpreted and finally filed away in a confusing maze of long corridors and countless rooms.

Chaos after the political turnaround
Nowadays, there is no longer anything threatening about the State Archives in themselves. The reception at the entrance is friendly, and the catalogue and reading room behind it light and airy. People of different ages sit at long tables, studying documents. This situation is very different from that of 1994, three years after the dictatorship ended, when the Swiss Federal Archives first contacted their Albanian counterpart. The documents – including some unique items of great historical and artistic value – were mouldering in damp rooms, and finding documents using the mainly hand-written catalogue required considerable detective work. Furthermore, after the dictatorship was toppled, some supporters of and profiteers from the old regime ransacked the State Archives in the hunt for potentially incriminating documents, plunging it into total chaos.

Time-consuming digitization
Between 1994 and 2004, Switzerland – that is, the Swiss Federal Archives and SDC – supported its Albanian partner to the tune of roughly 1.9 million CHF. Over the same period, Albania increased its own contribution to the State Archives tenfold, emphasizing the importance the modern Albanian State attaches to this institution. Investments were made in renovating the building and modernizing its storage areas which were also equipped with state-of-the-art air conditioning and security technology to protect the valuable documents. Digitizing the individual file-card records – about two million in all – is a time-consuming task, as the hand-written entries are sometimes hard to decipher. A search engine is to help visitors track down documents fast. Another important aspect of Swiss support concerns the training and further training of Archives staff. Digital technology entails completely new tasks for staff members. And because the State Archives are now a public facility, they also had to learn how to provide "customer service", such as advising users.

ArchivChangeover to a service operation
National and regional archives in Albania are becoming service operations for the general public, in line with the cooperation objective. Every year, up to 25'000 inquiries are received from citizens, a third of which concern the national Archives and deal with contracts, title deeds and similar documents. This is particularly important because the descendants of the original owners of land expropriated under the dictatorship can now reassert their rights to it. The dispensation of justice has improved, now that it can base itself on reliable sources. The Archives are also important for historical research, and in particular for coming to terms with the recent past. "Opening up the Archives is a step on the way to opening up society", according to the Director of the national Archives. Besides Albanian students and professors, around one hundred foreign researchers are regular visitors to the Archives that house, for instance, the correspondence of the Swiss Communist Party which followed the Albanian party line.

Archive access at the click of a mouse
Cooperation during the final phase, which started early in 2005, is geared to ultimate handover to the Albanian partner. Digitization will be completed, and the system linked up to the regional archives and to specific administrative units. There are also plans to make important data available to the public via a website. Further resources are being invested in staff training to guarantee the availability of sufficient technical know-how. The technical and administrative foundation is to be in place to ensure problem-free running and maintenance of the National Archives by the Albanian State.

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The project in brief

Department
Cooperation with Eastern Europe and the CIS


Country / Region
Albania


Partner
Implementierende Organisation: Schweiz. Bundesarchiv, in Zusammenarbeit mit dem albanischen Staatsarchiv


Introduction/
Background information

Access to documents such as title deeds, historically relevant documents, contracts, etc. is a crucial factor in a modern democracy. So far, the records in the Communist archives have been only partially processed and made available to the public because they are not catalogued.


Project target
Contribute to the development of a transparent administration and to constitutional rule by simplifying public access to systematically recorded and professionally processed documents.

 


Target group

  • Administration of the Archives
  • General public in Albania

  • Universities


Financial framework
1.9 million CHF (of which approx. 900'000 from SDC)

 


Duration
March 2005 – February 2008 (Phase 3)


Basic data

  • 1994 Initial contact with the Swiss Federal Archives BAR

  • 1998 Beginning of support from SDC and the BAR

  • 2008 Conclusion and handover to the Albanian partner


Contact
Division South Eastern Europe SDC
Telefon: (++4131) 32 24405
E-Mail: se-europa@deza.admin.ch

Additional Information and Documents