As well as providing a defence against invasion, the bunkers also proved a useful job creation scheme following Albania's split with China when Chinese money and investment dried up. Soldiers, too, helped build the bunkers. One local man who was a soldier during that era told me that his men carried cement, steel, and water to the tops of mountains and built the bunkers by hand. Another local told me that Hoxha's Minister of Defence instructed the chief engineer in charge of the project to go and sit in one of the bunkers. He then ordered a soldier to drive his tank over it. Both bunker and engineer survived and the Minister was satisfied.
Following the collapse of the communist regime the bunkers have fallen into disrepair. These days, the only bunkers still being constructed are the souvenir versions, usually in the form of ashtrays and pen holders, on sale in the shops and markets. With the kind of determination shown by those who chipped the Berlin Wall into oblivion, some of the locals have taken the bunkers apart for use as building materials. Others bunkers have been used for storing animal fodder. Still others, especially the bigger ones, are now used for growing mushrooms.
In 2004 the Albanian authorities had a bit of a shock when they discovered something else in a group of bunkers – 16 tons of chemical weapons supplied by the Chinese. It seems that the sale or transfer of these weapons was never documented by the Albanian regime since no records of any kind could be found. So for at least 13 years these weapons lay undiscovered and unguarded in a handful of concrete bunkers. In fact, it is even possible that knowledge of the existence of the weapons may have died along with Hoxha some years before the regime finally collapsed.
Since Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union no longer pose a threat to Albania – or anyone else – the Albanians were understandably less than enthusiastic about their new discovery. Anyone who remembers those Chinese made toys in Christmas crackers in the 1970's will understand why the Albanians were a bit nervous. So a plan was devised. The weapons have been secured and are heavily guarded. A portable incinerator will be shipped to Albania in 2006 to destroy the weapons. Then it will be shipped out again. I have heard that various people have been asking if they can use the incinerator to get rid of some other unwanted materials – I can't imagine what this might be. So, by 2006 Albania should be a chemical weapons free zone.
The process of destroying the weapons is being carried out within the framework of the Nunn-Lugar Act. This programme, co-sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar has helped finance the securing and destruction of WMD in the former Soviet Union and has provided funding to enable former WMD scientist to find worthwhile work. It is one of those wise, generous and farsighted acts that America used to come up with from time to time and which helped shape positive perceptions of the country. It also did, and still does, more for global – and American – security than anything the current administration has done while, in the process, destroying America's reputation in the world. But that's another story.
PS I took the image off the internet, but I promise to supply my own later.