The Museum of Secret Surveillance in Tirana, known to everyone as the “House of Leaves” was awarded with the 2020 Council of Europe Museum Prize in a ceremony organised in the premises of the Museum with the participation of Prime Minister of Albania, the Minister of Culture, as well as Partners of the Museum, victims organisations, and representatives of the international community.
The Director of the Museum, Etleva Demollari, welcomed the participants and expressed her gratitude for this important prize. “The motivation for this award: ‘Contribution for the promotion of the cultural heritage as a vector of common European values’, tells us that Europe, before being a political and economic project, is a cultural project. Remembering the victims of the communist regime has become a kind of European heritage, to be conveyed to future generations as a lesson”.
The President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Rik Daems, came through a video message on this occasion. He highlighted “The award for the 2020 Museum Prize to the ‘House of Leaves’ was an excellent choice”, explaining that the main goal of this museum is to remember, recall and pay tribute to the victims that suffered psychological and physical violence, who were killed or jailed and tortured so such things do not happen again.
“I am happy about this prize given to the Museum of Leaves for many reasons, but most important was that you have been courageous in facing the past and recalling the communist history. Every European country has the obligation to do so” , said in a video message the representative of the Culture Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the Museum Prize
Elva Margariti, Minister of Culture tackled in her speech the importance of investing in the cultural heritage for the people of Albania and for the generations to come. “Today we accept this award, not only with pride and satisfaction but also with an added responsibility to clear the past… only recognition can set the humans free”.
“I am extremely happy that today, this museum though modest in size but not in its ambition, is awarded with this prestigious prize” said the Prime Minister Edi Rama in his speech, emphasizing the efforts made by the museum to keep the memory of such dark times that many would wish to forget, cover or hide.
The Head of the Council of Europe Office in Tirana, Jutta Gützkow stressed “The past can be resolved only by confronting the truth. Although there are several museums commemorating the victims of past dictatorships, the “House of Leaves” is particularly unique because it communicates the reality of spying and torture as ‘normal’, everyday work. The Council of Europe counts on the ‘House of Leaves’ and on all the museums who won the Prize since 1977 to play an active role in promoting the core values of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe - the values that we cannot take for granted and that we need to keep defending continuously.”
The museum “House of Leaves” was selected by the Culture Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in December last year. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Ceremony of “Best 2020 Museum” could not take place in Strasbourg, and thus the diploma was handed over today in the ceremony organised in Tirana.
The National Museum of Secret Surveillance “House of Leaves” commemorates the psychological violence and total control of citizens during the communist regime in Albania (1944-1991) during which 18,000 people were prosecuted and charged and 5,000 executed. It is situated in the former State Security building in the centre of Tirana, which served as the Central Directorate of the Sigurimi, a technical branch of the Albanian State service agency. The particular feature of this small museum is that it has remained virtually intact with original equipment and recordings which are now stored in archives.
The Council of Europe Museum Prize has been awarded annually since 1977 to a museum judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding of European cultural heritage, the promotion of respect for human rights and democracy, bridging cultures, overcoming social and political borders, broadening visitors' knowledge and understanding of contemporary societal issues and exploring ideas of democratic citizenship.
Recent winners of the prize include the Museum of Communication in Bern, Switzerland (2019), the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2018), and the Caribbean Centre of Expressions and Memory of the Slave Trade and Slavery in Guadeloupe, France (2017).