Spac Prison: a place of dialogue and action – Addressing communist-era heritage

The former prison of Spaç is the western-most Stalinist gulag in Europe. Yet this remarkable memory and history landmark for Albania is currently struggling for its survival.

Spaç prison is one of the most symbolic sites of persecution under the Communist regime, as well as perhaps the site that is most present in the collective memory of Albanians.  As such, the primary value of Spaç today is as a much-needed place of memory for the crimes of the Communist regime —a physical space to ‘locate’ and address the traumas of that past, both for the former political prisoners who suffered there and for the rest of the Albanian people.

In 2014 the ‘Dialogues for Spaç’ were implemented, a platform which brought together stakeholders from local government, national institutions, local residents, former prisoners and non- profit organization. Combining visioning and dialogue techniques, stakeholders group coproduced a detailed action-plan for the future of the site. Some of the actions are currently being implemented by the stakeholders.

In 2017, CHwB Albania, via support from Sweden, conducted emergency consolidation works in the remaining buildings in Spaç to reduce on the short-medium term the risk of total collapse of the last standing buildings in Spaç. In parallel to this process, CHwB Albania is also working on short term solutions that would actually prepare for and carry over into the long-term, such as documenting and disseminating to the public what the site has lost by doing extensive onsite and archival research, as well as interviews with former prisoners and staff of Spaç prison. Based on this work and a pioneering process of inclusive planning with a diverse panel of stakeholders and future users of the site (former persecuted persons, local inhabitants, history teachers, tour operators, tourists, diplomats, high school students, journalism, history and heritages studies students, museum professionals, human rights activists, international memory professionals, etc.) CHwB Albania has elaborated a comprehensive and realistic memorialization concept that will guide the future efforts for Spaç

Location :

Spaç, Mirditë

Project dates :

2014 - ongoing

Donor :

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, Sweden

In collaboration with :

Multiple central and local state authorities CSOs & local inhabitants, Former political prisoners in Spaç

Work group:

CHwB Albania

In 2018, CHwB Albania and the Ministry of Culture have signed a cooperation agreement, and this partnership is spearheading the efforts for securing the needed support for the memorialization process.

To learn more about the unique history of Spaç and to start exploring compelling human stories behind its walls and barbed wires, visit the Spaç Digital Reconstruction Prototype developed by CHwB Albania in 2020. 

Quick facts of the project
  • 1st Grassroots active platform for coordination with 13 key actors created
  • 1st Joint working group for Spaç legal framework formalized with the Ministry of Culture
  • 1st Set of emergency consolidation interventions designed and conducted on a former communist prison (difficult heritage)
  • 1st Digital reconstruction prototype for Spaç pioneered
  • 1st Comprehensive and realistic memorialization concept for Spaç
  • 9 Buildings saved from the risk of collapse
  • 9 Focus groups with diverse users for the planning of the future site
  • 10+ Fundraising and lobbying meetings conducted
  • 10+ International outreach activities/presentations for the efforts for Spaç
  • 2 International & trans-European expert workshops organized in Spaç with 40+ memory professionals