By Bedri Çoku
Memorie.al publishes the unknown testimonies of Bedri Çoku, originally from the village of Muçias in the district of Lushnja, who at the age of 19, while performing compulsory military service in the district of Gjirokastra, was arrested by two senior State Security officers and after a “unmasking” public trial with accusations mounted in the cinema of that city, he was convicted for agitation and propaganda together with his brother, Çaushi, for the only “fault” that their father had suffered several years as a prisoner in the forced labor camps from where he was released in 1959. Rare testimonies of Bedri Çoku who spent 24 years in the prisons of Spaç, Burrel and Qafë Barit and together with his two brothers, Esat and Çaushi and their father, Azem, suffered 64 years in prison in the camps and prisons of the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, being released only in February 1991. Memoirs of Bedri Çoku masterfully described in his book “The uprising that shook the dictatorship”, which where is mainly added to the Spaç Revolt in May 1973, where he, as one of its main organizers, sheds light for the first time by making public some unknown events and facts from that revolt where the flag was raised without the red star of communism, and until his work as General Director of Camps and Prisons after the ’90s, where he “arrested” his close friend, the accomplice of the dictatorship’s camps and prisons and sent him to the cells of’ Prison 313 ‘. Tirana, where most of the former Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the ALP headed by Ramiz Alia and Nexhmije Hoxha were serving their sentences.
The uprising that shook the dictatorship
(Based on a true story)
“To raise the flag, without the communist star, I expressed the opinion that, unable to find a red sheet, we would break our hands and, with our blood, paint the white cloth…! The first to cut his hand with a knife was my brother, Çaushi, the second Gëzim Medolli, Bedri Çoku, Gjet Kadeli, Ulsi Pashollari, and others…”
We very much hoped for European Security and Cooperation which was being carried out at a dizzying speed under the special care of the United States of America. Rightly all mankind was eagerly awaiting the great historical moment. Signing for the Understanding of the Peoples of Europe, Western Democratic States and Eastern Communist States, which were still suffering from dictatorial regimes, to bring together a new order of peace and cooperation in the world. We hoped that Albania on this occasion as well. She would sign in Helsinki this Act for the Fates of Humanity, as a representative of this International Political Organization. We were convinced that our country, although incomparable to the countries of the East, would, by grace or by accident, join the Treaty of Peace and Cooperation with Europe (OSCE).
Continued from the previous issue
– You do not care at all why you bleed. You will all be sick in a few hours…! And pulled the friend down. We understood that the cars headed towards Tirana, as soon as we left Fushë-Krujë behind. We also passed Lapraka. In Tirana, the cars turned left at “Zogu i Zi”, in the direction of the Train Station…!
– They are taking us to Mali me Gropa, the clowns! whispered Loçja near my ear. I did not speak. But as soon as we turned left near the Train Station, it was realized that we were being taken to the High Security Prison, Number 313.
They took us down to the large courtyard of the prison, which was dominated by the wide, high wall, the space of which was filled with police and civilians. Whereas, the garrisons around the wall were reinforced with soldiers and armed officers…! After removing the rope, we had been carrying all the way, with the bars in our hands behind our backs and the chain across our legs, they got us out of the car, grabbing us by the arm, one by one or two policemen, who were dragging us rather than helping us we walked with the chains, to the high wall of the siege. There they pressed our faces behind him…! So, did the others, who got out of the cars behind us. I was surprised how many had been arrested …
Not without purpose they left us almost twenty minutes on foot, in front of the wall, for torture and to have fun with our patience and resistance…! Especially, from our tired and exhausted condition, they waited, perhaps, for one of us to fall to the ground, on this occasion, to laugh and brag. God willing, no one was shy! We patiently intervened to not give pleasure to the ignorant.
Not without purpose they had left us face to face with the wall, as they had invented another maneuver, how and how to despise our courage and bravery. Amid the screams of the officers, behind us, riflemen lined up, probably to give us “colpo di grazia” behind the head…! I do not believe that any of us understood this maneuver, because no one could have thought otherwise that this was not true. Everything was expected from the criminals…! The climax came when one of the soldiers gave the command:
“Toga ready you! Guns fill! Ready to shoot!”
– It seems to me that they killed us – said Loçja, who was next to me. I could not meet my mother again…! I turned my head from my brother and he was looking at me.
I was waiting for the word: “Fire” to say the last words out loud…! But the sambo players and the police washed us, as if we were rags, dragging us, violently, until they put us in the prison cells. There, they only removed the chains from our legs, while the bars behind our backs left them…! It happened that in the dungeon on the first floor, I was with my brother, Beb Konomi from Vlora and Sulo Veshi from Lushnja. Before leaving, the sambo players and the cops punched and kicked us, but they hit Bebi and Sulon harder, because they seemed to look much older than us.
After them came again others in black clothes and black hoods on their heads…! They also focused more on Beb Konomi and Sulo Veshi. They just gave us a few slaps…! After a few minutes, the other group came in and did the same. They punched and kicked us, and one of them, holding a rubber baton in his hand, made black and black stripes on Bebi and Sulos. Me and Çaushi were hit by two others with fists and kicks, while he with a rubber truncheon, at the exit, whipped us once with him on the back…!
The baby became the fist-man, out of anger. He was a communist, the Vlora denbabaden, about fifty. Of the communists I had known, he was of shy and strong character…! He was arrested because he had the courage to search for his villa, in Cold Water, where in summer and winter, the top leaders of the party and the state rested…! It was the most beautiful on the coast of Vlora…! When Beb Konomi, convicted of agitation and propaganda, arrived at the Spaç camp, the prison commander was Çelo Arrëza, an ignorant lab with a mustache, but because he had been a partisan, he enjoyed some state duties. Still, he kept the doca doca and leprosy habits. Family friends with Baby, called him to his office, after he had placed on the table, snacks and brandy. Before they parted, he told Baby not to be unemployed, but to choose the job he would like. Because, while working, time passed and he earned money.
– No! – Bebi said with great determination, – If you have a house friend, give me the opportunity to work with my honest accomplices…! Easy and convenient jobs are not for me…! Save those places for those who serve you…!
“What are you talking about, baby Konomi?” – Çelua had replied –
“Me here and you to work in the gallery, where only sworn enemies work, people not with our communist beliefs”?!
“Besides, I have another request,” continued Bebi, calmly. – I want you to meet me. I will work as a miner in the gallery. From you, I want you to let the workers choose the ones I want!
He worked as a miner in the gallery, with Luan Koka, a Vlora nationalist, and Muhon from Shkodra, a communist, I do not remember the last name, until the revolt broke out, where Bebi became active with all his heart, for the rights of the revolted…! The baby did another bite before the revolt broke out, when he openly opposed the prison command. In an attempt to escape from the camp, an inmate named Shaban, taking advantage of the exit in the second rush, tried to pass the siege near the work site.
He had collected in the gallery in front of his work, the unexploded dynamite together with the capsules and to attract the attention of the soldiers who were watching through the caracols, almost fifty meters apart, somewhere, on a rock, he had placed the amount of dynamite and, as soon as he set off on the opposite side of the blast, to the place from which he could pass, rapidly cutting the barbed wire, unnoticed by the guards, lit the fuse…! Either he had been unlucky, or he had been betrayed, because the soldiers, at the two garrisons’ side by side, spotted him when he was running in the dark, and shot him, without even reaching the red line yet.
Shabani did not die immediately, he was injured and groaning. The convicts heard his groans and roared shouting at the command men to save him…! But the prison command was silent, until it was slowly extinguished, after a few hours…! The next day, at the place where the convicts were taking the carbide used for the candlelight in the gallery, the prison commissioner, Shahin Skura, had taken up his seat, exactly where the prisoners were forced to gather to get the carbide. He brought together all the slaves of the first shift and spoke to them about the tragic death of Shaban, from the bullets of the siege guards, emphasizing that the same thing would happen to anyone who would make such an adventure…!
Bebi Konomi interrupted the ward commissar.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Commissar,” he said, “the convicts were obliged to address the persons of the prison administration and the government as ‘sir,’ or ‘lord’, according to the communist concept, because political prisoners are the enemies of the people”, could not be “friends” with them.) – Shaban’s death was not tragic, but criminal, continued Bebi. For he was killed by your soldiers, on duty, while you, the men of command, left the deceased for over three hours groaning, until he gave up the ghost.
He even apparently shot in violation of the rules, as he had not crossed the line, where the soldier is allowed to shoot at the person trying to escape…!
The commissar objected, as long as he was inside for himself, as he could not go any further, because Bebi was supported by all the convicts of the first shift. We thought that this would have been the fury of the police and the champions against us, here, in the dungeons of Tirana prison. But no! Someone opened the dungeon counter with a bang and ordered us to show the names one by one. First, he asked Beb Konomi, who was leaning in the corner, sitting on his knees, extremely shocked because he was experiencing communist savagery for the first time…!
Then he asked Chaushi, who was near the counter, me, and as soon as he learned that we were brothers, he immediately ordered those who were following him to take one of us to another dungeon. Whereas, when he learned the name of Sulo Veshi, he shouted triumphantly: -Come on, come here, Sulo Veshi, to give you good news…! Listen, fight as much as you want with the popular power, but we begged you to tell us that we also arrested your only son…! That you are traitors, you stupid Chams! And closed the counter.
– Wait, who are you, you idiot, criminal who arrested my son? And, Suloja melted in oil. That boy also had three daughters. One of the girls, married, had ended her life after her father was convicted as an enemy of popular power…!
– But who is this, does anyone know this moavri, who had even knocked down my son in prison? – It is a mascara that does not have a husband, – said Baby…! Muço Saliu or Sali Muço. Everywhere I turn, the dog is a dog! … He worked in the interior ministry. Now, they say, the director of the general investigation has arrived. One who delights in the misfortune of others. – added Bebi. Muço Saliu was a well-known name for his criminal and cynical character. Bebi recognized him immediately, because he had met him during the investigation in Vlora. At Muço’s command, the sambo wrestlers dragged me down the stairs to the second floor, until they put me in one of the dungeons on that floor; there they slammed my head hard several times behind the wall and left my daughter a bellows on the floor…!
I did not have time to talk to the accomplice I found there, because, as soon as I closed my eyes, the other sambo players entered our dungeon and, why did they find me lying down, they shouted: – We brought you here for vacation, more greyhounds?! And, they both bled us, with fists and kicks…! They ordered us to stand until they came again, otherwise they would die on the tree. – This was the other group told me, Xhavit Lohja, from Shkodra, arrested for the revolt.
– There are two or three groups that come and go, one after the other…!
We were known as accomplices in Spaç, but not because we had any company. Anyway, the two of us would spend some difficult days together, even wondering if this time we would be able to escape from the nails of heartless Albanians, sold head and head, while for thirty years, they only killed, imprisoned and tortured honest people, patriots, who wanted freedom and democracy in Albania.
The other group did not come to beat us, but took us both by the arm and led us to the bathrooms. They took us to urinate.
We objected that, without free hands, we would only do it in panties…! They took us to the tap to drink water. As we approached the lyfyti head, they pushed us to break our teeth.
– Oh, criminals … heartless…! But where do you find all this hatred, louse beast with a human face?! – I told them. They put my head inside the sink, released the water until it was full. They kept my head submerged until my eardrums burst…! I was pulled to the brim me!
– Let us show you what beasts we are! They did it to me several times, put their blackened head in the sink, until they wanted to. Because I was thirsty, I could not feel the pain in my forehead hitting me hard on the sides of the sink. Just drink and drink water…! When they took us back to the dungeon, Xhavit told me that my forehead was bruised.
– Great job, – I said, – at least I drank as much water as I wanted…!
He laughed out loud from my joy that I had drunk water, how I was full, regardless of why I was bruised on the forehead and face. But, in the meantime, I started laughing too, with his pants made of urine porridge, down to the shoes that were squeaking from the pee inside them. Pale, the face he had with blood scars, and looked ugly like a wounded penguin. Laughing with his face, he laughed with my forehead with a turtle hump.
Looking at each other, we caught a big gas…! “They came,” Xhavit shouted. They, as if they had heard our laughter, rushed like mad. Crash one behind the wall, crack the other on the floor and slip in…! “Do whatever you want with us now,” Xhaviti said, “because our bodies are numb with irons and chains.” Your punches and kicks look like mosquito bites…! Out of anger he knocked her to the ground and left her unconscious. They fled after being told: “Inshallah, we will not find them standing”!
I felt sorry for Xhavit because he was shaking and groaning, as if in agony … I had no hands. I tried to turn my body with my face from the ceiling…! The counter opened and a policeman checked with his eyes, then opened the door and threw two pieces of bread with jam on the floor, as if we were on the street…! I had my hands behind my back, with bars, I was hungry to the point of screaming, but how would I eat? Then, add the jam to the water. I waited for Xhavit to recover and open his eyes. But he was not remembered. I called out to him several times: “Xhavit, Xhavit!” He slightly moved only the eyelids and so…!
How I wanted to put a loaf of bread in my mouth. It felt like I had forgotten to chew food. Probably because my jaw ached from the punches and kicks of the savages…! I lay down on the boat and with the help of my knees, I was able to approach one ration. I bit him so hard, although I do not remember if I chewed on him with my teeth, or swallowed him in the stomach, as much as the bite was.
I said I drowned even though I swallowed several times in a row, while my throat, for so many days without eating, was aching from the strain. I wanted to approach the piece of bread once again, without jam, but…! “They came!” – Do not touch it, because it is unconscious, more animals! I shouted as much as I could, when I saw a big man, in a black uniform and with a mask on his face, unlike the first ones, who approached Xhavit, to kick him in the abdomen…! He wanted to die at all…!
– Every one of you will pay what you are doing – I said – if you take his life without the court dën! Not to be masked, but also magicians, like old Hatobic to become, you will not be able to hide the crimes you are committing…! Your regime has its days numbered. Either way, some of us will survive to rip off their mask…! – Shut up! We do not even want to know at all about you, the enemies of shit! Trash! God willing, Xhavit was hit. The big man only tried it on foot, whether it was really unconscious, or pretended.
They met the “norm” in me and left. I wanted to approach the bread one more time, but can I could not. I must have eaten a pair of shoes under my ribs, on this last “visit” and, I could not prolong the pain. I was convinced that they did the same with all those arrested for the revolt … Only with violence and terror could they learn something from the truths of that unbelievable event, which shook so much the rails of their rotten regime…!
“Nisi? How was it organized? Who were the organizers? But who conceived and raised the flag? Who prepared it? Who painted the eagle?” Obviously, they knew nothing of these question marks. Of course, with the torture of masked sambo wrestlers, they could learn some truth. Whether it was day or night, we did not know anything … Even Xhavit, when he recovered a little, asked me where we were, even why we were there? … What had happened that we were both in the dungeon? To pass the conversation, I told him to eat the bread without jam … He was very caught, so I approached the bread with my feet, so that he would bite him.
He bit it, but he could not chew it because he got lost in his sleep again, he was so caught…! I thought I had to take the bread out of his mouth, that it might block his breathing. I cannot describe how much time I spent, until I turned on my back, with my hands near his mouth, then, with the little finger of his hand, I took the bite out of his mouth … I must have been in a deep sleep, when I heard him calls of service police inside our dungeon…! /Memorie.al
Continues in the next issue